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 – Midland’s ‘Let It Roll’

Midland delivered a great debut album with On The Rocks and for their sophomore release Let It Roll, they improve in almost all aspects. Yet somehow, it’s a slight step down in album quality, which I attribute to the great strength of their debut album and putting just a few too many tracks on Let It Roll. Case in point is the opening song and title track, which is just a bad choice to open the album. It’s decidedly one of the weakest tracks on the album, lacking in both the vibrancy and lyrical catchiness in comparison to most of the other songs on the album. I usually skip this track when listening to the album and jump right into “Fourteen Gears,” which is a great track. It’s the ideal driving song, with both it’s lyrical theme of driving a long way to see your baby and it’s bouncy, 80s flavored melody.

The album’s lead single “Mr. Lonely” would have also been my choice for the leading track of this album. It’s just a flat out fun and catchy song about the lonely fool at the bar always there to be the rebound guy for lonely women. I love the music video with Dennis Quaid too. “Cheatin’ Songs” immediately hooks me with its smooth melody and has that same easiness about it in its lyrical approach like previous Midland singles “Burn Out” and “Drinkin’ Problem.” The same can be said about “Put the Hurt on Me.” Its your classic heartbreak country ballad that country fans can take to like a duck takes to water. I really enjoy the intertwining of the pedal steel guitar and Telecaster on “I Love You, Goodbye.” It’s what country rock is supposed to sound like.

“Every Song’s a Drinkin’ Song” is a fun singalong, but it can get a bit old after extended listens due to it’s predictable approach and a couple of forced wordplays. “21st Century Honky Tonk American Band” is a mouthful of a song title, but it showcases what this band is best at and that’s taking simple themes and making them feel fresh to the listener. The sights and sounds of a band always on the road is a common theme, but the lyrics and melody of this song make it engaging and interesting by not dwelling on a moment too long and keeping the energy moving. I also enjoy the switch in melody at the end, as it’s a different wrinkle within the album.

“Fast Hearts and Slow Towns” feels like something the Eagles would have cut and this is a great thing because that’s Midland’s lane. It’s a simple, reflective song on a lost small town love and once again this is such a common theme in country music, but I’m not screaming cliché because of Midland’s approach and the wise choices by producers Shane McAnally, Dann Huff and Josh Osborne. The trio clearly know how to position this band to sound their best. “Cheatin’ by the Rules” is fine, as it does nothing especially right nor wrong. So, it would have been fine being left on the cutting room floor too.

Midland’s tendency to inject catchy wordplay can do them in at times, but when they get it right, they can hit grand slams and “Playboys” is a perfect example. It’s all centered around the chorus and the words play and boys, which on paper sounds like a mess. Yet you listen to it and it just works. The best I can explain of why I like this song is that’s it’s playful, fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is the appeal of Midland in a nutshell. “Lost in the Night” sounds like it’s straight out of early 80s country with it’s sultry, R&B influenced sound. The cherry on top is the smooth sounds of saxophones that play the song out. You’ll either love or hate this track. Put me firmly on the love side, as this is a side of country music that needs to be shown more.

“Gettin’ the Feel” is another solid heartbreak song from the group, but it feels out of place on the track list. To me it just feels like it’s in weird spot on the album, especially since the album closes as weakly as it started with “Roll Away.” I understand how the band wanted to open and close with tracks with roll in the title. But it fails to have an impact when both songs are head and shoulders the weakest on the album, as both suffer from the same issues of just not measuring up in terms of lyrical and melody quality with the rest of the songs. You can’t put such weak tracks next to strong tracks because they stick out like sore thumbs. “Lost in the Night” would have been the perfect closer.

Despite my criticisms, Let It Roll shows this is a band that can pull off various sounds quite well and are far from the one-trick pony session players that some tried to paint them as when they arrived on the scene (they even contribute to all the writing on the album). Midland avoids the sophomore slump and delivers one of the better country albums you’ll hear this year.

Grade: 8/10

Review – Midland’s “Drinkin’ Problem”

midland-ep

A traditional country band on a major label? Being pushed at radio? Yeah right. You’re pulling my leg. There’s no way this new group Midland is a traditional group, so let’s take a look at them. They’re a trio made up of Mark Wystrach (lead singer), Jess Carson (lead guitarist) and Cameron Duddy (bass player). Based out of Dripping Springs, Texas they came up with their name based off a Dwight Yoakam song. Some of their biggest influences they cite are Merle Haggard and Gary Stewart. Hold on a second. Stewart? Anyone who cites him as an influence must be the real deal (and good people to boot). After listening to lead single “Drinkin’ Problem” these guys prove they’re absolutely the real deal. This is straight up, stone cold, country music. It immediately takes me back to what country radio sounded like a couple of decades ago with all of the steel guitar. The song is your classic country theme of a guy at the bar drinking. Everyone is calling the situation a problem and something he needs to stop. But he assures it’s very much a solution and the real problem is heartbreak and a lot of thinking. Props to producer Shane McAnally for keeping the production restrained and letting the lyrics really drive this song. Wystrach’s delivers an all-around solid vocal performance. This is a group I can’t wait to hear more from. They’ve only released a self-titled EP so far and are currently working on a full album with McAnally and Josh Osborne. If that album is along the lines of “Drinkin’ Problem” and the rest of the EP, we’re in for a real treat. This is country music done right.

Grade: 8/10

 

Recommend? – Yes

Written by Mark Wystrach, Jess Carson, Cameron Duddy, Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne