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.”

Review – Mickey Guyton’s “Better Than You Left Me”

If you read my Jason Aldean Old Boots, New Dirt album review, you could tell I was pretty frustrated towards the end of it. You see after a month or so of reviewing mediocre albums from mainstream country music, this tends to make you a little cranky. July and August brought so much great country music from a variety of artists and ever since September has started the good country music has been few and far between, with the big exceptions being Keeley Valentino and Lee Ann Womack of course. It’s been a pattern lately that female country artists have been making better music than male artists (we got the great male artists earlier in the year with Sturgill Simpson, Jason Eady, Matt Woods and others). That pattern continues with today’s review of Mickey Guyton’s new single “Better Than You Left Me.”

Who exactly is Mickey Guyton? Well she’s actually with a mainstream country label. You wouldn’t know this though because they never push her on radio or anywhere really. She’s the only solo female country artist at Capitol Records Nashville (sister label EMI Nashville has Kelleigh Bannen). She’s surrounded by big names like Luke Bryan, Dierks Bentley and Lady Antebellum, so it’s no big surprise. But based off her new single, I would put her as one of the best on the label right beside Bentley and Jon Pardi (the rest I don’t care for). After listening to so much bad music from mainstream country, it was a breath of fresh air to hear Guyton (thank you Windmills Country for bringing Guyton to my attention).

“Better Than You Left Me” starts off with the sound of a mandolin and guitar. The song is about a woman who’s ex left her and as time has passed she has grown into a better person since ending the relationship, much to the surprise of the ex. Even though she was heartbroken when the relationship ended, she realizes she is better off without him now. Despite attempts by the ex to win her heart back, she isn’t falling for his tactics. The songwriting is pretty good for this song, painting a picture of the situation in the listeners’ heads and showing the emotion of the woman in the situation. Guyton co-wrote the song with Nathan Chapman, Jennifer Hanson and Jenn Schott (props to Windmills Country for this information too).

You’ll notice right away that Guyton has a dynamic and powerful voice. On her website she says she grew up listening to and credits Dolly Parton, Whitney Houston and LeeAnn Rimes as her influences. She was also into gospel music and started singing gospel in church at the age of five. This makes a lot of sense after hearing her new single because I certainly heard Parton influencing her voice with the way she carries her high notes. With the exception of Carrie Underwood, I would say Guyton has the most powerful voice in mainstream country music. You could pretty much throw any song at Guyton and I think she would have no problem singing it.

My only complaint with Guyton is why she hasn’t been pushed for radio or an album sooner. Mainstream country music is desperate for more great female country artists, especially with the departure of Taylor Swift to pop. This single is getting a push on radio soon and I hope that she gets a fair chance to capture listeners’ attentions. Guyton deserves to be on radio with her great talents. “Better Than You Left Me” comes with a high recommendation from this reviewer and I’m intrigued to hear her new album when it’s released.

Grade: 9/10

For a limited time you can get Guyton’s “Better Than You Left Me” for free via her website. You can find that by clicking here.

Derek’s Top Ten Country Songs – September 2014

 

There were quite a bit of music releases this month, so for me to narrow this down to ten wasn’t as easy as I thought.  In my opinion, the best song released this month was Keeley Valentino’s “Burned.” I said quite a bit about the song in my review of her EP, here’s a snippet: Perhaps the most impressive part of the whole song is the fact that Keeley hits such a high note in the choruses. Her high-notes combined with the echoing instrumentation create a sort of haunting emptiness that captures the emotions of the song’s characters.” Without a doubt that was the song that stood out to me the most this month. Number two is Lee Ann Womack’s “Same Kind of Different” which was easily her best song on The Way I’m Livin’. I’m not surprised that women hit the top two marks on my top ten. Female country singers have been releasing a number of quality albums over the past few years, and I hope to see that trend continue. The Phillip Fox Band gets a spot at number three with the impressive Country Fried Rock N’ Roll western tune “Nothin’ Worse Than Weak.” Number four is The Roy’s heartbreaking, yet well-written Alzheimer’s song called “Sometimes.” Rounding out the top five, I have my favorite song from Tim McGraw’s Sundown Heaven Townhis duet with Catherine Dunn called “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools.”

