The Endless Music Odyssey, Vol. 5 — CeeLo Green, Caylee Hammack & more!

CeeLo GreenCeeLo Green is Thomas Callaway

Dan Auerbach, David Ferguson and Easy Eye Sound just continue to churn out quality albums. This time it comes from veteran R&B artist CeeLo Green, who is known for such hits like “Crazy” as part of Gnarls Barkley and “Forget You” as a solo artist. But this album is much different than his popular material, as the glitz and glamour is all stripped away in favor of more subtle and smooth sounds. It’s an enjoyable mix of R&B, soul, pop, gospel and even some country. Many have described Green as a chameleon-like performer and I think this album exemplifies this more than any of his others.

There’s simmering love songs like “For You,” “I Wonder How Love Feels” and “Doing It All Together” that mix soul and pop to great results. “Lead Me” shows how Green can absolutely excel at gospel with his passionate vocals and makes me wish there were more gospel moments. “Little Mama” and “Don’t Lie” show another side of Green, being a father, which was great to see from him. But the two songs that intrigued me most were when he dipped into a more country-influenced sounds on “People Watching” and “Slow Down.” The former is a simple, yet bouncy song about observing the world around you and taking in the little things. The latter is a fantastic cover of his Easy Eye Sound label mate John Anderson. CeeLo Green covering John Anderson is not something I thought I would ever write about, but hey it’s 2020 and it works well.

The album closes out with another highlight in “The Way,” a brooding song about fighting your way through darkness. Green’s voice really excels in these dramatic songs, as his dynamic voice can add the right amount of tension to build up the lyrics. If you’re into soul music or enjoy Green’s voice, this album is definitely worth your time. 8/10

Caylee HammackIf It Wasn’t For You

The potential of Caylee Hammack is great. She has an incredible voice and when she incorporates her personal experiences into her songwriting, it makes for some damn compelling music. “Small Town Hypocrite” is easily the star of this album, an in-depth look at seven-year relationship that took Hammack away from a music scholarship and changed her life in several ways. And not only is the attention to detail great in the lyrics, but her vocal performance adds just the right amount of emotional touch. The best example is when she sings “When I chose you and daddy gave me hell/I made myself into someone else/Just to love you, damn, I loved you.” The aching regret and hesitation in her voice as she delivers these final words cuts straight to the heart. 

Hammack has other great moments on this album too like “Redhead.” Hammack and Reba sound great together and I’m surprised this wasn’t chosen for her new single, as it’s catchy and fun to singalong with. Hammack, Tenille Townes and Ashley McBryde sound fantastic harmonizing together on “Mean Something,” which is a song dripping with honesty about people seeking to be something more in a world filled with a lot of selfishness and lack of substance. “Sister,” “Forged in the Fire” and “Family Tree” are other solid songs where Hammack peels back layers of her life to deliver heartfelt messages and show the lessons she’s learned. “Gold” is a heartfelt epilogue to “Small Town Hypocrite” and “New Level of Life” is a fun closer to the album that features one of the more interesting production moments on the album.  

But this album falls frustratingly short of being great and I largely blame this on the production. It ultimately hinders Hammack more than it helps, as most of the time it feels very paint-by-numbers as far as pop country goes. Hammack’s voice isn’t fully utilized, as it’s bright and dynamic, so why not fully feature it? It’s also frustrating to have songs in the middle of the album like “Preciatcha,” “Just Like You,” “Just Friends” and “King Size Bed” that pigeonhole her into generic pop country. It’s just not that interesting and throws the flow of the album off for me. It’s not really surprising, as new artists typically have these kinds of songs on their debut album to appease labels who like to send them to radio. Nevertheless, this is a decent debut album from Hammack. 6/10

