Country Perspective’s Top 10 Albums of 2019

Back in the day, Country Perspective would spend around a month doing end of the year posts, recognizing the best and worst across several categories. While it was fun in a way, it was also quite tiring. And I imagine it had to be quite tiring for the reader too. After all I imagine you read several other music blogs and year-end posts. Speaking also as a reader of many blogs, it gets old after reading so many of these posts when really these things have two major points: 1) Giving proper recognition to the absolute best in music and 2) Giving you the listener a potential new album/artist to listen to. Plus, it’s fun to compare lists.

So with my lack of interest in doing so many year end posts and this blog having it’s major focus on albums, this is going to be the only best of 2019 post, the best albums of the year. It was a pretty good year for albums, as there were so many good ones across multiple genres. While there were some disappointments that stood out for me, pleasant new surprises more than made up for them (you’ll see some of them made the top 10 even). While it certainly didn’t touch the best years of this decade (hello 2014), 2019 is one of the better years of music in the 2010s (I’ll be doing my best of the decade posts in 2020).

But before I get to my top ten albums of 2019, I want to list some honorable mentions that weren’t quite good enough for the top ten, but still good albums that I recommend you check out…

Honorable Mentions

Country Perspective’s Top 10 Albums of 2019

10. Benny The Butcher – The Plugs I Met

Dirty, grimy and nasty is how I would describe the sounds and lyrics of this album. And I love it! The entire Griselda hip-hop collective is fantastic and rightly getting their due now that they’re signed to Eminem’s Shady Records (check out the album they dropped in November). But the star is undoubtedly Benny The Butcher and this album is the proof. All of his work is great, but this is an excellent entry point. When the king of coke rap in Pusha T endorses your coke rap (dropping a great feature on this album too), well you know you’re doing something right.

9. Cody Jinks – The Wanting

While I wouldn’t put the The Wanting as Cody Jinks’ best work, it’s certainly close and features maybe the most badass album cover of 2019. This album offers deep introspection on life, passion and love. The instrumentation is varied, going from slow ballads to rockers. And he did this all while dropping another album the week before that just missed this list. Jinks is undoubtedly one of the hardest working artists in music today and I was impressed by what he accomplished in dropping two great albums within a week of each other. If you’re someone looking to get into country music, Jinks is one of the first you should check out.

8. Dee White – Southern Gentleman

This album was released all the way back in January, but you should not forget about it. Dee White proves himself to be one of the most promising new country artists to watch with his debut album Southern Gentleman. White’s voice evokes memories of Roy Orbison and George Jones and he’s only 19-years-old. And while he feels like a classic artist in every sense, his lyrics are still modern. There are several great storytelling moments on this album and White even holds his own with fantastic vocalists like Ashley McBryde and Alison Krauss. I can’t wait to hear more from Dee White.

7. Tyler Childers – Country Squire

Country Squire is an incredible album and with its perfectly short run time, you’ll find yourself replaying it again and again. While some were disappointed by this follow-up to Purgatory, I was instantly impressed with this album. What’s great is these are old songs that have been played by Childers live for years and with live music being what pays the bills for artists, it only makes sense to record these songs. While we’re still due for Tyler Childers’ absolute best work, this is a pretty damn good album to play while we wait for it.

6. Michaela Anne – Desert Dove

Michaela Anne delivers an amazing album in Desert Dove. It’s full of smooth and breezy songs that only take a couple of listens to truly enjoy. Like my good friend and fellow music writer Zackary Kephart says, this album is quite similar to Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour and that was my top album of 2018. So if you enjoyed that album, this is a must-listen. This also feels like Anne’s breakout moment, as she finds the sound and themes she needed to truly show her full potential and prove herself as an artist that should be on your radar if you love country music or just great music in general.

5. Kishi Bash – Omoiyari

Omoiyari is a wonderful album full of beautiful lyrics and sounds that cover an important topic in American history that more people show know about. Why Kishi Bashi is not more covered by music journalists I’ll never know, but this music reviewer is telling you that you need to check him out. He’s a multi-instrumentalist who writes his own lyrics and can cover a wide variety of sounds so damn well. On this album he masters the chamber pop/orchestral pop sound while giving you an informative history lesson too. As a music nerd and history nerd, it’s a double win!

