We have reached the end of 2014 and over the course of the year we’ve reviewed a lot of great country music. So in case you just found the site or don’t remember all of the great country albums we’ve reviewed, you’re in luck. Here are the links to every album we rated an 8/10 or higher over the course of the year. These are the albums we give a solid recommendation or more for you to listen to. Keep in mind this site started in May, so we won’t have every single great album. For example we never got around to reviewing Dierks Bentley’s album or Don Williams’ album, two albums that would have definitely made this list. So if there are albums missing that you love, they were most likely not reviewed. Others of course may have not been rated high enough to make it. I’m also including our album of the year candidates in case you missed those too. One more thing: only albums are included, no EPs. So without further ado here are Country Perspective’s most recommended albums of 2014.
Mainstream country music in 2014 was a party: a party in a small town field, on the beach, in countless fields, riverbanks, and tailgates. And when the vanilla pop-country melodies got old, more and more hip-hop influenced sounds took over. This all came to a roaring rise in popularity when Jerrod Niemann found massive success with “Drink to That All Night.” Quickly rapped, auto-tuned verses on top of a club beat took Niemann’s song to the top of Billboard’s Country Airplay chart. At the time (however short-lived), “Drink to That All Night” was probably the most un-country song to achieve such success. So how did Jeorrd Niemann follow-up his commercial mega-hit? By releasing Country Perspective’s Worst Song of 2014: “Donkey.”
Yes, “Donkey” is what Josh and I believe to be the worst song of the year. Now, the song had some tough competition from Florida Georgia Line (“Sun Daze”) and Jason Aldean (“Burnin’ It Down”), but the fact of the matter is, “Donkey” has pretty much killed Jerrod Niemann’s commercial appeal. While “Drink to That All Night” topped the Airplay charts, “Donkey” peaked at 43 on the same chart. And Niemann’s current single, “Buzz Back Girl” merely sits at 35 at the moment. Niemann was on fire with “Drink to That All Night”; a simple, backyard bon fire, and “Donkey” extinguished that fire like a fire truck hose at full force. And if one song is bad enough to do that, then it’s bad enough to be the worst song of the year.
Why, you may ask, is it so bad? Well to start, Niemann’s voice here is way too distorted to make anyone believe it came from an actual human. This distorted robot provides us with an awful spoken-word rap about wrecking his truck and being left penniless. So in order to get to the party in town, Niemann hops on his trusty steed to ride him in. Just read the lyrics to the chorus. “Gonna ride that donkey donkey, down to the honky tonky, it’s gonna get funky funky.” I can’t believe that anyone with a pulse could actually think that these lyrics were worthy to be heard, let alone even put on paper. I have to imagine that everyone from the writers to the producers, even Niemann himself, were drunk through the entire process of creating this poor excuse for music. That’s the only possible explanation that I could accept for this song.
But the second verse here is just the worst damn thing ever. Firstly, there’s a name drop of George Jones and referencing Jones’ famous booze run on a John Deere. LEAVE THE POSSUM OUT OF THIS SHIT. HE DOESN’T BELONG IN YOUR STUPID DONKEY SONG. And sure, the jockey bros make fun of Niemann, but he doesn’t care, because the girls think it’s cool. Why do they think it’s cool? Again, just read the lyrics to get the full effect of the awfulness: “But the ladies think it’s cool, I kick it with a mule. I fill their glass, they tip them back; they dig the way I ride that ass and I do, you would if you could, too. They all walk funny when they’re done, riding you know who.” In third verse, Jerrod wants to pick up a girl and romp in the hay with her… well if that’s your go-to pick up line, good luck. And they actually pulled a donkey mask out for a live performance of the song. Maybe, just maybe, if this song was left on the album as a sort of fun joke for the fans, then it could have a just enough pass to avoid this distinction. But since they released the song as a serious single, it deserves to be hated on in full force.
I’ll leave you with this: The beat of Jerrod Niemann singing “gonna ride that donkey, donkey” sounds an awful lot like this song by 12 Gauge released 20 years ago. I only know that song from the National Cheerleading Championship routine from the 2004 movie Dodgeball. I’m thankful that Dodgeball didn’t come out this year, or “The Donkey’s” could have danced to the worst country song of 2014, and I would forever be subjected to listening to this crap while watching my favorite comedy movie.
