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 – Little Big Town’s ‘The Breaker’

little-big-town-the-breaker

Let’s be honest: I wasn’t exactly a fan of Little Big Town’s last album Pain Killer. I went back and re-read it. I was actually quite brutal with my remarks. Man, did I go in on the 80s rock comparisons. In my defense though these comparisons weren’t off and I can honestly say I only remember two songs from that album, “Day Drinking” and “Girl Crush.” The latter of course went on to become Little Big Town’s biggest hit yet and racked up tons of awards. So at least the best song went on to earn the most praise. Coming into this veteran group’s new album The Breaker, I was kind of cautiously optimistic based off the Taylor Swift-penned lead single “Better Man.” But in the back of my mind I still remembered the previous album being a disappointment. After all Jay Joyce returns as producer, who was a big part of why the last album was underwhelming and forgettable. Well after listening to The Breaker, it’s definitely a step up and into the right direction for this group.

The opening song “Happy People” really establishes the overall tone and vibe of this album. It’s a very easy-going, light, roots-y type sound that permeates throughout this song and album. The song is about doing whatever floats your boat and how happy people do a lot more than unhappy people in this life. It takes a few listens, but the lyrics kind of subtly impress. It’s no surprise considering two great songwriters in Lori McKenna and Hailey Whitters wrote it. One of the more upbeat tracks on this album is “Night On Our Side.” It’s catchy, but the song itself really doesn’t have much to say and is greatly aided by the vibrant instrumentation. Moody and mellow would best describe “Lost In California.” This might be the most different song I’ve heard from Little Big Town, as this song is very much driven by tone. The song is a love ballad and features some illustrative songwriting that really paints a picture in your head, a credit to the famous troika of Hillary Lindsey, Liz Rose and McKenna. Then we have the production, which perfectly compliments it with it’s dreamy, almost hazy like feel. It might be Jay Joyce’s best work he’s ever done.

This is before we get to what I would deem the best track on the album, “Free.” I knew right away that McKenna helped write this, as it just has the markings of her best work. The song is instantly feel good, along the same lines of “Humble and Kind.” It’s about how the things we want most in life are free and some of our best qualities are free too (how we get our sense of humor from a parent, our eye color from a relative). The harmonies are also perfectly timed. This is one of Little Big Town’s best songs it’s ever released and deserves to be a single. “Drivin’ Around” is a breezy, summer song you play with the windows down as you well drive around. I enjoy how the harmonies drives this song, but I wish the production were toned back a bit to let the song be more breezy and less overbearing at times (“Rollin'” is along the same lines). Nostalgia will determine how much you love “We Went To The Beach.” Most of the time nostalgia songs usually don’t work for me, but this one does because well I can relate to the first part of the song. If you can connect with a part of the song, it’s enjoyable. If not, it’s probably just okay. I also have to say Phillip Sweet was a good choice for lead vocals here, as his voice suites the overall mood of the song.

Kimberly Schlapman takes the lead on “Beat Up Bible.” It’s about the meaning of a Bible that’s been passed down through a family. The memories it holds and the lessons learned are what make it so special, even though it’s nearly fallen apart. Usually these types of songs devolve into cliché territory quickly, but this one has heart and comes across sincerely. Schlapman is a great choice for lead vocals, as her sweeter, more restrained voice suits it. Little Big Town do a really job tackling heartbreak on “When Someone Stops Loving You.” The song explores the feelings you go through after a breakup: having to trudge through the normal routine, forced to face life without that person and a little part still hoping they come crawling back. It’s well written and Jimi Westbrook really shines on lead vocals. The album’s title track closes the album out. With Sweet on lead vocals, the song is about a man who thought he would be the man of his woman’s dreams. But he ends up turning out to be the one to break her heart in the end. I enjoy the concept of this song, but I think it would have been even better if it were a duet between the man and woman, explaining each side. It would have really added some depth, but as is it’s a decent song.