DUCKWRTHSuperGood

Smooth, slick and funky are the three best words to describe this album. If you’re looking for lyrical prowess, this album won’t have it. Not to say the lyrics are bad. They’re solid, yet unspectacular as most of the lyrics deal with love and enjoying the party. But if you’re looking for some smooth beats, this album is overflowing with them. This is an album to move to and sing along with on a Saturday night. While it’s listed as hip-hop, this is far from a straight hip-hop record. No, I would describe this more along the lines of Tyler the Creator’s IGOR. This album is very much genre fluid, an enjoyable blend of hip-hop, R&B, soul, pop and disco. While I was a big fan of DUCKWRTH’s earlier material that was edgier and had an almost rock flavor to them, it’s clear this sound seems to suit him best. And he did kind of foreshadow this on “MICHUUL,” aspiring to be like the king of pop. And this music is definitely a strong step into that sound. 8/10

The MavericksEn Español

This is definitely one of those times where I wish I had taken more Spanish classes. I know some of the language, but unfortunately not enough to understand and appreciate the lyrics of this album. If anybody would happen to know how to procure a translated version of it, I would be happy to go more in-depth on this album. So for now I can only analyze the other elements of this album and they’re top level as always from the eclectic and dynamic group. The instrumentation is flamboyant, colorful and vibrant, a beautiful mixture of country, pop, Tex Mex and a whole lot more. Raul Malo still has one of the best voices in music, as it still sounds as flawless as ever. So based on the two elements of this album I can understand, this is another great album from The Mavericks. 

Margo PricePerfectly Imperfect At The Ryman

This is the best Margo Price album and you can’t tell me otherwise. In the last edition of The Endless Music Odyssey, I expressed my disappointment with her latest studio album and how it fails to capture the energy of her live shows that get rave reviews. I’ve never seen her live, but I potentially will next year as she opens for a Chris Stapleton show I have tickets to see. This reminded me that she actually released a live album on Bandcamp earlier this year and it had slipped through the cracks for yours truly. After listening to this album, it further cements the sentiment she’s better live. She has a fiery and infectious personality that unfortunately just gets sanded away in her studio recordings. But in a live setting she’s unleashed and at her very best. Her vocals don’t feel restrained and you even get to hear her excellent vibrato on multiple songs, which baffles me that this isn’t featured much on her studio albums. 

I hope whoever produces her next album takes cues from this live album and finds a way to incorporate them. Old Crow Medicine Show was in this same boat for years too and Gary Clark Jr. is still in this boat. It’s a rare occurrence it feels like in music to sound good live, but not in the studio, as it’s usually the other way around for several artists. 8/10

Tucker BeathardKING

Well I’ll say this: at least his voice is tolerable now. I once said he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket and that his voice was grating to the ears. It didn’t help either he was another victim of On The Verge, which is a legal payola way of making someone a “star”, but really just distorts reality. Also a smart move to delete all of his music with Big Machine Records and to start a clean slate. 

So I will say I can now listen to his voice without wanting to turn the song off. But he sounds essentially like every other male pop country artist. Still progress of course to go from bad to generic, but not really good either. None of these songs compel me to say anything other than it’s a song, except for “One Upper.” It’s a song about two characters: a rich asshole in a suit who thinks he can buy everything with money and an average joe who ultimately thinks he’s better because he has a hot girlfriend. What endearing people! 4/10

Josh TurnerCountry State of Mind

Just like I said about Jon Pardi’s Rancho Fiesta Sessions, take this for what it is and you’ll have an enjoyable listen. This is another solid country covers album released in a year where there’s been several. Needless to say I’m starting to get a little fatigued by them at this point. There’s not a bad song on this album, but the highlights in my eyes are “I’ve Got It Made” with John Anderson, the album title track with Chris Janson, “I Can Tell by the Way You Dance,” “Forever and Ever, Amen” with Randy Travis and “Desperately” with Maddie & Tae. 8/10

Country Perspective’s Top Ten Albums Mid-Way Through 2020

2020 has been a tumultuous and crazy year around the world. But throughout all the madness of this year, I’ve found this year in albums to be pretty damn amazing in terms of quality. In fact it’s already surpassed the last couple of years and 2020 is easily on pace to be at the fantastic levels of 2014-2016, which saw some of my absolute favorite albums of the 2010s released. By year’s end some really good albums won’t even crack the top ten that would easily make it in average years. From your usual suspects and new contenders to surprise releases and comebacks, my best albums of 2020 list has a little bit of everything in terms of sound and artists. So without further ado, here are Country Perspective’s Top Ten Best Albums of 2020 so far (in no particular order)…

