Spinning All The Records — February 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 look ahead at what I want to cover, upcoming album releases that catch my eye and a throwback album recommendation. So without further ado…

Looking back on February 2020, it was a surprisingly great month of high-quality releases. While the Tame Impala and John Moreland albums did not surprise me in the least with being great, the releases from Khruangbin & Leon Bridges, Tennis, and Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats really caught me off-guard with how great they were and proved themselves to be some of the best music you’ll hear in 2020. I did not expect to give this many high grades so soon and I mention this because something I didn’t like about myself in the past with this blog was so many 9s and 10s being given. But when I give them now I assure you that I put a lot more thought behind it. And I definitely welcome this influx of high grades, as the music is pretty damn good. If 2020 can continue to have months like this, we’re in for one hell of a year of music.

(Click on the album titles to read the full review)

Tenille Arts — Love, Heartbreak, Everything in Between

Love, Heartbreak, & Everything in Between is a good showing from Tenille Arts. The songwriting is really smart and shines at times and the production of Kline, Grand Vogelfanger and Adam Wheeler shows they know how to pull off a great pop country sound. A couple of unnecessary cuts, some average songwriting moments and a few small cases of getting carried away with the production bring this album down enough to prevent it from being a great album. But if you’re a fan of pop country I still recommend checking out Tenille Arts, as she shows a lot of promise and talent on Love, Heartbreak, & Everything in Between.

Pet Shop Boys — Hotspot

The highs the Pet Shop Boys deliver on Hotspot are really fun and are definitely memorable, while the lows are completely forgettable. It’s a bit of a roller coaster listen, but if you’re a fan of synth pop it’s worth listening to it a few times and picking out your favorite songs to go back to. But the album taken as a whole is just decent and leaves more consistency and cohesiveness to be desired.

Khruangbin & Leon Bridges — Texas Sun

Texas Sun is a truly brilliant little collection of music. As I said in the beginning, man I wish this was a full album instead of an EP. Khruangbin and Leon Bridges go together so well and come together to create a vibrant and colorful set of songs. It’s a true homage to the many sounds of Texas music that is fresh and invigorating. Do yourself a favor and listen to this exciting EP.

The Cadillac Three — COUNTRY FUZZ

Fun is a word I repeat over and over in this review. And it’s for good reason: that’s the ultimate appeal of The Cadillac Three and their album COUNTRY FUZZ. It’s entertaining country rock that aims to help you have a good time and forget your worries. The lyrics aren’t deep, and they aren’t meant to be; they’re meant to singalong with and have fun. So while this album may not be one for the record books or album of the year lists, it is an album that entertains and it’s exactly what you’re looking for when you just want to listen to something with loud guitars and big hooks.

Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats — UNLOCKED

Curry brings so much aggressive passion and rawness in his voice, along with his choice of diction in his delivery makes what would be an average banger into something that’s truly memorable. And this big reason is why UNLOCKED is the first great hip-hop album I’ve heard in 2020. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of ZUU (an album I’m ashamed I omitted from my best of 2019 list), this is yet another high-quality project from Denzel Curry (and another great one from Kenny Beats too).

Tennis — Swimmer

With Swimmer, Tennis delivers an excellent album about love. It’s quickly became one of my favorite love albums. And this isn’t rash hyperbole on my end. I’m being serious when I say that this album truly delivers a heartfelt, genuine and truly touching take on true love. Love albums and love song are an absolute dime-a-dozen. They’re churned out every day. Most only focus on the surface level of love and the flip-side with heartbreak. What they don’t ever seem to focus on are the little things, the nitty gritty of relationships that aren’t easy to convey in an informative and interesting way. But that takes brilliant songwriting with equally high-quality production that aids it. Tennis delivers this.

Tame Impala — The Slow Rush

The Slow Rush is another great album from Tame Impala without a doubt. But it’s also hard not to see this album is a few missteps away from equaling the brilliance of Currents. It lacks focus in a few spots and there’s one song that just isn’t needed. But this is also a bit nitpicking admittedly. The production from Parker is once again deeply rich and textured, engulfing you with it’s fantastic details. And the songwriting mostly hits. So ultimately I can say this is one of the best albums you’ll hear in 2020.

John Moreland — LP5

LP5 is another fantastic album from John Moreland. He’s always been a great songwriter since his first album, but it’s the recognition to grow and experiment with his sound starting with his last album that’s taken him to a whole new level in my mind. Too many singer-songwriter artists think they have to stick to a stripped-down, folk-y sound for their lyrics to be taken seriously. At the same time, drum machines are dismissed as “not real instruments” used by pop stars. Well with LP5, Moreland proves both these claims to be moot.

