The Endless Music Odyssey, Vol. 5 — CeeLo Green, Caylee Hammack & more!

CeeLo GreenCeeLo Green is Thomas Callaway

Dan Auerbach, David Ferguson and Easy Eye Sound just continue to churn out quality albums. This time it comes from veteran R&B artist CeeLo Green, who is known for such hits like “Crazy” as part of Gnarls Barkley and “Forget You” as a solo artist. But this album is much different than his popular material, as the glitz and glamour is all stripped away in favor of more subtle and smooth sounds. It’s an enjoyable mix of R&B, soul, pop, gospel and even some country. Many have described Green as a chameleon-like performer and I think this album exemplifies this more than any of his others.

There’s simmering love songs like “For You,” “I Wonder How Love Feels” and “Doing It All Together” that mix soul and pop to great results. “Lead Me” shows how Green can absolutely excel at gospel with his passionate vocals and makes me wish there were more gospel moments. “Little Mama” and “Don’t Lie” show another side of Green, being a father, which was great to see from him. But the two songs that intrigued me most were when he dipped into a more country-influenced sounds on “People Watching” and “Slow Down.” The former is a simple, yet bouncy song about observing the world around you and taking in the little things. The latter is a fantastic cover of his Easy Eye Sound label mate John Anderson. CeeLo Green covering John Anderson is not something I thought I would ever write about, but hey it’s 2020 and it works well.

The album closes out with another highlight in “The Way,” a brooding song about fighting your way through darkness. Green’s voice really excels in these dramatic songs, as his dynamic voice can add the right amount of tension to build up the lyrics. If you’re into soul music or enjoy Green’s voice, this album is definitely worth your time. 8/10

Caylee HammackIf It Wasn’t For You

The potential of Caylee Hammack is great. She has an incredible voice and when she incorporates her personal experiences into her songwriting, it makes for some damn compelling music. “Small Town Hypocrite” is easily the star of this album, an in-depth look at seven-year relationship that took Hammack away from a music scholarship and changed her life in several ways. And not only is the attention to detail great in the lyrics, but her vocal performance adds just the right amount of emotional touch. The best example is when she sings “When I chose you and daddy gave me hell/I made myself into someone else/Just to love you, damn, I loved you.” The aching regret and hesitation in her voice as she delivers these final words cuts straight to the heart. 

Hammack has other great moments on this album too like “Redhead.” Hammack and Reba sound great together and I’m surprised this wasn’t chosen for her new single, as it’s catchy and fun to singalong with. Hammack, Tenille Townes and Ashley McBryde sound fantastic harmonizing together on “Mean Something,” which is a song dripping with honesty about people seeking to be something more in a world filled with a lot of selfishness and lack of substance. “Sister,” “Forged in the Fire” and “Family Tree” are other solid songs where Hammack peels back layers of her life to deliver heartfelt messages and show the lessons she’s learned. “Gold” is a heartfelt epilogue to “Small Town Hypocrite” and “New Level of Life” is a fun closer to the album that features one of the more interesting production moments on the album.  

But this album falls frustratingly short of being great and I largely blame this on the production. It ultimately hinders Hammack more than it helps, as most of the time it feels very paint-by-numbers as far as pop country goes. Hammack’s voice isn’t fully utilized, as it’s bright and dynamic, so why not fully feature it? It’s also frustrating to have songs in the middle of the album like “Preciatcha,” “Just Like You,” “Just Friends” and “King Size Bed” that pigeonhole her into generic pop country. It’s just not that interesting and throws the flow of the album off for me. It’s not really surprising, as new artists typically have these kinds of songs on their debut album to appease labels who like to send them to radio. Nevertheless, this is a decent debut album from Hammack. 6/10

DUCKWRTHSuperGood

Smooth, slick and funky are the three best words to describe this album. If you’re looking for lyrical prowess, this album won’t have it. Not to say the lyrics are bad. They’re solid, yet unspectacular as most of the lyrics deal with love and enjoying the party. But if you’re looking for some smooth beats, this album is overflowing with them. This is an album to move to and sing along with on a Saturday night. While it’s listed as hip-hop, this is far from a straight hip-hop record. No, I would describe this more along the lines of Tyler the Creator’s IGOR. This album is very much genre fluid, an enjoyable blend of hip-hop, R&B, soul, pop and disco. While I was a big fan of DUCKWRTH’s earlier material that was edgier and had an almost rock flavor to them, it’s clear this sound seems to suit him best. And he did kind of foreshadow this on “MICHUUL,” aspiring to be like the king of pop. And this music is definitely a strong step into that sound. 8/10

The MavericksEn Español

This is definitely one of those times where I wish I had taken more Spanish classes. I know some of the language, but unfortunately not enough to understand and appreciate the lyrics of this album. If anybody would happen to know how to procure a translated version of it, I would be happy to go more in-depth on this album. So for now I can only analyze the other elements of this album and they’re top level as always from the eclectic and dynamic group. The instrumentation is flamboyant, colorful and vibrant, a beautiful mixture of country, pop, Tex Mex and a whole lot more. Raul Malo still has one of the best voices in music, as it still sounds as flawless as ever. So based on the two elements of this album I can understand, this is another great album from The Mavericks. 

Margo PricePerfectly Imperfect At The Ryman

This is the best Margo Price album and you can’t tell me otherwise. In the last edition of The Endless Music Odyssey, I expressed my disappointment with her latest studio album and how it fails to capture the energy of her live shows that get rave reviews. I’ve never seen her live, but I potentially will next year as she opens for a Chris Stapleton show I have tickets to see. This reminded me that she actually released a live album on Bandcamp earlier this year and it had slipped through the cracks for yours truly. After listening to this album, it further cements the sentiment she’s better live. She has a fiery and infectious personality that unfortunately just gets sanded away in her studio recordings. But in a live setting she’s unleashed and at her very best. Her vocals don’t feel restrained and you even get to hear her excellent vibrato on multiple songs, which baffles me that this isn’t featured much on her studio albums. 

