Country Perspective’s 2014 Male Artist of the Year Winner

When determining who should win an artist of the year award, one of the biggest aspects I consider is the impact this artist has made on their genre. Did this artist’s music change the way people look at and listen to music? Well when looking at Country Perspective’s nominees for Best Male Artist of 2014, there was one artist that stood head and shoulders above his competitors. Derek and myself found this to be a pretty easy choice. The winner of Country Perspective’s Best Male Artist of 2014 award is Sturgill Simpson.

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Simpson of course just won our Album of the Year award with his critically-acclaimed 2014 release Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. Now most people knew from the first listen that this album was fantastic. What nobody saw coming was how this album transformed Sturgill from unknown to one of the most well-known independent artists in country music. This album still sits high on the iTunes country albums chart. It’s won numerous awards from numerous outlets and entities. Not just country outlets either, but general music outlets that appreciated the great quality of this album. He’s of course performed on all of the major late night talk shows. But this isn’t just about accolades and television shows.

Beyond these accolades Simpson has caught the eyes of other country artists, specifically mainstream country artists. Stars like Jake Owen, Dierks Bentley and Keith Urban have all praised Simpson and his music. They would probably love to make the music Simpson makes, but they can’t because it wouldn’t be marketable enough for major labels and sponsors. Not to mention Simpson’s music subject matter would be considered by the soccer moms and other PC types to be too “controversial” (because every song is supposed to be happy and inoffensive). While they can’t make the music Simpson makes, I believe it has inspired some of them to dig deeper.

Jake Owen I think has certainly been influenced because he’s really been pushing his new serious single “What We Ain’t Got,” which was good enough to be nominated for Country Perspective’s Best Country Song of 2014 award. Dierks Bentley has always had a great balance between serious and fun songs of course. If you look across mainstream country music right now, yes there is still a lot of crap, but I think things have definitely improved. I think great albums in the independent scene like Sturgill’s have undoubtedly had a hand in making this improvement happen. The dialogue about improving country music and going back to a traditional sound has increased a lot in the latter half of 2014.

Sturgill Simpson says he doesn’t want to be anointed the savior of country music and I don’t blame him. Who wants that pressure? He isn’t the savior of country music either. You know what I would call him? A trailblazer. Simpson is living proof that if you are talented and dedicated enough to do what you truly want in life, people will pay attention. He’s an inspiration to aspiring young country artists everywhere. Not only has he inspired potential artists, but the fans. It’s amazing the amount of fans he has accumulated over 2014, many of them new. Simpson has reinvigorated disenfranchised country fans to believe in the genre again. It has made a lot of people realize they can’t rely on radio for their country music.

Simpson alone won’t save country music. But he has clearly planted the seeds to a potential revolution in the genre. He could be one of the pieces to bringing quality back to country music. And for that Simpson is clearly worthy of being named Country Perspective’s Best Male Artist of 2014.

 

 

Country Perspective’s 2014 Album of the Year Winner

From the very first listen, I knew this album was something special. I remember listening to it over and over the day I got it. Critics everywhere have heaped praise upon it. You the readers overwhelmingly picked this album as the best of the year. Derek and myself agreed that this album was the best. The very first winner of Country Perspective’s Album of the Year award is Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music.

There were a lot of great country albums throughout 2014 and yet none of them could top Sturgill’s album. I knew this was the album to beat after listening to it. There were a couple I thought were close to Sturgill’s, but they just weren’t quite as great as Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. This album established itself as unique and different from the rest with its first song, “Turtles All The Way Down.” I don’t know of another country artist who sings about reptile aliens made of light and Buddah in the same song. This song challenges religions and pushes the boundaries in terms of subject matter in country songs, yet the whole theme of it is love. Really the whole album centers around the concept of love.

