The Endless Music Odyssey, Vol. 6 — Reba, Keith Urban, Travis Tritt & more!

Reba McEntireRumor Has It (30th Anniversary Edition)

A classic album full of great love songs and heartbreakers with the iconic “Fancy” that I’m glad to see is getting a special anniversary release. If you’re a country fan and you haven’t heard this, you need to change this asap. One day I hope to give a full review of this album, along with many other past releases. Anyway, this anniversary edition comes with two new additions: a live version of “Fancy” and a Dave Audé remix of it. I want to talk about the latter, as once again Audé delivers a fun remix of a classic country song.

I know remixes aren’t exactly looked well upon by a lot of people in country music, but to me there’s everything to gain by releasing remixes of old country songs. At worst everybody ignores it and keeps listening to the original. But on the other hand you could entice a young listener who isn’t familiar with it to get into country music. Now some might argue this is the wrong way to get someone into country music through something that is sonically not country. But the biggest appeal for me in country music is the lyrics. “Fancy” is iconic because of the story, not the instrumentation. There are thousands of songs with the same sound as this remix and they remain ignored in a metaphorical music landfill. So if someone can find appeal in this remix of “Fancy,” I like to believe it’s because of the song itself.

Keith UrbanTHE SPEED OF NOW Part 1

You know this album starts out promising enough. Opening song “Out The Cage” has the kind of frenetic energy you want to open an album that grabs your attention. The P!nk duet “One Too Many” isn’t terrible, although a bit boring and run of the mill. “Live With” is actually quite enjoyable, as the chorus is catchy and has a good message about seeking a life that can be enjoyed. Not to mention the incorporation of Urban’s solid guitar work gives the song a needed punch. “Superman” is solid pop music with connectable imagery, even though the lyrics are a bit cliché.

With the exception of the nice collaboration with Eric Church on “We Were,” the rest of the album is quite vanilla and goes in one ear and out the other. In other words, what’s been the story for Urban on the last several albums. While the experimentation of Urban in his music was interesting at first, I think he’s well past due to get back to his roots and that’s guitar-driven music. But I don’t foresee this happening, as Urban seemingly got bored with this type of music. So since Urban seems hellbent on continuing the experimenting, here’s ultimately the biggest problem with it: it feels like he just wants to be the Ed Sheeran of country music.

Just like Sheeran in pop, Urban is trying to be everything to everybody and as the old saying goes, if you’re trying to please all, you’ll please none. I guess the most realistic ask I’m hoping from for Urban then is to pick a lane for an album and stick with it throughout. There’s just no constant theme with his albums anymore. It’s just jumping from one thing to the next and as an album listener I become frustrated quickly. Also two thoughts on “We Were.” First, there’s absolutely no need to have the non-Church version of the song. Second, I find it amusing a country artist adding a country artist to a song to make the sound more country to be hilarious. 4/10

Travis Tritt – “Ghost Town Nation”

I’ve quietly been waiting to see what comes of Travis Tritt’s team up with producer Dave Cobb on his new upcoming album and this is the first look. And I have to say I’m looking forward more to what’s in store. This is a great lead single that speaks to the divide between the rural people in towns across America and the media. The term “ghost town nation” is appropriate in this context as it reflects not only how small town America feels like everybody turns their noses up at them and that “there’s nothing there,” but also the loss of jobs and collapse of rural America due to the loss of manufacturing and other industries. If anybody can shine a spotlight on this divide in a way that’s articulate and gives insight to the issues faced by the average, small town American and their feelings of alienation, it’s Travis Tritt. 

NasKing’s Disease

You know I really wanted to enjoy this album. Nas is one of the all-time great rappers in the history of hip-hop and is required listening for anybody who has any kind of interest in the genre. But this album feels too same-y in so many spots and this makes for a tedious listen at times. Songs like “Ultra Black,” “All Bad” and “10 Points” are great, but in between these standout moments are songs that just don’t really stand out in terms of production or lyrics. Of course when you’ve set the bar as high as Nas has with previous albums, that undoubtedly hurts perception of new albums. While this is not a good album, it’s not bad either and it’s worth your time to spin through it once. 6/10

Aaron Frazer – “Bad News”

The fantastic drummer and falsetto vocalist for Durand Jones and the Indications teaming up with Easy Eye Sounds and Dan Auerbach is a combination that absolutely excites me on paper. Each have a foot solidly in the classic/throwback world while delivering lyrics that are modern and fresh. After hearing this enjoyably funky and soulful lead single, rest assured this debut album is one already on my radar for 2021. 