(Click on the titles to read the full review)

Dua Lipa — Future Nostalgia

Dua Lipa delivers an absolutely fantastic album in Future Nostalgia. It has the elements I want to hear in a pop album and it comes oh so close to be an album of the year contender. Despite one slip-up, this album delivers everything else perfectly. It encapsulates disco, electro pop and dance music with the kind of aplomb and grace I would expect out of Carly Rae Jepsen, while at the same time delivering incredibly infectious hooks and vocal performances that will stick with you long after listening. This is one of the best pop albums you’ll hear in 2020.

John Moreland — LP5

LP5 is another fantastic album from John Moreland. He’s always been a great songwriter since his first album, but it’s the recognition to grow and experiment with his sound starting with his last album that’s taken him to a whole new level in my mind. Too many singer-songwriter artists think they have to stick to a stripped-down, folk-y sound for their lyrics to be taken seriously. At the same time, drum machines are dismissed as “not real instruments” used by pop stars. Well with LP5, Moreland proves both these claims to be moot.

Khruangbin — Mordechai 

While I wouldn’t put it at the level of their great, southwestern-flavored 2018 album Con Todo El Mundo, this album is another pretty damn good record from the trio. This album centers mostly around a groovy, psychedelic funk sound with tinges of disco and jam pop mixed in at times. The band also surprises by mixing in some vocals on this record and they actually work pretty well. Most importantly they don’t detract from the hypnotic sounds of the band, which will always be the focus and strength of the group. If I had to pick my favorites they would be “Time (You and I)”, “Father Bird, Mother Bird” and album closer “Shida.” The latter is probably the top song for me, as the bass line is simply flawless. And if you’re looking for a relaxing album, you will be hard-pressed to find one more chill than this one in 2020.

Ashley McBryde — Never Will

Ashley McBryde delivers exactly what I had hoped for and then beyond with Never Will. She leans heavily into her natural heartland rock sound and combines it with traditional country to create an album I will remember for a long time. The songwriting is brilliant and varied, running the gauntlet of emotions and most importantly I think Ashley McBryde delivers a flawless presentation of flawed characters. They’re never framed as likable, but real and as they are, which can be hard to get behind as a listener. But just like Sturgill Simpson’s SOUND & FURY, it can be understandable to not want to listen to music about such real and flawed characters, songs where there are no heroes even. For me though this is the music that is truly intriguing and has a lasting impact.

Tennis — Swimmer

With Swimmer, Tennis delivers an excellent album about love. It’s quickly became one of my favorite love albums. And this isn’t rash hyperbole on my end. I’m being serious when I say that this album truly delivers a heartfelt, genuine and truly touching take on true love. Love albums and love song are an absolute dime-a-dozen. They’re churned out every day. Most only focus on the surface level of love and the flip-side with heartbreak. What they don’t ever seem to focus on are the little things, the nitty gritty of relationships that aren’t easy to convey in an informative and interesting way. But that takes brilliant songwriting with equally high-quality production that aids it. Tennis delivers this.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit — Reunions 

While I wouldn’t put this amongst the very best of Jason Isbell’s work, it’s yet another fantastic album from the singer-songwriter and his talented band. Reunions more than anything is a testament to Isbell’s relentless pursuit of his craft and how he constantly pushes himself to do better than he’s done before (which is quite difficult considering how high he sets the bar). Of course as always there are lots of sad songs too. But it’s hard to argue anyone writes sad songs better than Isbell. Every generation has their own Dylan and Lennon. I feel it’s safe to say Isbell is that level of songwriter for this generation.

Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats — UNLOCKED

The songs themselves don’t have any big messages and are essentially bangers that focus on delivering fun bars. So many hip-hop albums are like this today and many are largely forgotten because the delivery just flat-out sucks. But Curry brings so much aggressive passion and rawness in his voice, along with his choice of diction in his delivery makes what would be an average banger into something that’s truly memorable. And this big reason is why UNLOCKED is the first great hip-hop album I’ve heard in 2020. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of ZUU (an album I’m ashamed I omitted from my best of 2019 list), this is yet another high-quality project from Denzel Curry (and another great one from Kenny Beats too).