Looking Ahead to March 2020…

As of this moment, there’s a few albums I’m heavily considering reviewing that were released in February. Those would be the new albums from Nathaniel Rateliff, The Steeldrivers and Hailey Whitters. As far as other releases I may have not covered, they simply didn’t catch my eye enough to review them or I feel I didn’t have enough thoughts for a review. But I most likely did listen to it (I listen to a lot more albums than I review), so feel free to hit me up in the comments and ask me about those, as I’m happy to answer with my thoughts on them. I want this monthly post to serve as not only a monthly review, but a place to cover anything “in the cracks” so to speak.

As far as upcoming new releases in March 2020, there’s definitely a few I want to highlight that catch my eye more than others. I’m curious to hear the new live album from Cream, Goodbye Tour – Live 1968, coming out on March 6. Usually I don’t like to review live albums, but I wanted to throw this out there for those into classic rock. Caitlyn Smith will be dropping her new album Supernova on March 13. I loved the previous album Starfire and this new one appears to be pushing the sonic envelope even more, so I’m excited about that one. The enigmatic Jay Electronica is rumored to be finally dropping a new album on March 18. We’ll see, as you can never be sure with him.

The Weeknd just recently announced a release date for his new album After Hours. So far I’ve enjoyed the singles I’ve heard from it and for the most part I liked the previous album Starboy, but I found that album to be a bit too long for my liking. I’m glad to see this one is four songs shorter. This will be dropping on March 20. Finally, Ingrid Andress will be releasing her debut album Lady Like on March 27. I find her voice and style of pop country to be promising. Her songwriting comes off as both catchy and sharp (the song “Both” in particular impresses me). So I’m curious to hear what she brings to the table with her album.

A Throwback Album I’ve Been Listening To That I Recommend

Travis Tritt’s Country Club

If you want some fun and “drive” in your country, Travis Tritt and this album in particular are a great place to start. It’s amazing to me how underrated Tritt is when looking back at 90s country, as he undoubtedly released some of the best. This album in particular showed you could make a stone-cold country album that still incorporates elements from other genres. Most importantly, Tritt just has the “it” voice for country music.

Album Review — John Moreland’s ‘LP5’

You would be hard-pressed to find many songwriters in music today better than John Moreland. His albums over the last decade contain some of the rawest and realest lyrics you’ll hear and his new album LP5 is no different. “Harder Dreams” opens the album, serving as a commentary on modern media, ads and the difficulty of realizing individuality in a world where everybody wants you to be something else. Right away you get to hear the new production approach Moreland and his producer Matt Pence take with this album, incorporating airy synths and drum machines. Just like Moreland’s last album Big Bad Luv, I love the different approach he takes with the production. And rest assured this isn’t the first time on this album I come away impressed by the instrumentation.

“A Thought is Just a Passing Train” has a catchy and bouncy feel thanks to some well-deployed drum loops throughout. The song though reflects on how dark thoughts can pass through your mind, but Moreland ultimately telling the listener to let their shame of this darkness go and to be easier on oneself. I enjoy the vocal effects used by Moreland too, as it gives the song a more ominous and serious tone. “East October” is another song focused on darkness, this time on what appears to be a fallout of a relationship and leaving the man questioning how he can continue on alone. Atmospheric guitars, drum loops and melodic pianos blend together to create a lush, sobering, mellow sound that set the perfect background to the lyrics.

“I’m Learning How to Tell Myself the Truth” is about a man recognizing the lies each person in the relationship is telling themselves. He then comes to the conclusion that he just wants to “move her” and seeing things more clearly than what he has been seeing. It’s a moving and honest song about…well honesty. But what makes this song so good is how Moreland’s lyrics dance around kind of vaguely throughout and at the end they all add up, leaving me as the listener with a sort of “a ha” moment of realizing what this song is all about. A lot of songwriters who use abstract lyrics fail to make them work because most listeners aren’t able to derive the message, but Moreland excellently deploys subtlety to tell this song’s story.

