The Hodgepodge: Reactions to the 50th CMA Awards’ Nominations

CMA Awards 50

Yesterday morning on Good Morning America the nominations for the 50th annual CMA Awards were announced to the entire world. As always these nominations were greatly anticipated, but more than usual after the scathing Facebook post published by Sturgill Simpson earlier in the week that followed him being one of the finalists for multiple awards at the show. So now we know who was nominated and who got snubbed. Needless to say there’s plenty to dissect, so let’s get to it:

Entertainer of the Year

  • Garth Brooks
  • Luke Bryan
  • Chris Stapleton
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Keith Urban

Well well well. Right away I’m a little taken aback by the nominations I see. Garth and Luke were a slam dunk to be nominated, as Garth is still a major force touring and Bryan is still the top star of the Nashville pop. Then we get to Stapleton, who earns his very first nod for the top spot and has an excellent shot. Carrie Underwood surprisingly earns her first nomination too, as she has been one of the top touring artists in the genre in 2016. Rounding it out is Keith Urban, who has experienced a lot of success with Ripcord (ugh) and sells well also. I would say he’s the long-shot here though. Ultimately I think it will be between Stapleton and Bryan, as disheartening as this will sound for Carrie fans.

Two big snubs that immediately stands out here are Blake Shelton and Eric Church. Now before you pull out the pitchforks Church fans, you shouldn’t feel too bad because Church is well represented in every other award. Blake on the other hand, well more on Blake in a second…

Album of the Year

Far and away Eric Church is the most deserving of winning this award. Stapleton’s big night at last year’s CMA Awards unfortunately also overshadowed Church’s best album of his career. This year’s CMA Awards should make it up for that and I expect him to walk away with a lot of hardware. Keep in mind country music needs Church as much as it needs Stapleton if you want to see improvement in the mainstream scene. Carrie’s album is easily #2, despite it’s pop leanings at times. The rest of the nominations are kind of a joke. Morris made a good pop album, Urban made a bad pop album and I don’t know what the hell Dierks was thinking with Black. Despite my disdain for Bentley’s album though, it’s probably the closest competition for Church’s album because Bentley’s team is hellbent on making him an A-list artist.

Single of the Year

  • Thomas Rhett – “Die A Happy Man”
  • Tim McGraw – “Humble and Kind”
  • Maren Morris – “My Church”
  • Chris Stapleton – “Nobody To Blame”
  • Eric Church – “Record Year”

Anyone but Thomas Rhett winning here and I’m happy. Unfortunately I think he has a good chance because so many industry insiders touted this as his most mature and deep song, despite it just being a ripoff of Ed Sheeran. Keep in mind this is for single of the year, so that benefits Rhett more here. If I was asked who I would choose to win here I would choose “Record Year” because it went #1 at radio. I also believe this song will go down as a career song for Church and it’ll be hailed as a classic years from now. McGraw’s “Humble and Kind” also went #1 and was a big hit this year. Stapleton would be my close third choice because he was weirdly not chosen for Song of the Year and I would like to see both songs from Church and Stapleton recognized.

Song of the Year

  • Cam – “Burning House”
  • Thomas Rhett – “Die A Happy Man”
  • Tim McGraw – “Humble and Kind”
  • Maren Morris – “My Church”
  • Eric Church – “Record Year”

Same candidates as above, only Cam replaces Stapleton. It would have made more sense to put “Burning House” up for Single of the Year, but I guess it doesn’t matter to the CMA. If Church doesn’t win Single of the Year, I would pick him to win this one. If he does win Single of the Year, I would pick “Humble and Kind” because I would love to see Lori McKenna get recognized for this great song. I wouldn’t be surprised though if “My Church” ends up walking way with either Single or Song of the Year.

Male Vocalist of the Year

  • Dierks Bentley
  • Eric Church
  • Tim McGraw
  • Chris Stapleton
  • Keith Urban

Stapleton won this last year and I think he’s the favorite to win again if he’s not taking home Entertainer of the Year. So if he is winning EOTY, I expect Eric Church to win this one and Dierks Bentley being the other favorite. It’s kind of ironic after years of Bentley being the best choice in most categories that he’s now one of the worst choice. That’s what happens when you go chasing for fame and not focusing on making quality music I guess.

