Derek’s Top Ten Country Songs – July 2015

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Another month in the books, and another group of artists releasing great albums and songs. True, honest lyrics and songs keeping the heart and spirit of country music alive, albeit in lesser of a light compared to those in Nashville. Jason Isbell owned this month; Something More Than Free is one of the best albums this year. Though, Alan Jackson and Ashley Monroe both offered up great albums as well!  It was a slower month in the release department, but one of the best months in terms of quality. Let’s take a look at my favorites from the month.

  1. “24 Frames” by Jason Isbell – This is one of the best songs released this year. Isbell does a great job painting the picture of life changing in the blink of an eye. The lyrics hit you hard and drive the point home that the things we have in life aren’t permanent and can fall apart in just one measly second.
  2. “The One Your Waiting On” by Alan Jackson – Alan Jackson has a natural charisma as a singer that captures the listener with every song. As Josh wrote of this song in his review of Angels and Alcohol“Only an artist like Jackson could pull off a song like this one due to the nuance of the theme. If you give this to a bro country artist, you end up with a song like Old Dominion’s “Break Up With Him.” Jackson hits this song out of the park.
  3. “Speed Trap Town” by Jason Isbell – With my first listen of Something More Than Free, this was the song that captured me the most. Isbell rips your heart out with the song about a man coping with his father’s impending death. It’s damn near impossible to describe what makes this song great, it’s one of those you need to listen to understand.
  4. “Gone Before You Met Me” by Alan Jackson – The melody of this ramblin’ man song is infectious. The description of meeting Tom Sawyer and Jack Kerouac who pride themselves as ramblin’ men help Jackson realize how much he loves his life at home with a wife and kids.
  5. “The Blade” by Ashley Monroe – This breakup song off Ashley Monroe’s album uses great imagery to tell the story. Love can be a brutal thing for people and catching a falling knife from either end is a great description for it.
  6. “Something More Than Free” by Jason Isbell – The title track to Isbell’s album is an excellent ode to the blue-collar workers, with great poetry in the lyrics. Isbell approaches the subject with enough pride to show that there’s no shaming in working hard for your life. Country music was built on blue-collar attitudes, and “Something More Than Free” captures that attitude perfectly.
  7. “Still A Southern Man” by Will Hoge – When Will Hoge puts his protest cap on, you know he means business. “Still A Southern Man” finds Hoge pondering the meaning for the Confederate Flag in the wake of so much negative news surround the symbol. Hoge’s conviction in the song is noticable, and he isn’t afraid to let his emotions run the show.
  8. “Why” by Rick Elliot – Rick Elliot’s reflection on a wild lifestyle hits many strong notes. From the Bakserfield country sound to the honest lyrics and Elliot’s deep, matter of fact delivery, “Why” is as true to country music as you can get. And to think he’s only 18…
  9. “Angels and Alcohol” by Alan Jackson – Alan Jackson sings a typical country drinking song, but tells the story well by comparing the downside of booze to the upside of love, happiness, and faith. The song is paced well and Jackson’s vocals are a bright spot.
  10. “Has Anybody Ever Told You” by Ashley Monroe – This love song from The Blade is beautifully sung by Monroe. Her desire to tell her love the things she admires about him, and making sure that he’s heard them, is a sweet gesture.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Jason Isbell’s “Flagship” and “Palmetto Rose”
  • Alan Jackson’s “When God Paints’ and “You Can Always Come Home”
  • Rick Elliot’s “If I Agreed With You”
  • Ronnie Dunn’s “Ain’t No Trucks in Texas”
  • Ashley Monroe’s “If The Devil Don’t Want Me”

As always, I’d love to hear your favorite songs from this month!

Josh’s Top Ten Country Songs – July 2015

July 2015

How about the month of July? Or I should rather say how about Jason Isbell, Alan Jackson and Ashley Monroe? These three artists dominated the month of July with their brand new albums because outside of these three major releases there wasn’t a ton of great new music to talk about. But hey these three albums were more than enough to keep me satisfied for the month. We’re set for a lot more releases coming up in August. But we’ll get to those at another time. For now let’s look back on what I considered the absolute best songs from the month of July.