The Phillip Fox Band appears again at number six with “Ava Lee”, the upbeat love song about a couple living life in the fast lane, and the man debates if he should settle down and have a future with her. Josh Turner’s new single, “Lay Low” comes in at number seven. Lee Ann Womack shows up again at number eight with “Prelude: Fly.” I was captivated by this track during my first listen and it features some great vocal work from Womack. Keeley Valentino makes another appearance on the list with “Love Will Come Around Again” at number nine. It’s a great song about getting over a break up and preparing yourself for when the next person comes to capture your heart. Finally, concluding the top ten is Wade Bowen with “When I Woke Up Today.”  This fun song is about finding joy in life and remaining positive while the trials of a life on the road take form. It’s a great lead off single for his new self-titled album due out late next month.

Honorable Mentions:

  • “Your Daddy’s Boots” by Dustin Lynch – I really wanted this song in my top ten. It’s easily the best song on Where It’s At and possibly Lynch’s best of his young career.
  • “Sick of Me” by Tim McGraw – Another standout track from Sundown Heaven Town. Great song writing and a good, mid-tempo traditional/modern blend of country music.
  • “Writin’ a New Damn Book” by Phillip Fox Band. A great up-beat southern rock song about marking your own path through life.
  • “Heaven Needed Her More” by The Roys. A beautiful song about getting over a death of a loved one and remaining positive through the heartbreak.

October has a ton of albums due out.  Next month’s top ten list might be even harder!

Josh’s Top Ten Country Songs – September 2014

(Note: Only songs released in September 2014 are eligible to make the list)

September was a huge month for new mainstream country album releases. You might have noticed by the increased amount of reviews we’ve been doing on the site and this going to continue into the month of October as they’ll be even more new albums on the way. But before we begin October it’s time to look back on the best country music of September. The purpose of these monthly playlists is to bring attention to you the readers the best recent songs in country music. So without further ado let’s break down this month’s top ten list.

Lee Ann Womack’s album was by far the best country album released in September, so it’s no surprise she takes the top spot and three of the top four in the top ten. Her new album The Way I’m Livin’ is fantastic and highly recommend listening to it if you haven’t yet. Another thing to note is this is the third month this year that Womack has made the top ten list here on Country Perspective. The other artist that had three songs make the top ten list is Keeley Valentino. Her new self-titled EP was short, but sweet for the ears. Her top song from the EP, “Burned,” is the standout from it and certainly worthy of being #2 on the list. Coming in at #6 is a song from the Brothers Osborne’s new self-titled EP, “Love The Lonely Out Of You,” an emotional love ballad that really showcases the true talent of the duo. At #7 is the new duet single from Blake Shelton and Ashley Monroe, “Lonely Tonight.” I’m glad Shelton released this ahead of his album release today because this list is prepared days in advance, therefore making it unable for me to listen to the album. I’ve stated in the past my respect for Monroe’s work and it’s nice to see Shelton put something with merit out again.

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Next is Josh Turner’s new single, “Lay Low,” which is a solid love song and a nice return song for him after an extended hiatus from country music. I’m looking forward to hearing the material on his new album. Coming in at #9 is a song from Big & Rich’s new album Gravity, which I will be reviewing very soon, titled “Thank God for Pain.” It’s a modern country song with a good message and features good harmonies from Big Kenny and John Rich. The final song to round out Country Perspective’s top ten country songs of September 2014 list is another song from Valentino, “Signs for Bakersfield.”

While there were a lot of new country songs released this month, that doesn’t mean a lot of quality. There was a lot of bad music released, however there are a few songs that deserve honorable mention and were close to making the top ten list.

