Album Review – Houndmouth’s ‘Little Neon Limelight’ Shines Throughout

Houndmouth Little Neon Limelight

Groups! Groups! Groups! In 2014 we reviewed a lot of talented country groups here on the site and it made it difficult to choose the winner of Country Perspective’s 2014 Group of the Year. We ultimately chose First Aid Kit, but any of the other groups nominated could have won. Well 2015 is shaping up to be quite similar and we’re only in March. Blackberry Smoke, The Mavericks and The Lone Bellow have all released albums that will be candidates for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year award so far. Needless to say the bar has been set. So when I came across alt-country/indie folk band Houndmouth and their new album Little Neon Limelight I didn’t expect them to meet this bar. The group based out of Indiana made up of Matt Myers, Katie Toupin, Zak Appleby and Shane Cody faced a tall task. But I love when I’m proved wrong. Their new album is awesome and I’m going to do my best to explain why.

The first song of the album is “Sedona,” which is about the city of Sedona, Arizona and harkens back to the days of when it was known as “Arizona’s Little Hollywood.” John Ford, a famous Hollywood director, basically put this little city on the map as it helped start three decades of A-list movies being made here. You can read more about Sedona, Arizona here (this information was obtained from the book on the town). The instrumentation in the song is upbeat, yet reflective and the vocals are quite good. Katie Toupin’s voice is front and center on “Otis.” She sings from the point of view of a woman who holds a man named Otis dear to her heart. I enjoy the harmony in the chorus, as it gives it a bigger punch to listener’s ears.

The sound of rock and country from yesteryear combine to produce an awesome song in “15 Years.” The group’s vocals are infectious and the instrumentation is impossible to hate. You can tell Houndmouth enjoyed making this song and the listener will have just as much fun listening to it. “For No One” is one of the quietest tracks on the album, as well as one of the most alluring. It’s a ballad that seems to be about life and personal discovery. Myers in an interview with NPR described it as a “personal tune.” Interpret this song how you want to, all I know is it’s immersive and intriguing. Greed is the theme of “Black Gold,” as it’s about a rich family who accumulated their wealth via their involvement in oil. The guitar licks in this song are great and the lyrics are quite catchy.

Houndmouth keeps it simple with “Honey Slider,” a song about a man getting his heart-broken and left wondering what has happened. The bluesy guitar licks set the tone of this song perfectly. The group goes back to their fun side in “My Cousin Greg.” The song is about a cousin named Greg, who isn’t exactly normal. There’s also a message in the song about how if you want to live the good life, it’s best to stay away from the limelight. This is one where you can sit back, have a few laughs and enjoy a fun song. The slow and haunting “Gasoline,” is about a woman who explains she burns faster than gasoline. In other words, she isn’t the settling down type and her love burns pretty quickly. Toupin’s voice shines and really gives it the bluesy feel needed to make this a haunting song.

“By God” is a rock country song with a rocking beat and a subtle, sinister undertone. It’s about a man who has things going wrong around him and insisting for them to “turn out the lights,” but to leave his “candle burning.” The harmonies are spot-on throughout. Everything in this song simply works to make for one of the best songs on the album. The penultimate song on the album, “Say It,” is about a man telling the woman of his desire to lower her expectations so she could be happy with him. The tone isn’t very serious and it’s more playful than anything, as his charm starts to win her over. It’s another song where the listener will have just as much fun hearing it as Houndmouth had making it. Little Neon Limelight concludes with “Darlin’,” one of the most country songs on the album. From the lyrics to the combination of the guitar, piano and organ on instrumentation, it proves this. The vocals of the band soar throughout the song and leaves you hooked from beginning to end. Hell I can say that about this entire album.

Little Neon Limelight is flawless in every aspect. Houndmouth’s vocals are dynamic and the harmonies will stick with you for a while. Each song tells a story or conveys some sort of emotion in the listener, which is what great music does. While there are a few somber songs, this album is mostly fun and even mixes in some good humor. This is an album I thinks some people might let slip through the cracks and miss out on. Don’t be one of these people. Anyone who appreciates great music should hear it. If you’re into groups like Shovels & Rope or The Lone Bellow, you’ll enjoy Houndmouth even more. I highly recommend this album. Without a doubt one of the best albums I’ve heard in 2015.

Grade: 10/10

Album Review – The Lone Bellow’s Then Came The Morning is Phenomenal

The Lone Bellow

Why didn’t I listen to The Lone Bellow sooner? That was my thought after listening to their new album. For those who don’t know who The Lone Bellow are they are a trio from Brooklyn, New York. It’s comprised of Zach Williams (lead vocalist and guitarist), Kanene Pipkin (vocalist and mandolin player) and Brian Elmquist (vocalist and guitarist). Their music is really hard to describe because they dabble with so many different genres. The best I could describe it is alt-country mixed with blues, rock, roots and pop. Their songs are a melting pot of genres. Normally I save my recommendation thoughts at the end of a review, but I just want to get it out-of-the-way now. Go buy The Lone Bellow’s Then Came The Morning album. It’s simply fantastic and I’m going to do my best to tell you why every song on this album is damn good.