Little Big Town delivers a pretty solid album in The Breaker. It’s a nice rebound from the group and mostly a return to where this group shines: more organic, restrained, harmony driven songs. Everything on this album is a step up, most notably the songwriting. Five co-writes from Lori McKenna, along with contributions from the likes of Natalie Hemby, Liz Rose and Hailey Whitters is likely to help an album in the songwriting department. Overall I like the sonic direction this album takes and the themes explored, but I felt like if it could have been taken further this could have been a great album. It felt like some potential was left on the table, but hopefully the group stays on its current path and takes these steps on the next album. Little Big Town should be proud though of their effort on The Breaker, as I think this will be one of the best albums from mainstream country in 2017.

Grade: 7/10

 

Recommend? – Yes

Album Highlights: Free, Lost In California, When Someone Stops Loving You, Happy People, Beat Up Bible, Better Man

Bad Songs: None

Wallpaper: Don’t Die Young, Don’t Get Old; Night On Our Side


The Hodgepodge: Revisiting Radio Programming Issues and the Tomato Problem

Keith Hill’s comments on females at country radio took the country music world by storm last year. Just to quickly refresh your memory Hill said “The tomatoes of our salad are the females.” This was in the context of calling males the lettuce and encouraging radio program directors to take females out of rotation in order to maximize ratings. As I’m sure you remember, reactions to Hill’s comments were fierce. Josh’s response in The Hodgepodge took a look at the larger, underlying issue of the lack of overall quality on radio.

I think you can make the argument that there hasn’t been much improvement on either front: female representation or quality. Looking at The Pulse from June 13, 2015 (published the same week as the previously linked Hodgepodge), there were two solo females on the charts in the top 10: Carrie Underwood (7) and Kelsea Ballerini (8). One female duo with Maddie & Tae at 24, and a female led group at 10 with Little Big Town. Also in the top 10 were two songs with female harmonies (“Wild Child” and “Diamond Rings & Old Barstools”). The overall pulse that week was -14. Compare that to yesterday’s Pulse with two solo females in the top 10: Carrie Underwood (1) and Maren Morris (10). Maddie & Tae again at 23, and then Cassadee Pope in a duet with Chris Young at 12. The pulse sits at -10.

That’s fairly even, if you ask me. In the latest issue of Country Aircheck, Lance Houston from iHeartMedia station WBWL in Boston sort of echoed Keith Hill’s comments and took it a step further. Now, before I move on, I just want to clarify that I’m not trying to restart a controversy or blow this up into something it’s not. His comments are interesting, and I think they’re worth commenting on. Houston approaches programming from balancing the logs of who is singing the song. “If you’ve got two females back to back, you don’t have a balanced log given the format’s small percentage of female music. The goal should be to make the most balanced log possible. The same thing goes with other [artist characteristics]; you don’t have a balanced log if you have three or four male duos in a row.”

From a business and programming standpoint, I completely understand that approach. You have A (female solo), B (male solo), C (female duo), D (male duo), and E (bands). In an ideal world, radio has an even distribution of A, B, C, D, and E, without ever repeating letters. But here’s the kicker from Houston’s comments: “given the format’s small percentage of female music.” The representation of A is low, and B is extremely high. Looking again at yesterday’s Pulse of the top 30, here’s the distribution: A (2 songs), B (21 songs), C (1 song), D (2 songs), E (3 songs), and we’ll classify Chris Young & Cassadee Pope as F, a Male/Female duo (1 song). So in reality, you take what you’re given and distribute the choices in the most even possible way.

Given the fact that there aren’t many female artists available for radio to choose from, we don’t get much female music on the radio. Maren Morris is a newcomer who could build on a successful run after a top 10 debut single. Carrie Underwood will release a new single soon to follow “Heartbeat” at number one, Kelsea Ballerini’s “Peter Pan” is on its way, and Miranda Lambert is working on new music. Jennifer Nettles, Cam, Brandy Clark, Martina McBride, and Brook Eden all have songs in the bottom half of the top 60.