Honorable Mentions: 

Brothers Osborne – “Stay A Little Longer”

Big & Rich – “This Kind of Town”

Lee Brice – “Panama City” & “Whiskey Used To Burn”

Tim McGraw – “Sick of Me” & “Diamond Rings And Old Barstools”

Album Review – Keeley Valentino’s Self-Titled EP

Keeley Valentino takes her time with musical releases. That’s not a complaint, but a fact. Her first album was released in 2005 and her second in 2009. And now, here in the fall of 2014, we have her third release of music with a self-titled EP.  Keeley told The Boot that she was confident in her work to fund the project herself instead of reaching out to fans through crowd funding sites like Kickstarter. The result of that soaring confidence is a carefully crafted, well-produced six-song project steeped with a great performance from this skilled singer-songwriter. Comparing this EP to her first two albums, Keeley Valentino is delivering music at the next level thanks to the production quality that producer Matt Mangano brings to the table. A producer and now bassist for the Zac Brown Band, Mangano’s musical prowess is nothing but a valuable addition to team Valentino.

The EP opens with the fun, upbeat love song “Everything In Between”. Story-wise, the song is about falling in love and the development of that love. The love Keeley sings about is strong and full of hope. This song is undeniably pop and friendly to the ear, but Keeley makes the simple song structure work. She’s a gifted songwriter and sells the story of this young love. The EP’s lead single, “Little Things,” comes next and is one of the strongest tracks on this project. The instrumentation starts off with a simple acoustic guitar and builds with each stanza, coming to a roaring conclusion along side a gospel chorus harmonizing behind Keeley’s vocals. A song about dreaming big without losing sight of the present, Keeley delivers this message with strength and authentic passion. The most country song of the six is “Signs for Bakersfield.” Featuring mandolins and steel guitars, this song is about Keeley fearing a return to California. She details how this is place where dreams are nothing but dust and bad memories, and how the signs for Bakersfield are the triggers for those memories. This song features some great writing and descriptions of California (“Far away from any beach, even out of the Angels’ reach, goodbyes get swallowed up in this Valley”).

In the second half of the EP, Keeley steps away from first person story telling beginning with “Love Will Come Around Again.” The keys of the piano and organ drive this track about getting over a break up. Keeley relates her own experiences to a girl who’s just been broken-hearted, advising her to not be distraught because love will return. “Burned” is, in my opinion, the best track on this EP. Firstly, the production of the song stands out because it begins with echoing notes and a distant drum beat that move together with subtle guitars and pianos. On the surface, maybe at a first listen, the production appears simple and stripped back, but it’s complex, perfectly layered and haunting. Lyrically, the song is a look at a relationship that fell apart and how the couple attempts to move on their own. The relationship was strong enough and its end was terrible enough to leave them both forever burned and scarred. Keeley Valentino writes some powerfully heart-breaking lyrics like “Starting over is as hard as it seems, we’re always haunted by broken dreams”; and “she still checks for monsters all alone in the dark, now just to be safe she checks under her heart.” Perhaps the most impressive part of the whole song is the fact that Keeley hits such a high note in the choruses. Her high-notes combined with the echoing instrumentation create a sort of haunting emptiness that captures the emotions of the song’s characters. I applaud Keeley, Matt and the entire crew credited on this track for an excellent song in “Burned.” The EP rounds out with “Underneath;” another song where Keeley motivates others to move on from a past that didn’t work. She inspires us to face our demons and find out who we are underneath and inside. Another song that builds as it progresses, “Underneath” is a strong conclusion with a passionate performance from Keeley.

My only complaint is that this isn’t an album of 10 or 12 songs. However, delivering a completely solid EP without filler tracks is better than an LP with a filler song or two. These six songs are nothing short of great, and certainly worth the wait that Keeley Valentino fans undoubtedly had for her next project. I stated in my first post for Country Perspective that Keeley Valentino had the potential to be a female leader in country music. I still stand by that statement after this EP release, whether you call her pop, folk, Americana, or country. Great country music, in my opinion, features great songwriting and honest storytelling. In spite of the pop elements infused in some of these songs, Keeley’s ability to tie lines together with a great rhyme and describe situations with perfect visualization prove her worthiness alongside country’s best songwriters. Sonically, this EP brings a pure, fresh sound under Matt Mangano and (as if I haven’t mentioned it enough yet), Keeley Valentino is a hell of a singer.

Grade: 10/10