Texas HillTexas Hill EP

A brand new trio formed between Adam Wakefield, Casey James and Craig Wayne Boyd, I was intrigued by this grouping. Their obvious commonality of course is their backgrounds, as they each come from music competition shows. Each hasn’t really had the success as solo artists as I imagine they would prefer, so forming this trio is a pretty good idea. And I will say it’s clear right away their voices harmonize quite well together. Blending country, rock and soul, it’s a catchy sound too. They’ve said though they recorded a dozen songs together, so this EP is only a teaser of the full offering to come. So I’ll keep my comments on the vague side for now, as I want to hear the full project before offering my full thoughts. I’ll say this though: Texas Hill shows a lot of potential with these songs and I’m looking forward to hear what else they have in store. 

The Allman Betts BandBless Your Heart

This is a band on paper that is very much in the same vein of bands like Blackberry Smoke and The Wild Feathers. It’s a band I expect to enjoy, so I expected great things from this album. But there’s a big issue that prevents it from being enjoyable and that’s it’s runtime. There’s no reason why this album should be over an hour long. If you cut about 25 minutes from this album it would be a much better listen, but instead of this album concluding when it hits the sweet spot, it well overstays it’s welcome and makes me not want to revisit it. An undoubtedly talented band that fell into the trap a lot of younger acts fall into with albums. 6/10

JojiNectar

Once again this is another example of an album going way too long. Clocking in at just under an hour, there are multiple songs on this album that feel like a repetition of a previous song. Trim it down to around 30 minutes and this album would have gotten a full review and recommendation from me because Joji has a lot of great ideas, especially production-wise, throughout this album. “Ew” is a fantastically melancholy song about not feeling like enough in the wake of a breakup. “Tick Tock” and “Gimme Love” are absolute jams. Joji shows great introspection on “High Hopes” and “Mr. Hollywood” too. But unlike The Allman Betts Band, Joji’s longer than necessary runtime feels more like a major label trying to game streaming numbers. Despite my issues with this album though, Nectar is worth a listen if you’re into darker, “crying in the club” type R&B-influenced pop music. 6/10

The Endless Music Odyssey, Vol. 3 — Freddie Gibbs, Eric Church, Khruangbin & More!

Hey y’all! There are several albums I’ve been wanting to talk about since taking my break, so no fancy introduction is needed. Let’s talk about some albums….

Freddie Gibbs & The AlchemistAlfredo

Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist both solidify themselves as two of the most consistent artists in hip-hop with Alfredo. Gibbs’ rapping and flow are flawless while The Alchemist’s beats are smooth and his sampling is completely on point throughout. Opener “1985” may be the best opening song to an album I’ve heard in 2020, as the blaring guitar and Gibbs’ relentless attack approach to the lyrics makes me want to hit play over and over again. The lyricism is what you come to expect from Gibbs, which is not a knock at all, as he raps about cocaine, the dark sides of the street and mixes in his trademark dark humor. He also has more social commentary, as on “Scottie Beam” he ominously raps his execution may be televised, highlighting the systemic racism in the country. All the features on this album fit well, especially Rick Ross and Benny The Butcher (I definitely want to hear Gibbs and Butcher together again). This is a pretty great project and for many artists this would be amongst their best, but Gibbs sets the bar pretty damn high with previous projects like Piñata and Bandana. So I guess you could call this 9/10 album slightly down for Gibbs as hilarious as this is to type. But seriously don’t sleep on this album, as it’s one of the best you’ll hear out of hip hop in 2020. Light 9/10

Run The JewelsRTJ4

Unfortunately this album just flat out bored me and I just lose more interest in it as I delve deeper into it. It certainly has nothing to do with the messages, as they’re timely, important and should be heard. But every other aspect of this project feels like I’ve heard it before from the duo and it was better. While I rated Run the Jewels 3 quite highly, admittedly it didn’t hold up as well as time has passed. I thought it was due to the runtime. But now after listening to RTJ4, the issue is clearer. The delivery, approach and style of the lyrics have simply waned for Killer Mike and El-P. On Run the Jewels 3 they covered over a lot of this because it wasn’t as prevalent like it is on this album and quite frankly the beats were much more interesting and varied on Run the Jewels 3 (there’s not a single beat on this album that comes as close to being as interesting or cool as “Panther Like a Panther”). 