I hope whoever produces her next album takes cues from this live album and finds a way to incorporate them. Old Crow Medicine Show was in this same boat for years too and Gary Clark Jr. is still in this boat. It’s a rare occurrence it feels like in music to sound good live, but not in the studio, as it’s usually the other way around for several artists. 8/10

Tucker BeathardKING

Well I’ll say this: at least his voice is tolerable now. I once said he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket and that his voice was grating to the ears. It didn’t help either he was another victim of On The Verge, which is a legal payola way of making someone a “star”, but really just distorts reality. Also a smart move to delete all of his music with Big Machine Records and to start a clean slate. 

So I will say I can now listen to his voice without wanting to turn the song off. But he sounds essentially like every other male pop country artist. Still progress of course to go from bad to generic, but not really good either. None of these songs compel me to say anything other than it’s a song, except for “One Upper.” It’s a song about two characters: a rich asshole in a suit who thinks he can buy everything with money and an average joe who ultimately thinks he’s better because he has a hot girlfriend. What endearing people! 4/10

Josh TurnerCountry State of Mind

Just like I said about Jon Pardi’s Rancho Fiesta Sessions, take this for what it is and you’ll have an enjoyable listen. This is another solid country covers album released in a year where there’s been several. Needless to say I’m starting to get a little fatigued by them at this point. There’s not a bad song on this album, but the highlights in my eyes are “I’ve Got It Made” with John Anderson, the album title track with Chris Janson, “I Can Tell by the Way You Dance,” “Forever and Ever, Amen” with Randy Travis and “Desperately” with Maddie & Tae. 8/10

The Endless Music Odyssey, Vol. 4 — Margo Price, Jon Pardi, The Chicks & more!

Margo Price — That’s How Rumors Get Started

I really wanted to enjoy this album and there isn’t a single bad song on it. But yet after multiple listens not a single song sticks with me either. And it bugs the crap out of me how I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is that continues to be missing from Price’s albums. I’ve always been a fan of Sturgill Simpson’s production and while I think the direction taken with it suits Price’s style, it doesn’t necessarily work to her best either. I guess if I had to pick reasons of why this album just doesn’t work for me is it’s due to a lack of energy and presence of Price. She has a fantastic voice and yet it feels like she continues to be relegated to middling/softer vocal performances. So if it was up to me, I would like to see her go in a heavier rock direction and fully unleash her voice to see how the result turns out. 5/10

Jon PardiRancho Fiesta Sessions

Take this for what it is and you can find a lot of enjoyment in his small cover album. While the sound engineering isn’t the best and rawness of the recording exposes Pardi’s biggest weakness as a vocalist (sounding too thin at times), you can tell Pardi and his band really enjoyed recording this and this is infectious as a listener. It also further supports why I think Pardi needs to get away from his more traditional direction he’s been taking and get back to the more country rock sound of his first album. He just seems to enjoy himself more and it brings out his best too. Kudos to him having the guts to cover Prince too, as it is not an easy task and he actually does a solid job. 8/10

The ChicksGaslighter

This is one of my most disappointing listens of 2020. I’m still a big fan of the lead single and title track, as it’s energy is infectious. But this album becomes so tedious and monotonous to listen to thereafter. First off it feels less like a project from The Chicks and more of a Natalie Maines solo project. There isn’t enough harmonies. The “boat incident” is rehashed ad nauseam. But perhaps the worst thing about this project is the production. I’m a big fan of Jack Antonoff. Hell, he produced Country Perspective’s 2019 Album of the Year. But his production does not go well with The Chicks at all. It’s just too polished for this trio and pales in comparison to their previous sound. I had high hopes for the return of The Chicks, but this honestly feels like the Garth Brooks return all over again. 6/10

Tenille TownesThe Lemonade Stand

I come away from this album seeing a lot of potential in Tenille Townes. Her voice is distinctive and it sticks with you long after listening. And I think Jay Joyce is the right choice as producer, even though I think he can get a bit heavy handed with the production at times on this album. Townes is only going to get better as a songwriter too as she continues to get more experience. While there are a few too many moments where the songs just feel run of the mill, the moments that do work though are great, such as “Jersey on the Wall” and “Come as You Are.” 6/10

Mark ChesnuttNumbers on the Jukebox EP

The sound on this EP is just not mixed well at all. And I’m forgiving in this department when it comes to independent artists. But it’s just so jarring as the listener and I find it puzzling how live and studio recordings are intermingled. The songwriting is also a big step down from Tradition Lives, which is a great album. I expected a lot more from Chesnutt and this feels like a letdown.

Eric PaslayNice Guy

Man, what happened to this guy? He showed so much promise on his debut album. He’s a great live performer too. Then he released the terrible single “High Class” and it’s been steady down hill ever since. This mediocre batch of pop country only continues his descent. It just baffles me how an artist who seems to only be trending upwards to make such a sudden 180. Only Zac Brown Band and The Band Perry baffle me more when it comes to changing so suddenly.

RaeLynnBaytown EP

I’ve been enjoying the direction RaeLynn has been taking into more goofy, “kitchy” songs. This EP features even more enjoyable songs in this vein. “Judgin’ to Jesus” is really catchy and “Bra Off” makes me laugh at the new twist on a breakup song. “Fake Girl Town” doesn’t land for me as the tone just doesn’t fit RaeLynn nor the other tracks on the album. While the lighter side seems to fit RaeLynn best, “Me About Me” is a nice reminder of when RaeLynn wants to get more serious she can do quite well too. It honestly surprises me she hasn’t had more radio success because she has so many songs with great hooks and her charisma is infectious. But if you’ve been enjoying RaeLynn’s recent direction, this is an EP certainly worth your time. 7/10

Cassadee PopeRise and Shine

“I really want this record to sound like an acoustic Dashboard Confessional — like a country Dashboard record.” That’s what Pope says of this album and well mission accomplished. That’s not a good thing. It only makes me want to repeat again: Pope is not suited for country music. She has a great voice, but it is not suited for country. The pop punk of Hey Monday is where she needs to get back to, but we all know what’s more marketable and that’s what drives the decision making of most artists. It’s a shame.

Blackberry Smoke — Live Bandcamp albums

As always this band delivers and they deliver no better than when they’re in a live setting. These lives albums are admittedly not too different from their excellent 2019 live album Homecoming, but if you’re a fan of Blackberry Smoke it’s certainly worth checking out. If anything listen to the songs that aren’t covered on their previous live albums.

