Country Perspective’s Best Country & Americana Albums So Far in 2016

We’ve reached the mid-point of 2016, so it’s time to look back at the year so far for country music and Americana. Up first we take a look back at the best country and Americana albums of 2016 so far. There have been a lot of fantastic albums already this year and sonically there’s a lot of variety. It’s quite clear Americana is gaining a bigger influence, while in the Nashville pop scene they’re still completely bastardizing country music to the point of no return making the appearance of major label artists on this list shorter than last year. Another story that has helped define this list is artists experimenting with different sounds in the independent and Americana scenes, straying from their original sound. While some may think this indicates they don’t know what they want, I think it’s just the opposite, as artists clearly are tired of genre lines and being put into boxes.

The first albums listed are considered candidates for Country Perspective’s 2016 Album of the Year. Remember for an album to be considered for Album of the Year, it must receive a 10/10 score. Those won’t be the only ones listed below though, as all the highly rated albums so far will be highlighted. Remember too that it’s impossible for us to keep up with every single release and we do our best to cover the most albums possible. So please don’t be that person in the comments section that says something along the lines of: “This list is irrelevant because (insert album) isn’t on it” or “This list sucks.” Agree or disagree all you want, just be respectful about it. Not everyone has the same opinion, so keep this in mind.

So without further ado, the best country and Americana albums so far in 2016….

(Click on the album name to see the full review)

Album of the Year Candidates

Dave Cobb Super Compilation – Southern Family

Dave-Cobb-Southern-Family

After listening to Southern Family, you come away with a better understand and feeling of southern culture and lifestyle. It’s very easy to point out the problems that existed in southern culture in the past and the stigma this caused for the south is something that will remain with the culture for years to come. But it’s important to remember the redeeming qualities of the southern culture: family, friends, love, spirituality, home. All of these things southerners should rightly be proud of and point to as their defining qualities that make them great. This album celebrates southern pride with dignity and genuineness that should make any southerner smile. Cobb bringing together all of these artists who clearly understand southern culture, from both mainstream and independent realms, is not only a unifying moment for southern people, but country music in general. That’s something we can all appreciate.

Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth 

Sturgill Simpson A Sailor's Guide To Earth

There’s nothing else to say except Sturgill Simpson did it again. A Sailor’s Guide To Earth is another masterpiece from Simpson. If you’re looking for another copy of High Top Mountain or Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, don’t bother listening. If you’re a fan of music and you trust Simpson, strap in and listen to this album because you won’t be disappointed. You will however be surprised, as Simpson once again takes a different approach in the sound department. There are multiple outright country songs and every song has country elements in them. But there’s also Memphis soul and the Muscle Shoals sound that deeply influence the album. Not to mention there’s lots of string production and horns in many songs. Is it a country record? Well I can tell you Sturgill Simpson wrote, produced and performed an album of phenomenal music. I can say this is Simpson’s most cohesive and tight-knit album yet. Perhaps the best answer to this comes from the late great Merle Haggard: “Good. If it’s what they’re calling country, you don’t want to go near that shit.” And Simpson did exactly that. Simpson gave us something we never expected and yet exactly what we wanted and that’s art straight from the heart.

Chris King AnimalChris King – Animal

Chris King delivers a storytelling masterpiece with Animal. Looking at each song individually on this album, you have some pretty good songs. Put them all together and they all connect for one long, spectacular journey. It’s the journey of a man exploring love, discovery, overcoming mistakes, the unknown and ultimately what we’re all looking for in this crazy thing we call life. Most albums are just a collection of songs, not really all connecting with each other. Sure you’ll find a lot of albums with similar themes and tones throughout, but very rarely do you come across albums that connect from start to finish like Animal does. It should also be pointed out that production on this album is just as flawless as King’s songwriting. Producer John Ross Silva really nails the tone and sound on this album, as it properly reflects the changes in attitude of the main story told throughout. Everything on this album works together perfectly. Chris King shows us all what a true album sounds like.Animal is one of the best albums you’ll hear all year.

Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter

Margo Price Midwest Farmer's Daughter

Midwest Farmer’s Daughter is a callback to country’s honky tonk heydays mixed with some blues and rock n’ roll, creating a dynamic record, with each song grounded in country music. Overall I think Midwest Farmer’s Daughter is an excellent country album. Price’s vocals are great as she captures the solemness of the slower tracks, but has the appropriate bite and attitude on the rowdier songs. Margo Price has played on several of the late shows and performed on SNL on April 9. It’s still too early to tell, but given the recent success of Chris Stapleton, this could be a big album for country music. Margo Price’s Midwest Farmer’s Daughter is one of my favorite albums so far this year.

Dori FreemanDori Freeman – Self-Titled

I’ll be surprised if there’s another debuting country or Americana artist in 2016 that shows more promise than Dori Freeman. This debut album from Freeman blew me away upon the very first listen. In fact I had to play it several times over because only hearing it once wasn’t enough. Freeman’s vocals are crisp, pure and undeniably Appalachian. She was born to sing and very few possess her talent. The songwriting is top-notch and I couldn’t pick out a flaw in the instrumentation and production choices. This album excels and thrives in every area. You can pretty much call it flawless. It’s an album that every true country and Americana fan needs to hear. Dori Freeman is a name you need to know. This is one of the best albums I’ve had the privilege to write about on Country Perspective.

Aubrie Sellers – New City BluesAubrie Sellers New City Blues

The debut album New City Blues from Aubrie Sellers proves that she is a very talented artist who is poised to make a lot of great music for years to come. Never before have I heard a debut album from an artist take so many creative risks. Sellers mixes country, bluegrass, Americana and rock like she’s been doing this for decades. There’s nothing safe about this album, from the lyrics to the production. While Sellers may sound just like her mother Lee Ann Womack, she proves to have her own style and more than enough talent to step out of this shadow and make her own name. New City Blues can feel like a bit of a slog to get through at 14 songs and many songs will take multiple listens to fully grasp. But I assure you it’s well worth your time to sit down and listen to this album over and over.

More Highly Recommended Albums

Flatland Cavalry – Humble Folks

Parker Millsap – The Very Last Day

Robert Ellis – Robert Ellis

Darrell Scott – Couchville Sessions

The Honeycutters – On The Ropes 

Randy Rogers Band – Nothing Shines Like Neon 

Loretta Lynn – Full Circle 

Carter Sampson – Wilder Side 

Sierra Hull – Weighted Mind 

Caleb Caudle – Carolina Ghost 

Addison Johnson – I’m Just A Song

The Cactus Blossoms – You’re Dreaming

William Michael Morgan – William Michael Morgan EP

Wheeler Walker Jr. – Redneck Shit 

Ryan Beaver – Rx 

The Lumineers – Cleopatra

Sunny Ozell – Take It With Me 

Robbie Fulks – Upland Stories 

Speedbuggy USA – South of Bakersfield 

Harvest Thieves – Rival 

Waco Brothers – Going Down in History 

Country Perspective’s Best Music Reviewed in May

The Honeycutters On The Ropes

This is the monthly recap post of all the great music we reviewed on the blog in case you missed it or just came across our humble, little blog. So check this music out if you haven’t already.