4. Mike and The Moonpies – Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold

So I would be remiss if I didn’t point that my top four is clearly ahead of the rest, being that they all received 10/10 ratings, with each at one point or another getting consideration for Country Perspective’s 2019 Album of the Year. And out of all them, this was my biggest surprise of 2019. Mike and the Moonpies deliver something special with Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold. It’s fantastic in both sound and songwriting. The group clearly left their comfort zone. It honors the tried and true, while delivering something that feels new too. This is a band for me that went from releasing two albums I couldn’t get into at all to releasing an album that I can’t find a single fault in.

3. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana 

I found hip-hop in 2019 to be pretty disappointing. But I never find the work of Freddie Gibbs and producer Madlib to be disappointing, as this duo once again delivers big with Bandana. After delivering a classic in Piñata, they manage to nearly match it, which absolutely blows my mind. Gibbs raps his ass off on this album, delivering some of his best bars ever, while finding a great balance of bangers and humor while also offering introspection on more serious topics like when he was falsely accused of rape and systematic racism. Madlib brings some of the best beats in the game, picking some excellent samples as he always does. If there’s one hip-hop album you listen to this year, it’s this one.

2. Sturgill Simpson – SOUND & FURY

SOUND & FURY from start to finish feels like one long song, as it’s both cohesive in sound and lyrics, telling several stories that tie into overarching theme of Simpson being angry at a lot of things in the world, but when it comes down to it he’s most angry at himself and what he let himself become. Each track explores the flawed thoughts and actions of a flawed man. This album sounds like early to mid 70s music and sounds like the eccentric, frenetic sounds of Jeff Lyne and Electric Light Orchestra meets the in-your-face, sneering lyrics of Creedence Clearwater Revival. The amount of care and detail given to every aspect makes this one of the best albums you’ll hear in 2019 and yet another excellent album from Sturgill Simpson.

Country Perspective’s 2019 Album of the Year…

1. Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated

If you still think of Carly Rae Jepsen as just the “Call Me Maybe” girl, well you’re just plain wrong. Because when she released Emotion and Emotion Side B, she showed me that there’s not a better pop artist making music today. Jepsen further proves with Dedicated that she just gets pop music: the over-the-top production, the overwhelming emotions, the catchy hooks, exciting themes and everything in-between. It’s appropriate she has an album named Dedicated considering she writes hundreds of songs for each album and spends months culling down to the final track list. This true dedication to her music shines through on every lyric and sound on this album. It’s a complete album from front to back, touching on the several emotions of love through the many trials and tribulations of a relationship. And it wouldn’t surprise me a bit that the “B cuts” for this album are equally as great in quality. Not only is this the best album of 2019 in my mind, but one of the best of the 2010s.


Thanks for reading! Be sure to weigh in with your thoughts on Country Perspective’s Top 10 Albums of 2019 below and feel free to offer your own list. Also feel free to ask me about any music releases/news from 2019 too (think of it as a 2019 music AMA), as my late start didn’t allow me to discuss everything I would have liked to discuss.

Album Review — Michaela Anne’s ‘Desert Dove’

Michaela Anne is an artist I’ve always seen a lot of promise in, but she had to yet fully show it for an entire album. Well that changes on her newest album Desert Dove, as she’s seemed to find the sound that suits her best. Opening track “By Our Design” features some gorgeous and sweeping strings that gives the song a relaxing, yet cinematic feel. It sets the tone for the album, as the sound on this album wavers between cinematic and 90s country, back when the genre never forgot to include a good melody. This album has good melody in spades, a credit to the great work of producers Sam Outlaw and Kelly Winrich. Most importantly it fits Anne’s voice and style to a T.

“One Heart” is about falling too fast and too hard for someone. But yet the one falling so hard doesn’t care as the one being fallen for says they’re moving too fast. I particularly enjoy how the song starts out slow and soft, but then picks up in intensity as the two protagonists of the song question the other’s passion in the relationship. The lyrics and melody match each other and each help tell the story equally. “I’m Not the Fire” feels like it was plucked right from the impressive catalog of breezy 90s country love songs that you heard on the radio. The lyrics are clever with it’s flame metaphors and they’re easy to pick up too. It’s such a playful and fun love song, there’s no good reason why this shouldn’t be a hit. But the radio has given up on quality music.