But let’s talk about Blake Shelton, who you can see did not make the above list. In fact he’s not nominated for a single award. Neither is Jason Aldean and Sam Hunt. All three have been shut out! Isn’t it wonderful? Hunt really hasn’t done anything in the past year except release “Make You Miss Me” as a single, so I wasn’t too surprised to see him missing. But Aldean and Shelton have been fixtures at these awards shows. Shelton used to dominate this award. Of course they could easily re-emerge next year. But for now let’s appreciate this moment.

Female Vocalist of the Year

  • Kelsea Ballerini
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Maren Morris
  • Kacey Musgraves
  • Carrie Underwood

Miranda Lambert will once again because reasons. If there’s one thing I’ve learned since starting this blog is that you don’t bet against Lambert for this award. She wins it every year, even though she didn’t do hardly anything to win it last year and that’s the case once again this year. “Vice” was released after the eligibility window for this award, so she can’t win for that song and that’s the only new music outside of “Sweet By and By” on the Southern Family album that she’s released in 2016. Hands down this should be going to Carrie Underwood or even Maren Morris. Kacey Musgraves is somewhere sarcastically chuckling at her token nomination. Kelsea Ballerini continues to be one of the most fake stars in not just country music, but in all of music with her fabricated #1 songs. Her just being a nomination is an absolute joke and one of the best examples of the bullshit that is spun out on Music Row.

New Artist of the Year

  • Kelsea Ballerini
  • Brothers Osborne
  • Maren Morris
  • Old Dominion
  • Cole Swindell

Why is Ballerini up for this award too? And Swindell? Meanwhile Jon Pardi, Sturgill Simpson and Brandy Clark didn’t make the cut. Fuck you, CMAs! If this was Douches of the Year, I would give it to Old Dominion. Morris should walk away the winner here. If there’s one category you should be angry at, it’s this one.

Vocal Duo of the Year

  • Brothers Osborne
  • Dan + Shay
  • Florida Georgia Line
  • Joey + Rory
  • Maddie & Tae

Florida Georgia Line will win again and will continue to win since their new soft AC direction seems to have won the mainstream crowd over. Dan + Shay are probably just happy that this country career is working out so they don’t have to go back to being back up singers for a pop band. The remaining three choices would be the favorites if I were making the choice. Seeing Joey + Rory being recognized would be an awesome, feel good moment. They should be the winners. Brothers Osborne will probably be the main contenders to the Florida Georgie Line dynasty for years to come, but will continue to fall short in the immediate future. I hope Maddie & Tae are plotting their escape to the independent scene.

Vocal Group of the Year

  • Lady Antebellum
  • Little Big Town
  • Old Dominion
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Zac Brown Band

Wait a minute! Why in the hell are Lady A nominated? They’ve been broken up all year! Meanwhile the CMA snubbed Randy Rogers Band (they were a finalist), who produced a fine album in Nothing Shines Like Neon. Yes, I know they wouldn’t have won. But what’s the harm in a nomination, especially over a group that’s not currently active? This is just all-around stupidity. I wouldn’t give any of these groups the recognition of Vocal Group of the Year. I would write in Turnpike Troubadours, who run circles around all five of them.

Music Video of the Year

  • Cam – “Burning House”
  • Chris Stapleton – “Fire Away”
  • Tim McGraw – “Humble and Kind”
  • Eric Church – “Record Year”
  • Dierks Bentley – “Somewhere on a Beach”

I would be fine with anyone but Dierks Bentley winning here. To be honest though it should absolutely, 100% go to “Fire Away.” That music video is something special and one of the best I’ve seen in years. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it (and have some tissues on hand).

Musical Event of the Year

  • Dierks Bentley & Elle King – “Different For Girls”
  • Luke Bryan & Karen Fairchild – “Home Alone Tonight”
  • Keith Urban & Carrie Underwood – “The Fighter”
  • Chris Young & Cassadee Pope – “Think of You”
  • Morgane Stapleton & Chris Stapleton – “You Are My Sunshine”

Again hands down this should go to the Stapletons. There’s no question in my mind they deserve it with their excellent take on a classic song. Also Don Henley and Merle Haggard’s “Cost of Living” (a finalist) should have been one of the above five nominations. Once again the country industry snubs Haggard.

