Country Perspective’s Best Country Albums of 2014

We have reached the end of 2014 and over the course of the year we’ve reviewed a lot of great country music. So in case you just found the site or don’t remember all of the great country albums we’ve reviewed, you’re in luck. Here are the links to every album we rated an 8/10 or higher over the course of the year. These are the albums we give a solid recommendation or more for you to listen to. Keep in mind this site started in May, so we won’t have every single great album. For example we never got around to reviewing Dierks Bentley’s album or Don Williams’ album, two albums that would have definitely made this list. So if there are albums missing that you love, they were most likely not reviewed. Others of course may have not been rated high enough to make it. I’m also including our album of the year candidates in case you missed those too. One more thing: only albums are included, no EPs. So without further ado here are Country Perspective’s most recommended albums of 2014.

10/10 (Album of the Year Candidates)

Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music 

Shovels & Rope – Swimmin’ Time 

Karen Jonas – Oklahoma Lottery 

Lucette – Black Is The Color 

Tami Neilson – Dynamite! 

Sunny Sweeney – Provoked 

First Aid Kit – Stay Gold 

Old Crow Medicine Show – Remedy 

The Secret Sisters – Put Your Needle Down 

9.5/10

Angaleena Presley – American Middle Class 

Micky & The Motorcars – Hearts From Above 

Stoney LaRue – Aviator 

9/10

Wade Bowen – Wade Bowen 

Matt Woods – With Love From Brushy Mountain 

Lee Ann Womack – The Way I’m Livin’ 

BlackHawk – Brothers of the Southland 

The Roys – The View 

Jason Eady – Daylight & Dark 

Mack McKenzie – One Last, One More 

Bonnie Montgomery – Bonnie Montgomery 

8.5/10

Jon Pardi – Write You A Song 

Ray Scott – Ray Scott 

Mary Sarah – Bridges 

The Buffalo Ruckus – The Buffalo Ruckus 

Rich O’Toole – Jaded 

Corb Lund – Counterfeit Blues 

8/10

Eric Paslay – Eric Paslay 

Phillip Fox Band – Heartland 

Terri Clark – Some Songs 

A Trip Back In Time: What Was Country Music Like in 2005? (Part Two)

 

(This is part two of my two-part look at country music in 2005. If you missed part one, you can read it by clicking here.)

So after getting those two embarrassing songs, “XXL” and “Redneck Yacht Club”, out of the way let’s take a look at my now current favorite song on this album, Ray Scott’s “My Kind of Music.” This song has the perfect blend of seriousness and humor. The story of the song is Scott has found his perfect woman, until he finds out she hates country hate and she calls it “hokey.” Scott becomes more frustrated with her lack of appreciation and knowledge throughout the song until the end where Scott finally has enough of her and tells her to kiss his ass. I wish this song came out today because as a single guy I’m always talking with girls who say they like “country” music and then proceed to list their favorite artists as Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line and Chase Rice. It makes me cringe. I then cringe even more when I explain to them who my favorite country artists are (Waylon, Alan Jackson, George Jones, etc) and they have no clue who I am talking about. Or worse she says they’re old and boring. So I guess I can relate to this song quite well and I wish there was a song like this on the radio right now.

 

The next song on the album is Lonestar’s “You’re Like Coming Home.” This group of course is known for their hits such as “I’m Already There,” “My Front Porch Looking In” and “Mr. Mom.” If you listened to country music radio in the 2000s, you’ll remember them quite well as they were quite popular and received plenty of radio time. Yes these guys made pop country songs, but I actually enjoyed Lonestar. At least the songs had some heart and sounded country for the most part. “You’re Like Coming Home” peaked at #8 on the country charts and this was really one of their last hurrahs as they only had one top ten single after this. The reason I think they declined in popularity is because the band was climbing in age and Rascal Flatts pretty much came along and took their spot. I would take Lonestar over freaking Rascal Flatts every single time. If there’s going to be pop country on the radio, at least give me the good pop country.

