Album Review – Mudcrutch’s ‘2’

Before there was The Heartbreakers, Tom Petty had Mudcrutch, a southern rock/alt country band. Mudcrutch initially formed in 1970, but after fives year with no musical traction, the band split and Petty went on to do great things with The Heartbreakers. Over the last eight years though, Tom Petty has brought Mudcrutch back together for some short tours and a few album releases, including released in May. As mainstream country grew in popularity due to bro-country, Tom Petty turned heads with his comments on the music, calling it “bad rock with a fiddle.” While Mudcrutch falls into Americana with 2 rising up the Americana Airplay Chart, the album has a couple good offerings of country and rockabilly songs mixed in with Petty’s style of rock.

The album opens with a harmonica playing over a simple drum beat and guitar strum on “Trailer.” The song details a man who, upon graduating high-school, got himself a mobile home to start his own life with the girl he loves. “Trailer” highlights the ups and downs of their life together. “Dreams of Flying” sounds like a vintage Tom Petty rock song, with longer guitar solos accompanied by a faint organ sound. The lyrics hint at the attraction of the rock and roll lifestyle, with an itch to get out and explore the world and fly.

Mudcrutch slows it down with love song “Beautiful Blue.” The spacey, rock ballad production feature piano and organ keys along with another extended solo in the middle of the song, and a nice piano solo toward the song’s end. “Beautiful Blue” certainly has a callback sound to 70s classic rock. “Beautiful World” touches on love again, in a more anthemic, mid-tempo rock song. The song touches on mystery and uncertainties in life, but the love shared between the man and woman in the song make those uncertainties worth it. “I Forgive It All” takes a different approach to dealing with life’s curveballs. The acoustic ballad finds the narrator down on his luck with little money, but he keeps pushing along and forgiving the downs of life.

“The Other Side of the Mountain” takes a turn into country music with a prominent banjo setting the beat in the production. The “mountain” in the song separates two lovers who long to be with one another, but can’t figure out how to navigate around the mountain. “Hope” is another song with a classic rock production. The guitar lick in the middle of the song actually reminds me a bit of Eric Clapton and Cream’s “White Room.” The song is a thank you to a friend, or even a prayer to a religious figure, for providing hope and a more joyous outlook in life.

The rockabilly side of Mudcrutch comes out with “Welcome to Hell.” The piano beat and simple, repetitive drum beats make the song sound like a remastered 50s hit, a sound that suits the band well. “Welcome to Hell” details the fall of a relationship and marriage. The emotional nature of the lyrics is lost in contrast to the upbeat production, but the song works well as it’s produced. Failed relationships and the country sound continue in “Save Your Water.” The woman of this relationship is playing games, and he’s tired of playing along, so he finally burns bridges and breaks the ties. “Save Your Water” is ultimately forgettable.

The quick southern rock tune “Victim of Circumstance” is an upbeat driving song. In this relationship, the man is taking a long journey back to California, hoping his woman will welcome him with one more chance. Mudcrutch closes out 2 with the six-minute “Hungry No More.” The song tells the story of a man who’s been beaten down by life, yet he’s still determined to fight back and make the best out of the situation. “Hungry No More” is a slow burning track with a mid-tempo beat, but the songs packs a bunch in the final two minutes with a roaring guitar solo.

Mudcrutch’s second album showcases a good musical variety for Tom Petty and his bandmates. Mike Campbell (guitarist) and Benmont Tench (keyboards) are also members of The Heartbreakers. Drummer Randall Marsh and singer/guitarist Tom Leadon round out Mudcrutch. The five-piece band are experienced musicians and producers, and that experience helps this album work. The balance between country and rock and the way the two genres blend help shine. It’s the sort of album you come to expect from a group of musicians at this point in their career: solid, well-produced songs.

Grade: 8/10

Album Review – Brothers Osborne’s “Pawn Shop”

 

“I think people are tired of the bullshit and are ready for the real substance,”

John Osborne told that to Rolling Stone as new country music duo, Brothers Osborne, readied their second radio single, “Stay A Little Longer.” John (lead guitar) and his brother T.J. (vocals) are ready to go toe to toe with country’s hottest male duos like Florida Georgia Line and Dan + Shay. Osborne also said that we may be on the cusp of a country music era where songs will have longer shelf lives down the road. While that remains to be seen, Brothers Osborne seem poised to bring forth more organic music to country radio. The duo has a Grammy nomination for Country Group/Duo Performance for the Gold-Certified “Stay a Little Longer.” Riding the wave of a top five single and Grammy nomination, Brothers Osborne have released their first full length album with the help of producer Jay Joyce. Pawn Shop features 11 songs, all of which the brothers co-wrote with several of country’s hot shot writers like Jessi Alexander, Craig Wiseman, and Shane McAnally to name a few. I’d argue that Pawn Shop isn’t quite an album full of substance, but the Brothers Osborne certainly take country music a step in the right direction.

Brothers Osborne and Pawn Shop have already differentiated themselves from the pack with singles like “Rum” and “Stay a Little Longer.” But that’s taken one step further with the album’s lead track, “Dirt Rich.” A heavy picking acoustic guitar lays the ground for the melody before a simple percussion track joins the mix. The “less is more” attitude fits with this song’s production. Playing off the phrase “dirt poor,” the song encourages those blue-collar, down on your luck folks to embrace their situation. The appliances in the kitchen may be broken and the mailbox may be standing crooked, but that’s the way life goes sometimes. Brothers Osborne have more rock influence in their music than country, in my opinion, and “21 Summer” is one of the several songs on Pawn Shop that show the rock influence. The gentle beat of guitars and percussion set the mood for the nostalgic ballad. T.J. sings of the memories of the summer he turned 21 and the girl who made a man of him.

The album cut of “Stay a Little Longer” features an extended guitar outro that was cut from the radio edit. The song nicely strides the line between country and rock, fitting nicely into both genres. Brothers Osborne made a great choice with releasing the single to radio, because this is arguably the best song on the album. The whole package of lyrics, vocals, and production work together in “Stay a Little Longer.” “Pawn Shop” is a song where the heavy acoustic picking is in the forefront of the production mix. Sticking with the blue-collar themes of those just getting by, the song is an ode to pawn shops. Selling for some extra cash, finding what you need at a cheap rate, even if it isn’t the best. The deep, baritone vocals are a nice touch to the song with the production to help the song stand out. Even though the lyrical content is nothing special, the song is packaged nicely.

The duo’s lead single “Rum” comes next. As Josh wrote in the song review, “This is a song you listen to after a long day of work and just unwind to. The instrumentation used in this song is what really makes this song good. There are a lot of influences from rock, blues and folk mixed in with this country beat. Really the instrumentation is the star of “Rum.”” Brothers Osborne are joined by Lee Ann Womack for “Loving Me Back.” This love song finds a man happy with the fact that he’s found a woman who can love him back. The production of this song is top-notch. It’s simple with little guitar tracks. The production allows the vocals room to stand out, which is a good thing as T.J. Osborne and Lee Ann Womack harmonize together really well on the chorus of the song. The lyrics, though, of this song are a cliché pile of crap. “You get me high, you get me stoned, it’s a ride I ain’t never been on. It’s a binge, it’s a buzz, it’s a drunk I can’t find in no glass.” Sure the verses sort of set the stage about how this man has spent years loving his vices and things that bring him down, but to resort to a chorus with a lead line like that is major cop-out. “Loving Me Back” is a wasted opportunity for a collaboration with Lee Ann Womack.

“American Crazy” is a song that doesn’t help the cause of bringing real substance to country music. The song is basically “Drunk Americans” 2.0. Brothers Osborne sing in the chorus, “We’re lost, we’re found, we’re up, we’re down, we’re all just American crazy. We’re left, we’re right, we’re black, we’re white, we’re all just American crazy.” This song is nothing but two and a half minutes of stupid clichés that should have been left off the album. The blue-collar blues continue in “Greener Pastures.” The song finds our narrator down to his last resort after praying and working hard with nothing to show for it, so he moves onto greener pastures. In this case, though, greener pastures is marijuana. Growing and smoking weed in order to cope with life’s tough battle. Sure, it’s another country music song about pot, but there’s semblance of something deeper about the motivations for turning to pot. “Greener Pastures” also has a more country/rockabilly feel to the production, a great, modern callback to country’s early sound. While the content of the song will detract some, I think the song works because it’s packaged nicely in its story telling and production.