  1. Jason Isbell – “24 Frames” – The absolute gem off of arguably the best album of the year tops this list for me. Isbell’s new album Something More Than Free is a fantastic listen from start to finish and it’s only gotten better the more I’ve listened to it. Despite all of the great songs, the one that sticks out most to me and resonates with me the most is “24 Frames.” It’s a song about life so rooted in reality. In addition it’s catchy and the instrumentation for it is flawless. By the way it sounds just as good live too, as I highly recommend you see Isbell live, as it made me appreciate this album even more.
  2. Jason Isbell – “Something More Than Free” – I debated back and forth for a while on these top two songs’ placements, but I gave “24 Frames” ultimately by a hair. The album title track is pretty damn good itself and I’m surprised I haven’t seen more praise for it. It’s a beautiful song that shows off Isbell’s vocal and songwriting ability.
  3. Alan Jackson – “The One You’re Waiting On” – There’s a reason country music fans were waiting in anticipating for months for July 17 to come, as new albums from Isbell and Alan Jackson will certainly do this. And they definitely lived up to hype. Jackson’s new album Angels & Alcohol was almost just as good as Isbell’s and there’s a reason these two battled it out for the top spot on the Billboard Top Country Albums this past week. The standout to me of the album was “The One You’re Waiting On,” one of those songs you know is just another instant classic from Jackson. Only an artist like Jackson can pull off this type of song with such grace and respect.
  4. Alan Jackson – “Gone Before You Met Me” – Jackson sings about the importance of family to him in this song. Again like the top two Isbell songs, these two Jackson songs are pretty much equally good in my eyes. This song reminds us there are still country artists out there not afraid to sing about family, something missing from mainstream country radio.
  5. Ashley Monroe – “Has Anybody Ever Told You” – I didn’t enjoy Ashley Monroe’s new album The Blade as much as I wanted to enjoy it, but it’s still a good album nonetheless. My big problem with it was that it had too many songs trying to be radio friendly, instead of staying in Monroe’s traditional wheelhouse. One of the songs that did though and was my favorite of the album is “Has Anybody Ever Told You.” It’s a tender love song that allows Monroe to shine her brightest.
  6. Will Hoge – “Still A Southern Man” – Will Hoge is not one to shy away from singing controversial songs and “Still A Southern Man” is another example. The amount of conviction and attitude behind the lyrics of this song, along with the rollicking guitars throughout it, thoroughly impressed me. We need more bold songs like this one. (This song is currently not on Spotify, which is why it isn’t on the playlist below)
  7. Jason Isbell – “Speed Trap Town” – Isbell’s new album is a pretty happy one for the most part, but you knew there would be at least one tear jerker on it and that song is “Speed Trap Town.” The storytelling skills of Isbell through his lyrics is on full display here and it’s simply a song you need to hear for yourself.
  8. Alan Jackson – “You Can Always Come Home” – The opener to Jackson’s Angels & Alcohol is a song many parents and their kids leaving home can all connect with. Jackson knows how to perfectly frame these songs to get the right amount of emotion out of you and “You Can Always Come Home” is yet another example of it.
  9. Ashley Monroe – “If The Devil Don’t Want Me” – This Chris Stapleton co-write was the other highlight of The Blade for me. This song is traditional country music in every way.
  10. Jason Isbell – “How To Forget” – The last song to round out my top ten is a fourth Isbell song, “How To Forget.” What I love the most about this song is the brilliant instrumentation. This is the shining moment for Isbell’s band, The 400 Unit, on Something More Than Free. As I said in my review, this is band you absolutely need to see in-person, as they’re quite underrated.


