Country Perspective’s Top 10 Other Genre Albums of 2020

Country Perspective will be posting multiple best of albums lists this year to recognize the staggering amount of high quality album releases in 2020. It will ultimately conclude with Country Perspective’s Top 10 Albums of 2020, which will reflect all genres and crown this blog’s top award, Album of the Year.

Today I take a look at the top ten albums from all other genres in 2020. So this list was a bit of a crapshoot. As you can see before this list I had no problem formulating lists for country, hip hop and pop. Then I was left with a bunch of albums scattered across multiple genres and not enough in any of those categories to make a long enough list for each. Not to mention determining the genre that some of these albums felt like a rather pointlessly tiresome exercise. At the end of the day I don’t concern myself much with this anymore and just focus on if the music is good or not. So rather than just forego putting them on any list, I decided to make a list of the best of the rest outside of the three genres aforementioned. The whole point of these smaller lists is to cover more artists and specific niches, while also showcasing the variety of great albums talked about on this blog through 2020. Just throwing up my top ten albums of the year didn’t feel like it was wide-reaching enough. So on this list you’ll find R&B, indie, alternative, rock and more. Without further ado, here are Country Perspective’s Top 10 Other Genre Albums of 2020:

10. DUCKWRTH — SuperGood

Smooth, slick and funky are the three best words to describe this album. If you’re looking for lyrical prowess, this album won’t have it. Not to say the lyrics are bad. They’re solid, yet unspectacular as most of the lyrics deal with love and enjoying the party. But if you’re looking for some smooth beats, this album is overflowing with them. This is an album to move to and sing along with on a Saturday night. While it’s listed as hip-hop, this is far from a straight hip-hop record. No, I would describe this more along the lines of Tyler the Creator’s IGOR. This album is very much genre fluid, an enjoyable blend of hip-hop, R&B, soul, pop and disco. While I was a big fan of DUCKWRTH’s earlier material that was edgier and had an almost rock flavor to them, it’s clear this sound seems to suit him best.

9. CeeLo Green — CeeLo Green is Thomas Callaway

Dan Auerbach, David Ferguson and Easy Eye Sound just continue to churn out quality albums. CeeLo Green is known for such hits like “Crazy” as part of Gnarls Barkley and “Forget You” as a solo artist. But this album is much different than his popular material, as the glitz and glamour is all stripped away in favor of more subtle and smooth sounds. It’s an enjoyable mix of R&B, soul, pop, gospel and even some country. Many have described Green as a chameleon-like performer and I think this album exemplifies this more than any of his others. Green’s voice really excels in the more dramatic songs, as his dynamic voice can add the right amount of tension to build up the lyrics. If you’re into soul music or enjoy Green’s voice, this album is definitely worth your time.

8. The Mavericks — En Español 

This is definitely one of those times where I wish I had taken more Spanish classes. I know some of the language, but unfortunately not enough to understand and appreciate the lyrics of this album. So I can only analyze the other elements of this album and they’re top level as always from the eclectic and dynamic group. The instrumentation is flamboyant, colorful and vibrant, a beautiful mixture of country, pop, Tex Mex and a whole lot more. Raul Malo still has one of the best voices in music, as it still sounds as flawless as ever. So based on the two elements of this album I can understand, this is another great album from The Mavericks.

7. Khruangbin — Mordechai 

I find it difficult to get into instrumental music most of the time and even harder to review it. But Khruangbin is easily an exception to this rule. I had never heard of this group until their excellent collaborative Texas Sun EP with Leon Bridges earlier this year. I’m so glad I found them, as I’ve now listened to their entire catalog after hearing the EP. Even better that they’ve dropped even more music with new album Mordechai. While I wouldn’t put it at the level of their great, southwestern-flavored 2018 album Con Todo El Mundo, this album is another pretty damn good record from the trio. This album centers mostly around a groovy, psychedelic funk sound with tinges of disco and jam pop mixed in at times. The band also surprises by mixing in some vocals on this record and they actually work pretty well. Most importantly they don’t detract from the hypnotic sounds of the band, which will always be the focus and strength of the group. If you’re looking for a relaxing album, you will be hard-pressed to find one more chill than this one this year.

