Country Perspective’s Top 10 Country Albums of 2020

Ah, we’ve reached list season! The time of year when everybody releases their top music lists of the year and we all argue about why somebody’s personal list didn’t reflect our own personal taste. At the end of the day, remember it’s not worth getting angry about this stuff. The most important things these lists do is help us find an artist or release that fell through the cracks or you didn’t hear about. And they’re a nice way to recognize artists, especially smaller ones who need the coverage to help them reach more people. So be sure to just enjoy these lists and not feel insecure when your favorite artist doesn’t get the “proper” placement. It’s all opinions at the end of the day.

Country Perspective will be posting multiple best of albums lists this year to recognize the staggering amount of high quality album releases in 2020. It will ultimately conclude with Country Perspective’s Top 10 Albums of 2020, which will reflect all genres and crown this blog’s top award, Album of the Year.

Today I take a look at the top country albums of 2020. The genre had a fantastic year and it was actually quite difficult to round out the list. I could have posted a longer list, but I think it’s best to keep these short since there are so many lists and it cheapens the recognition if you make it longer. Both the mainstream and indie scenes delivered great albums this year and there was also a variety of sounds amongst the top country albums, which is awesome to see. Personally I would say the word surprise would best describe my top country albums list, as most of these albums surprised me in some way. If you had told me at the beginning of the year that this is what my list would like, I wouldn’t believe you, especially the top album. But I love it when music surprises me, so it was quite fun to put together this list and reflect back on these albums. So without further ado, here are Country Perspective’s Top 10 Country Albums of 2020:

10. 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.

9. Texas Exit — Black Water

Texas Exit delivers an absolute blast of a debut album in Black Water. While they definitely let their cited influences above shine through, personally the two bands I thought of when listening to this album are Molly Hatchet and Blackfoot, as the sound feels like it fits right in with those bands. While it’s understandable how a band wearing it’s influences on it’s sleeves can be a bit annoying, I find that Texas Exit does this in a way that feels like a good combination of homage and putting their own flair on it. While it’s easy to get lost in the fun guitar play, it’s the lyrics of this album that are it’s secret weapon and what makes this band stand out amongst other groups who attempt these popular sounds.

8. Brothers Osborne — Skeletons 

Skeletons is easily the best album delivered by the Brothers Osborne so far. This duo at their best in my mind is the modern day version of Brooks & Dunn. What both of these duos excel at is delivering accessible, yet “smarter” versions of fun country music that doesn’t delve into mindless drivel like bro country nor does it feel forced like pop country. Then sprinkle in a few serious songs to give you a nice breather in between all of the partying and this is the perfect formula for the duo to follow. This is a really enjoyable album.

7. Mike and the Moonpies — Touch of You: The Lost Songs of Gary Stewart

Mike and the Moonpies continue to prove why many are quickly considering them one of the best acts in country music right now, as they’ve now released two great, back-to-back surprise releases. Not to mention the respect they pay towards Stewart is classy and a true homage to the late country star, as they do a great job bringing his old, unreleased songs to life. If you’re a country music fan and not familiar with Gary Stewart, I hope this urges you to dig into his music because it’s a real joy. And of course you should also familiarize yourself with Mike and the Moonpies, as this top ten country release in 2020 follows Country Perspective’s #1 country album of 2019.

6. John Anderson — Years

There have been many near death/mortality albums done throughout country music history, calling to my mind Johnny Cash’s famous American Recordings series, Wille Nelson’s hauntingly great Spirit, and the late great John Prine’s final album The Tree of Forgiveness grinning in the face of mortality. John Anderson’s Years is without a doubt worthy of standing right next to these pieces of work. The songwriting on this is incredibly strong, with Anderson impressively having a hand in writing every track. Auerbach and Ferguson also deliver production that shines for the most part and continues their streak of quality projects. Years shows John Anderson is not only still hanging on, but he’s thriving and smiling.

5. Daniel Donato — A Young Man’s Country

Daniel Donato delivers quite an impressive debut with A Young Man’s Country. It’s not too often an artist of his caliber on guitar comes along, as his style and skill reminds me of a cross between Marty Stuart and Charlie Starr of Blackberry Smoke. It evokes a lot of emotion and color, giving Donato’s music a cinematic-like quality that draws the listener in. Needless to say I look forward to hearing more from Donato.

