Matt Stillwell: “Ignition”

I’m a fan of the more acoustic, Americana style of country music. I love what Sam Outlaw is doing these days; there’s a guy name Coulter Wall who you need to listen to. And of course, we all know I love Lori Mckenna.

I just never got into the power chords, driving bass drum, big chorus country tunes that have taken the place of soft rock in the music spectrum. That’s mainly because the theme and subject matter in these rocking country songs are usually pretty lame.

Matt Stillwell is changing my mind about country power ballads. His writing combines aggressive rock rhythms and harmonic structures with thoughtful, heart-felt lyrics about sensitive male sentiment, love, loss, family, and tradition.

Check out his song “Hey Dad” for one of the best treatments of the loss of a parent that I’ve heard in any genre.

But the song I’m going to review today is “Ignition”. A short and powerful intro sets up an intense mood of inner struggle, which drives right into the first verse full of road trip images on a dark, rainy, troubled night. It’s a troubled mind that is narrating this story, and a heart in need of a re-boot. The velocity of the lyric slows from the verse into a great lift that teases us, making us wait for the pay-off chorus.

The terrific chorus melody pulls us through an emotional break through. We are on the side of the road with this guy, as he shuts off the car and lets the tears come. He gets through it, re-starts the car, and begins again, with a new attitude and a new purpose for his journey.

The second verse is more reflective. He sits for a while on the highway shoulder and he thinks about where all the passing traffic is headed, and where he needs to head himself. Then it’s back into the soaring chorus and the life-changing decision to move on.

A nice simple bridge sums it up – “’Cause you can’t get back what’s gone…”

There’s a breakdown acoustic chorus, and then we’re back to the power chords to take us out.

Stillwell’s vocals are warm and strong, with good range, and he uses dynamics skillfully to bring the emotion in the lyrics out. It’s a fun song to listen to; it has lots of power, and lots of meaning as well.

Go listen to “Ignition”, and some of Matt Stillwell’s other songs, out on his ReverbNation site.

Miranda Mastera, “Better Dig Two” and “Burning House” (Covers)

Reviewing recordings of hit Country songs by artists who did not make them famous comes down to two factors.

First, can they handle the song and do it justice, when compared to the hit version?

Second, do they add something new, something about themselves, that makes the track their own, and not just an attempt to mimic the hit?

Miranda Mastera scores well on both of these criteria for her covers of “Better Dig Two” by Band Perry, and “Burning House” by Cam (songwriting credits appear below.)

The confidence she displays in her execution of the lyric and the melody suggest long hours in studying and rehearsing the song. Miranda knows these tunes, knows what makes them hits, and she pays tribute to Kimberly Perry, and to Cam, in her delivery. Fans of these songs want to hear the hit, so if she’s going to attempt these songs, she needs to deliver that.

But if that’s all she did, why would anyone want to hear her sing these tunes, when they could pull the hit song up on Spotify or YouTube?

Miranda lays her own interpretation on top of the expected vocal delivery. She’s not just mimicking the chart topping performance. For example, the way she hits the meter of the lyric, the vocal inflections she uses, and her dynamics, bring a softer, more introspective feel to “Better Dig Two”.   It’s not a copy, it’s an interpretation.

She has a note on her ReverbNation page that an EP album is due this spring (2017). I’m looking forward to hearing it, and I hope that Miranda will bring her considerable vocal talent to some original material. I’m betting she’s going to make those new songs shine.

“Better Dig Two” was written by Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, and Trevor Rosen.

“Burning House” was written by Cam (Cameron Marvel Ochs), Tyler Johnson, and Jeff Bhasker.