Album Review — Jesse Daniel’s ‘Rollin’ On’

I enjoy many styles of country music, but if I had to pick my favorite it would be Bakersfield country. So when I heard about Jesse Daniel and his style of country being Bakersfield, I obviously had to check him out. And after listening to his new album Rollin’ On, I’m pretty happy I did. Opening track “Tar Snakes” is heavy on the steel guitar, an easy-going song about a man hitting the open highway to forget about his ex. It’s your classic country song with the kind of sunny melody that let me know I was in for an album that was going to do Bakersfield country right.

“If You Ain’t Happy Now (You Never Will Be)” is about enjoying the here and now, not worrying about the past or future. It’s a simple and catchy tune with a good message about appreciating what you have in your life. It’s another no-frills, instantly enjoyable song thanks to it’s infectious melody by producers Tommy Detamore and Daniel. When I first heard the album’s title track I said to myself (no joke), “This is some Dwight Yoakam shit.” And this is a great thing of course! The prominent guitars and piano make it a dead ringer for something straight out of Yoakam’s catalog. Also I have to point out that I know it feels like I’m not “reviewing” these opening songs that deeply. But it’s hard to put into words really what these songs get right. I guess the best way I would describe it is you know it when you hear it that these songs just capture what a traditional country song is supposed to sound like in terms of melody and vocals.

“St. Claire’s Retreat” is about a man running off to the mountains and leaving behind his love. But he realizes it to be a mistake, as he loses his love in the process. I feel like this song could have used more emotion, as the story feels too vague emotionally for me to really get into as I’m listening. “Champion” on the other hand immediately hooks me with it’s story about a mammoth of a man who strikes fear into those around him, but also has a sad backstory and ultimately a sad ending. I particularly enjoy how Daniel describes this man named Champion in great detail, as I can vividly picture him. This line in particular struck me: “His hands were big as baseball gloves and fists were solid rock.” On top of that it has a memorable Tex Mex sound that adds even more texture and depth to the song.

I love how Daniel throws a little surprise instrumental track in “Chickadee” in the middle of the album, as typically these are expected at the end. It’s a great instrumental, a tasty blend of guitars and fiddles. I wish more artists would put instrumentals onto their albums (although I understand why because it’s not “consumer friendly”). “Mayo and the Mustard” is my least favorite track on the album, as the song’s hook just doesn’t make sense to me (“keep it between the mayo and the mustard’). Not to mention the story of the song is predictable, as the narrator of the song starts out a young man receiving advice from an older gentleman and by the end becomes the latter bestowing advice. I’ve heard much better versions of this song.

“Bringin’ Home the Roses” is the kind of funny and cheesy country love song I can always get behind. The song is about a man spotting another man at the bar holding flowers and wise cracking to him “How ’bout the weather?” And the man with the flowers hilariously deadpanning “You know pal that ain’t what’s on my mind.” The latter reasons that flowers should at least help him get into his house where his angry wife awaits. The former eventually finds himself in the same predicament. Again, it’s cheesy of course. But this is the type of cheese that’s endearing and clever.

“Sam” is about someone wondering what’s happened to a long lost friend that likes to run the road due to his reckless lifestyle. It’s another simple country song that just works, thanks in large part to the nostalgic retelling of small stories the man experienced with Sam in his life and the reflectiveness in Daniel’s voice as he delivers the hook. Daniel draws inspiration from his life and playing on the road on “Old at Heart.” In his early years he spent time in prison and dealing with various addictions, leading to the haggard inner soul he has despite his outer youthfulness that deceives those out in the crowd. It’s a cool way for Daniel to tell his story to the listener without being so on the nose. And of course the fiddle-driven sound is sweet on the ears.