The album starts off with the upbeat and gospel influenced “Then Came the Morning.” The combination of the harmony interludes along with the hints of horn production give this song an infectious harmony that makes you want to listen to it over and over again. It immediately draws the listener into the album. Needless to say, this is an excellent start to the record. This is followed by the heartbreak song, “Fake Roses.” It’s about a woman who had her heart-broken and as a result has shut herself away from the rest of the world. She tries to get lost in watching television. Williams does a great job establishing the somber attitude of the song in the beginning and then the harmonizing at the end really drives it home.

“Marietta” is a love song where a man tries to win a woman named Marietta’s love back. He pleads to her and says that he’ll let her back into his heart, as he can’t shake his love for her. This is a love song with real emotion and heart that will appeal to a lot of people. And the vocal performance in this song is dynamite. It’s arguably the best song on the album, amongst many great songs. Next is another pleading love song in “Take My Love.” This song is more straightforward and not as emotional. It’s as if it’s a follow-up to “Marietta” after the man has got the woman’s attention and is now just begging for her to take his love. The hook in this song will definitely get stuck in your head and that’s a good thing.

Once again the harmonies shine in “Call To War.” It’s a song about a woman who lost her husband to war and how she won’t rest until he’s found. No matter what though her love will triumph over it all. The best line of the song is “remember when the mountains fell like pennies down a wishing well.” It’s really the punctuation mark of this song. Really though Kanene Pipkin’s vocal performance is what makes this song stand out. “Watch Over Us” is one of the more mellow tracks on the album. The acoustic guitar is the only instrumentation used in the song, so the trio’s vocals are front and center. This is probably the weakest song on the album, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad song. It’s actually good. When this is the worst song on an album, you know you’re listening to something pretty special.

This is followed by another stand out song, “Diners.” The lead vocals on this song are spectacular and really set the emotion. The setting of this song takes place in a diner late at night where a man laments letting love, using comparisons to jukeboxes. And of course the harmonies are stellar again. The Lone Bellow kicks the tempo up on “Heaven Don’t Call Me Home.” This is the kind of song that will get you to stand up and dance. I dare you to try to listen to this song and not move your head as you listen. You can’t because it’s impossible. I can imagine the band had as much fun recording this one, as the fans have listening to it. “If You Don’t Love Me” is a bluesy country rock song about giving an ultimatum to a significant other that they can leave or let you go if they don’t love you. It’s an upbeat song with a “tell it like it is” attitude. It’s one of the less serious tracks on the album.

The quietest track on the album is “Telluride.” The song is about a small mountain town in Colorado named Telluride. The town became well-known during the gold rush in the earlier years of America. Many called it “to hell you ride” and there are two meanings behind this phrase. One because it was dangerous to ride their on horseback (I’m assuming Hickory is referring to a horse possibly in the song) and two because it was infamous for it’s bars and brothels, which miners blew their money on. It’s a really neat story and this song does a great job telling it. This is followed by the shortest track on the album, “To The Woods.” It’s a nice little folksy ditty that can breeze right by if you don’t pay attention. It feels like an epilogue to “Telluride.”

The most rocking and dynamic sounding song on the album is “Cold As It Is.” This is a fantastic fusion of blues, country and rock. Just like “Heaven Don’t Call Me Home,” this song will make you want to move your feet. As for the theme, it’s about not leaving your significant other no matter how cold the relationship can be. I know this is a song I will be playing over and over for a while. It’s so damn good and one of the best on an album full of great songs. The album ends with “I Let You Go,” a heartbreak love song about letting love go in hopes that they would come back to you. It kind of plays on the saying of “if you love something you will let it go.” Your brain is saying letting go is the best thing to do, but your heart wants the opposite. It’s a beautiful harmony that concludes a phenomenal album.

The Lone Bellow’s Then Came The Morning simply blows me away. The year is still new, but this album will hold up as one of the best in country music all year. I don’t think it would be a stretch to call this trio one of the most dynamic in music. If you’re looking for a comparison, I would say the closest is Shovels & Rope, except more bluesy and not quite as dark. So if you love Shovels & Rope, you’ll love this group. Some may say this isn’t a country album, but I don’t care what genre you put it under. This is just great music that everyone should hear. This is without a doubt a strong contender for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year.

Grade: 10/10

Video: Shovels & Rope Perform “Coping Mechanism” on Letterman

 

First Wade Bowen on Conan earlier this week and now another great country act got a chance to perform on the national stage. The fantastic duo of Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent of Shovels & Rope performed “Coping Mechanism,” a finalist for Country Perspective’s 2014 Song of the Year, off of their phenomenal 2014 album Swimmin’ Time, which was also a finalist for Country Perspective’s 2014 Album of the Year, on the Late Show with David Letterman last night. They knocked it out of the park of course. Based on the reactions I saw on Twitter, there were a lot of other people who felt the same. I hope they picked up a bunch of new fans and I find it hard to fathom how anyone can’t be a fan of this duo after hearing their music. When they found out they were going to play on Letterman again, they were pretty thrilled about it.

