Album Review — Justin Moses’ ‘Fall Like Rain’

Bluegrass is a genre I admittedly had trouble appreciating when I was younger. I’ve always respected the genre, but it was something that was hard for me to sit down and truly enjoy. In the earlier days of the blog I covered some bluegrass and writing a review was like pulling teeth from me. Even before that I was exposed to bluegrass from my grandpa. Maybe that’s why when Sturgill Simpson mentioned having a similar experience with his own grandfather that it allowed me to connect to this two volumes of Cuttin’ Grass even more. So admittedly these albums finally made me wake up and appreciate bluegrass a lot more and I’ve been slowly diving into the genre since the release of Simpson’s first volume.

When I was searching for upcoming bluegrass releases, Justin Moses’ album caught my eye and I gave a listen to some of the pre-release singles. The sound immediately caught my ear. Keep in mind I didn’t even know until I dove into Fall Like Rain that he’s the husband of bluegrass star and mandolin virtuoso Sierra Hull, who blew me away with her work on Simpson’s bluegrass albums and her own album 25 Trips released last year was quite impressive too (definitely worth your time if you haven’t heard it). Moses’ work though is quite talented in his own right, as he delivers a really good record in Fall Like Rain.

The title track kicks off the album and it should be noted it’s an Eric Clapton cover from his Pilgrim album. Moses does a great job making it his own and re-contextualizing it within bluegrass, as the aching pain of heartbreak that permeates in the lyrics suits the bluegrass sound well. Hull joins Moses on “Taxland” for a captivating instrumental that shows off both of their impressive picking abilities. It’s so much fun and the energy of it is amazing. When I hear a song that jams this hard it only makes me miss live music even more, as I imagine this song would be even more fun to hear in-person.

Prominent bluegrass artist Dan Tyminski joins Moses on “Between the Lightning and the Thunder.” Even if you don’t listen to bluegrass, Tyminski’s voice is quite distinctive, as he’s been featured in some major hits in O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Avicci’s “Hey Brother.” With that in mind I was surprised at the restrained nature of Tyminski’s vocal performance. It’s a solid track, but as someone used to Tyminski’s vocals being more prominent this caught me off guard. Not to mention the theme of the song centering around the clashing of lightning and thunder would be seem to call for a more powerful sound to reflect this.

“Walking to Lebanon” has an appropriately Middle Eastern-inspired sound to open the album, which really catches my ear. The songwriting is just as distinctive, as Moses tells the story of a young girl who lives amongst violence and chaos in a Middle East country and is forced to walk across the desert to Lebanon with her sister to escape the bombings that have ravaged her home. It’s a tragic story with a small sense of hope that peace can be found for the young girl. I also appreciate the line from Moses when he sings “It’s hard on us all, but it’s meaner for some,” contextualizing the difference of a tough life in a first-world country versus a tough life in a third-world country. For me it’s a small reminder that somebody somewhere is experiencing something that I will likely never have to go through and I should both take solace in this and sympathize with those who are struggling.

Moses gets a chance to show off his own picking chops in a solo capacity on tracks “Wise & Born” and “Watershed.” As I said in my review of Tyler Childers’ Long Violent History, the key to great instrumental music over the course of an album is variety and conveying mood within the listener as they listen to it. And Moses does this quite well on Fall Like Rain. There’s a distinct character to each track, as “Wise & Born” feels like you’re taking an exciting ride along the countryside and “Watershed” has a soaring, flying feel about it that captures my attention.

Bluegrass legend Del McCoury joins Moses on “My Baby’s Gone.” The impressive picking of Moses combined with the high-pitched twang of McCoury make for a sweet combination on this heartbreak song. I particularly enjoy McCoury’s closing vocals on the track as he hits the highest notes of the song, as it leaves a lasting impression. It also shows the blues of bluegrass and it’s influences on the genre (hence why I liked Moses’ pick of a Clapton cover too). By the way the guest features on this album are great and Moses delivers one more when Shawn Lane of Blue Highway joins him on “Looking for a Place.” I had never heard Lane sing before this, but his voice really stands out with it’s distinctive softness. It also makes for great harmonizing with Moses on the chorus and adds to the breezy melody that envelopes the song.

“U.F.O.” and “Locust Hill” close out the album in a strong way. The former is a quiet observation of the climb we all experience in life, but remaining hopeful that we can one day find the “streets paved with gold.” It works not only in a biblical context, but also striving to find that inner peace in life too. This song underscores the subtle theme throughout the album of acknowledging the rough spots we all experience, but still finding the strength and hope to overcome them and reach the heights we aspire to in our lives. It’s quite the uplifting message to take away from this album. But I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the tight instrumentals too. The small break before the instrumental reprise at the end of “U.F.O.” is a nice touch. It also provides a good contrast to the fast-picking of “Locust Hill,” as Moses leaves the listener with a real shot of energy and allows all the players on the record to really stretch their legs, which is a standard in the world of bluegrass. The collaborative nature of the genre is without question a shining aspect.

Justin Moses really delivers a fun and memorable listen with his first full-length bluegrass record Fall Like Rain. Almost all of the features are utilized well and there’s plenty of catchy melodies throughout. And unsurprisingly the picking by all the players on this project is top-notch. I would liken this album to warm comfort food for me: it’s not the flashiest nor the most distinctive. But it’s something I can come back to again and again because it’s just so solid and reliable all-around.

Stream It

The Hodgepodge: Why is the Music Industry Image Obsessed?

