Derek’s 2015 Mid-Year Country Music Outlook

(Editors Note: Both Derek and myself are taking a look back at what we considered the highs and lows of country music in 2015 so far. This will give you a good idea of our overall thoughts on the year. And of course be sure to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments below.)

Favorite Album So Far – Please note that this is favorite album and not necessarily indicative of what I think is the best overall. My favorite album from a female artist is Holidays and Wedding Rings by Jamie Lin Wilson. The writing to the production is just top-notch. From the males, my favorite album is Will Hoge’s Small Town Dreams. With the exception of Hoge’s bro-country song, that album features some great song writing and fun pop country anthems that I can listen to over and over. I know there are better, technical country albums this year, but Small Town Dreams is an entertaining one for me.

Favorite Song So Far –  My personal favorite so far is “El Dorado” by Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen. The story these two tell of a cowboy preparing himself to die is fantastic. This song has great writing, great vocals from both Rogers and Bowen, and beautiful instrumentation. The instrumental outro swapping guitars with fiddles and steel guitars is what makes this song. The more I listen to this song, the more I love it.

Worst Song So Far – “Better Do It” by RaeLynn. Where do I begin? From RaeLynn’s near screaming while she sings, to a terrible rap inspired breakdown and valley girl backing vocalists saying “You better do it” about 5 million times, this song straight up sucks. It’s not country, RaeLynn isn’t a good singer, and “Better Do It” proves it.

Biggest SurpriseTyler Farr. I know, I only graded his album a 5 out of 10, but Tyler Farr had some excellent album cuts on Suffer In Peace. I loathe “Redneck Crazy” and thought Tyler Farr was a joke after hearing that song. But after hearing songs like “I Don’t Even Want This Beer,” the excellent “Suffer In Peace,” and the album’s lead single “A Guy Walks Into a Bar,” I’m starting to give Farr the benefit of the doubt.

Biggest Disappointment – The lyrics of Eli Young Band’s new single, “Turn It On.” Phrases like “if I kiss you up against the wall, it ain’t my fault” because he can’t “turn it off the way [she] turns it on” seemingly excuse male actions when a girl turns him on. Careless lyrics like that send the wrong message to male listeners, you know, the song’s target demographic. Mike Eli, you are most certainly capable of turning it off and controlling your inhibitions and libido. These shameful lyrics cannot be excused.

Best Male Artist – Whitey Morgan. Morgan’s intense, heavy country music is impressive. Morgan recorded some great cover songs and equally great originals. Sonic Ranch may be one of the most impressive albums overall that I’ve heard this year, and his recording of “Still Drunk, Still Crazy, Still Blue” is certainly a top five, maybe even a top three, song for me so far this year.

Best Female Artist – Jamie Lin Wilson. Wilson is a heck of a songwriter, and an equally great singer. Wilson’s solo debut, Holidays and Wedding Rings, is a great collection of 12 songs with a variety of sounds and stories, all while keeping it country from start to finish.

Chris Stapleton TravellerBreakout ArtistChris Stapleton. This is a fitting accolade for Chris Stapleton, a man who’s been writing song after song in mainstream country. Luke Bryan, George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Gary Allan, and Trace Adkins have all cut songs from him, just to name a few. Chris gained a ton of support as a songwriter and it was only a matter of time before fans were treated to a full album, and Chris didn’t disappoint with Traveller. 2015 may end up being the year of Chris Stapleton.

Worst ArtistRaeLynn. I’m sick and tired of living in this new Back to the Future spinoff where RaeLynn travels to 2015 from 1950. Did she learn to write songs from her mother or grandmother? RaeLynn’s one-sided views on male and female roles in relationships are outdated and annoying to listen to. If she seriously thinks God made girls to only wear pretty skirts, and that boys aren’t allowed to show any vulnerability or sensitivity, than I feel sorry for her worldly exposure. I hope she joins the rest of us here in the real world soon. Also, her EP called Me absolutely sucked.

Most Anticipated Release in the Second Half of 2015July 17, 2015. This will be the first official Friday release day for music, and both Alan Jackson and Jason Isbell will release new albums that day. I expect both albums to be great in their own way and can’t wait to hear them.

Album Review – Jamie Lin Wilson’s ‘Holidays and Wedding Rings’ is a Solid Debut Album

Jamie Lin Wilson has thrived under the radar in the Texas country music world. She’s been part of two groups: Americana rockers The Gougers, and the all female country quartet The Trishas. Wilson has appeared as a backing singer or duet partner for several Texas country acts like Robert Earl Keen and Turnpike Troubadours, and she’s also co-written with other songwriters like Jason Eady. Outside of all those projects, Wilson has managed to release a solo EP called Dirty Blonde Hair. Now five years later, Jamie Lin Wilson has her first full length solo album release with Holidays and Wedding Rings.