Not to mention the idea well feels empty on this album. Nothing feels new, it all feels the same and maybe that’s the point on how injustice in this country never changes, which is the reoccurring message of this album. But I feel like this album is all about great messages and the songs themselves are an afterthought. As I’ve continually said, great messages won’t be heard if the songs themselves aren’t interesting or good. Run the Jewels 3 managed to deliver timely messages behind great music. And this album seems to forget the latter. That’s largely the conclusion I come away from with this album: the music just isn’t as interesting like the previous three records. Light 5/10

Diplo/Thomas WesleyChapter 1: Snake Oil

I’ve talked about before how electronic and country will eventually be fused together more and how it will become a more prevalent sub genre (for better or worse). So I was actually quite excited to hear that famous electronic producer Diplo would be trying his hand at a country album. The ultimate result? Very hit and miss for me. What works: “Heartless” with Morgan Wallen is surprisingly something I’ve come to enjoy. The delivery of Wallen gives the song an infectious urgency and the drum machines are actually utilized in a way that makes the song enjoyably catchy (so many from the pop genre completely bastardize drum machines and make them a torturous ear worm). The unlikely team up of Thomas Rhett and Young Thug on “Dance with Me” is fun, although I would have liked to have heard more from Young Thug. “On Me” may be my favorite though, as Noah Cyrus delivers a memorable vocal performance. “So Long” and “Heartbreak” are solid tracks too.

What doesn’t work: The Jonas Brothers are good pop artists but don’t belong anywhere near a country record and “Lonely” doesn’t feel country in the slightest. “Do Si Do” has a good idea on paper but it’s bone dry and boring. Julia Michaels continues to prove she’s one of the most boring artists in music today with her appearances (her voice is the music equivalent of paint drying). “Hometown” is your standard generic, mediocre pop country that I’m not shocked Zac Brown signed on to take part in (it would fit nicely on his garbage solo album). And the inclusion of Diplo’s remix of “Old Town Road” is well…Diplo says it best in his interview with Apple Music: “We just added this on because it was on Columbia.” Hey, at least he’s honest! And I appreciate that he admits this album is a bit incoherent (because it definitely is). So while this is by no means a great album, it shows flashes of potential and makes me want to hear what he has in store for the next album. Light 5/10

Gone WestCanyons

You know I had some hope for this group to be a fresh sound in the mainstream realm. Instead I’m not entirely convinced this isn’t Gloriana but they somehow added former pop star Colbie Cailat as the new front-woman. This is just dull, generic pop country album in a sea full of so many albums that already sound like this. Don’t bother with this/10

Jimmy BuffettLife On The Flip Side

Well I’m not sure what I expected listening to this. It’s a Jimmy Buffett album. If you want light beach music this is it. I imagine this is best enjoyed while drinking a few on the beach. It’s five o’clock somewhere/10

Gabby BarrettGoldmine

While lead single “I Hope” is an enjoyable revenge ballad in the same vein as Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats,” the rest of this album is unfortunately your average pop country mediocrity. Barrett really doesn’t establish a unique sound or identity with this album and instead teeters between bad Underwood impersonation and radio bait. Solid 3/10

Blackberry SmokeLive From Capricorn Sound Studios EP

As always an enjoyable listen from one of the best rock bands in music today. Although I will admit I hoped to enjoy this more. While I enjoy the guest vocals of Jimmy Hall, I would have liked to have heard more from Charlie Starr on lead vocals. But it’s a minor nitpick on an otherwise pretty good EP. Light 8/10