“Child of the Wind” sees Anne recalling her childhood of having to move from town to town, never settling long enough to never be more than a temporary friend. But rather than look at this negatively, Anne embraces this lifestyle that goes and comes with the wind. Again the lyrics and sound make you feel what the song is about. This song makes you feel like you’re in the backseat of that car with Anne traveling on the highway looking up at the sky. That’s when you know you’re listening to a damn good song. “Tattered, Torn and Blue (And Crazy)” is a southwestern flavored song about always ending up alone with a broken heart, never feeling like you can love and trust someone. It’s an achingly great heartbreak song.

The album’s title track is about examining the relationship of a “lady of the night” and the cowboy she’s with, wondering how they truly feel about each other. The song attempts to view the complexity of each other’s emotions towards each other in this relationship, wondering how lonely each feel. I feel Anne does a pretty good job looking beyond the obvious in the situation and exploring the nuance of what each person truly wants in the situation.

“Run Away with Me” feels like a long lost Shania Twain or LeAnn Rimes song. Again it’s the soft breeziness and accessibility of the lyrics that make this song so easy to fall in love with like many others on this album. Perhaps it’s this song’s West Coast feel (and really the album as a whole) that lends to what makes it so infectious, as West Coast country feels like it gets drowned out by Nashville and Texas. “Two Fools” is that classic country love ballad about two people falling in love who don’t want to admit it. Anne really hits the high notes in this well, showcasing the wanting and resisting emotions of the two lovers in the song. I hate making yet another 90s country comparison, but Anne really sounds like Alison Krauss on this song and that’s a great thing of course.

“If I Wanted Your Opinion” is about a woman standing up for herself against a man who doesn’t want to see her for her, but rather a “porcelain doll.” I really enjoy the message and the way Anne delivers it, but it doesn’t feel like it fits the rest of the album’s theme. It feels like it was forced into the album and it would have been better off as a standalone single.

“Somebody New” is about a woman feeling guilty for falling in love with someone else and breaking her current-now-former man’s heart. Now this song I have to applaud for all of the little details Anne writes, like how the song opens with “I’m drinking day old coffee and watching the clouds roll in.” That’s an excellent detail and perfectly puts you in the mindset of a guilty and sad person. This song is also appealingly smooth, making it another song I would call yacht country.

“Be Easy” closes out the album and is a stripped-down song about trying to quiet your mind and find peace. It was a great call by Anne to make this track acoustic and let the raw emotion of the lyrics do the heavy lifting. This is a song for those who beat themselves up too much and it’s also an appropriate closer to an album that compares various characters and ends up back at Anne looking into herself.

Michaela Anne delivers an amazing album in Desert Dove. It’s full of smooth and breezy songs that only take a couple of listens to truly enjoy. This feels like Anne’s breakout moment, as she finds the sound and themes she needed to truly show her full potential and prove herself as an artist that should be on your radar if you love country music.

Grade: 9/10

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eEAJPIrxhCI

Album Review – Michaela Anne’s ‘Bright Lights and the Fame’

After releasing her second album, Americana singer and songwriter Michaela Anne moved from her home in Brooklyn, New York to Nashville. From the people she met, like Dave Brainard (producer for Brandy Clark, and co-writer of a couple of songs on the album) and Rodney Clawson, to the musical atmosphere of the large number of songwriters performing around the city, Anne’s move to Nashville influenced her writing for her third album, Bright Lights and the Fame. Even though Nashville is home to Music Row and the trend chasing mainstream labels, Bright Lights and the Fame doesn’t waver from the musical foundation Michaela Anne has built with her first two albums. Michaela Anne is firm with her neo-traditional country-style, and balances the album nicely with upbeat, dancing songs and slower, more introspective songs.

A guitar riff capped with a ring from the steel guitar kick of the mid-tempo “Living Without You.” Michaela Anne sings about trying to move on by herself after the end of a relationship. While nothing special, “Living Without You” sets the tone nicely for the album, immediately grabbing your interest with the production, and Anne’s excellent vocal delivery. The theme of a break up continues with “If Only.” It’s a quieter song in both the melody and vocals. Anne takes her time allowing the lyrics to breathe and story build steadily, making “If Only” the longest song on the album at nearly six minutes. The tempo jumps back up with the album’s title track. Here, Anne sings from the point of view of a wife married to a music man whose first love will always be the bright lights and the fame. The song is without a doubt a country two-stepper with the steel guitar present throughout the melody. “Everything I Couldn’t Be” finds Michaela Anne reminiscing about a past relationship when she learns that her ex is about to get married. The ballad begins slow with an acoustic guitar and faint steel guitar ring. But as she continues to sing and remember, the melody grows and soars behind Anne’s higher register.