“Down Home” is another rock-like song. The electric guitar leads the way, showing no signs of trying to cater to the country side of music – save for the lyrics. “Down Home” is a party song in a small town. A bunch of buddies getting together and raising hell in a town where nothing much happens. “Heart Shaped Locket” is perhaps the most country song on the album. Noticeable banjo and steel guitar find its way into the mid-tempo production. The song finds a woman in a relationship ready to go out on the town. The man, already suspicious of her cheating, feels that his suspicions are confirmed by the way she’s dressed. He wants to know who’s in her heart-shaped locket, because he knows it’s no longer him. “Heart Shaped Locket” is another song that shows the full potential of Brothers Osborne; it’s the kind of modern, substance-filled song that country radio should embrace. Pawn Shop ends with “It Ain’t My Fault.” The narrator is out on the town having a good time, but it’s not his fault. It’s the band’s fault who played the song that fueled the party. It’s the ex’s fault that he’s drinking, and it’s his family’s history that he’s a wild boy. Essentially, the lyrics try to tell some story, but this is a song meant to get a crowd rowdy and having fun. The electric guitar leads the beat and drum kicks in this rollicking rock song.

Overall, Pawn Shop shows flashes of what the Brothers Osborne are capable of bringing to country music. They have an organic production that shows commitment to their own style away from the masses of their country music pop peers. The almost folk style of rock/country with the lone acoustic guitar like in “Dirt Rich” or even “Loving Me Back” is a definite musical niche for the duo. The lyrics, however, don’t do quite enough to bring more substance to country music. Several songs rely on overdone cliches and lazy tropes to tell the story. There are moments here, like “Heart Shaped Locket,” where if you let the brothers be who they want to be, they can bring some great country music. Pawn Shop shows nothing but potential for the Brothers Osborne. If Music Row can leave them alone and allow the duo to grow and progress as artists on their own terms, then we will be in for a treat with future albums. Pawn Shop isn’t anything special, but it’s worth listening to at least once.

Grade: 6/10

Album Review – Tami Neilson’s ‘Don’t Be Afraid’

Tami Neilson Don't Be Afraid

One of the joys of having a music blog is the constant search and discovery of new artists that blow you away. It was one of the most interesting things I learned in 2014 as I started this blog, as I came across several talented artists I never even heard of before. One of the best I came across was Tami Neilson, a New Zealand artist who combines country, soul, rockabilly and blues to create a brand of music that will catch any listeners’ attention. Her 2014 album Dynamite! was one of the top five best country albums of the year. Neilson also won Country Perspective’s 2014 Song of the Year award for her song, “Cry Over You.” Needless to say we at Country Perspective are impressed with Neilson and is an artist that is forever on our radar.

So you can imagine my delight when I heard Neilson was coming out with a new album just less than a year later after Dynamite!. But I wasn’t sure if it would be available in the United States for listening or purchase. That’s one of the problems you can encounter with covering an artist outside of the states and you may have to wait over a year to get it. Luckily, there’s no wait as the album is available through Bandcamp for listening and purchasing. It’s titled Don’t Be Afraid and the inspiration behind the album is a sad one. This past year Neilson lost her father (also a country artist) Ron Neilson and this album is focused around this large loss in the life of Neilson. And with these deep-running emotions, Neilson creates some of the beautiful music of her career. Don’t Be Afraid is arguably even better than Dynamite!.

The album opens in the most appropriate way, with its title track and the final song Tami’s father ever written. There’s really only one word that describes this song and that’s powerful, from the instrumentation to the vocals to the songwriting. Tami is at her absolute best with this song and takes the songwriting of her father to another level with her vocals. Neilson won our Song of the Year award last year and this song is a strong contender for her to win it again. The upbeat “Holy Moses” is next. Once again you get to hear Neilson’s voice just unleashed behind a gospel meets rockabilly sound. The song itself is your “everyday prayer,” as Neilson describes it. The instrumentation is engagingly great. It’s definitely the type of song that makes you want to get up and dance. “Lonely” is the lone duet of the album. Ron Neilson originally started to write this song 20 years ago and Tami finished writing it. Fellow New Zealand country artist Marlon Williams, who is another artist worth checking out, joins her on the song. Their voices go together perfectly, as they both have a throwback sound.

The mysterious feeling “So Far Away” follows. And while it has a mysterious vibe, it also feels so familiar too. It’s a western desperado journey meets a soul search. Words really can’t describe it, as this is one of those songs you have to feel to understand. Neilson reflects on love and family in “If Love Were Enough.” She ponders throughout the song if she’s loved the people around her enough and how time seems to fly by so fast that you wish you could have had one more day with the person you loved. You can feel the emotion from Neilson in this song, as she longs for another day with her dad. And I’m sure this song will make many listeners feel the same about a lost loved one.

Neilson channels her soulful, gospel side again with “Bury My Body.” This was apparently the last song her father ever heard and his favorite on the album. The song is about how your body can be buried, but never your soul. A person can die, but their spirit and impact can felt for years to come. “Loco Mama” is a Latino-flavored, fast song that shows off Neilson’s fun-loving side. It’s a nice change of pace in an album full of somber ballads about life and death. Neilson further explores her feelings of grief over the death of her father in “Heavy Heart.” She has a heavy heart now and knows it will take time for her wounds to fully heal. The pedal steel guitar that lingers throughout the song, along with the strings production, gives this song a perfect feel for the theme.