Albums from artists I’ve heard and will be covering soon:

  • Daniel Donato
  • Lindsay Ell
  • Duckwrth
  • CeeLo Green

Albums from artists I haven’t heard but on my to listen to list and will likely cover:

  • Caylee Hammack
  • Jacob Collier
  • The Mavericks
  • Tim McGraw
  • Josh Turner
  • Tucker Beathard
  • Taylor Swift
  • The Allman Betts Band

Country Perspective’s Top 30 Country/Americana Albums of 2016

The Listpocalypse of 2016 is almost over. You’ve probably been thoroughly beat over the head by year-end lists and awards by now and have grown sick of them. But I can tell you that this is the last one for 2016 from Country Perspective. The year of country music and Americana has come to an end, so it’s now time to take a look back at the very best albums that both country and Americana gave us. It was certainly an interesting year to say the least. We got a wide variety of great music along the way and I certainly had enough to make a top albums list. Originally I had this set at 20 albums long months ago before expanding to 25. As of a couple of days ago, it was still 25. Then I had trouble deliberating over the last few in and decided to expand it again to 30. I’m pretty happy with it at 30 and I feel this list is a nice snapshot of 2016 for country and Americana.

One last thing: You’re welcome to disagree with this list as much as you want and I encourage you to do so. However keep in mind this is my list, therefore you can’t tell me I’m wrong because we’re entitled to our own opinions. You are welcome to make your own top 30 (or whatever number) list in the comments below. In fact I encourage this too. Share your favorite music, as we can all benefit from this.

So without further ado, here are Country Perspective’s Top 30 Country/Americana Albums of 2016:

Wheeler Walker Jr Redneck Shit

#30 – Wheeler Walker Jr. – Redneck Shit

There’s a perfect symmetry with the artist topping this list helping make the album at the bottom of this list happen in the first place. Sturgill Simpson told fellow Kentuckian Ben Hoffman to follow a crazy idea, introducing him to super producer Dave Cobb. Simpson told him to go “full Kauffman” or he never wants to see him again. Wheeler Walker Jr. was born and the world has never been the same. Walker’s debut album is full of filthy, raunchy country goodness. Once you get past the heavy swearing, dick sucking and jerking off though, you get some pretty fine country music. There’s plenty of steel guitar and some surprisingly deeper songs than meet the eye dealing with heartbreak, losing your job and of course sex.

Best Songs: Can’t Fuck You off My Mind, Fuck You Bitch, Eatin’ Pussy/Kickin’ Ass, Better off Beatin’ Off

Randy Rogers Band Nothing Shines Like Neon

#29 – Randy Rogers Band – Nothing Shines Like Neon

Randy Rogers came off one hell of a year in 2015. He teamed up with buddy Wade Bowen and they released one of the best albums of the year. They won both Country Perspective’s 2015 Duo/Group of the Year award and Country Perspective’s 2015 Song of the Year with “Standards.” This year Rogers returned with a new album with his own band, a return also to Texas after trying their hand on Music Row. The result is an album full of plenty fiddle and steel guitar and some of the sharpest writing we’ve heard from the band. It has me excited to see what comes next from the band, as this album puts them on a great path going forward.

Best Songs: Old Moon New, Look Out Yonder (feat. Alison Krauss & Dan Tyminski), Tequila Eyes, Neon Blues

brent-cobb-shine-on-rainy-day

#28 – Brent Cobb – Shine On Rainy Day

Brent Cobb is a name that I’ve come across a lot in country music the last few years. But we had yet to hear an album from Cobb himself. That changed in 2016. Cobb released his debut album Shine on Rainy Day, the type of album you can throw on any time and enjoy. It’s all-around solid and doesn’t have any filler on it. The relatable themes and the southern rock meets country sound is going to win him more and more fans. Cobb reinforces with this album why I’ve kept my eye on him because his talent and artistry is quite high. Shine On Rainy Day is the beginning of what I believe is the start of a bright and fruitful career.

Best Songs: Country Bound, The World, Shine On Rainy Day, Diggin’ Holes

Mark Chesnutt Tradition Lives

#27 – Mark Chesnutt – Tradition Lives

Nobody predicted new music coming from Mark Chesnutt in 2016. And it was probably one of my favorite surprises of 2016. The 90s country star delivers one hell of a “comeback” album in Tradition Lives. It took years for this album to come together, but it was well worth the wait. The steel guitar and fiddle are thick and will bring a smile to the most jaded of country fans. Chesnutt still sounds as great now as he did in his prime and is another shining example of why writing off older artists is just plain dumb. Chesnutt more than still has “it” and if he’s up for it, I imagine this isn’t the last music we’ve heard from the Texan.

Best Songs: Lonely Ain’t the Only Game in Town, Is It Still Cheating, So You Can’t Hurt Me Anymore, Oughta Miss By Now

11 - Pure & Simple cover - Dolly Parton

#26 – Dolly Parton – Pure & Simple

Like I said, don’t write off older artists. The ageless and timeless Dolly Parton returned with yet another new album at the ripe age of 70, despite solidifying years ago she’s a legend. From the very listen of this album I was immediately hooked and couldn’t stop listening. She wrote, arranged and produced this entire album (co-producers are Richard Dennison & Tom Rutledge). That’s incredible. While radio and the greater mainstream at-large mostly write-off older artists, they’re missing out. There’s not much else to say. It’s Dolly Parton and its great music. It doesn’t get anymore pure and simple than this.

Best Songs: Can’t Be That Wrong, Say Forever You’ll Be Mine, Head Over High Heels, Forever Love

Caleb Caudle Carolina Ghost

#25 – Caleb Caudle – Carolina Ghost

If I had to describe Caleb Caudle’s Carolina Ghost in one word, it would be smooth. He makes everything on this album sound so smooth and easy. It’s full of quality songwriting and you couldn’t make it more country if you tried. Caudle’s style and approach to music is very unassuming and allows the music to really reach out and grab the listener. The songwriting is beautifully uncomplicated and the instrumentation elevates it in every way. Carolina Ghost is the real deal and shows he has a very bright future in country music.