Musician of the Year

  • Jerry Douglas
  • Paul Franklin
  • Dann Huff
  • Brent Mason
  • Derek Wells

All are excellent and deserving, but I would have to go with the dobro master Jerry Douglas. He should win it alone for his reaction to the Stapleton performance.

Overall there’s a lot to like and dislike about these nominations. As I predicted, Stapleton and Church racked up the most nominations. Morris also tied them for most nominations, which I knew she would get a lot of attention but not this much. It’s certainly something to keep an eye on, as she appears poised to breakout. There’s a lot of love for Urban, Underwood and Bentley, which I also expected. For the most part I think the CMA got it right outside of groups and new artist. These are categories where they could have went out on a limb and went with different artists. Sturgill fans should rightly be angry, but he’ll at least get his due at the Americana Awards and the Grammys. Jon Pardi and Brandy Clark fans have more to be angry about, as they should have been shoe-ins for New Artist. Clark is probably the worst snub of all, as she had legitimate claims not just for New Artist, but Female Vocalist and Album of the Year.

As always I’m curious to hear your thoughts on all of this in the comments below.

Upcoming/Recent Country & Americana Releases

  • First I just wanted to point out that Eric Church sent a radio edit version of “Kill A Word” to country radio that features Rhiannon Giddens singing one line solo. This was deliberately done so it could be listed as featuring Giddens, which is a cool move by Church and his team to help her get recognition.
  • Next week Whiskey Myers will be releasing their new album MUD. I’ll definitely have a review on it soon.
  • Also next week St. Paul & The Broken Bones release their new album Sea of Noise.
  • Karen Jonas will be releasing her sophomore album Country Songs on October 14. This could definitely emerge as an album of the year contender, much like her debut album Oklahoma Lottery in 2014.
  • Jon Pardi’s next single will be “Dirt on My Boots” and will impact country radio on September 19.

Throwback Thursday Song

Kelleigh Bannen – “Cheap Sunglasses” – I just wanted to take a moment to shout out Kelleigh Bannen, who had the guts to leave EMI Nashville to go out and make the music she wants. Her new EP released earlier this year was pretty solid and I would review it, but I don’t like to review EPs because I will get bombarded with EP pitches (despite clearly stating in the about section we don’t take EP pitches). The entire EP is worth a listen, but I particularly enjoyed this song. I’ve always saw potential in Bannen and now we’re finally getting to hear it.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Temperance Movement – White Bear – One of my favorite rock groups today and their new album White Bear proves once again they’re a rock band you should know.

Tweet of the Week

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iTunes Reviews of the New Florida Georgia Line Album

FGL Dig Your Crap

I haven’t actually completely ruled out reviewing the new Florida Georgia Line album. But these reviews give you a taste of what I would say. I guess not everyone loves their new AC direction.

One more thing…

Site News: Derek is taking an indefinite hiatus from writing on the blog, as he settles his personal schedule. Once that’s settled, he’ll be back. For the time being I will be doing the Hodgepodge.

Country Perspective’s Best Country and Americana Songs of 2016 So Far

As we look back at the best and worst of the first half of 2016, we take today to highlight over the songs that have stood out to us. Great lyrics, passionate vocals, and a good, fitting production all work together to create songs that connect with the listeners for a variety of reasons. Some of these songs were part of albums, others were released as singles with no albums attached, but all are great country and Americana songs.

Remember too that it’s impossible for us to keep up with every single release, and we do our best to cover the most songs possible. So please don’t be that person in the comments section that says something along the lines of: “This list is irrelevant because (insert song) isn’t on it” or “This list sucks.” Agree or disagree all you want, just be respectful about it. Not everyone has the same opinion, so keep this in mind.

YouTube videos available for the top songs are provided, and all songs are compiled into a Spotify playlist at the end of the post.

So without further ado, Country Perspective’s ten best country and Americana songs so far in 2016 (in no particular order).….