6. John Moreland — LP5

LP5 is another fantastic album from John Moreland. He’s always been a great songwriter since his first album, but it’s the recognition to grow and experiment with his sound starting with his last album that’s taken him to a whole new level in my mind. Too many singer-songwriter artists think they have to stick to a stripped-down, folk-y sound for their lyrics to be taken seriously. At the same time, drum machines are dismissed as “not real instruments” used by pop stars. Well with LP5, Moreland proves both these claims to be moot.

5. Tame Impala — The Slow Rush

The Slow Rush sees Tame Impala once again delivers a memorably great album. But it’s also hard not to see this album is a few missteps away from equaling the brilliance of Currents. It lacks focus in a few spots and there’s one song that just isn’t needed. But this is also a bit nitpicking admittedly. The production from Kevin Parker is once again deeply rich and textured, engulfing you with it’s fantastic details. The songwriting mostly hits and the hooks are some of the best from Parker. You really couldn’t ask for much more from an album like The Slow Rush.

4. AC/DC — POWER UP

POWER UP showcases this group at their best. There’s anthemic, blaring riffs, strong hooks and powerful vocals. This record is a fantastic swan song and a perfect way for a legendary band to take their final bow. The entire band is on their A game and you couldn’t ask for better performances from these guys. I’ve seen some say this one of the group’s best albums and I can absolutely buy this argument. Personally I wouldn’t put it in my top three, but maybe top five. Regardless, I find this album to be quite poetic. Everybody thought this group was done when Bon Scott passed, but then they made their career-defining album in Back In Black. And everybody again thought they were done when Malcolm Young passed amidst other group issues. But once again they have surpassed expectations and made a damn great album.

3. Sturgill Simpson — Cuttin’ Grass – Volume 1

Now I expected this album to be good. Sturgill Simpson’s love and appreciation for bluegrass has always shined through. But man I did not expect this album to be this good. The melody on this album is so damn infectious, making old songs sound completely new and giving real vibrancy to his previously unrecorded Sunday Valley songs. Simpson is clearly in his element on Cuttin’ Grass – Vol. 1. He takes to bluegrass like a duck takes to water. Who knows what direction he will go on his fifth and supposedly final studio album and who knows when he’ll release Volume 2 of Cuttin’ Grass. In a tumultuous year, the best thing to do is sit back and enjoy this wonderful surprise from Simpson.

2. Tennis — Swimmer

With Swimmer, Tennis delivers an excellent album about love. It’s quickly became one of my favorite love albums. And this isn’t rash hyperbole on my end. I’m being serious when I say that this album truly delivers a heartfelt, genuine and truly touching take on true love. Love albums and love song are an absolute dime-a-dozen. They’re churned out every day. Most only focus on the surface level of love and the flip-side with heartbreak. What they don’t ever seem to focus on are the little things, the nitty gritty of relationships that aren’t easy to convey in an informative and interesting way. But that takes brilliant songwriting with equally high-quality production that aids it. Tennis delivers this.

1. The Weeknd — After Hours

After Hours is a phenomenal achievement by The Weeknd. This album is a rich, cinematic experience of love, losing it, fighting to regain it and ultimately reaching the realistic conclusion of realizing that it’s lost. The production team absolutely nails every emotion on this album and takes the lyricism to a whole new level. The juxtaposition of the breezy, mixed cocktail of genres (R&B, pop, hip-hop, dream pop, 80s) feels perfect on this album of frenetic, dark emotions that permeate throughout it. This is without a doubt one of the best albums of 2020.

Review – Fox Street’s “Our Garden”

Fox-Street-Press

The Colorado music scene has certainly been busy this year, well at least for this site. I feel like I’ve reviewed a lot of different artists from the scene and today I take a look at another: Denver-based bad Fox Street. They were voted Denver’s “Best Traditional Rock Band” at the 2013 Westword Music Showcase and have played at several venues across Colorado. Now while they received an award for best traditional rock band, I think it’s unfair to put them under this one genre and I think Fox Street would agree. They not only play rock music, but country, soul and blues. It’s a blending of genres in the band’s sound. This is certainly the case with their latest single “Our Garden,” which is off their upcoming album Authentic Western Style (due out July 28).