Best Songs: White Doves Wing, Wasted Thursday, Borrowed Smiles, Steel & Stone

Addison Johnson I'm Just A Song

#24 – Addison Johnson – I’m Just A Song

Addison Johnson is probably one of my favorite new artists I came across in country and Americana music this year. Johnson is an artist that was born to make country music.This album is full of traditional country goodness that will leave you wondering how the hell is this guy is not getting more attention. The talent is pretty clear and shows that the sky is the limit for Johnson’s future. His songwriting shows great maturity and should only get better with time. My only real complaint with this entire album is the length. Being only seven songs long left me wanting to hear even more, which I guess can be a good thing. But I hope on the next one we get to hear even more because the world needs to hear more music from Johnson.

Best Songs: My Last Song, Already Been Through, I’m Just A Song, High on the Mountain

loretta-lynn-full-circle

#23 – Loretta Lynn – Full Circle

It’s 2016 and we got new music from the legendary Loretta Lynn. How cool is that? Even cooler is this album is up for a Grammy for Best Country Album at the 2017 awards. This is the first album of new recordings from Lynn in over 10 years and features a collection of both covers and folk songs Lynn learned as a child. The album is pretty deep, as Lynn explores death and looks back at experiences in her life. It could very well be the last recording from Lynn and a reminder of how much we need to cherish this legend while we still have her. Lynn is one of the best ever in country music and this is yet another great album from the icon.

Best Songs: Who’s Gonna Miss Me?, Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven, Fist City, Lay Me Down

Aubrie Sellers New City Blues

#22 – Aubrie Sellers – New City Blues

The daughter of Lee Ann Womack has certainly made her mark in 2016. Her brand of garage country on her debut album New City Blues captured critics and fans’ attentions everywhere when it was originally released back in January. It also captured the attention of major label Warner Bros. Nashville, signing Sellers and re-releasing the album under the label in the fall. The album’s unique sound is one you certainly won’t forget and when it comes to Sellers’ vocals you can say the apple didn’t fall too from the tree. Her introduction of garage country could prove to be important, as Miranda Lambert adopted it on her new album and I expect to hear it more going forward. Not bad for a debut, eh?

Best Songs: Dreaming in the Day, Light of Day, Sit Here and Cry, Something Special

Darrell Scott Couchville Sessions

#21 – Darrell Scott – Couchville Sessions

One of the finest songwriters in country music returned with new music in 2016. Couchville Sessions was an album recorded several years ago, literally recorded on a couch in Nashville. Thank goodness Scott remembered and released it because music like this deserves to be heard. I knew this was an album worth my attention from the very first song, “Down to the River.” Scott in his trademark soulful voice croons, “and we won’t give a damn if it’s rock, folk, country or blues.” At the end we get to hear the voice of the late great Guy Clark telling us a short story. It’s a special moment, especially in the light of his not so distant passing. Just one great songwriter paying homage to another great songwriter, like the past greats of music intended.

Best Songs: Down to the River, It’s About Time, Waiting for the Clothes to Get Clean, Love Is The Reason

brandy-clark-bdinst

#20 – Brandy Clark – Big Day in a Small Town

Brandy Clark absolutely nails the small town theme in this album. One of the best in country music today delivers blistering songwriting on rural living and the everyday struggles of the average person. Derek really summed it up well in his review: Big Day in a Small Town is a truly great example of country music evolving. With the help of Jay Joyce, the album has songs firmly planted in country’s traditional styles, yet they’re given room to explore and reach to different heights and areas. Big Day in a Small Town is the best example of a modern country album. With a great production and songs that standalone well, yet fit into a nice, cohesive theme.

Best Songs: Love Can Go To Hell, Daughter, Drinkin’, Smokin’, Cheatin’, Homecoming Queen

Parker Millsap The Very Last Day

#19 – Parker Millsap – The Very Last Day

Parker Millsap proves once again he’s one of the best artists in Americana today. The Very Last Day seamlessly blends genres and tells intriguing stories with ease. Well upon the surface it seems so easy. If you listen to this album casually, you will miss out on some nice subtleties and details that really help make this album shine. It’s the little things on this album that help make the big parts standout so well. The Very Last Day gives you a little bit of everything, as it explores love, death and everything in-between. The standout of this album is “Heaven Sent,” one of the best songs you’ll hear all year and maybe the best song Millsap has ever written.

Best Songs: Heaven Sent, Hands Up, You Gotta Move, Tribulation Hymn

Daniel Meade and The Flying Mules

#18 – Daniel Meade & The Flying Mules – Let Me Off at the Bottom

Daniel Meade & The Flying Mules firmly establish themselves as one of the best groups in country and Americana today with Let Me off at the Bottom. Meade & The Flying Mules are as talented as about any group in country and Americana today. I would best describe them as The Mavericks (the soulful, catchy lyrics) meet Old Crow Medicine Show (the folky, roots sound). The instrumentation is flawless throughout the album keeping it fun when they need to while also setting the tone perfectly on the more melancholy tunes. The songwriting is sharp, witty and even deeper than meets the eyes. Daniel Meade & The Flying Mules are the real deal.

Best Songs: Leave Me to Bleed, He Should’ve Been Mine, Count the Roses, There’s a Headstone Where Her Heart Used to Be

flatland-cavalry-humble-folks

#17 – Flatland Cavalry – Humble Folks 

As that old line from Alabama goes, “if you’re gonna play in Texas, you gotta have a fiddle in the band.” Well Flatland Cavalry has the fiddle part well covered in their music. The Lubbock based band delivers a fiddle-filled debut album featuring a variety of themes and a great dose of both fun and more serious songs. As a country fan you’ll get a little bit of everything you want out of a country album when you listen to Humble Folks. Lead singer Cleto Cordero is one of the more promising vocalists I’ve heard out of Texas in sometime. What’s great is this band is just going to get even better with time and there’s strong reason to believe Humble Folks is the beginning of a really bright career for Flatland Cavalry. Don’t be surprised if some day this band releases an album that ends up near the very top of our year-end list.

