The Hodgepodge: One Year Writing for Country Perspective

It was late July 2014 when, while browsing the internet and looking at various country music reviews, I stumbled upon a website called Country Perspective. For the life of me, I can’t remember how I found the site, but I’m glad I did. Because a couple of weeks later, Josh posted an announcement that he was looking for another writer to join the site. After giving it some thought on if I wanted to devote the time and make a long-term commitment (assuming I’d be accepted), I reached out and expressed my interest in joining. The rest, they say, is history.

I’ve always had an affinity for writing. In college I began writing screenplays and ended up writing three feature length screenplays along with some short films. Also included with that were two blogs which had short lives and a personal website that acted more like an online resume more than a blog, but I’d do an occasional movie review or something along those lines on the site. I’m not a full-time writer, but having it as a hobby/part-time side gig is awesome.

My first article published on Country Perspective was a call-out to mainstream country about bringing women back to the forefront. Taylor Swift had recently announced her move to pop, and it left a gaping hole in country music, and I offered up 5 options (aside from Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, and Kacey Musgraves) on who could fill that gap. One year and 2 days and 91 posts later, I’m still here and not ready to leave anytime soon.

As a writer and reviewer, I like to think I’ve grown and improved over the past year. I quickly learned that to write a thorough album review, I’d have to shut the rest of the world off for 45 minutes and simply listen and take notes. And the more I listened and reviewed and read others’ reviews, the more I was able to pick up on. The production and instrumentation were probably my weakest area on figuring out what nuances and qualities of the production compliment the lyrics well. Drawing out the stories and subtext from lyrics took a little work, but it’s honestly one of my favorite parts of listening to music and reviewing it, figuring out the story and sharing it. One of my most favorite reviews I’ve written was for Diamondwolf’s Your Time Has Come. The depth and complexity of the lyrics in some of the songs made the review fun to write.  Also, as a writer, I felt challenged to improve my writing, especially in that review, in order to articulate my thoughts on the album accurately.

I’ll keep this short because I don’t like the prattle on about myself, but I enjoy being a part of Country Perspective. I’ve seen the site grow in readers and in the respect we have among other writers and blog runners. While I can’t take any credit for the creation of our hit features like The Pulse, The Hodgepodge and the podcast, I’m proud to be a partner and contributor to a site that’s become a staple to many of you who come looking for country music coverage beyond the mainstream. I’ve had a lot of fun interacting with artists, fellow bloggers, and readers.

Here’s to another year, and a better year (because there’s always room for improvement) at Country Perspective!

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Tomorrow, the long-awaited debut album from Maddie and Tae will be released. Start Here is streaming on NPR if you want to listen to it early.
  • As announced last week, Carrie Underwood will release her next studio album, Storyteller, on October 23rd.
  • The Josh Abbott Band will release their fourth studio album in November. Front Row Seat is described by Abbott as a concept album and an honest look at the singer’s divorce. The album’s lead single is called “Amnesia”.
  • Michael Ray has announced his next single will be “Real Men Love Jesus.”
  • Danielle Bradbery’s next single will be called “Friend Zone.”
  • The Voice winner and country music singer, Jake Worthington, will release his debut EP this October.

Today in Country Music History

  • In 1974, Charley Pride records the Johnny Duncan-penned “I Ain’t All Bad.”
  • The Dixie Chicks’ album, Home, is released in 2002.
  • In 2005, CMT released a list of the “20 Greatest City Songs” with Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee” coming in at number 1.

Today’s Country Music history facts come courtesy of RolandNote.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Jackson” by Johnny Cash and June Carter. This is one of country’s most famous duets, and for a good reason. From John’s deep baritone to June’s higher register, their voices complement one another perfectly. Sit back and enjoy this Opry performance of “Jackson” from 1968.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week


Andy Grammer’s Self Titled Debut. Last week, I had the chance to see a free concert from Andy Grammer. The only song I knew from Grammer before the show was “Honey, I’m Good”, which I still think is an obnoxious song. I was pleasantly surprised by the rest of his music and quite frankly, Grammer’s a good entertainer on stage. He can beat box well, can play a variety of instruments, and sings nicely live. It was a good show. So his debut album, the one without “Honey, I’m Good,” is my non-country suggestion for this week.

Tweet of the Week

And all the people said, “Amen!”