“Two Stars” is a peaceful and easy-feeling instrumental that shows another side to Moreland I’m happy to see. So many songwriters get hung up in the lyrics and don’t pay attention to the production, but Moreland is clearly not one of these songwriters. “Terrestrial” explores each sides of a relationship, the joyful beginnings and the sorrowful end. This might be my favorite on the album, as the lyrics are beautifully descriptive of each side of the relationship coin and the production is rich and textured. The mix of instrumentation in the bridge, largely driven by delicate plinking of the piano, gives me chills with it’s serene sound. My only complaint is I wish it was longer. Well done to Moreland and Pence.

Moreland once again does a great job of using abstract lyrics to tell a story on “In Times Between.” This one is about the crushing and lingering heartbreak after breaking up. The last lines in particular are so devastating, yet just drive the point of the song home so well: “But lately I’ve been feelin’ like I’ll never sleep again/I sit up in a satellite and watch the cold world spin/But damn it all to hell, but don’t it mean a thing?/The love we knew so well was barely hangin’ on a string.” After that dark note, Moreland lightens things up with “When My Fever Breaks.” It’s a heartwarming love song, a side I’m glad that Moreland opened up thanks to his newfound marriage on his last album Big Bad Luv. While it may not quite punch the gut likes his dark songs for many, I think he can write the love songs just as well too.

“I Always Let You Burn Me to the Ground” once again sees Moreland and Pence find a good balance of drum loops and synths to create an interesting and vibrant sound. It’s another love song that features solid songwriting, but doesn’t quite stick as well emotionally for me as “When My Fever Breaks.” Moreland delivers another enjoyable instrumental with “For Ichiro,” which I thought would be about the legendary outfielder. But Moreland said it was basically just a random shoutout. Damn. Still a funny little story behind the song though. The album closes with “Let Me Be Understood,” which features some well-placed, warm harmonica licks throughout. The song itself is about being accepted and understood for who you are, not who you once were. It’s a nice choice to end that album, as Moreland clearly seems to be drawing from his experiences of growth and change, reflecting on the man he once was and the man he is now.

LP5 is another fantastic album from John Moreland. He’s always been a great songwriter since his first album, but it’s the recognition to grow and experiment with his sound starting with his last album that’s taken him to a whole new level in my mind. Too many singer-songwriter artists think they have to stick to a stripped-down, folk-y sound for their lyrics to be taken seriously. At the same time, drum machines are dismissed as “not real instruments” used by pop stars. Well with LP5, Moreland proves both these claims to be moot.

Grade: 9/10

Album Review – Carter Sampson’s ‘Wilder Side’

Carter Sampson Wilder Side

How have I never heard of Carter Sampson? That was my reaction upon coming across the Oklahoma singer-songwriter. From an early age she knew she was born to make music and her passion still runs deep today. She averages 220 shows annually, as she loves to travel and play music, although she has a deep fondness for playing in her home state. Sampson is also the founder and director of Oklahoma City’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls, which partners with nonprofit organizations that help educate empower women through music education. And earlier this year she released her fourth studio album Wilder Side, produced by Travis Linville. If you’re a fan of that old school, 70s country sound, you’ll really enjoy Wilder Side.

The album title track establishes the tone of the entire album, a down to earth, classic country feel. The song is about Sampson exploring her wild, gypsy side. The acoustic guitar and some soft pedal steel guitar give the song a relaxing feel and make the listener feel right at home. Sampson further explores the life of living on the highway on “Highway Rider.” She sings about how when you’re living life on six-wheels you never know where home is next. It’s your traditional rambling, highway song about never being able to really settle down. I should also point out that fellow Oklahoma singer-songwriter John Moreland joins Sampson on this song. It’s a real treat to hear two talented songwriters come together on this song. A plucky banjo plays in “Run Away.” Once again Sampson sticks to the life on the road theme, as she sings about falling in love with someone only to tell him she can’t stay. This is more bluegrass-based song, making it one of the lighter tracks on the album. The instrumentation is really strong on this song.

“Holy Mother” is about Sampson asking the holy mother to pray for her and her girls as they go out on the town for the night. She knows they’re going to drink and have some fun, but she asks that none of them go home with a “guitar man or anyone else in the band” because she knows it will lead to heartbreak and trouble. Sampson explores moving on from her past and town on “Everything You Need.” Throughout the song she’s speaking to an ex she has left behind for a new life, hoping that he’s found what he needs in his life now. It’s this type of song that really makes you appreciate Sampson’s mature approach to songwriting. There’s no bitterness from the woman, as she only hopes her ex finds his happiness like she has found it.