Honorable Mentions 

  • Rick Elliot’s new EP, West of the Rockies, just came out and I didn’t get a chance to really listen to it enough to consider it for this month’s top ten. But we’ll have a review on it soon.
  • Ronnie Dunn – “Ain’t No Trucks In Texas” – There were too many strong songs this month for Dunn to make the top ten.
  • Jason Isbell – “To A Band That I Loved”
  • Alan Jackson – “When God Paints,” “I Leave A Light On” and “Angels & Alcohol”
  • Ashley Monroe – “The Blade” & “Mayflowers”


The Hodgepodge: Good Songs from Sub-Par Country Artists

This past week was super busy for me and I haven’t had much time to think about this week’s opener. I haven’t spent much time around the blogosphere and didn’t really find anything current that I could provide a unique voice to or a new angle on the topic. Obviously the biggest news in country music this week was Jason Isbell and Alan Jackson going 1-2 on album sales which is huge, and I’m happy for both artists on that achievement.

Like I said, since I don’t have a new or unique perspective to provide for that story line, this week’s opener won’t be too involved. The mainstream pulse is still rather bad, and upcoming releases don’t look to improve it much, if at all. I’m going to look at some sub-par artists; country singers and groups that I predict will get a C grade or lower in Josh’s updated grades which he’ll provide via The Country Perspective Show podcast. I’m going to list a few songs from these artists that I think are good songs, be it past single releases or album deep cuts.

Jason Aldean – One of my favorite singles from him is “Amarillo Sky.” A cut off My Kinda Party called “Church Pews or Bar Stools” is a nice, honest look at small town life and chasing dreams. But “The Truth” might be his best song he’s ever recorded.

Luke Bryan – Did you know Luke wrote “Good Directions” that Billy Currington recorded? As for Luke’s recorded singles, “Do I” from Doin’ My Thing is pretty dang good, even “Drink a Beer” showed some effort to have a bit of depth. But I admit that my favorite song of Luke’s is “We Rode In Trucks.”

Miranda Lambert – I classify Miranda as sub-par simply because the Platinum era has been full of mediocre to bad singles. Obviously the recent “Roots and Wings” is a great song, and singles like “Over You” and “The House That Built Me” are two very strong country songs. I’m also quite fond of “White Liar.”

Florida Georgia Line – Yes, even these two jokers have a few good songs. A guilty pleasure of mine from this duo is “Tip It Back” from their debut album; I think it’s a decent blue-collar, end of the work week drinking song. I don’t mind their cover of Black Stone Cherry’s “Stay” and even an EP cut called “Black Tears” is a good song they’ve written. Though, “Dirt” may forever reign as their best song.

Jake Owen – Mr. “Real Life” made some good country music before getting a number one with “Barefoot Blue Jean Night.” His early singles like “Don’t Think I Can’t Love You” are fantastic. An album cut called “Life of The Party” isn’t half bad, and who can forget “What We Ain’t Got?” But Jake Owen’s first top-ten single is an absolute gem. Let’s remember “Startin’ With Me.”

Blake Shelton – Years ago, Blake was making some great country music, but a change in producers turned the page to pop country crap. “The Baby” stands as one of his most heartbreaking country songs, and even his cover of George Jones’ “Ol’ Red” isn’t that bad either. However, Shelton’s debut single, “Austin”, is arguably his best song.

Brantley Gilbert – Brantley Gilbert has been in the middle of the road for pretty much his whole career. Even with douchetastic singles like “Small Town Throwdown” and “Bottoms Up,” Gilbert’s had some decent offerings like “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do” and “More Than Miles.” But Gilbert’s first album, A Modern Day Prodigal Son, is better than his other two combined. Listen to “Picture On the Dashboard” and “The Best of Me” and you probably wouldn’t believe it’s Brantley. I thought the title track from that first album is an honest, well written song too. Unfortunately, a live recording is all I’ve tracked down on YouTube.