Here’s to hoping 2015’s worst country song isn’t worse than “Donkey”………
This past year was another strong year for female artists. You wouldn’t know it if you turned on award shows, country radio, or looked at the charts, but female artists who made country music this year made some quality music; some of the best. There were many good selections for our nominees; many great albums and great performances that these women stood upon in 2014. Josh and I spent a good amount of time thinking and debating with ourselves over who to choose. We felt there were four or five women who could conceivably win this award with all fairness and votes from readers were across board. With all that said, your 2014 Country Perspective Female Artist of the Year is a tie! Your co-winners are Lee Ann Womack and Karen Jonas!
Now six of our seven nominees had fantastic album releases this year. All those albums were top-tier country albums that impressed both Josh and I. However, Karen Jonas’ Oklahoma Lottery is simply a damn good debut album. As Josh said, “When it comes to Oklahoma Lottery though, I just can’t find anything wrong. I mean if you’re really nitpicking you could say it’s too raw at times, but I think the rawness adds another layer to the album. Really it enhances it and makes the more emotional songs stand out. I find it very hard for anyone who likes traditional country music to not like this album.” The thing is, Karen accomplishes this on her own. She brought the band together and got them in the studio to record. She spearheaded the production of Oklahoma Lottery. Karen Jonas didn’t have connections like Lucette with Dave Cobb or Angaleena Presley; she wasn’t already established like Tami Neilson or Sunny Sweeney. Karen Jonas put in the blood, sweat, and tears to create an album that stands up next to the best of the mainstream and established artists. For that, Karen Jonas must be recognized for the quality outcome from her hard work.
Let’s be frank here: Karen Jonas’ dark, witty vocal delivery on the album is brilliant, and her song writing is fantastic.
Lee Ann Womack also had a hell of year. The Way I’m Livin’ has captured critic’s ears across the board. This album from Womack came six years after her previous release, and Womack’s first release from an independent label. Lee Ann Womack cut some great songs from Nashville songwriters and released an album from her roots and made a grand return to country music. The biggest news for Lee Ann this year, and a big reason for us awarding her alongside Karen Jonas, is that The Way I’m Livin’ received a Grammy nomination for Best Country Album. Gaining a nomination for one of music’s most prestigious awards is fantastic and certainly well deserved for Lee Ann Womack.
However, Womack’s return to the country spotlight has brought out some great TV appearances and performances. She and Jamey Johnson sang George Strait’s “Give It Away” at the George Strait All Star Concert in honor of his retirement. And back at the CMT awards in June, Lee Ann Womack and Kacey Musgraves honored Alan Jackson by singing his hit, “Livin’ On Love,” before Jackson accepted the Impact Award. The rendition was the show’s top moment, and one of country music’s best moments this year. Jackson himself complimented the performance saying he’d never heard the song sound more beautiful.
Both Karen Jonas and Lee Ann Womack stood out the most in a year where women stood out in country music. It’s a shame that the Nashville machine and the mainstream circuit ignores these women. You could argue that these females are some of country’s most talented artists. We at Country Perspective don’t ignore these female artists, we praise them and enjoy their music. Thankfully, these women are determined to make their music in their own way, and they don’t let anything stand in the way of making it happen. Karen Jonas and Lee Ann Womack are a glimpse of what talent and drive are capable of achieving. While they certainly aren’t the only ones who do that, in 2014, these two stood out among the crowd with great albums and have both earned Country Perspective’s (co-)Female Artist of the Year award.
When determining who should win an artist of the year award, one of the biggest aspects I consider is the impact this artist has made on their genre. Did this artist’s music change the way people look at and listen to music? Well when looking at Country Perspective’s nominees for Best Male Artist of 2014, there was one artist that stood head and shoulders above his competitors. Derek and myself found this to be a pretty easy choice. The winner of Country Perspective’s Best Male Artist of 2014 award is Sturgill Simpson.