One of my favorites on Wilder Side is “Medicine River.” The folky song is an ode to the Medicine River and Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma. What stood out in particular on this song for me are Sampson’s vocals, which are quite strong. What helps her vocals stand out is the light and stringy instrumentation, which lets her stand out and guide the song. The soft and tender “Take Me Home With You” is about a lonely woman and man meeting at a bar. The woman is just coming off a break up she can’t shake off her mind and just wants someone to take her home so she can lay next to them and feel safe. It’s by no means a rebound song, but a coping mechanism to deal with the sobering feeling of being alone. This much is evident by the achenes in Sampson’s voice.

“Wild Bird” is a song about Sampson being out on the road and hearing about a major storm heading towards her hometown in Oklahoma. She explains as much in an interview with American Songwriter, where she talks about being out on the road and hearing about a large storm hitting her town for the first time while she wasn’t there. She explains how fearful she felt for her family and friends because of Oklahoma and it’s reputation for the amount of tornadoes they experience. It’s a song that also explores how powerless a person can feel when there’s nothing they can control about a situation. It’s another superbly written song on this album.

Sampson explores leaving home and hitting the highway again on “Tomorrow’s Light.” It goes further than this as she also sings about listening to the radio and the voice of Hank Williams. As she returns home later in life, the only she says that has changed are the voices on it, which she doesn’t recognize (she’s better off I say). It’s one of those you can always go home songs that almost anyone can relate to and understand. Wilder Side comes to an end with “See The Devil Run.” It’s a gospel-inspired song about the sights and sounds Sampson takes in as she sits in a church pew. Listening to the song closely you feel like you’re sitting right next to her because the song describes the scene so well. I can picture it right in my head and it once again speaks to the testament of the great songwriting from Sampson. It’s the right type of feel good song to close the album.

Wilder Side features some of the best songwriting I’ve heard this year. The instrumentation is no-frills, straightforward and just good old country music. The only thing I could say I didn’t like about this album is there’s maybe one too many songs about the rambling, highway life. These songs are well-written without a doubt, but the theme can get a little tiring after hearing it on multiple songs. It’s a minor complaint, as the album as a whole is really an example that all country and Americana songwriters should take notice of and strive to achieve. Carter Sampson is an artist more people need to hear and talk about, as it’s crazy it took this long for me to hear such a talent. As I’ve said many times, the amount of talent out there in the independent scene is staggering and Sampson is another example of the many artists who deserve to be heard. Wilder Side is an album any country and Americana fan can appreciate.

Grade: 9/10

Country Perspective’s 40 Most Essential Country & Americana Albums of 2015

Country Perspective's 2015 Most Essential Albums

We’ve reached the end of 2015 and as you’ve seen over this last month there have numerous best of and worst of lists and everything in between. The “listpocalypse” as many dub it is finally ending and we can start focusing on new music really soon. But before we look forward to the new music of 2016, we want to look back one last time on the music of country and Americana in 2015. These are the albums we consider the absolute must listen albums of 2015 if you’re a fan of country and Americana. We should point out that this year’s essential albums list is different in that last year’s list was all albums that we ranked 8/10 or better. This year’s essential list only contains albums (and a few EPs) ranked 9/10 or better.

Originally we wanted to just have it narrowed down to 25 albums, but then it grew to 30 and then 35 before eventually 40. We wanted to make sure we go all of the great music on the list! Keep in mind if we didn’t put an album on this list it’s not because we’re haters or we’re attacking your favorite artist. Do not turn the comments section into “Well you didn’t put (insert name) on the list and you didn’t put this on the list, so I hate it.” Instead put together your own list in the comments if you want, as this is more constructive and creates more interesting conversation.

Now that I’ve gotten all of the ground rules out of the way, let’s get to the music. These are what we consider the 36 most essential country and Americana albums of 2015.

The Best of the Best

Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free

Whitey Morgan – Sonic Ranch

Chris Stapleton – Traveller 

The Awesome Ones

Don Henley – Cass County 

Tami Neilson – Don’t Be Afraid

Houndmouth – Little Neon Limelight 

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

Turnpike Troubadours – Turnpike Troubadours

Sam Outlaw – Angeleno 

Jonathan Tyler – Holy Smokes

Blackberry Smoke – Holding All The Roses

Pretty Damn Great

Whitney Rose – Heartbreaker of the Year

Maddie & Tae – Start Here

Cody Jinks – Adobe Sessions

Eric Church – Mr. Misunderstood

Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material

Gretchen Peters – Blackbirds

Brandi Carlile – The Firewatcher’s Daughter

The Malpass Brothers – The Malpass Brothers

Rick Elliot – West of the Rockies EP

The Lone Bellow – Then Came The Morning

“I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair”