Best Songs: Coyote (The Ballad of Roy Johnson) [feat. William Clark Green], Devil Off My Back, A Life Where We Work Out (feat. Kaitlin Butts), One I Want

Cody Jinks I'm Not the Devil

#16 – Cody Jinks – I’m Not The Devil 

While this wasn’t as good as Adobe Sessions, Cody Jinks delivers a really good album in I’m Not The Devil. He’s quickly establishing himself as one of the biggest fan favorites in the independent country scene, as I constantly have Jinks’ fans reminding me of him. He’s clearly got country fans’ attentions. On his new album Jinks does a lot of self-reflecting, exploring love, heartbreak and the struggles of life as a musician. The instrumentation really shines on the album, as it’s equally catchy and appropriate for the songs. The once metal singer fits like a glove in country music, as he’s quickly established himself as one of the best in the genre today.

Best Songs: Heavy Load, I’m Not The Devil, Vampires, Chase That Song

Margo Price Midwest Farmer's Daughter

#15 – Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter

Jinks isn’t the only artist to quickly gain a loyal legion of fans. Margo Price has captured her own passionate fan base with the release of her debut album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter this year. It’s an album that is topping or going near the top of many critics’ lists. While it’s very good and places well on my list, I felt other artists delivered her style of country better this year. Still her impact has undoubtedly been felt and she’s set herself up to have her “Sturgill moment” on her sophomore album. Her debut album shows she can deliver that throwback country sound with aplomb and that it’s just the beginning of a very promising career.

Best Songs: Hands of Time, Hurtin’ on the Bottle, Four Years of Chances, This Town Gets Around

Dori Freeman

#14 – Dori Freeman – Self-Titled

Undoubtedly one of the most promising new artists to break onto the country scene this year was Dori Freeman. Her debut album blew me away upon the very first listen. Freeman’s vocals are crisp, pure and undeniably Appalachian. She was born to sing and very few possess her talent. The songwriting is top-notch and I couldn’t pick out a flaw in the instrumentation and production choices. This album excels and thrives in every area. You can pretty much call it flawless. It’s an album that every true country and Americana fan needs to hear and Dori Freeman is a name you need to know.

Best Songs: Ain’t Nobody, Fine Fine Fine, Tell Me, Still A Child, Go On Lovin’

miranda-lambert-the-weight-of-these-wings

#13 – Miranda Lambert – The Weight of These Wings

The album I’ve always wanted from Miranda Lambert finally came in the form of The Weight of These Wings. Not just an album, but a double album! The amount of pure, raw energy Lambert channeled into the music on this album cannot be understated. Her talent is on full display and truly feels like the birth of an even greater artist. It feels like Lambert is taking the next step up in her artistry. She’s shown an amazing amount of growth and this is an album country fans certainly won’t forget and should savor for years to come.

Best Songs: Tin Man, To Learn Her, Ugly Lights, Runnin’ Just In Case, Use My Heart

lydia-loveless-real

#12 – Lydia Loveless – Real

Lydia Loveless has been one of the most promising up and comers in the country/Americana scene for a few years. But we had yet to really hear a complete album from her. Until now with her new album Real. The sonic changes and the album’s not immediate appeal may turn off some listeners. But for those who are patient, willing to give it a chance and don’t fuss over genre labels, they’re rewarded with an album that deeply explores love and heartbreak. The songwriting is quite sharp and I think the production is really solid on each song, a credit to producer Joe Viers and Loveless herself. I also applaud Loveless for refusing to play by “genre rules” and setting out to make the album she wants to make because the honesty of this album really shines through.

Best Songs: Real, Heaven, Out on Love, Longer, Same To You

lori-mckenna-bird-and-the-rifle

#11 – Lori McKenna – The Bird & The Rifle

2016 was a long time coming for songwriter Lori McKenna, as she really broke out in many’s eyes with the success of “Humble and Kind.” In addition she released a great album in The Bird & The Rifle. It was simply her year and why she was rewarded Country Perspective’s 2016 Female Artist of the Year award. Featuring her own recording of her hit song, the album also contains some other sharply written phenomenal songs on life, love and small towns. There’s the pointed, but well-intended lesson of “Old Men Young Women.” She reminisces of old times and old plans on “We Were Cool.” “Giving Up on Your Hometown” sees her illustrating the painful realization many come to about their small hometowns and that you can’t keep things the same forever. Then you have aching love song “Always Wants You,” which is about a woman being unable to shake the love of someone she thought she was over. McKenna takes you to songwriting class from start to finish.

Best Songs: Old Men Young Women, Wreck You, Humble & Kind, We Were Cool, Always Want You

Robert Ellis Album

#10 – Robert Ellis – Self-Titled

Robert Ellis’ new self-titled album does an excellent job of crafting stories of love, heartbreak, redemption and life. It also does a great job of incorporating so many different genres together to create some really unique sounds and moments on the album, while elevating the lyrics in the process. This isn’t necessarily a country record and feels more like an Americana record. Country purists and fans of Ellis’ original work might be quick to dismiss this record because it goes so many different places sonically. But music fans will find a lot to love about this album and sink their teeth into because there’s plenty to digest. I enjoyed the journey both the lyrics and instrumentation took me on and it’s an album that I think gets better with more listens. Call it what you want. I’ll call it great.

Best Songs: California, Elephant, You’re Not The One, Couples Skate, It’s Not Ok

Luke Bell Self Titled Album

#9 – Luke Bell – Self-Titled

Luke Bell’s self-titled album is a traditional gem that shines from start to finish. It’s an album that couldn’t be more country if it tried. Bell is such a naturally gifted vocalist who makes it sound so easy when he sings. It can be easy to call Luke Bell a throwback, but really this is just how country music is supposed to sound. Bell is just someone who gets it. This is clear when you hear all of the steel guitar and fiddle throughout each song. It’s clear with the quality songwriting that draws from relatable and simple themes that the common man can connect with and understand through their own experiences. Bell could very well be the next big name to come from the independent country scene. He’s every bit as talented as the biggest names to come from the scene in recent years.