Michaela Anne writes and sings more personally with the quick number “Won’t Go Down.” The song deals with the moral and ethical lines that she won’t cross when it comes to relationships, or life in general. Coming from a military household, Anne says the song is more autobiographical as she recalls the times she walked that line growing up. “Worrying Mind” deals with anxious thoughts and second (sometimes third) guessing decisions. The verses are balanced nicely between Anne’s vocals and the musical production, but the chorus seems to be hindered by a loud, overproduced melody while Anne’s vocals remain at the same level throughout the song.

“Easier Than Leaving” is another ballad where Anne sings from the point of view from the woman in a bad relationship. Even with everything wrong in this relationship, this woman can’t get herself to leave and start fresh. The lighter, acoustic production is well done on this song, as Michaela Anne’s vocals inflect nicely, reaching the highest note she can comfortably sing. Americana star Rodney Crowell provides vocal harmonies on “Luisa.” Together, they sing about a hitchhiker out west who’s looking to get back to Sacramento. To be honest, if the title didn’t mention “(featuring Rodney Crowell)” it’d be hard to know it was his vocals on the track, and it would have been nice to hear him take a verse. The melody of “Luisa” is excellent country music with a great solo in the middle of the song.

“What Good Is Water” is a darker song with a heavier production compared to the rest of the album. The song deals with a woman whose life appears to be in shambles at the moment, but she promises she’ll turn it around. The lyrics use imagery like a cactus dying and leaky faucet to paint the run-down picture, and Anne’s vocals stretch beyond her apparent comfort zone, but it’s done well. For many good reasons, “What Good Is Water” stands out on the album. Michaela Anne admitted that she wanted a fun, two-stepping song on the album, and so she wrote “Liquor Up.” The quick number is full of steel guitar and fiddle, and it certainly is a song ready for dance floor. Bright Lights and the Fame comes to a close with “Stars.” The song’s melody is quiet and subdued as Anne sings of a loved one’s death. She doesn’t sing of a specific person, but looks at the death in a positive way, remembering the good times, seeing that person in the stars, and always carrying their memory with her. “Stars” is a good song to end the album with as it is well written and well sung.

Overall, Bright Lights and the Fame is a good album from Michaela Anne. Admittedly, I think the first half of the album gets repetitive with several of the songs dealing with broken relationships and broken hearts. Those songs don’t offer much that’s new or original to topic, no matter how well produced some of them may be. The second half of the album is much better, showcasing a good variety from Michaela Anne’s songwriting and vocals. I think Michaela Anne is a singer and songwriter who is worth listening to, and should benefit from the growth of Americana music. Bright Lights and the Fame shows her potential and proves that she’s dedicated to growing and improving.

Grade: 7/10

 

The Hodgepodge: The Americana Movement & Why It’s Happening

Americana Music

(Note: Derek is on vacation this week, so I’m taking over The Hodgepodge!)

What’s the next big movement in country music? We’ve had bro country, metro bro and now we appear on the verge of some sort of weird, heavily Christian-influenced movement. It’s pretty evident when Florida Georgia Line releases “H.O.L.Y.” and Hillary Scott announces a Christian-influenced album. All of the popular country artists are talking about how their new music is going to be more mature and dig deeper. To be honest, you know what I think of all of this? I could not care any less. I’ve reached the point of not caring what the next movement in mainstream country music is because they change sounds like a person changes socks. Besides there’s a much more interesting, albeit less flashy movement happening before your very eyes: The Americana Movement.

While popular country fans fuss over it and critics spend their time on self-important think-pieces on the next big thing on country radio, I’ve been quietly observing something pretty brilliant taking shape with this Americana movement. It’s becoming the “genre” (if you want to call it this) where country artists who don’t want to be called country artists go basically. It’s also home to many older country acts that the genre has cast aside for new shiny toys and other sincere, genuine artists who really can’t put their music into the box of a genre. That last point in particular is why I think many artists are drawn to the Americana label. This allure of not having to play by genre rules and standards is quite appealing. You don’t have to hear some stodgy, old critic or fan tell you that your songs aren’t country enough or shouldn’t include horns. You don’t have to hear some whiny popular country music fan tell you that you’re boring and not pop-y enough. In many ways Americana symbolizes freedom and control of your music to an artist.

