We have reached the end of 2014 and over the course of the year we’ve reviewed a lot of great country music. So in case you just found the site or don’t remember all of the great country albums we’ve reviewed, you’re in luck. Here are the links to every album we rated an 8/10 or higher over the course of the year. These are the albums we give a solid recommendation or more for you to listen to. Keep in mind this site started in May, so we won’t have every single great album. For example we never got around to reviewing Dierks Bentley’s album or Don Williams’ album, two albums that would have definitely made this list. So if there are albums missing that you love, they were most likely not reviewed. Others of course may have not been rated high enough to make it. I’m also including our album of the year candidates in case you missed those too. One more thing: only albums are included, no EPs. So without further ado here are Country Perspective’s most recommended albums of 2014.
Classic rock artists having current country stars cover their hits seems to be a new trend. This all really began, if memory serves me correctly, when Lionel Richie put out an album of current country artists covering his biggest hits. It went over great and Richie has even said he has thought about doing another album like that one. This year alone we’ve had a tribute album to The Allman Brothers, a terrible Mötley Crüe tribute album and mainstream country artists even attempted to cover the great Merle Haggard’s greatest songs. Now we have The Doobie Brothers doing that exact same thing. Did you really think The Doobie Brothers just showed up at 2014 CMA Awards for nothing? All about business and promotion, baby. Personally I enjoyed their performances, although I thought Jennifer Nettles brought them down a little with her terrible dancing. Nevertheless, let’s go through another classic rock tribute album done by mainstream country artists. It can’t be as bad as the Mötley Crüe one, right?
The Best Songs on the Album
Well I’ll tell you right up front that this is better than the Crüe tribute album, but that isn’t saying much. There are some definite bright spots on this album. The Zac Brown Band fits perfectly with “Black Water.” Southern fried country is Zac Brown Band, so of course they do great with a southern roots rock song. Keep in mind this review is slightly different from normal reviews because I’m judging more of how the artist covers the song and the choices made by production rather than the song itself. The signifier of a great cover to me is if it does justice to the integrity of the song and yet makes it feel fresh. The Zac Brown Band nails both of these aspects. They already did justice to their cover of The Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider” earlier this year with Vince Gill and they deliver again with this Doobie Brothers cover.
The choice of Sara Evans for “What a Fool Believes” is a fantastic choice. It’s higher pitched and perfectly suits a dynamic female voice. This song is a great reminder of how great Evans’ vocals are and how I wish she was still on radio. It’s evident The Doobie Brothers and Evans have good chemistry, making for a great cover. You may not like this song and I understand that completely because it could get annoying after several plays. But give credit to Evans doing a grade A job with this cover. You’ll never believe who else does a great job on this album: Tyler Farr. He covers “Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me)” and hits a home run. The heavy rock influence suits Farr’s rough voice and style, which makes for a great cover. Farr makes it his own and still pays homage to the sound of the song. He stands out and shines beside The Doobie Brothers. His vocal range is stretched a little, but he makes it work. I want to see more of this Farr and never again want to see the “Redneck Crazy” version of Farr.
“You Belong to Me” is covered by an artist I had never heard of before. Amanda Sudano Ramirez covers this song and does a fantastic job. She is one half of the indie duo Johnnyswim and is the daughter of the late “Queen of Disco,” Donna Summer. While her inclusion on an album of country artists is interesting since she’s more of a folk/blues singer, she really stands out. Her voice is great and I want to hear more of her music personally. Vince Gill plays guitar on this song and does phenomenal as always. The other song that stood out to me is Charlie Worsham covering “Nobody.” There’s a separate introduction to this track, giving it a special feel and for good reason Charlie Worsham does a great job with The Doobie Brothers on this song and it’s great to see an underrated artist like Worsham get this special attention. This is how a cover should be done and it’s a good way to close the album.