The song begins with the sound of an acoustic guitar and drums. It’s then accompanied by the faint sound of an organ, which lurks throughout the whole song. I know I mention the harmonica and fiddle being underutilized in country music, but I would also add the organ to the list. Gospel is a big part of country music and more artists need to embrace it for songs, especially slower ballads. So good on Fox Street for incorporating this underused instrument. The steel guitar shows up in the chorus and then later in the bridge a horns section shows up. This song has everything instrumentation-wise and I love it. The song itself is well-written as it’s sung from the perspective of a man who has lost the love of his life and is pleading for her to take him back. He admits he has faults and it isn’t easy being with him sometimes, but he wants her to stay with him right in their garden. The garden represents their life together and he doesn’t want to lose it. The songwriting is solid and cohesive.

This is the first time I’ve listened to Fox Street and I have to say I’m impressed with the artistry on display in “Our Garden.” The instrumentation is varied and brilliantly arranged. It’s perfectly placed throughout the album, so kudos to the producer of this song. The vocals are sultry and soulful, expressing the grief and pain of heartache quite well. The lyrics for the most part are spot on, doing a great job of telling the story of and setting the scene of heartbreak. Fox Street has a nice reputation in the Colorado scene for a reason and “Our Garden” is proof of it.

Grade: 8.5/10

Album Review – Zac Brown Band’s Experimental ‘Jekyll + Hyde’ Is All Over The Place

ZBB Jekyll + Hyde

Complex. Diverse. Different. These are the words that most aptly describe the new album, Jekyll + Hyde, from Zac Brown Band. Never before have I heard a country album so diverse in sound. Thankfully it came early in the mail for me, which allowed me extra time to wrap my head around it. If I had to wait until today to hear, you probably wouldn’t have read this review until next week. I’m not going to waste time on an intro and jump right in, as this is the longest review I’ve ever written on Country Perspective (I probably could have written even more). I will say this before I begin: this is most difficult review I’ve ever taken on, for many different reasons. So grab a drink and sit in a comfy chair as I take you through this album.

This wild album begins with “Beautiful Drug,” where right away you hear something you thought you never would from Zac Brown Band. They’ve gone electric, as this is a straight up folktronica song. The song itself is about being in love with a girl. While these electronic sounds are upbeat and fun, what is the point of this? There was no reason for Zac Brown Band to do this other than chase radio play. While it will be a fun song to play this upcoming summer, nobody is going to remember it. Next is their new single, “Loving You Easy.” It’s again a song about being in love with a girl. Once again it’s also a new sound for the band, as it’s decidedly a Motown/country fusion. The instrumentation is upbeat and fun. The fiddle play throughout is nice too. But these lyrics are straight up fluff and in no way original. I can see why this is a single.

“Remedy” has the classic Zac Brown Band sound for the most part. Brown co-wrote this with Americana artist Keb Mo, Niko Moon and Wyatt Durrette. It’s a song about loving each other and how it’s the remedy to solving problems in the world. It’s a nice sentiment, but the opening lyrics are a tad hypocritical after hearing the first two songs. The opening lyrics:

I’ve been looking for a sound

That makes my heart sing

Been looking for a melody

That makes the church bells ring

Not looking for the fame

Or the fortune it might bring

In love, in music, in life

With the first three albums this seems to be true. But when you’re adding Motown and folktronica sounds to your arsenal on a country album I find this hard to believe. You’re admitting that you’re chasing trends, which leads to fame and fortune with these types of songs. Just thought I would point this out. I know they’ve been upfront about not being your prototypical country band, but this is still labeled a country album. The drums and gospel choir at the end of the song are also unnecessary, but don’t hurt the song too much.

I already discussed the lead single, “Homegrown,” which is one of the best tracks on the album. Check out my full review of that if you missed it. Moving on, the band tackles another completely new sound in “Mango Tree.” Err rather I should say Zac Brown, as the band feels completely missing on this song. This is a straight up big band song from the Sinatra era, which is cool and weird. Brown duets in the song with Sara Bareilles, a talented pop artist who has a great voice, as the song is pulled off well by the duo. It’s a good song, but why is it on the album? This will be okay if it stays an album cut I guess, but with the inclusion of Bareilles I don’t think this will be the case. Like I said this is a good song, but it doesn’t belong on this album and it doesn’t belong on country radio. The winding shifts of sounds in this album continues, as “Heavy Is The Head” is next. It’s a hard rock song and it’s the current #1 song on the Billboard Rock Airplay chart. Brown is joined on the song by Chris Cornell of Soundgarden. It isn’t very surprising that Brown can pull off rock music, as the band has balanced between country music and southern fried rock their whole career. Once again though I feel like the band is missing and it’s a Brown solo project. This is another song while good, does not belong on the album. It would’ve fit in much better on The Grohl Sessions, Vol. 1 EP.