See? Even the bad have some good in them! This is just a small selection I’m choosing to highlight. For the most part I wanted to focus on artists who had a bit deeper catalog to choose from, and artists who seemed to have strayed far from their early quality. If you are curious about my opinions on other artists I didn’t highlight here, I’ll entertain a few questions as long as they stick with the topic at hand: good songs from bad/sub-par country artists. And, as always, I’d love to hear some of your favorites from these artists too.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Rick Elliot released his debut EP earlier this month. Two of the songs on the EP have been reviewed on the site with high praise. We will have a review on the EP soon.
  • Texas Country artist Kyle Park will release a new album this fall called The Blue Roof Sessions. Park currently has a new single out called “What Goes Around Comes Around.”
  • As reported by Saving Country Music, Canadian Country artist Corb Lund is working on a new album with producer Dave Cobb at the helm. The album will be called Things That Can’t Be Undone.
  • Brett Eldredge will release his second studio album, Illinois, on September 11th.
  • Alabama will release their first album of new music in over a decade on September 18 and it’s titled Southern Drawl.
  • Cassadee Pope just released a new single called “I Am Invincible.”

Today in Country Music History

  • Singer Neal McCoy (1958) and songwriter Gordie Sampson (1971) celebrate birthdays today.
  • In 1958, Johnny Cash began recording his studio album Greatest! which included the chart topping song “Get Rhythm.”
  • George Jones had the number one song in 1983 with the Merle Haggard penned “I Always Get Lucky With You.”

Throwback Thursday Song

“Waiting on June” by Holly Williams. As Holly says at the beginning of the song, “Waiting on June” was written about her grandparents from her mother’s side (not about Hank). This is simply a beautiful story song from her critically acclaimed 2013 album The Highway. The writing and descriptions in this song are excellent, and I personally think Holly has one of the more captivating singing voices in country music.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

AC/DC’s Highway to Hell. This is one of my all time favorite albums. Highway to Hell is great rock music, and the last studio album AC/DC made with original lead singer Bon Scott before his death in 1980. The opening guitar riffs on the title track are fantastic and Scott’s voice is well suited for rock. While AC/DC had two of their best songs (in my opinion) in the post Bon Scott era, I would have loved to see where AC/DC would be if Bon Scott hadn’t passed prematurely.

Tweet of the Week

That’s a good way of looking at country radio today!

An Album Review That Will Make You Angry

Jason Gottfried from a publication called The Independent in the Southern Utah, Northern Nevada area wrote a scathing review of Alan Jackson’s Angels and Alcohol. Now, I know everyone is entitled to their own opinion; I’m very much a “to each their own” type of person. However, I can’t help to think that this review and Gottfried’s descriptions of Alan Jackson are quite misguided. I’ll leave a few snippets from the review linked above, but you really should read this in its entirety to get the full effect of how Alan Jackson’s music is equivalent to McDonald’s hamburgers:

All you dudes who love country music (or say that you do, at least) are getting your feathers all ruffled already. Take it easy. The fact that you can read alone sets you head-and-shoulders above your peers.

With $75 million burning a hole in your pocket, I’d hope that no matter how hopelessly mediocre your talents might be, you’d still be able to purchase the right dudes in Nashville to record your music and make it sound good. Other than the session players, there’s just not much going on here musically. Frankly, the best thing about Alan Jackson’s “Angels and Alcohol” is that it’s only 39 minutes long.

This track would be great if the theme—that being a drunk isn’t really the best approach to life overall—were genuine. However, it’s hard to take a guy who’s built an empire upon the graves of dead alcoholics seriously.

Well, Jason, it’s hard to take anyone who seems to write terrible reviews for shock value seriously.

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music [August 8]

Each week I take a look the Billboard Country Airplay chart and grade the top 30 songs. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive either a +1, -1 or a 0. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the current top thirty country songs, with the highest possible score being a +30 and the lowest possible score being a -30. How do I determine if a song is rated a +1, -1 or 0? The rating it received on the site or myself will determine this. If it hasn’t been rated yet, then I will make the call. Songs rated between 7 and 10 receive a +1. Songs rated between 5 and 6.5 receive a 0. Songs rated 4.5 or lower receive a -1.

