Album Review – Josh Vincent’s ‘Small Town Stuff’

Josh Vincent

One of the side effects of the pop trends in country music in recent memory is the rise of copy cat artists willing to emulate the artists they hear on the radio, all in the hopes they can get rich and famous. But there’s another side effect that goes unnoticed by many. That side effect is inspiring independent artists to go in the opposite direction and churn out the best damn (real) country music they can make. Up and comer Josh Vincent would most certainly fit the latter description. On his site he says he has an agenda and that’s to make outlaw style country music. He received a guitar at an early from his father and has been playing it all his life, including during his career as a police officer. Now that’s he is retired from law enforcement, Vincent is now going after his dream to make country music. He makes his debut with his new EP Small Town Stuff.

The EP opens up with “Small Town Stuff,” a mid-tempo reflection on living the small town life. Vincent sings of the good like everyone knowing everybody and the bad like…everyone knowing everybody (which leads to gossip of course). It’s an accurate look at middle of America and the lives of the average person. Unlike small town songs you hear on the radio, this is grounded in reality. The production is good and catchy, although a bit quiet (understand though for an independent artist like Vincent). This is followed by “Hell Bent & Twisted.” Vincent sings of how his life was a mess before he met the love of his life. She took him in and made him a better person, a life worth singing about as the song says. It’s more on the rock side compared to the rest of the album, but mostly grounded in country. “So Much Shit” shows a more humorous side to Vincent, as he sings about discovering just how much shit he can buy on the Internet. He goes crazy buying stuff up left and right on the likes of Amazon and eBay. This is all fueled of course by a 30-pack of Keystone Light. He’s worried as hell when he goes to tell his wife that he spent all of their money, but finds out she has done the same. It’s a simple, yet fun and catchy song.

Vincent makes his feelings on pop country known on “We Ain’t (Pop) Country.” Now you know as well as I know that protest songs against mainstream country music have pretty much become as cliché as the themes they mock. However this song stood out to me from the other endless protest songs out there because of how Vincent makes a point of how people in middle America are no longer country. He sings of the real lives the everyday person experiences and how that’s just how it is for them. They don’t do it because it makes them country. Not to mention the song makes it a point of how mainstream country no longer relates and connect with the working person. And that makes this a pretty good protest song. Small Town Stuff closes with “Two Shots.” It’s about a man playing a poker game at a beer tavern and realizing he isn’t exactly being dealt a fair hand. So he gets up to leave, but the man at the door won’t let him leave unless he pays up. This leads to the man shooting his way out and heading out to Mexico to hide out. Eventually he decides to go back home to get his stuff only to find his wife in bed with another man. Once again he uses his gun out of anger and heads on back to Mexico. It should be noted of course the man is not proud of what he has done and knows he has to live with the murders he has committed. What I like about this song is not only how well it’s crafted, but reminds me a lot of the old songs of the outlaw era that dealt with serious situation like this (think Johnny Cash’s “I Shot a Man in Reno”). I would say it’s my favorite of the EP.

While Small Town Stuff is a little rough around the edges and isn’t the smoothest of listens, I think it demonstrates the potential that lies in Josh Vincent. With this really being the formal beginning of Vincent’s career, he’s only going to get better with more time and experience. He clearly knows the music he wants to make and I think with more seasoning as a songwriter could blossom into a pretty great artist. I especially enjoy how he mixes up the themes throughout the EP, giving a glimpse into both serious and less serious subjects. Small Town Stuff is a good start for Vincent and I think he’s an artist worth keeping an eye on.

Grade: 7/10

The Hodgepodge: A Historical Snapshot of Kris Kristofferson

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From left to right: Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson & Waylon Jennings

“Renaissance Man” may be the perfect way to describe Kris Kristofferson. Kris attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. He was a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army. He was an athlete in high school running distance, playing rugby, football, and was a Golden Gloves boxer. After leaving the Army in 1965, Kristofferson was offered a teaching position at West Point. After the offer came through, Kristofferson says, “I was in Nashville for two weeks on leave between assignments. I just fell in love with the music community that was going on there.” With all those accomplishments and a wealth of high-end opportunities on the horizon, Kris decided to take a different path and remain in Nashville. Call him crazy, but he took a job as a janitor at Columbia Records, intent on finding success as a singer and songwriter in country music.