This is followed by Blake Shelton and his cover of “Goodbye Time.” Older fans and country music historians will recognize that this song was originally recorded by Conway Twitty. Turns out this song was originally pitched to Reba McEntire, but she turned it down because she was going through a divorce at the time and the song felt pretty similar to what she was going through. Conway had good success with it, as it peaked at #7 on the country chart. Shelton was able to duplicate this success with his cover also, as it reached #10 on the country chart. Going back and listening to pre celebrity/bro country/egotistical douche Blake Shelton music is quite surreal. Shelton could have had a great country music career AND kept people’s respect, but he obviously chose a different route. There’s no dispute the man is talented and capable of producing great country songs and “Goodbye Time” is certainly proof. It’s also pretty ironic Shelton was one of the most country sounding artists on the radio. Oh how things change so drastically over such a short time…

 

Speaking of that the next song is Jason Aldean’s “Hicktown.” Although I feel Aldean isn’t as talented as Shelton, he too could have had a good country career that also earned people’s respect. The possibility of that of course is washed away, especially after “Burnin’ It Down.” Again it’s quite surreal to go back and listen to “Hicktown” just like I said with “Goodbye Time.” This is a decidedly country song that depicts small towns and southern culture in a way that isn’t offensively false. The year 2005 actually marked the debut of Aldean in country music as his self-titled album was his first album and “Hicktown” was his first ever single. It reached #10 on the country chart and was his introduction to the country music world. He would follow this up with “Why,” which reached #1, and “Amarillo Sky,” which reached #4. Both of these songs also decidedly country sounding and actually good in quality too. Where did it all go wrong with Aldean? I’d say he was going downhill with “She’s Country” and “Big Green Tractor.” In my opinion, he was officially gone with songs like “My Kinda Party” and “Dirt Road Anthem.” Shelton and Aldean infuriate me so much with their career choices.

Moving onto the next song, you might want to grab some tissues for this one. It’s Martina McBride’s “God’s Will,” a song about McBride meeting a little boy who was crippled named Will. It tells the heartbreaking story of McBride getting to know Will and how his tough life has taught her so much. The song reached #16 on the country chart and really it should have been so much higher. This song is fantastic and I can see why McBride did an album of R&B covers recently. Country music radio never appreciated her as much as they should have. Anyway you should listen to this song if you don’t remember it.

 

The next song is Andy Griggs’ “If Heaven,” a song that speculates on what heaven looks like. My apologies to Griggs and his fans, but I don’t remember him or this song at all. That’s a shame because after listening to this song it shows that Griggs is a talented artist and belongs more on the radio than most artists that are currently on it. This song reached #5 on the country chart and was his sixth top ten country hit. After this Griggs hasn’t had a song reach no higher than #52 on the country chart. According to this interview he gave in 2006, Griggs left major label RCA Nashville over creative differences. So pretty much another talented country artist leaving a Nashville label because they refused to make corporate country music that appeals to the label’s demographics. I hate you Nashville. By the way Griggs is still making music and you can find more about him here.

The final song on the album is Brooks & Dunn’s “It’s Getting Better All The Time.” This was one of many #1 hits for the iconic duo. They would go onto produce music together for five more years and split in 2010, as everyone I’m sure remembers. For decades they were the top duo in country music and for the most part made pretty good music. Now we’re stuck with Florida Georgia Line. I sometimes wonder how it would have played out if they had stuck together and the duos went head-to-head on the awards circuit. We’ll never know. From what I’ve gathered, Kix Brooks is pretty much a shill for mainstream country music now. This doesn’t surprise me as he’s trying to get into the career of becoming a DJ. Ronnie Dunn is still making music and if you follow him on social media, he has a big piece of news he plans on announcing soon. I’m speculating he’s been signed to NASH Icons. I know he’s made several posts on fighting the mainstream country music system and he made a candid post months ago about his latest album trying too much to appeal to radio. It looks unlikely we’ll see these two together again anytime soon.

 

So that concludes our look back to country music back in 2005. The landscape has certainly changed since then and not for the good either. All in all country music still sounded like country music in 2005 and that’s something I would love to get back to someday. For now we have our traditional country music in the independent and Texas scenes. Maybe the NASH Icons project can return us to greener days. Ten years after Totally Country Volume Five we’ll find out if this comes true.

Josh’s Top Ten Country Songs – October 2014

 

Going into the month of October I didn’t expect much. How can you when Florida Georgia Line and Sam Hunt are releasing new music? I did know that Wade Bowen and Angaleena Presley were releasing albums and I expected them to both deliver quality albums. They lived up to my expectations and have three songs each on my top ten list. What I didn’t expect is the artists at the top of my list to be #1, let alone even make my list. It isn’t a typo nor is it a mistake you see on the Spotify list above. My #1 country song for the month of October is The Swon Brothers’ “This Side of Heaven.” Now I know I gave the album a pretty mediocre grade and that’s being generous. There are some awful songs on it with a few decent ones. But “This Side of Heaven” is the absolute gem of it and arguably one of the best released in mainstream country music. Props to Carrie Underwood’s role in the song too as it gave it an oomph toward the climax of the song. Odds are slim this gets released to radio, but if it does I’ll be thrilled. If you haven’t heard it go listen to it.

