The Hodgepodge: Instant Gratification and Music


I saw comments like this last year, and I’ve seen them this year. Something like “this has been a down year for music” or “releases haven’t been as strong this year.” I think it’s funny, and somewhat frustrating, that comments like that constantly pop up after an anticipated album is released and not up to someone’s standards. I think our culture in America has become so ingrained with the idea of “instant gratification.” In sports, every great game is an instant classic or a great player or team is immediately brought into the conversation for greatest of all time. Or if someone struggles early on, they’re immediately written off. More than anything, I think technology and social media have perpetuated a desire to be first and quick: first with breaking news, first with an announcement, quickly discussing major story lines from shows like Game of Thrones or Orange is the New Black.

While music fans don’t have to worry about spoilers, and musicians don’t get blasted for having an “off night” on tour, the same mentality of instant gratification still seeps into the music world. If a single or an album doesn’t wow us right away, we’re critical. We, as fans and users of technology (yes, I’m generalizing here), have become so accustomed to responding and making up our minds right away, that we judge the music we hear in the same fashion.

And just a few things to keep in mind before we dive into this: 1) this is purely from my observations reading comments left here, on other similar sites or on social media. 2) my timeframe starts in 2014, when I began writing for Country Perspective and exploring country music in-depth. 3) I’m just as guilty of this kind of thought and behavior.

The big part of instant gratification that annoys me are comments about how music released this year haven’t been as strong as last year. That could be true, that could be false. But when I see comments like that in the summer, I think it’s stupid. We have six more months of music releases to consume before we can accurately make those kinds of judgements. Sure, maybe the first half of the year hasn’t had an album blow up like Sturgill’s Metamodern (released May 2014), or Randy and Wade’s Hold My Beer (released April 2015), but that doesn’t mean 2016 won’t have an album like either of the two.

Take Chris Stapleton’s Traveller. Released in April last year, our circle of independent blogs and fans were high and mighty on Stapleton. Sure he had a slower rise, but by the time November rolled around, Chris Stapleton was a huge name in country music thanks to some CMA hardware. That’s just one example, and someone like Luke Bell probably won’t get any mainstream attention, despite a fantastic, pure country album. Sometimes it may take an album a few months for people to come around to it, or for an artist to see the benefits of fan growth. Not everyone will be an overnight success from one album release. There are a number of albums that took me multiple listens, or even several months, before I understood the hype or praise that album received. Whenever possible, I try to listen to an album multiple times before reviewing it to fully form an opinion. Judgement on art can change, and writing your opinion in stone after one listen isn’t always the best practice.

I think another mindset that plays into the notion of a weak year for albums or whatever is the desire to compare current works with past works – be it an artist’s newest album with the one before or comparing one artist’s new album with a different artist’s great album from “X” year. As a reviewer, I may compare the albums from a certain artist to highlight a growth or improvement I noticed within the artist from release to release, but I try to judge and grade an album as a piece of art independent from others. I’m sure I’m not perfect and that I’ve made that mistake a few times. However, artists who write their songs and albums, write them with their personal life influencing the songs. Just like everyone else, life happens and things change for singers and songwriters. It’s seems likely that an album released in 2013 represents what was going on in that singer/songwriter’s life at that time. And there’s a damn good chance that in 2016, that same person’s life looks completely different and will write about something different for the album that year.

However, what appears to be a common reaction to a new album that veers off the direction or sound of the previous one is that fear or worry that the artist is abandoning his or her music. Statements like “I was a fan until this album” or “he/she/they just lost a fan because I hate this new sound” are just plain idiotic. How can you possibly know that the new, different album will completely dictate and control the artist’s entire career and musical direction until retirement? So the artist released an album you didn’t like, big deal. There’s absolutely no rule that says you must like every song and album from your favorite artist.

Case in point, Sturgill Simpson. I’d be lying if I said the release and reactions of A Sailor’s Guide to Earth didn’t have some influence on this post. However, a common critique I’ve noticed is that it’s not the same as Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. Well it’s not going to be! I’d much rather have a new, different album than a direct sequel of a previous album that hits all the same marks. If you loved his first couple albums and this new one doesn’t do it for you, then that’s okay. Album number four could be more in line with his previous album and ASGTE will just be that outlier. We don’t know what the future holds, and it’s crazy to think that Sturgill will never ever make an album with hard-hitting honky tonk country like Metamodern again.