Hill CountrySelf-titled

I’ve seen a lot of buzz about this album and Luke Combs even gave this group a shoutout. So I had to check this out even though I found Zane Williams’ solo output to be hit and miss in the past. Ultimately this is a country album that does nothing spectacularly but it does nothing wrong either. It’s an enjoyable mixture of country, roots rock and bluegrass that has something for all types of country listeners. It’s breezy and accessible music that represents a solid start for this new group. 7/10

Khruangbin Mordechai

I find it difficult to get into instrumental music most of the time and even harder to review it. But Khruangbin is easily an exception to this rule. I had never heard of this group until their excellent collaborative Texas Sun EP with Leon Bridges earlier this year. I’m so glad I found them, as I’ve now listened to their entire catalog after hearing the EP. Even better that they’ve dropped even more music with new album Mordechai. While I wouldn’t put it at the level of their great, southwestern-flavored 2018 album Con Todo El Mundo, this album is another pretty damn good record from the trio. This album centers mostly around a groovy, psychedelic funk sound with tinges of disco and jam pop mixed in at times. The band also surprises by mixing in some vocals on this record and they actually work pretty well. Most importantly they don’t detract from the hypnotic sounds of the band, which will always be the focus and strength of the group. If I had to pick my favorites they would be “Time (You and I)”, “Father Bird, Mother Bird” and album closer “Shida.” The latter is probably the top song for me, as the bass line is simply flawless. And if you’re looking for a relaxing album, you will be hard-pressed to find one more chill than this one in 2020. Solid 9/10

Eric Church — “Stick That in Your Country Song”

Finally I have to of course comment on the lead single for Eric Church’s upcoming new album, “Stick That in Your Country Song.” Without a doubt Church has been one of the best artists in country music for the last several years, as both Mr. Misunderstood and Desperate Man were fantastic albums. So he easily has the clout and respect to drop a song that’s basically calling out lazy songwriting and pandering bullshit being released by all kinds of artists in the industry. Church has been a bit more understated and introspective on his last two albums, so he was due to bring back the fiery, passionate side. 

The results are pretty good, as Church brings an infectious energy in all aspects. The lyrics are as subtle as a hammer to the head and get the point across pretty well, while also bringing attention to what needs to be heard more in country songs. It’s interesting how Church did not have a hand in writing this song, as this is not only a rarity for him, but this song also fits him perfectly. While I’m not fond of country songs that focus on if something is country or not these days, this song is not really about being country, but rather demanding more from his fellow artists. And he’s absolutely right to call them out for this. Once again I’m excited for another Church album!

Album Review — Eric Church’s ‘Desperate Man’

(Note: This was originally published in Oct. 2018 on Fusion Country, which is now closed. It is being reposted here for reader availability. Plus I really loved talking about this album, which is fantastic and one of the best released in 2018.)

Eric Church has always did it his way. It’s a cliché thing to say in the music industry. So many artists love to say it in press releases and interviews. But very few are being genuine. It’s just another marketing phrase. When it comes to Church, he’s one of the few being sincere. Not only has he done it his way, but his sound has evolved and changed with his life along the way. Each album shows more growth in his music and artistry. On Mr. Misunderstood, I thought Church delivered his best album yet. I didn’t think he could top himself on Desperate Man, but he does. Church delivers more on Desperate Man than I could have imagined.

Church delivers a real statement with opening song “The Snake.” It’s a stripped-down, appropriately sinister sounding song about a Copperhead and a rattlesnake. I’m not sure how others interpret it, but for me it’s a scathing commentary on American politics regarding the two major political parties. It tells of how each work together to continue eating the mice (who represent the people) and keep their power, each out for themselves and not the people they represent. “And the whole world’s burning down,” as Church wisely sings.

Church then does a complete 180 with the fun and upbeat “Hangin’ Around.” It’s probably the most danceable song Church has ever released, as it’s impossible to not want to move your head and feet along with the beat. The bass, drums, clapping and electric guitars chug along in unison, creating an infectiously funky sound. “Heart Like A Wheel” is a slice of bluesy country goodness that puts the guitars front and center. It’s about a love that can’t be stopped and keeps rolling on. Church delivers the lyrics with a real passion that make them really resonate over the listener.