It’s a slow process, but we could see more females impacting radio. It’s possible, given the recent success of Cam, Kelsea Ballerini, and now Maren Morris. I think the outcry after the tomato comments could have influenced this, but we have to understand it’ll take time. We’re coming off the bro-country era. Programmers can’t just flip the switch and go 50/50 distribution between males and females. But labels can up their rosters to include more females, or even make way for non-music row artists to be played.

Just last year, quality albums from Whitney Rose, Lindi Ortega, and Hailey Whitters provide some great music to choose from. Kacey Musgraves, Ashley Monroe and Lee Ann Womack are familiar faces who get ignored. Aubrie Sellers’ debut album is excellent. I’d be okay if she got a chance from nepotism, like Thomas Rhett did, if it meant hearing Sellers on the radio. I’d also argue that the aforementioned females would also up the quality of music on the charts if they’re given the chance.

Unfortunately, the business side may not pave the way for the quality side of music. We may never see the day of high female representation on the charts, and it pains me to say it. As much as I’d like to see it, the label attitudes of the label executives would have to drastically change. I have a better chance of getting a country record deal than that happening. And as radio slowly slips away for other outlets, this whole conversation may be a moot point someday. But until that day comes, I hope the winds of change blow in the direction of a higher female representation on country radio. I think the demand is there, and the supply is certainly available.

Upcoming/Recent Country Releases

  • Southern Family is finally released tomorrow. I’ve listened to it on NPR First Listen, and I enjoyed it. You’ll see Josh’s review soon.
  • William Michael Morgan releases his debut EP tomorrow as well.
  • Maren Morris announced that her debut album, Hero, will be released on June 3.
  • Randy Houser‘s next single will be “Song Number 7.” We will review the single, but not Fired Up. 
  • Kenny Chesney is trying to be cryptic on social media to get fans excited for an upcoming announcement. Most likely, on March 24, Chesney will give us details on some new music, be it a single, album, or both.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Leave the Pieces” by The Wreckers. The Wreckers, made up of Jessica Harp and Michelle Branch, had a short life in country music. One successful album in 2006 yielded two top ten hits: “My, Oh My” at #9 and this song as their only number one. I’m a big fan of this song and I wish we could have had more music from this duo.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Ray LaMontagne Ouroboros. LaMontagne’s newest album was produced by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James. It’s a heavier, psychedelic-like album calling back to a classic rock approach to music production. Just like old vinyl, the album is broken into two parts, emulating the need to flip the record over. The production over shadows LaMontagne’s signature vocals, but it’s still a good offering from this rock singer-songwriter.

Tweet of the Week

This is a great picture of Sturgill and Merle.

Two Randy Houser iTunes Reviews

RH1 RH2

As I said, we’re not reviewing Fired Up as a whole because its way too long and overrun with the same, low quality crap. Though this first review would have you think otherwise. I’d argue that the album is full of filler.

As for the second review, that comparison to Toby Keith is hilarious! Sharing it with Josh, he agreed that it’s an accurate comparison given that both singers are talented, yet put out clichéd music. But this person’s reasoning? HA! If Houser didn’t put out 17 songs of radio pandering bull crap, then I’d agree. “Like a Cowboy”, or most of Houser’s first couple albums is the kind of country music that’s good. You don’t sell out like this to get “earned” recognition.

Country Perspective’s 2015 Song of the Year Nominees

A great song is a complete package. Poetic, thoughtful lyrics that evoke emotion and reaction from the listener, a fitting production that amplifies the emotions, and a vocal delivery that drives the feelings straight to the heart of the listener. Happy, sad, positive, negative, it doesn’t matter. Songs are great because the reactions they draw from the listener and not because they sold so many copies or charted for a certain number of weeks. The nominees for Country Perspective’s 2015 Song of the Year all touched Josh or myself in some fashion. These are the songs that we connected with over the course of the year; the songs that most impacted us.