(Click on the song name to see the full review)

“Hands of Time” by Margo Price

The opening track to Price’s Midwest Farmer’s Daughter is a beautiful six-minute trip into Margo’s life growing up on the farm and trying to get her life established as an adult. Price’s higher pitched delivery stands out on top of the heavy bass line.

“Heaven Sent” by Parker Millsap

“Heaven Sent” brilliantly tackles a difficult and rarely seen subject in country or Americana music. Millsap sings from the perspective of a gay son trying to figure out why his preacher father can’t accept him for who he is. The vocals capture the confusion and frustration of the son.

“Goodbye Kiss” by Flatland Cavalry

This new country band from Texas tell a common breakup story a fresh sense of pain from the narrator. Before saying goodbye for good, the couple in the song share one final kiss, which leaves an aching memory for the song’s narrator. Great country production, and the vocals and lyrics work together to paint a picture of pain and regret.

“Pink Flamingos” by Erik Dylan

Murder ballads are a common theme in country and Americana, but Erik Dylan’s “Pink Flamingos” flips the trope on its head. It’s a justifiable murder because the victim was a child predator, and Dylan’s vocal delivery is the icing on the cake of a well-written song.

“Rhinestone World” by Breelan Angel

There are protest songs that are good, there are protest songs that are bad, and then there’s Breelan Angel’s protest song. Being released in the aftermath of Keith Hill’s tomato comments and Katie Armiger’s claims against her label, “Rhinestone World” gives a voice for the women who are expected to act differently to get their moment in the spotlight. It’s the only song to get a 10/10 rating on Country Perspective this year.

“Take It Down” by Chris King

Chris King’s Animal is a fantastic concept album detailing a man trying to move past the fall of his relationship. “Take It Down” is the emotional peak of the album, where the narrator deals directly with the hurt from the relationship’s end. It’s a hurt caused by seeing her picture in a bar they once visited together. Great songwriting and vocals from Chris King.

“Call to Arms” by Sturgill Simpson

The final song on Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is a fiercely political song against the news cycle leaders in our culture today. The song features an extended musical solo of horns and guitars, making a blended country and rock melody.

“Ain’t Nobody” by Dori Freeman

One of the most unique songs we’ve heard this year, this song is beautifully sung A-Capella by Freeman accompanied by only her finger snaps. Dori Freeman’s self titled debut is an excellent album, and this song proved to be the standout from the album.

“Grandma’s Garden” by Zac Brown

It’s hard to pick only one song from Southern Family, as the album is full of great songs from some of country and Americana’s best. Zac Brown’s tale of a family matriarch and the family she grew is wonderfully sang from Brown. It touches on one of country music highest values, and shows how great Zac Brown and Dave Cobb work together.

“She Ain’t In It” by Jon Pardi

We haven’t reviewed this song from Pardi’s upcoming California Sunrise, but this song pre-release show’s Pardi’s devotion to keeping country’s tradition alive. “She Ain’t In It” is another well-written heartbreak song, and a features a production that calls back to the 90s country sound.

Honorable Mentions

  • “You Are My Sunshine” by Morgane Stapleton – We didn’t feel right bumping one of the great songs above for a cover song, but “You Are My Sunshine” might be one of the best recordings of the year.
  • “I Cried” by Brandy Clark – A third song on this list featured from Southern Family. “I Cried” is poignant, with great vocals from Clark.
  • “Holdin’ Her” by Chris Janson – A beautiful, personal love song from Janson, featuring great vocals and an excellent country production.
  • “Blue Besides” by The Honeycutters – A great country production on a song dealing with the pains of growing up.
  • “Breaker’s Roar” by Sturgill Simpson – Another great song from Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, where Sturgill Simpson sings to encourage his son during hard times in life.
  • “Record Year” by Eric Church – Released last year, but the song is still on the rising on the charts this year. “Record Year” has great lyrics with Eric Church’s word play with using music to overcome heartbreak.
  • “My Last Song” by Addison Johnson – As Josh said in his review, “the song tackles life so poignantly. It’s not so much dark, but rather looks at life in a simplistic, mature manner that can resonate deeply with anyone who listens.”