“Some Of It” is the perfect marriage of Church’s past and present styles. The lyrics of the song are classic Church, with his deftly simple message about finding wisdom in life. It pairs up well with the new rich, heavily textured sound of Church. To me it’s a no-brainer, future single. The next song “Monsters” sounds like a single too. For many I imagine this is the center-piece of the album and I don’t blame them. The song’s writers Church and Jeff Hyde cleverly weave together a story of the monsters in life. When you’re a kid, they’re under the bed and you kill them with a flashlight. When you’re an adult, you realize they’re all around you and even in your head. In the case of Church, you pray them away. Whether you’re young or old, we all have our demons and we all have our way of dealing with them. You know you’re hearing a special song when we can all relate to it, as it unites us through its message.

Church fondly looks back on his upbringing and life on “Hippie Radio.” Specifically it was the sounds of rock radio that were always there through many milestones, marking each moment in his mind. It’s a song that celebrates the meaning of music and the influence it has on us. It’s a great song that’s probably the least memorable on the album, but that’s a testament to the sheer amount of quality throughout this record. “Higher Wire” shows a completely different side to Church. It’s a bare, soulful tune that Church sings almost entirely in falsetto. Like many I didn’t know what to think of it at first. It reminds me a lot of when I first heard “Like a Wrecking Ball,” which I originally didn’t like. But just like that song, “Higher Wire” grows stronger on you with each listen. My main takeaway: It’s so much damn fun to sing along to the chorus!

I covered the album’s title track when it first released and I still stand by what I said. It’s a great song and it’s appropriate it’s the title track because it perfectly captures the spirit and sound you hear throughout the album (not to mention Ray Wylie Hubbard gets some shine with a co-write). “Solid” immediately gives you a ’70s vibe thanks to the undeniable presence of the electric guitars. Not a surprise, considering Church has cited many influences from the era. Church sings about the many things in his life that keeps him grounded and allows him to have a solid foundation in life. By the end he takes it back to where he grew up and the upbringing by his parents, the appealing emotional closer that ties it all together.

The shimmery feeling “Jukebox And A Bar” sees Church once again fuse his classic lyrical style with his new production style. The theme is a staple of country music, but it’s Church’s lyrical approach that makes this song so good. I particularly enjoy the line, “We got pinpoint GPS, all you need is an address/But her love is the one thing I can’t find.” I enjoy it because despite all of the technology we have and all of the problems it can solve, ironically it still can’t heal a broken heart like the camaraderie of a bar. Plus the use of words like “phosphorescent” and “incandescent” have never been used better in a country song.

The album closes out with “Drowning Man,” taking the album back to where it began with the headache of politics. Church is the voice of many, as he doesn’t want to think about the problems of the world and would rather drown in whiskey. He doesn’t want to hear about your “beach” or “mountains” either, which can be interpreted as the endless chatter from each side on social media. The drowning is a sea of words. “Save your breath, I don’t want to hear about it” are the final words from Church, as he carefully expresses the exasperation of many.

Desperate Man is a fantastic album. Church’s songwriting has never been better and the production choices made by him and Jay Joyce blow me away. Just like Kacey Musgraves with Golden Hour, Eric Church shows us just how innovative and exciting country music can be when you throw out the “rules” and just create your sound. It’s not about giving people what they want, but giving them what they didn’t know they needed until they heard it. Eric Church did it his way on Desperate Man and his way is excellent.

Grade: 10/10

Josh’s Jukebox Journal — Country Hits: 2006

Once upon a time there was a popular feature on this blog called The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music and it’s sister feature The Past Pulse of Mainstream Country Music. It was an enjoyable feature for both you and I, before I decided to take a hiatus from blogging. My own enjoyment of the feature had waned, but I’ve wanted to return to a feature like this ever since.

Kyle over at Kyle’s Korner Blog took over the torch for The Current Pulse and is doing a fantastic job with it, so please go check it out if you haven’t done so. But I was wanting to do a Past Pulse. Unfortunately as I’ve discovered, Billboard has become greedy and decided to lock past charts behind a paywall. Quite an asinine decision in my view. So with this stupid decision by Billboard, I obviously can’t do The Past Pulse. But that sent me down the idea rabbit hole and I got to thinking how I could re-adapt the Past Pulse into something new. Combined with another feature idea I had been tinkering with, I’ve come up with Josh’s Jukebox Journal.