It took a few years, but Kris Kristofferson eventually found success in Nashville with his songwriting. Roger Miller gave him his first break when he recorded one of Kristofferson’s most well-known songs, “Me and Bobby McGee.” The song was written upon request by Monument Records’ Fred Foster who gave Kris the title “Me and Bobby McKee.” (Bobby McKee was a secretary in the building). But Kris misheard Foster and thought he said “McGee.” Kris found inspiration from the film La Strada and composed the lyrics to one of music’s best songs (in this writer’s opinion).

After Miller recorded “Me and Bobby McGee,” it was Johnny Cash’s recording of “Sunday Morning Coming Down” that thrusted Kris Kristofferson into spotlight. “Sunday Morning Coming Down” was awarded song of the year at the 1970 CMAs. Recognition continued for Kris with his second album Silver Tounged Devil and I being released in 1971, along with some more songwriting nominations for “Help me Make It Through The Night”, “Me and Bobby McGee” and “For the Good Times.”

Kris’ more poetic style of writing didn’t fit in with the Nashville Sound and style that was popular in the 1960s and 70s. He was proud of his writing style and story telling and didn’t waver for anyone, an attitude which rightfully positioned him with the Outlaws alongside Waylon and Willie. And along with Cash, those Outlaws formed the supergroup The Highwaymen and recorded Highwayman, an album whose title track remains one of country’s more famous songs.

When it came to writing, Kris says, “I’ve always felt that it was my was my job to tell the truth as I saw it, just the same as Hank Williams did and the way Bob Dylan did. It was important to me and I think I probably antagonised [sic] some audiences.” Kristofferson had stories to tell and love for music. His devotion to that mindset and attitude trumped everything else. “I was so in love with the thing I was doing, I wasn’t conscious of really not being very successful like the rest of my family was.”

Kristofferson exemplified an Outlaw not because he put up an over-masculine facade or sang songs about being a tough bad-ass, but because he blazed his own path to stardom and success. Kris Kirstofferson didn’t go down the Chet Atkins’ trail of corporate regurgitated country music. He did it his own way, and that’s why he was considered a country outlaw. Kris Kristofferson’s influence on country music holds steady even today. Next month, there will be an all-star tribute show in Kris’ honor. Taking place on March 16 at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, The Life & Songs of Kris Kristofferson will feature Willie Nelson, Eric Church, Rosanne Cash, Ryan Bingham, Jamey Johnson, and several others performing Kristofferson songs in honor of Kris’ musical achievements and legacy for country music.

There’s much more to Kris Kristofferson’s legacy. He has a rich history and story about the work he put in and the people he met along the way. For instance, Kristofferson famously landed a helicopter on Johnny Cash’s lawn in his early efforts of getting songs recorded. While Cash wasn’t home at the time of the landing, it nonetheless shows the lengths he went to get his music noticed. His resiliency to make his dream come true is inspiring. Kris Kristofferson put his blood, sweat, and tears into his music and took the long road to find success. The work paid off and he will forever stand as one of country music’s most influential trailblazer.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Tomorrow, Waco Brothers’ Going Down in History will be released.
  • Carolina Ghost from Caleb Caudle will be released tomorrow as well.
  • Granger Smith’s album Remington will hit the shelves March 4.
  • An album I am very much looking forward to: Margo Price’s Midwest Farmer’s Daughter will be released on March 26.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Sunday Morning Coming Down” Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson: Both Cash and Kristofferson have recorded the song, but does it get any better than these two singing the song together? Also, you can tell how proud Kristofferson is to sing his own song alongside Johnny Cash.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Janis Joplin. Sticking with the Kris Kristofferson take over, I suggest you all go listen to Janis Joplin, a singer I could endlessly listen to on shuffle. She and Kristofferson dated for a while up until Joplin’s untimely death. Janis Joplin also recorded “Me and Bobby McGee” for her excellent album, Pearl, which was released posthumously. Janis Joplin also recorded “Piece of My Heart” as lead singer of Big Brother and the Holding Company. That song was later recorded by Faith Hill in 1994.

Tweet of the Week

That’s enticing, but I probably still wouldn’t join Tidal for that either.