Two iTunes Reviews That Made Me Laugh

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These were both left under The Band Perry’s “Live Forever.” Based on sales and early response, The Band Perry pop experiment doesn’t appear to be working as well as some may have hoped. These two people weren’t fooled at all.

Country Perspective’s Best Country Albums of 2015 So Far

We’ve reached the mid-point of 2015, so it’s time to look back at the year so far for country music. Up first we take a look back at the best country albums of 2015 so far. There has certainly been a lot of great albums and the competition for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year award is already tightly contested.

Remember for an album to be considered for Album of the Year, it must receive a 10/10 score. Those won’t be the only ones listed below though, as all the highly rated albums so far will be highlighted. Remember too that it’s impossible for us to keep up with every single release and we do our best to cover the most albums possible. So please don’t be that person in the comments section that says something along the lines of: “This list is irrelevant because (insert album) isn’t on it” or “This list sucks.” Agree or disagree all you want, just be respectful about it. Not everyone has the same opinion, so keep this in mind.

So without further ado, the best country albums of 2015 so far (in no particular order)….

(Click on the album name to see the full review)

Album of the Year Candidates

Chris Stapleton Traveller

Chris Stapleton – Traveller

The hype was high heading into Chris Stapleton’s album. Not only did he meet the hype, he surpassed it with Traveller. I don’t think I could ask anymore from a country album than what I hear on this album. It has everything a country music fan should want in their music. What impressed me the most out of all is Stapleton’s voice. Holy shit I did not expect him to blow me away so much vocally. He’s easily one of the best in country music today. The songwriting is top-notch, but we knew that already. The instrumentation and production is spotless, as once again Dave Cobb is in top form. I have no complaints with this album, as Stapleton is a visionary. Traveller is a must-own and is easily one of the top candidates for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year.

Whitey Morgan – Sonic Ranch

Whitey Morgan Sonic Ranch

What makes this album stand out above a lot of other country albums released so far is how cohesive and tight-knit everything is on this album. The instrumentation and the production is flat-out perfect. The lyrics are emotional and tell brilliant stories throughout it. Morgan’s bellowing voice reminds me of a lot of Waylon Jennings and Sturgill Simpson, yet Whitey is much more gruff and gritty giving it a different texture compared to the likes of Jennings and Simpson. The album is the exact right length of 10 songs. It leaves no room for unnecessary filler that can bring the quality down. It’s straight, no-holds barred, outlaw-style country music that will leave you wanting more. This is the kind of album that will make people take notice of Whitey Morgan and put him on the radar of country music fans everywhere. This is an artist and album everyone needs to hear. Sonic Ranch right now is one of the top candidates for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year. There are very few country albums better than this one.

Houndmouth Little Neon Limelight

Houndmouth – Little Neon Limelight

Little Neon Limelight is flawless in every aspect. Houndmouth’s vocals are dynamic and the harmonies will stick with you for a while. Each song tells a story or conveys some sort of emotion in the listener, which is what great music does. While there are a few somber songs, this album is mostly fun and even mixes in some good humor. This is an album I thinks some people might let slip through the cracks and miss out on. Don’t be one of these people. Anyone who appreciates great music should hear it. If you’re into groups like Shovels & Rope or The Lone Bellow, you’ll enjoy Houndmouth even more. I highly recommend this album. Without a doubt one of the best albums I’ve heard in 2015.

Blackberry Smoke Holding All The Roses

Blackberry Smoke – Holding All The Roses

Overall, Holding All The Roses is what southern rock is all about. Each song is unique and adds quality to the album. The lyrics are fresh and just damn fun to listen to; it’s really hard to find a song on here that’s bad. The album is paced well and even when Blackberry Smoke venture down a country alley for a song or two, those country songs are better than pretty much everything that radio offers. Holding All The Roseshas a throwback feel to a golden era of rock and country music, delivering on every track. Their previous album, The Whippoorwill, was fantastic in its own right, but Blackberry Smoke followed it up with an equally outstanding record. Holding All The Roses will be a tough act to follow.

Bowen & Rogers Hold My Beer

Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen – Hold My Beer, Vol. 1

Hold My Beer is simply put a fantastic album. There are no down moments in this album and it holds the listeners’ attentions the whole way through it. The rich and traditional instrumentation makes you want to listen to every song over and over again. I don’t think you can find too many pairs that would gel better than Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers either. This is a perfect example of why I want to see more collaborations in country music. On this album this two great artists in their own right came together and produced something amazing. I like how the full album name is Hold My Beer, Vol. 1. because that means this is the first of hopefully many more collaboration albums from these two. I definitely recommend buying this album. It’s a must-own for fans of country music.

