Review – Ashley Monroe’s “On To Something Good”

Ashley Monroe

Ashley Monroe caught everyone’s attention when she came onto the country scene as a part of Pistol Annies, the trio made up of her, Miranda Lambert and Angaleena Presley. Monroe though caught my attention when I heard her 2013 album Like A Rose. Produced by Vince Gill, I was impressed by her artistry and her dynamic voice. It was one of my favorite country albums that year and I was excited about her future. She’s gotten more and more attention lately, mostly because of her duet with Blake Shelton on “Lonely Tonight.” It’s been featured in Pepsi commercial and has been featured heavily on radio, as it’s destined to reach #1 on the Country Airplay chart soon. But I’ve been waiting for her next album. Well now we’ve gotten the first taste of it, as she’s released the debut single off it, titled “On To Something Good.”

So is this song on to something good for Monroe? Well, no it’s not. “On To Something Good” is a song about….I’m not sure. It’s so bland and uninteresting that I find it hard to listen to. It doesn’t hold my attention and is the equivalent of elevator music. It’s just something to fill the void. So for as what the song is about, you can choose. I know I don’t feel like figuring it out because this song is just so boring and we all have better music we could be listening to. The reason I think the theme is so bland is because this song is so radio-friendly. It’s obviously a ploy for a radio play, as Monroe is capable of so much more. The instrumentation is just as boring and unimaginative as the non-existent, neutral theme. It’s quite pop sounding and upbeat. The country sound is practically non-existent, as the guitar is buried in the background of the song. That’s because the drum machine dominates the beat. Monroe even sounds bored singing, as her voice is flat in the chorus.

I find it hard to believe Gill is producing Monroe’s next album, based on this offering. This just feels so empty and castrated compared to the material off of Monroe’s first album. I can’t even hate this song because it’s too bland to hate. I’m just left feeling disappointed and a little sleepy. I’ll forget about this song with a couple of weeks. That’s how forgettable this song is from Monroe. I hope this is just an anomaly on her new album because if this is a precursor it may go down as the biggest disappointment of 2015. “On To Something Good” is on to something not so good. It’s a watered-down, pop country song that is well below what Monroe is capable of producing.

Grade: 5/10

Country Perspective’s Best Country Albums of 2014

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.

10/10 (Album of the Year Candidates)

Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music 

Shovels & Rope – Swimmin’ Time 

Karen Jonas – Oklahoma Lottery 

Lucette – Black Is The Color 

Tami Neilson – Dynamite! 

Sunny Sweeney – Provoked 

First Aid Kit – Stay Gold 

Old Crow Medicine Show – Remedy 

The Secret Sisters – Put Your Needle Down 

9.5/10

Angaleena Presley – American Middle Class 

Micky & The Motorcars – Hearts From Above 

Stoney LaRue – Aviator 

9/10

Wade Bowen – Wade Bowen 

Matt Woods – With Love From Brushy Mountain 

Lee Ann Womack – The Way I’m Livin’ 

BlackHawk – Brothers of the Southland 

The Roys – The View 

Jason Eady – Daylight & Dark 

Mack McKenzie – One Last, One More 

Bonnie Montgomery – Bonnie Montgomery 

8.5/10

Jon Pardi – Write You A Song 

Ray Scott – Ray Scott 

Mary Sarah – Bridges 

The Buffalo Ruckus – The Buffalo Ruckus 

Rich O’Toole – Jaded 

Corb Lund – Counterfeit Blues 

8/10

Eric Paslay – Eric Paslay 

Phillip Fox Band – Heartland 

Terri Clark – Some Songs 

Country Perspective’s 2014 Female Artist of Year Winner

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.

Country Perspective’s Best Female Country Artist of 2014 Nominees

As 2014 comes to a close, Country Perspective will be handing out a number of awards to the artists, songs, and albums we covered over the year. We’ll be crowning the best of the best and the worst of the worst. Very much like last year, this year featured some great album releases from female artists that brought some of the best country music in 2014. Some of these women had strong debut albums, others added to an already strong catalog, and all are a wonderful representation of country music. Regardless of their respective stories, these seven women are making some of the best country music today, and their work this year is worthy of being nominated for Country Perspective’s Best Female Country Artist of the Year.

Awards will be handed out in mid-late December. Josh and I will deliberate and reach the final decisions together, but we will also take reader input into consideration. So if you have a strong opinion about an artist listed here feel free to comment below and let us know. Who knows, you may sway the vote! In going over nominees this year, we believe that this particular category is a tough to award because, quite frankly, these women all have a reasonable case to be crowned as Country Perspective’s top female artist.