A LoCash iTunes Review

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I’ve only heard “I Love This Life” from the radio, but this review tells me everything I need to know about LoCash, and what I know is I don’t want to listen to them if they’re taking notes from Florida Georgia Line and Sam Hunt.

The Hodgepodge: Stop Pretending Mainstream Country is “Family-Friendly”

For years, many for its entire lifetime, country music has more or less been thought of as a family-friendly genre compared to other genres such as rap or rock n’ roll. You could make the argument that Elvis’ rise to popularity as the King of Rock n’ Roll helped perpetuate that notion. Elvis’ pelvis shaking and rowdy rock music was a culture shock to music world in the 1950s, and as teenagers rebelled and flocked to rock n’ roll halls, country music continued down a path of tradition that fit with the cultural norms and establishments. Drums were technically banned from the Grand Ole Opry until 1973, just another detail of how country music solidified itself as the antithesis of the rebellious rock music.

Enter Waylon and The Outlaw movement of the 1970s which gave country music more of an edge, combining rock music with their country music. But while the outlaws operated outside the established Nashville Sound, producers like Chet Atkins kept the reigns tight on the rest of his artists who recorded at Studio A. The control Music Row had (and truly still does have) on artists signed to Nashville labels brought forth a face and image of what country music is. Country music is three chords and the truth, cheating and drinking songs, pick up trucks, etc. But what also set country music apart was their willingness to consistently record gospel tunes, a practice that allowed country music to be viewed as a family-friendly genre.

Carrie Underwood, for example, has had numerous number one singles from songs with religious messages (“Jesus Take The Wheel” “Something in the Water” “So Small”). Garth Brooks had a number one single with “Unanswered Prayers”, and George Strait’s “I Saw God Today” hit number one. Aside from religion, family values and marriage devotion have been successful songs in country music as well. Stars like Alan Jackson (“Remember When” & “Livin’ on Love”), Brad Paisley (“He Didn’t Have to Be” & “Anything Like Me”) and Kenny Chesney (“There Goes My Life”) have had number one singles celebrating family values in songs.

Even though tides have turned and mainstream country in 2016 is very different compared to 30 or 40 years ago, even 10 years ago, I think there’s still a general assumption that country music is still considered a family-friendly music choice. That, however, is a terrible assumption because mainstream country music has become anything but family-friendly. Before I argue why, the inspiration for this post came from a recent article about how Chris Lane’s single “Fix” came to fruition. (Don’t worry, that single will be dealt with on this site soon enough). The sentence that draws my ire has to do with the original draft of the song’s lyrics:

By the time they finished it, “Fix” incorporated images of cocaine lines at a nightclub and the phrase “good shit,” all of which was considered OK because, after all, it wasn’t supposed to be a family-friendly country song.

Chris Lane FixThe implication here, is that by censoring the word “shit” and providing euphemisms for cocaine  “Fix” will then become a family-friendly country song. I call bullshit! The entire song is a three and a half-minute metaphor to drug addiction, a positive metaphor at that rate. I can’t imagine any parent with half a head on his or her shoulders wanting their 10-year-old to listen to a song with several drug references and implied sex. What about that song is “family-friendly”?

Mainstream country in the past few years has regressed from its family-friendly nature, mainly due to bro country. Sure, these bros still referenced their religious upbringing, but those were throwaway checklist mentions to verify to themselves that they were indeed country boys. “This Is How We Roll” isn’t a religious song at all, even though Luke Bryan sings “we pray on them Sundays.” Florida Georgia Line may be “all good with Jesus” in “It’z Just What We Do”, but that song is just another late night bonfire party song. And Michael Ray’s “Real Men Love Jesus” is no where close to being a song about a Christian man.

But the songs on the charts recently stray far away from that family friendly face of country music. Songs about revenge sex (“Home Alone Tonight”) and running from the cops (“We Went”) are sitting in the top 30 this week. Florida Georgia Line’s “Sun Daze” was a parade of family-unfriendly references (“If I’m lucky, yeah, I might get laid,” “wear my favorite shades and get stoned” & “stick the pink umbrella in your drink”). And does anyone think that Jason Aldean’s creepy robotic voice singing about seeing a girl naked in his bed (“Burnin’ It Down”) is something families want to listen to?