Finally the group delivers a beautiful song that showcases their great talent in “Bittersweet.” It’s one of the best written songs on the album, as it’s about a man losing his wife to a disease and how he’s reflecting on the fact that tomorrow she won’t be there with him. The songwriting evokes great emotion in the listener and might even bring a tear to your eye. The instrumentation is equally good and I love the guitar and fiddles crashing in at the end of the song to really punctuate the song. This is the Zac Brown Band I know and love on this song. “Castaway” is a beach song and I don’t think I have to say anymore about what this song is about. I’ve said before that I feel Zac Brown Band pulls off these types of songs better than about anyone else out there, with maybe the exception of Jimmy Buffett. The instrumentation is a great blend of reggae and country. In addition Brown has enough charisma to make the song likable. But a part of me feels like the Zac Brown Band has outgrown this music. This song is also a perfect example of why some people can’t take them seriously. You’ll either love this song or hate it, depending on your outlook on beach songs.

Once again the group dives into folktronica on “Tomorrow Never Comes.” There’s also an acoustic version of the song at the end of the album. Listeners are going to automatically compare the two, but before I do I want to talk about the song itself. It’s pretty good and can paint of a variety of different images in the listeners’ heads. It has no specific theme, leaving the listener to decide. I enjoy these types of songs, as music is a subjective art. As for what version I think is better, it’s easily the acoustic version. While they pull off folktronica better on this song than on “Beautiful Drug,” it still feels too noisy and uncharacteristic of the group. The acoustic version is beautiful and maybe my favorite song on the album. It shouldn’t be the acoustic version. It should be the only version. There should never be an acoustic version of a song on a Zac Brown Band album, as acoustic is Zac Brown Band. They gave folktronica a shot, but ultimately I feel they should stay away from it. All country artists should stay away and leave it to the likes of Avicii in pop music.

“One Day” is the group’s spin on the R&B/funk influenced country. This is another song that is closer to the band’s true sound, as the R&B influence naturally blends with it. It’s a pleasant song about love, which at this point is starting to become a bit tiresome. This isn’t the great songwriting we’re used to hearing from Brown and the band. It might make for decent single on radio, but it’s honestly not very memorable. One of the first three songs released on the album, “Dress Blues,” is next. This Jason Isbell-penned song is the best on Jekyll + Hyde because of course it is. It’s a hauntingly beautiful song about the harsh reality of sending young soldiers to fight wars. I give kudos to Zac Brown Band for covering such a brilliant song and giving Isbell much deserved exposure (and some nice royalty checks). By the way if you’re wondering who the woman on backing vocals is, that’s the one and only Jewel. I thought she sounded pretty good. I enjoy both versions of the song, but if you must know which I prefer it’s Isbell’s version.

On “Young And Wild” I think I’m the most baffled at the production. There are production issues throughout this album, but it’s at its worst on this song. There are so many unnecessary sounds thrown in that bring the song down and make it hard to enjoy. This is on co-producer Jay Joyce, who I’m going to rant about here in a minute. The lyrics are once again too fluffy for my liking and are also too similar to other themes explored in the album. One of the most complex and intriguing songs on the album is “Junkyard.” It’s a gritty story about a child who lives with an abusive father, the junkyard man. This father is very abusive and controlling of not just the child, but the mother too. By the end of the song the child has had enough and murders the father with a knife. It’s an intense song and tells a great story. The part where the child has had enough in the song the electric guitars kicks it up a notch, signifying the shift in attitude brilliantly. This is one of the few moments on the album where Zac Brown Band tries something different and it works well.