Country Perspective’s Best Country & Americana Music – March 2016

March 2016

Time to take look at the best of March! If you’re not familiar or just started reading the blog, here’s the drill: Each month Derek and myself will take a look back on the month that was and share our thoughts on the music that was released and some of our favorites. Below that will be a Spotify playlist of all the songs we enjoyed. If you’re a fan of Spotify and use it, we have good news as we have a Country Perspective Spotify page. You can check it out and subscribe here. So let’s talk about the month of March!

Josh

The year of 2016 in country and Americana music just continues to get better with each month. March managed to top both January and February, as two very strong album of the year contenders emerged. The first of those contenders is Chris King’s Animal. This album knocked me flat on my ass and it’s one of the truest albums I’ve ever reviewed. Every song on this album connects to tell the story of a man who loses it all and finds redemption the only way he knows how to find it. Along the way he learns a lot about himself and does some introspection on his life. “Never Make It Last,” “Take It Down” and “Martinez Social Club” are the standout songs, but you need to hear this whole album.

The other album of the year contender to emerge was the much hyped Dave Cobb-produced project Southern Family. This album full of an all-star lineup of talent not only delivered what we expected, but kind of exceeded it. I expected the high quality, but what I didn’t expect is smooth and flawless the artists and songs mesh together to create a cohesive and deep album. It’s very hard to pick the favorites on this one, but if I have to choose one it’s Morgane and Chris Stapleton’s rendition of “You Are My Sunshine.” It’s hauntingly beautiful. Just like King’s album, you need to hear the entirety of Southern Family. It has something for everyone and it’s going to be on a lot of year-end lists.

If these two perfect albums weren’t enough to whet your music appetite, there was even more quality music. Loretta Lynn at the young age of 83 delivered the amazing Full Circle album. She doesn’t sound much different from what she did in her prime and if it’s indeed her final album of original music, she went out with an absolute bang. On the flip-side of the age spectrum, up and comer William Michael Morgan delivered a solid self-titled EP with the kind of music that every artist on a major label should be making. “Lonesomeville” was the standout of this EP for me, as the broken heart ballad is reminiscent of the music you would hear from Strait and Jackson in the 90s. Finally, the much-anticipated Margo Price released her debut album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter and she reminded me so much of…Loretta Lynn (pretty ironic they both released great albums in the same month). Derek is writing a review for this one, so I don’t want to spoil it. However when listening to this album be ready from the start, as I find the best song on it is the first one, “Hands of Time.”

Derek

March was a fantastic month for country and Americana music! It’s still early in 2016, but March may have produced three of the best albums of the year. Firstly, Chris King’s Animal showcased a great concept of getting over a broken heart. The entire album is fantastic from start to finish, but songs like “Never Make It Last” and “Take It Down” are two of my favorites. Dave Cobb’s highly anticipated superstar album Southern Family didn’t disappoint. Bringing in the hottest Americana stars with a few of mainstream’s more quality artists, Cobb produced a solid album with songs about family life in the south. It wasn’t one story, but a collection of stories meant to paint a picture of southern families. Zac Brown’s “Grandma’s Garden” is one of his best songs he’s released. Brandy Clark’s heartbreaking “I Cried” proves why Clark is held in high regard as a songwriter. But it was Morgane Stapleton’s stunning rendition of “You Are My Sunshine” with husband Chris on guitar and harmonies that ended up being the album’s best song.

Margo Price’s Midwest Farmer’s Daughter is an excellent traditional country album. “Hands of Time” and “Four Years of Chances” are two of the album’s top songs. Country legend Loretta Lynn also released another album to add to her large catalog. Full Circle had a little bit of everything from old songs to new songs, and several great cover songs. Lynn’s rendition of “Always on My Mind” is excellent, but it’s the final song from the album, “Lay Me Down”, a duet with Willie Nelson, that will be a favorite for years to come. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention William Michael Morgan’s EP. A great record that captures the traditional sounds and values of country music but gives them a relevant spotlight in 2016. “Lonesomeville” and “Back Seat Driver” are my two favorite songs from the 22-year-old singer.

