The Hodgepodge: My Favorite Hidden and Forgotten Country Gems

Country music is full of great artists and songs that carry out the rich tradition of country music. Most of these artists don’t get their deserved spotlight or recognition for whatever reason. Below I’ve listed some of my favorite artists and songs that we haven’t really covered here on Country Perspective. And I’ve also tossed in a deep cut from a mainstream artist for good measure. As always, the goal of this is just throw out some names and songs you may not be familiar in an effort to introduce you to some good music you may have missed along the way.

Levi Lowrey – “Wherever We Break Down”

Levi Lowrey is a collaborator with the Zac Brown Band, but has three rather good albums of his own. I think Lowrey is a great songwriter and has a wonderful voice. “Wherever We Break Down” is one of my favorite songs from Lowrey. It’s a love song about a couple trying to make ends meet.

Michaela Anne – “Lift Me Up”

I first heard this song while standing in line at Starbucks and it immediately caught my attention. One of the few times I ever used the app Shazam was with this song and thus I discovered Michaela Anne. A great callback country sound and a budding Americana star with an album due out later this year, Michaela Anne is a name you should familiarize yourself with if you haven’t yet.

Chris Young – “The Dashboard”

Back before he was singing bro country or boring heartbreak songs, Chris Young sang true, traditional story country songs. His first two albums are gems themselves. This song revolves around a pickup truck, but the story is nostalgic trip through time between the narrator and his military brother.

Keeley Valentino – “Hosea”

Keeley Valentino’s most recent EP got high praise from me, and I think she is one of the best vocalists I’ve heard. Off her second album, Three Cities, this song deals with the central characters trying to overcome a tough life at home. She wrote this with Randey Foster, and showcases great storytelling and delivery.

The Wood Brothers – “The Muse”

Zac Brown Band covered this song on their Grohl Sessions Vol. 1 EP, but The Wood Brothers’ original recording is one to listen to. Much more stripped back with a sound akin to Mumford & Sons, The Wood Brothers have 10 years worth of music to dive into.

Judson Cole Band – “Poor Widow’s Fate”

This Texas band released their debut album late in 2014, an album which I reviewed. It’s still a rather new song, but I song I wanted to highlight again because the more I listen to it, the better I like it. A slick, rowdy southern rock song dealing with an outlaw cowboy. The chorus is catchy and the song’s writing is sharp.

I’d love to hear some of your favorite lesser known country acts, albums, or deep cuts from more well-known artists.

Upcoming and Recent Country Releases

  • Robbie Fulks Upland Stories will be released Friday, April 1st.
  • Elephant Revival will release Petals on April 1st.
  • Granger Smith’s newest single will be “If The Boot Fits.” We’ll have a review for that song soon.
  • On The ACM’s, Carrie Underwood will sing “Church Bells” her next radio single.
  • Keith Urban’s new single is called “Wasted Time.”

Throwback Thursday Songs

In honor of the newest inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame, I’m going to have two Throwback Thursday Songs, one from Charlie Daniels and one from Randy Travis. Producer Fred Foster was the third inductee this year. Foster’s career highlights include producing some of Ray Orbison’s biggest hits like “Oh, Pretty Woman.” Foster also helped jump-start Dolly Parton’s career as well as Kris Kristofferson, with whom Foster co-wrote “Me and Bobby McGee.”

“Devil Went Down to Georgia” Charlie Daniels Band

 

“Forever And Ever Amen” Randy Travis

 

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

“Only Love Can Break Your Heart” by Neil Young. This song inspired a novel of the same written by Ed Tarkington. I recently finished the novel and went on a little Neil Young kick afterwards, as classic rock shows up quite a bit throughout the novel. This was recorded on Young’s After The Gold Rush in 1970, and became his first top-40 single.

Tweet of the Week

In a rare public appearance since his stroke, Randy Travis made his way to the podium and said “Thank You” in response to learning of his induction to the Country Music HOF.

A Great iTunes Review

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From Kane Brown’s EP, this review highlights some great points for making good country music by quoting the chorus from David Allan Coe’s “The Ride.”