The Worst Songs on the Album
While there were these bright moments, there were also some downright puzzling moments. Take for instance “Long Train Runnin’.” The choice of Toby Keith for this song is at best puzzling. Really it’s a bad choice. This song is another higher pitched song that suits a female artist more so than a male artist, especially a male artist like Keith who doesn’t have dynamic vocals. I would have picked Carrie Underwood to cover this song. Keith just sounds so out-of-place and is stretching his vocals too far at times. Huey Lewis sounds great on the harmonica at least.
There’s one point in this album where there are three straight songs where I have the same criticism with each of them. When covering a song with the original artist it’s important not to get buried by the original artist. You should shine along side them and make the song sound new. Love & Theft does not do this on “Takin’ It to the Streets.” Casey James does not do this on “Jesus Is Just Alright” and Brad Paisley doesn’t do it on “Rockin’ Down the Highway.” It feels like they’re just in the background and contribute absolutely nothing to the song. They are all forgettable covers and you won’t remember them tomorrow.
This is all leads to perhaps the most puzzling choice of artist on the entire album. I would say “South City Midnight Lady” is the most serious toned song on the album. Who do they pick to cover it? Jerrod Niemann, the same artist who put out a song called “Donkey” and rapped alongside Pitbull earlier this year. This is a stupid choice, despite the fact Niemann does okay with the song. Just like those three songs above though, it’s not very memorable. The performance is dry and boring.
The Rest of the Album
Blake Shelton and Hunter Hayes cover “Listen to the Music.” This is an interesting duo to cover this song. Then again they decided to take a more pop country approach with this upbeat and memorable song, so it makes sense to put Blake and Hayes on this song. It was also a good move to put Hayes just on guitar and not have him sing. It would’ve been funny hearing him attempt to cover this song. The original is still better, but this isn’t a bad cover. It’s just a little too generic for my taste. Chris Young covers the upbeat “China Grove.” Even though I find Young’s voice to sound a little generic at times, I think he does a solid job covering the song. It seems to fit his comfort zone just right and Young doesn’t sound like he’s out of place at any point. He also reminds everyone that he has the chops to sing more dynamic songs and not the boring pop country he has put out recently.
This is pretty much what I expected out of The Doobie Brothers’ Southbound album. There are some good moments, bad moments and boring moments. Most of the time cover albums prove to be pretty pointless from a quality and artistic standpoint. This is nothing but a quick cash grab. If I want to hear these songs I’ll go listen to the original versions, not bastardized versions with Toby Keith or Love & Theft. Cover albums work in when the artists actually collaborate together to create great, new versions of the song. The most recent example of a good cover album would be Mary Sarah’s Bridges earlier this year. You could tell Sarah actually spent a good amount of time with these artists and it shined through in the final product. Other than Bridges, I would say this is the best cover/tribute album I’ve seen put out by mainstream country music this year. Not a high bar to hurdle, but there was still a few covers worth listening to on Southland. I would recommend this album only if you’re a hardcore Doobie Brothers’ fan or if you like mediocre cover albums.
(Note: Only songs released in July 2014 are eligible)
In June I predicted July would be a great month for country music. Did it live up to expectations? Not only did it live up to expectations, but it exceeded them. There were so many great country songs released in July that I could have probably made a top 25 list. So at the end of this I will list some honorable mentions that deserve recognition. Now let’s break down Country Perspective’s Top Ten Country Songs of July 2014.
Coming in at #1 is a song from the very first album I looked at in July. Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Sweet Amarillo” is not only the #1 song of July, but one of the front-runners for Country Perspective’s Best Song of 2014 award. This song is in the same vein as “Wagon Wheel,” a country song that is fun to listen to and has meaning behind it. OCMS once again took a Bob Dylan penned song and created magic. The band not only took my top spot, but also the #2 spot with “Mean Enough World.” It’s refreshing to hear a song that calls out all the hatred in today’s world. This song was only a tick below “Sweet Amarillo.” Coming in at #3 is the Mary Sarah and Vince Gill duet of “Go Rest High on That Mountain.” While Sarah couldn’t match the original version of this iconic song, she shined right alongside the always great Vince Gill. Old Crow Medicine Show once again comes in at #4 on the countdown with “Dearly Departed Friend,” a touching song about losing a close friend. If you haven’t figured it out by now, Old Crow Medicine Show’s new album Remedy is fantastic and if you haven’t done so yet, go check it out. Rounding out the top five is BlackHawk’s “Baby, The Rain Must Fall,” the standout song from their solid comeback album.