Carly Rae Jepsen — Dedicated Side B

Dedicated Side B is yet another pop masterpiece from Carly Rae Jepsen. I can’t believe how she just continues to blow me away with fantastic project after fantastic project. Jepsen won Country Perspective’s 2019 Album of the Year with Dedicated and she’s putting herself in the unprecedented position to win it again in 2020 to make it back-to-back. It’s simply incredible. And oh yeah she still has another album on the way.

The Weeknd — After Hours

After Hours is a phenomenal achievement by The Weeknd. This album is a rich, cinematic experience of love, losing it, fighting to regain it and ultimately reaching the realistic conclusion of realizing that it’s lost. The production team absolutely nails every emotion on this album and takes the lyricism to a whole new level. The juxtaposition of the breezy, mixed cocktail of genres (R&B, pop, hip-hop, dream pop, 80s) feels perfect on this album of frenetic, dark emotions that permeate throughout it. This is without a doubt an album of the year contender.

Tame Impala — The Slow Rush

The Slow Rush is another great album from Tame Impala without a doubt. But it’s also hard not to see this album is a few missteps away from equaling the brilliance of Currents. It lacks focus in a few spots and there’s one song that just isn’t needed. But this is also a bit nitpicking admittedly. The production from Parker is once again deeply rich and textured, engulfing you with it’s fantastic details. And the songwriting mostly hits. So ultimately I can say this is one of the best albums you’ll hear in 2020.

Honorable Mentions (just missed the top ten)

Album Review — Ashley McBryde’s ‘Never Will’

Ashley McBryde’s major label debut album Girl Going Nowhere was truly one of the most underrated albums of 2018. Unfortunately it was released at a bad time, as Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour released on the same day along with several other high-profile releases at the time. So it felt like that album and McBryde never got the proper attention and respect. But one thing I definitely took away from that great album was one day McBryde would release an album of the year level record. Well I didn’t think it would happen so soon, but that’s pleasantly the case with her follow-up album Never Will.

The album greets you with heartland rock guitars on “Hang In There Girl.” And I’m so glad she leans more into this sound on the album, as it fits her like a glove. The opening song is an anthem for young girls stuck in small towns with big dreams, telling them to hang on through the hard times until they reach their goals one day. It’s an uplifting and very real message that I imagine will resonate with so many young girls across the midwest of America. Lead single “One Night Standards” shows the excellent storytelling abilities of McBryde, as she vividly tells the story of a one-night stand involving a married man. It’s brutally honest about the nature of the situation, painting both of the people in the story in an appropriately not positive light. It also details the justification of the action’s of the woman in the situation, which is flimsy. But that’s how it’s supposed to be, as the line is blurred between who she’s really trying to convince: him or herself.

“Shut Up Sheila” is an interesting song about a family going through the difficulty of watching a woman’s grandmother dying, only for a “friend” named Sheila to be butting in with unnecessary comments. The overall theme centers around pushing back against judgmental people and standing up for doing things your way. And while I love this message, what really makes this song stand out is the sound. Jay Joyce centers it around a spacey, echoing sound that gives it an ominous feel before giving away to roaring guitars that really put an exclamation point on the song. “First Thing I Reach For” is classic country gold in every way, from it’s steel guitar-driven sound to the timeless theme of overindulging in vices. I particularly enjoy the line, “Another night of bad decisions/There’s one still laying in my bed/The bastard in me wishes/That he’d woke up first and left.” It’s both humorous and memorable.

“Voodoo Doll” has quickly become a favorite for me and for two reasons. One because I love the way it’s written and the amount of intricate details given to a woman being made to feel like a voodoo doll watching her man cheat on her. Two because the production matches the dramatic, whiplash feel of the lyrics with McBryde delivering the type of fiery vocal performance that once again makes me thrilled that there are more rock influences on this album. The guitars absolutely roar, I love the little mandolin interludes and it’s an absolute blast to sing along with the chorus. “Sparrow” is on the other end of the spectrum, a soft and somber song about the cold realities a musician experiences traveling on the road. While McBryde acknowledges the exhilaration of realizing a dream, it also comes with missing your loved ones. Once again I applaud McBryde for both her honesty and genuine heart that shines through in the lyrics.