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the current state of mainstream country music and determine if it’s improving or getting worse. Let’s take a look at this week’s top thirty…

  1. Brantley Gilbert – “One Hell of an Amen” (Up 1)
  2. Jason Aldean – “Tonight Looks Good On You” -1 (Down 1)
  3. Michael Ray – “Kiss You In The Morning” -1 (Up 1)
  4. Luke Bryan – “Kick The Dust Up” -1 (Up 2) [Tied for Worst Song]
  5. Zac Brown Band – “Loving You Easy” +1 (Up 4)
  6. Frankie Ballard – “Young & Crazy” (Up 2)
  7. Dustin Lynch – “Hell of a Night” -1 (Up 5)
  8. Sam Hunt – “House Party” -1 (Up 3) [Tied for Worst Song]
  9. Brad Paisley – “Crushin’ It” -1 (Up 1)
  10. Canaan Smith – “Love You Like That” -1 (Down 5)
  11. Thomas Rhett – “Crash and Burn” -1 (Up 2) [Tied for Worst Song]
  12. Chris Janson – “Buy Me A Boat” -1 (Up 3)
  13. Keith Urban – “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16″ -1 (Up 4)
  14. Brett Eldredge – “Lose My Mind” -1 (Up 2)
  15. Eric Church – “Like A Wrecking Ball” 0 (Down 1)
  16. Maddie & Tae – “Fly” +1 (Up 3)
  17. Kenny Chesney – “Save It For A Rainy Day” 0 (Up 6)
  18. Jake Owen – “Real Life” -1 (Up 2)
  19. Chase Rice – “Gonna Wanna Tonight” -1 (Down 1)
  20. Kip Moore – “I’m To Blame” (Up 2)
  21. Cole Swindell – “Let Me See Ya Girl” -1 
  22. Florida Georgia Line – “Anything Goes” -1 (Up 5) [Tied for Worst Song]
  23. Old Dominion – “Break Up With Him” -1 (Up 1) [Tied for Worst Song]
  24. Lady Antebellum – “Long Stretch of Love” (Up 2)
  25. Dan + Shay – “Nothin’ Like You” -1
  26. Cam – “Burning House” +1 (Up 2) [Best Song]
  27. Big & Rich – “Run Away With You” +1 (Up 2)
  28. Brothers Osborne – “Stay A Little Longer” 0 (Up 2)
  29. Parmalee – “Already Callin’ You Mine” -1 (New to Top 30)
  30. Chris Young – “I’m Comin’ Over” +1 (New to Top 30)

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: -13

The pulse remains the same at -13 this week. 

Songs That Dropped Out of the Top 30 This Week:

  • Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” went recurrent and fell from #3 to out of the top 30.
  • Blake Shelton’s “Sangria” went recurrent and fell from #7 to out of the top 30.

Songs That Entered The Top 30 This Week:

  • Parmalee’s “Already Callin’ You Mine”
  • Chris Young’s “I’m Comin’ Over”

New #1 Song This Week:

  • Brantley Gilbert – “One Hell of An Amen”

Song I Predict Will Reach #1 Next Week:

  • Michael Ray – “Kiss You In The Morning”

Biggest Gainers This Week:

  • Kenny Chesney – “Save It For A Rainy Day” – Up 6 from #23 to #17 (Most Added Song of the Week again)
  • Dustin Lynch – “Hell of a Night” – Up 5 from #12 to #7
  • Florida Georgia Line – “Anything Goes” – Up 5 from #27 to #22

Biggest Losers This Week:

  • Little Big Town – “Girl Crush” – Out of the Top 30
  • Blake Shelton – “Sangria” – Out of the Top 30
  • Canaan Smith – “Love You Like That” – Down 5 from #5 to #10

Songs I See Leaving The Top 30 Soon:

  • Canaan Smith – “Love You Like That”
  • Jason Aldean – “Tonight Looks Good On You”
  • Brantley Gilbert – “One Hell of An Amen”
  • Brad Paisley – “Crushin’ It”

Next Four Songs I See Entering Top 30:

  • Jana Kramer – “I Got The Boy”
  • Miranda Lambert & Little Big Town – “Smokin’ And Drinkin’”
  • Hunter Hayes – “21”
  • Kelsea Ballerini – “Dibs”

As always be sure to weigh in on this week’s chart in the comments below.