Sixth on the countdown is Dwight Yoakam’s “Who’ll Stop The Rain,” his cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s #1 hit. Based on this song, I’m anxious to hear Yoakam’s new album later this year. At #7 is Dean Miller’s “‘Til You Stop Getting Up.” It’s a great song about bouncing back from failure and keeping your head up. This is followed by Mary Sarah & Dolly Parton’s duet of “Jolene.” Their voices mesh together so well in this song and I wouldn’t mind hearing another duet from these two. Coming in at #9 is another appearance by BlackHawk with “Heart with a View.” It’s a tender, heartbreak song where the band’s signature harmonies shine. Rounding out the top ten list is the feel good pop country song, Kristian Bush’s “Trailer Hitch.” The song has a great message and I’m looking forward to hearing more from Bush.
What will August be like for country music? It’s a wildcard month based on what’s set to be released. Sunny Sweeney’s new album is being released in the first week (I’m expecting good things), but later in the month is Chase Rice’s new album (I’m dreading this review). There’s also Brad Paisley’s new album, which is a giant question mark. Just enjoy this July playlist for now because August might be rough for new country music.
Maddie & Tae – “Girl In A Country Song” – This is the big omission everyone notices when first looking at this list. It was the first song to miss the cut and it came down to this song and “Trailer Hitch.” The latter won out because it was simply a better overall song. “Girl In A Country Song” has a great message behind it and is a song I can enjoy. But what hurts it from being great is the questionable instrumentation used in the song. It’s a little too corporate produced for my taste.
Florida Georgia Line – “Dirt” – This is the other big omission. While it was still by far the duo’s best song they’ve ever released, it was also hurt by being too corporate produced. There’s also a few questionable lines that I don’t agree with. Still it’s a solid song that deserves numerous plays on the radio and galaxies better than “This is How We Roll.”
Old Crow Medicine Show – “The Warden” & “Shit Creek” – The three song limit per artist rule prevented these songs from having a crack at the top ten.
Mary Sarah & Merle Haggard – “The Fightin’ Side of Me” – The most underrated and ballsy song from Sarah’s album.
Dean Miller – “River Across My Heart” – Stiff competition prevented this song from making the list.
Corb Lund – “Truth Comes Out” – See reason above.
In case you missed any of Country Perspective’s review from the past week, you can catch up right here. Take a look at the music we looked at this past week:
Single Review – Maddie & Tae’s “Girl In A Country Song” – Grade: 8/10
Album Review – Mary Sarah’s Bridges – Grade: 8.5/10
Single Review – Derek Anthony’s “Give It To Me Strait” – Grade: 7.5/10
Album Review – Dean Miller’s ‘Til You Stop Getting Up – Grade: 8/10
If you have any suggestions on what I should review next or any suggestions for the site, let me know in the comments section below. You can also follow me on Twitter @realcountryview and send suggestions to me on there too.
Have a great Sunday!
Mary Sarah is truly an anomaly in today’s world of country music. It’s not everyday you see a 19-year-old female singing traditional country music with some of the biggest icons of the genre. Then again Sarah is not your normal teenager. She loves classic country music and her new album Bridges demonstrates this. Sarah covers classic songs with country music legends such as Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard throughout the album. And for some reason Big & Rich is also on the album (?). Anyway let’s take a look at what the up and comer does with some of the biggest names of the genre.
Best Songs on the Album
Bridges kicks off with a bang. Sarah duets with Dolly covering her hit song “Jolene.” It’s an excellent song choice because women of all ages can connect with this song. Dolly and Sarah’s voices go together perfectly too. Her duet with the late great Ray Price, “Heartaches By The Number” was the first single off of this album. I already named it one of the best songs of 2014 so far. Price sounds wonderful in one of the last songs he ever recorded. I’m surprised by how well Sarah and Price were together. Her duets with Willie on “Crazy” and Ronnie Milsap on “What A Difference You’ve Made In My Life” showcase how well Sarah can pull off ballads. Sarah can sing right beside a legend in Willie and not sound out-of-place at all. I love the inclusion of Milsap on the album because more people need to know how great of an artist he is.