Album Review – Dave Cobb’s ‘Southern Family’

Dave-Cobb-Southern-Family

Coming into 2016 there was no album with more hype and anticipation than the Southern Family concept album. How could you not be excited for it? The entire album was conceived and produced by Dave Cobb (as well as being released via his own label Elektra Records), the man behind some of the hottest and most critically acclaimed albums in country and Americana over the past few years. He especially became a talked about name in music after producing Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free and Chris Stapleton’s Traveller in 2015. Isbell’s album went number one in four different genres, won two Grammys and we awarded it Album of the Year. Stapleton’s album was universally praised, dominated the 2015 CMA Awards and racked up a couple of Grammys too. Throw in the all-star cast of artists set to take part on the Southern Family album and it’s pretty easy to see why there was so much for hype for it. So after all of this buildup and anticipation, does Southern Family live up to the expectations? For the most part, it absolutely does and features some absolute stunning performances.

Southern Family begins with “Simple Song,” a reflecting and somber song. John Paul White, the former one half of the Civil Wars, performs the song and fits perfectly with it. His voice really adds desperate emotion to the song that lifts it to another level and really allows the listener to connect with it. Jason Isbell follows up with “God Is A Working Man.” Isbell explores the relationship southerners have with God, family and working hard. It very much encapsulates the life of the average southerner. Fans of Isbell’s earlier material will really enjoy this one, as it definitely feels more in the vein of his earlier work. “Down Home” is about the value of home and what it truly means. It’s not about the place, but the moments and people you share it with. Cobb’s cousin Brent Cobb performs this song and I’ll admit at first I really didn’t connect with this song much, but it has grown on me with more listens. I guess this is because while a lot of this album sounds roots-y, this song sounds more mainstream.

Miranda Lambert sounds absolutely great on “Sweet By and By.” The song is about the value of family and the lessons we can learn from them. The “roots meets gospel” feel really suits the song and Lambert well. After hearing this song it confirmed what I theorized months ago when I heard about this project: Lambert needs to get Dave Cobb to produce her music. Together I think they could create truly wonderful music. If I had to pick a favorite from this album, which isn’t easy mind you, I would have to pick Chris Stapleton and Morgane Stapleton’s “You Are My Sunshine.” As soon as the song starts playing and you hear those bluesy and dirty guitar licks, you know it’s a Stapleton song. What does surprise me though is that Morgane takes the lead on this song and is the focal point. And this is an excellent choice. Morgane absolutely gives me chills with her vocal performance and leaves me chomping at the bit for an album from her. Keep in mind this is a song everyone knows and has heard performed by countless people. Yet I think this might be the best version I’ve ever heard of the song. It’s definitive proof that Chris and Morgane Stapleton are the modern-day Johnny and June.

Zac Brown reminds us all of how great he can truly be on “Grandma’s Garden.” It can be easy to forget after his latest singles and rocky album the talent Brown possesses. It’s a really heartfelt song about a grandson learning from his grandma how to live a fulfilling and happy life and her garden serving as the metaphor. The songwriting on this song not only tells a story really well, but also stirs emotion up in the listener. Not to mention the pedal steel guitar play is tremendous. You won’t find a truer country song. “Mama’s Table” is about the value and memories a mother’s table can hold to a family. While a table is a table to some, for others it can be the family heirloom that goes from generation to generation, symbolizing the unity of a family. Again the storytelling and emotional aspects created by the songwriting is great and Jamey Johnson fits the song like a glove. It’s yet another good guest performance from Johnson as we continue to wait for a new album from him.

Southern Family maintains a pretty consistent sound throughout the album, except on “Learning.” Not a big surprise considering Americana artist Anderson East performs it and fits in the vein of his music. This is not necessarily bad, as blue-eyed soul music is very much a part of southern culture as country music. But it can be jarring for the listener after hearing roots based country for the entirety of the album. Holly Williams turns in an impressive performance on “Settle Down.” The song is about finding a person to settle down and spend the rest of your life with after a life of partying and debauchery and being able to accept the other’s faults. The acoustic based production really works well and the down-to-earth folky tone is right in Williams’ wheelhouse.