Country music fans love to sit around and fantasize a new outlaw era rearing its head like in the 70s where Waylon, Willie and Merle all stood up to make their own music and how country radio was a golden paradise of songs. All of the artists band together and take down the labels and Florida Georgia Line gets put in the music version of Guantanamo Bay. And we all lived happily ever after. This is all fantasy of course. Florida Georgia Line, Sam Hunt and Luke Bryan aren’t going away ever. They’re making a lot of money for themselves, their label and have throngs of fans. This stuff doesn’t disappear. Country radio will never stop playing them (at least until they’re deemed too old to play). Mainstream country and country radio will at best be mediocre and downright garbage at worst.

Back to the Americana movement taking shape, at its core this is exactly like the outlaw movement. These are artists independently taking it upon themselves to make their own music and do things their own way. They’re experiencing sales and chart success in the forms of Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton. “But they’re country artists,” you say. Are they really country artists? For that matter is your favorite country artist really a country artist by today’s definition? Probably not. “I’m talking about the actual country standards,” you say. Define universal country standards that we can all agree on. Go on, I’ll wait. In the meantime I’m going to tell you why these three artists belong to Americana. I’ll start with the easiest argument. Jason Isbell is considered the Americana King, has championed it for years and identifies as such. Everyone pretty much agrees he’s Americana. Then we have Chris Stapleton. When you hear his music, is it straight country? No. You hear blues, soul and even some roots-rock. Now let’s look at the definition of Americana:

Americana is contemporary music that incorporates elements of various American roots music styles, including country, roots-rock, folk, bluegrass, R&B and blues, resulting in a distinctive roots-oriented sound that lives in a world apart from the pure forms of the genres upon which it may draw. While acoustic instruments are often present and vital, Americana also often uses a full electric band.

I would say Stapleton fits this more than country music, especially today’s definition of country music. Finally that brings me to Sturgill Simpson, who’s solo career sums up best why this Americana movement has been growing and has become such a thing. He made his debut with High Top Mountain, an album full of pure country and bluegrass. Independent country fans flocked to him in droves and touted his name as one to watch. Country radio and mainstream of course ignored him, something the fans who fantasize about a new outlaw movement were fine with being the case. Screw country radio they would say. Then he followed it up with Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, an album full of straight country, some roots rock and psychedelic rock-country fusion. It launched him into the stratosphere, gaining the attention of mainstream and hipsters everywhere. Country radio continued to ignore him and country fans continued to say screw radio. However he was nominated for a Grammy for Best Americana Album.

Now that brings us to his newly released third album A Sailor’s Guide To Earth. Country fans expected something straight country or close to it. Hipsters and mainstream bandwagoners expected more psychedelic music. Neither got what they wanted or expected. Despite universal critical acclaim, a large number of people have called out Sturgill for getting away from his roots and what’s best for him in their minds. They’ve criticized the horns on his record. Sturgill’s response is naturally to be a little bit angry. Here’s a group of people holding him to their standards and telling him how to make his music. So it came as no surprise to me that Simpson had this to say at a concert in Dallas this past weekend:

“You won’t see my ass at the ACMs or the CMAs. It’s all politics, and I’ve got a better chance at winning the presidency. I’d rather play for you guys, because who cares about that shit. It might take 10 years, but when they need my help, I’m gonna give ‘em two of these.”

Simpson went on to give a one-finger salute with each hand and earlier in the night defended the horns on his new album. It doesn’t sound like someone who considers himself part of country music. He even admitted before A Sailor’s Guide To Earth came out that it may not be a country record. Of course I’ve seen fans and critics say Sturgill is ruining his career by saying such things and that he should show up to these award shows with open arms These are the same awards shows that have ignored him for years. I’ve even seen fans who said Simpson screwed up by not having some “radio songs” on his new record. Keep in mind this is the same group that said screw country radio the last two albums. Now all of a sudden they care about these pointless award shows and radio? This is flat-out hypocritical. Meanwhile they’re saying Simpson has turned his back on the people who got him where he’s at with these remarks and this new album.