The Malpass Brothers

The Malpass Brothers – The Malpass Brothers

Very rarely am I left speechless and a loss for words when listening to a great album, but this is the case with The Malpass Brothers’ new self-titled album. This is just pure, classic country that words can’t do justice. I’ve listened to this album over and over. I can’t get over how great it is and how two young artists like Chris and Taylor Malpass get country music so damn well. These guys were born to make country music. If you’re a fan of pop country music, don’t listen to this album. It’s simply too country for you. For those who love traditional and classic country, buy this album, press play and prepare to be amazed. You can’t get anymore country than this album. This is one of my favorites of 2015 and I can’t wait to hear more music from The Malpass Brothers for years to come.

Dwight Yoakam Second Hand Heart

Dwight Yoakam – Second Hand Heart

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.

The Mavericks Mono

The Mavericks – Mono

Mono from start to finish seduces you with its sultry songs. The deeper you go into this album, the more you will love it. I thought In Time was the best this group could do, but they proved me wrong. Mono is even better than In Time, which I did not think could be possible. They have just set the bar pretty high for everyone else in country music in 2015. There’s a lot of heavy hitters yet to release their albums in 2015, but they better bring their all if they want to top this album. Without a doubt, a top contender for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year. Go buy this album and listen to it over and over. The Mavericks’ Mono is a shining example of not only how country music should be done, but really how all music should be done.

Gretchen Peters – Blackbirds

Overall, Blackbirds is dark and heartbreaking, but there’s an ironic beauty to the darkness. Gretchen Peters is a seasoned, award-winning songwriter. Her writing onBlackbirds is top-notch; with scenes and feelings described perfectly within each song while still driving the story forward. And as I mentioned before, the production on each track adds even more to the mood of the songs. Regardless of how dark the album may be, the consistency and focus put into making every aspect work in conjunction pays off. Blackbirds is a fantastic album.

The Lone Bellow

The Lone Bellow – Then Came The Morning

The Lone Bellow’s Then Came The Morning simply blows me away. The year is still new, but this album will hold up as one of the best in country music all year. I don’t think it would be a stretch to call this trio one of the most dynamic in music. If you’re looking for a comparison, I would say the closest is Shovels & Rope, except more bluesy and not quite as dark. So if you love Shovels & Rope, you’ll love this group. Some may say this isn’t a country album, but I don’t care what genre you put it under. This is just great music that everyone should hear. This is without a doubt a strong contender for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year.

Diamondwolf – Your Time Has Come

Overall, Your Time Has Come, is a fantastic album. Many times, it’s the Indie music artists who are the most talented in both writing and instrumentation, and Diamondwolf is no exception to that thought. In fact, they’re a great example of that thought. The deep metaphors and meaning found in the writing of these songs are a lost art in mainstream music. Alicia Dara and Glen Cooper sing these deep lyrics beautifully on every track. Even though you may have to listen to some of these songs a few times to fully grasp the meaning, it’s worth it. The reality and honesty grounded in each track only makes Your Time Has Come that much better. I highly recommend this album.

Other Highly Recommended Albums

Brandi Carlile – The Firewatcher’s Daughter

Allison Moorer – Down To Believing 

Will Hoge – Small Town Dreams

Jon Pardi – The B-Sides, 2011-2014 EP 

Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard – Django and Jimmie 

Jamie Lin Wilson – Holidays and Wedding Rings 

Justin Townes Earle – Absent Fathers 

Cody Jinks – Adobe Sessions

James McMurtry – Complicated Game

John Moreland – High On Tulsa Heat 

Reba – Love Somebody

Ryan Bingham – Fear and Saturday Night

Cody Canada and the Departed – HippieLovePunk 

The Western Swing Authority – Now Playing 

Judson Cole Band – Eastern Skies 

Striking Matches – Nothing But The Silence

Aaron Watson – The Underdog 

William Clark Green – Ringling Road

American Aquarium – Wolves 

Album Review: Diamondwolf’s ‘Your Time Has Come’

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Seattle’s music scene is special in its own right. Just like Texas has its own country scene away from Nashville, Seattle has a music scene with its own identity. Obviously you think Nirvana when Seattle music is mentioned, but beyond them a music scene still thrives. Alicia Dara and Glen Cooper are both long time singers and songwriters in Seattle. Dara is a member of indie-rock band The Volcano Diary. However, with a wave of inspiration to write songs that didn’t fit with that band’s identity and vision, Alicia Dara ventured elsewhere to satisfy her musings. On her personal blog, Dara explains:

“I wanted to be less specific and more universal, to say something true about the human condition… How the people closest to us form the matrix of our spiritual practice, and how loving them makes us return to this moment, again and again. How our mortality is beautiful, and sacred.”