“Martha Divine” is another rock-driven track, this time a cheating/murder ballad interestingly told from the perspective of the daughter witnessing her father in the middle of misdeed. Fueled by infectious and thumping drums that get the heart pounding, the daughter vows to hunt down and kill the mistress, Martha Divine. Which by the way the name is clever and appropriate in itself, playing on the Aramic meaning of Martha, which is mistress, and divine, which means relating to God (the daughter in this case seeing her interference as a god-like act). And yes the daughter is flawed for only going after the father, but the daughter is going to naturally have an emotional blindspot for the father. The song also wisely avoids endearing us towards these violent actions, but rather gives a neutral window look in.

McBryde goes back to classic country storytelling on “Velvet Red.” It’s about a forbidden love affair between a poor maker of wine and the mayor’s only daughter, resulting in a daughter who would be nicknamed after the very wine her unknown father made. Not only is this storytelling on point, but I love the surprise reveal at the end that the daughter is telling the story of her parents conceiving her. I don’t mind the filter the vocals are being put through either, as it doesn’t hurt the song. “Stone” is the most emotional moment on the album, as a woman comes to grips with the death of her father and realizing how similar they were, despite their rocky relationship. The song doesn’t shy from the complicated nature of the feelings involved and that’s why I enjoy the storytelling of McBryde. It feels real and truly resonates with the listener as a result.

The album’s title track is pure heartland rock, with it’s “Dancing in the Dark”-like guitars perfectly texturing this never-give-up anthem. It’s autobiographical, as McBryde recalls all of the doubters along her journey and how she never gave into this negativity. Personally I really connect with the lyrics, so it’s easily my favorite on the album. Also if McBryde wants to make a straight-up rock album, I’m totally down for it because she just gets the ethos of classic rock. McBryde makes a quirky and fun choice to close the album with “Styrofoam.” Unlike anything she’s ever released before, it’s bouncy, light-hearted track about her love of styrofoam cups and features her doing spoken word through like half of it. And I thought I would dislike it, but I love it. Usually these type of gimmicky songs grind my gears, but I enjoy the history lesson at the beginning and it serves as a nice dose of casual fun to balance out the serious moments on the album. Because as I’ve said before, we don’t need to be serious all the time.

Ashley McBryde delivers exactly what I had hoped for and then beyond with Never Will. She leans heavily into her natural heartland rock sound and combines it with traditional country to create an album I will remember for a long time. The songwriting is brilliant and varied, running the gauntlet of emotions and most importantly I think Ashley McBryde delivers a flawless presentation of flawed characters. They’re never framed as likable, but real and as they are, which can be hard to get behind as a listener. But just like Sturgill Simpson’s SOUND & FURY, it can be understandable to not want to listen to music about such real and flawed characters, songs where there are no heroes even. For me though this is the music that is truly intriguing and has a lasting impact.

That is why I believe this is one of the best albums you’ll hear in 2020 and maybe the best country album of the year.

Grade: 10/10

Spinning All The Records — March 2020

Spinning All The Records is a brand new feature on Country Perspective that is a monthly overview of all the albums reviewed in the previous month on Country Perspective to give any readers, new and old, a quick look at what I covered and to catch anything you missed. In addition I take a quick look at albums I didn’t give full reviews, look ahead at what I want to cover, upcoming album releases that catch my eye and a throwback album recommendation. So without further ado…

March 2020 was obviously a month not remembered by music, but by COVID-19, a deadly and infectious virus that is affecting every corner of the world. For those affected by it directly, I send my heartfelt condolences. For everyone, I hope you have great health and are safe. I urge you all to please wash your hands, follow physical distancing rules and to obey guidelines being outlined from health officials and experts. As I tell everyone around me, remember this situation of quarantine and uncertainty is temporary. We have brilliant minds all around the world working together to solve this and as we gather more information, we will find answers and we will triumph. This will pass and we will return to normalcy, hopefully as soon as possible. But obviously the main focus at hand is treating the ill, protecting the healthy and finding the solutions needed to lift ourselves out of this situation. And listen to music, not the news because the former is going to make you feel a whole lot better than the latter. 

