ToC Critic’s Pick: Keith Urban, ‘Ripcord’
Keith Urban’s Ripcord album is pure country cardio. The thumping, rhythmic collection of songs will make you sweat. Even the ballads come full of energy and urgency.
An opening trio of tracks serves notice that Ripcord is an album unlike any other released in country music this year. Two you know ("John Deere, John Cougar, John 3:16" and "Wasted Time"), but "Gone Tomorrow (Here Today)" is the true pace-setter. This song was inspired by the death of Urban’s father, but it’s anything but mournful. Instead of paying tribute in verse, the artist honors him with rhythm. Robert Urban was a drummer who was forever tapping or stomping or beating on some surface.
Focus has been put on the Pitbull and Carrie Underwood collaborations, and both are representative of the project as a whole. Keep an open mind when listening to “Sun Don’t Let Me Down.” The whistling hook will stick with you for a century, and Urban was smart enough to record a non-Pitbull version should he release it to radio (wink wink).
Underwood’s “The Fighter” is a more difficult to imagine on air. It’s a Donna Summer-inspired love duet that stretches Urban into territory he’s not yet explored. Even on an album as diverse as Ripcord, this song is difficult to wrap your head around the first time through.
The focus on the EDM and pop-bluegrass tracks overlooks some great, raw Urban gestures. Nothing is more pure than “That Could Still Be Us,” the only heartbreaker on an overwhelmingly positive, love-drenched project. The hurt in his voice is difficult to ignore. He sings over little more than piano; fans may compare this song to “Making Memories of Us,” but his performance is more painful.
With Ripcord, Urban pulls off a neat magic trick. He stretches the genre further than any artist not named Sam Hunt, but his voice and themes will keep most from noticing, or at least complaining. It’s an album full of extraordinary energy. Instantly Urban’s ninth studio album competes for best of 2016.
Jeff Bhasker is one producer on Ripcord, but hardly the only one. Nathan Chapman produced just one song after producing three on Fuse, and Dann Huff took lead on four songs. Urban co-produced every song with help from Greg Wells, K-Kov, busbee and more.
Bhasker's resume is hip-hop heavy and includes a Grammy for Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk." Urban's comments on the Ripcord album indicate that he's not tied to any one sound or style — it’s about energy. “I’m interested in fusions, taking styles that can go together,” the star says. Taking his music to new places and stretching who he is as an artist excites him. “My family inspires me. My marriage inspires me.”
The track listin for Ripcord features several songs penned by writers not familiar to most country fans. There's a collaboration with rapper Pitbull and another that features a spoken-word section from Urban.
1. "Gone Tomorrow (Here Today)" (Jeff Bhasker, Samuel Tyler Johnson, Keith Urban) — Bhasker calls in "Banjo Fusion" and reveals Urban has a spoken word part.
2. “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” (Shane McAnally, Ross Copperman, Josh Osborne)
3. "Wasted Time" (Greg Wells, J Hart, Urban)
4. "Habit of You" (K-Kov, Jackson Morgan)
5. “Sun Don’t Let Me Down” (Nile Rodgers, busbee, Armando Christian Perez, Urban) — a collaboration with Nile Rodgers, producer and songwriter busbee and rapper Pitbull. Pitbull’s rap verse accents Urban’s voice and banjo playing, and Rodgers guitar work.
6. "Getting in the Way" (Emily Weisband, Jordan Reynolds, David Hodges)
7. “Blue Ain’t Your Color” (Steven Lee Olsen, Hillary Lindsey, Clint Lagerberg)
8. "The Fighter" (busbee, Urban)
9. “Break on Me” (Copperman, Jon Nite)
10. "Boy Gets a Truck" (Ash Bowers, Aaron Scherz)
11. "Your Body" (busbee, Urban)
12. "That Could Still Be Us" (Jason Duke, Jesse Lee, Jonathan Price)
13. "Worry 'Bout Nothin'" (Chris Tompkins, Rodney Clawson, Josh Kear)
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