Country Perspective’s 2016 Album of the Year Nominees

Throughout 2016 Country Perspective had the privilege to review a lot of fine music. The world of country, Americana and folk certainly produced it’s fair share of great music throughout the year, reviving old sounds and sparking new ones every step of the way. There was certainly a fair share of innovation and creativity on display from a variety of artists. And now we get to look back the very best that was released. We first take a look at the very best albums of 2016, which will be nominated for Country Perspective’s top award, Album of the Year.

When deciding what album will win the 2016 Country Perspective Album of the Year Award, Country Perspective will take into consideration some key aspects: songwriting, instrumentation, production, accolades, impact on genre, consistent quality in the album and how memorable they are. I will ultimately decide which album will win Country Perspective’s top award. But I’m not the only one deciding. Country Perspective encourages feedback from you the readers! Your comments and suggestions will most certainly be considered when determine who wins not only this award, but all the year-end awards here at Country Perspective.

One more thing: In order for an album to be eligible for Album of the Year, it must have received a perfect 10/10 rating in its review. No other albums are considered. Only the best of the best get a shot. This year I did a much better job I feel in grading, especially for the 10/10 albums and only gave a couple of grades that I ultimately found to be too high. After much consideration I found four albums were ultimately worthy of their 10/10 grades and fit to be the nominations for Country Perspective’s 2016 Album of the Year. So without further ado, here are the nominees:

Dave-Cobb-Southern-Family

Various Artists/Dave Cobb – Southern Family

Coming into 2016 this was an album everybody in the independent/traditional community were licking their chops in anticipation to hear. How could you not be excited for a project headed by super producer Dave Cobb, which everything he touches seems to turn into gold? To top it off an all-star cast of artists from both the mainstream country and Americana realms would be recording the music. Well the hype was certainly met, as this turned out to be exactly what many anticipated it to be and that’s one of the year’s best albums. While this didn’t make the impact I was hoping it would make, everyone who has heard it in both critics and fans circles seem to be in near unanimous conclusion that it’s brilliant. It’s hard to pick highlights on this album because you could pretty much say this about every song. Cobb got 100% out of each artist on the project.

After listening to Southern Family, you come away with a better understand and feeling of southern culture and lifestyle. It’s very easy to point out the problems that existed in southern culture in the past and the stigma this caused for the south is something that will remain with the culture for years to come. But it’s important to remember the redeeming qualities of the southern culture: family, friends, love, spirituality, home. All of these things southerners should rightly be proud of and point to as their defining qualities that make them great. This album celebrates southern pride with dignity and genuineness that should make any southerner smile. Cobb bringing together all of these artists who clearly understand southern culture, from both mainstream and independent realms, is not only a unifying moment for southern people, but country music in general. That’s something we can all appreciate.

BJ Barham Rockingham

BJ Barham – Rockingham 

Small towns are a pretty common theme in country music. If you turn on country radio you’re bound to hear some upbeat song that glorifies small town living and makes rural living out to be the greatest thing in the world. But the truth is there are a lot of harsh realities about small town living you won’t hear about in those songs. Luckily for us there are artists like BJ Barham who come along and give us the sad truth behind small towns all across America. Barham has spent the majority of his career as the frontman of the popular independent country group American Aquarium. But this year he decided to step out alone and release his first solo album, a project titled Rockingham that he wrote after the terrorist attacks in Paris. The result is one of the best albums I’ve heard all year.

BJ Barham’s Rockingham will flat-out knock you on your ass. It’s depressing as hell and it’s full of raw emotion. Don’t take this as bad as it’s quite the opposite. It’s a beautifully dark album that paints a poignant tale of the failed American dream, lost hope, the hells of small town living and the trials and tribulations of everyday life. The songwriting is absolutely flawless and couldn’t be any deeper if it tried. While I didn’t spend a lot of time talking about the instrumentation on this album because the songwriting is so excellent, it also shines bright and does a good job of letting the lyrics do the heavy lifting. At eight songs long, this album is somehow the perfect length. It doesn’t let up and hits you in the gut every step of the way. I don’t think there will be another album released this year as morbid as Rockingham. But I don’t know if there’s an album better than it this year too.