There are still artists and country singers who hold onto the traditional values and roots of country music, but those artists aren’t the ones being played on radio. Those artists don’t have a mass audience like Luke Bryan or Florida Georgia Line. Mainstream country and radio today isn’t the same family-friendly country music as before; it’s not even close family-friendly music. I’m not complaining about the fact that these songs exist; the complaint is that these are the songs that are representing country music to the majority of people – on award shows, radio, in publications like Rolling Stone or Billboard. My complaint is that people still refer to country music as a family-friendly genre while songs with very unfriendly content are the songs people hear the most. And that’s okay, but stop pretending you’re a family-friendly genre if that’s the direction you want to go.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Chris King has announced the date of his album releaseAnimal will hit the shelves on March 4.
  • Randy Houser provided details for his next album. The album, Fired Up, will feature 17(!) songs including Houser’s current single “We Went.” Fired Up will be released on March 11.
  • Dierks Bentley announced the title of his eighth studio album, Black. 
  • Randy Rogers Band will release Nothing Shines Like Neon tomorrow. Josh’s review for the album will also be published tomorrow.
  • Brothers Osborne’s debut album, Pawn Shop, will also be released tomorrow.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Better Things To Do” Terri Clark. Terri Clark is one of my favorite female singers in country music. She was all about girl power while keeping it country, and this 1995 hit is the epitome of her attitude. Clark tells her ex-man that she’d rather do just about anything than miss him.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

David Bowie. To say David Bowie was an icon feels like an understatement. The man was an innovative entertainer, influential in his music, leaving a legacy that will carry on for years to come. Rest in peace, David Bowie, you will be missed by many. I’ve just picked the song “Heroes” for this post, but go listen to any of Bowie’s music.

Tweet of the Week

More love for David Bowie. Rodney Crowell says it best here: “a tear in the fabric of creation itself.”

Two iTunes Reviews from Clueless Chris Lane Fans

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As I said before, “Fix” will be dealt with soon. But these two reviews are from Lane’s EP. The lines that make me face palm:

  • “If you listen deeper and can picture yourself living the song, it’s gotta be country” (because A) that doesn’t apply to any other genre, and B) that’s the end all, be all defining nature of country music)
  • “Adds a little something that I’ve rarely heard in country music…SOUL.” (who has ManOfMuzic been listening to that he hasn’t heard a country singer sing with soul? Probably only Cole Swindell).
  • “…blending bluegrass and gospel since the begining. This takes it one step further and really brings all those sounds full circle and into 2016!” (Aside from the spelling error, THIS IS A POP EP!!! ManOfMuzic must have a different version of Fix-EP because I didn’t hear any resemblance of bluegrass or gospel.)

Album Review – The Piedmont Boys’ ‘Scars & Bars’

The Piedmont Boys Scars and Bars

In my time of running Country Perspective I’ve gotten to know a lot of independent country and Americana acts. It’s taught me a lot about the trials and tribulations of an act trying to get noticed, building their audience and for some trying to snag that elusive record deal that would solve all of their problems (some are just fine being independent). The difference I’ve learned between the independent acts who “get it” and don’t “get it” are the ones that are aware of these problems and the ones that are not aware. The latter never survive and also never get featured on this site. They’re just trying to be the next Sam Hunt or Florida Georgia Line and people don’t want wannabes. The former truly believe in themselves, their music and strive to be their best by working their asses off.

The Piedmont Boys most certainly exemplify this. They started in 2007 in Greenville, South Carolina. Ever since then they’ve played thousands of shows in every location conceivable and have opened up for big names such as Eric Church and independent stalwarts like Charlie Robison. They’ve only taken one weekend off in seven years, proving their dedication to their craft. And when it comes to their brand of music they’re gritty, real and very much in the outlaw vein. They hate pop country and put plenty of steel guitar and fiddle into their music. A few months back they released their newest album Scars & Bars, an album that certainly lives up to their description. This is an album made by traditionalists for traditionalists.