Speaking of music, the quality of album releases dipped in March 2020 until the latter part of the month where several great albums released. Of course the most notable was The Weeknd’s After Hours, a fantastic album and a no doubt strong contender for Country Perspective’s 2020 Album of the Year. Brandy Clark rebounded with her new album, Jay Electronica actually dropped his debut album finally and Caitlyn Smith unfortunately disappointed with her new album. The Dixie Chicks returned with a great new single too. There were less albums reviewed overall this month, but that’s because I’m employing a new strategy for reviews moving forward. It will be explained more in the newest section of Spinning All The Records below the monthly album summary. 

(Click the album titles to read the full review)

Dixie Chicks — “Gaslighter” (Single review)

The story the song tells is of a man who was a grand puppet master, successfully manipulating and controlling a woman for what sounds like years before she woke up and is now calling him out on his bullshit, a gaslighter. Each member of the trio takes their turn on lead, each adding another layer and detail to the story that gives you an exact look into this toxic relationship and the freeing liberation being experienced by the woman who’s finally rid of him. The production is big and soaring, an instant foot-stomper with thumping drums and an infectious hook.

Brandy Clark — Your Life is a Record

Despite a few hiccups, Brandy Clark takes a big step up from her last album with Your Life is a Record. I think the production is the biggest improvement, as it flows together really well from start to finish. I really enjoy the incorporation of the flutes in this album, as it’s something not really utilized as much in country music. The songwriting stumbles in a few spots, but for the most part is pretty good and at times great. There’s a surprisingly nice mix of emotions on an album centered around a breakup too. Most importantly, Clark rewards you for listening to the whole album, giving you the emotional journey with the fittingly positive, yet realistic destination.

Jay Electronica — A Written Testimony

The long-awaited debut album of Jay Electronica does not live up to it’s lofty expectations and hype, but A Written Testimony is nevertheless a pretty good album. The production is definitely the strongest point of this album, as a cavalcade of all-star producers and Electronica himself create some exciting and interesting sounds throughout the whole album. The bars on this album are mostly good despite some bumps along the way and the overuse of religious imagery. More than anything I’m glad that Jay Electronica is finally releasing music and I think on his next album we’ll see something even better from him. But for now this is a solid debut.

Caitlyn Smith — Supernova

The tale of the tape for Supernova is quite simple: this album focuses too much on flash and not enough on substance. Smith seemingly forgets about her greatest strength on this album and that’s her songwriting. It soared and impressed on Starfire. On this album the songwriting is so lifeless and it feels like so many themes are used multiple times and recycled. There are some bright spots on this album, but they’re dominated by what I would describe as run-of-the-mill pop rock moments for the most part. I never thought I would levy this kind of criticism toward a Caitlyn Smith album, but the songwriting just isn’t good enough. Supernova is ultimately just an okay album.

The Weeknd — After Hours

After Hours is a phenomenal achievement by The Weeknd. This album is a rich, cinematic experience of love, losing it, fighting to regain it and ultimately reaching the realistic conclusion of realizing that it’s lost. The production team absolutely nails every emotion on this album and takes the lyricism to a whole new level. The juxtaposition of the breezy, mixed cocktail of genres (R&B, pop, hip-hop, dream pop, 80s) feels perfect on this album of frenetic, dark emotions that permeate throughout it. This is without a doubt an album of the year contender.


All The Other Albums I Want To Talk About!

This is the newest section of Spinning All The Records where I give quick thoughts/reviews on all the other albums I listened to over the past month that released this year. Essentially I listened to these albums enough, but didn’t want to write full reviews and/or didn’t feel I had enough thoughts for a full review. Also there’s a lot of damn albums released every week and when you want to listen to a little of everything from every genre like me, time doesn’t allow for full reviews of everything. But I still want to talk about lots of albums, so this is the solution! So moving forward I’m only focusing on doing full reviews for albums I truly have a lot to say about while the rest will be here. And of course you’re welcome to ask about any albums I don’t cover here in the comments below!