Sturgill Simpson A Sailor's Guide To Earth

Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth

Sturgill Simpson capture our inaugural Album of the Year award in 2014 with his sophomore album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and now he’s back again going for his second win. Metamodern launched Simpson’s career into a whole new stratosphere, as he signed a major label deal with Atlantic Records and has quickly become a household name in country and popular critics’ circles. So in 2016 he was faced with the unenviable task of following up a near-universally praised album, while also releasing his first album under a major label. Of course in his own unique way, he delivered again.

A Sailor’s Guide To Earth has received just as much praise from critics as his sophomore album, despite some grumblings from fans hoping he would have been more traditional with his music. The album debuted at #3 on the Billboard 200 chart and went on to be #1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, Billboard Top Rock Albums chart and the Billboard Folk chart. He’s also continuing to sell out larger venues across the world and appears to not be slowing down in the slightest in terms of his popularity. Needless to say Simpson wins in terms of impact of the nominees, but this is only one facet of the award.

A Sailor’s Guide To Earth is another masterpiece from Simpson. If you’re looking for another copy of High Top Mountain or Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, don’t bother listening. If you’re a fan of music and you trust Simpson, strap in and listen to this album because you won’t be disappointed. You will however be surprised, as Simpson once again takes a different approach in the sound department. There are multiple outright country songs and every song has country elements in them. But there’s also Memphis soul and the Muscle Shoals sound that deeply influence the album. Not to mention there’s lots of string production and horns in many songs. Is it a country record? Well I can tell you Sturgill Simpson wrote, produced and performed an album of phenomenal music. I can say this is Simpson’s most cohesive and tight-knit album yet. Perhaps the best answer to this comes from the late great Merle Haggard: “Good. If it’s what they’re calling country, you don’t want to go near that shit.” And Simpson did exactly that. Simpson gave us something we never expected and yet exactly what we wanted and that’s art straight from the heart.

Chris King Animal

Chris King – Animal 

Chris King came onto a lot of people’s radars in 2013 with the release of his album 1983. It was definitely a country leaning album. But his follow-up takes a different. King went Americana with his new album Animal and the creative shift pays off in spades to deliver an enthralling album on heartbreak and life. You could call it a concept album, but then again aren’t all good albums concept albums? There’s still a country influence in the album, but there’s also rock, pop and other flourishes. King and Animal are undoubtedly the underdog of these four nominees, as the other nominees are an all-star cast of names, one of the biggest artists in country music and a popular independent artist with a fairly large following. But King absolutely belongs alongside them, as he proves with Animal he’s a name you should be familiarizing yourself with if you haven’t yet.

Chris King delivers a storytelling masterpiece with Animal. Looking at each song individually on this album, you have some pretty good songs. Put them all together and they all connect for one long, spectacular journey. It’s the journey of a man exploring love, discovery, overcoming mistakes, the unknown and ultimately what we’re all looking for in this crazy thing we call life. Most albums are just a collection of songs, not really all connecting with each other. Sure you’ll find a lot of albums with similar themes and tones throughout, but very rarely do you come across albums that connect from start to finish like Animal does. It should also be pointed out that production on this album is just as flawless as King’s songwriting. Producer John Ross Silva really nails the tone and sound on this album, as it properly reflects the changes in attitude of the main story told throughout. Everything on this album works together perfectly. Chris King shows us all what a true album sounds like. Animal is one of the best albums you’ll hear all year.

That’s your nominees for Country Perspective’s 2016 Album of the Year award. Be sure to voice who you believe should win in the comments below. 

Country Perspective’s Best Country & Americana Music – March 2016

March 2016

Time to take look at the best of March! If you’re not familiar or just started reading the blog, here’s the drill: Each month Derek and myself will take a look back on the month that was and share our thoughts on the music that was released and some of our favorites. Below that will be a Spotify playlist of all the songs we enjoyed. If you’re a fan of Spotify and use it, we have good news as we have a Country Perspective Spotify page. You can check it out and subscribe here. So let’s talk about the month of March!

Josh

The year of 2016 in country and Americana music just continues to get better with each month. March managed to top both January and February, as two very strong album of the year contenders emerged. The first of those contenders is Chris King’s Animal. This album knocked me flat on my ass and it’s one of the truest albums I’ve ever reviewed. Every song on this album connects to tell the story of a man who loses it all and finds redemption the only way he knows how to find it. Along the way he learns a lot about himself and does some introspection on his life. “Never Make It Last,” “Take It Down” and “Martinez Social Club” are the standout songs, but you need to hear this whole album.