The upbeat and fun “Ain’t Got No Hot Water” kicks the album off. It’s a catchy little tune about not having any hot water, but plenty of cold beer. Right away you get a good taste of how much fun this band has making music, along with their love of honky tonk music. The Piedmont Boys slow it down with “Pickens County.” It’s a love ballad drenched in fiddle and shows that the band is just as good at slowed down songs as they are at upbeat ones. “Josephine” is a reflection ballad about a man remembering a girl who was in his life and being unable to shake her memory. She’s tattooed on his mind and he’s finding it hard to move on from her. It’s a solid, mid-tempo heartbreak ballad.

The steel guitar driven “Better on Bein’ Alright” is next. It’s a song about the honky tonk lifestyle and being on the road. The instrumentation on this is really well done. One of my favorites on Scars & Bars is “Heart Don’t Fail Me.” It’s another honky tonk life song about a man knowing that if his heart doesn’t end up killing him, his liver definitely will. This sounds like something Johnny Paycheck would have cut back in his heyday. “Sweetwater” is a laid back song about taking a laid back approach to life. It’s the kind of song you play as you’re taking a joy ride down the road. Also it’s worth pointing out that they namedrop Jason Boland playing on the stereo, which is a name drop that is much better than the ones in mainstream country songs (insert pop singer here).

The Piedmont Boys sing of the drifter lifestyle again on “Free Spirit.” It’s all about looking forward to whatever town or gig is ahead, as dwelling on the past does nothing. As in all of the songs on this record, the steel guitar is aplenty. Another standout of the album is “She Prays to God.” It takes an interesting look at a heartbreak ballad, as the song is about a woman who prays to God that a man won’t take her home. Her prayers are answered and the man is left alone. This is definitely one of the deepest cuts of the album. “35” is a song about a man wondering how the hell he’s still alive at 35 after the lifestyle he’s lived. He thanks God for keeping him alive and Jack Daniels for keeping him high. If there’s one theme this band loves to sing about, it’s the honky-tonk lifestyle.

One of two live tracks on the album is “Rice, Beans.” The Piedmont Boys sing of a man living on rice, beans, cocaine and cheap whisky and listening to some George Jones after his woman left him. It’s their take on the classic drinking heartbreak song and I have to say they nail it. “Gypsy Soul” is one of the quietest on the album. It’s appropriate, as the song is about soberly reflecting back on the road travelled in life and owning up to all of the mistakes made along the way. The mandolin really sets the mood perfectly on this song. Scars & Bars comes to a close with “Bocephus,” a fitting song title, as it’s homage to Hank Williams and the South. You could view this song in two ways: It’s just as clichéd as mainstream songs about southern life or an anthem that accurately represents what the South is all about. I would describe the song as Steve Earle meets Lynyrd Skynyrd, which is a compliment. It’s a fitting closer to the album.

The Piedmont Boys’ brand of outlaw country is loud and proud on Scars & Bars. The domineering theme of the entire album is without a doubt honky-tonk life and music, something they’re very good at singing about. If you’re yearning for a style of the outlaw days, this is an album I definitely recommend checking out. It’s the anti-thesis to country radio, something The Piedmont Boys I’m sure will wear with a badge of pride.

Grade: 8/10

 

Album Review – Whitey Morgan’s ‘Sonic Ranch’ is Absolutely Amazing

Whitey Morgan Sonic Ranch

I’ve been waiting for months to write a review for this album. I fortunately received an early copy of this album and I’ve been listening to it ever since. When I hear something this great, I want to tell everyone about it. Now I finally can. Before I even write the review I’m just going to tell you right now: go buy Whitey Morgan’s Sonic Ranch. When I alluded to there being at least one album of the year candidate being released in May, many of you assumed I was referring to Chris Stapleton’s Traveller album. Well that wasn’t it, as that surprised me. This is the album I was referring to. Morgan, a Flint, Michigan native, along with his band the 78s delivered an album that even surpasses Traveller in my mind. It’s that damn great. This is music straight out of the Waylon Jennings era of country music. I think you get the picture, so without further I’m going to break down this phenomenal album the best I can, even though I know my words won’t do it justice.