The Steeldrivers — Bad For You 

This is an album I initially really enjoyed. But after a few listens of the album I haven’t felt the need to go back to it since. I had a similar reaction when I listened to Randy Houser’s Magnolia last year. Just like that album, Bad For You just doesn’t leave enough in terms of hooks, impactful lyricism and gripping melodies consistently through the album. The album’s title track is absolutely brilliant, but that’s the only song I’ll remember from this album. 6/10

Hailey Whitters — The Dream

Whitters’ previous album Black Sheep gleamed with potential, but unfortunately she takes a step back all around with The Dream. Other than “Janice at the Hotel Bar,” this album lacks the devastating and meaningful lyrics of the previous album. Instead there’s annoyingly kitchy and uninteresting wordplay like with “Red Wine and Blue” and “Heartland.” And yet another version of “Happy People.” Zack at The Musical Divide sums this song up best: it’s just a more “broadly written version” of “Humble and Kind.” Then you have “All The Cool Girls,” your run of the mill, generic song about bad party girls. Its just such a bizarre choice from Whitters and doesn’t fit her at all. This album comes off as a desperate play for popularity and that’s a disappointment. 5/10

Megan Thee Stallion — Suga EP 

So here’s the state of hip-hop for me right now in 2020. 10% of releases are absolute garbage like Eminem’s latest album. 10% are absolute gems like Freddie Gibbs’ latest album. And the remaining 80% are middle-of-the-road, generic albums that use the same flow in every song like this Suga EP from Megan Thee Stallion. This pop hip-hop sound is starting to remind me a lot of the pop country on country radio. This isn’t a good thing. And that’s such a shame coming from Megan Thee Stallion because I enjoyed her last album, which suffered a little bit of the “sameness” problem too, but it had a lot of fun energy and memorable bars. She’s just capable of so much more than this, but she is also in the midst of a label battle and I’m hopeful this is just satisfying a label contract. 5/10

Porter Union — Loved & Lost 

This album has some nice moments, but unfortunately it just doesn’t have enough consistently engaging songs to hold my attention throughout. Because as I first listen to this album I’m intrigued because of the vocal dynamics, but by the end it just feels like another indie country album. There just isn’t enough here to make it stand out from the rest of the crowd.

Gabe Lee — Honky Tonk Hell 

So let’s get one thing straight: Gabe Lee can sing his ass off. He puts a ton of passion behind it, so the cover of this album is quite appropriate. Upon first listens I was really blown away, but unfortunately as I delved deeper into this album it lost it’s shine for me. Neither the songwriting nor the instrumentation lends itself strong enough for extended replayability. The sound of this record in particular is just too straightforward for my personal taste because after a while the songs feel like they blend together. There just isn’t much distinctiveness. But while I know this isn’t for me I do know there’s a large crowd of people who will love this. And I hope they do, as Lee is undoubtedly talented and full of passion. 6/10

Don Toliver — Heaven Or Hell

This album starts out so strong. The smooth, trap-flavored beats are on point, Travis Scott has a great feature on “Euphoria,” “After Party” is a lot of fun and “Can’t Feel My Legs” is catchy. But the second half of this album falls off a cliff. “Candy” is annoyingly repetitive, the Quavo and Offset feature is completely forgettable and then there’s the Sheck Wes feature on “Spaceship.” It’s just awful, but then again I’ve never understood why “Mo Bamba” blew up. If the second half of the album was as good as the first then this could have been a great album. 6/10

Childish Gambino — 3.15.20

I come away from this new Childish Gambino album with the same thoughts I came away with on his last album: sounds nice, but the lyrics do nothing for me. In fact I remember I spent a ton of time listening to “Awaken, My Love” over and over to see what I was missing lyrically. And ultimately I concluded that there was nothing to miss. It was an alluring sound with nothing to say. And I’m not falling for this trap again with this album.

