Book Review: Jessica Simpson – Open Book

Jessica Simpson rode the wave of teen pop singers during the late 90s/early 00s when the likes of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera were dominating the charts. She never quite found the same musical success that Spears and Aguilera did, but became a household name after her marriage to 98 Degrees singer Nick Lachey led to the hit MTV series Newlyweds.

In “Open Book,” Simpson recounts her struggles in the music business, relationships with her parents, the men in her life, alcohol, diet pills and sexual abuse at a young age.

Simpson was born in Texas and raised in the church; her father was a Baptist youth minister up until the time the family left Texas to try to launch her singing career. She started out in the gospel circuit, but it’s it’s very clear from the get-go that Simpson was a victim bullying and emotional abuse from people in the industry. They called her sinful because of her chest size and said she couldn’t continue to tour because her image was too sexualized.

Her own father, Joe Simpson, who served as her manager, was a negative influence on her as well, spending money she earned from her hit records, trying to control everything she did, especially when it came to marrying Nick Lachey. 

Even if you aren’t a fan of pop music, Simpson’s book takes a critical look at the unhealthy expectations placed on women, especially YOUNG women, that exist in the music industry. Immediately after inking her record deal, she was asked to lose 15 pounds and spent the next twenty years of her life taking diet pills to try to maintain the “ideal” weight of 100 pounds. And when her records didn’t sell as well as her competition, they tried to “sex up” her image – something Simpson wasn’t comfortable with due to her faith and religious upbringing.

It’s also very clear to see that her father’s controlling nature had a negative impact on her marriage to Lachey and future relationships with John Mayer and Tony Romo. 

“Open Book” is a surprisingly honest and vulnerable autobiography from a star many have written off as just another dumb blonde. It exposes some hard truths about the music industry and Simpson is transparent about her own misgivings and shortfalls when it came to her failed marriage and substance abuse.

This will likely appeal to the female audience that grew up during the height of her career, but even if you aren’t familiar with her music, it’s a quick read that will keep you engrossed until the last page.

4 out of 5 stars.




Best Albums of 2019

As usual, my “Best Albums of 2019” list is dominated by the female artists: Maren, Taylor, Miranda and P!nk all put out stellar efforts this year. Sara Barellies returned from a long musical hiatus to drop another gorgeous lyric and piano driven masterpiece and the Jonas Brothers make a comeback I didn’t know I needed.

Here are my favorite albums of 2019, in no particular order!

GIRL – Maren Morris


In her follow up to 2016’s HERO, Maren Morris returns with this slick, radio ready country-pop infusion. The lead track “GIRL” is an anthem for any female who’s felt down about herself and needs a confidence boost.

If you’re a music lover, “A Song for Everything” will bring tears to your eyes as it’s literally the incarnation of how music can hit you right in the heart. “The Bones”, which is Morris’ current single, reminds us that if you have a solid foundation to your relationships, when trials come at you, nothing can shake it.

Often, when an artist has a brilliant first album, the second one will feel rushed or sloppy in order to push something out to keep riding the wave. Morris took her time between albums and delivers a very solid second effort.
Songs to download: Girl, A Song for Everything, The Feels, RSVP, The Bones

Amidst the Chaos – Sara Bareilles

It’s been a while since Sara Bareilles has put out new music. Sara_Bareilles_-_Amidst_the_ChaosShe’s been a BIT busy over on Broadway with her hit musical, The Waitress. Six years in between albums didn’t dull her writing skills though and with Amidst the Chaos, Bareilles continues churning out some of the best piano and lyric driven songs in the industry.

“Fire” opens up the album, which contains several songs inspired by current events like the #MeToo movement ( “Armor”), immigration crisis (“A Safe Place to Land”) and former President Obama (“No Such Thing”).

Amidst the Chaos is less radio friendly than her previous efforts, but it’s still a musical gem of 2019. Songs to download: Fire, Armor, If I Can’t Have You, Wicked Love

Fine Line – Harry Styles

NINTCHDBPICT000537008236The former lead singer of One Direction has done it again! Somehow Harry Styles has gone from boyband pop to retro mood music and it’s pure perfection. Styles follows in the same vein as his self-titled debut solo album, dialing in on the 60s/70s easy melodies with many of the songs on Fine Line.