Josh’s Jukebox Journal is a brand new feature on the blog that will be similar to The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music, but with a twist. Rather than rely on past charts from Billboard instead I will look at playlists. This could be from any genre, from any year, past or present, various artists or just one artist. I will run through the playlist giving a thumbs up (let it play), shrug (essentially playlist filler) or a thumbs down (skip it). The best song will get two thumbs up and the worst will get two thumbs down. At the end I will give a grade for the quality of the playlist. These playlists can come from any of the streaming services (preferably Spotify, Apple Music or YouTube).

This feature won’t have a set day or time of when it releases. It will essentially be when I want to do one. And of course I want to hear playlist ideas for future versions of Josh’s Jukebox Journal in the comments! Today I will take a look at the Apple Music playlist Country Hits: 2006…

    • Rodney Atkins – “If You’re Going Through Hell” 👎
    • Rascal Flatts – “What Hurts the Most”🤷
    • Josh Turner – “Your Man” 👍
    • Carrie Underwood – “Jesus, Take the Wheel” 👍
    • Jennifer Nettles & Bon Jovi – “Who Says You Can’t Go Home”🤷
    • Brad Paisley – “When I Get Where I’m Going (feat. Dolly Parton)” 👍
    • Jason Aldean – “Why”🤷
    • Kenny Chesney – “Summertime”🤷
    • Phil Vassar – “Last Day of My Life” 👍
    • LeAnn Rimes – “Something’s Gotta Give”🤷
    • George Strait – “She Let Herself Go”🤷
    • Jack Ingram – “Wherever You Are” 👍
    • The Wreckers – “Leave the Pieces” 👍
    • Kenny Chesney – “Living In Fast Forward” 👍
    • Brad Paisley – “The World” 👍
    • Carrie Underwood – “Before He Cheats” 👍
    • Trace Adkins – “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” 👎👎
    • Rascal Flatts – “My Wish (10th Anniversary)” 👎
    • Blake Shelton – “Nobody But Me” 👍
    • Dierks Bentley – “Settle for a Slowdown” 👍👍
    • Steve Holy – “Brand New Girlfriend” 👍
    • Josh Turner – “Would You Go With Me” 👍
    • Little Big Town – “Bring It On Home” 👍
    • Sugarland – “Want To” 👍
    • Toby Keith – “Get Drunk and Be Somebody” 👎

Thumbs up: 15
Shrugs: 6
Thumbs down: 4

Grade: 7/10

This is a pretty solid playlist (until you see a lot of the songs missing I list below that I would have added and then you’re going to get angry like me). I was actually a little surprised, but then as I listened to it more not so much because I remember every single one of these songs vividly. I was 14/15 years old when these songs were popular and this was when my brother and I would watch the CMT music video countdown show every week. So I definitely got some nostalgia running through this playlist. And I can’t get over how much mandolin was allowed on country radio back then!

So many great songs to choose from for the best. Josh Turner was absolutely on fire during this time. I really enjoyed Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley’s material at that time too. Underwood of course just released her debut album and it’s arguably still her best record. Paisley helped Dolly get another hit and that’s always great. But I had to go with Dierks Bentley’s “Settle For a Slowdown” from the excellent Modern Day Drifter album. The ominous and dark atmosphere created by the guitars and the descriptive lyricism that so perfectly lays out the longing heartbreak taking place in the song made me choose it as best.