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It’s no secret that the music industry puts importance on the looks of an artist. Be it adhering to a certain style, or maintaining a certain body figure, the industry’s obsession with the image of a singer sometimes trumps the music. The executives and producers at major labels treat their artists as products to sell, and the product simply isn’t music. It’s an entire brand: a clothing style that would be appealing to the target demographic, accessories or fashion that matches the singer’s constructed persona (outlaw, blue-collar, family oriented, etc.), and keeping the singer’s weight and physical features within the realm of a socially constructed standard of beauty.

If you kept up with Farce the Music earlier this week, you know that the website shed some light on Jason Aldean’s congratulatory ad (above) in the recent Country Aircheck. Taking a closer look at Aldean’s features, it appears that someone probably doctored the photograph to make Aldean appear skinnier than in real life. This isn’t the first time a singer has been photoshopped before appearing in an ad or on a magazine cover, and it certainly won’t be the last time. It’s more or less become a standard when appearing in “print” media.

But this all begs the question as to why is image held in such a high regard when music is auditory? By all means, let’s make sure Jason Aldean looks like a healthy, attractive male for the female audience, but who cares that his radio singles sound like they were written and produced by bored 16 year olds. Why is the brand and look taken more seriously than the sound quality?

It’s a societal issue more than a music industry issue, I’d argue. Since the dawn of advertising, we’ve seen attractive males and females as the face and spokesperson for almost every product. The entire retail world is built upon selling something that’s visually appealing first. But why do major labels market the look first and not the song? If anything, the music industry could easily be different from the rest of the advertising world, but that’s not the case. They follow the same suits as other products.

What did Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, and Miranda Lambert have in common back when they were the only females on the charts in the early part of the decade? What do Carrie Underwood and Kelsea Ballerini have in common nowadays? Blonde hair. Blonde, the socially constructed ideal hair color for a beautiful woman; the most appealing color for men. I’m not saying that’s the only reason those artists are as successful as they are, but I’d also argue it certainly didn’t hinder their careers. Carrie Underwood’s music is great, and she’s an artist worthy of all the respect and accolades she has earned since winning American Idol. She has great pop country songs, and even her more poppy songs are way more tolerable than almost all other pop songs on country radio. But I believe it would be naive to think that Carrie’s blonde hair and attractiveness hasn’t played some sort of role in her marketability to music fans and success in the industry. I wouldn’t be surprised if in some alternate universe, a brunette Carrie Underwood, singing the same songs, is not quite as successful as the real life Carrie Underwood.

You could make the same argument for males as well. Luke Bryan is an attractive male for target female audience. He knows it, his label knows it, and they play into that look and charm when it comes to selling him. I guarantee you Luke Bryan wouldn’t be the country music superstar he is today if he was an overweight man with crooked teeth who couldn’t sway his hips smoothly. Mainstream labels sell these artists to fans based upon their visual appeal to the fans.

Now I don’t think that’s right, and I hate how that’s the way the world works. When it comes to music, I think a singer’s music should be the only parameter in which we judge him or her. And that’s why I think highly of Carrie Underwood, because her music has quality in its writing and delivery. I think Jason Aldean’s single choices shine a shallow, immature light onto him; his singles are not quality music. The same goes for Luke Bryan. I listen to music. My judgement of artists comes from their music. I don’t care if my favorite singer is overweight or bald. As long as he or she writes and makes good music, I will listen with joy.

Music has the ability to influence your moods and thoughts. When you’re having a bad day, you listen to happy music to cheer yourself up. A song can incite nostalgia and bring you back to time or place from your past: a joyous moment or memories of good times with friends. None of these memories or feelings come from looking at a magazine cover or watching the artist perform on an award show. They come from hearing the song.

The power of music comes from listening, and often times that gets overlooked or set aside because the singer isn’t dressed a certain way. Fashion and body image should have no bearing on how music and singers are perceived.

Upcoming/Recent Country and Americana Releases

  • Tomorrow, Sturgill Simpson‘s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth will be released. Josh’s review will also be published tomorrow.
  • Del McCoury‘s Del and Woody will also be released tomorrow.
  • The Honeycutters’ new album, On the Ropes, will be released May 20.
  • Flatland Calvary‘s recently released Humble Folks on April 1st. Texas/Red Dirt artists William Clark Green and Kaitlin Butts make appearances on the album.
  • Mickey Guyton said in a recent interview that she’ll be releasing a new single in May.
  • New On The Verge artist Tucker Beathard‘s single, “Rock On” just entered the top 30.
  • Dierks Bentley recently released a video for a new song from his upcoming album Black. “I’ll Be the Moon” is a duet with Maren Morris.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Motel Cowboy Show” by Reckless Kelly. From their 2006 album, Wicked Twisted Road, “Motel Cowboy Show” is a great country song, with 5 and half minutes of fiddles, steel guitars, and catchy lyrics. This is easily one of my favorite Reckless Kelly songs.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week


Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin IV. I’ve been listening to a lot of classic rock this week after seeing a presentation called Drugs and Rock N’ Roll. Led Zeppelin IV is one of my favorite rock albums, and includes some of Zeppelin’s classic songs including “When The Levee Breaks”, “Rock and Roll” and “Stairway to Heaven.”

Tweet of the Week

And Sam Hunt. And Cole Swindell. And Thomas Rhett. The list goes on and on.

iTunes Review

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This was left under Keith Urban’s Ripcord. An album available for preorder with his radio singles available. A little extreme in his review, but I find tommyboy_’s theory kind of funny. Hopefully tommyboy_ finds out there’s more (and better) country music available away from radio’s consistent dreck.

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

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