Artists want to experiment and express themselves. They’re own music and albums will be different from year to year, and country music will be different from year to year. Maybe we won’t have another album that explodes a little-known act to stardom for another 10 years, but that’s not to say we’ll be left without great music for that decade of time. And at the same time, 10 years down the road we could possibly be looking back to 2016 as a defining year for country music. We don’t know, and we won’t know until it happens. Sure the moment itself may not be as flashy, or the music might not hit you right away like albums before, but that doesn’t mean the magic is lost or that the music is on a downward spiral.

We live in a time where we have more accessibility to music than ever before, for better or worse. Maybe it takes longer to find that gem of an album. Maybe this is the year your favorite artist decides to experiment and explore something different. Whatever the case may be, immediately writing the year or artist off because it doesn’t meet any personal, preconceived standards isn’t the right way to approach music. Give it time before making an absolute judgement. And even then, don’t make that judgement absolute.

Upcoming/Recent Country and Americana Releases

  • The Avett Brothers will released True Sadness tomorrow.
  • Mark Chesnutt’s Tradition Lives will be released on July 8.
  • Lori McKenna’s The Bird & the Rifle will be released on July 29.
  • Cody Jinks‘ newest album I’m Not the Devil will be released on August 12.
  • Kelsey Waldon’s will release a new album on August 13 called I’ve Got a Way. 
  • Amanda Shires’ announced a new album for September 16 called My Piece of Land.

Throwback Thursday Song

“The Silver Tongued Devil and I” by Kris Kristofferson. One of country’s best songwriters celebrated his 80th birthday yesterday.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

A.J. Ghent Band. This funk rock/soul band from Atlanta, Georgia was once upon time signed to Zac Brown’s Southern Ground label. This is a solid live album which I think showcases the band’s talents well. And I’m eager and ready to hear a full length studio album whenever the band releases one.

Tweet of the Week

Bro-country didn’t completely ruin the genre!

Two Stupid iTunes Review for Kane Brown

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 1.07.21 PM Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 1.08.01 PM

These were left under Kane Brown’s newest single “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now.” That’s a scary thought because he needs to be stopped, and at least Bobby Bones is on our side with this. But these two reviews just crack me up. From thinking this isn’t “immature like a typical pop song” to insinuating that country music “involves.”

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music [June 20]

Luke Bryan Kill The Lights

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 a 5 or 6 receive a 0. Songs rated 4 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. Luke Bryan – “Huntin’, Fishin’ & Lovin’ Every Day” -1 (Up 1)
  2. Jason Aldean – “Lights Come On” -1 (Up 4)
  3. Keith Urban – “Wasted Time” -1 (Up 2)
  4. Thomas Rhett – “T-Shirt” -1 (Down 1)
  5. Carrie Underwood – “Church Bells” +1 (Up 2)
  6. Tim McGraw – “Humble and Kind” +1 (Down 5) 
  7. Blake Shelton – “Came Here To Forget” -1 (Down 3)
  8. Florida Georgia Line – “H.O.L.Y.” -1 (Up 2)
  9. Kenny Chesney – “Noise”
  10. Eric Church – “Record Year” +1 (Up 1) [Best Song]
  11. Jon Pardi – “Head Over Boots” +1 (Up 1)
  12. Chris Lane – “Fix” -1 (Up 1) [Worst Song]
  13. Dan + Shay – “From The Ground Up” (Up 3)
  14. Jake Owen – “American Generic Country Love Song” -1 
  15. David Nail – “Night’s On Fire” -1 
  16. Sam Hunt – “Make You Miss Me” -1 (Up 1) 
  17. Justin Moore – “You Look Like I Need A Drink” +1 (Up 2)
  18. Frankie Ballard – “It All Started With a Beer” +1 
  19. Kelsea Ballerini – “Peter Pan” 0 (Up 1)
  20. Kip Moore – “Running For You” +1 (Up 1)
  21. Brad Paisley & Demi Lovato – “Without A Fight” +1 (Up 2)
  22. Zac Brown Band – “Castaway” 0
  23. Tucker Beathard – “Rock On” -1 (Up 1)
  24. William Michael Morgan – “I Met A Girl” +1 (Up 1)
  25. Dierks Bentley & Elle King – “Different For Girls” -1 (New to Top 30)
  26. Jennifer Nettles – “Unlove You” +1
  27. Big & Rich (feat. Tim McGraw) – “Lovin’ Lately” +1
  28. Blake Shelton – “She’s Got A Way With Words” -1 (New to Top 30)
  29. Drake White – “Livin’ The Dream” 0 (Re-Entered Top 30 This Week)
  30. Billy Currington – “It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To” +1

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: -1

The pulse remained the same this week.