The album explores these variety of subjects and goes into a psychedelic journey at times, yet most of the songs on this album sound like something from outlaw days of country music. “Long White Line” and “Life of Sin” in particular cause some listeners to liken Sturgill to Waylon Jennings, a comparison Sturgill is getting tired of hearing about. I don’t hear it and I think Sturgill is simply Sturgill. One of the biggest surprises of the album is Simpson covering When In Rome’s new wave pop song, “The Promise.” Only a talented artist like Simpson could take a cheesy love song like this and make it sound like a moving love ballad.

 

Of course the most ear-catching moment in this album is at the end, when the song “Just Let Go” begins. It’s a song about letting go of your ego and other bad traits, living life to the fullest. It’s also the prelude to the psychedelic journey of “It Ain’t All Flowers.” This song absolutely pushed the envelope on the traditional sound of country music and really all of the music Simpson has released up to this point. This unique sound is just brilliant. Mainstream country music says they’re pushing the boundaries and evolving country music by including rap and auto-tune in their songs, but that’s bullshit of course. “It Ain’t All Flowers” is a real example of pushing the boundaries of country music and evolving it into a new, unique sound. This is the kind of stuff country music needs.

Over the course of 2014 people slowly, but steadily took notice of Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. The album peaked at #11 on Billboard Hot Country chart, despite no label or radio pushes. As I type this out the album is in the top ten of iTunes country albums chart, right next to Luke Bryan and Eric Church. That’s absolutely insane for an artist that was hardly known at this time last year. Yes he grabbed critics’ attentions and dedicated country music fans’ attentions with his debut album High Top Mountain (also a great album), but he wasn’t getting mainstream media attention. Now he’s done interviews with the likes of New York Times and Grantland. He’s played on Conan, Letterman and The Tonight Show. He went on Joe Rogan’s podcast and gained a lot of new fans. He won the Americana Award for New Artist of the Year. He’s been nominated for a Grammy for Best Americana Album of the Year. All the while just making the music he loves.

2014 was truly the year of Sturgill Simpson. The sky is the limit for him now. But I know all of this recognition doesn’t matter to him. He just wants to do what he loves and provide for his family. That’s pretty damn cool. I think the best thing I heard about Simpson and this album was this quote from Simpson in an interview with American Songwriter:

“The last year, every show all I heard from the fans is ‘Man, I don’t even really like country music, but I love what you guys are doing.’ To me, nothing tells me that we’re achieving our goal more than hearing somebody say that. There’s a lot of people out there who hate country, especially younger people, because they’ve never actually heard what I and many people call country.”

This quote has stuck with me. This quote sums up why Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music is not only the best country album of 2014, but one of the best albums across all of music.

Country Perspective’s 2014 Album of the Year Nominees

Over the course of 2014 we have seen all kinds of great country music. We’ve had debut albums that have surprised everyone and comeback albums that reminded everyone they still got it. This was not only the case across the entire country music world, but in Country Perspective’s nominees for 2014 Album of the Year. The amount of diversity in terms of sound, artist, nationalities, and concepts gives everyone something they can like. Some might say 2014 was a “down” year for country music compared to 2013, but I saw plenty of great music to refute this notion. And today I will highlight what we at Country Perspective to believe the best of the best.

Derek and myself will both ultimately decide which album will win Country Perspective’s top award. But we’re not the only ones deciding. We encourage feedback from you the readers! Your comments and suggestions will most certainly influence who wins not only this award, but all the year-end awards here at Country Perspective.

One more thing: In order for an album to be eligible for Album of the Year, it must have received a perfect 10/10 rating in its review. No other albums are considered. Only the best of the best get a shot. I just wanted to point this out so everyone knows why a certain album did not get nominated. So without further ado: the nominees! (listed in alphabetical order)

First Aid Kit – Stay Gold

Swedish sisters Johanna and Anna Söderberg delivered one of the most underrated albums of 2014. Their blending of folk, country and pop elements made for a pretty dynamic album. They not only show off their stunning harmonies, but their ability to put the right amount of emotion behind each lyric. To me Stay Gold was the coming out party for this duo and I only hope more people in America take notice of their talent.