10/10

None

 

9/10

Albums:

Darrell Scott – Couchville Sessions

The Honeycutters – On The Ropes

Carter Sampson – Wilder Side

Singles:

Chris Janson – “Holdin’ Her”

Erik Dylan – “Pink Flamingos”

 

8/10

Albums:

Ryan Beaver – Rx

The Lumineers – Cleopatra 

Album Review – Ryan Beaver’s ‘Rx’

Ryan Beaver Rx

When it comes to finding new and upcoming artists in country and Americana, I feel I do a pretty job. But obviously I can’t find and hear them all. So when I looked over Rolling Stone’s 10 New Country Artists You Need To Know last November, I saw a name on it I hadn’t heard of that caught my eye and that was Ryan Beaver. Rolling Stone compared him to Will Hoge and Dierks Bentley, which after hearing him I can definitely hear. Beaver hails from Texas, but has established himself as a singer-songwriter in Nashville the last few years. Over this time he has written a lot of songs while waiting for his chance to release the record he wants to release. Now that the current environment is becoming more accepting of…well what I would call quality, mature music from the likes of Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson, Beaver has released his third album Rx. The reason Beaver named it this is because he described making this record as “therapeutic” and healing. And you can definitely feel this in most of the songs.

Beaver kicks the album off with “Dark,” appropriately titled considering the theme of the song. It’s about a heartbroken man who just wants to be left alone in the dark while his heart heals. The gritty guitar play really compliments the lyrics and gives the song some teeth. Beaver says he wrote this song after losing his grandfather and close friend, making “Dark” quite personal. It’s the reason he made it the album’s lead single and song. It’s the perfect song to begin the album with and get you interested in it because it draws you in with ease. Staying in that same dark and gritty place, “Rum & Roses” is a song that deals with the day after. Beaver really impresses me with his vocals on this song and the guitar play is once again really good. If you enjoy garage rock meets country, you’ll enjoy this song.

“Fast” is one of a few songs on this album that just doesn’t quite work for me. It’s about a man and woman drinking and possibly leading to more later on and the guy enjoy how fast they’re getting to that point. It’s really not much different from the slow sex jams we’ve heard on country radio in the past year or so. Yes the songwriting is better and more mature, but the theme doesn’t deviate much from it at all. The instrumentation also feels more generic rock than country. It’s an okay song that I probably won’t remember. The next song, “When This World Ends,” is another one that feels a lot like what you would hear on country radio. Not just because the song has an overall pop vibe about it, but also because the theme has been done to death. It’s about being in love and the world ending and I think you know where this is going. I’ll admit it is pretty catchy and not necessarily a bad song. Also if you’re wondering, that’s Maren Morris as the female background vocalist, fellow Texan and friend of Beaver.

“Jesus Was A Capricorn” is a short and light opener to “Kristofferson,” Beaver’s ode to the iconic singer-songwriter. “Jesus Was A Capricorn” of course is one of Kristofferson’s better known songs and Beaver plays a snippet of it to introduce his song about him. As for “Kristofferson,” it’s about the rocky life of a troubadour. The lyrics are decent, although it takes a few listens to figure out where Beaver is going with it. The song really just kind of meanders and doesn’t really say much other than that. I’m not really sure how this has anything to do with Kris Kristofferson because the hook of the word “Kristofferson” feels jammed in and forced. Beaver gets back on track with “Habit,” where once again Morris shows up as a background vocalist. The song is about a man knowing his woman has a habit to pack up her stuff and leave, as he’s saw it so many times before. The production is a tad overdone, but I like the space-y sound it gives off.

One of my favorite tracks on Rx is “Vegas.” Playing on the phrase “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” the song is about a man realizing this really isn’t true, as the memories of a weekend he spent with a woman in Vegas aren’t really going away. She’s left him and now he continues to be haunted by her and their time in Vegas. Not only did that weekend break his bank, but his heart too. This is Beaver’s songwriting at it’s best. The heavy “Gravedigger” is about a woman making life hell for a man. She’s pure poison to him and she’s made him realize how low his life can really get. The whole song has a haunting vibe about it and really sets the mood well for the song. This is probably the coolest sounding song on the album.