Ultimately, Josh and I will determine the song of the year from this list of finalists. However, we will take reader opinion and feedback into consideration when it comes time to determine the winner. So I encourage you to comment below and share your thoughts. If we left your favorite song off this list, that doesn’t necessarily mean we hated the song. There’s a ton of music released every year, and we had to cap the final list at some point.

For your listening convenience, I’ve complied all the songs into one Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

Song of the Year Nominees (in alphabetical order)

  • “The Bird Hunters” by Turnpike Troubadours“The song tells an intriguing love story that I’m sure many could connect with. And not only are the lyrics good, but also the fiddles are loud and proud too.” The way in which the story is told is not an easy achievement; “The Bird Hunters” is a well structured story with an excellent country production.
  • “Burning House” by Cam –  The lone acoustic melody on the introduction combined with the opening line of “I had a dream about a burning house” sets the mood perfectly for the sadness to come. The phrase “less is more” couldn’t be more relevant to “Burning House.” The simplicity of the three instruments allows the listener room to breathe and focus on the story.
  • “Clean Up on Aisle Five” by Mo Pitney – The steel guitar and fiddle return, as their featured prominently throughout the song. While the traditional approach is great, it’s really Pitney’s voice that leads the song. The instrumentation is great, but it’s kept quieter allowing his voice to shine…The lyrics really do an excellent job of conveying the feelings of the situation. It’s a real gut punch to anyone who’s experienced this, as it’s easy to connect with.
  • “David” by Cody Jinks – The man talks about all of the memories and how they grew up into different people, but still as things change, the more they stay the same. Up until the halfway point of this song, the listener will think this is just a nostalgia tune. But instead it takes a tragic turn; something the listener will feel when it happens. Jinks’ storytelling chops in this song are fantastic.
  • “Diners” by The Lone Bellow – The lead vocals on this song are spectacular and really set the emotion. The setting of this song takes place in a diner late at night where a man laments letting love, using comparisons to jukeboxes. And of course the harmonies are stellar again.
  • “El Dorado” by Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen – ““El Dorado” is a cowboy ballad that puts you in a Western state of mind. From the instrumentation arrangement to the vocals of Bowen and Rogers to the lyrics, the song does a great job of creating a Western feeling in the listener.” From the instrumentation to the lyrics and vocals, “El Dorado” is the whole package.
  • “Guitar or a Gun”  by Will Hoge – “Guitar or a Gun” tells “the story of a teenager deciding between buying a guitar or a gun unresolved. The comparisons drawn between the two and the pictures painted about the life that would come from them are excellent.”
  • “Jubilee” by Gretchen Peters – Told from the point of view of a person on their death-bed, this song focuses on final thoughts and gearing up to go to heaven. This is a beautiful, gospel like song, with a piano driving the song and excellent vocals from Peters.
  • “Just Like Them Horses” by Reba McEntire – This is the song that Reba sang at her fathers funeral. What a beautiful song…lyrically and vocally. I can’t imagine how a live performance of this song would affect other’s emotions because hearing this song gives me goosebumps. It’s well-written and Reba’s voice makes this song so emotive and heart wrenching.
  • “Just Some Things” by Jamie Lin Wilson (feat. Wade Bowen) – A heartbreaking song about two lovers both in an affair. The duo sing the respective parts of the cheaters, who both regret and feel distressed after betraying the ones they love. As hard as they wish things could be different, they know what they did was wrong and can’t be undone. 