The second best song of the month is Angaleena Presley’s “Surrender,” a song with raw emotion that hits you right in the gut. It’s the first of three songs from her brilliant American Middle Class album on my top ten list. Next is Wade Bowen’s “West Texas Rain,” a song about life that resonates with us all. This is also the first of three songs from Bowen’s solid self-titled album on my list. Next is Presley’s “Pain Pills,” a song that attacks big pharmaceutical companies. Rounding out my top five country songs for October is Bowen again with “Sweet Leona.”

At number six is the brilliant new single from the up and coming Mickey Guyton, “Better Than You Left Me.” If you haven’t listened to Guyton sing yet, please go listen to her music. I think she has a lot of potential and I think this could be the first of many appearances on my top ten lists. Up next is Bowen’s “Long Enough to be a Memory,” a song about reflection, choices and home. Presley’s third and final song on my top ten list, “Better off Red” is next. At #9 is Ray Scott’s dark song about domestic abuse, “Papa and Mama.” This is an underrated song on an underrated album that deserves more praise than it gets. Scott rounds out my top ten list with “Ain’t Always Thirsty,” a reminder of what country drinking songs should be about.

My honorable mentions: Ray Scott’s “Leave This World” & The Swon Brothers’ “Same Old Highway.” Also the rest of Wade Bowen’s album and Angaleena Presley’s album.

A Trip Back In Time: What Was Country Music Like in 2005? (Part One)

At the beginning of my Ray Scott review, I mentioned the first time I came across him was on a Totally Country album. It was Totally Country Volume 5 to be exact and it was released in February 2006, so it was music that popular in 2005. There was actually one more Totally Country album released after volume five, which I also own. I owned four at one point too, but I lost it along the way. Anyway the reason I wanted to go back and look at this greatest hits type CD from nine years ago is to see how different country music sounded then compared to now. Let’s take a trip back in time and see what it was like in 2005-2006 country music.

The album begins with Miranda Lambert’s “Kerosene,” her first hit single and the song that launched her career. It was later certified platinum. While this song does have a traditional country sound, this would be the base for pretty much the majority of Lambert’s hit songs. A song about a woman who found her man cheating or doing something wrong, with veiled threats from the woman or in this case a blatant threat. I really don’t like the violent undertones in these type of songs, as they’ve pretty much become cliché with Lambert. Nonetheless I would take this song over some of her more recent material.

The second song on the album is Gretchen Wilson’s “Homewrecker.” Once again it’s another female country song about cheating and veiled threats. While Wilson is pretty traditional with her music, this song in particular annoyed me because it was overplayed so much on radio. Yes at one point I was annoyed by a song by a female being played too much on the radio. Things have definitely changed in nine years on country radio. Wilson has disappeared from country radio, although she’s still signed with Big Machine and Scott Borchetta.

Up next is a fresh-faced Dierks Bentley’s third ever single, “How Am I Doin’.” This song reached #4 on the country chart and it was his third top 20 hit. Bentley was still a newcomer at this time, but he was well on his way with this great start to his career. Today he’s one of the biggest stars in country music and most of the time is making great country music. Even his most annoying hit, “Drunk on a Plane,” isn’t as bad as the worst songs in the genre today. If only the G6 line was removed from the song, I would’ve maybe liked it. Anyway “How Am I Doin'” is an upbeat heartbreak song and it’s the type of song I would love to have back on country radio. But alas there are no tailgates.

This is followed by a song I’m sure most country fans are familiar with, Big & Rich’s “Comin’ To Your City.” This was another song that was killed by being overplayed on the radio. But disregarding that this song isn’t that bad. It’s a fun song that isn’t offensive to the ears lyrically or thematically. As I said in my recent Big & Rich review, I have no problem with the duo. Sara Evan’s “Suds in the Bucket” is up next, a pop country song I don’t mind. This was one of the handful of songs that reached #1 for Evans. This came during her peak years of her career, from the early 2000s to the mid 2000s. Just like Gretchen Wilson and other female country artists, she has been swept aside by country radio. I hate you bro country.

Now the next artists on this album you may have forgotten about. It’s Van Zant and their biggest hit, “Help Somebody.” Do you remember these guys? To refresh your memory, the duo is made up of brothers Donnie and Johnny Van Zant. Their brother is the late Ronnie Van Zant, the former lead singer in Lynyrd Skynyrd. The duo started out in southern rock, just like Lynyrd Skynyrd, but shifted to country music in the mid-2000s. They signed with a major label, Columbia Records, and they put themselves on the map with their first single, “Help Somebody.” It would be the biggest and only top ten hit for the duo. This was followed up with “Nobody Gonna Tell Me What To Do,” which peaked at #16 on the country chart. After this the group slowly faded out from mainstream country music and I completely forgot about them until I came across this CD. They’re still active today, but haven’t released an album since 2007.