The conventional “Still Yours” is a love song with a catchy hook. Unlike “Fast” and “When This World Ends,” this song does a good job of balancing a country sound and being accessible to mainstream audiences. It’s solid, yet unspectacular. The album title track deals with heartbreak and finding ways to cope with it. The heartbroken man says it takes a little more medicine for him to get over it, which I’m assuming are time and drinking. “Rx” is another solid track, although it could have been better with a more impactful production. Rx closes out with “If I Had A Horse.” It’s a reflective, solemn song where Beaver wishes he could go back and change some of the things in his past. Not only does he wish some stuff would change, but he remembers his days of youth and how his imagination would run wild, which was slowly killed off by growing up. The songwriting is pretty sharp on this song and the production is spot on. I would argue this is the best song on the album, so Beaver saved the best for last.

With all of the hype I was hearing about this album and Ryan Beaver from critical circles, I’ll admit I was expecting a little more. But I wouldn’t say Rx is a disappointment. It’s a very solid country album with smart songwriting for the most part. There’s just a few songs that aren’t quite up to grade with the rest and the production gets a little carried away at times. The rest of the album though is an enjoyable listen once it grows on you. Beaver is a great songwriter who I believe still has even better songs yet to come because his career feels so young, despite being a singer-songwriter for years now and this being his third album. Nevertheless I would recommend checking out Ryan Beaver and Rx, especially if you enjoy artists like Eric Church and Kip Moore. I’m looking forward to hearing more from Beaver in the future because I think he’s capable of making great music for years to come.

Grade: 8/10

 

 

The Hodgepodge: Beyoncé’s Visual Album ‘Lemonade’ and Music’s Next Steps

On April 23, pop sensation Beyoncé dropped another surprise album for her fans. However, unlike 2013’s Beyoncé, this surprise album Lemonade also included a surprise HBO special. This one-hour program was a visual aid to the album, essentially a string of music videos for the album’s songs, interlude with an original poem written by Warsan Shire. That’s breaking it down to almost nothing, because the album, listening to it or watching it, is deep. It’s more than just a call-out to her husband Jay-Z who may or may not have cheated. In an age where social justice is at the forefront of many of today’s issues, Beyoncé’s Lemonade gives a voice to African-American women. A voice that challenges stereotypes and the treatment this group of women tend to receive from the public.

Beyoncé not only simply uses music, but an entire album in multiple media, to send her message. She connects with her core audience in the best way she knows: writing and singing songs. And she takes this a step further with the visual album. As many of the songs deal directly with the anger, confusion, and worry of a possible cheating husband, the visuals on the album tell a more complete story.

Now there’s an elephant in the room that quickly needs to be addressed: Tidal. For a short time, Lemonade, was solely available through Tidal: the music streaming service owned in part by Jay-Z and Beyoncé. It’s obvious that, to some degree, the purpose of Lemonade’s surprise release was to boost sales and interest in the streaming service. In the wake of Lemonade’s release, Tidal saw a huge increase in downloads and online searches. This is only a part-time victory for Tidal, as Lemonade also became available through Apple Music only a day after its release to Tidal. But I also believe that message spoken loudly in Lemonade was also part of Beyoncé’s honest motivation for creating the album.

I’m a big proponent for albums and singers/songwriters using their artistic ability to tell stories and spread messages through the album format. I would love to see more of it in country music. For the most part, country music tends to build albums with songs not generally connected by a theme. It’s not a bad thing, and there are some great albums (Traveller, for instance) that don’t necessarily follow a theme or concept. Albums like Sturgill Simpson’s latest two albums, Southern Family, and Red-Headed Stranger are fantastic examples of concept albums in the genre.

The beauty of devoting a whole album to a story and message is seeing an artist stretch his or her creativity beyond other albums. Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and A Sailor’s Guide to Earth both showcase Sturgill Simpson stretching the genre of country music and his own personal musical prowess, exploring different avenues for the songs’ production. Beyoncé’s Lemonade shows the pop star letting outside genres influence certain songs or chapters of the story, including a country/western influence on “Daddy’s Lessons.”