Daniel’s partner Jodi Lyford joins him on “Only Money, Honey.” The song is about money being less important than love and of course this is quite cliché. It’s certainly no different than any of the other thousands of country songs along these same lines. But it’s nice to see Lyford featured on a track, as she’s been an important part of Daniel’s recovery and life, in addition to helping him write several tracks on this record and having a nice voice. The album closes on a strong note with “Son of the San Lorenzo.” Daniel opens with pondering about fake news and stories before moving to his own story. He recalls his roots, the good and the bad, but ultimately hopes he ends up back there some day. It’s a song that does nostalgia right, not painting everything with rose-colored glasses and harping on memories, but rather a bright hopefulness of return that lives on in Daniel’s heart.

Jesse Daniel does Bakersfield country proper justice on Rollin’ On. While it has a couple of just okay spots that mar it from being a fantastic album, it mostly shines throughout with it’s classic country themes and a traditional country sound that fully embraces the roots of the genre in an enjoyable, fresh-feeling way. The best way I would describe this album to someone is I would liken it to fried chicken and mash potatoes. I’ve had it hundreds of times and from many different places, but it never gets old when you eat some great fried chicken and mash potatoes. And this album is certainly a great one.

Grade: 8/10

The Hodgepodge: Remembering Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard April 6, 1937 – April 6, 2016

In an old boxcar converted into a house, Merle Haggard was born in Oildale, California on April 6, 1937. Growing up, Haggard developed a rebellious attitude after losing his father, Jim, to a stroke while Merle was only nine years old. Criminal activity became a normal way of life for Haggard who would be put into juvenile detention centers only to try to escape. Music became a positive outlet for Merle Haggard. He taught himself to play guitar at the age of 12, playing along to old records of Lefty Frizzell and Bob Wills.

It wasn’t until a short stint locked up in San Quentin that completely shook Merle of his criminal ways. In need of money, Haggard was charged with robbery in Bakersfield, California. After attempting to escape from Bakersfield Jail, Haggard was transferred to San Quentin in 1957. A short time later in 1958, he attended a Johnny Cash concert. It was this concert that inspired Haggard to join the prison band and put focus into his music. “Rabbit”, a fellow inmate at San Quentin, recognized Haggard’s musical prowess and potential, and encouraged him to continue focusing on that career. And in 1960, Merle Haggard was released from San Quentin, right into the blossoming Bakersfield music scene.

Merle Haggard wound up playing bass for Wynn Stewart’s band in 1962. This opportunity led him to record his first songs, with “Sing a Sad Song” being released in 1964, reaching the top 20 on the charts. When his recording of “(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers” hit the top 10, Merle caught the attention of Capitol Records, who help Merle become the defining country singer we all know him to be. It was the Liz and Casey Anderson penned “I’m A Lonesome Fugitive” that gave him his first number one single in 1967.

As Merle Haggard grew more comfortable in the spotlight, he opened up about his past life as a law-breaker and spending time in prison. He was no longer afraid that such details would result in negative reactions and drive fans away from his music. “Branded Man”, “Sing Me Back Home”, and “Mama Tried” were songs Merle wrote based on his past, and all three reached number one in the late 1960s.

In the midst of the Vietnam War and the protests in America, Merle Haggard became a political icon for the conservative right, for the people who hated the war protestors. What started off as a joke, “Okie from Muskogee” became an anthem for the way things used to be. Quickly followed by the rambunctious “The Fightin’ Side of Me,” Merle Haggard epitomized the American pride in country music, which is an attitude that hasn’t subsided to this day.

But it’s not just the political attitude that made Merle Haggard a country music icon. Merle Haggard wrote and recorded songs true to himself. Along with Buck Owens and others, Merle Haggard helped lead the Bakersfield Sound of country music into popularity; a sound developed in retaliation to the Nashville Sound. It was a music scene and style for those wanting freedom from the control of the establishment. From the late 60s through most of the 80s, Merle Haggard recorded 38 songs that made it to number one on the country charts, but that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what made Merle Haggard great.

Haggard persevered through hard times and made a name for himself without compromise. His music has influenced countless singers and songwriters to this day. And Merle Haggard never wavered or stopped recording until the very end. Just last year, Haggard, along with his long time friend Willie Nelson, recorded an album 14 new recordings, Django and Jimmie. It wasn’t until late last year that Merle had to start canceling concert dates due to coming down with pneumonia. It was that sickness that ultimately caused his death yesterday, April 6, 2016.