Best Songs: Bullfighter, Sometimes, Workin’ Man’s Dream, The Great Pretender, Loretta

paul-cauthen-my-gospel

#8 – Paul Cauthen – My Gospel

I’ve mentioned many promising new artists on this list, but if you wanted me to name the very best new act to break onto the scenes in 2016 it would be Paul Cauthen. From beginning to end Cauthen blows me away with My Gospel. It’s hands down the best debut album I’ve heard this year and perfectly exemplifies the distinctiveness that every new artist should strive for in their music. Not to mention you can tell this comes straight from the heart and soul of Cauthen, as it shines through on every aspect of the album. This is the type of music the world needs more of today. With My Gospel Cauthen immediately establishes himself as one of the best in the genre. The sky is the limit for him and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Best Songs: I’ll Be The One, My Gospel, Still Drivin’, Saddle, Grand Central

blackberry-smoke-like-an-arrow

#7  – Blackberry Smoke – Like An Arrow

After delivering a really good album in 2015 with Holding All The Roses, they surprised everyone by returning with another new album just a year later. The result: Like An Arrow, one of the best albums of the year and arguably the best of the group’s career, earning Country Perspective’s 2016 Group/Duo of the Year award. Blackberry Smoke continue to demonstrate why they’re amongst the best in both country and rock. What’s amazing is how flawless they make it look. But I probably shouldn’t be surprised. Blackberry Smoke isn’t your ordinary band that goes through slumps and bad albums. They consistently churn out some of the best music you’ll hear today.

Best Songs: Waiting For The Thunder, The Good Life, Running Through Time, Like An Arrow, Sunrise in Texas

Kelsey Waldon I've Got A Way

#6 – Kelsey Waldon – I’ve Got A Way

Kelsey Waldon’s I’ve Got A Way is an amazing album that is 110% country goodness. You simply have to hear it for yourself. This album has no bells or whistles about it. It doesn’t rely on trends and clichés in its songwriting. This is three chords and the truth right here. The instrumentation and production couldn’t be more well-arranged on each song and Waldon just belts it on each track. The songwriting is forthright, honest and cutting. It’s one of the best albums I’ve listened to this year and Waldon has quickly established herself amongst the best.

Best Songs: All by Myself, False King, Travelin’ Down This Lonesome Road, Don’t Hurt the Ones (Who’ve Loved You The Most), The Heartbreak

karen-jonas-country-songs

#5 – Karen Jonas – Country Songs

Country Songs is another fantastic album from Karen Jonas. She’s only two albums into her career and has already delivered better albums than many artists will release over a 20 year career. I know this is quite high praise, but when I listen to Jonas sing I hear something special. She has the potential to go down as a great if she continues to make more albums like the two she has released. All of the praise she gets is deserved and there’s no reason why she shouldn’t be mentioned amongst the very best in country music today. You’re not going to find too many albums better than Country Songs.

Best Songs: Country Perspective’s 2016 Song of the Year – “The Garden”, Wasting Time, Country Songs, Wandering Heart, Why Don’t You Stay, Whiskey & Dandelions

Dave-Cobb-Southern-Family

#4 – Various Artists – Southern Family

Many are going to be surprised of how “low” I’m ranking this album and why it didn’t win album of the year. The main reason is simple: a compilation album with world-class talent is supposed to be great, therefore I hold it to a higher standard. It’s not fair to compare this album to your average great release because you can’t compare the work of one artist to a work of many artists. So I couldn’t in good faith give a compilation album top honors nor could I put it above the other album of the year candidates. The other main reason was the best song of this album is a cover and if you recall I penalized Whitey Morgan’s Sonic Ranch for the same reason last year. I must be consistent. Please don’t let this take away from the fact that this is a brilliant album that will hold up for years to come and is yet another shining example of Dave Cobb’s genius. It’s also the best several artists on this album have sounded in a while. Cobb brought out the very best in everyone involved. You can’t ask for more out of a producer.

Best Songs: I Cried, Grandma’s Garden, You Are My Sunshine, Sweet By and By, God Is A Working Man, Learning

BJ Barham Rockingham

#3 – BJ Barham – Rockingham

BJ Barham’s Rockingham will flat-out knock you on your ass. It’s depressing as hell and it’s full of raw emotion. Don’t take this as bad as it’s quite the opposite. It’s a beautifully dark album that paints a poignant tale of the failed American dream, lost hope, the hells of small town living and the trials and tribulations of everyday life. The songwriting is absolutely flawless and couldn’t be any deeper if it tried. While I didn’t spend a lot of time talking about the instrumentation on this album because the songwriting is so excellent, it also shines bright and does a good job of letting the lyrics do the heavy lifting. It doesn’t let up and hits you in the gut every step of the way.

Best Songs: Unfortunate Kind, The American Tobacco Company, Rockingham, Water in the Well, O’ Lover

Chris King Animal

#2 – Chris King – Animal

You have no idea how close I came to naming this album of the year. A lot of albums came and went throughout the year. Most didn’t hold up quite as well as when I originally reviewed it. But Chris King’s Animal has held strong the entire year. This is an actual true album in every sense of the term. Everything on it connects and tells a greater story of a man who loses love, finds his way and regains it all once again. There’s pain and darkness every step of the way in the man’s journey, even he finally regains love because he knows he’s flawed and he’ll mess up again. But he also knows he’s where he belongs. When I say it’s a true album too, I mean it’s meant to be heard from beginning to end to get the true effect intended. Only one of two albums in 2016 could boast this and King should be proud of the art he created in Animal.

Best Songs: Take It Down, Animal, Borderland, Martinez Social Club, Deep End

#1 – Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth

Sturgill Simpson A Sailor's Guide To Earth

As announced yesterday, this is our album of the year. It’s the second time Simpson has won it. Read the full write-up for Country Perspective’s 2016 Album of the Year here.

Best Songs: Call to Arms, Sea Stories, In Bloom, Breaker’s Roar, Oh Sarah, All Around You

Country Perspective’s 2016 Song of the Year Nominees

You can find many good songs. You can find a good bit of great songs. But finding truly excellent songs that grasp your mind, heart and soul is something that is no easy task. It takes a true artist pouring blood, sweat and tears into their music. It takes guts and honesty to create something truly lasting and spectacular. Of course it’s not just fantastic, soul-reaching songwriting. It’s the perfect instrumentation to complement it and an artist’s voice to truly connect with the music at hand. This is the criteria it takes to win Country Perspective’s 2016 Song of the Year award.