Every song hits the right notes and as a Swiftie, I can forgive him for releasing this album on Taylor Swift’s 30th Birthday because it’s just that perfect. (C’mon, you know he did it intentionally!) Expectations were high for this one and it delivers. Songs to download: Golden, Watermelon Sugar, Fine Line, Adore You

Let’s Rock – The Black Keys

The Black Keys returned in 2019 after a five year hiatus to let everyone know that rock is not 220px-The_Black_Keys_-_Let's_Rockdead. Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have created another jam with Let’s Rock, and if you don’t find yourself singing along to “Shine A Little Light” and “Lo/Hi”, then there’s something seriously wrong with you.

There’s nothing earth shattering about the lyrics, but sometimes you just want a feel-good album to bop to in the car and on that level, this delivers.

Songs to download: Lo/Hi, Shine a Little Light, Eagle Birds, Go


Wildcard – Miranda Lambert

5dc35ae2a4eb8.imageThe old Miranda is back! After a double album dealing with major heartbreak following her divorce from Blake Shelton, Wildcard marks a return to her signature country/rock style and is easily one of the best albums of 2019. “Way Too Pretty for Prison” is a tongue-in-cheek update on the Dixie Chick’s “Goodbye Earl” that finds Lambert dueting with Maren Morris about how they’d rather hire someone to kill their cheating exes because the color of the orange jumpsuits washes them out.

Elsewhere, “Bluebird” finds her looking to the future instead of dwelling on the past on the hauntingly simple tune. That sentiment carries over to “Dark Bars” as well, but on “Mess with my Head”, Lambert turns the volume up to 10, relying on a pounding chorus and rock guitars to drive the point home.

Is it possible for her to make a bad album? I’m beginning to think not. Songs to download: just download the whole album 🙂

Happiness Begins – Jonas Brothers

There was a time when I would have felt like putting an album by the Jonas Brothers on b1af208c-10f8-49ce-b56c-8795ec152194-JonasBrothersthis list. But the beef seems to be settled between Hanson fans and JoBro fans  – at least in my mind it is.

Happiness Begins is a lovely little pop/R&B album that this casual Jonas Brothers listener didn’t know she needed. How can you not sing along to “Sucker”, “Cool” or “Only Human?” And the rest of the album is pretty catchy too. Only a couple songs are worth skipping. Nick, as usual, is the standout brother

Songs to download: Only Human, Cool, Don’t Throw it Away, Trust


Lover – Taylor Swift

downloadIt’s a new era for TSwift – gone is the darker, angrier version found on 2017’s Reputation. This Taylor Swift is letting go of the things that haunted her, embracing turning thirty and if her lyrics are as autobiographical as I think they are, madly in love with (perhaps), The One.

Lover is, quite simply, a rainbow of colors and sounds. It’s lighter, more carefree and mature compare to some of her other efforts, yet still has that same glossy pop exterior that sells millions. And in an era where singles are king, this is a cohesive album that tells a story starting with song one.

A lot of critics say it’s her best work yet; I’m not sure I agree because unlike her last three albums, there are a couple songs that I skip. However, this one is easily my favorite release of 2019. Songs to download: I Forgot That You Existed, Cruel Summer, Lover, False God, Paper Rings

Hurts 2B Human – P!nk

This album from one of the best performers out there right now, came out quietly Pink_-_Hurts_2B_Humanin the spring. It debuted at number one on the charts, but really didn’t seem to make much of a splash on the radio, which is a shame because there are some really solid songs on P!nk’s eighth studio album.

Hurts 2B Human is a return of sorts to older P!nk – some of the songs sound like they could have come off her debut album, while others delve into uncharted territory like her duet with country’s Chris Stapleton.

Another solid effort from an artist that doesn’t get enough credit for her songwriting, singing and vocal performances. Songs to download: Hustle, (Hey Why) Miss You Sometime, Hurts 2B Human and My Attic.

Favorite Albums of 2016

There were some pretty good albums released in 2016. Here are my favorites for the year.