Songs That Dropped Out of the Top 30 This Week:

  • Dierks Bentley – “Somewhere On A Beach” (Finally!)
  • LoCash – “I Know Somebody”
  • Brett Young – “Sleep Without You”

Songs That Entered The Top 30 This Week:

  • Dierks Bentley & Elle King – “Different For Girls”
    • The song looks at a breakup from the perspective of a girl and how they handle them. It says that girls don’t react in the same way guys do and that they don’t resort to hookups and drinking excessively like guys do. The song also says guys can act all tough after a breakup and forget about the relationship, while a girl can’t. Well this is all well and good if we all still looked at society through the lens of social consciousness of the 1950s. I really wanted to like this song, but the way it stereotypes all girls and guys is just too ridiculous to overlook. It paints guys to look like drunken, uncaring pigs while girls are emotional train wrecks who never resort to drinking or hookups to cope with breakups. It’s a shame this is a single and everyone will praise it for it’s “thoughtful” look through the eyes of a girl in a breakup. This song is nothing but a mess. 3/10
  • Blake Shelton – “She’s Got A Way With Words”
    • This is the song about Miranda Lambert on Blake’s album with at first what was reported to contain offensive lyrics. Well there’s nothing offensive unless you’re offended by whiny bullshit because that sums up the song. It heavily relies on what the writers think is “clever word play,” but really it’s just a contrived, boring song. Blake sings the same trite, vanilla lines over and over without really delivering any commentary on his failed relationship and not really showing any feelings about it. This one just puts me to sleep and it’s another song you can throw onto the big pile of mediocre singles churned out by country music in 2016. 4/10
  • Drake White – “Livin’ The Dream”

Song I Predict Will Be #1 Next Week:

  • Keith Urban – “Wasted Time”

Biggest Gainers This Week:

  • Dierks Bentley & Elle King – “Different For Girls” – Up 7 from #32 to #25
  • Blake Shelton – “She’s Got A Way With Words” – Up 7 from #35 to #28
  • Jason Aldean – “Lights Come On” – Up 4 from #6 to #2

Biggest Losers This Week:

  • Dierks Bentley – “Somewhere On A Beach” – Out of the Top 30
  • Brett Young – “Sleep Without You” – Out of the Top 30 (#31)
  • LoCash – “I Know Somebody” – Out of the Top 30 (#32)

Songs I See Going Recurrent & Leaving The Top 30 Soon:

  • Blake Shelton – “Came Here To Forget”
  • Tim McGraw – “Humble and Kind”

On The Hot Seat:

  • Kenny Chesney – “Noise”
  • Big & Rich (feat. Tim McGraw) – “Lovin’ Lately”

Next Four Songs I See Entering Top 30:

  • Brett Young – “Sleep Without You”
  • LoCash – “I Know Somebody”
  • Cole Swindell – “Middle of a Memory”
  • Brothers Osborne – “21 Summer”

Note: After further listens, Brett Young’s “Sleep Without You” will be downgraded to a -1 upon entry back into the top 30. It’s not terrible as I said before, but after multiple listens it’s too sleepy of a song to merit a 0.


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

Album Review – Jon Pardi’s ‘California Sunrise’

Jon Pardi California Sunrise

When it comes to quality of music from major label country artists this year, it’s been disappointing to say the least. To be more blunt, it’s been pretty mediocre and surprisingly boring. That sums up about 90% of the album releases I’ve heard from major label country artists this year. I can tell many share this sentiment, so when fans saw Jon Pardi was releasing his sophomore album California Sunrise, it became one of the most anticipated albums this year. After all Pardi is one of the few major label artists willing to keep it country with music. His current single and the lead single of the album, “Head Over Boots” is one of the most traditional songs at radio right now. Outside of Chris Stapleton, Pardi perhaps best represents the hopes and aspirations of traditional country fans hoping radio goes back to the sound. So with the hype in mind, does California Sunrise live up to the expectations? Well it depends on what exactly you expected out of the album and you’ll know what I mean by this by the end of the review.