So to record these new songs without compromising TVD’s vision, Dara established a side project with long time friend, Glen Cooper. “I think because we both understand how the natural world evokes powerful metaphors for the human experience,” she writes on her blog. And thus with a musical vision and partner, Diamondwolf was born. The duo’s first full length album, Your Time Has Come, is chock-full of powerful metaphors, flawless folk, Americana instrumentation, and beautiful harmonies.

Your Time Has Come begins with “When I Rise.” Alicia Dara leads the way on this track. Actually, for all but the last song, Dara provides the lead vocals with Cooper harmonizing behind her. She has a beautiful voice that adds an extra layer to each song. This song is about getting over a relationship. She’s still in a dark stage of heartbreak recovery, but knows she will rise. Up next is “Cool Blue Fire.” I listened to this song about three or four times, and still couldn’t really decipher a meaning from the lyrics. However, thanks again to Alicia Dara’s personal blog, I found this:

“I can feel the colors when I perform. Lately the colors have been working their way into the lyrics I’ve been writing for my new band Diamondwolf. Our song “Cool Blue Fire” came directly from synesthetic experience.”

Synesthesia is a neurological phenomenon where the “stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.” To drastically over simplify it, basically when Alicia Dara hears music, she has colorful visions. (I highly recommend reading both links above about Synesthesia and Dara’s personal experience with it.) “Cool Blue Fire” is a beautiful song, and the abstractness of it adds more beauty to the lyrics.

“Crasher” deals with a broken relationship. This song is just one example of how the guitar works in favor of the song. Throughout the whole album, production and instrumentation is simple, meaning they play what is necessary and don’t overload the songs. “Unbound (You Know My Name)” is a song about finding freedom in love. The acoustic melody and the vocals, along with the writing, make “Unbound” one of the album’s top tracks.

The writing on Your Time Has Come is wonderful, and the imagery in “Swan Song” is a perfect example of it. It’s another song of a relationship ending, but with descriptions of carrying a shadow while it fades and lyrics like “the sweet, sweet Siren cries through the endless fire burning in your eyes” raise the song above other songs of the same subject matter. I talked about the simplistic production, and “Supermoon” is a song with very little instrumentation. Dara and Cooper’s voices are front and center and carry the song. It’s a song about how they may have over estimated the strength of their love, and how the spell of the rare super moon influenced their actions and thoughts. Following this is “Burn Him Down.” A heavy acoustic strum drives this song about a woman who’s in yet another poisonous relationship with a bad man.

“Limited Time” is another album standout. The relationship in this song appears to be on the fringes. Maybe it’s just a bad spell, maybe it’s the end, but they both hope they reunite their love and spark a fire bright enough to lead them to the other side of the darkness. I really love everything about this song. It’s grounded in a realness of life in a relationship, and has some great imagery and vocals. However, in “Across The Water” she’s the one who’s ended things. This decision may have been rash though and she’s hoping he’ll forgive her and call to her across the water to return. The album ends with “Mantra,” a song where Glen Cooper sings the lead. This song is about getting over the loss of someone you love. It’s a tough grieving process, but “if color fades out no shadows remain.” Sometimes waiting it out is the only way to get over our grief. Cooper also reminds us that we’ll see the ones we miss once again.

Overall, Your Time Has Come, is a fantastic album. Many times, it’s the Indie music artists who are the most talented in both writing and instrumentation, and Diamondwolf is no exception to that thought. In fact, they’re a great example of that thought. The deep metaphors and meaning found in the writing of these songs are a lost art in mainstream music. Alicia Dara and Glen Cooper sing these deep lyrics beautifully on every track. Even though you may have to listen to some of these songs a few times to fully grasp the meaning, it’s worth it. The reality and honesty grounded in each track only makes Your Time Has Come that much better. I highly recommend this album.

Grade: 10/10