Country Perspective’s Best Country Group of 2014 Nominees

Country Perspective has many year-end awards: Best Album, Worst Album, Best Male Artist, Best Female Artist, Best Song, Worst Song and this award Best Group. Each are challenging in their own right, but this award is arguably the toughest to determine. Four of the five nominees albums are up for Country Perspective’s Best Country Album of the Year. That’s insane! These groups are all fantastic regardless of what group ultimately wins and you should check out all of their music.

Derek and myself will ultimately determine who wins, but you the readers will also have a big say on who wins too. Your feedback and opinions in the comments below can and probably will sway who wins. So be sure to sound off on who you think deserves to win. Let’s take a look at the nominees for Country Perspective’s Best Country Group of 2014.

First Aid Kit – These Swedish sisters sing music that is wise beyond their years. Johanna and Klara Söderberg thrill with their haunting album Stay Gold. The album also makes you laugh, cry and reflect. It’s an emotional roller coaster that flows perfectly together. They also did a fantastic job covering Paul Simon’s “America.” Speaking of America, more people in this country need to hear this duo. First Aid Kit is also up for Country Perspective’s Best Country Album of 2014 and Best Country Song of 2014 (“Cedar Lane”).

 

Old Crow Medicine Show – If there’s one group you can consistently rely on to produce great music, this is the group. Old Crow Medicine Show hasn’t missed a beat since Willie Watson left the group to pursue a solo career and their album was great enough to be nominated for Country Perspective’s Best Country Album of 2014. Their emotional song “Dearly Departed Friend” was also nominated for Country Perspective’s Best Country Song of 2014. You know what else is great about this group? You can tell how much they enjoy making music.

 

Shovels & Rope – I’ll be honest with you: I never heard of this duo before this year. I heard a lot of praise for their new album Swimmin’ Time from people I respect in country music, so I gave it a listen. I’m sorry I wasn’t aware of this dynamic duo sooner. Husband and wife Michael Trent and Carry Ann Hearst combine for some of the best harmonies I’ve ever heard. Their chemistry and attention to detail make for one of the best albums of the year. They’re also up for Country Perspective’s Best Country Song of 2014 with “Coping Mechanism.”

 

The Secret Sisters – They quietly released one of the best country albums of 2014 with their album Put Your Needle Down. Really I was surprised by how little talk there was of this great album. Under the guidance of T Bone Burnett the duo delivered a deeply harmonic album. Derek did a great job reviewing this album and this snippet at the end of it I think sums up this group and their 2014 best:

This album is a musical time machine, taking it right into the center of each era of great music and The Secret Sisters flawlessly execute every song, delivering a quality that could stand up with each genre’s best. This is no sophomore slump. Laura and Lydia prove their songwriting prowess and establish themselves a strong base on which to build a strong, promising musical future.

 

Zac Brown Band – The best group in mainstream country music didn’t even release a new album this year and yet they did enough to be nominated for group of the year. What qualified them in our minds to be nominated for this award? Well first they released a great EP in The Grohl Sessions Vol. 1, which produced the great single “All Alright.” They also collaborated with several artists (Allman Brothers, Elton John, Foo Fighters, Doobie Brothers) to make great music and admirably cover classic hits. Another thing that made me respect this group even more was Brown picking Sturgill Simpson to open for him on select tour dates. This group simply respects country music and it shows through their music and actions.

 

Who should win Country Perspective’s Best Group of 2014 award? Let us know in the comments below.

Country Perspective’s 2014 Album of the Year Nominees

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

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

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

First Aid Kit – Stay Gold

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

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

Karen Jonas – Oklahoma Lottery

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

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

Lucette – Black Is The Color

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

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

Old Crow Medicine Show – Remedy

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

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

Shovels & Rope – Swimmin’ Time

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

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

Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

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

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

Sunny Sweeney – Provoked

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

Tami Neilson – Dynamite!