Dwight Yoakam – Second Hand Heart 

George Strait – Cold Beer Conversation

Alan Jackson – Angels & Alcohol

James McMurtry – Complicated Game

Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard – Django & Jimmie

Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell – The Traveling Kind

A Little Bit of Everything

John Moreland – High On Tulsa Heat

The Mavericks – Mono

Banditos – Banditos

Corb Lund – Things That Can’t Be Undone

Lindi Ortega – Faded Gloryville 

Will Hoge – Small Town Dreams

Jon Pardi – The B-Sides, 2011-2014 EP

Jamie Lin Wilson – Holidays & Wedding Rings

Justin Townes Earle – Absent Fathers 

Tony Furtado – The Bell

Allison Moorer – Down To Believing 

Kasey Chambers – Bittersweet

The Black Lillies – Hard To Please 

The Americana Airplay Chart Rundown [August 10]

Jason Isbell Something More Than Free

This is The Americana Airplay Chart Rundown. Every week I’ll post the top 40 from the Americana Airplay chart, which is obtained from AmericanaRadio.org. From the site: “The Americana Airplay chart represents the reported play of terrestrial radio stations, nationally syndicated radio shows, satellite radio and internet stations who have agreed to submit weekly spin counts. For more information please visit www.americanamusic.org.”

The goal of this feature is to track and monitor the current most popular music in the Americana realm, as I believe it’s starting to take on a bigger importance in the world of music, especially concerning the current state of country music. In addition it will bring some new names to the site that haven’t been covered here before and could lead to more Americana coverage. It’s also a place to discuss anything going on in the Americana genre at this moment. Be sure to weigh in on the chart in the comments below.

  1. Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free (Grade: 10/10)
  2. Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell – The Traveling Kind
  3. Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material (Grade: 9/10)
  4. Richard Thompson – Still
  5. Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard – Django and Jimmie (Grade: 9/10)
  6. Watkins Family Hour – Watkins Family Hour [Up 3]
  7. Dale Watson – Call Me Insane (Grade: 8.5/10) [Up 3]
  8. Amy Helm – Didn’t It Rain [Up 5]
  9. Chris Stapleton – Traveller (Grade: 10/10) [Down 3]
  10. Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams – Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams [Up 1]
  11. Warren Hayes (feat. Railroad Earth) – Ashes & Dust [Up 4]
  12. Kasey Chambers – Bittersweet
  13. Ray Wylie Hubbard – The Ruffian’s Misfortune [Down 6]
  14. Sonny Landreth – Bound By The Blues [Down 6]
  15. Rhett Miller – The Traveler [Up 1]
  16. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color [Down 2]
  17. Uncle Lucius – The Light [Up 1]
  18. Eilen Jewell – Sundown Over Ghost Town [Up 1]
  19. Dwight Yoakam – Second Hand Heart (Grade: 10/10) [Down 2]
  20. The Deslondes – The Deslondes (Grade: 8.5/10) [Up 1]
  21. Jimmy LaFave – The Night Tribe [Up 1]
  22. Sam Outlaw – Angeleno (Grade: 10/10) [Down 2]
  23. Ashley Monroe – The Blade (Grade: 7/10) [Up 8]
  24. Milk Carton Kids – Monterey [Down 1]
  25. Daniel Romano – If I’ve Only One Time Askin’ [Up 9]
  26. Jonathan Tyler – Holy Smokes [New]
  27. Whitey Morgan & The 78s – Sonic Ranch (Grade: 10/10) [Up 2]
  28. The Mike & Ruthy Band – Bright As You Can [Down 1]
  29. Honey Honey – [Down 3]
  30. Samantha Crain – Under Branch & Thorn & Tree 
  31. Will Hoge – Small Town Dreams (Grade: 9/10) [Down 7]
  32. Dar Williams – Emerald [Down 7]
  33. John Moreland – High On Tulsa Heat (Grade: 9/10) [Down 5]
  34. Yonder Mountain String Band – Black Sheep [Down 2]
  35. Steeldrivers – The Muscle Shoals Sessions [Up 1]
  36. Sugarcane Jane – Dirt Road’s End [Re-entered Chart]
  37. Langhorne Slim – The Spirit Moves [New]
  38. Leon Bridges – Coming Home
  39. Kentucky Headhunters – Meet Me In Blues Land 
  40. Tony Furtado – The Bell