  • Sunny Sweeney – Sunny’s third album, Provoked, was met with critical acclaim. The album was a great collection of honest, personal songs, most of which Sunny co-wrote. She delivers these songs with passion and emotions that add to each song’s story. Provoked also featured several song of the year worthy tracks, one of which can be found on our list of Song of the Year. In my opinion, Sunny has the perfect blend of classic and contemporary country sounds, and the consistency of her music, in both sound and quality cannot be overlooked.

Lee Ann Womack – Fans waited and waited for Womack’s next album and were finally treated to The Way I’m Livin’ this year. Another album that was not only met with critical acclaim, but also received a Grammy nomination for Country Album of the Year. Her song, “When I Come Around” is also featured on our list for Song of the Year. And who could forget Womack’s beautiful tribute to Alan Jackson at the 2014 CMT Awards? Alongside Kacey Musgraves, the Texas women sang Jackson’s “Livin’ on Love” in honor of his Impact Award. Country music certainly missed Lee Ann Womack and she made a roaring return this year.

  • Kacey Musgraves – Kacey’s sole official release this year was her single “The Trailer Song”, but she had a huge presence and impact around the award show grounds over the year. Kacey Musgraves is doing everything in her power to bring the roots of country music back to the spotlight. Her duet at CMT Awards with Lee Ann Womack was without a doubt a big moment from this year. At the 2014 CMA Awards, Musgraves not only had a great performance with the one and only Loretta Lynn, but Musgraves’ hit single, “Follow Your Arrow”, was awarded Song of the Year. “Do you guys realize what this means for country music?!” Musgraves exclaimed in her acceptance speech. Kacey Musgraves may just be the most important artist in the mainstream light right now.

Angaleena Presley – Angaleena Presley got her start as a songwriter, penning numerous songs on country trio The Pistol Annies’ first two albums. Presley released her first solo debut album, American Middle Class, this year, and it did not disappoint. Simple, honest songs about the hardships and struggles of small town America. Presley is a gifted songwriter whose stories represent the history of how country music was built.

 

  • Lucette – This Canadian country singer has what I personally consider the most impressive debut album of 2014. Black is The Color is a chilling, brilliant collection of songs with great writing and vocals. Dave Cobb’s production on this album is phenomenal, and Lucette’s “River Rising” is a Song of the Year candidate. Some select dates of Lucette’s tour this year also features Sturgill Simpson. Basically, Lucette is surrounding herself with the right people, and she certainly has a bright musical future.

Karen Jonas – Yet another impressive debut album. A dark collection of classic country and blues, Karen Jonas’ Oklahoma Lottery is downright amazing. Great songwriting, fantastic instrumentation, and Jonas’ voice is haunting. This is another singer who I’m excited to see develop and grow in the country music world. You’ll find the title track from the album on our Song of the Year list, and rightfully so. Karen Jonas jumped onto the scene this year and made quite the impact.

 

  • Tami Neilson – This New Zealand country star is in one word, spectaculaTami Neilson Album Coverr. Tami’s sound is straight out of the 1950s, and her new album, Dynamite!is a great showcase of what Tami Neilson is capable of: great vocals that carry each song and perfectly convey the emotions appropriate for the subject matter. Her albums have been critically acclaimed and awarded several times in New Zealand, and it’s hard to imagine that Dynamite! won’t fare differently. Tami Neilson is an absolute gem to listen to.

Please share your thoughts and help us decide who to crown as Country Perspective’s Best Female Country Artist of 2014. This category is full of worthy candidates who all deserve to be recognized for their accomplishments this year. Your comments and votes will certainly be helpful in determining the outcome of this award. If you haven’t already, check out the rest of our nominations for our awards: best male singer, best duo or group, best and worst albums, and best and worst songs of 2014.

Ranking Mainstream Country Music Artists: Grade A

If you look at mainstream country artists from the perspective of mainstream country music news outlets, every artist is great in their own way. None of them can do no wrong and it’s just like watching a giant ass kissing convention. If you look at mainstream country artists from the Country Perspective, not every artist is great. There are some good artists, some average ones and some really bad artists that should never make any kind of music. In other words we tell it like it is and deliver you honesty. To me it’s not a very difficult thing to do. I never hesitate nor does Derek when writing reviews to say what is exactly on our minds. So today I thought it would be a good time to start sorting out the good and bad artists in mainstream country music in case you’re an independent country music fan who has thoughts about checking out mainstream country music or you’re just getting into country music period.

Keep in mind these rankings were entirely compiled by yours truly. It’s only my opinion. The only artists I’m considering in these rankings is mainstream country artists that are on major labels and/or still get radio time. I’m also including legends and acts that are too big to be considered independent artists. The way I determine these rankings is by looking at the overall body of work of the artist, as well as taking into account the most recent offerings from them. So bro country artists that have been churning out hit after hit will be lower on the list. If an artist made bad music in the past, but is now putting out better music lately that will help them. But that bad music won’t be forgotten either. One more thing: attitude and respect for the genre will be considered. The rankings will be determined by grade. First we’ll take a look at who I consider the best of the genre.