In addition other factors taken into consideration are impact and the way it relates to the current year’s events and happenings. I will ultimately determine which song will win, but I also want to hear from you the readers who is deserving of the award. Your comments will be considered for determining what wins and you could possibly sway what should be the winner. So be sure to sound off in the comments! Without further ado the nominees for Country Perspective’s 2016 Song of the Year (in no particular order):

Lori McKenna – “Old Men Young Women”

Many probably expected another Lori McKenna song to land here, but this was by far the best song on her album The Bird & The Rifle in my mind. McKenna ruthlessly picks apart the dynamics of an older man and younger woman dating, speaking from the point of view someone who’s dated the older man before and the hell she went through in the process.

Margo Price – “Hands of Time”

Margo Price opens her debut album with an absolute bang, “Hands of Time,” and it’s stuck with me ever since. As she grows older with each year she learns the cruel lesson of father time while fighting the everyday obstacles of life and trying to fulfill the lofty goal of restoring the former family farm to its rightful owner.

Turnpike Troubadours – “Come As You Are”

They didn’t even release a new album this year and yet the Turnpike Troubadours land a Song of the Year nomination for a second straight year. This one comes courtesy of The New Waltz series and co-written by Felker, the song is about a man admitting his reckless and drunken lifestyle is hurting him and everyone around him. In typical TT fashion, it’s quite biting.

Parker Millsap – “Heaven Sent”

Perhaps one of the most overlooked songs of the year from an overlooked artist. Parker Millsap delivered a fine album in The Very Last Day, but “Heaven Sent” is the shining jewel of the record. The song is from the point of view a gay man who has come out to his father and desperately seeks for him to love him like he did when he thought he was straight. It’s a very cutting and emotional song on a subject that’s not common in country music.

Sturgill Simpson – “Call to Arms”

Sturgill landed here two years ago with “Turtles All The Way Down” and it was the only award he didn’t win of the three he was nominated for. Once again he has three nominations and lands here with perhaps the most visceral song he’s ever recorded, “Call to Arms.” Fueled by anger and conviction, Simpson rips the systems of society from the war on drugs to actual war to the everyday bullshit in media. It was certainly an ear-catching exclamation point to A Sailor’s Guide to Earth.

Brandy Clark – “I Cried”

Brandy Clark released a pretty good album in Big Day in a Small Town. There were many good songs on that album, but it was her appearance on Southern Family that caught my eye the most. Heartbreak is what Clark excels at and “I Cry” fits her like a glove. The song is about watching a grandparent lose their significant other and the heart-wrenching pain one goes through as you not only watch someone go through it, but experience your own emotions. Clark nails it.

BJ Barham – “Unfortunate Kind”

Sticking with heart-wrenching, BJ Barham released the darkest and most depressing album I heard all year. But its brilliant at the same time. I thought reader Brett summed it up well a few days ago in the comments: “strong writing, but makes you wanna drink yourself to a comma.” Well this song is the center-piece of this fantastic tragedy, as Barham sings about a husband and wife falling in love, only for one day the wife to die tragically young and leaving the husband in pieces.

Karen Jonas – “The Garden”

I didn’t think Karen Jonas could top her fantastic debut Oklahoma Lottery, but she somehow did with Country Songs. The album is chockfull of great music, but the absolute standout to my ears was “The Garden.” The most dynamic song of her young career so far, it’s about a mysterious falling out of forbidden love amongst young lovers and the woman looking back on it years later. If the songwriting isn’t enough to impress you, the song goes even further with absolute killer instrumentation in the bridge you have to hear for yourself.

Lydia Loveless – “Real”

Lydia Loveless is anything but conventional and her newest album Real really proves this. With out any care in the world for genre lines, Loveless delivers honestly great music and deep lyrics. But it’s the album’s title track and final song that really delivers. It explores the mindset of a young woman and the helpless they can feel when it comes to love. It’s one of the most real love songs you’ll hear all year.

Kelsey Waldon – “All By Myself”

Kelsey Waldon really broke out this year with the release of her sophomore album I’ve Got A Way and was one of the best I heard all year. It’s pure country music throughout with even better lyrics to accompany it. It can be hard to pick the best song on an album like this one, but I found the one that really shined the most was “All By Myself.” It’s empowering anthem that’s lesson to the listener is you should follow the beat of your own drum, particularly women. You should only be yourself and nobody else’s.

Zac Brown – “Grandma’s Garden”

Who’d thunk Zac Brown of all people would land a nominee for Song of the Year? This comes a year after Zac Brown Band nearly walked away with Worst Song of the Year for the dreadful “Beautiful Drug.” I guess this speaks to the magic of Dave Cobb, as he brings out the absolute best in Brown here with the perfect song choice for him. It’s a tear-jerker of a song about a man who grew up helping his grandma with the garden and the life lessons she bestowed upon him. Eventually she passes away and the man realizes at her funeral what an impact she made on him. On an album full of great music, it’s speak to how great this song is.

Daniel Meade & The Flying Mules – “Leave Me to Bleed”

I would have to say that 2016 has probably been a pretty good year for Daniel Meade & The Flying Mules. They were not only chosen to open up for Sturgill Simpson on a European swing of his tour, but released a really good album too. Let Me off at the Bottom is probably one of the most under-talked albums of the year and it shouldn’t because this group is as good as almost any other in the genre. The group really excels at making fun and engaging music, but here they show they’re just as good at making darker music. This song is about a man finding his bride committed suicide right before they were to wed and being left to live with survivor’s guilt. It’s even darker than it sounds.

Breelan Angel – “Rhinestone World”

This song was one of the early song of the year contenders and I can confidently say it’s held up well. Breelan Angel is an up and comer in the Texas scene that immediately caught my attention upon hearing this song. We’ve had a lot of protest songs in country music the past few years, even ones concerning women in the genre. But “Rhinestone World” addresses the latter in the best way, calling out sexist perverts in the industry and the emphasis placed on looks over music when it comes to women. The song shouts out pioneering women like Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn who experienced the same. I think those legends would be awfully proud of a song like this one.

Miranda Lambert – “To Learn Her”

Miranda Lambert absolutely delivers in spades on her new double album The Weight of These Wings. As I said in my review, it’s the crown jewel of her career so far and that’s in big part to the raw and honest songwriting throughout it. There were many standouts you could pick on this album, but to me the one I’ll probably never forget and the best on the album is “To Learn Her.” First off it sounds like a classic country song with the thick pedal steel guitar. Then you get to the song itself, which is about how you can never truly learn someone just by asking how they are. There’s so much honesty in the lyrics and Lambert sings them with conviction.