“Only Tears” is your classic heartbreak ballad. Neilson wrote this song with the album’s producer Delaney Davidson and I’m assuming he’s also providing backing vocals throughout the song too. Neilson’s voice absolutely soars in this song. “Laugh Laugh Laugh” is the shortest song of the album. But it’s one worth paying attention to, as the song is about laughing to hide your true feelings. It’s more of a coping mechanism than a representation of true feelings. This is the type of song that speaks to the artistry of Neilson.

Don’t Be Afraid closes with another song where Neilson just lays all of her emotions out about the special relationship she shared with her father from the beginning of her life to the end of his life. In “The First Man,” Neilson sings about how her father was the first man who loved her, kissed her and was there for her when she needed someone the most. She knows no man will fill his shoes and that her life won’t be the same without him. It’s poignant, it’s real and an absolute touching way to conclude the album.

Tami Neilson is proof that artistry is alive and well in country music. She channels her emotion so well into Don’t Be Afraid and the end result is beautiful music that will touch the minds and hearts of all that listen to it. This album is a true picture of life and love that doesn’t shy away from reality. Everything about this album is flawless and at its absolute best. The field for album of the year was already crowded and you can now add this album to it. This is an album you have to hear for yourself. I didn’t think it was possible, but Neilson has shined to a new height with Don’t Be Afraid.

Grade: 10/10

Album Review – The Statesboro Revue’s ‘Jukehouse Revival’

The Statesboro Revue call Texas home, but their country sound is vastly different than most of their Texas country peers. A blend of country and blues rooted in rock & roll, lead man and chief songwriter Stewart Mann has built a band with a unique sound sounds as modern and fresh as it does classic. Mann journeyed through Tennessee and California for seven years trying his hand at music, but it wasn’t until return to his roots in Austin, Texas where his music began to take hold and grow. Now, seven years after the band’s formation, they deliver their third studio album, Jukehouse Revival. It’s an upbeat countrified rock and roll album with an energy and movement indicative of a live show.

“Bedroom Floor” begins the album as a mid-tempo country song. Mann takes an honest look at himself. He still likes to party hard and drink a little too much, but as age catches up with him, he finds he can’t handle his liquor as well as he could before. Instead of making it through the night flying high, he winds up waking on the bedroom floor. This song sets the tone for the album and gives you a good idea of the kind of writer Stewart Mann is. This is followed by the infectious rockabilly jam “Every Town.” Here Mann sings of the women he spends the night with after shows. He enjoys the time he spends with these women, and revels in the fact that he has a reason to leave town right away as opposed to staying put and dealing with the rumors in town.

“Undone” is a blue collar anthem about a farmer who works to the bone everyday, living off the ground and barely making ends meet. But when the day is done, this farmer can’t wait to unwind with a couple drinks and spending some alone time with his woman. “Undone” is a great country-rock blend with a banjo leading the way on the verses. The song builds to an excellent, energetic solo of electric guitars and keyboards that ends too soon before the vocals kick back in on the final chorus. Mann sings of travel frustrations on “Tallahassee.” This upbeat country jam has a noticeable fiddle in the production balanced by a nice keyboard track. These two songs showcase the band as a whole well, along with Mann’s great vocals.

“Roll on Mama” is a bluesy rock song with great baseline. Mann sings of nights in the bar where he tries to pick up women. He wants to party, dance, and asks the ladies to “take a late night chance” on him. “Roll on Mama” is a song that shows more of the rock side of The Statesboro Revue, but it doesn’t feel out of place one bit on Jukehouse Revival. “Count on Me” is a true country love ballad with a steel and acoustic guitar find their places on top of the simple percussion track and an organ joining in later. Mann sings of his confidence in their love and how she is able to count on him when times get tough.

A familiar modern country topic of riverside love is explored with true country sounds on “Like the Sound.” It’s a countrified guitar lick with keyboards and a harmonica mixed into the production. The lyrics are a bit fluffy and shallow, but it’s delivered with more charisma than most mainstream songs of the same content. “Honkytonkin” is a moving country number about wanting to go down to the honky tonk with his woman. The harmonized “let’s go honkytonkin” is sung and repeated several times over the last minute of the song, which gets old quickly.