Merle Haggard was a man whose life was saved by his love for music. A man forgiven for his sins and praised for his accomplishments thereafter. An iconic singer and songwriter who valued sincerity in his music. Country music’s notoriety would not be the same if it weren’t for Merle Haggard. May he rest in peace, and may his music live forever.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Hayes Carll‘s Lovers and Leavers will be released tomorrow.
  • Next week on April 15, Sturgill Simpson‘s A Sailor’s Guide To Earth will be released.
  • Del McCoury‘s Del and Woody will also be released on the 15th.
  • Michael Ray announced his new single will be “Think A Little Less.”
  • Jason Aldean‘s new single is called “Lights Come On.” Josh has a review on this coming soon.

Throwback Thursday Song

Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home” I’ll let the lyrics speak for themselves.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Gareth Emery’s 100 Reasons to Live English EDM DJ Gareth Emery released a new album at the beginning of the month. I’m not a big fan of EDM music, but while exploring new releases, I checked out this album and found myself enjoying the production of the dance tunes. If you don’t listen to EDM, then my suggestion is to go listen to Merle Haggard.

Tweet of the Week

iTunes Review of the WeekScreen Shot 2016-04-06 at 7.18.33 PM

A review calling out Jason Aldean for his terrible music. I like this one!

Album Review – Speedbuggy USA’s ‘South of Bakersfield’

“We’re on a mission to put the ‘western’ back in country & western music.” That’s how lead singer Timbo describes his band Speedbuggy USA. The five piece band calls Los Angeles home, and draw inspiration from the likes of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, deeply rooting their music into the Bakersfield sound of country music. Speedbuggy USA is as authentic as you can get as a honky tonk band with twangy vocals and ringing steel guitars while keeping the guitars loud and audience on their feet. Joining Timbo is Seth Von Paulus (lead guitar), Brady Sloan (bass), Greg McMullen (pedal steel), and Christos Hansen (drums). South of Bakersfield is the band’s 8th studio record, and acts as a firm commitment to Speedbuggy USA’s Bakersfield sound.

Using the image of western horse buggies, I imagine the “speed buggy” as a synonym for a car. Combined with the album cover on South of Bakersfield, this album almost acts like a journey. A journey to temporarily leave Bakersfield to escape pain and return home. Or maybe the journey of band leaving home for a tour leg. The opening number, “Still Movin’ On,” sets the pulse pounding mood right away with the southern rock musical introduction. Timbo sings of jumping in his car and driving south of Bakersfield to move on from pain and escape sorrow. The driving song never lets off the pedal with the guitar notes rising through the solo until the final vocal note. The next song could work as a follow-up to the album opener. “1,000 Miles From Nowhere” finds the driver falling back into the habitual negative thinking. Tears are starting to come back, and the urge to drown sorrows at a bar returns. He tries not to lose his ground as he continues aimlessly driving. This song is more of a natural country song with the noticeable pedal steel making its way into the production.

Speedbuggy USA slow it down with “Wrong Side.” Joined by singer Bunny West, the song is a duet detailing the troubled relationship between the two. Continuing along the theme of a man on a journey, “Wrong Side” finds him struggling to maintain his relationship while spending time on the road and at the bars. The band slows it down for quiet, reflective verses and pick it up for the choruses where Timbo and Bunny West harmonize nicely. The band jumps into full-fledged country honky tonk with “Set ‘Em Up.” The steel guitar is ever-present and the production is undoubtedly Bakersfield. Timbo sings of spending too much time at the bar and drinking too much. As upbeat as the production is, a lyric like “happy hour ain’t happy no more” says it all.