Grade A

The best of the best in mainstream only make grade A. These artists have consistently churned out great country music over their careers. Their work has benefitted the genre and really saved it some face in recent years. They’re the most country ones left and each of them have a place in my music library. These artists also approach their music and the genre with respect to the roots of it and it’s storied history. Some of them are the biggest names ever in country music. Speaking of that…

WillieWillie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Billy Joe Shaver, Dolly Parton, George Strait, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, Alison Krauss, Reba – The legends of country music that are still making great music after all of these years. They’re icons that have done more than enough to be considered grade A for the rest of their careers. Cherish their music as much as you can. Any country fan worth a lick knows these artists, so there’s no need for me to explain why each are legends.

Kacey Musgraves – The current queen of country music. She’s racked up Grammys, CMA awards, ACM awards and other numerous accolades in a short amount of time. You may not agree with her messages in some of her songs, but you can’t deny she’s talented and most importantly respects the roots of the genre. Musgraves has only released one album so far and she’s already playing alongside the likes of a legend like Willie Nelson and a pop icon like Katy Perry. I believe we haven’t even seen the best from Musgraves yet either. I expect her to improve with each album and be a staple of country music for years to come.

Zac_Brown_USO_tour

Zac Brown Band – Country music purists will immediately cry foul, but to them I say blow it out your ass. “But what about “Chicken Fried” and those beach songs, Josh? You’re just going to forget them?” This argument is so damn old and I won’t stand for it anymore. I’ve listened to every single album that the band has released and I can tell you the majority of their music is not beach related. They have some damn fine album cuts. I’m guessing the people who are beating the dead horse with the island songs have only listened to his radio stuff. Even by just looking at his radio singles, only 2 of their 11 singles in the last five years are island/beach songs. Those songs aren’t terrible either. If Alan Jackson, Dave Grohl, Vince Gill, The Allman Brothers, The Doobie Brothers and Elton John are willing to make music with him, you should respect him. Also never forget this quote.

Dierks Bentley – Despite a few duds over the years, *cough* “Drunk on a Plane” *cough* Bentley has produced some of the best albums and radio singles in country music. His new album Riser is arguably the best mainstream country album of 2014. He also produced a fantastic bluegrass album a few years ago. Just remember when he’s singing a dud on radio or an awards show that he’s only playing the game so he can make great music for the rest of his albums.

Ashley Monroe & Angaleena Presley – Since the Pistol Annies aren’t a full-time group, I decided to rank the trio individually. These two are just beginning their solo careers and have only released one album each. Both albums were pretty damn good. It’s only the beginning for these two and I can’t wait to hear more.

The Mavericks – These guys aren’t mainstream, but they are signed to Valory Music Group, an imprint of Big Machine Records. There’s a reason Scott Borchetta is a wealthy man. He wisely saw money in this talented group and although they will never be on radio again, they can make whatever music they want. This is great news for country music fans. Their 2013 comeback album In Time was one of the best of that year. They’re releasing a new album in February 2015. Be sure to mark it on your calendar.

Lee Ann Womack – She is signed to independent label Sugar Hill Records, but with NASH Icon stations popping up and playing music from her great new album, I consider her mainstream enough for these rankings. Other than her big hit “I Hope You Dance,” Womack has been underrated her entire career. She’s not only put out good music, but a variety of good music from contemporary to gospel to traditional.

Gary Allan

Gary Allan & Josh Turner – Two under-heralded artists who fly under the radar and consistently put out solid country albums. Mainstream country fans will never fully appreciate them, but there are plenty of traditional country fans who do. Turner had been on hiatus recently, but he’s releasing a new album in 2015. Allan hasn’t released an album since 2013, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t release a new album next year too.

Jamey Johnson – “What happened to Jamey Johnson?” I see this in every single comments section on iTunes where someone is complaining about the newest pile of crap from a bro country artist. Well to those people: I didn’t know either until recently. Thanks to some digging by Trigger at Saving Country Music, he found out Johnson was having troubles with his publisher. Then out of nowhere Johnson put a giant banner across his newly designed site that says “New Music Coming Soon.” So we continue to wait and see. Maybe 2015 will be the long-awaited return of Jamey Johnson to country music. 

Brandy Clark – I can’t believe I almost forgot Clark! Thanks to reader Noah for pointing this out! Since she was nominated for 2014 CMA New Artist of the Year Award, that’s enough qualification for her to be considered mainstream. She’s not only penned numerous great hits for the likes of Kacey Musgraves, but her debut album last year was a solid listen.

That’s all for part one! Check back soon for part two of my rankings!