The other album of the year contender to emerge was the much hyped Dave Cobb-produced project Southern Family. This album full of an all-star lineup of talent not only delivered what we expected, but kind of exceeded it. I expected the high quality, but what I didn’t expect is smooth and flawless the artists and songs mesh together to create a cohesive and deep album. It’s very hard to pick the favorites on this one, but if I have to choose one it’s Morgane and Chris Stapleton’s rendition of “You Are My Sunshine.” It’s hauntingly beautiful. Just like King’s album, you need to hear the entirety of Southern Family. It has something for everyone and it’s going to be on a lot of year-end lists.

If these two perfect albums weren’t enough to whet your music appetite, there was even more quality music. Loretta Lynn at the young age of 83 delivered the amazing Full Circle album. She doesn’t sound much different from what she did in her prime and if it’s indeed her final album of original music, she went out with an absolute bang. On the flip-side of the age spectrum, up and comer William Michael Morgan delivered a solid self-titled EP with the kind of music that every artist on a major label should be making. “Lonesomeville” was the standout of this EP for me, as the broken heart ballad is reminiscent of the music you would hear from Strait and Jackson in the 90s. Finally, the much-anticipated Margo Price released her debut album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter and she reminded me so much of…Loretta Lynn (pretty ironic they both released great albums in the same month). Derek is writing a review for this one, so I don’t want to spoil it. However when listening to this album be ready from the start, as I find the best song on it is the first one, “Hands of Time.”

Derek

March was a fantastic month for country and Americana music! It’s still early in 2016, but March may have produced three of the best albums of the year. Firstly, Chris King’s Animal showcased a great concept of getting over a broken heart. The entire album is fantastic from start to finish, but songs like “Never Make It Last” and “Take It Down” are two of my favorites. Dave Cobb’s highly anticipated superstar album Southern Family didn’t disappoint. Bringing in the hottest Americana stars with a few of mainstream’s more quality artists, Cobb produced a solid album with songs about family life in the south. It wasn’t one story, but a collection of stories meant to paint a picture of southern families. Zac Brown’s “Grandma’s Garden” is one of his best songs he’s released. Brandy Clark’s heartbreaking “I Cried” proves why Clark is held in high regard as a songwriter. But it was Morgane Stapleton’s stunning rendition of “You Are My Sunshine” with husband Chris on guitar and harmonies that ended up being the album’s best song.

Margo Price’s Midwest Farmer’s Daughter is an excellent traditional country album. “Hands of Time” and “Four Years of Chances” are two of the album’s top songs. Country legend Loretta Lynn also released another album to add to her large catalog. Full Circle had a little bit of everything from old songs to new songs, and several great cover songs. Lynn’s rendition of “Always on My Mind” is excellent, but it’s the final song from the album, “Lay Me Down”, a duet with Willie Nelson, that will be a favorite for years to come. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention William Michael Morgan’s EP. A great record that captures the traditional sounds and values of country music but gives them a relevant spotlight in 2016. “Lonesomeville” and “Back Seat Driver” are my two favorite songs from the 22-year-old singer.

Album Review – Chris King’s ‘Animal’ is Absolutely Brilliant

Chris King Animal

Music at it’s very core is about storytelling. It’s about conveying thoughts and emotions. The true music, art if you will, connects with the listener at their emotional core and it moves them in a way that it can be really hard to describe. You just feel something when you hear it. The sophomore album Animal from Chris King could be best summed up this way. The Austin, Texas-based artist came onto many people’s radars a few years ago with his debut album 1983, a decidedly country album full of a lot of great music. It’s one worth checking out if you haven’t heard it, especially his duet with Jamie Lin Wilson on “Man Enough.” But when it comes to his sophomore album Animal you can pretty much throw all your preconceptions of his sound out the window. King now identifies himself as an Americana artist and takes a decidedly more heartland rock-like approach to his music similar to the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty. If you follow him on Twitter, where he’s always bluntly honest about his thoughts, you could see this coming from King. And yet it still feels a little jarring at first. Then you listen to it more and it all connects. Literally everything on this album connects. This is when you see and understand the sheer brilliance of King and Animal.