Not a lot of bad songs to choose from on this playlist, which is nice of course. I enjoyed all of Rodney Atkins biggest hits at first, including the one above, but thank country radio and grocery stores for overplaying them to the point I cringe when I hear them. I don’t mind Rascal Flatts’ “My Wish,” but for some bizarre reason they put a flat and bad 10th anniversary version on this playlist. Long-time readers know how I feel about post-9/11 Toby Keith. But picking Trace Adkins’ “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” as the worst was a slam dunk choice. This song was everywhere, well rather the remix version, which I’m surprised isn’t what was chosen for this playlist. It’s an annoying novelty song that will only age worse with time. (That I’ll also admit that teenager me loved at the time)

Songs I Would Have Added to the Playlist

  • Billy Currington – “Must Be Doin’ Somethin’ Right” (Currington was so good during this time and his omission is bad)
  • Dierks Bentley – “Every Mile a Memory”
  • Brooks & Dunn – “Believe”
  • Little Big Town – “Boondocks” (A cult classic!)
  • George Strait – “Give It Away” (How in the hell was this not on the playlist, yet the sleepy Strait hit was chosen?!?)
  • Emerson Drive – “A Good Man”
  • Eric Church – “How ‘Bout You” (Not a single Church song on the playlist is criminal!)
  • Kenny Rogers – “I Can’t Unlove You” (Rest in peace Mr. Rogers. Also people forget this was a top 20 song for him in 2006 and definitely worthy of this playlist)
  • Gary Allan – “Life Ain’t Always Beautiful” (Why was this not on the playlist either?!)
  • Alan Jackson – “Like Red on a Rose” (I’m just getting more angry at what was not on this playlist)
  • Jack Ingram – “Love You”
  • Van Zant – “Nobody Gonna Tell Me What to Do”
  • Eric Church – “Two Pink Lines” (Incredible song!)
  • Keith Urban – “Once in a Lifetime”
  • George Strait – “The Seashores of Old Mexico”
  • Joe Nichols – “Size Matters (Someday)”
  • Tim McGraw – “When the Stars Go Blue” (Not a single McGraw song on the playlist, especially not this one?! Come on)
  • Billy Currington – “Why, Why, Why”
  • Jake Owen – “Yee Haw”
  • Kenny Chesney – “You Save Me” (Take the two songs he has on the playlist and replace them with just this one, his best hit of the year)

Be sure to weigh-in with your thoughts on the playlist and what you would have added to the playlist too below!

Album Review — Luke Combs’ ‘What You See Is What You Get’

It’s hard to believe it was just over two years ago that Luke Combs made his entrance into the greater country music scene with his smash single “Hurricane” and now today is undeniably the biggest star in the genre. While I don’t see Combs as one of the best voices or songwriters in the genre, I understand (and enjoy) his appeal and see why he’s had such a meteoric rise: he has a humble, “aw shucks,” good ole boy persona who is undeniably country and even “paid his dues,” building up an impressive grassroots fan base as an indie artist before signing onto a major label. And I only see his star continuing to rise.

Combs made a pretty solid debut with his first album This One’s For You, adding even more quality songs on his deluxe version of the album. So I was eager to see if he could top his debut effort with his sophomore album What You See Is What You Get. Unfortunately he doesn’t and right away before even listening to the album, seeing the track list at 17 songs struck me as a red flag. In today’s streaming world, it’s easy to see this as a label decision to stuff the album to milk streaming numbers (hip hop is especially infamous for this tactic). I also rarely find that albums of this length are able to maintain a high level of quality throughout, as almost all of these albums have filler stuffed in the middle. Before I touch on this more though, the album starts off pretty good.

Opening song and lead single “Beer Never Broke My Heart” is a solid and catchy country rocker. It’s well-treaded territory in country music: an ode to beer over girls that break your heart. Combs of course pulls this off thanks to having the persona I described above. It’s his “secret sauce” and why he’s risen in popularity above everyone else in country music. “Refrigerator Door” is a song about the sentimentality of all the pictures and magnets that adorn a refrigerator door and the nostalgia it generates within Combs seeing them. Again a solid song, it doesn’t blow me away. It’s a little predictable, but it also feels heartfelt.

“Even Though I’m Leaving” is very much along this same sentiment. You know right away somebody is dying in this song by the end of it, in this case the father. In comparison to other songs in this same vein, it’s not as meaningful and well written as Eric Church’s “Monsters,” but it’s also not so on the nose and cut and paste as Scotty McCreery’s “Five More Minutes.” Still despite the predictable nature, I really enjoy the song, as it truly does tug at the heartstrings and resonates with the listener. “Lovin’ On You” is a fun and simple song that works because of Combs’ enthusiastic delivery. I feel like it’s one of the more overlooked songs on the album, but it shouldn’t because it’s actually one of the better ones.