Tami Neilson Album Cover

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

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

The Secret Sisters – Put Your Needle Down

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

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

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

Album Review – The Secret Sisters’ Put Your Needle Down

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

The Best Songs on the Album

Laura and Lydia grew up singing a cappella in their church, and that history and practice of vocal harmonizing doesn’t go unnoticed here. The sisters show off a great vocal range throughout the whole album and they blend their voices together beautifully on every song, especially in “Bad Habit.” The sisters trade lines and verses throughout the song and echo the lines of the song’s outro. This is one of the few songs on the album in which they give listeners a unique, give and take vocal performance, and The Secret Sisters do not let that opportunity go to waste. The song itself is a well-written tune about an addiction. They drop lines that make it fairly clear that this addiction is to a man, but a few verse lines and primarily the chorus leave room for listeners to cast whatever bad habit he or she has onto this song. “Black and Blue” is another song that allows the listener to interpret meaning for him or herself. On the surface, is a song where a female laments over the idea of her man leaving her; she wants another chance from him. But lines like “I’m black and blue worrying over you” lead this reviewer to believe that perhaps he may be abusive and she may be submissive to that abuse. The song is written vaguely enough to allow for this open interpretation without taking away from the surface meaning of loss and heartbreak. Also the impressive Motown groove of the melody helps cover that potentially dark undertone of the lyrics.

In songs where the story is clear, The Secret Sisters drive that story home with their melodies. “Iuka” (which was recently performed on The Tonight Show) introduces us to a young couple in love. Her father is short-tempered and abusive and doesn’t want his daughter to marry, so the couple travels to Iuka, Mississippi to elope. However, the angry father chases this couple until he catches them and the sisters drive the point home with the lyric “two headstones for two lovers who finally got away.” Laura and Lydia cover PJ Harvey’s “The Pocket Knife”, a song about a young woman not wanting to get married despite her mother and suitor’s wish. It’s likely the situation in the song is an arranged marriage and the young girl in the song simply wants independence in her life. They sing this song with an angry passion that’s felt throughout the entire track. It’s worth noting the album’s namesake is a lyric from this song. Both these tracks have heavy, dark moods driven by screeching fiddles, hard-hitting percussions and intense guitar strums. The best part about these songs is that The Secret Sisters keep their perfectly harmonized vocals present in the midst of the heavy instrumentation.

The Worst Songs on the Album

There honestly isn’t a song here that I found bad or worth calling out for a lesser quality. Each song has its own unique value that it brings to the production as a whole.

The Rest of the Album

Besides their harmonies, the one other feature that stood out on this album was the percussion of every song. The tambourines and drums throughout the whole record are outstanding. In fact, the instrumentation as a whole is exceptional. The seasoned production of T Bone Burnett is felt in every song on Put Your Needle Down. They sing Motown (“Black and Blue” “I Cannot Find a Way”), blues (“Bad Habit”), rock (“The Pocket Knife” “Iuka” “Rattle My Bones”), country (“If I Don’t”, “Let There Be Lonely”, “River Jordan”); and The Secret Sisters sound natural on every track. “Dirty Lie” is the song that Bob Dylan had started years ago and sent to the sisters to finish. Laura and Lydia work with Dylan’s draft, and work their own voice into the lyrics to while intermixing their additions naturally to what Mr. Dylan began years ago. “Lonely Island” and “Good Luck, Good Night, Goodbye” are two tracks that have a 50s feel and are filled with more great harmonization and writing. After an album of mostly covers (and well done cover songs, I might add), The Secret Sisters step up to the challenge and establish themselves as artists capable of delivering great original content to a growing fan base. Most artists who undertake an album where they jump into four or five different genres may stumble and fall with the choppy nature of the tall order, but not The Secret Sisters. Laura and Lydia have the vocal gifts to effortlessly deliver authentic sounding songs in every genre they touch, matched with a great production to sell that authenticity.

Overall Thoughts

In the Rolling Stone article linked above, Lydia Rogers says if you can’t categorize your music, then you’re not following a formula or musical trends, which means that your music is truly something special. And that’s what Put Your Needle Down is; it’s something special. This album is a musical time machine, taking it right into the center of each era of great music and The Secret Sisters flawlessly execute every song, delivering a quality that could stand up with each genre’s best. This is no sophomore slump. Laura and Lydia prove their songwriting prowess and establish themselves a strong base on which to build a strong, promising musical future.

Grade: 10/10