Kelsea Ballerini — kelsea

So upon initial listens I enjoyed this album. But as I started to listen to it more closely it just doesn’t hold up. There’s some fun production moments on this album like “bragger,” “hole in the bottle” and “needy.” But this albums lacks the necessary polish and hooks it needs to be what it seems to aspire to be and that’s Taylor Swift’s Red. And it doesn’t have the melody to hold up to Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour.

Now I bring up those albums not to pit these women against each other but rather to demonstrate how this album doesn’t measure up in the space it’s trying to enter. When you’re going for this big pop country sound, these are the albums that are considered the modern standards. And not only does the production not measure up, but the songwriting isn’t strong enough and is outright confusing in spots (“love me like a girl,” “la” and “half of my hometown”). Sure there’s some strong spots in this regard like with “overshare” covering anxiety and “homecoming queen?” dealing with peer pressure. But this needs to be consistent throughout the album. And I still don’t understand the appeal of Halsey as a feature on any song. This is by no means a bad album and I applaud Ballerini for taking risks. I think one day she will deliver a great album, as she continues to show improvement. But this album just gets too many things wrong for it to be good, so instead it’s just above average. 6/10

Lil Uzi Vert — Eternal Awake – LUV vs. The World 2

You know 14 songs was long enough on the regular album and then the “deluxe” version of the album adds 18 songs. Holy bloat! As I’ve mentioned many times, the amount of streaming manipulation in hip-hop with albums is ridiculous and this is the most blatant example yet. Lil Uzi Vert essentially added an entire album to an entire album. It’s stupid. Nevertheless I did listen to all of this and it’s surprisingly not bad, granted you don’t have high expectations. There are no deep and meaningful messages here, but rather some fun beats and catchy hooks in most of the songs. The production is this album’s greatest strength, largely attributed to Pi’erre Bourne and Brandon Finessin. Both 21 Savage and Young Thug come through with great features too. If you’re looking for some light and breezy rap where you just want to turn your brain off, this works really well. 


Looking Ahead to April 2020…

So as I mentioned at the beginning there were a lot of albums released at the end of the month that I plan to cover. Namely you will be seeing a full review of the new Ingrid Andress album very soon and highly likely a full review of the new Jesse Daniel album too. Other new albums that have released from artists that I still haven’t listened to yet, but plan to and could likely cover in some fashion include: Knxwledge, Dua Lipa, Margaret Glaspy, Brian Fallon, Conway & The Alchemist, Jessi Alexander and Kody West. 

As for upcoming releases in April 2020 there are multiple albums I’m particularly looking forward to hearing. On April 3 the new Ashley McBryde album Never Will and Thundercat’s new album It Is What It Is both catch my eye. I really enjoyed McBryde’s last album and I’m looking forward to see if she can do even better with this one. Thundercat is one you’ve likely never heard of by name, but if you listened to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly you did hear his fantastic bass contributions. His music is best described as “out there” R&B. Also his last album included a slice of yacht rock heaven with “Show You The Way.” 

Maddie & Tae will finally be releasing their new sophomore album The Way It Feels on April 10. I still don’t understand the bizarre EP release strategy, but nevertheless I’ve enjoyed a lot of the songs released on them and of course I gave high praise to their debut album. Speaking of weird release strategies, The Last Bandoleros may finally be dropping an album on April 17. Supposedly it’s a live album, which is even more strange considering they haven’t released a studio album yet. I just don’t understand what is happening with this group, but I want to hear more from this Tex Mex-influenced country group. For crying out loud I reviewed their first single four years ago

A few other notes: Willie Nelson was originally supposed to release a new album this month, but it was delayed until July. Sam Hunt and Lady Gaga are both dropping new albums this month, but I fully expect them to be awful based on what I’ve heard from each. Also country newcomer Logan Ledger’s new album is one I’m not necessarily anticipating since he’s brand new, but intrigued by for sure based on what little I’ve heard. 


Throwback Album I Recommend 

Black Tiger Sex Machine’s New Worlds

Yes, I’ll admit I checked this band out based solely on the name. And I’m glad I did! It’s really intriguing dance music with some nice metal influences mixed in. Be forewarned it’s loud and in your face. But if you have any interest in dance music, I highly recommend this apocalyptic-flavored album they released back in 2018.