Country Perspective’s 2016 Female Artist of the Year Nominees

Throughout 2016 we saw many talented female country and Americana artists put out great music. Determining who will win Country Perspective’s 2016 Female Artist of the Year award will be no easy feat. The main guidelines for determining who should win are the following: the quality of music (album/singles) they’ve released in 2016, the impact they have made on the genre over the course of the year and the amount of growth they made as an individual artist.

I will ultimately determine which artist will win, but I also want to hear from you the readers who is deserving of the award. Your comments will be considered for determining who wins and you could possibly sway who should be the winner. It’s going to be especially important for this one, as this is by far the most competitive awards category this year. I had a very tough time just narrowing it down to seven artists. So be sure to sound off in the comments! One thing about the comments too: Just putting the artist’s name in the comments does nothing to sway me. It turned into a giant vote off in this category last year and I don’t want that again. Give actual, objective reasons for why you think a certain artist should win, not because they’re your favorite. So without further ado the nominees for Country Perspective’s 2016 Female Artist of Year (in alphabetical order):

Dori Freeman

Dori Freeman

Without a doubt Dori Freeman turned in one of the most surprisingly great debuts in country music this year. Her self-titled album was a great listen from start to finish and for many is one of the best of the year. I’ll reiterate what I said in my review:

This debut album from Freeman blew me away upon the very first listen. In fact I had to play it several times over because only hearing it once wasn’t enough. Freeman’s vocals are crisp, pure and undeniably Appalachian. She was born to sing and very few possess her talent. The songwriting is top-notch and I couldn’t pick out a flaw in the instrumentation and production choices. This album excels and thrives in every area.

Karen Jonas

karen-jonas-country-songs

This is the second time Karen Jonas has been nominated for Female Artist of the Year, after she was nominated and won the award in 2014, splitting it with Lee Ann Womack. Her debut album Oklahoma Lottery was one of my top five country/Americana albums of 2014 and had me thrilled to hear what she would release next. Well this year we got what was next, her sophomore album Country Songs and it did not disappoint. She once again returned with compelling songwriting, pure country production and some new wrinkles that helped the album shine too. I’m shocked more people still aren’t familiar with her music, as she’s one of the best in the genre today.

Kelsey Waldon

Kelsey Waldon I've Got A Way

Just like Jonas above, Waldon impressed many with her debut album and many eagerly anticipated her sophomore album. It lived up to expectations, as I’ve Got A Way has gotten near universal praise from country critics and fans. There’s plenty of twangy steel guitar and brutally honest songwriting from start to finish on the album and once again proves Waldon is another talent every country fan should be familiar with.

It’s an amazing album that is 110% country goodness. You simply have to hear it for yourself. This album has no bells or whistles about it. It doesn’t rely on trends and clichés in its songwriting. This is three chords and the truth right here. The instrumentation and production couldn’t be more well-arranged on each song and Waldon just belts it on each track. The songwriting is forthright, honest and cutting.

Lori McKenna

lori-mckenna-bird-and-the-rifle

Lori McKenna has been around the country music industry for quite some time, but this year many who weren’t familiar with her work are now quite well aware of her. She’s spent most of her career as a songwriter, helping pen hits for some of the biggest names in the genre. Last year she helped write Little Big Town’s polarizing smash hit “Girl Crush” and this year she solely wrote Tim McGraw’s #1 song “Humble and Kind,” which went on to win CMA Song of the Year. But you shouldn’t also overlook the fact that McKenna released a pretty stunning album of her own in The Bird & The Rifle. Featuring her own rendition of “Humble and Kind,” the album has compelling songs on love, heartbreak and life. After the year McKenna has had I don’t think anyone is going to be overlooking her anymore and they shouldn’t because she’s a phenomenal talent.

Lydia Loveless

lydia-loveless-real

Out of all the nominees, Lydia Loveless definitely released the most polarizing album. That’s probably because it’s such a strong contrast to her previous material. Yet her new album Real is arguably her best work yet. Up until this point Loveless has solidly occupied a spot in the alt-country area, but in this new album it’s mixed with glam pop and rock to create a infectious sound. But don’t let this more polished and upbeat sound fool you. The songwriting from Loveless on Real is still just as hard-hitting and deep as her previous material. While it’s fair to argue she’s not really country anymore, she always belong more in the Americana area anyway. She’s unpredictably honest and that makes for some damn fine music.

Margo Price

Margo Price Midwest Farmer's Daughter

Margo Price has been one of the most critically-buzzed country artists in 2016 hands-down. I frequent many different music forums and music critic areas and her name constantly comes up when not just discussing the best country albums of the year, but best albums period. While Midwest Farmer’s Daughter was her debut album, she’s certainly isn’t new and has been around country music for a while. It’s just now people are finally starting to take notice, as she performed on Saturday Night Live earlier this year, as well as performing in other high-profile spots. The old school, honest, honky tonk style of her music is easily appealing to music fans and she’s bound to get even bigger with the release of her next album (think Sturgill Simpson/Kacey Musgraves-like breakout). Regardless her debut album is one many will remember for a while.

Miranda Lambert

miranda-lambert-the-weight-of-these-wings

When I started this blog I knew one day Miranda Lambert would find her way onto my year-end award lists. If you asked me after her last album Platinum though, I would have been pretty skeptical her next release would be the one because I was not a fan of that album. But then Lambert went through a high-profile divorce and from all accounts has seem to go through an emotional hell the last couple of years. This emotion though would fuel her new album The Weight of These Wings and it resulted in some of the best music of her entire career. She recruited some of the best songwriters in country today to help and she did some fine writing herself too. It’s the most raw and emotional she’s ever produced and finally in my eyes she’s reaching her full potential after years of flirting with it. She’s reached a creative apex and has grown a lot with this album. In addition, while her new album wasn’t quite album of the year material, she did take a big part in Country Perspective’s 2016 Album of the Year contender Southern Family, performing one of the best songs on the album “Sweet By and By.”