Pardi begins the album with “Out of Style.” From the title I was expecting a song about how traditional country is considered out of style, but instead it’s about Pardi trekking to Nashville and learning how to write songs. The song elaborates further about how singing about how cold beers and complaining about the nine to five Monday through Friday lifestyle will never go out of style. It’s a longer song than what you’re accustomed to hearing from mainstream artists, as it allows Pardi and the band to show off their instrumentation. It’s a solid song, despite being a tad cliché. This is followed by the more traditionally arranged “Cowboy Hat.” And when I say traditionally arranged, there’s pedal steel guitar and fiddles throughout. The song itself is a love song, as Pardi sings of the love he has for his woman and how he loves seeing her in nothing but his cowboy hat. The whole song reminds me of something you would hear on country radio in the 90s (good or bad depending on your outlook on that era). I find it to be one of the best on the album and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a single for Pardi, as I think it could be a hit.

I could see it as the follow-up to “Head Over Boots” even, which follows on the album. I gave my thoughts on Pardi’s first career top ten hit last year and I still thoroughly enjoy the song. From my original review: It opens with the sounds of an acoustic guitar and steel guitar. These are the main instruments used throughout the song, with some fiddles sprinkled in too. It’s country through and through. The song itself is a love ballad, which is proving to be a strong suit for Pardi. In a way this song kind of reminds me of Brad Paisley’s “We Danced,” a solid love song that isn’t some all-time classic, but a feel good song that anyone can enjoy.

“Night Shift” sees Pardi singing of the working class man. The song is about a man who works several hours a week, but he looks forward to the “night shift” with his wife in bed. On the surface this seems like an overtly sexual jam that has plagued country radio recently. But really it comes off as sentimental and plays to the blue-collar sensibility of work hard, play harder. Not to mention there’s plenty of fiddle. This theme continues with “Can’t Turn You Down,” as we see the man in the song calling up his woman to meet up with her and later go back to his place for a romantic night. While the lyrics get a little stereotypical millennial-y with lines like “a phone call turns into a what’s up what’s up,” it’s a good song with a nice melody.

The album up to this point has been mostly good, but it starts to take a turn in the other direction with “Dirt on My Boots.” With one of the co-writers being Jesse Frasure (the other two writers being Rhett Akins and Ashley Gorley), I’m not surprised because he’s helped write his share of bad music. Right away there’s a noticeable drum loop that gives the song a dance club beat, clearly trying to create some adult contemporary appeal. Yet there’s a steady presence of a fiddle too. The song itself is about a farmer after a long day cleaning up to go to town with his girl for a night of dancing and fun. This song is one of three clear moments on this album of what I would call label meddling. Despite the pop leanings of this song, I don’t dislike it too much due to the fiddle play, Pardi’s charisma in his delivery and the hard to deny catchiness of the lyrics.

The best song hands down on California Sunrise is “She Ain’t In It.” Sounding like something straight off a classic Alan Jackson album, Pardi sings of his broken heart and how it’s prevented from going out and living his life. He’s now ready to do his normal things and go out into crowds, as long as his ex isn’t involved or mentioned. Otherwise the heartache will come rushing back. It’s not only the best song on this album, but one of the best I’ve heard this year. Two of the songs I thought of when listening to this song were Sammy Kershaw’s “Politics, Religion & Her,” as well as Garth Brooks’ “Learning To Live Again.” All three capture the feelings of getting over heartbreak perfectly. This could be a career song for Pardi and I truly hope him and his label release this as a single.