  • “One More Hell” by Hailey Whitters – A song written in the wake of her brother’s death, the song details how she wishes to raise one more hell with him before going to heaven. The lyrics are painfully honest with the first verse essentially ripped out of her personal diary. I applaud the brutal honesty in the lyrics because that’s what makes the story connect.
  • “Record Year” by Eric Church – “Record Year” is about a man who has just broken up with his girlfriend and turns to his vinyl collection to heal his heart. While he plays these records he slowly heals and not only gets over his heartbreak, but also rediscovers himself and some great music along the way. More than anything it’s a song about finding your way in life when things are at your darkest. When Church releases this as a single (it has to be a single), I predict it will be the biggest hit of his career and will go down as one of his signature songs. This is a special song that hits a home run in every department.
  • “Roses By The Dozen” by Jamie Lin Wilson – As Josh praised in his top ten post: “Roses By The Dozen” is a chilling murder ballad that gave me goosebumps on the first listen. It’s not completely obvious the wife in the song murdered her husband until midway through the song, but when that obvious moment emerges it blows the listeners’ minds.
  • “So This is Life” by Courtney Patton – Youthful dreams of fairytale marriages are abandoned as a young mother and father work to make ends meet. As time goes on and more children are in the picture, he works long days and she’s left to tend to the home and all the chaos of raising children. It’s not the life either of them planned, and when separately dealing with this life has taken its toll, divorce is the only answer they find. It’s a heartbreaking song, but so vividly told and sung by Courtney Patton.
  • “Something More Than Free” by Jason Isbell – The album’s title track to me is the crown jewel of the record. From Isbell’s soaring vocals to the poetic lyrics to the instrument arrangement, this song has everything I want in a country song. Isbell sings of being thankful for the work and how he strives to get something more than free. It’s a beautiful song.
  • “Standards” by Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen – It’s rightly being praised too, as it’s a brilliant country music protest song…..What makes this one so great though is the fact that it’s not in your face, but rather has a matter of fact, cool attitude. A country label big wig tries to get Bowen and Rogers to record a song about a dirt road, but they refuse at his every attempt because it’s just not for them. As they say, “I don’t have hits, I’ve got standards,” a statement that means so much.
  • “Still Drunk, Still Crazy, Still Blue” by Whitey Morgan – Everything in this song works so well together that I liken it to a well-oiled machine. You couldn’t make it any better. The punctuating moment of this song is when Whitey croons out, “Well I’m still drunk, still blue, I’m still all fucked up over you/I’m still stoned, I’m still alone.” It really helps paint the picture of a heartbroken man drinking himself silly. It may seem like a simple song, but the emotions and instrumentation really make this song special.
  • “When I Stop Dreaming” by Don Henley (feat. Dolly Parton) – “Both bring out the absolute best in each other. Dolly’s vocals are goose-bump inducing and this isn’t hyperbole. This is one you just need to sit down and hear for yourself because I can’t do it justice.” A duet that sends goosebumps down your spine.
  • “Whiskey & You” by Chris Stapleton – Stapleton’s recording is the best. It’s not just because he wrote the song too. It’s the fact that Stapleton delivers the emotion of this song so much better than those two. He does this by stripping this song down completely and only using an acoustic guitar for instrumentation, allowing his voice to tell the story of the song. It’s raw and grips your attention from start to finish. Stapleton absolutely nails this song.