“I’ll Be Your Man” (Song For A Daughter) is a song that is sung from the point of view of a father to his daughter. He sings about how he will always protect her and be there for her. For fathers listening to this song, you’ll connect really well with this song. For the rest, it’s a decent song. It could’ve been better, but it stretches on entirely too long and the addition of a choir towards the end is not needed. Once again it’s an overproduced song. The penultimate song on the album is “Wildfire.” It should be noted that Brown co-wrote this song with Eric Church, Clay Cook, Wyatt Durrette and Liz Rose. It’s once again a love song with laundry list lyrics. The instrumentation is pretty good, but I think the production is a little overdone. If that’s stripped back a little, this song sounds better. I’m baffled again too how fluffy the lyrics are and I’m left wanting something more.

Now I want to talk about producer Jay Joyce. When I saw fellow critic Mark Grondin of Spectrum Pulse point this out, I immediately realized why I had such a conflicted feeling about this album and why I don’t love it. For those unaware of Joyce’s track record, he was the producer behind Eric Church’s 2014 release The Outsiders, Little Big Town’s Pain Killer and Halestorm’s newly released album Into The Wildlife. You know what all of those albums had in common for me? They were overproduced, underwhelming and pretty disappointing. I’m left with pretty much the same feeling with Zac Brown Band’s Jekyll + Hyde. It isn’t a coincidence that Joyce was behind each of these albums and I didn’t like them as much as I thought I would. He’s a huge problem and is a monster that needs to be stopped. Stop ruining music, Jay Joyce.

When it comes down to it this is probably one of the biggest disappointments in country music in 2015 for me. Zac Brown Band’s previous album Uncaged was one of my favorite country albums in the last five years. They could have easily expanded off of that album. Instead Brown brings Joyce aboard so he can muck up the sound of a great band. It was only the talent of the band where they were allowed to shine that saved this album from being a mediocre mess and make it something decent and somewhat listenable. Shame on Zac Brown for bringing Joyce into the fold and going all Bono on this album. For the first time ever I felt like the ego and business acumen of Zac Brown hurt the final product. Many Zac Brown Band fans and I’m sure many critics too will eat this album up, just like Church’s album and Little Big Town’s album. It will sell really well and do good on radio. But the cold hard truth is that there are a lot more albums that will outshine this one by far. Ultimately I will forget about Jekyll + Hyde and remember it as lackluster effort. For now I’m left disgusted, betrayed, confused and disappointed with this album.

Grade: 6/10

The Hodgepodge: The Mainstream Country Music Bubble is About to Burst

Waylon warned you, country music.
Waylon warned you, country music.

Lord it’s the same old tune…

This past weekend the 50th ACM Awards took place and the reviews for it haven’t been pretty. From Trigger at Saving Country Music to Grady Smith at The Guardian to the consensus on Twitter, they all found the show to be pretty bad. I myself found it to be weird and boring. Many of you weighed in on that post and whole heartedly agreed. The show was plagued with production errors and enough medleys to set a person insane. It wasn’t easy to sit through. Really this whole year in mainstream country music hasn’t been easy to stomach. When it looked like we were going to get more traditional country songs on the radio, the hope for that quickly evaporated. Instead we’ve gotten a heavy dose of Sam Hunt’s pop music, bro country rehashes, trend chasing, female artists continuing to get ignored and Thomas Rhett trying to be Bruno Mars. It’s the same old stuff country music has been doing for years now.

Where do we take it from here?

It was clear as day to anyone who watched the 2015 ACM Awards that country music has two big problems. The first problem is that country music has no idea what it is anymore. There’s a clear identity crisis taking place. This show featured performances from George Strait, Sam Hunt, Christina Aguilera and Nick Jonas. Do you see hip-hop awards shows with such a melting pot of performers? Do you rock awards shows with so many different sounds? No because they know who they are. This variety of sounds was touted during the ACM Awards, like this is a great thing. It’s clearly not because you’re sending mixed signals to viewers. They have no idea what the hell country music is because you’re throwing so many different sounds at them. The second problem is country music has zero direction on where to go. They’re chasing the R&B sound. They’re chasing the EDM sound. They’re rehashing bro country stuff. Country music is like a 12-headed monster and each head is going a different way. There’s no cohesion and no identity.

