Album Review – Ronnie Reno’s ‘Lessons Learned’

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For over 60 years, Ronnie Reno has pretty much seen it all in his long and illustrious career. His dad was banjo pioneer Don Reno, who made up one half of the Hall of Fame duo of Reno & Smiley. Ronnie started out his own career working alongside his dad, the Louvin Brother and the Osborne brothers. Reno then caught the attention of Merle Haggard and worked with the Hag on several of his major hits, including “If We Make It Through December” and “I’ve Got a Darlin’ For A Wife.” Reno went on to earn his own record deal with MCA Records, all while working alongside legends such as Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. He also wrote Conway Twitty’s #1 hit “Boogie Grass Band.”

Reno is still going strong now too, as he has his own television on RFD-TV called “Reno’s Old Time Music.” It’s seen in over 46 million homes. In addition he produced the upcoming duo project featuring Merle Haggard and Mac Wiseman, Timeless, due to be released later this year. All the while releasing his first album in over decade titled Lessons Learned. And as long as Reno’s career has been, he’s certainly learned a lot of lessons along the way. With this in mind, Reno certainly has a wealth of experience to fall back on as inspiration for this comeback album.

Lessons Learned begins with “Lower Than Lonesome,” a song about being heartbroken. You’ll know right away this album is going to be old school and traditional sounding in every way from the instrumentation to the song structure. This is a nice song to start the album, as it’s kind of an introduction of what’s to come. The next song, “Lessons Learned,” is a catchy little tune about how we learn something from everything we do every single day. We learn from joy and pain, growing because of these experiences. It’s a simple song with an honest message. Reno sings about love in “I Think of You.” The stripped down instrumentation gives it a romantic and easy-going feeling, which works great for a song like this one. The man in the song has seemed to have a falling out with a woman who was in his life and now he can’t stop thinking about her. It’s a yearning for a feeling that is now gone.

Reno picks the pace back up with “Sweet Rosa Lee.” It’s a short love song dedicated to a woman named Rosa Lee. The banjo instrumentation will make you tap your feet as you listen. “Deep Part of Your Heart” is a sentimental love ballad that really goes to the core of what love is all about. We all have a deep part of our heart and that deep love is only shared with a few people in our lives that we love the most. You really can’t get a better definition of a love song than this one. The instrumental “Reno’s Mando Magic” is next. The sweet bluegrass sounds you’ve heard throughout the album get a song to itself to really remind you of what country music should sound like.

“Trail of Sorrow” is about a man who knows he is on a path of sorrow he caused after a night of drinking. It’s gotten him in trouble with his woman and he’s lost his money in a card game. Everything is going wrong around him and he knows tomorrow he’ll have to face those consequences. The song does a great job of telling a story and the lessons learned from drinking too much (something you never see in mainstream country songs).

The nostalgic “All That’s Worth Remembering” is about a man’s memories throughout life, but the one that stands out most for him is a woman who was the love of his life. He chased his dream and left her behind, but he realized that was a mistake. To me this is the best song on the album because it’s the perfect blend of emotion and storytelling. The next song “Our Last Goodbye” feels like the epilogue to “All That’s Worth Remembering.” The man is begging the love of his life to take him back one last time and to not make their goodbye their last goodbye. He reminds them of their love, hoping that convinces her.

“Bad News” is about a man having bad news from home, something that he brought on himself through his own behavior. This includes losing all of their money in a game of five-card stud, which prompted his wife to kick him out of the house. The instrumentation I should mention in this song and throughout the album is pretty damn good. The final song on Lessons Learned is “Always Late,” where Reno is joined by David Frizzell. It’s about a man’s love always being too late with her kisses and how this causes him strife. I love how Reno’s showing the achenes in his voice to express the displeased attitude of the man in the song. This is an all-around great song that caps off the album perfectly.

Lessons Learned is an album that you can tell was crafted by a man who has seen it all and can seamlessly blend those experiences into his music. It’s genuine and from the heart. Reno simply understands how country music works and many artists today would be wise to take notes from an elder statesman like Reno. Being that this is Reno’s first album in over a decade, I thought it was wise to stick to simple themes throughout, as they’re easier to build around. Not to mention it allows more listeners to connect with the music. Older listeners and younger listeners who appreciate the craft, will enjoy the bluegrass stylings of Lessons Learned.

Grade: 8.5/10

To preview and purchase Reno’s Lessons Learned, click here

 

The Hodgepodge: Dear Close-Minded Independent Country Fans…

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Credit: Bananarepublicof9gag Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

You weren’t expecting this, were you? Well take a seat and listen. As an independent country fan, you’re well aware of the likes of Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, American Aquarium, Wade Bowen and Rosanne Cash. But I’m not addressing all independent country fans. No, I’m addressing the close-minded part of that fan base. Who are the close-minded? The ones I see online everyday refusing to listen to anything offered from mainstream country music. No matter how good that mainstream country music is, they refuse to even give it a chance. Their attitude is: “If it’s mainstream, it’s bad.” In other words, you’re essentially a hipster. You refuse to give something a chance if it’s popular. You have to be different and listen to something that’s obscured. Well let me get this out right up front: you’re hurting country music as much as bro country fans and metro-politan fans are hurting the genre.

Yep. You read that correctly. You’re just as big of a problem as the very people you mock. You’re no different from the Sam Hunt fan who refuses to listen to Sturgill Simpson. You’re the Randy Rogers fan who refuses to listen to Tim McGraw, not because you think McGraw’s music isn’t good, but simply because he’s mainstream. You’re the same person who hated Sturgill Simpson for signing with Atlantic Records, all because you wanted to keep him in your own realm for your own selfish reasons. God forbid Simpson tries to make a better life for himself and his family with this great opportunity. You’re too worried that you can’t see him play in dinky little dive bars anymore for pennies, while Simpson makes pennies from it. See what I mean about you hurting country music?