The choice of covering “The Fightin’ Side of Me” with Merle is an interesting one. I thought it wouldn’t work before I listened to it, but I came away impressed after hearing it. She gets even bolder when choosing to cover Vince Gill’s biggest hit “Go Rest High On That Mountain.” If I had to make a list of songs that shouldn’t be attempted to be covered, this song would make the list. It’s such a difficult song that’s full of emotion. But Sarah does an admirable job. Her vocals are great on every song, but this is when her vocals really stood out to me. It obviously isn’t as good as the original, but it’s probably the best cover I have ever heard of it. And it’s always a pleasure to hear Vince Gill. Another song that stands out to me is her duet with Lynn Anderson on “Rose Garden.” This cover will get overlooked, but it shouldn’t be. Not only does this song fit Mary Sarah to a T, but her voice and Anderson’s mesh great together. I wouldn’t mind hearing another duet from these two.
Worst Songs on the Album
There are a few puzzling song choices to me on the album. Her duet with Neil Sedaka on “Where The Boys Are” and Freddy Powers on “All I Want to Do is Sing My Song” are a little dated I think for Sarah. Don’t get me wrong, the vocals are great on both. But a young artist like Sarah feels out-of-place covering these songs. The biggest question on the album is without a doubt the presence of Big & Rich. They stick out like a sore thumb compared to the rest of the lineup on Bridges. I also feel the song choice of “My Great Escape” is a mistake. It’s too boring and dry for a dynamic voice like Sarah’s. I think a better choice would’ve been “Lost In This Moment.” It’s a memorable song and would’ve once again showcased how great Sarah is with love ballads.
The Rest of the Album
The ultimate clash of styles happens when Sarah and Tanya Tucker cover “Texas (When I Die).” Tucker has a gritty, textured voice while Sarah’s is clean and high. While these clash of styles feel off at times, I feel like it works enough to make the cover sound good. I certainly appreciate both styles of their voices. Her duet with the Oak Ridge Boys on “Dream On” is solid all-around, but again feels like a clash of styles. But I can still enjoy it. The album closes out with Mary Sarah covering the Brenda Lee hit song “I’m Sorry.” It’s another dated song choice by Sarah, but I feel like she made it her own and it sounds believable enough coming from a 19-year-old artist.
Bridges high points are pretty high and the low points are a little disappointing. Nevertheless, if you’ve never heard Mary Sarah sing before you can take at least one thing away from this album. Her voice is pretty damn great. She can sing pretty much anything you throw at her. Sarah’s voice is as dynamic as Carrie Underwood’s voice. Not too many people are blessed with this type of talent. I hope unlike Underwood that she sticks to making traditional country music because I fear if she went to a big label that she would be turned into a Taylor Swift-type singing pop country songs. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing for Sarah, but her voice could be a harbinger of traditional country music to the younger generation. One of the reasons she made this album was for that very reason. She said the following to The Tennesseean in an interview:
“This project isn’t just about me. It’s about the legends and bringing this to a newer generation,” she said. “I didn’t wanna put my face on there. I didn’t wanna do anything cheesy.”
Sarah said she’s a big fan of country contemporaries like Underwood, Kacey Musgraves and Miranda Lambert, as well as Katy Perry and other pop stars. She said she hopes people her age will discover some traditional country music by listening to her album.
“I had friends all the time in high school tell me, ‘Who is that? Who is Merle Haggard? Who is Willie Nelson?’” recalled Sarah, who graduated last year. “And I’m sitting there like, ‘Oh my gosh, these people are legends and you don’t even know who they are.’”
Her fighting spirit for traditional country music, this album and her amazing voice has made a fan in me. I think this is a good introduction for Sarah to the country music masses and I’m looking forward to hearing original songs from Mary Sarah in the future.