There are a lot of emotional songs throughout this album, but none more than “I Cried.” Brandy Clark sings about a woman watching her grandfather die in a hospital bed and then later having to see her grandmother struggle to live alone after her husband has died. And all she could do like any person is cry about it all. It’s one of those songs that just leave you speechless after you hear it. The song tackles death in such a simple, human and real way. It hits you like a punch straight to your gut. This is perhaps Brandy Clark’s best performance ever.

With Southern Family being inspired by the popular concept album White Mansions that featured Waylon Jennings and Jessi Coulter along with others, it’s only fitting their son Shooter Jennings appears on this album. He performs on “Can You Come Over?” and I have to say I’m quite surprised by how much I like it. The rocking steel guitar licks go well with his vocal performance and makes for a pretty fun song. Rich Robinson, founding member of The Black Crowes, brings the album to a close with “The Way Home.” It’s about how true southern culture is still thriving and something to celebrate. Nashville-based choir group The Settles Connection provide the vocals on the song and sound great. And how fitting is it to close this album with a gospel song? Great choice by Cobb to end the album with “The Way Home.”

After listening to Southern Family, you come away with a better understand and feeling of southern culture and lifestyle. It’s very easy to point out the problems that existed in southern culture in the past and the stigma this caused for the south is something that will remain with the culture for years to come. But it’s important to remember the redeeming qualities of the southern culture: family, friends, love, spirituality, home. All of these things southerners should rightly be proud of and point to as their defining qualities that make them great. This album celebrates southern pride with dignity and genuineness that should make any southerner smile. Cobb bringing together all of these artists who clearly understand southern culture, from both mainstream and independent realms, is not only a unifying moment for southern people, but country music in general. That’s something we can all appreciate.

Grade: 10/10

 

 

Album Review – Chris Stapleton’s ‘Traveller’ Is Fantastic Debut

Chris Stapleton Traveller

For years Chris Stapleton has been penning hits for some of the biggest and brightest names in Nashville. There’s no doubt he’s a talented songwriter, even though there are a couple of projects he’s been a part of that were not so good in my mind. Still the anticipation has been building for years for Stapleton to release his very own album. When he announced earlier this year that it’s finally arrived, I was one of the many excited to hear it. Then I found out Dave Cobb would be producing it and I knew it would be a must listen, as everything Cobb touches is phenomenal (Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, Jamey Johnson, Lucette, Rival Sons). These two great talents coming together on Traveller set my expectations high without a doubt. So I eagerly jumped into this highly anticipated album. And boy does it deliver big.

The album begins with the lead single and album title track, “Traveller.” Not only is it a great single choice, but also starts the album off quite well. The song is about the rambling man who loves to travel from place to place without a clue where he wants to go next. The bluesy and traditional production makes this song immensely likable and Stapleton’s voice is perfectly suited for the song. The next track, “Fire Away,” is an emotional heartbreak ballad. Stapleton’s voice absolutely blows me away on this song. Not only does he show great range, but great emotion too. The instrumentation arrangement fits the story of the song well, especially the lingering steel guitar in the background.

Stapleton slows it down with “Tennessee Whiskey,” a smooth love ballad. One of the greatest artists of all-time, George Jones recorded this song originally and I think The Possum is smiling down on Stapleton’s cover. It tells the story of man who had an alcohol problem until the love of his life came along and saved him. He compares her to the sweetness of strawberry wine and the warmth of brandy. Stapleton has a ton of charisma to pull off a sultry, slow song like this one. “Parachute” is one of my favorite tracks on the album. Stapleton combines country and rock to produce a catchy song that makes you want to move your feet. The songwriting is good too, as it describes how a man will always be there for his woman, her parachute as he says. This song is simple, but it works brilliantly.

You should recognize the next song, “Whiskey and You,” as Tim McGraw originally recorded it on his Let It Go album in the early 2000s. Jason Eady also recorded this song on his 2014 album Daylight & Dark. I can say with confidence out of the three, Stapleton’s recording is the best. It’s not just because he wrote the song too. It’s the fact that Stapleton delivers the emotion of this song so much better than those two. He does this by stripping this song down completely and only using an acoustic guitar for instrumentation, allowing his voice to tell the story of the song. It’s raw and grips your attention from start to finish. Stapleton absolutely nails this song. The more up beat “Nobody To Blame” follows. It’s about a man who just broke up with his woman and she’s angry as hell at him. So she’s proceeded to destroy all of his stuff, which the man takes full responsibility for because he admits it was his fault. How refreshing is it to hear this in a song? It’s quite the opposite of a song like “Redneck Crazy.” Again I’m impressed by Stapleton’s vocals and the harmonica interludes throughout the song give it an extra edge to make it stand out.