The band’s re-recording of “Rusted Cars” comes next. The song was originally featured on their album Valle De La Muerte, a tribute album to the state of Louisiana (Timbo’s home state) and the victims of Hurricane Katrina. This re-recording has a more upbeat production with a fitting cajun influence. The song details a man who looks around at the flooding in the streets with water rising, cars rusting, and things floating in the street. The band slows it down again for “Liars, Thieves N’ Ramblers.” This country ballad deals with man who’s down on his luck. He compares himself to a train carrying hobos, wanting to know if the woman he loves is willing to get on board with him or walk out the door.

“Git Yer Wagon Rollin'” is a quick, exciting instrumental featuring electric guitars and banjos. It does a good job showcasing the skillful instrumentation of the band, but ends just a bit too soon at the one minute mark. The journey of South of Bakersfield comes to an end with the appropriately titled “Bakersfield.” While trying to return home after the last honky tonk, the truck breaks down much to the singer’s lament. The song balances between quieter verses and more upbeat, country two-stepping choruses. “Bakersfield” ends the album on a more solemn note, but keeps the beat and feel of the album going until the final note.

South of Bakersfield is a quick album with only 7 songs and 1 instrumental track, but it’s an effective album. Speedbuggy USA is committed to the honky tonk sounds of county and western music, and South of Bakersfield illustrates that commitment perfectly. The album flows nicely between the upbeat songs and more solemn ballads. The band grasps your attention and holds it from start to finish, but leave you wanting a song or two more. Speedbuggy USA’s instrumentation is spot on and the production of the songs are well-balanced. The melodies are present but not overbearing, and lead singer Timbo’s voice fits perfectly with the musical styles. Any fan of honky tonk country music and the Bakersfield sound will enjoy South of Bakerfield.

Grade: 8/10

Album Review – Dale Watson’s ‘Call Me Insane’

Dale Watson has been an independent country staple since his 1995 debut album Cheatin’ Heart Attack. Watson hit his musical stride in Austin, Texas, and for twenty years now, Watson has been releasing album after album of honky-tonk country music. While Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and George Strait are country music pioneers reigning from Texas (and rightfully so), Dale Watson shouldn’t be ignored. His style of honky-tonk country and the Bakersfield sound is consistently excellent, and that is ever-present on his new album Call Me Insane.

The album kicks off with toe tapping “A Day at a Time.” This tune touches on the philosophy of tomorrow will be tomorrow so don’t worry about it, and do what you can to make it through today. This is a nice first song for the album, with instrumental breaks of the keyboard and guitars. “Bug Ya for Love” is a more mid-tempo country song about Watson pining for the affections of a woman. The determination to bug her for her love until she’s reached the final straw is a little off-putting to me. He isn’t tasteless in his attempts, by any means, but it just sort of comes off as a little much. Though with only one verse and a chorus repeated once more, the song leaves plenty of room for steel guitars and pianos to take the front seat in an extended solo.

“Burden of the Cross” is a heavy, heartbreaking ballad of a roadside memorial being removed to make room for a highway expansion. In 2000, Watson’s fiancée lost her life in a car accident, and I have to imagine that memory was a key influence for this song. Watson’s deep, heavy drawl along with the dark country production work well with the heartbreaking content of the song. “Everybody’s Somebody in Luchenbach, Texas” is a song dedicated to the Texas small town. Much like Waylon Jennings memorialized the town, Watson praises the town for it’s simplistic beauty and enjoys the company of a good loving woman. The Bakersfield sound is strong on this track.

Watson brings forth some excellent country heartbreak with “Crocodile Tears.” Their love has died and Watson is heartbroken, trying to convince himself that she feels the same way. However, he knows her tears and sorrow were simply just for show. Dale Watson then pays tribute to the late George Jones with “Jonesin’ For Jones.” This upbeat, honky-tonking song wishes to hear the Possum play, and while Jones can’t play the songs anymore (may he rest in peace), his music will never die. With the way the song is produced, it wouldn’t sound out-of-place on a George Jones album. It’s a fitting, excellent tribute to the country music legend.

