Friday, 6 January 2012

Artist profile - C.H. (Switzerland)

C.H.'s music has all the ingredients needed to succeed on contemporary country radio. They have strong, poppy melodies, their guitar-led arrangements are reminiscent of Keith Urban and the male-female vocal combination has echoes of acts like Steel Magnolia.

There's one slight obstacle however. And that's the fact that C.H. perform all their music in the dialect of Swiss German.

In international standard codes, C.H. represents Switzerland. But for this group, those initials stand for Country Helvetia. They're a country music band from Switzerland, who released their debut album in 2011, after taking part in the Swiss preselection for the Eurovision Song Contest with their song 'Gib nid uf' (Don't Give Up).

The origins of the group lie in Swiss singer-songwriter Reto Burrell's visit to Nashville in 2008, where he discovered country music, and notably the growing mainstream popularity of acts like Lady Antebellum, being particularly impressed by the male/female lead vocals. He decided to transfer this template to Switzerland and brought in Nori Rickenbacher to perform lead male vocals, along with Kisha, a pop singer who had a few solo hits in Switzerland in the '90s.

Burrell has stated that his biggest challenge was to bring the storytelling nature of country music over into the Swiss German dialect, but was determined to do so. "These are our stories, our stories of Swiss life, and everyone should understand it," he says. Refreshingly, they don't dress up and put on cowboy hats for their gigs either: "To make country music you need more than just a banjo or a cowboy hat". They're clearly determined to be authentic in their own terms, and I think they succeed in this.

As well as their own compositions, the album Country Helvetia also contains covers of established country songs adapted into Swiss German. These include Tim McGraw's 'Telluride', which is admirably transported almost line-for-line to the Swiss ski resort of Saas Fee, as well as the frankly odd choice of Jewel's 'Everybody Needs Someone Sometime'.

In researching this group, I've discovered that country music in Swiss German is surprisingly enjoyable. Go on, give it a try. Watch the video to their first single 'Gib nid uf' below, along with a live performance of 'Saas Fee' (Telluride), and check out their album on Spotify

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Five great country songs you probably didn't hear in 2011 (and should have)

Part of my objective in writing this blog was to promote music that doesn't necessarily make the mainstream country scene. Here are five songs that I've enjoyed this year but which, for whatever reason, you probably haven't heard. And you really should have done. Let me know what you think below.

Pernilla Andersson - Desperados
I've featured this song before, but had to include it in here again. It's (from what I can make out with my limited Swedish) the tale of 'two desperados who always wanted more' and features wonderful ambiguity reflected in the music and Andersson's vocal.

Tara Oram - Kiss Me When I Fall
Tara was the obligatory country contestant on the fifth season of Canadian Idol, and has found some minor success in her home country. This song, the second single from her second album released this year, is a powerful, mid-tempo ballad with a driving beat and a heartfelt vocal.

Jill Johnson - In One Piece
Written by Swedish country star Johnson along with Lisa Carver and Taylor Swift's sometime co-writer Liz Rose, 'In One Piece' is a Faith Hill-style big ballad, with Johnson performing the role of the woman whose lover is leaving her, with just the right balance of grace and desperation.

The Lucky Bullets - Fire Below
Eurovision goes country, and properly country while it's at it. This traditional-sounding song from Norway wouldn't sound out of place on a Justin Townes Earle album, and would be far too traditional for contemporary country radio.

Gretchen Peters - The Matador

Peters released this video in December to promote her upcoming album Hello Cruel World. With this as a taster (as well as the wonderful 'Five Minutes, which moved me to tears when Peters premiered on her tour), I can't wait for the album's release at the end of January.

There's my five songs you didn't hear in 2011. What's yours? Comment below and let me know your favourite country song that didn't make the mainstream.