Unfortunately, the worst song follows the best song of the album. That would be “All Time High.” It’s a love song with a nauseating amount of clichés and comparisons of love to drugs and getting high that we’ve heard too much in recent years. One line that elicited a groan from me was Pardi singing about how he enjoys his girl turning “his knob” up to 11. I get where songwriters Pardi, Bart Butler and Brice Long are going for here, but the lyrics are just a clunky mess. At least there’s a lot of fiddle in the song I guess. The third and final song clearly involving label meddling is “Heartache on the Dance Floor.” Just like “Dirt on My Boots,” this song has a clear pop dance beat accompanied by fiddles. For a song with heartache in the title, I didn’t expect it to be so upbeat. Out of all the songs on the album, this one confuses me the most. You have this dance beat, but also fiddles and steel guitar. Why couldn’t we just have the latter? Well the obvious answer is the label wanting something pop-y and Pardi having to comply. For a “compromise song,” it’s not terrible.

“Paycheck” is about a man hoping his paycheck will help take his work blues away, as he spends it at the bar. The country rock production combined with the catchy lyrics makes it easy to sing along with. It’s your standard drinking, blue-collar song that is solid, yet unspectacular. “Lucky Tonight” has a more traditional arrangement that dominates the album for the most part. It’s about a man whose woman left him weeks ago and now is trying to rebound in the bar scene and move past her. While the lyrics are a little simplistic and a tad too mainstream, the song is pretty solid to my ears. Not every heartbreak song has to be a complex ballad. The album’s title track brings it to a close, another highlight of this album, only trailing quality-wise to “She Ain’t In It.” The song is about Pardi singing of the love he has for his woman and comparing it the California sunrise he sees back home. It’s nice to see Pardi honor where he’s from, comparing someone he cares for so much to his home that he cares for so much too. Regional pride is something country artists need to embrace more. Despite some rocky songs in the middle, Pardi ends the album on a strong note.

Based on my expectations heading into this album, Jon Pardi delivers a solid album with California Sunrise. I knew going into this album that it wouldn’t be at a level of Chris Stapleton’s Traveller nor would it be stone cold country all the way through because this is an album from a major label and Jon Pardi is still early in his career. I expected some label meddling and there was actually less of it on here than I thought there would be. What did surprise is how almost every song on this album has a combination of fiddle and steel guitar. Instead of focusing on what this album did wrong, I’d rather focus on this because this caught my eye more than the mistakes on it. Pardi clearly wants to make that traditional, early 90s country music and for the most part these songs accomplish this. He also does a good job balancing between serious songs and fun songs. Despite this album’s faults at times, I find California Sunrise to be a very enjoyable, fun album and will go down as one of the best from a major label country artist this year.

Grade: 8/10

Album Review – Daniel Meade & The Flying Mules’ ‘Let Me off at the Bottom’

Daniel Meade and The Flying Mules

Some of the best music is the kind you can pick right up, listen to it and instantly just get it. On that very first listen you know you’re listening to something great. That’s how I would describe my first listen of the newest album from Daniel Meade & The Flying Mules. Based out of the UK, the band is made up of Meade, Lloyd Reid on electric guitar, Mark Ferrie on double bass and Thomas Sutherland on the drums. Their new album, titled Let Me off at the Bottom, is the first Meade & The Flying Mules have released as a group (Meade previously released two solo albums) after successfully headlining two UK tours in 2015. This summer they will be supporting Sturgill Simpson on all of his UK tour dates, a worthy honor and something that should help them gain even more exposure. I can say they wholeheartedly deserve more attention after listening to Let Me off at the Bottom because this album is great from start to finish.

The rollicking, piano-driven “Back to Hell” starts the album off with a fun, easy to get into tune. It’s a drinking song with some impressive guitar play that’ll pull you right into this album and won’t let go until you finish hearing it all. “There’s a Headstone Where Her Heart Used To Be” is a heartbreak song that follows. Meade sings of a man who’s had his heart-broken by a woman and proclaims she was so heartless in doing so that there’s now a headstone where her heart used to be. It’s a cleverly written song with a slightly playful nature while also driving across how heartbroken this man has become.

Daniel Meade & The Flying Mules keep with that slightly playful nature on “Ghosts and Crocodiles.” It’s song like these where you can tell how much fun the band is having and in turn that rubs off on the listener. The instrumentation is just impossible to not like. Meade slows it down on “He Should’ve Been Mine.” The song is about a man who finds a woman he still loves has had a child and when he looks at him he proclaims it should have been his child. But he’s happy to put the past behind and move on now. It’s really a song about just being able to let go of “what ifs” and looking forward. This is definitely one of the best songs on the album.