I tell you this entire anecdote on Simpson’s career because it proves the point of the Americana movement. Here’s a talented artist making great music and some people just can’t help but pedantically criticize just to criticize and squabble about genres. Who needs that? There are several more examples that prove why we need Americana to continue to grow, like the ridiculousness of the “Texas Country” scene. Genuine female country artists have been ignored by radio for years and are forced to become “alt-country.” We live in a world where Kacey Musgraves and Ashley Monroe are essentially black balled from major airwaves because they refuse to play the game. Alan Jackson can’t get a freaking add at radio for his new single. There’s a group of talented artists on major labels making great music, but many are suppressed by radio. I could go on and on.

Increasingly any artist with self-respect for their music doesn’t want to be identified with country music. Why would they? They get ignored by the mainstream and radio. Their hard work is ignored and dismissed. The popular country music over the last few years has destroyed the genre’s reputation and made it a laughing stock in some circles. If you walked up to someone on the street and told them you’re a country fan, they’re going to think Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan. This whole fight to restore/save country music is pointless because great music is being made somewhere by someone. It may not be on the radio or charting alongside Beyoncé on iTunes, but it’s being made and you can access it with ease. Why does great music have to be popular? Why does it have to fit in a box? It doesn’t. Popularity should never dictate music. *Genre rules and lines shouldn’t dictate music. The only use of terms like country and Americana is to guide us, the listener. It just makes it easier for us to find what kind of music we’re looking for and wanting to hear. A true artist does not go into a studio and let genre guide the music. They just make music. That’s what Americana is all about for these artists.

*Of course don’t get this twisted to think it’s okay for Zac Brown Band to make EDM music and put it on country radio. He has every right to make EDM music and put it on his album. But when you’re sending “Beautiful Drug” to country radio, you’re calling it a country song. And that means you’re just lying straight to my face, which isn’t okay. That’s like pointing at a duck and calling it a chicken. That’s an insult to my intelligence. Don’t tell me that this song is one thing when it clearly isn’t.  

Upcoming/Recent Americana and Country Releases

  • The following artists are releasing new albums tomorrow:
    • Jennifer NettlesPlaying With Fire
    • Michaela AnneBright Lights and the Fame
    • Hard Working AmericansRest in Chaos
    • Darrell ScottCouchville Sessions
    • Wild Ponies – Radiant
  • The Honeycutters will be releasing a new album titled On The Ropes next week
  • Luke Bell will be releasing a new self-titled album on June 17
  • Jack Ingram announced he will be releasing his first new studio album in seven years on June 24 and it will be called Midnight Motel
  • Cody Jinks announced he’s releasing a new album I’m Not The Devil on August 12.
  • Avett Brothers announced they will also be releasing a new album on June 24 and it will be titled True Sadness
  • Finally some news that caught me off guard and that’s the surprise re-emergence of Josh Turner. In Country Aircheck this week, an ad ran promoting Turner’s new single called “Hometown Girl” and it’s going for adds on May 31.

Throwback Thursday Song

Linda Ronstadt’s “The Only Mama That’ll Walk The Line” – Fellow country writer Jason Scott encouraged me to dig into Linda Ronstadt’s catalog and I wasn’t disappointed. This is from her debut album and one of my favorites from her. If you aren’t familiar with Ronstadt like I was, I encourage you to check her out too.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Kyle Craft’s Dolls of Highland – If you follow me on Twitter I’ve been non-stop praising new artist Kyle Craft. He’s a rock artist who grew up Louisiana before moving to Portland, Oregon a few years back. You can definitely hear the southern influence in the album, along with several other influences from a variety of genres. I’ve seen him compared to David Bowie, but I hear more Queen actually. Anyway he’s fantastic and Dolls of Highland is one of my favorite albums released this year.

Tweet of the Week

https://twitter.com/KaceyMusgraves/status/728779798055669760

Somebody on Twitter wondered what has happened to Kacey Musgraves and she made the perfect response.

A Great iTunes Review

New Urban album

This is a pretty spot-on review of the new Keith Urban album Ripcord. Not much country to be found on it.