Keith Urban – Ripcord
With each album, Keith Urban seems to move further and further from the country sound. Ripcord is no exception and infuses EDM with banjos and synth beats. There’s even  a collaboration with Pitbull on the track “Sun Don’t Let Me Down.” It may not be traditional country but it’s still a fun, upbeat pop-country album that’s perfect for listening to when driving around town on a sunny day.
Songs to download: Wasted Time; John Couger, John Deere & John 3:16; Habit of You; The Fighter; Break on Me and Blue Ain’t Your Color.



Gwen Stefani – This is What the Truth Feels Like
The third solo studio album from No Doubt’s lead singer, This is What the Truth Feels Like is inspired by the break-up of her marriage to Gavin Rossdale. Heartbreak usually results in great music and Gwen delivers with a more personal album than her previous efforts. There are a couple of really bad tracks near the middle but for the most part a solid album that I’ve been listening to on repeat ever since it’s release in March.
Songs to Download: Misery; Make Me Like You; Truth; Used to Love You; Send Me a Picture; Me Without You


Lacey Sturm – Life Screams
The first solo album from Flyleaf’s former lead singer  continues in the same style as her previous three albums with the band. Life Screams roars positively and loudly with lyrics of hope  screamed and sung over crunchy rock guitars and string arrangements. Worth the wait and should please any Flyleaf fan who preferred her style over their current lead singer.
Songs to Download: Impossible; The Soldier; Rot; You Are Not Alone; Life Screams

Fitz and the Tantrums – Self Titled
I wasn’t sure that I liked this one the first time I heard it all the way through but some albums just have to grow on you. It’s a little slicker and a little more produced than their previous two efforts but every Fitz and the Tantrums album is different and that’s partially what makes them a great band. This self-titled CD has an 80s pop vibe that’s full of earworms. Check them out live sometime.
Songs to Download: Handclap; Complicated; Burn it Down; Get Right Back


Kings of Leon – Walls
Back in 2008, you could not escape Kings of Leon. Use Somebody” was on the radio ALL THE TIME. They were a huge sensation over night although they’d been releasing music for years before mainstream caught on. Then the lead singer had alcohol problems, some birds pooped on a crowd of fans and the band released a couple of dud albums no one really liked. Then Walls happened. I resisted it at first because I figured it was terrible like the last two but after reading several glowing reviews, decided to listen and was pleasantly surprised. Not as good as Only By the Night but definitely a stand out album of 2016.
Songs to download: Waste a Moment; Reverend; Around the World; Find Me; Walls


Miranda Lambert – The Weight of These Wings
Miranda Lambert has always seemed to make the kind of music she wants to make yet still manages to have commercial success and is one of the few women country radio will actually play. This double album comes after a much public divorce from Blake Shelton and is filled with personal and emotional songs about heartbreak, healing and moving on. There really isn’t a bad song and that’s saying a lot for a double album with twenty-four songs.
Songs to download: Vice; Highway Vagabond; Use My Heart; Tin Man; Keeper of the Flame; Six Degrees of Separation 


Bruno Mars – 24K Magic
It’s been four years since Bruno Mars released an album of new music. Four years! It doesn’t seem that long because of the success of Uptown Funk and his memorable Super Bowl half-time performance but Bruno is back once again with his funky, throwback style. There are only nine songs on this album but it’s definitely quality stuff. IMO, Bruno is the Michael Jackson of our day.
Songs to download: 24K Magic; Chunky; Versace on the Floor; That’s What I Like


Maren Morris – Hero
The BEST album of 2016. Like many country albums today, Hero blurs the line between country and pop but there are throwbacks to classic country on this one as well. It’s brilliant, catchy and the songs are full of great hooks that will have you humming them all day long.
Songs to download: My Church, Sugar, I Could Use a Love Song, 80s Mercedes, Drunk Girls Don’t Cry



Concert List

 I’ve been going to live concerts since before I can remember. My parents took me along to Bluegrass and Irish festivals almost before I could say the word “music”  and going to live shows has sort of become a part of who I am.

I decided it’s probably a good idea to write down a list of every performer that I’ve seen (or can remember seeing). The only performers I didn’t list are from the Grand Ole Opry, which I’ve been to multiple times and can’t remember who all I’ve seen!