The album’s title track is about getting tired of being at the top and settling for just being at the bottom. The bright lights and being known by all can take its toll on someone who performs and I can imagine they sometimes yearn for the days of being in the shadows. The steel guitar-driven “Poison Dart” follows. It’s about a love stricken man who likes his love for a woman like a poison dart to the heart. Everything about this song has that classic country love song feel, from the lyrics to the instrumentation. “Please Louise” is an upbeat song that’ll have you tapping your feet long with the rhythm. With a tongue in cheek, the song is about a man being coerced by a father into a shotgun wedding with his daughter. He says he doesn’t mind her “big behind,” but he just isn’t in love with her and hopes she doesn’t say yes when he asks her to marry him. The silly, folksy nature just makes this a fun song you can listen to over and over.

Meade & The Flying Mules keep up the upbeat, light-hearted nature on “Lock up Your Daughter.” It’s about a man wanting to marry a woman, but he knows her parents won’t approve and says they should probably lock their daughter up now because he badly wants to be with her. Reid sounds excellent on the guitar throughout this album, but this song he really shines. After a couple of these silly songs though, Meade goes to the opposite end of the spectrum with “Leave Me to Bleed.” In fact it’s deathly serious, as a man sits and mourns after his future wife has committed suicide. He’s left with survivor’s guilt and alone, trying to find a way to mend his broken heart and life. The song is a real tear-jerker and punches you right in the gut with the lyrics. While Meade & The Flying Mules are really good at the fun songs, they’re also pretty damn good at serious songs and that’s the mark of an excellent band.

“Count the Roses” is a soulful tune about self-reflection. A man remembers some old advice his father gave him and he told him “when this world has its way, you’ll wind up with a face that you deserve.” It’s pretty sound advice that basically says karma will give or take based on what you’ve done. After following up an excellent song in “Leave Me to Bleed,” it can be easy to overlook this one. But you shouldn’t because it’s subtly great. The heartbreak drinking song “The Bottle Called for Me” concludes the album and it’s a fitting way to do so. It encompasses the common themes of the album and Daniel Meade & The Flying Mules: fun-loving in nature, but serious in theme. The song is about a man recalling when “the bottle called” for him and when it was when his wife of three years left. The song closes out with an emphatic chorus singing the hook and putting an exclamation point on the album.

Daniel Meade & The Flying Mules firmly establish themselves as one of the best groups in country and Americana today with Let Me off at the Bottom. Yes, you heard that right and I do not mince my words. Meade & The Flying Mules are as talented as about any group in country and Americana today. I would best describe them as The Mavericks (the soulful, catchy lyrics) meet Old Crow Medicine Show (the folky, roots sound). The instrumentation is flawless throughout the album keeping it fun when they need to while also setting the tone perfectly on the more melancholy tunes. The songwriting is sharp, witty and even deeper than meets the eyes. Daniel Meade & The Flying Mules are the real deal and is a group that deserves to be heard by all country and Americana fans.

Grade: 9/10

Album Review – Brandy Clark’s ‘Big Day in a Small Town’

Brandy Clark’s debut album, 12 Stories, was a critical darling, and instantly made her a singer to watch. When Clark finally announced her second album with high anticipation, she also revealed that she was working with producer Jay Joyce on Big Day in a Small Town. Admittedly, I was taken aback by the news as I haven’t enjoyed when Joyce has produced country albums in the past, most notably Little Big Town’s Painkiller. And after hearing the album’s debut single “Girl Next Door,” I was even further discouraged by Joyce’s production. However, “Girl Next Door” appeared to be a radio friendly single to appease her label because Brandy Clark delivers some quality country music with Big Day in a Small Town, even with a production that has a little edge.

Brandy Clark also said the album will have a bit of a concept to it. Big Day in a Small Town isn’t a straight forward concept album with a cohesive story from track 1 to track 11, but rather an album that follows a theme with unconnected scenes that provide a snapshot into the harder, yet more realistic side of life in small town. “Soap Opera” sets the theme and style for the album. Everyone has their own relationship issues from ex-spouses to nosey in-laws, and the song focuses on the local hairdresser and bartender who hear the bulk of these complaints from their customers. Clark works a few TV soap opera titles into the lyrics. The production follows a typical upbeat country-style with banjo plucks, guitars and a nice organ ring throughout the song. My only complaint with this song is that I hear a little too much of Jennifer Nettles in Clark’s twangy vocals, which doesn’t suit Brandy as a singer.