4. Chris Stapleton — Starting Over

Starting Over is what it says it is: it’s Chris Stapleton hitting a reset button on expectations. It’s him indulging in all of his influences and putting them all on display. It’s a reminder of who he is as an artist, even though this may not sound much different than what he’s released before. But again the expectations have to be kept in check because an artist’s image is more important than many listeners and reviewers realize. I think Stapleton realized he needed to reiterate who he sees himself as with this album. It’s him quietly and not so quietly voicing his displeasure at the world around him too. But really Stapleton does what he’s always focused on doing with his music on this album: making good music with no expectations. And that’s the best kind of music.

3. 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.

2. Tyler Childers — Long Violent History

The best surprises are not what you want, but what you need. Tyler Childers’ surprise album Long Violent History is a record we needed. Who would have predicted an Appalachian country album filled mostly with old fiddle standards would end up being one of the best albums of 2020? But that’s exactly what Tyler Childers delivers with Long Violent History. It’s eight great instrumental songs with beautiful and thoughtful melody packaged around one of the most powerful, well-written songs of this generation. Tyler Childers writes himself into the history books with this album.

1. Brett Eldredge — Sunday Drive

“What in the world are we all doin’ here?”

They say first impressions are important, whether it’s the first time you meet somebody or the first time you’re listening to a piece of music. Right away Brett Eldredge leaves an impactful first impression with his new album Sunday Drive. It’s such an important question that can resonate with anyone listening. Right away Eldredge reaches out to the listener and makes a connection, inviting them into the music.

There could not be more of a stark contrast between Sunday Drive and Brett Eldredge’s previous album. It’s simply night and day. Every moment on this album is absolutely enjoyable. The lyrics and production could not shine and compliment each other anymore. The reflecting theme of finding optimism and wisdom in times of trouble and uncertainty is brilliantly inspiring. Brett Eldredge has never sounded more energized and is at his absolute best on this record. There’s no other way to put it: Sunday Drive is a phenomenal album and it’s the best country album of 2020.

Album Review — Lindsay Ell’s ‘heart theory’

I feel like Lindsay Ell has been the classic example of a major country label having no clue what they have in an artist and therefore completely botching her presentation. More importantly, they have been pushing her in the wrong direction with the music she’s been releasing, specifically her last album The Project felt a bit directionless. With heart theory, it feels like they finally let Ell shine and release the album that feels like her breakout moment. heart theory is an album that finally showcases her at her best.

This is a great pop country album centered around the concept of a breakup and the five stages of grief. I feel like she does really well at nailing the various emotions one goes through in a breakup and her guitar playing is on display throughout, which is important because she’s a damn good guitar player. “Hits me” is an ideal opener, as it’s instantly catchy and carries a surprising amount emotional heft behind it. It reminds me of Lorde’s “Green Light,” in that it’s a song in the “crying in the club” vein. “i don’t lovE you” perfectly captures the unwanted feeling of wanting your ex back, even though you know deep down you don’t love them anymore. The Kane Brown co-write “wAnt me back” is a song I normally wouldn’t enjoy if it was a standalone song, as the arrogance and selfishness of expecting an ex to want you back is annoying. But within a breakup album it fits because this is an emotion that is understandable to feel during a breakup, as it’s a bit of a coping mechanism in the wake of feeling insecure.

“wrong girl” has that unleashed bluesy rock sound that I wish Ell would show off more, as this song just flat out rocks. The frenetic pace of the song is infectious and her label would be wise to make this a single, as I think this sounds like an absolute hit. “body language of a breakup” manages to articulate something that’s only learned after you’ve broken up in a serious relationship and that is the realization that you completely ignore the signs of a breakup before it happens. You get so sucked into the relationship that logic is essentially thrown out the window. And while this may not be the most ear-catching track on the album, it’s accurate psychology greatly aids the overall concept of the album.

The bittersweetness of “good on you” does a great job showing the complicated feelings of watching you ex “win” the breakup and having to accept that while you wish the best for your ex, you wish you didn’t have to see it either. “The oTHEr side” is about coming to the healthy realization that you don’t need an ex to live a happy life and that the relationship doesn’t define who you are. It’s the calming realization that you’re free from emotions that were holding you hostage and being back in control of yourself again. The mellow and smooth sound really aids this emotion and makes for an enjoyable listen too. “gO to” is a solid love song, but it doesn’t feel like it fits the flow of the album and it feels even more out of place when the album’s concluding song feels like it better captures the rediscovery of love.

I can say the same of “make you,” even though it’s an incredibly brave song that the world needs to hear. Written with Brandy Clark, Ell recounts in the song her traumatic experiences of surviving sexual assault and learning how to be a stronger person on the other side of this. It’s such a tragic song that’s unfortunately the reality for so many people and I’m glad that Ell is sharing her story to help other survivors. But I would be lying if I said this just doesn’t fit the rest of the album, just like I said of Dua Lipa’s “Boys Will Be Boys” on Future Nostalgia.

