It’s time for Anniversary Week (which is kind of a lie of a name, since it spanned a little more than a week, if you think about it…) to come to a close, with one final commemorative post (one, that if you’re an eagle-eyed reader, you’ll notice I’ve been planning for a while), one connected to my very first Sketches post, a rumination on my country music-listening heritage. This might end up being a bit stylistically different from my previous album reviews (the fact that it came out 9 years ago is a factor there…), but we’ll see how it turns out once, y’know, it’s all written. Also, a reminder that today is the last day to enter the iTunes gift card givewaway. We’re up to 5 entries, so your chances aren’t as good as earlier in the week when there were just 2, but you could still definitely be our potential winner. I’ll be hopefully doing the drawing tomorrow morning, so don’t miss your chance! Now, to a review of an album I’ve known and loved for years…
Album: Knock On The Sky
Released: June 2002
SHeDAISY has long been one of those groups that’s hard to categorize. Their music resides somewhere in the sweet spot between pop, country, rock, and who knows what else…they’ve gotten play on country radio, for sure, but at the same time their songs don’t quite seem to belong there in a few ways. If anything, the music of SHeDAISY is incredibly accessible…but what is it, exactly?
“Knock On The Sky” doesn’t bring the listener any closer to the bottom of that mystery, but it’s a beautifully crafted, undeniably fun ride nonetheless. One of the group’s notoriously weakest-selling albums, it never got much traction in the country market (and the pop market was never really an option for SHeDAISY to gain a foothold in, since their music is still clearly rooted in country tradition), but it stands out as one of the highest points in their long career. (They’re still making music, though unfortunately their latest album has remained unreleased for the past few years.) It’s full of high-quality songcraft, utterly infectious melodies, passionately delivered emotion, and the trademark sisterly harmonies that have made SHeDAISY a group to return to again and again. It’s hopelessly underrated, and intensely rewarding.
I grew up with this album. I (or rather, probably my parents) bought the CD soon after it came out, transferred it to a tape to play on my personal cassette player (yes, I still used one, even in 2002-2003), and listened to the songs over and over and over again. I’ve probably dived into the music on “Knock On The Sky” so many times now over the years that I could sing you any one of the songs in my sleep. Its appeal hasn’t dimmed in the nearly 10 years since…if anything, it’s evolved and perhaps even grown.
“Knock On The Sky” is in some ways like a concept album, tied together by theatrical touches like rain effects on “I Wish I Were The Rain,” switching to an old-time radio sound on “I’m Lit,” taking a kooky detour into a preacher’s sermon in “Repent,” and having a creepy voice-over at the beginning of “Everybody Wants You,” among other things. (Listening to the album straight through, you’ll notice all the songs are tied together with moments at both the beginning and end of each number.) The album would still be great without these bells and whistles, but they bring it to even greater artistic heights…SHeDAISY wasn’t just throwing together a bunch of songs with “Knock On The Sky”…they were making their own unique statement.
The production is impeccable and even a bit glossy, but it never feels distant or overdone. The instrumentation is intriguing and top-notch, and it feels like with this album, SHeDAISY was able to get things exactly how they wanted them. The vibe of this album is a bit daring and cutting-edge (the group pushes the boundaries of the country-pop mold in endlessly intriguing ways), but it still feels warm and inviting. “Knock On The Sky,” for all its risk-taking and innovating, doesn’t keep the listener at arm’s length…it quickly draws them into the music, and keeps them quite happy there.
Starting off with a gorgeous, addicting ballad like “Mine All Mine,” one would think it would be hard for the rest of the record to keep up, but there’s practically no weak spot to be found. “I’m Lit” finds a new spin on the oft-used “rowdy country” formula, “Man Goin’ Down” is benefited by an understated, insistent rhythm, and “Get Over Yourself” is 3 1/2 minutes of pure, infectious musical candy…but never ends up being too lightweight, thanks in large part to its underlying cleverness. “Rush” brings a surprising degree of subtlety to a power-ballad template, while “I Wish I Were The Rain” marries stunningly intimate verses with a catchy, heartbreaking chorus. “Repent” has the Osborn sisters letting their hair down in such a fun way that you hope they’ll keep things that way.
The second half of a country (or country-pop) album is where acts usually place their more forgettable songs, but that’s not quite the case with this album. “Everybody Wants You” is deliciously twisted, but also refreshingly grounded. “Now” is a heartwarming, but never cloying, ode to days gone by. “All Over You” is beautifully sophisticated, and “The First To Let Go” (the only cut on the album penned solely by the group’s own Kristyn Osborn, who co-writes every song on the record) is a powerful statement of heartbreak and acceptance. “Turn Me On” actually used to be one of my least favorite songs on the album, but its relentless pop-infused flavor has since totally grown on me. The album closes on two interesting notes…the lovely ballad “Keep Me,” and a no-holds-barred hidden track, titled after the album. The girls of SHeDAISY are almost rap-singing on the latter, and it’s an enjoyable, wacky way to end a certainly unconventional album.
“Knock On The Sky” may not have experienced great commercial success, but it remains an enduring musical masterpiece nearly a decade after its release. It shows that the marriage of country and pop (and everything in between) can be more than just lightweight and forgettable. It can be beautifully accessible music that’s fun and exciting, but also wonderfully and lovingly crafted as well.