Sonic Ranch starts off with “Me and the Whiskey,” which immediately establishes the theme of this album: gritty, booze drenched heartache and pain. In this song the man has given up on pretty much everything, from God to his mom to cocaine. It’s now just him and his whiskey as he drinks everything away. It’s a great song to kick off this album and prepares the listener for the rest of the album experience. Morgan gives us pure, honky tonk country goodness with “LowDown on the Backstreets.” Really the entire album is honky-tonk country, but this one sticks out to me because of its brilliant instrumentation. The steel guitar and piano are perfect in this song. Next is the Townes Van Zandt penned “Waitin’ Round To Die.” Morgan does the famous Texas songwriter justice in this cover and fits perfectly with the theme of the album. The song tells the story of a man who’s lived a hard life. This includes growing up with separated parents, a woman stealing all of his money and getting thrown into prison for two years. When he does get out his only friend now is codeine, which he says doesn’t drink, smoke or lie to him like everyone else in his life. It’s an emotional song that you really need to hear for yourself.

Even though it’s hard to pick a favorite on an album as good as this one, “Still Drunk, Still Crazy, Still Blue” stands out a little more for me than the rest. Everything in this song works so well together that I liken it to a well-oiled machine. You couldn’t make it any better. The punctuating moment of this song is when Whitey croons out, “Well I’m still drunk, still blue, I’m still all fucked up over you/I’m still stoned, I’m still alone.” It really helps paint the picture of a heartbroken man drinking himself silly. It may seem like a simple song, but the emotions and instrumentation really make this song special. “Leavin’ Again” is about a man who continues to watch his woman leave him over and over again. It tears him up so much that he “shakes and cries like a child.” He admits he hasn’t been his best, but he still wants another chance. It’s a fantastic heartbreak song that expresses the emotion of it so well.

The next song, “Goin’ Down Rock,” seems to be the epilogue to “Leavin’ Again.” The man is basically sleeping around and refuses to go down unless he “goes down rocking.” Basically he wants to live life as hard as possible and won’t go down unless he’s doing it full throttle. Once again the steel guitars are just fantastic. The quietest track on the album is “Good Timin’ Man,” a song about a man struggling to be his normal self due to his alcohol and relationship problems. He’s able to put on the façade when he’s in front of everyone, but deep down he’s hurting. The choice of alternating between an acoustic guitar and pedal steel guitar throughout is great. “Drunken Nights in the City” sets the scene of the grimy and seedy underbelly of cities across America. Morgan warns of shady characters and crooks ready to “take you for more than you know.” When Morgan seeks redemption from a preacher, the preacher tells him he’s been on the streets far too long. In other words, he’s broke beyond repair, as the streets have become a part of him. Again Morgan does a brilliant job of painting the scene in listeners’ heads.

The penultimate song on the album, “Ain’t Gonna Take It Anymore,” is about a man who catches flack from his woman about screwing around and finding some incriminating stuff on his phone. Fed up, the man sets out into town with a bottle of whiskey in his hand to drink her away. While at the bar he finds a woman whose beauty strikes him, but that’s when he notices her husband looking at him in a drunken stupor, who warns him to get the hell out of there. That’s when the man realizes he’s bitten off more than he can chew and heads home, where he should have stayed in the first place. It’s a self-deprecating song with the right mix of humor and reality. Sonic Ranch closes out with “That’s How I Got To Memphis,” the story of how a man ended up in Memphis because he followed his love there. She ended up leaving, but he doesn’t regret following his heart. He still loves her and wants to find her to tell her this, as he seems to be determined to go wherever to win her heart. It’s a touching love song that beautifully caps off the album.

What makes this album stand out above a lot of other country albums released so far is how cohesive and tight-knit everything is on this album. The instrumentation and the production is flat-out perfect. The lyrics are emotional and tell brilliant stories throughout it. Morgan’s bellowing voice reminds me of a lot of Waylon Jennings and Sturgill Simpson, yet Whitey is much more gruff and gritty giving it a different texture compared to the likes of Jennings and Simpson. The album is the exact right length of 10 songs. It leaves no room for unnecessary filler that can bring the quality down. It’s straight, no-holds barred, outlaw-style country music that will leave you wanting more. This is the kind of album that will make people take notice of Whitey Morgan and put him on the radar of country music fans everywhere. This is an artist and album everyone needs to hear. Sonic Ranch right now is one of the top candidates for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year. There are very few country albums better than this one.

Grade: 10/10

For those who collect vinyl, you can purchase this album in three different colors (standard black, white, orange) off of Whitey’s website right here.