“ReadY to love” is a great conclusion to the album, as Ell has fully moved on from her breakup and is ready to love somebody again. After so much heartbreak throughout the album, it’s good to end the album on an uplifting note and moving forward with a positive attitude, much like one is encouraged do in their own breakup and officially completing the fives stages.

Overall I think Ell mostly nails the concept she’s going for with heart theory, with my biggest complaint of this album being just a bit too long. At the very least I would have trimmed this down to ten songs, possibly even eight (“how good” and “get oveR you” are not bad songs, but feel a bit redundant when there are other songs that cover the same themes better). I’m also not a fan of the all lowercase titles with random capital letters to spell out the album title, as it’s tacky and uncreative. It’s better to let the songs themselves spell out the concept of the album than literally spelling it out in the song titles.

Despite my criticisms though, Lindsay Ell gets a lot right on heart theory and it’s a big step in the right direction for her sound and style. Her guitar playing is great as always and producer Dann Huff, who’s production I haven’t always been a fan of, is actually quite complementary of her strengths and brings a compelling sound that grips me throughout. This album is a great achievement for Ell, as she manages to craft both a fun, yet thought-provoking pop country album in heart theory.

Grade: 8/10

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. 

Album Review — Brandy Clark’s ‘Your Life is a Record’

Brandy Clark’s last album Big Day in a Small Town initially really impressed me, but eventually I found it to be a slightly above average album. And one of the big reasons was the production was all over the place. It just lacked cohesion and I also felt Clark didn’t do enough lyrically to elevate the tired small town themes of country music. So coming into this new record I was a bit unsure of what to expect, although with Jay Joyce returning as producer I continued to expect different sonic choices. And that definitely is the case with this album. But Your Life is a Record is also a much rawer and more personal record from Brandy Clark, which I would argue is definitely beneficial to this album.

Opening track “I’ll Be the Sad Song” lets you feel right away the pure somberness that fuels much of this record (Clark broke up with her partner of several years, inspiring many tracks on this album). And a big part of what helps drive this feeling is the sweeping and gorgeous strings throughout the chorus. It fits the reflective nature of looking back on a lost relationship really well. There’s no bitterness or anger, just a sad realization of what will never be again. “Long Walk” is on the other end of the spectrum, a fun sing-a-long that wishes bad things upon a person you don’t like. The kicker lines of course are “So take a long walk off a real short pier/Take a cinder block with you as a souvenir.” Out of the context of the song this is overly dark and vengeful. But the playful melody and Clark’s tongue-in-cheek delivery make for a whimsical, silly response to a person who’s clearly agitating.

“Love is a Fire” is a smoldering love song that shows off Clark’s passionate side and to excellent effect. I really enjoy the spacey, drifting feeling created by the strings and piano. The lyrics do a great job of painting that imagery of love being this blazing, out of control fire in the listener’s head too. “Pawn Shop” shows how vivid of a storyteller Clark can be, as she tells the duel stories of a woman pawning off her wedding ring and a man pawning his guitar. Each reflect on the loss these items represent and the ending of dreams. But then Clark reminds you that somebody else will buy them, starting dreams anew for somebody else. It’s a really clever look at the duality of life and death, how each are constantly playing off each other and how each gives the other value.

“Who You Thought I Was” is about striving to be a better person after falling in love with someone. The bouncy juxtaposition of the horns, mandolin and flute gives the song an enjoyably fun melody. As for the lyrics, they’re solid, clearly getting across the change in heart of the person who’s fallen in love. “Apologies” has an enjoyable flute and horn section, but the song meanders too long for me. It just feels like this song never leaves second gear and doesn’t ever reach anywhere with it’s message. The lyrics just sort of glaze over you after a couple of listens.  Randy Newman joins Clark on “Bigger Boat” and I just have to be flat-out honest: I do not like Newman’s voice. It annoys the shit out of me. The song has an admirable aim of pointing out the absurdity of the disagreements that run through social media and society nowadays. But it’s just too hokey for my taste. That’s a shame because I do enjoy the production on this track.