The Hodgepodge: Beyoncé’s Visual Album ‘Lemonade’ and Music’s Next Steps

On April 23, pop sensation Beyoncé dropped another surprise album for her fans. However, unlike 2013’s Beyoncé, this surprise album Lemonade also included a surprise HBO special. This one-hour program was a visual aid to the album, essentially a string of music videos for the album’s songs, interlude with an original poem written by Warsan Shire. That’s breaking it down to almost nothing, because the album, listening to it or watching it, is deep. It’s more than just a call-out to her husband Jay-Z who may or may not have cheated. In an age where social justice is at the forefront of many of today’s issues, Beyoncé’s Lemonade gives a voice to African-American women. A voice that challenges stereotypes and the treatment this group of women tend to receive from the public.

Beyoncé not only simply uses music, but an entire album in multiple media, to send her message. She connects with her core audience in the best way she knows: writing and singing songs. And she takes this a step further with the visual album. As many of the songs deal directly with the anger, confusion, and worry of a possible cheating husband, the visuals on the album tell a more complete story.

Now there’s an elephant in the room that quickly needs to be addressed: Tidal. For a short time, Lemonade, was solely available through Tidal: the music streaming service owned in part by Jay-Z and Beyoncé. It’s obvious that, to some degree, the purpose of Lemonade’s surprise release was to boost sales and interest in the streaming service. In the wake of Lemonade’s release, Tidal saw a huge increase in downloads and online searches. This is only a part-time victory for Tidal, as Lemonade also became available through Apple Music only a day after its release to Tidal. But I also believe that message spoken loudly in Lemonade was also part of Beyoncé’s honest motivation for creating the album.

I’m a big proponent for albums and singers/songwriters using their artistic ability to tell stories and spread messages through the album format. I would love to see more of it in country music. For the most part, country music tends to build albums with songs not generally connected by a theme. It’s not a bad thing, and there are some great albums (Traveller, for instance) that don’t necessarily follow a theme or concept. Albums like Sturgill Simpson’s latest two albums, Southern Family, and Red-Headed Stranger are fantastic examples of concept albums in the genre.

The beauty of devoting a whole album to a story and message is seeing an artist stretch his or her creativity beyond other albums. Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and A Sailor’s Guide to Earth both showcase Sturgill Simpson stretching the genre of country music and his own personal musical prowess, exploring different avenues for the songs’ production. Beyoncé’s Lemonade shows the pop star letting outside genres influence certain songs or chapters of the story, including a country/western influence on “Daddy’s Lessons.”

Unfortunately, mainstream country is too controlled by Music Row who wouldn’t dare risk any loss of revenue by experimenting with a concept or visual album. Artists working independently have the creative freedom to create such an album if they so choose, which is why we see Americana artists release more theme-oriented albums. Now these independent artists don’t necessarily have the same resources as Beyoncé to create a visual representation of their album, but I would like to see more creative visual representations of the music from these artists.

Dierks Bentley is doing a smaller version of a visual album with his own four-part mini-movie over the course of four songs from his upcoming album Black. While this is as much of a marketing ploy for Black as it is a creative display of his music, it’s still something different and I respect the effort from Dierks. While the Black mini-movie isn’t as symbolic as Lemonade, it’s nonetheless a visual representation of the songs – a creative music video that goes beyond three minutes. As music continues to move toward the digital medium, away from radio, and away from music videos on TV, mini-movies for the albums would be a good move forward that I’d be excited to see more of from my favorite artists.

Upcoming/Recent Americana and Country Releases

  • Mary Chapin Carpenter‘s The Things That We Are Made Of will be released tomorrow.
  • Cindy Lauper‘s Detour will also be released tomorrow.
  • Also released tomorrow is Ryan Beaver‘s Rx.
  • Jennifer Nettles’ newest album, Playing With Fire will be released next week on May 13.
  • Americana singer/songwriter Michaela Anne‘s newest album, Bright Lights and the Fame will also be released on the 13th.
  • We’ll soon have a review for the Elephant Revival‘s Petals, released last month.

Throwback Thursday Song

“That Ain’t No Way to Go” by Brooks and Dunn. Hearing Brooks and Dunn perform last Sunday at the ACCA’s was a treat. Ronnie Dunn’s voice is one of country’s best. This 1993 number one hit was released on their album Hard Workin’ Man.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Beyoncé’s Lemonade.

Tweet of the Week

A milestone always worth mentioning.

iTunes Review

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This was left under Florida Georgia Line’s newest single “H.O.L.Y.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.