The album opens up with the up-tempo country tune “Just Like Heartache.” The song describes how heartache can hit you hard and keep you down despite how hard you try to move on. Being in the arms of another won’t fix it, but the company is nice until the worst has passed. Wilson’s smooth, unique voice moves nicely through the song and shows why a solo album is necessary. She continues to explore heartache in “She’ll Take Tonight.” Here, our female character searches for a nicer man than she’s used to, but she’ll continue settle for the man of the night until the right one finds her. The mid-tempo instrumentation and mix of various guitars give the old topic a fresh sound.

Jamie Lin Wilson shows some great storytelling chops over the next few songs. “You Left My Chair” was inspired by an old photograph: a rundown house with overgrown weeds in the yard. Co-written with Jason Eady and Adam Hood, the trio pen a story about a woman who returns to the old, abandoned house she built presumably after a divorce to find her favorite chair still there. Wilson sings the ballad wonderfully. Up next is a duet with fellow Texas singer, Wade Bowen. Together the pair wrote “Just Some Things,” 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. The duo perfectly describe their actions as “running for the edge and thinking you’ll fly, knowing damn well that it’s suicide.” That simile is heart wrenching, and this song is what country music is all about. Both Wilson and Bowen are fantastic on this cheating song.

Photo by Modern Trade

“Moving Along” acts almost as a follow-up to Wilson’s side of the story in “Just Some Things.” The marriage is over in “Moving Along,” and as the song progresses, Wilson sings of how strength and confidence in being alone grows as time moves along. However, she does miss little things like “Holidays and wedding rings” (The album’s name comes from a line in this song). The upbeat production to the song works well to aid the journey aspect of the story. Jamie Lin Wilson tries her hand at a murder ballad in “Roses by the Dozen.” Her man yells at her after she sins badly in their relationship and she retaliated by killing him. His dead body lays underneath a rose-bush. Wives/girlfriends murder their male partners has become quite the cliché for female acts over the years, and the production alongside Wilson’s voice do not do enough to help the song feel fresh.

Relationships are explored a little deeper starting with “Seven Year Drought.” The entire song is a metaphor for a marriage in a bad dry spell. Wilson will fight to the end or until it eats her alive. The couple hopes and waits for something better to come their way. However, the relationship in “Yours and Mine” couldn’t be any happier. The bluegrass inspired country tune describes a couple who have pride and joy in the life they’ve built together. It may not be the most glamorous lifestyle, but it’s their life and that’s what makes it beautiful. “Whisper on My Skin” uses great imagery to depict a man who is in a bad spell in his life. She’s been in that lull of life, and she needs her husband in her life now. She describes the little things she finds joy in like a sun shining through the window on their bed, her favorite picture of them, and their intimacy. She does her best to encourage him in this spell of life. The production is excellent in it’s less-is-more approach with a lone guitar strum aiding. The vocals are more on the forefront on this track than any other on the album.

“Nighttime Blues” is a similar song to “She’ll Take Tonight.” The only difference is the character here is a man who’s using one night stands to help get over a broken heart. The production is more upbeat on this song; the country instrumentation is fabulous on “Nighttime Blues.” For my money, “Here Tonight” is the best song on the album. The song tells the story of a woman who is expecting to die by the end of the night. She’s joined by her family: her favorite child, a new granddaughter and her husband. The dying woman reminisces over her life and makes sure she lets her present family know how much she loves them. The song takes a celebratory approach to the end of long life, and how her family is her light. The album ends with another celebratory song called “Old Oldsmobile.” This mid-tempo song tells us of a married couple who just learned a third baby is on the way. To celebrate and feel young again, she yearns for them to breakout the old Oldsmobile for a picnic lunch, reigniting the youthful, lustful spark of their love and life together.

Holidays and Wedding Rings is a solid debut album for Jamie Lin Wilson. She has a haunting, beautiful ring to her voice that helps her stand out among other solo female acts. Her writing is sharp with vivid descriptions making these real life stories stand out. Fans love country music for the honest, everyday songs that are written and sung, and that’s exactly what you’ll find here: a variety of life’s ups and downs, reasons to celebrate and reasons to ache. The musical variety from track to track also help each song find a place on the album. Jamie Lin Wilson is sought after from her peers for a reason. She has the whole package as a country singer-songwriter, and Holidays and Wedding Rings is a great showcase of Wilson’s talent.

Grade: 9/10