Country Perspective’s Best Country Albums of 2015 So Far

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

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

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

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

Album of the Year Candidates

Chris Stapleton Traveller

Chris Stapleton – Traveller

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

Whitey Morgan – Sonic Ranch

Whitey Morgan Sonic Ranch

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

Houndmouth Little Neon Limelight

Houndmouth – Little Neon Limelight

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

Blackberry Smoke Holding All The Roses

Blackberry Smoke – Holding All The Roses

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

Bowen & Rogers Hold My Beer

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

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

The Malpass Brothers

The Malpass Brothers – The Malpass Brothers

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

Dwight Yoakam Second Hand Heart

Dwight Yoakam – Second Hand Heart

There’s no other way to say it: Second Hand Heart is awesome. You aren’t going to hear many country albums as good as this one for the rest of the year. It has touching ballads, rocking honky-tonk and some of the best instrumentation I’ve heard on an album in recent memory. Yoakam’s voice is as brilliant as ever. I think I speak for Yoakam fans everywhere when I say this: don’t ever leave music again. While I enjoyed Yoakam as Pastor Phil in Four Christmases, I would much rather listen to him produce amazing albums like this one. I give Second Hand Heart my highest recommendation, as it’s definitely a top candidate for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year. Just like he did back in the 80s, Yoakam brings us traditional country in a world that badly needs it.

The Mavericks Mono

The Mavericks – Mono

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

Gretchen Peters – Blackbirds

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

The Lone Bellow

The Lone Bellow – Then Came The Morning

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

Diamondwolf – Your Time Has Come

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

Other Highly Recommended Albums

Brandi Carlile – The Firewatcher’s Daughter

Allison Moorer – Down To Believing 

Will Hoge – Small Town Dreams

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

Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard – Django and Jimmie 

Jamie Lin Wilson – Holidays and Wedding Rings 

Justin Townes Earle – Absent Fathers 

Cody Jinks – Adobe Sessions

James McMurtry – Complicated Game

John Moreland – High On Tulsa Heat 

Reba – Love Somebody

Ryan Bingham – Fear and Saturday Night

Cody Canada and the Departed – HippieLovePunk 

The Western Swing Authority – Now Playing 

Judson Cole Band – Eastern Skies 

Striking Matches – Nothing But The Silence

Aaron Watson – The Underdog 

William Clark Green – Ringling Road

American Aquarium – Wolves 

Album Review – Judson Cole Band’s Eastern Skies is a Great Texas Debut

Not too much is known about the Judson Cole Band. For having a young career (the band formed in 2012 in San Angelo, Texas), they’re blazing a hot trail in the Texas/Red Dirt music scene. The guys became a staple at Blaine’s Pub in San Angelo and quickly caught the attention of others, earning gigs and opening slots at other Red Dirt concert venues and impressing some Texas music bloggers, specifically those at TexasMusicPickers.com. Judson Cole Band’s debut album, Eastern Skies, is an impressive collection of ten songs that should add more fuel to their fire.

The album kicks off with “Time To Run,” a great southern rock influenced song about running free with hard-hitting guitar licks capping each stanza. And before the instrumentation gets repetitive and predictable, they take a hard left turn and slow it down with a heavy blues-influenced guitar over the song’s bridge. “Goodbye Dallas” is a bit simpler in the production, but details the journey of a country singer searching for the spotlight. Naturally, the search for this spotlight begins in Nashville, but disappointed with the way things work in Music City, the singer returns to Dallas with a new appreciation for home.

“Call Me Back Home,” the band’s current single, features some acoustic guitars and banjos and some nice harmonies behind Judson Cole’s voice. The song is about a couple in a large relationship rut. He’s introspective enough to know there’s fault on both ends, but it appears that she’s a bit more stubborn to call him back home so they can work out the issues. On “16 Days” Judson Cole seems to be avoiding the inevitable. She’s gone away and her memory is haunting him.

On the title track, Judson Cole searches for truth in midst of a failing relationship. He wants to make sense of it all and is still left with questions and confusion. It’s a more mid-tempo led with a nice guitar and features a great build up to an emotional ending. Judson Cole’s vocals here are some of his best on Eastern Skies. You may recall seeing “Leave Me Another Day” as an honorable mention on last month’s top-10. This heartbreak tune is driven with a fiddle among the guitars and drums. Here Judson Cole begs his woman not to give up so easily on their relationship, because in the end she’ll come crawling back. This is another raw, heartbreaking vocal delivery from Judson Cole that adds a lot to the mood of the song. “Young Love” explores the simplicity of a relationship during young, naïve times. It’s easy until you have your heart torn out by someone you loved and you’re stuck with scars and bad memories. This song has great guitar work and production behind powerful vocals.