I have the same issues with “Bad Car” as I did with “Apologies.” And the other thing that bugs me is I feel like I’ve heard this song done so many times in country music. There’s just nothing that stands out to make it different from every other song that personalizes and gives emotional meaning to a vehicle. It’s not a bad song per se, it’s just fine and I won’t remember it. “Who Broke Whose Heart” fortunately does not have this problem. In fact this is probably one of my favorite songs I’ve heard from Clark, as it’s instantly catchy lyrics and melody hooked me. The production actually reminds me of Electric Light Orchestra in the way it utilizes the strings, horns and guitar. It’s just a really fun song with a surprising amount of bite.

“Can We Be Strangers” is a devastatingly great heartbreak song. This relationship has soured to the point of where the narrator just wishes they had never even met each other in the first place. And the way Clark delivers the chorus is painstakingly and soulfully beautiful. The horns and strings perfectly complement this song too, not taking over and instead adding dramatic gravitas that only enhances the emotions. “The Past is the Past” wraps the album up in a nice bow, with Clark reaching the point of letting the past go and moving forward in her life while still letting herself feel the heartbreak from the situation. As I said it’s a fitting and mature conclusion after the myriad of emotions Clark expresses throughout the album. Lessons have been learned and now a new life begins.

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.

Grade: 8/10

Reacting to The Absolute Joke of the 2017 ACM Awards Nominations

pile_of_shit

Let’s be honest, I’ve never been that fond of country music award shows. Outside of the 2015 CMA Awards that helped launch Chris Stapleton to a brand new level of stardom, I’ve pretty much scoffed at these shows. As I’ve said before, no other genre spends more time patting themselves on the back than country music. This is evident by the heaps of award shows held throughout the year and this trains the viewer to basically not give a shit. But nevertheless we keep an eye on these shows in hopes they get it more right each time. Well we now have the nominations for the 2017 ACM Awards and there’s no other way to put it. These are an absolute joke. My first reaction was are these the mainstream country radio awards? Because it’s mostly a list of radio darlings that programmers fall over themselves to play. After seeing these nominations it makes me not want to watch and may not. Each category seems to have its own joke, so let’s pick through each.

Entertainer of the Year

  • Jason Aldean
  • Luke Bryan
  • Florida Georgia Line
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Keith Urban

No Eric Church or Chris Stapleton, but sure Aldean and Florida Georgia Line get nominations. Complete failure already before we even get to the more insane nominations. I know the ACMs are in the tank for Aldean, but could they be any less discreet about it? The only nomination even worthy of winning is Carrie Underwood for her excellent touring numbers and consistently churning out hits and I give her a snowball’s chance in hell of winning. Aldean and Bryan are the odds on favorites here.

Male Vocalist

  • Jason Aldean
  • Dierks Bentley
  • Thomas Rhett
  • Chris Stapleton
  • Keith Urban

Once again Eric Church isn’t a nomination. Church released the best album of his career and is releasing the best singles of his career. And every awards show is stiffing him. I guess the industry is pissed he isn’t giving them radio fodder anymore. But I’m guessing Church doesn’t give a shit. Another category with one worthy candidate in my mind: Chris Stapleton. Remember when Dierks Bentley was considered one of the good guys at these shows? Then he decided he wants to be Luke Bryan and make a bunch of cheesy and stiff adult contemporary schlock. No Tim McGraw. Also no Blake Shelton in any categories. Well there’s some good news.

Female Vocalist

  • Kelsea Ballerini
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Maren Morris
  • Kacey Musgraves
  • Carrie Underwood

I don’t know why Kacey continues to go to these awards show when she and everyone else knows she’s just a token nomination to fill out the field. What did she do in 2016 to earn a nomination? She didn’t release any new music. And keep in mind this isn’t a jab at her. She’s one of the best on a major country label. You would think Miranda is the shoe-in to win, but with her turn towards a more songwriter/Americana-like side I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Maren Morris wins. She seems poised to usurp Lambert as the new female darling in mainstream country and is racking up awards like crazy.

Vocal Duo

  • Big & Rich
  • Brothers Osborne
  • Dan + Shay
  • Florida Georgia Line
  • Maddie & Tae

Big & Rich are a Vocal Duo nomination in 2017…..hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! They released one single last year that took like 40 weeks to peak at #14 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart. They’re completely irrelevant. What in the hell makes them deserving of a nomination? Maddie & Tae are a complete token nomination like Musgraves above. I don’t see Dan + Shay being quite in the position to win yet. So it’s between CMA 2016 Duo of the Year Brothers Osborne and past years favorite Florida Georgia Line. I’m hopeful the former wins, but being a radio favorites show I expect the latter to win.