Josh’s Top Ten Country & Americana Songs – October 2015

October 2015

So the month of October was even better than I expected for country and Americana music. When putting together my top ten list at first I didn’t think there were a lot of candidates. Then I fully looked back through all of our reviews (it can be hard to keep up with all of the music sometimes!) and I realized that there a lot of releases competing for the top ten. From mainstream to independent there was plenty of music to satiate your tastes. Figuring out this top ten list was difficult and I changed my mind multiple times before finally coming up with the ten. It was especially difficult on the last couple of spots. For those songs that missed out, I give them a shout out in the honorable mentions. So without further ado here’s my top ten country and Americana songs for the month of October…

  1. Hailey Whitters – “One More Hell” – This will probably be a surprise to many of you readers, as I haven’t talked about this at all. If it wasn’t for Derek’s great review of Hailey Whitters’ new album Black Sheep I wouldn’t have even known about it. I finally got around to giving it a good listen and this song immediately stood out to me. It’s a personally emotional song for Whitters, as it’s about the death of her brother and how her family and herself are dealing with it. Everything about this song is so well done and even made me a little teary eyed. I can’t wait to hear more from Whitters in the future.
  2. Corb Lund – “Washed-Up Rock Star Factory Blues” – The new album from Corb Lund, Things That Can’t Be Undone, was a completely different sound than many expected and I enjoyed it thoroughly. This song is about Lund dreaming about losing his rock star life and being forced to work in a factory again. Not only does it tell an interesting story, but it also has some wry humor that will bring a smile to your face. The bluesy guitar licks throughout make it even better.
  3. Hailey Whitters – “Low All Afternoon” – Whitters’ second song of the top ten is a heartbreak ballad with an interesting perspective. It’s told from the perspective of the “other woman,” as she had been cheating with a married man for a while and expected to become his woman. Instead he ditches her and sticks with his wife, leaving the other woman to lament the situation. Whitters shows great emotion in her voice throughout this song.
  4. Jake Worthington – “This Damn Memory” – After many months of waiting Jake Worthington finally released his first original music via his self-titled EP and it didn’t disappoint. It was full of great, traditional country and the best of the bunch was definitely “This Damn Memory.” It’s a heartbreak song very much in the vein of the neo traditional country of the 80s that suits Worthington’s voice perfectly. He’s another one I’m anxious to hear more music from.
  5. Carrie Underwood – “The Girl You Think I Am” – Her new album Storyteller has proved to be divisive so far amongst fans and critics, but one song most seem to enjoy is “The Girl You Think I Am.” For good reason too, as it’s an emotional song about parents being proud of their daughter and the daughter trying to be as good as they say she is. I’m hopeful this song gets released as a single.
  6. Corb Lund – “Sadr City” – Here’s a song I think many have wrongly overlooked. “Sadr City” is about a man’s military life and not wanting to relive the memories he has experienced. This one of those songs where you need to just sit and listen, as it certainly isn’t the catchiest song in the world. But it’s a real song with a real story and that’s why I enjoy it so much.
  7. Hailey Whitters – “Late Bloomer” – Whitters sings about how it’s okay to be a late bloomer, whether in life or in your career. As Derek mentions in his review, this seems to be autobiographical for Whitters as her career took a while to launch and get going. It’s definitely one of those songs where I think anyone could relate to the theme at one point in their life.
  8. Carrie Underwood – “Choctaw County Affair” – This was without a doubt the most interesting song on Underwood’s new album. Written by Jason White, this song tells the tale of a murder and I’m a sucker for a murder ballad. Underwood’s sassy vocals go well with the lyrics and the harmonica play of Travis Meadows is icing on the cake.
  9. Jason Boland and The Stragglers – “Fat and Merry” – My October top ten closes out with two songs from the Red Dirt mainstay Jason Boland and The Stragglers. I have to say I haven’t listened to their new album Squelch as much as a I would like, but I’m changing that as you read this. “Fat and Merry” is a sarcastically upbeat tune that mocks suburbia life and features plenty of fiddle and steel guitar. The political commentary may go a little overboard at times on this album, but it’s just right here.
  10. Jason Boland and The Stragglers – “I Guess It’s Alright to Be an Asshole” – I have no other explanation of why I enjoy this song other than it’s just flat-out fun and gives me a good chuckle.

 

Honorable Mentions:

  • Charles Kelley – “The Driver” (feat. Dierks Bentley & Eric Paslay)
  • The Bottle Rockets – “Building Chryslers,” “Big Fat Nuthin'” & “I Don’t Wanna Know”
  • Corb Lund – “S Lazy H” & “Weight of the Gun”
  • Jana Kramer – “Last Song”
  • Jake Worthington – “That’s When”
  • Carrie Underwood – “Church Bells” & “Like I’ll Never Love You Again”
  • The Yawpers – “9 to 5” & “Walter”
  • Hailey Whitters – “Black Sheep”
  • Jason Boland & The Stragglers – “Heartland Bypass” & “Christmas In Huntsville”