Every once in a while when listening to music, you’ll get blindsided from something out of left field. This is music that is so good or bad that it just takes your breath away when it hits your ears. Today’s album is so damn good I couldn’t help but smile the entire time I listened to it. There is no use in beating around the bush. First Aid Kit’s new album Stay Gold is absolutely phenomenal. The Swedish sister duo of Johanna and Klara Söderberg are like a fresh breath of air when hearing them harmonize together. It’s so pure and raw. Throw in spot-on instrumentation and you got one hell of an album. Click here for the full review.

Karen Jonas – Oklahoma Lottery

Once again in 2014 female country artists put out better music than male country artists. One of the many great female artists to emerge in 2014 is Virginia country artist Karen Jonas. Her debut album Oklahoma Lottery is one of the best debut albums I have ever heard from an artist. Her songwriting is wise beyond her years. Her raw and honest style on the album is refreshing and let’s the music do the talking.

When it comes to Oklahoma Lottery though, I just can’t find anything wrong. I mean if you’re really nitpicking you could say it’s too raw at times, but I think the rawness adds another layer to the album. Really it enhances it and makes the more emotional songs stand out. I find it very hard for anyone who likes traditional country music to not like this album. Karen Jonas is truly breaking out with this album and I am very eager to hear her next album. You can’t do much better for a debut album. Expect to see Jonas’ name a lot in Country Perspective’s year-end awards list of nominees. Oklahoma Lottery comes with my highest recommendation. Click here for the full review.

Lucette – Black Is The Color

Everything artist Dave Cobb touches turns to gold. The young Canadian country artist tapping Cobb to be her producer on her first album was a great choice. Ditching the Nashville scene and going independent to make the music she wants to make was an even better choice. If you like dark and gothic country music, this is for you.

You don’t come across too many artists that have fantastic debut album. Many are still finding themselves and the kind of music they want to make, but Lucette seems to already know what she wants. With her talent and vision the sky is the limit in terms of the success she can have in her career. This is an artist that every true country fan needs to keep an eye on and her album Black Is The Color is something everyone should listen to. It’s right on par with Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and will definitely have an excellent chance of being Country Perspective’s Best Country Album of 2014. Click here for the full review.

Old Crow Medicine Show – Remedy

When Willie Watson left the group, many people said this band wasn’t the same and Remedy was one of their worst albums ever. To them I say bullshit. Even people who gave this album a good chance sort of dismissed this as a typical O.C.M.S album. You should never dismiss great music like this. While there are several songs showing off the fun side of the band, it’s their deeper and more somber songs that impress me like “The Warden” and “Dearly Departed Friend.”

Remedy has everything you want in an album. There’s a song everyone can listen to and connect with. Or just listen to and have a good time. Without a doubt, this is one of the top candidates for Country Perspective’s Album of the Year. Click here for the full review.

Shovels & Rope – Swimmin’ Time

Swimmin’ Time is one of the frontrunners to win Album of the Year and for good reason. This is damn fine music. Along with Lucette’s album I mentioned above, this is the other darkest country album in 2014. Just listen to “Ohio” and “Evil.” You’ll get the point. If you’re looking for a new duo to fill the void of the Civil Wars, I can’t think of a better choice than Shovels & Rope.

My only regret with Shovels & Rope is that I didn’t listen to their music sooner. This is a pair of musicians that simply understand what country music is all about. It’s not about partying and drinking beers on a tailgates nor driving on a dirt road. It’s about telling a story that the everyday person can relate to and feel as they listen. This is a group that has so many influences from other genres that you honesty can’t even place a label on them. Click here for the full review.

Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

You may have heard about this guy and his new album. He’s only been making the rounds on late night talk show circuits and touring with the Zac Brown Band. If you had to pick one artist that has been the critical darling of country music critics, you would have to pick Sturgill Simpson. His 2013 debut album High Top Mountain was great. His follow up album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music is even better.