The mandolin plays in (and throughout) “More of You,” a sweet love song that I’m sure will be popular in country dance halls and wedding receptions. Stapleton sings with his wife Morgane Stapleton, who has a beautiful voice of her own. To me it adds another layer of sentimentality to a song that’s already a fantastic love song. Everything about this song works together so damn well. “When The Stars Come Out” is a dreamy tune about heading out west to Los Angeles to chase dreams. It’s about how you look up at the stars and wonder if you’ll ever reach your goals. The songwriting is a little lighter on this than the rest of the album, but the pedal steel guitar and piano lurking throughout more than make up for it.

Just like “Whiskey and You,” “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore” is a stripped down and emotional song. It’s about a man realizing his dad no longer prays anymore and paints the picture that his dad has given up hope. Halfway through the song when he’s not getting along with his dad, when he lays down at night he hears his dad praying for him. He realizes his dad does care, but by the end of the song his dad has died and realizes he’s finally walking with the Lord. I don’t think I can properly explain how great this song is and I suggest you listen for yourself. Tell me again why it took so long for an album from Stapleton? The rollicking “Might As Well Get Stoned” shifts the mood to uncaring resignation. The man in the song is alone and is out of whiskey, so he says screw it and gets stoned. The heavy steel guitar licks and Stapleton’s passionate cry in the bridge is the climax of the song and really grabs the listener’s attention. The majority of songs about getting stoned are dumb and completely pointless, but this is an exception. I like to think of this as a drinking song with the drinks being replaced with weed. And the man in the song is clearly smoking out of being despair, not joy. Stapleton put a fresh spin on a theme that is overwrought with clichés.

“Was It 26” feels like a perfect follow-up to “Might As Well Get Stoned.” The Charlie Daniels Band originally recorded the song and this is only one of two songs on the album that Stapleton didn’t help write. It’s about a man reflecting back on his wild year when he was 25 or 26. He can’t decide which year because they blend together in his mind. He doesn’t seem to regret it, but he would also like another crack at that age (whatever which one it is). It comes off as a warning to younger listeners and perhaps relatable for older listeners. Regardless it tells a great story. Oh and Stapleton’s voice is amazing once again. Stapleton sings about the crushing reality of being a musician traveling on the road all of the time in “The Devil Named Music.” He’s sometime drunk, stoned and most of all he feels alone. He misses his daughter and wife dearly, but he knows the devil that is music has his life. That’s one of the things we never think about as fans when listening to our favorite music. The amount of blood, sweat and tears that goes into making such great music is huge.

“Outlaw State of Mind” puts you in a…well outlaw state of mind. From the bellow of the guitar to the vocals it frames the theme of the song well. The harmonica solo in the bridge is fantastic too. Really this was song to show off the instrumentation that graces the album throughout, something I can certainly appreciate. The final song on Traveller is “Sometimes I Cry,” a song I could easily imagine being played in a smoky barroom in New Orleans. It’s a heartbreak song where Stapleton just lets it all hang out. He sings his ass off and the guitar play is equally impressive. Oh and this was recorded live in front of an audience. I mean what else can I say? This is another great track amongst many throughout this album.

The hype was high heading into Chris Stapleton’s album. Not only did he meet the hype, he surpassed it with Traveller. I don’t think I could ask anymore from a country album than what I hear on this album. It has everything a country music fan should want in their music. What impressed me the most out of all is Stapleton’s voice. Holy shit I did not expect him to blow me away so much vocally. He’s easily one of the best in country music today. The songwriting is top-notch, but we knew that already. The instrumentation and production is spotless, as once again Dave Cobb is in top form. I have no complaints with this album, as Stapleton is a visionary. Traveller is a must-own and is easily one of the top candidates for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year.

Grade: 10/10