Review – Will Hoge’s “Still A Southern Man”

Will Hoge

Here in the United States, to say it’s been a busy news cycle in 2015 would be an understatement. There have been several major issues throughout this year and we’re just past the halfway point. One of the biggest issues and the one that has undoubtedly affected country music the most is the issue of the confederate flag. This issue was raised after the horrific and tragic shooting in Charleston, South Carolina where a coward went into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and shot nine people because of the color of their skin. It was a blatant act of racism and terrorism. One of the after effects of this tragedy was the issue of the confederate flag, as their were several pictures of the shooter with confederate memorabilia and the confederate flag still flew over the state capitol in South Carolina. Immediately people called for the flag to come down, while at the same time many people came out to defend the flag. Eventually the flag was removed from the capitol and several retailers have since banned the sales of any memorabilia displaying the flag. The issue is still hotly debated as of this time.

Enter Will Hoge now. He’s a proud southerner from Nashville, Tennessee and an artist that sings with conviction in every song he sings. Not only does he display this conviction in his singing, but his songwriting too. He’s already impressed many in the country music community this year with his new album Small Town Dreams, which Derek rightly praised in his review of it. It contains some of my favorite songs of 2015. So back to the confederate flag issue: Hoge saw the events in Charleston and the fallout, prompting him to write a song to flesh out his feelings on it. The name of the song is “Still A Southern Man.” In an interview with Rolling Stone, Hoge says he used to fly the rebel flag with pride, as the name of his high school was the Franklin Rebels and the mascot was a rebel solider. But as he grew up and saw more places as he travelled, he begun to realize the confederate flag didn’t represent what he thought and the Charleston shooting drove this point home to him.

So that leads us to “Still A Southern Man,” which is this: an outright protest and condemnation of the confederate flag. Hoge recorded the song in a single night at RCA Studio A in Nashville and in this song he has no qualms revealing his thoughts on the issue. The line that drives home his point the best to me is the following:

“There’s an old flag waving overhead/and I used to think it meant one thing.

Now I know it’s just a hammer driving nails in the coffin of a long dead land.” 

See what I meant about Hoge’s conviction? It’s such an admirable trait in a songwriter and the amount of punch behind these lyrics are clearly felt. Hoge sings about his immense amount of pride for the south and it’s culture, but he clearly wants the confederate flag no longer associated with it, as he feels it represents hate and racism, not the pride of southern culture. And just because he’s dismissing the rebel flag, doesn’t mean he isn’t a southern man as Hoge sings. The guitars blare throughout this song, giving it a rocking and catchy groove. Hoge is borderline furious as he sings throughout the song, giving this song even more edge. Everything comes together to give this song a perfect attitude for a protest song.

Just like Rachel Potter with “Jesus and Jezebel,” Hoge’s “Still A Southern Man” tackles an issue that the majority of artists in country music wouldn’t dare touch. Not only that, but Hoge boldly and outright condemns something that a good size group of people in country music support. I find this song to be very important because many outside the circles of country music love to stick country music with the stereotype of it being music for racist white trash and hillbillies. This is obviously not true. At the same time though it makes the genre look bad when many of the big names of country music refuse to tackle issues relevant in pop culture at the moment. Along with Kacey Musgraves, Hoge isn’t afraid to tackle these issues and appears more proactive compared to his contemporaries as a result. This song is a prime example of true artistry and conveying strong feelings in a thoughtful manner, proving another example that country music is a deep and thoughtful genre open to anyone.

Grade: 10/10