Unfortunately, mainstream country is too controlled by Music Row who wouldn’t dare risk any loss of revenue by experimenting with a concept or visual album. Artists working independently have the creative freedom to create such an album if they so choose, which is why we see Americana artists release more theme-oriented albums. Now these independent artists don’t necessarily have the same resources as Beyoncé to create a visual representation of their album, but I would like to see more creative visual representations of the music from these artists.

Dierks Bentley is doing a smaller version of a visual album with his own four-part mini-movie over the course of four songs from his upcoming album Black. While this is as much of a marketing ploy for Black as it is a creative display of his music, it’s still something different and I respect the effort from Dierks. While the Black mini-movie isn’t as symbolic as Lemonade, it’s nonetheless a visual representation of the songs – a creative music video that goes beyond three minutes. As music continues to move toward the digital medium, away from radio, and away from music videos on TV, mini-movies for the albums would be a good move forward that I’d be excited to see more of from my favorite artists.

Upcoming/Recent Americana and Country Releases

  • Mary Chapin Carpenter‘s The Things That We Are Made Of will be released tomorrow.
  • Cindy Lauper‘s Detour will also be released tomorrow.
  • Also released tomorrow is Ryan Beaver‘s Rx.
  • Jennifer Nettles’ newest album, Playing With Fire will be released next week on May 13.
  • Americana singer/songwriter Michaela Anne‘s newest album, Bright Lights and the Fame will also be released on the 13th.
  • We’ll soon have a review for the Elephant Revival‘s Petals, released last month.

Throwback Thursday Song

“That Ain’t No Way to Go” by Brooks and Dunn. Hearing Brooks and Dunn perform last Sunday at the ACCA’s was a treat. Ronnie Dunn’s voice is one of country’s best. This 1993 number one hit was released on their album Hard Workin’ Man.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Beyoncé’s Lemonade.

Tweet of the Week

A milestone always worth mentioning.

iTunes Review

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 10.35.33 PM

This was left under Florida Georgia Line’s newest single “H.O.L.Y.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

The Hodgepodge: Zac Brown Band and ‘Jekyll + Hyde’ One Year Later

It was one year ago today that the Zac Brown Band released their 4th studio album, Jekyll + Hyde. Released on the heels of Uncaged, the excellent third album from the band, and a four-song rock EP produced by Dave Grohl, expectations were high for this album. Initially, the album seemed to fall in line with the expectations. We learned that the band would be covering Americana star Jason Isbell, and had a duet with rock star Chris Cornell from Soundgarden and Audioslave. Early access to “Dress Blues” and “Heavy is the Head” along with the album’s lead single “Homegrown” showed promise for another stellar album.

Come April 28th, downloads from iTunes were available, the album was on the shelves in stores for fans to buy. Everyone loaded the album, pressed play for track one, and then heard the unexpected. Electronic dance music pulsed through the speakers as “Beautiful Drug” played to kick off the album. The name Jekyll + Hyde rang true.

Dr. Henry Jekyll from Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde conjures a potion that he hopes will suppress his evil thoughts and motivations. Much to his surprise, the potion acts in the opposite way, strengthening Jekyll’s evil alter ego, Edward Hyde. As the story goes, the evil Hyde continues to gain strength and overpower the good Dr. Jekyll. Jekyll and Hyde became synonymous with the good and bad in a person.

Zac Brown naming the album Jekyll + Hyde was perfect. He was completely aware of the content being released on the album, and the title could almost be an excuse or cry for forgiveness from the fans who were disappointed by the album. Those who were upset to hear not one, but two EDM-inspired songs on the album. The fans confused by the fact that the first six songs on the album jump around in six different genres: EDM, R&B, world-like, pop-country, big band/jazz, and rock. And those were the first six songs because those were the songs most we’re meant to hear. The band’s first four singles from the album (3 to country radio, 1 to rock radio) are found in this group.