Mann sings of love again on “Satisfied.” It’s a mid-tempo country song with a beautiful steel guitar played in the mix. Stewart Mann declares his passion to keep the one he loves satisfied. He’s been in love for quite a long time, back to the days of throwing rocks at her bedroom window late at night. It’s a well meaning love song with a nice vocal delivery from Mann. Jukehouse Revival slows down for “Go Down Slow.” The long work weeks take their toll on this man, and he’s beginning to feel burnt out. He drowns his pain with booze and begs the alcohol to go down slow so he can still feel the pain. This first-person ballad is brilliantly sung by Mann as he places himself right in the shoes and draws out the exasperation of the situation perfectly. The country production aids “Go Down Slow” in being one of the album highlights. The album concludes with the Celtic-inspired “Last Ramble.” Stewart Mann sings the song as a dying man wishing his loved-ones to not weep of his passing. After living the life of a rambling man, his hope is that they will celebrate this last ramble as a journey to the ultimate destination: heaven. The song tells a great story and has a beautiful production.

The Statesboro Revue deliver great roots rock music with Jukehouse Revival. If I dare say-so, the music does a good job reviving that classic honky tonk dance sound that made country music an inviting genre. The mix of rock and country is existent in every song and works great together. The band seems to have found their niche, nicely building off the sound of their previous albums. A few weak lyrical moments, but the production of the tracks are the bright spot and what help The Statesboro Revue stand out as a band. Jukehouse Revival is an excellent, unique blend of rock and country.

Grade: 8/10

Album Review – Pearls Mahone’s Echoes From The Prairie

Ever since 2006, Pearls Mahone has been touring and performing live across the country, establishing herself a loyal fan base yearning to hear her throwback sound of Western Swing and Rockabilly music. Mahone’s music and albums are dictated by her live shows, with upbeat rhythms and danceable melodies through and through. One of her main influences is the one and only Bob Wills, the man whose musical influence runs deep through Swing and Country music history. Pearls Mahone’s second studio album, Echoes from the Prairie, channels nice swing sound combined with some Jazz influence to bring forth a fun, upbeat listen.

For the most part, melody and instrumentals drive Echoes from the Prairie with notable fiddles, steel guitars, and saxophones finding their way into almost every song. “Blow Your Top” and “All of Me” both kick the album off with fun, upbeat music. The lyrics are simple and repetitive, but the longer instrumental breaks create a vibrant feel with each listen. If I knew how to swing dance, I might have jumped off the couch and danced around the living room while listening to these songs. But instead, I listened to the music and the way the musicians traded the various solos and appreciated the musical variety of the songs.

“Flash of Diamonds” tells a story of a woman who says it like it is: she’s materialistic, and if any man wants to be with her then he better be ready to spoil her. This sassy, selfish tune carries a nice production and is quite enjoyable. Pearls sings of her hardship and hard-working lifestyle in “Hard Luck.” A life of little money and constantly stumbling, but those obstacles don’t slow her down. Pearls kicks up the dancing tunes again with “I Had Someone Else.” This song describes her as a rambling woman who’s not ready to settle down. There was someone before, there will be someone after you, and you’re just mine for now. And in “Oklahoma Hills” Pearls Mahone sings about a life out in Sooner State. While this Midwestern swing singer hails from Chicago, she plants herself well from this perspective in this groove.

“St. James Infirmary” might be my favorite song on the album. Sticking with her own woman attitude, Pearls Mahone sings of her man’s death. What does she do once she leaves the infirmary? She heads down to the bar to have a good time! This song chronicles the steps and thoughts she takes after his passing, and it’s quite an entertaining story. It’s well written with some great production to it. “Old Time Religion” is an old-time country gospel tune. I immediately draw comparisons to Hank’s “I Saw the Light.” The song is full of joy and love for the Lord. Echoes from the Prairie slows down for the last song, a cover of Tom Waits’ “Long Way Home.” This song details, in this case, a rambling woman whose love for the road is stronger than that for her man. And though she won’t leave him, she’ll just take the long way home from time to time.

Overall, Echoes From the Prairie is an enjoyable listen. There are several songs whose energetic mood and melody will certainly find a place in a live show. But Pearls Mahone proves she’s not just a one trick pony, providing listeners with story-driven country tunes among the dance inspired Swing songs. With sharp writing and an awesome production of blended Swing, country, and jazz, this album has a bit of everything to offer music fans. The variety isn’t choppy and the album transitions and moves smoothly. Echoes From the Prairie is an entertaining album from Pearls Mahone with fantastic instrumentation and great vocal performances.

Grade: 7/10