It’s been the same way for years/We need to change

Country music clearly needs to change and quickly. I think that’s obvious to a lot of people. But nobody wants to make the first move. Everyone is too afraid to make a move or say something. Some people will say, “Well what about Sturgill Simpson? He can save country music!” To them I repeat what I’ve said before and what Sturgill himself has said: he’s no savior. One artist can’t save the genre. I find Sturgill to be a trailblazer and a shining example to other independent country artists on how to do it your own way. Regardless of what happens in mainstream country music, Sturgill Simpson will be safe and continue to do his own thing. Atlantic Records will wisely keep him out of that racket and market him more like an indie rock artist rather than a mainstream country artist.

Another thing people will bring up is splitting country music, something that looked very possible last year. The top 40 country artists could go do their thing and the traditional, older country artists could go do their music. It would establish a clear line and everyone could be happy. I’ve advocated for this. But that convenient dream isn’t going to happen. It’s pretty much dead right now. You’re better off dismissing this fantasy as unrealistic. There are other ideas I’ve seen floated out there that could “save” mainstream country music and bring it change, but they’re not even worth addressing because I only see one change on the horizon for mainstream country music happening. It’s a change that they’re in the midst of doing right now and they’re not even aware it’s about to happen.

The mainstream country music bubble is about to pop. No splitting. No country music civil war is going to happen. It’s simply going to break into pieces, something I forewarned of months ago if country music didn’t start to get its act together. It reminds me a lot of how rock music shattered into pieces, became irrelevant as a mainstream genre and disappeared completely off radio. Rock reached its peak in popularity in the 80s with hair metal, which bro country is often compared to. At the beginning of the 90s, Nirvana became huge and grunge became the popular style in rock. The arrival of this group was a godsend for the genre because hair metal along with some other terrible rock sub-genres had made the public bored with rock music. Nirvana brought something fresh and new to the genre. Then Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana, tragically shot himself. Some people say this was the day rock music died too. Rock music lost its icon and symbol of hope.

Slowly but surely rock music devolved into multiple sub-genres, as several groups failed to duplicate the sound and success of Nirvana. The genre lost direction and popularity. Hip-hop made its rise into mainstream prominence at this time and essentially bumped rock off radio, taking its place. Now look at rock music. You don’t hear any new rock music on the radio. All there’s left of rock music on the radio is a local classic rock station playing hits from rock’s heyday. I see country music going down the exact same path minus the Nirvana part. There’s won’t be a Nirvana because country music doesn’t want a Nirvana walking through the door. Country music would rather continue down the same path it’s on and fall flat on its face. It’s afraid of trying something new, fresh and different. Taking risks isn’t considered business sound, even though business is stagnant and terrible right now.

Somebody told me when I came to Nashville
Son you finally got it made
Old Hank made it here, we’re all sure that you will
But I don’t think Hank done it this way, no
I don’t think Hank done it this way, okay

Now this gloom and doom prediction I’ve just thrown out at you is a real bummer. But ultimately I think country music would become better as a result. A new genre will rise out of the ashes. There would no longer be a mainstream or radio presence by country music. This would mean only the best country artists would get noticed. People would take to the Internet to find country music, just like independent country fans do now. It’s what rock fans do too. The B-list artists that are only known because of manufactured radio pushes by major labels would fall off the radar. This would be anyone who isn’t at a Carrie Underwood/Blake Shelton type level. So you would say goodbye to the Michael Rays and Kelsea Ballerinis of country music. The fluff would be out the door. I wouldn’t have to review terrible music being passed off as country anymore. Come to think of it, this sounds like an ideal scenario.

Heed the words of Waylon and make proactive change, country music. Or a crashing change will eat you alive.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Zac Brown Band will release their new album Jekyll + Hyde next Tuesday. I have no idea what to expect in terms of sound with this album, which makes me even more excited to give it a listen. If you haven’t read it yet, check out the album’s track listing. Also Aircheck confirmed the rumor that the group’s next single will be “Loving You Easy” and will impact radio on the first week of May.
  • Tyler Farr’s new album Suffer in Peace will also come out next Tuesday. The track listing for it suggests a mixed bag. I expect a few good songs and a few terrible songs. Speaking of terrible, I found out via Windmills on the song “C.O.U.N.T.R.Y.” Farr sings about his love of truck nuts. I’ll let you imagine what that song is like.
  • For those who missed it, Jason Isbell announced his new album will be released on July 17 and will be called Something More Than Free. That’s the same day Alan Jackson’s new album comes out too. This is also a significant day because it’s the first week where major releases start coming out on Fridays rather than Tuesdays.
  • Sammy Kershaw just announced recently that he will be releasing his first full-original album in five years on June 9. It will be called I Won’t Back Down. He signed a deal with Cleopatra Records to release the album. This is a great surprise and I’m definitely looking forward to this one.
  • Also for those that aren’t on Twitter: I saw Gary Allen live in concert last Friday and it was a fantastic show. From what I’ve gathered from the show, his new album should be classic Gary. He mentioned that “Hangover Tonight” was the last song written onto the album, which leads me to believe he threw it in to appease his label. Allen played two new songs from the album and they sounded like great country songs. The one was called “Mess Me Up” and I think it has great potential to be a single.

