Blue Sky Riders
The term "supergroup" is thrown around very loosely these days. In the most general terms, most people associate that term with a collection of "name" players. By name, we generally mean famous. Certainly, if a band was formed featuring Mick Jagger, Joe Perry, John Paul Jones and Neil Peart, that would qualify in the broadest terms as a "supergroup". That said though, peripheral fame is all relative, while a collection of unquestioned talent that has had tremendous success in the music industry should also be considered as a "supergroup". For many reasons, Blue Sky Riders are a musical supergroup. They do have a very name player in Kenny Loggins, but probably more impressively they have a unheralded in public yet legendary songwriter in Country Music Hall Of Famer Gary Burr, and a tremendous, well heard songwriter who's written massive hits for other artists in Georgia Middleman gracing this group.
Unlike most supergroups though, the proof is in the musical pudding. I know it's early in the year, but having listened to FINALLY HOME a few dozen times now, I'm pretty sure I've stumbled on a finalist for album of the year in 2013. With the musical heritage of the three of them as songwriters, combined with some brilliant three part harmonies and the rare combination of all three musicians sharing lead vocals without anyone taking the dominant role as the "leader", Blue Sky Riders is a band that deserves attention - A LOT of attention. In the world of modern country-pop, FINALLY HOME is as good as it gets.
While certainly the band will gain attention largely because of the presence of Kenny Loggins, FINALLY HOME will stand as the launch of Middleman as a mainstream, brilliant singer. While she has penned hits for some of the biggest artists out there today (Reba McIntyre, Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban), Middleman's long been overlooked as a singer and performer. That is until now. Her smoky voice pushes relatable songs like the uplifting "Little Victories" into your soul. Her voice, combined with lyrics that literally everyone can relate to, power this song. At other times, like on "Another Spring", she finds her space between Burr and Loggins to raise the spirit of the song. Middleman is one of the single best vocalists out there today, regardless of if she's been heralded as such before now.
This is not to say that Middleman is the dominant performer. She's not, and that's the beauty of FINALLY HOME. All three vocalists share, almost equally, vocal leads. Not only do they do that, but it's a very organic way in which they split the vocals. On a project like this, you would envision that they would all be looking for equal time, and yet, that's just not how it works. Instead, they find their places well, and simply combine their collective sounds where necessary. There's really no songs where Loggins or Burr dominate vocally as the "lead"; instead combining their collective talents to hook listeners in. Songs like "Dream" and "Feeling Brave" have a brilliant characteristic of vocal tradeoffs between all three vocalists on lead, as well as tremendous hooks that are powered by the band's best attribute - their ability to harmonize vocally. Simply put, the three part harmonies provided by Loggins, Burr and Middleman are as strong as anything you can reference. While the music isn't the same by any standard, their harmonies hook you in the same way a classic Crosby Stills and Nash might have 30 years ago.
While musically excellent though, what makes FINALLY HOME an incredible listen is the characteristic where they are simply as strong or stronger than any group working today. That is their songwriting ability. The lyrical craftsmanship on songs like "Windeer Woman", "Feeling Brave", "A Thousand Wild Horses" or almost every other song on the album is stunning. Clearly, FINALLY HOME is the work of three master writers who understand how to write memorable, hook filled hits each and every time they put pen to paper. They have done so here.
PITRIFF RATING - 98/100 - I discovered this band a few months ago as a fluke. I have lived with "Feeling Brave" and "Dream" for months, and have played the two songs over and over - just enjoying them and building anticipation on what I hoped would be a full album of songs to compliment these two great numbers. Never in my wildest dreams could I have envisioned that the rest of the album would dwarf these two songs, but that's exactly what they have done. FINALLY HOME is a lot of things. It's fun. It rocks. It can make you laugh, and if you absorb the lyrics it can probably make you cry due to lyrics that tell stories we've all lived. It's musically great, vocally immense, and simply as good an album in the modern country/pop world as will be put out this year or in any other. This is as good as it gets.