“I’m Through Hurtin’” finds Watson gearing up for a night on the town. He’s tired of sulking after a breakup and wants to have some fun. There’s an excellent steel guitar ring on this song. The title track explores the heart of a man who holds out thinking relationships may end differently. If it’s crazy for him to have hope in his heart for a better outcome, than call him insane. This is a slow-moving song, but Watson’s vocals are great, and the inclusion of the horns in the production are wonderful.

“Heaven’s Gonna Have a Honky Tonk” is rocking, honky-tonk two stepper about what Dale Watson thinks heaven will be like. He sings in the first verse, “I read in the good book heaven is a place where the only thing we’ll have is all we’ll want. If he said it, then it’s true. Well I got news for you, heaven’s gonna have a honky-tonk.” The mix of religious references with the atmosphere of a honky-tonk bar makes for some great imagery. Watson brings forth some Spanish inspired country music with “Tienes Cabeza de Palo.” For all you who don’t speak Spanish, that roughly translates to “you’re hard headed” or “you’re stubborn.” His woman calls him that, and her accent of the romance language makes this insult sound sweet. More horns make their way into this production of the song, and they are quite welcome in this light-hearted, fun song.

Dale Watson explore love and relationships over the next couple songs. “I Owe It All to You” is a country ballad where Watson thanks his woman’s ex for basically being bad enough to end the relationship. Watson is thankful for the woman in his life, and is aware of why she’s his now. “Forever Valentine” is a ballad where Watson declares his love for her forever. It’s a heartfelt love song honoring a deep, committed love. “Hot Dang” compares falling in love with a sunny day. In this quick, 2 minute country jam, Watson is no longer walking around with a rain cloud over head and feels the joy that comes from the love of his woman.

The album ends with “Mamas Don’t Let Your Cowboys Grow Up to Be Babies.” The title, reworked from the country classic, calls for raising boys in a country cowboy way: letting them drink, eat chicken fried steak and gravy, and love wild women. This is the only song on the album Dale Watson did not write; it was written by Tony Joe White. However, this cover sounds right at home on Watson’s album, and is a fitting song to close Call Me Insane.

Overall, Call Me Insane, is another great offering from Dale Watson. While he may not get the same recognition as some of his outlaw and Bakersfield country peers, Watson continues to build on the foundation that Waylon, Willie, and Merle laid. At 14 songs, Call Me Insane gets a little lengthy, and there may be a song or two that could have been left of the cutting room floor. However, the length does not diminish the quality of country music here. Call Me Insane is an album true country fans will enjoy.

Grade: 8.5/10

Album Review – Dwight Yoakam’s ‘Second Hand Heart’

Dwight Yoakam Second Hand Heart

When looking back at the history of country music, I consider Dwight Yoakam one of the biggest influencers of the genre. When Yoakam started his career, the urban cowboy movement was in full swing in Nashville. Yoakam’s honky-tonk, “hillbilly” music was considered not marketable and no label would give him a look. So he headed west on his own dime and made the music he wanted to make. His rock-influenced brand of country helped make not only honky-tonk country popular in the late 80s, but helped bring in many rock fans into the genre who had previously shunned country music. Yoakam, along with Randy Travis and Keith Whitley, helped usher in the neo-traditional country era, which was way too short. You can thank Garth Brooks for this. Yoakam has had a pretty successful career, despite the fact that I feel he doesn’t get near enough the credit he deserves. I was pretty happy when he came back to music in 2012 after not releasing new music for five years while focusing on his acting career. His return album 3 Pears was damn good, so he had a tall task falling it up with his newly released album Second Hand Heart.

Does it meet up to the standards of 3 Pears? No. It surpasses it! Second Hand Heart is one of the best country albums I’ve heard this year. From beginning to end this album is great. Second Hand Heart begins with “In Another World,” a decidedly traditional country song with Yoakam’s signature Bakersfield sound. It’s about imagining a currently failed relationship going smooth in another world, a coping mechanism to deal with heartbreak. It’s an interesting theme. Combined with the infectious steel guitar and the alluring rhythm, this makes it easy to want to listen to this song over and over. A tambourine and a steel guitar kick off “She.” It’s a song about a woman who won’t show her true side and who she really is. She would rather give off an illusion to throw people off. It creates this sense of mystery and aura around her, which just makes you want to get to know her more. Yoakam does a great job creating this image of this mystery girl in the listeners’ heads.