Hearing Jekyll + Hyde for the first time was jarring. It’s an experimental album also meant to achieve commercial success. If you think the album was just a way for the band to try new things and have fun, they wouldn’t have released “Beautiful Drug” as a single. We had never heard Zac Brown Band sing an EDM/club song before, but they made sure we heard it, and they wrote it simple enough to take it to the top of the Country Airplay chart. Zac Brown saw dollar signs in the future, and he did everything in his power to stuff his pockets.

I was optimistic that the band’s Southern Ground strategic partnership with Big Machine et al. would result in some great opportunities for the band and the label’s lesser acts, all while Zac Brown maintained his creative vision. But Zac didn’t have a creative vision for his music, just a commercialized vision. Not two years after criticizing Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind Of Night,” Zac Brown eats his own words and released “Beautiful Drug” country radio. And I firmly believe that this was 100% the band’s idea. Take a look at this recent tweet from band member Clay Cook.

With a recent string of artists like Chase Rice apologizing for his new music, the Zac Brown Band are defending their crap. They’re happy to have written and recorded songs like “Beautiful Drug” because it was a successful experiment. A band who were once the outspoken gatekeepers calling out Nashville’s crap are now producing the same shit they criticized.

To an extent, you can’t blame a music artist for wanting to achieve a little more commercial success. But when that desire for more comes at the price of compromising the ground on which you once stood, it’s a disappointing transition. The desire for more money, the potion, brought about the band’s inner Edward Hyde.

It remains to be seen what the future will hold and how the band will follow this album era up. The Zac Brown Band island country staple, “Castaway,” is being released to country radio just in time for summer, which is almost guaranteed to help carry the song to another number one on the Airplay chart. With an album of 15 different songs, it’s possible that we could see a 5th single from Jekyll + Hyde be released to country radio. Maybe we’ll hear “Dress Blues” on radio after all, but time will only tell.

The past year has been disappointing in respect to the Zac Brown Band. They were one of the few mainstream artists leading the charge for quality music, and their foray into this EDM experimental world changed the minds of fans eager for something better than Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line. Some respect has been lost, but hope remains that Dr. Jekyll will win this time around.

Upcoming/Recent Country & Americana Releases

  • Tomorrow, Martina McBride’s Reckless will be released.
  • May 6 is a big release day for mainstream country and Americana.
    • Cole Swindell’s You Should Be Here
    • Keith Urban’s Ripcord
    • Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Things That We Are Made Of
    • Cindy Lauper’s Detour
    • Ryan Beaver’s Rx
  • Florida Georgia Line will release their debut single from their upcoming third album. “H.O.L.Y.” will be available tomorrow.
  • Maddie & Tae will release “Sierra” as their next single.

Throwback Thursday Song

Wade Bowen’s “One Step Closer.” I’ve mentioned a few times on this site about how highly I think of Bowen’s album Lost Hotel. This breakup song from the 2006 album is one his best songs, in my opinion. A great example of country music being modern without compromising the genre’s roots.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week


Fort Frances – Alio. Fort Frances is a Chicago-based indie rock band. There’s a hint of Americana roots in their sound and style, but Alio carries a dynamic rock sound throughout the album. The band has a big following in Lithuania, and are looking to expand their fandom with the new album. In Lithuanian, “alio” means “hello.” It’s a well produced album and quite honestly one of my favorite non-country albums I’ve heard so far this year.

Tweet of the Week

In the wake of the world learning of Prince’s death, a generic country account tweets lyrics to a Sam Hunt song. That deserves a bit more criticism, but Wheeler Walker Jr. did pretty well here.

iTunes Review of the Week

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 8.39.28 PM

A simple, yet effective review of Dallas Davidson’s new single “Laid Back.” Yes, the notorious bro-country songwriter has a country-rap single that includes vocals from Maggie Rose, Big Boi, and Mannie Fresh. Take this reviewer’s advice and don’t listen to it. Just say no.