The album’s title track is about the self-reflection of a man who knows his way of living is filled with mistakes, but knows this won’t ever change either. Most importantly he knows he’s terrible towards his woman and she knows he’s capable of being kind. It’s an internal struggle within the man that he doesn’t know how to control. The story continues on “Never Make It Last,” where the woman has now left him. He never saw it coming, yet he also saw it never lasting either. Again it’s that internal struggle between the animal in him and his true self that he just can’t decide who and what he should be. It should be noted too that these first two songs on his album signal King’s transition from a country act to Americana quite well. They have a decidedly more rock flavor to them and he sounds quite natural.

“Borderland” takes on a more country approach, not too dissimilar to his debut album 1983. In this song the man realizes he must leave the city as it reminds him too much of her. He knows he’s leaving family and friends behind and he would stay if he could. But he knows he has to leave, as her memory is just too painful to him. Borderland refers to the borderlands of Texas, which is west of San Antonio, east of El Paso and north of the Rio Grande River. It’s a frontier that is far away from the hustle and bustle of the major cities of Texas, the perfect setting for a loner. The man is still in denial over his breakup on “Almost Gone.” Here he’s making his last-ditch attempt at winning his ex over by calling her. But he insists she doesn’t have to answer his calls, as he’s almost gone anyway thanks to his lifestyle. The spacey guitar riffs throughout really compliment the lyrics and tone of the entire song. Not only does it compliment the song, but it’s damn catchy too.

He finally reaches his moment of acceptance on “This City.” He realizes how alone really feels now after isolating himself from everyone he knows in the world and using every coping mechanism he can think of to deal with it. But now he realizes how important his home was to him and misses it dearly. The song is a home is where the heart is moment and something anyone can relate after leaving to set out into the world, whether to escape or find new opportunities. And it’s this song where it really sets into the listener how deep King goes with this story. You can’t really get more raw and down to the nitty-gritty than this. Nostalgia begins to set in on “Karnes County 2002.” The man begins to look through old photos and recalls old memories of what once was in his life. It inspires him to start setting out to make things right in his life, as he realizes the drug that has held him back is loneliness. It makes him think about the dream he has of finally winning everything he’s ever wanted and signals the beginning of a redemption story for him.

“Take It Down” sees the man visiting a local bar he used to enjoy and seeing a Polaroid picture of his ex behind the bar staring back at him. While his buddies are drinking and having a good time, he just can’t stop thinking about the picture. He doesn’t even know if he wants to be with her again, but yet he wishes they would just take it down. He wants to move on, but little things continue to hold him back. Of course on “Deep End” he gives into temptation and starts calling her again. He continues to go over and over again in his head of what happened between them and what he’s been doing to himself since they broke up. The song is so appropriately titled, as he’s finally gone off the deep end and just can’t take it anymore. So he does the only thing he knows to do best and starts to drive.

There’s another moment of self-deprecation for the man as he drives around on “Waiting On Myself.” He knows his “whole life has been a shot off into the dark” and that he is waiting on someone. That someone is himself, the man he knows he can be and what he needs to be to find happiness. It’s the realization he has needed all along. All of the suffering, self-reflection, heartache and second-guessing pays off with redemption on “Martinez Social Club.” The man awakes from his couch and rolls over to see his woman sleeping in the next room after they met up the night before at the Martinez Social Club in San Antonio. He finally has her back in his life again. Yet he’s aware of what he is now and what their relationship means after the emotional journey he has taken. He really still doesn’t want to be in love and in a relationship with someone, as he will always be a loner at heart. But yet he knows he can’t live without her. So he tells her she can pretend to love him and he can pretend to care about it all, making everything look fine to everyone. Basically he now understands love and that folks is one of the greatest lessons we can learn.

Chris King delivers a storytelling masterpiece with Animal. Looking at each song individually on this album, you have some pretty good songs. Put them all together and they all connect for one long, spectacular journey. It’s the journey of a man exploring love, discovery, overcoming mistakes, the unknown and ultimately what we’re all looking for in this crazy thing we call life. Most albums are just a collection of songs, not really all connecting with each other. Sure you’ll find a lot of albums with similar themes and tones throughout, but very rarely do you come across albums that connect from start to finish like Animal does. It should also be pointed out that production on this album is just as flawless as King’s songwriting. Producer John Ross Silva really nails the tone and sound on this album, as it properly reflects the changes in attitude of the main story told throughout. Everything on this album works together perfectly. Chris King shows us all what a true album sounds like. Animal is one of the best albums you’ll hear all year.

Grade: 10/10