“Moon over Mexico” is Combs’ take on a beach song and it’s just okay. The song is just a bit too sleepy for my tastes, as it just doesn’t really convey a beach feeling to me. And it’s kind of an overall awkward fit with Combs. “1, 2 Many” sees Combs joined by the legendary Brooks & Dunn and I fell in love with this song instantly. It not only fits Combs well, but bringing on one of the all-time great party country acts in Brooks & Dunn elevates this song from pretty good to memorably great. The energy of this song is infectious, the lyrics are catchy and the harmonies of the three at the end is the mighty exclamation point needed to cap this song off.

Unfortunately this is followed by easily the worst song on the album, “Blue Collar Boys.” I’m so sick of these songs about redneck boys versus city boys and preaching superiority over the other. It’s such a tiring, predictable and pretentious theme that even Combs with his endearing persona can’t pull it off. To all country artists out there thinking about doing these songs: Please stop! “New Every Day” is a song about learning from mistakes and breakups and becoming a better person as a result. It’s a great message and the instrumentation does a good job creating a reflective feeling to match the lyrics.

Remember what I said at the beginning of the review about long albums almost inevitably having forgettable filler? Well “Reasons” fits this description to a T. It’s bland and forgettable. “Every Little Bit Helps” is carried by Combs’ energetic delivery. It’s your standard, getting over you heartbreak country song, but Combs’ secret sauce comes through for him again. “Dear Today” allows the listener to hear Combs in a more stripped down environment and it sounds great. The only problem is it feels like a logical concluding track to an album, but instead it’s #11 out of #17 on this album. Cull this album down to 12 tracks and have this song as the closer and it’s without a doubt better than his first album.

The album’s title track is an anthem about Combs himself: who he is, what he stands for and how he doesn’t portray himself to be anything other than what he is. It feels like a genuine and honest declaration from Combs, which is refreshing because so many artists fail to pull off these type of songs because they tend to mischaracterize themselves. But Combs actually describes himself in the same way myself and I’m sure many others see him as through his music.

“Does To Me” was a song I was really looking forward to hearing thanks to the Eric Church feature, but after thoroughly listening to it I’m underwhelmed. I expected so much more out of this collaboration. The song is about finding more meaning in the little things in life than what other people do, but it just doesn’t do anything memorable with the subject matter. On top of it Church’s feature feels like a wasted opportunity, as he barely shows up for a few lines that I won’t even remember (Church also covered this topic better with “Some of It,” making this song worse). I would have rather heard both of them 50/50 on a song they wrote together, but I feel like the label forced Combs into pushing this album out too quickly that prevented this from happening.

“Angels Workin’ Overtime” has an enjoyable “honky tonk” vibe, but the premise/hook of the song makes me gag with how cliché and unoriginal it is. It’s like one of those throw pillows that says “Bless This Mess” or the stick figure family you see on the back of a car. It’s just so basic and empty! So I’m sure it will be a smash hit. The same came be said for “All Over Again.” It’s a song that blatantly placates the label with it’s pop country sound and it’s generic, “Hurricane”-like lyrics. Again this will probably be a hit, much to my chagrin when there’s so many other great songs on the album.

At least the album closes with two great love songs in “Nothing Like You” and “Better Together.” The former song’s subdued nature allows Combs’ passion to shine through in the lyrics, while the latter utilizes the piano well and once again allows Combs’ vocal performance carry the song. But once again I have to question the track placements: Why put two quite similar songs back-to-back to close the album? It just cheapens the impact of both songs on the listener. Again I really enjoy both songs, but they shouldn’t be right next to each other on the album.

While Luke Combs doesn’t deliver a bad album in What You See Is What You Get, I can’t help but overall feeling like this album is a missed opportunity for Combs to deliver something great. If this album was a more reasonable length and if the fluff and bad songs were cut, this album could have easily been one of the top ten country albums you’ll hear this year. So while I wouldn’t call this album a sophomore slump, it’s certainly no slam dunk either.

Grade: 6/10