Throwback Thursday Song

Randy Travis – “Forever and Even, Amen” – It was so great to see Lee Brice give a shout out to Randy Travis at the ACM Awards. It was also classy of him to play a couple of lines acoustically from Travis’ classic song “Forever and Ever, Amen.” So I thought it was only appropriate this iconic song would be this week’s throwback song.

Non-Country Album Recommendation 

Rap music’s great year continues, as another fantastic rap album just came out. It’s Yelawolf’s Love Story and it has one of the most different sounds I’ve ever heard on a rap album. Probably because it’s a rap album with heavy country and southern rock influences. What? Yes, you read that correctly. The wording is key: it’s a rap album with country influences and not the other way around. It’s in the right genre too. I always thought though you couldn’t mix these two genres period, but Yelawolf, a southern hip-hop artist from Alabama, proves me wrong. What separates Yelawolf from hick-hop artists like Colt Ford is Yelawolf’s got bars. He understands the craft of rap. The album is a whopping 18 songs long and complex, but it’s well worth listening to from start to finish. Ironically it has even more country moments than many mainstream country albums. Patsy Cline’s “Walking After Midnight” can be heard in the opening song! Rap music is now sounding more country than country music. What world am I living in?

Tweet of the Week

So many great candidates for tweet of the week, thanks to the ACM Awards. But this one took the cake. It’s the perfect analogy.

An iTunes Review That Will Make You Face Palm

Hunt Fans Being Hunt Fans

This was under Sam Hunt’s Montevallo. I…just…I got nothing. What can I say to this?

That’s it for the Hodgepodge this week! Be sure to sound off in the comments! 

Album Review – Big & Rich’s Gravity

The country duo of John Rich and Big Kenny of Big & Rich have always been interesting. They’ve proven they can make quality music (“8th of November” and “Lost in This Moment”), but also stupid novelty music (“Save A Horse” and “Comin’ To Your City”). So there are times when you want to applaud them and then other times where you’re just flat-out embarrassed for them. One thing about their dumber music though is they’re willing to admit up front they’re not being serious with it, unlike bro country where their dumb music is actually trying to be serious when it’s the furthest thing from serious. Big & Rich’s new album Gravity is their second album since reuniting after they split off for a couple of years. Neither did much with their solo careers, although John Rich had one minor radio hit with “Shuttin’ Detroit Down” (a great song by the way that deserved more praise than it received at the time). They’re better together without a doubt and I was anxious to hear what they came up with for their new album.

The Best Songs on the Album

There were two songs that stood out above the rest on this entire album. The first song is “Thank God for Pain,” which you might have seen made my top ten songs of September list. It’s about suffering pain in life and it being worth suffering because it makes love feel that much better. The song is similar to Sunny Sweeney’s “Second Guessing.” The song kind of has a “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” attitude. Big Kenny & John’s harmonies are pretty solid in this song and the sound reminds me a lot of 90s country music. It may come off a little simple to some people, but I think that’s perfect for this kind of song and I felt it conveyed enough emotion to make it stout.

The other standout song on this album is “That Kind of Town,” a song that makes social commentary on small towns. Among the topics in the chorus are gossip making the paper, “the baby doctor” being “the undertaker” and “where there’s more to life than Bud Light and cruisin’ around.” The line about the baby doctor being the undertaker is definitely a reference to abortion and how you feel about this line will be determined by your stance on the issue. The line about Bud Light and “cruisin’ around” is perhaps a swipe at Nashville and bro country? But as you listen to the album this might come off a bit hypocritical. Another edgy line in the song discusses the preacher’s hypocriticalness of being judgmental despite having an affair with the Sunday school teacher. The lyrics are really good and the instrumentation is too for the most part. I thought it came off a little bit overproduced though and this hurt the overall quality.