Vocal Group

  • Eli Young Band
  • Lady Antebellum
  • Little Big Town
  • Old Dominion
  • Rascal Flatts

Eli Young Band?! Where are they getting these joke ideas for nominations? You’re telling me Eli Young Band is a nomination, but not Zac Brown Band who at least had a song reach the top 15 in the last year and are a mainstream staple? Get out of here! Lady Antebellum was on hiatus for all of 2016. Rascal Flatts are irrelevant. Yet despite this joke of a category, the best group Little Big Town should easily walk away with this award.

New Male

  • Kane Brown
  • Chris Janson
  • Chris Lane
  • Jon Pardi
  • Brett Young

Out of all the categories, this actually might be the one I have the least qualms with because these are all new male artists who have did something notable in the last year. Despite not being a fan of him, Kane Brown is deserving based on the fact that he does sell well and has great streaming numbers. While you and me might not like him, there are many he does resonate with and it’s ironic he’s one of the few nominations where the ACM looked beyond radio. Hands down this should go to Jon Pardi, who achieved a #1 album with California Sunrise, racked up a #1 hit in “Head Over Boots” and is on his way to another #1 in “Dirt on My Boots.” And I think it actually does go to him because his accomplishments blow the others out of the water. If anyone else wins I’m calling shenanigans.

New Female

  • Lauren Alaina
  • Cam
  • Brandy Clark
  • Maren Morris

That’s right they couldn’t even fill out the nominations for this one. Hey ACMs: Margo Price and Aubrie Sellers. Did you forget they exist? How is Brandy Clark new? This is just another award for them to give Maren.

New Vocal Duo/Group

  • A Thousand Horses
  • Brothers Osborne
  • Dan + Shay
  • LoCash
  • Maddie & Tae

None of these are really new, but then again barely anything else makes sense with these awards. I’m guessing Brothers Osborne or Dan + Shay win here.

Album

  • Dierks Bentley – Black
  • Florida Georgia Line – Dig Your Roots
  • Maren Morris – Hero
  • Keith Urban – Ripcord
  • Miranda Lambert – The Weight of These Wings

This should 1000% go to Miranda Lambert for her great album. But it’ll probably go to Urban or Morris or maybe even Bentley. You could take the best material from all of the non-Lambert ones, put it in one album and it still wouldn’t top Lambert’s album.

Single

  • Keith Urban – “Blue Ain’t Your Color”
  • Florida Georgia Line – “H.O.L.Y.”
  • Tim McGraw – “Humble and Kind”
  • Maren Morris – “My Church”
  • Miranda Lambert – “Vice”

Key distinction is this is single. I’m kind of surprised Thomas Rhett’s “Die A Happy Man” isn’t here, but rather under Song below. I don’t give Lambert a chance here either sadly. I could see any of the other four winning.

Song

  • Keith Urban – “Blue Ain’t Your Color”
  • Thomas Rhett – “Die A Happy Man”
  • Tim McGraw – “Humble and Kind”
  • Eric Church (feat. Rhiannon Giddens) – “Kill A Word”
  • Chris Stapleton – “Tennessee Whiskey”
  • Miranda Lambert – “Vice”

I would be happy with any of the bottom four winning, but watch one of the top two win. If I had to pick the winner I would definitely go with “Kill A Word,” being the best song of the nominations and for Church getting screwed over in general.

Video

  • Chris Stapleton – “Fire Away”
  • Various Artists – “Forever Country”
  • Tim McGraw – “Humble and Kind”
  • Kelsea Ballerini – “Peter Pan”
  • Miranda Lambert – “Vice”

With all due respect to the other videos, “Fire Away” is the no-brainer best video. It’s one of the powerful music videos I’ve watched in years and takes the song to a whole new level of meaning. Instead though “Forever Country” will probably win because it’s done insane numbers on YouTube and sold well (also great numbers on this very blog). The only hesitation I have of it winning is this song was specifically made for the ACM’s chief rival show CMA’s 50th Anniversary. How ironic would that be if it won an ACM Award?

Songwriter

  • Ashley Gorley
  • Luke Laird
  • Hillary Lindsey
  • Shane McAnally
  • Lori McKenna

McKenna has to win this one, right?

Vocal Event 

  • Dierks Bentley (feat. Elle King) – “Different For Girls”
  • Various Artists – “Forever Country”
  • Florida Georgia Line (feat. Tim McGraw) – “May We All”
  • P!nk (feat. Kenny Chesney) – “Setting The World on Fire”
  • Chris Young (feat. Cassadee Pope) – “Think of You”

I could see a case made for any of these conceivably winning. I think this will largely depend on the other categories’ winners.