 

I’m sorry I have to bring up this song now, but if I have to hear it again you’re going to have to hear it again also. Cowboy Troy’s “I Play Chicken With The Train” was one of the first hick-hop songs to rear its head in the mainstream country scene. That’s because of his association with the MuzikMafia, headed up of course by Big & Rich. The duo sings the chorus of this song and this is not one of their better moments in their career. Now I know Big & Rich weren’t being serious when they introduced hick-hop into their songs and it was meant to be a joke. Unfortunately there were people who heard this and thought this should be turned into a serious thing. Now hick-hop is common in country music. Thanks a lot John and Kenny! You should have known Nashville loves these type of horrible ideas. I’m not placing whole blame on the duo, but they certainly shoulder some of it and it’s a reason why some people can’t listen to their music. Listen if you dare:

 

Montgomery Gentry’s “You Do Your Thing” is next. This was back when the group still actually made decent country music with southern rock influence. In fact this duo was quite popular during this time and received regular airplay throughout the 2000s. This song is about minding your own business and doing what you want. A simple, but good message. Fast forward to today and you can tell this group is a shell of its former self. They released a song called “Titty’s Beer” a few years ago and that was when I lost all respect for them. I’m not going to link that monstrosity of a song because I don’t hate my readers.

The next two songs on this album are Craig Morgan’s “Redneck Yacht Club” and Keith Anderson’s “XXL.” These are the two songs that made me buy this album. Yes, I know what you’re saying to yourself. “What the hell, Josh?” In my defense I was a teenager and the lyrics for these songs appeal to teenagers. I’m sure you’re not proud of your music tastes when you were younger too. That’s one of the good parts of growing up. You grow out of immature lyrics and terrible songs, moving onto the grown up music. Both “Redneck Yacht Club” and “XXL” were the forerunners and templates for bro country today. Novelty sounding songs with checklist lyrics that appeal to the lowest form of thought. These were big hits for both artists and neither are relevant today. I call that a win. Someday we’ll be able to say the same of bro country artists today.

 

This is part one of the article. Check back next Thursday for part two!

Album Review: Ray Scott’s Self-Titled Album Delivers Humor and A Traditional Sound

When I first heard a Ray Scott song it was completely by accident. Remember those old Totally Country CDs they used to release regularly in the mid-2000s? This was before digital music became real popular and people still bought CDs. I picked it up from the store one day because it had a handful of songs on there I enjoyed hearing on the radio. I’m not telling you which ones because it’s embarrassing what my taste in music was like during this time. In fact after coming across this CD again recently it’s amazing how different and much better country music sounded in 2005 (maybe a future post). Jason Aldean and Blake Shelton actually made decent music! But anyway back to Scott. His single “My Kind of Music” made the album and I remember it vividly since hearing it. For those who don’t remember it’s a song about Scott dating a woman who doesn’t like country music and can’t name any great country songs. By the end of the song Scott tells her to hit the road and kiss his ass (he actually says this) because of this.

“My Kind of Music” really sums up what you get when listening to Scott’s music. It’s important to keep in mind that Ray Scott isn’t always serious with his music, similar to the style of Big & Rich. Scott loves to incorporate humor into his music and if the subject is immature he’s probably joking around with the song. He actually prides himself on sounding traditional with his music though and he’s been consistent with this over the years. My approach with every album is to consider the style and approach artists take with their music. So keep this in mind if you’ve never heard Scott’s music before when I review his new self-titled album because his style is certainly unique compared to most country artists today.

I’ll break this album down from the beginning to the end in order to really demonstrate how Scott can flip a switch between being serious and silly. The first four songs alone demonstrate this. The album begins with “Cookin'” and immediately you hear a harmonica at the beginning of the song, which I would love to hear in country songs more often. The song is about a man’s wife who can cook pretty well, but not in the kitchen. I think you know what I mean. Now keep in mind this song isn’t trying to be serious. This is just a silly song to get a good laugh, depending on your sense of humor. The instrumentation is pretty good and the beat is easy to get wrapped up in, even if you don’t find it funny.