“Poor Widows Fate” is a chronicle of an outlaw who robs and kills to give the girl he loves all she wants. This gold-digging woman doesn’t return his affection and uses him to get as much money as possible until she shoots him and runs off with all he had stolen. This is an impressive, compelling song with some great production behind the lyrics. “Heart of Mine” is a tale of a man who’s fallen for a woman who doesn’t return his affections. He pleads for her to see how great his heart is for her. The last track on the album, “Old Truth Be Told” is an acoustic, introspective song. This stripped back tune explores how life hasn’t gone the way we expected and questioning decisions made along the way.

Eastern Skies is a fantastic debut album. More times than not, debut albums straddle safe topics and production to avoid alienating potential fans, but a majority of the Eastern Skies shows character and personality that prove Judson Cole Band is the real deal. Perhaps the most impressive thing about it is they show that personality and confidence while not being too extreme in one direction to alienate fans. Eastern Skies brings fresh perspectives and sounds to old stories and songs. Seamlessly hopping between modern country sounds and southern rock, powerful vocals and tight, raw instrumentation, the Judson Cole Band prove themselves worthy to be among Texas’s top tier artists. This debut album shows nothing but potential, and will certainly be enjoyed by fans of Red Dirt country music. Keep your eye on the Judson Cole Band. Eastern Skies is only the beginning of what can be a long story.

Grade: 8.5/10

Derek’s Top Country Songs – January 2015

We are off to a great start to 2015! There were several great album releases this month, and a few singles that are equally as impressive. To be honest, I could have easily made this a top-20 list, but in sticking with Country Perspective’s tradition, I’ll keep it at the 10 songs I enjoyed the most from this month. Two of my top songs are not currently on Spotify, so I’ve put the YouTube clips of the songs here, but you’ll find the rest of the songs in the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the post.

  1. “Alabama Pines” Jamey Johnson – As Josh said in his review, “It’s beautifully simple and traditional with a feel good message. It will also create a sense of nostalgia in many listeners I think too, something many mainstream country songs tried to do in 2014 and failed at doing so.” “Alabama Pines” is simply great country music; the best song of the month!
  2. “Diners” The Lone Bellow – This Americana trio’s new album, Then Came the Morning, is simply fantastic. My favorite song from the collection, The Lone Bellow sing of broken love and a realization that the love is true. They use an analogy of old diners and jukeboxes to tell the story. They sing with such emotion and passion that sell the story. This song is special.
  3. “Island in the Sky” Ryan Bingham – Without a doubt, this is the standout track from Bingham’s new album Fear and Saturday Night. Bingham sings this song of hope with genuine passion, and the inclusion of the harmonica in the production is a welcome addition.
  4. “The Messenger” Stanford Road – A heartbreaking tune about a woman not wanting to face the truth of her husband, a soldier, dying on the battlefield. This husband-wife duo deliver on this track. Again, as Josh wrote in his review of the song, “ It’s a song filled with emotion that will certainly move most listeners. The lyrics are simple, yet very effective. The instrumentation drives the mood of this song perfectly.
  5. “Snow Falls in June” Ryan Bingham – A love song where Bingham devotes himself to his love. If she’s depressed or feeling down, he’ll always be there for her. It’s a beautiful, well written song.
  6. “Call To War” The Lone Bellow – A driving acoustic production with beautiful vocals. “Call To War” has the feel of a preparation for a new journey.  Great writing with equally great vocals help this song stand out among the crowd of a great album.
  7. “Rock and Roll” Cody Jinks – As Josh wrote in his review of Adobe Sessions, “The lyrics are kept simple to tell a complicated story like someone going through alcohol addiction. It’s a real sentimental song that caps off this album well.” Jinks tells a compelling story and sings with authenticity that draws the listener into the song.
  8. “Broken Heart Tattoos” Ryan Bingham – A third Bingham song on this list. Fear and Saturday Night was an album with several standout tracks, and this is one of them. Written as a letter for his son, Bingham speaks of his youthful innocence and encourages him to let loose if need be.
  9. “All Nighter” Cody Canada & The Departed – Off their new album, HippieLovePunk, a song written about the passing of Mark McCoy of Micky and the Motorcars. Cody Canada recruits the Braun brothers from Reckless Kelly and the aforementioned Motorcars to help sing the tribute song.
  10. “Homegrown” Zac Brown Band – The new single off an upcoming album. The men from Georgia blend modern influences with their own sonic style and tell a story of appreciation for simple life and great friends.

Honorable Mentions

  • “If You Don’t Love Me” The Lone Bellow
  • “Dirt” Cody Jinks
  • “Leave Me Another Day” Judson Cole Band
  • “Take My Love” The Lone Bellow
  • “Farther From Me” Justin Townes Earle