A tambourine shake fades into the snare of “Girl Next Door,” which is a great transition. While the songs aren’t related in content, that kind of focus on transition details adds an element of cohesion to the album and virtually ties the songs together. While I like the lyrics of “Girl Next Door,” the production sounds like a dance-remix of what used to be a country song. In the mix of the whole album, though, the production of “Girl Next Door” is an outlier. The acoustic mid-tempo “Homecoming Queen” follows. The song looks at local high school heroes who haven’t had the same type of pomp and glamour in their life after graduation. The popular homecoming queen is now a mother of three living down the road from her own mother. The song sends a message of how life doesn’t quite work out like one planned. “Broke” is a look at a farming family who is, well, broke. Brandy Clark provides several humorous lines in the song, providing a light-hearted take on poverty. “The white left the picket, the fleas left the hound. And even the crickets have moved into town.”  “Broke” has fitting upbeat production with heavy guitars in the melody.

Following is a standard country ballad in “You Can Come Over.” With a piano leading the production, the song carries a bit of blues influence. “You Can Come Over” tells a story of unfinished love. Told from her point of view, the woman gets a call from her ex who wants to meet up. Knowing full well if they get comfortable with a glass of wine that the lustful tension will grow, she tells him that he can come over but can’t come in. It’s a good approach to the common “we still have feelings for each other” type of song. The final piano note reverbs into the next song, “Love Can Go To Hell,” as another great transition ties the two songs together. And moving from trying to get over someone into a full fledge heartbreak songs further connects these two songs. “Love Can Go To Hell” takes the approach of personifying and cursing the feeling of love. The lyrics are great as Brandy uses that point of view on love to write an excellent heartbreaker, sung beautifully with a catchy chorus.

The album’s title track takes a more grand look at a few different scenes from the soap opera of a small town life. Dealing with darker topics like teenage pregnancy, drunk driving, and a married man wanting to spend some time with “a jailbait checkout queen” at Walmart, Brandy Clark pulls no punches as she fearlessly breezes by the situations with a touch of black humor. Being the title track of a thematic album, the chorus feels quite anthemic with several voices chiming in on the harmony. Another album standout is “Three Kids No Husband.” This solemn song tells the story of the hurdles the single mom jumps through. She has trouble making rent and keeping the house clean, all while trying to keep the kids on track in school and working at the local diner. It’s a well told story, with a production and style that fits right in Brandy Clark’s wheelhouse.

Brandy Clark takes a humorous approach to heartbreak with “Daughter.” After getting worked over by a smooth talking guy, Clark wishes for karma to catch up with him. “I hope you have a daughter, and I hope that she’s a fox. Daddy’s little girl just as sweet as she is hot. She can’t help but love them boys who love to love and leave them girls, just like her father.” “Daughter” has great throwback country production, and Kacey Musgraves provides vocal harmonies during the chorus. It’s a fun, light-hearted song with a catchy chorus and some great lyrics.

Clark keeps the traditional country going with “Drinkin’, Smokin’, Cheatin’.” The song takes a traditional country groove with an acoustic guitar and cranks it up with an electric guitar during the chorus. It’s country music with some rock edge mixed in, and it sounds great. Big Day in a Small Town ends with “Since You’ve Gone to Heaven.” Clark sings from the point of view of a woman who’s just lost her father. She worries about her mother will adjust to life alone, her brother has fallen off the wagon, and the economy’s crash hasn’t been easy on them. Clark ties the song together by saying “since you’ve gone to heaven, the whole world’s gone to hell.” “Since You’ve Gone to Heaven” exemplifies the country music notion of three chords and the truth.

Brandy Clark is committed to not only making great country music, but moving the genre forward. For those who defend crappy Nashville pop as country music evolving, Big Day in a Small Town is a truly great example of country music evolving. With the help of Jay Joyce, the album has songs firmly planted in country’s traditional styles, yet they’re given room to explore and reach to different heights and areas. Big Day in a Small Town is the best example of a modern country album. With a great production and songs that standalone well, yet fit into a nice, cohesive theme, Brandy Clark has followed up a great debut album with an even better album.

Grade: 9/10