Scott then switches to his serious side with “Ain’t Always Thirsty,” a drinking song that deals with heartbreak. The man in the song explains he doesn’t always drink because he’s thirsty, but because he’s heartbroken or feeling down. His emotions sometimes force him to do things he doesn’t want to. This is a throwback to what drinking songs should be about like in the days of Jones and Jennings. Scott’s vocals are great and the instrumentation is spot on. Once again Scott goes back to his not serious side with “Drinkin’ Beer.” It’s about drinking beer of course and in several different locations. Now some might point out the themes of this song are sort of bro country esqué. But Scott drinking on a John Deere tractor sounds more believable than the likes of Luke Bryan and Cole Swindell. The lyrics are bit repetitive, but that’s the point I think. Again at least the instrumentation is decidedly country, even if you don’t agree with the theme approach.

Scott then does a complete 180 degree turn with “Papa and Mama,” going from silly to downright dark and morbid. This song is about a boy who watches his papa beat his mama and cheat on her. He finally has enough and saves enough money to buy a 12 gauge shotgun. One day he waits for his papa to arrive home and kills him as he walks through the front door. The lyrics really paint a vivid picture in the listeners’ heads of the situation and Scott’s vocals really add emotion to the song too. This is arguably his best song ever and proves that when serious, Scott can shine just as bright as he does with lighter material. See what I meant about him switching between serious and silly now?

The next two songs Scott isn’t being too serious, yet both situations are quite plausible. “Tijuana Buzzkill” is about Scott and a buddy going down to Mexico and getting into trouble at a bar. It’s really a funny song that will make you laugh at least once. The use of the horn really helps drive the beat and pace of this song. This is one of his better fun songs. His next fun song, “Wheels on the House” isn’t as entertaining to me. This song is about living in a trailer, or how this song describes it as a house on wheels. It describes living in this manner to be nice and if you ever need to change the view, you can always move it across town. It’s sort of half serious, half funny. The theme is a little boring.

Scott gets serious again with “It Ain’t Gonna Be You,” which is about a woman trying to come back into a man’s life, but he isn’t allowing it. He says if he’s going to have his heart-broken again, it’s not going to be because of her. Scott really does spoken word well in this song and it helps advance the story of the song. Tyler Hubbard needs to listen to this song and take notes. This song has some rock influences and is especially evident during the brief electric guitar solo towards the latter half of the song. The song is simple, yet describes a complex feeling that has been felt by many in this situation. Scott shows his softer side in the love ballad, “Leave This World.” He professes his love for the woman of his life. It’s nice to see this side of Scott because it proves to his detractors that he’s multi-faceted and not a one trick pony that only does humor songs. I would’ve liked to have heard a tad more emotion in his voice, but that’s nitpicking. The songwriting is solid.

“Her Old Man” is about a man who’s in love with a woman, but he’s quite fearful of her father getting out of jail someday. It’s another song with humorous undertones, but then again I’m sure there’s guys who have been in this situation too. The sound of this song is a throwback to the late 80s and early 90s sound of country, which is nice on the ears. I’m going to skip the next song because I want to save it for last in my review, so let’s look at the final song on the album, “I Miss The Days.” This song is about Scott reflecting on his simpler days as a kid and misses those innocent times. It’s a nostalgia based song that I’m sure will make many listeners connect with this song. This is the kind of emotion “American Kids” was going for, except this song doesn’t sound like a commercial jingle with the songwriting and Scott actually conveys emotion in the song. It’s a nice way to cap off the album for Scott.

The final song I want to look at in this review is “The Ugly One.” This one is definitely not on the serious side. Basically the song is told from the point of view from Ray who’s trying to help his buddy Scotty get back out in the bar scene after dealing with a bad breakup. They spot two women, with one looking pretty and the other not so much. Ray tells Scotty to go after the pretty woman and he’ll “take one for the team” by dealing with the “ugly one.” Ray is pretty much an asshole the whole song, ragging on this poor ugly woman. You’ll laugh at his horrible jokes at least once and feel awful about it in the process, but the payoff at the end of the song makes it all worth it. I won’t spoil it, so I recommend listening to this song just to hear the end of it. This is another one of Scott’s great humor songs.

I had surprisingly a lot of thoughts on this album, but when dealing with unique albums such as this one it’s bound to happen. Scott is always trying to inject humor into his music, yet the sound of the music always maintains a traditional country sound. This album made me laugh, yet also think about more serious subjects. I guess these are the things that in my mind elevate Scott above Big & Rich, despite their somewhat similar approaches. I would’ve loved to hear Scott parody bro country or make a song mocking it, but that’s just me being greedy. This album is under the radar and it’s a damn shame too because this is Scott’s best album of his career. If you don’t mind humor in your country music and love the traditional sound, this album is highly recommended.

Grade: 8.5/10