What prompted me to write this letter is the announcement of “Dress Blues” being featured on Zac Brown Band’s new upcoming album Jekyll + Hyde. That song of course is a Jason Isbell song that was featured on Isbell’s first solo album. It’s a beautiful song with raw emotion about the cold reality of fighting wars. The song is patriotic without the clichés and cheesiness you’ll see in Toby Keith’s ‘Murica pride songs. Simply put this is a song that everyone needs to hear. This discussion about “Dress Blues” started months ago when the Zac Brown Band played this song in a pre-show for the College Football National Championship game. Many started to speculate that this would be covered on the band’s new album and sure enough it is.

Zac Brown Band covering “Dress Blues” does two big things. One it introduces more substance to the mainstream country scene that badly needs it. Second of all it provides more exposure to a phenomenally talented artist like Jason Isbell and at the same time Isbell makes some money off the sales of it. This is a win-win situation. Isbell himself has endorsed Zac Brown Band covering it and shared a link to pre-order it on social media channels. He’s totally on-board with this, but what do a lot of his fans do? They bitch and moan about it. They refuse to even listen to it because Zac Brown Band is mainstream and everything mainstream sucks in their mind. Here’s a small snippets of comments from Isbell’s Facebook post on the news:

Idiot Fans

Now granted there are some people congratulating him on this and leaving nice comments too. Many are saying they listened to Brown’s version and say they prefer Isbell’s version, which is fine. They were open-minded and gave the cover a chance at least. But just look at these comments above. No wonder Isbell never looks at his Facebook page (I know I try to avoid Facebook). His Twitter page doesn’t seem to have these kind of comments, so maybe this is just Facebook people being Facebook people.

Nevertheless it just pisses me off when independent country fans can’t be happy for their favorite artist to be covered in the mainstream or join the mainstream. Choosing to be close-minded on top of this is just infuriating. I listen to all types of music now. I remember when I was close-minded and pretty much just went with whatever was popular. As a result I missed a lot of good music from several genres. I’m a much happier music listener now that I pretty much explore any kind of music that peaks my interest. I have so much music to listen to anymore that I can hardly keep up. It’s a good problem to have. This is all because I opened my mind up to new music. Sure I’ve come across music I hate, but you don’t have to like everything you try.

All I’m saying to you close-minded independent country fans or any close-minded music listener is this: just give it a chance. When you come across something new or a mainstream artist is covering a less known artist’s song, just give it a chance. I won’t kill you to listen. And if you don’t like it? Just move on. And more than anything be happy when the Jason Isbells and Sturgill Simpsons of the world get these great opportunities. Be a real fan, don’t be a hipster douche.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have some music to listen to…

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Kacey Musgraves’ lead single from hear sophomore album, “Biscuits” will officially be released next week. I’ll have a review on it early in the week.
  • Lindi Ortega has released a new single, “Tell It Like It Is,” the lead single off of her new upcoming album. I’m not going to wait until the review to tell you what I think of it either: it’s really good and you need to listen to it. It makes me even more excited to hear this new album from her.
  • George Strait will not only be performing at the 50th ACM Awards, but will be debuting new music. No other information on the new music has been said, other than the fact this is new music from Strait. Considering the situation mainstream country is in right now, we could use some music from Strait. Save us King George!
  • Ronnie Reno will release a new album titled Lessons Learned next Tuesday. For those unfamiliar with Reno, he’s know as “Bluegrass Music’s Youngest Old-Timer.” Ronnie at one point was joined up with the Osborne brothers and the trio won CMA Group of the Year in 1971. After that Merle Haggard hired him away, which allowed him to sing alongside Haggard and his wife Bonnie Owens on songs such as “If We Make It Through December” and “Ramblin’ Fever.” He also wrote Conway Twitty’s #1 hit “Boogie Grass Band.” I’ll have a review on Reno’s new album next week.
  • Allison Moorer will also release a new album next week titled Down To Believing. She’s the former wife of alt-country artist Steve Earle for those unfamiliar with her and this will be her first new album in several years. The lead single she released for the album last November sounded pretty promising, so I’m looking forward to hearing the album.
  • RaeLynn just released a new single called “For A Boy.” This is in fact not off of her terrible Me EP she released back in January. So I guess I should prepare myself to review this one. I’m not going to make Derek review more RaeLynn material because that would be cruel.

Throwback Thursday Song

Sammy Kershaw – “National Working Woman’s Holiday” – Last summer I decided to explore Sammy Kershaw’s catalog of music and my only regret is that I had not done it sooner. To me he doesn’t get near enough credit that he deserves for his great library of music. He kind of got overlooked in the 90s because of the superstardom of Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, Brooks & Dunn, Alan Jackson and George Strait. If you haven’t heard any of his music I highly suggest going back through his catalog (start with his greatest hits album and go from there).

Non-Country Song of the Week

Chris Mann – “Roads” – Back when I was a regular watcher of the show The Voice I wasn’t really impressed by a lot of singers. At least not enough for me to become a fan. There were a few however that did impress me enough to make me a fan. One of those artists was Chris Mann, a classical and opera singer. Now I listen to all genre, but this isn’t usually my cup of tea. But Mann absolutely blew me away with his dynamic vocals. Fun fact: RaeLynn and Gwen Sebastian were also contestants the same season as Mann. He’s only released one album so far and I’m looking forward to his sophomore release.

Tweet of the Week 

How could anyone not like ice cream? Or Sturgill for that matter?

An iTunes Review That Will Make You Face Palm

Another Dumb Hunt Fan

You know I’m just shocked Hunt fans are aware of Hank Williams. And why aren’t they listening to Hank instead?

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