Yoakam slows it down with “Dreams of Clay,” a heartbreak ballad. The man realizes in the song that all of the dreams they had together were just made of clay and that he now has to move on from her. He’s well aware of heartbreak and the pain from it, but that doesn’t mean it’s easier to take. Yoakam’s vocals really impress me on this particular song because he sells the emotions of the story being told so well. The album’s title track is a rocking tune about wanting to give up on love. “Second Hand Heart” paints the picture of a person who is experiencing some serious pessimism towards love after having it in the past and now not having it. The opening and closing line of the song puts it best: “When I trusted love I dreamed in color too.” It really sets the tone of this song perfectly.

The throwback, rockabilly tune “Off Your Mind” tells the story of a man who had a woman dump him without saying goodbye. It’s left him feeling rightly irritable towards her and basically she’s been dead to him ever since she walked out the door. He says he’s happy because he’s “alone right where you left me off your mind.” It perfectly sums up the feelings of a person who got dumped in this manner. This is definitely one of my favorite tracks on the album. “Believe” has the opposite reaction of “Off Your Mind,” as it’s about a man convincing a woman to continue to believe in their relationship. He reminds her of their love and to let go of the bad memories, as he tries to keep her. Backed by great instrumentation, this song is catchy in every way. I also applaud Yoakam’s artistic skill in pulling off in back-to-back songs both sides of the coin when it comes to love. It reminds you of why Yoakam is so respected and revered in music.

The most fun song on the album is next, which is “Man of Constant Sorrow.” It’s a Bakersfield country song that is impossible to not want to at least tap your feet along with. You can easily dance along with it too. The guitar play is simply phenomenal. I can say the same of Yoakam’s vocals. I just want to listen to this song over and over. Yoakam keeps it going with “Liar,” another song that just has amazing and fun instrumentation. You can tell Yoakam had a lot of fun recording this song. It’s a “tell it like it is” song about being with a woman who lies and tells the man how to feel it, but he’s calling her out for it. The harmonica solo in the middle song made me go from really liking this song to loving it because I’m a sucker for slick harmonica play. Yoakam brings with these songs a factor that has been missing from mainstream country music: a dance factor. And he uses country instrumentation to bring this dance factor to his music. So anyone who says traditional country music can’t be fun is wrong once again.

“The Big Time” is just another song that flat-out rocks. This is pure Dwight Yoakam right here, folks. It’s a fun anthem that you just want to hit play on again and again. It combines punk rock and country to produce a kickass song. Just listen to it. This fantastic album concludes with “V’s Of Birds,” which is another great song. It’s a feel good song that compares finding happiness to v’s of birds flying south for the winter, finding warmth and sunshine (kudos to writer Anthony Crawford for this perfect comparison). Opening with a combination of a piano and organ gives the song an uplifting feeling. It’s the kind of song you can listen to and instantly feel happy after hearing it. I would also be remiss to not point out the stellar mandolin solo too. One more thing to point out: With the exception of two songs (“V’s of Birds” and “Man of Constant Sorrow”), Yoakam wrote every song himself on this album. Needless to say Yoakam is a music genius.

There’s no other way to say it: Second Hand Heart is awesome. You aren’t going to hear many country albums as good as this one for the rest of the year. It has touching ballads, rocking honky-tonk and some of the best instrumentation I’ve heard on an album in recent memory. Yoakam’s voice is as brilliant as ever. I think I speak for Yoakam fans everywhere when I say this: don’t ever leave music again. While I enjoyed Yoakam as Pastor Phil in Four Christmases, I would much rather listen to him produce amazing albums like this one. I give Second Hand Heart my highest recommendation, as it’s definitely a top candidate for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year. Just like he did back in the 80s, Yoakam brings us traditional country in a world that badly needs it.

Grade: 10/10