Simpson of course just won our Album of the Year award with his critically-acclaimed 2014 release Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. Now most people knew from the first listen that this album was fantastic. What nobody saw coming was how this album transformed Sturgill from unknown to one of the most well-known independent artists in country music. This album still sits high on the iTunes country albums chart. It’s won numerous awards from numerous outlets and entities. Not just country outlets either, but general music outlets that appreciated the great quality of this album. He’s of course performed on all of the major late night talk shows. But this isn’t just about accolades and television shows.
Beyond these accolades Simpson has caught the eyes of other country artists, specifically mainstream country artists. Stars like Jake Owen, Dierks Bentley and Keith Urban have all praised Simpson and his music. They would probably love to make the music Simpson makes, but they can’t because it wouldn’t be marketable enough for major labels and sponsors. Not to mention Simpson’s music subject matter would be considered by the soccer moms and other PC types to be too “controversial” (because every song is supposed to be happy and inoffensive). While they can’t make the music Simpson makes, I believe it has inspired some of them to dig deeper.
Jake Owen I think has certainly been influenced because he’s really been pushing his new serious single “What We Ain’t Got,” which was good enough to be nominated for Country Perspective’s Best Country Song of 2014 award. Dierks Bentley has always had a great balance between serious and fun songs of course. If you look across mainstream country music right now, yes there is still a lot of crap, but I think things have definitely improved. I think great albums in the independent scene like Sturgill’s have undoubtedly had a hand in making this improvement happen. The dialogue about improving country music and going back to a traditional sound has increased a lot in the latter half of 2014.
Sturgill Simpson says he doesn’t want to be anointed the savior of country music and I don’t blame him. Who wants that pressure? He isn’t the savior of country music either. You know what I would call him? A trailblazer. Simpson is living proof that if you are talented and dedicated enough to do what you truly want in life, people will pay attention. He’s an inspiration to aspiring young country artists everywhere. Not only has he inspired potential artists, but the fans. It’s amazing the amount of fans he has accumulated over 2014, many of them new. Simpson has reinvigorated disenfranchised country fans to believe in the genre again. It has made a lot of people realize they can’t rely on radio for their country music.
Simpson alone won’t save country music. But he has clearly planted the seeds to a potential revolution in the genre. He could be one of the pieces to bringing quality back to country music. And for that Simpson is clearly worthy of being named Country Perspective’s Best Male Artist of 2014.
Talk about tight competition! Over the course of 2014 everywhere you turned you found another talented country group. Whether they were dynamic duos or established groups, there was no shortage of candidates for this award. While it was difficult to choose the winner of this award, it ultimately came down to which group’s body of work impressed Derek and myself more. There was one group that we felt was ultimately better than the rest. The winner of Country Perspective’s Best Group of 2014 award is…
First Aid Kit
We felt First Aid Kit should win first and foremost because their album months after being released still sounds as great as the first time we heard it. We went back and re-listened to all of these nominees’ albums and this was one that just simply blew us away the most still. If it wasn’t for Sturgill Simpson’s album, First Aid Kit’s Stay Gold might have won our album of the year award. There’s not a single bad song nor “filler” song on First Aid Kit’s album. Their harmonies shine. They displayed such a wide array of emotions, from smart and witty humor to downtrodden and dark sadness. You can’t ask for anything more out of this album. As I said at the beginning of my review of Stay Gold:
Every once in a while when listening to music, you’ll get blindsided from something out of left field. This is music that is so good or bad that it just takes your breath away when it hits your ears. Today’s album is so damn good I couldn’t help but smile the entire time I listened to it. There is no use in beating around the bush. First Aid Kit’s new album Stay Gold is absolutely phenomenal. The Swedish sister duo of Johanna and Klara Söderberg are like a fresh breath of air when hearing them harmonize together. It’s so pure and raw. Throw in spot-on instrumentation and you got one hell of an album.
First Aid Kit took a step forward in terms of being noticed in America this year too. They performed on Letterman, Conan and The Ellen Degeneres Show this year, while also being recognized by prominent music outlets. Their United States tour largely sold out. They also wonderfully covered Paul Simon’s “America.” This duo will hopefully continue to be noticed more here in the states in 2015, as they deserve to be heard by the largest audience possible. This is the kind of music I want to hear when I turn on the radio. This is one of the best duos in not just country music, but all music. If you haven’t done so yet, please go listen to this group’s music.
Congratulations to First Aid Kit on a phenomenal 2014.