I never even heard of Sturgill Simpson at this time last year and now he’s up there on the charts with the likes of Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line. I guess people still love traditional country music after all. This album has set the bar for all country albums in 2014. If you love traditional country music or just great music in general, go buy this album right now. Click here for the full review.

Sunny Sweeney – Provoked

Sweeney absolutely nails it with Provoked. The songwriting is well done and the instrumentation is flawless. She went back to her Red Dirt Texas roots, but also gave it a modern flavor. It’s traditional country music for sure. Many country artists after losing major record deals or mainstream relevance try too hard to win their old appeal back from Music Row or the mainstream country audience instead of just being themselves and trying to produce the best country music possible. Whoever decided to cut Sweeney loose from her major label deal is looking like a real idiot after hearing this album from Sweeney. Women are struggling to make it onto country music radio and Sweeney is a prime candidate to fill this gaping void. Sunny Sweeney’s Provoked is one of the best country albums of 2014 and is a front-runner for Country Perspective’s Album of the Year. If you haven’t listened to this album yet and you love real country music, go check this out now. Click here for the full review.

Tami Neilson – Dynamite!

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The New Zealand country artist takes listeners on a trip back to the old days of country music. It’s certainly an older style, but Neilson makes it feel fresh and new. She may just have the best vocals among female artists in country music. You may think this is a little extreme, but think about it. Tell me I’m wrong. You can’t.

I’m glad I was able to review Tami Neilson’s Dynamite! before the posting of nominees for year-end awards here at Country Perspective because she will certainly be considered in a number of categories. It would have been criminal not to include her among the best of country music in 2014. This album is simply phenomenal and I will reiterate this again: go buy and listen to this album. Click here for the full review.

The Secret Sisters – Put Your Needle Down

While Sweden is home to the sister duo of First Aid Kit, America boasts it’s own dynamic country sister duo in Laura and Lydia Rogers of The Secret Sisters. As Derek said in his review of the album:

Fitting The Secret Sisters into one genre of music is an impossible task. Their musical influences are vast, coming from an array of artists and decades. You may be quick to box them in as traditional country; after all, many of the songs on their debut record four years ago are covers of country greats like George Jones, Hank Williams, Bill Monroe and Buck Owens. However, their sophomore effort, Put Your Needle Down, shatters that little glass box and shows the sisters, Laura and Lydia Rogers, playing rock music, a little blues, Motown, 1950s style ballads alongside their country roots. The sisters also focused their efforts for this album on their original material, co-writing 9 of the 12 tracks, with writers such as Dan Wilson, Gordie Sampson, Brandi Carlile and they finished an incomplete song from Bob Dylan. Under producer T Bone Burnett, The Secret Sisters deliver a brilliant album to their fans. Click here for the full review.

Be sure to sound off in the comments below! What album should win Country Perspective’s 2014 Album of the Year?

Video: Sturgill Simpson’s “The Promise”

Today on NPR Music, Sturgill Simpson debuted the music video for his cover of the 80s minor hit from When In Rome, “The Promise.” Simpson took a cheesy 80s soft rock song and made it a touching love ballad. It was one of the many great songs on his new album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. To date it’s the only album I’ve given a 10/10 review to on Country Perspective. It’s also the current front-runner for Country Perspective’s Country Album of the Year. Check out the video for “The Promise” below:

Get Sturgill Simpson’s “Turtles All The Way Down” for Free on Google Play

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Every month Google Play has an “Antenna Sampler” of music from upcoming and independent artists from a variety of different genres. This month Sturgill Simpson’s lead single from his new album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, “Turtles All The Way Down,” is one of the 11 free songs offered by Google Play. If for some reason you haven’t gotten his new album or heard his music, this is a great opportunity to hear and purchase a Sturgill Simpson song for free.

To get this song for free, click here to get it on Google Play. And you can check out my review of Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and “Turtles All the Way Down,” click here.

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