So here is my list of concerts

  • Hanson33 shows. This Time Around Tour 2000 (Louisville), Underneath Tour 2004 (Nashville & Louisville), Live & Electric Tour 2005 (Cincinnati & Bloomington), The Walk Tour 2007 (Chicago, Louisville, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Bloomington), The Walk Around the World Tour 2008 (Milwaukee, Louisville), Members Only Fan Club Concert 2009 (Tulsa), Use Your Soul Tour 2009 (St. Louis, Indianapolis, Detroit), Shout it Out Tour 2010 (Louisville), Musical Ride Tour 2011 (New Orleans), WZPL Jingle Jam (Indianapolis),  Members Only Fan Club Concert 2012 (Tulsa – two shows), Uncorked Festival 2013 (St. Louis), Anthem Tour 2013 (Cincinnati, Cleveland, Toronto), Roots and Rock and Roll Tour 2015 (Chicago – two shows), Members Only Fan Club Concert 2017 (Tulsa), Middle of Everywhere Tour 2017 (Nashville, Chicago), Members Only Concert MOE Tour 2017 (Chicago), String Theory (Washington D.C.), Indiana State Fair
  • M2M 
  • Ingram Hill – 4 shows
  • Locksley – 3 shows
  • HelloGoodbye
  • Steel Train
  • Sherwood
  • Rooney
  • Kate Voegele
  • Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers – 6 shows. 
  • Butch Walker – 2 shows
  • Matchbox Twenty
  • Phillip Phillips
  • The Veronicas
  • Keith Urban – 4 shows
  • Little Big Town
  • Kelly Clarkson – 5 shows
  • Maroon 5
  • Taylor Swift
  • Ed Sheran
  • Evanescence
  • Chevelle – 2 shows
  • Three Days Grace – three shows
  • Finger 11
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Gary Allen
  • LeAnn Rimes
  • Bryan White
  • Lila McCaan
  • Lori Morgan
  • Pam Tillis
  • Carlene Carter
  • Clay Aiken
  • Ben Jelen
  • Incubus
  • New Kids on the Block
  • No Doubt
  • Linkin Park
  • Kings of Leon
  • POD
  • Flyleaf – 2 shows
  • The Wreckers
  • Tyler Hilton
  • Jessica Harp
  • Alison Krauss
  • Great Big Sea – 4 shows
  • Cowboy Mouth – 5 shows
  • Blue October
  • Shinedown
  • Alter Bridge
  • Halestorm
  • Breaking Benjamin – two shows
  • Disturbed
  • Fuel
  • Staind – three shows
  • 3 Doors Down – two shows
  • Phil Vasser
  • Montgomery Gentry
  • Jewel
  • Gavin DeGraw
  • Joss Stone
  • The Fray
  • Thousand Foot Krutch
  • Creed
  • 12 Stones
  • Nickelback
  • Trapt
  • The Wilkinsons
  • Relient K
  • Audio Adrenaline
  • Jars of Clay
  • Stephen Curtis Chapman
  • Jennifer Knapp
  • LaRue
  • Michael W. Smith
  • Out of Eden
  • Amy Grant
  • Vince Gill
  • Point of Grace
  • Jaci Velasquez
  • Ryan Cabrera – 2 shows
  • Bonnie McKee
  • Flogging Molly
  • Paramore
  • Red Jumpsuit Apparatus
  • Sum 41
  • Meg & Dia
  • Lifehouse
  • Goo Goo Dolls
  • Colbie Caillat
  • Garth Brooks
  • Pam Tillis
  • Lorrie Morgan
  • Bon Jovi
  • Daughtry
  • Megan McCauley
  • Seether
  • Godsmack
  • Papa Roach
  • Hinder
  • Buckcherry
  • Motion City Soundrack
  • FUN
  • Avril Lavigne
  • Martina McBride
  • Lady Antebellum
  • Collin Raye
  • Loretta Lynn
  • Bill Monroe
  • Ricky Skaggs
  • Rachael Yamagata
  • Blessid Union of Souls
  • The Verve Pipe
  • Pat Green
  • Fitz and the Tantrums
  • Big Data
  • The Rolling Stones
  • Kacey Musgraves
  • Dixie Chicks
  • The Beach Boys
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Tim McGraw & Faith Hill
  • Michelle Branch
  • Garth Brooks
  • Billy Joel
  • The Eagles
  • Fleetwood Mac
  • Niall Horan
  • Maren Morris
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Paul McCartney
  • p!nk
  • Kelsea Ballerini