There were two other solid songs on the album at the beginning. “Gravity,” the album’s title track is a love song and the theme is “lovers make the world go ‘round.” It’s a modern country song that features some competent piano play. I think it’s solidly written and the vocals were good enough to make it work. Tim McGraw joins the duo on “Lovin’ Lately.” It’s a heartbreak song where the man wonders what the woman is doing now and who she is sleeping with. I think the instrumentation is good, but the lyrics are little light. I don’t see the point of including McGraw because he doesn’t contribute much to the song. He just sings harmonies with Rich & Kenny. I think it’s a decent song that could do well on radio possibly and maybe that’s why McGraw was included on the song.

The Worst Songs on the Album

Remember when I said Big & Rich is capable of making bad music? That shows up on this album a few times. When I first heard “Rollin’ Along” I couldn’t really tell what the song is about, but upon second listen I realized it’s a driving on a back road and let’s go parking song. It’s not as offensive as the bro country songs are about this subject and is actually quite tame for the most part. The problem is the lyrics are boring and don’t hold my attention, hence why I didn’t know what this song was about originally. There is nothing special about this song.

The worst song by far though on this album is “Lose a Little Sleep.” This is a bro country song through and through. It’s about getting drunk and trying to have sex with a girl. How original! There’s also a line that suggests mixing some rock music and George Jones music. No! This is never acceptable! This is a bad song that has shallow lyrics and mediocre instrumentation. Avoid this song. Speaking of rock music, Big & Rich turn back to this on the final track of the album, “I Came to Git Down,” a party, laundry list song. I have to admit the beat is pretty catchy and is easy to get wrapped up in. The lyrics though are blatantly checklist. The instrumentation is also more rock sounding than country sounding. It’s not horrible, but it isn’t creative at all. The song tries too hard to be rock and doesn’t try hard enough to be country. This sounds like a country song Mötley Crüe would record if they were to ever do country music. Hey wait a minute! That happened this year and Big & Rich was a part of it. Keep Mötley Crüe away from country music please.

The Rest of the Album

As for the rest of the album it’s pretty average or slightly above average. Gravity starts with the song “Look at You,” a song about a man who can’t stop thinking about a woman who was in his life, but is now out of it. Lyrically it tries to be deep, but it’s a little shallow instead. It’s just your average, modern country sounding love song. “Brand New Buzz” compares a new woman in a man’s life to alcohol, saying that his new buzz is love instead of drinking. Another modern country sounding song. This theme has been done to death and this song doesn’t really do anything to freshen it up. Also the title sounds similar to Jerrod Niemann’s “Buzz Back Girl” and you don’t want to be associated with him in your music. “Run Away With You” is a love song about a man wanting to run away with his wife and rediscovering the love they once had. This song could be relatable to many older couples who have fallen out of love. Think something along the lines of a song like Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood’s “Remind Me.” It’s a decently written song that conveys some emotion. Big & Rich go back to the heartbreak theme with “Don’t Wake Me Up.” In the song a man pleads for a woman to not wake him up if she decides to leave him because he doesn’t want to deal with the pain. Again it’s your typical modern country instrumentation with just okay lyrics. I thought this song could have been something more.

Overall Thoughts

Other than a few bad hiccups this album is mostly above average with a couple of high points. Big & Rich will never blow you away with amazing songwriting or amazing lyrics, but they’re solid all-around and one of the better acts in mainstream country music. If they actually stayed away from the novelty songs and overproduced, shallow songs and focused on making one album of all serious songs they could turn some heads. But alas they couldn’t stay away completely from it on this album. I could see a couple of songs possibly do solid on radio and it’s a shame about the timing of their album release in the midst of the biggest names in the genre releasing their own new material. If you listen to Gravity you will definitely find a song or two you’ll personally enjoy, making it worth at least one listen alone. This album does more good than harm, but the harm is so bad it weighs this album down enough preventing it from being a good album and overshadows some of the better moments throughout it.

Grade: 6/10