If you haven’t heard their Swimmin’ Time album, I highly recommend you go check it out. Also what did you think of their performance here?

Country Perspective’s Best Country Albums of 2014

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

10/10 (Album of the Year Candidates)

Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music 

Shovels & Rope – Swimmin’ Time 

Karen Jonas – Oklahoma Lottery 

Lucette – Black Is The Color 

Tami Neilson – Dynamite! 

Sunny Sweeney – Provoked 

First Aid Kit – Stay Gold 

Old Crow Medicine Show – Remedy 

The Secret Sisters – Put Your Needle Down 

9.5/10

Angaleena Presley – American Middle Class 

Micky & The Motorcars – Hearts From Above 

Stoney LaRue – Aviator 

9/10

Wade Bowen – Wade Bowen 

Matt Woods – With Love From Brushy Mountain 

Lee Ann Womack – The Way I’m Livin’ 

BlackHawk – Brothers of the Southland 

The Roys – The View 

Jason Eady – Daylight & Dark 

Mack McKenzie – One Last, One More 

Bonnie Montgomery – Bonnie Montgomery 

8.5/10

Jon Pardi – Write You A Song 

Ray Scott – Ray Scott 

Mary Sarah – Bridges 

The Buffalo Ruckus – The Buffalo Ruckus 

Rich O’Toole – Jaded 

Corb Lund – Counterfeit Blues 

8/10

Eric Paslay – Eric Paslay 

Phillip Fox Band – Heartland 

Terri Clark – Some Songs 

Country Perspective’s Best Country Group of 2014 Nominees

Country Perspective has many year-end awards: Best Album, Worst Album, Best Male Artist, Best Female Artist, Best Song, Worst Song and this award Best Group. Each are challenging in their own right, but this award is arguably the toughest to determine. Four of the five nominees albums are up for Country Perspective’s Best Country Album of the Year. That’s insane! These groups are all fantastic regardless of what group ultimately wins and you should check out all of their music.

Derek and myself will ultimately determine who wins, but you the readers will also have a big say on who wins too. Your feedback and opinions in the comments below can and probably will sway who wins. So be sure to sound off on who you think deserves to win. Let’s take a look at the nominees for Country Perspective’s Best Country Group of 2014.

First Aid Kit – These Swedish sisters sing music that is wise beyond their years. Johanna and Klara Söderberg thrill with their haunting album Stay Gold. The album also makes you laugh, cry and reflect. It’s an emotional roller coaster that flows perfectly together. They also did a fantastic job covering Paul Simon’s “America.” Speaking of America, more people in this country need to hear this duo. First Aid Kit is also up for Country Perspective’s Best Country Album of 2014 and Best Country Song of 2014 (“Cedar Lane”).

 

Old Crow Medicine Show – If there’s one group you can consistently rely on to produce great music, this is the group. Old Crow Medicine Show hasn’t missed a beat since Willie Watson left the group to pursue a solo career and their album was great enough to be nominated for Country Perspective’s Best Country Album of 2014. Their emotional song “Dearly Departed Friend” was also nominated for Country Perspective’s Best Country Song of 2014. You know what else is great about this group? You can tell how much they enjoy making music.

 

Shovels & Rope – I’ll be honest with you: I never heard of this duo before this year. I heard a lot of praise for their new album Swimmin’ Time from people I respect in country music, so I gave it a listen. I’m sorry I wasn’t aware of this dynamic duo sooner. Husband and wife Michael Trent and Carry Ann Hearst combine for some of the best harmonies I’ve ever heard. Their chemistry and attention to detail make for one of the best albums of the year. They’re also up for Country Perspective’s Best Country Song of 2014 with “Coping Mechanism.”

 

The Secret Sisters – They quietly released one of the best country albums of 2014 with their album Put Your Needle Down. Really I was surprised by how little talk there was of this great album. Under the guidance of T Bone Burnett the duo delivered a deeply harmonic album. Derek did a great job reviewing this album and this snippet at the end of it I think sums up this group and their 2014 best:

This album is a musical time machine, taking it right into the center of each era of great music and The Secret Sisters flawlessly execute every song, delivering a quality that could stand up with each genre’s best. This is no sophomore slump. Laura and Lydia prove their songwriting prowess and establish themselves a strong base on which to build a strong, promising musical future.

 

Zac Brown Band – The best group in mainstream country music didn’t even release a new album this year and yet they did enough to be nominated for group of the year. What qualified them in our minds to be nominated for this award? Well first they released a great EP in The Grohl Sessions Vol. 1, which produced the great single “All Alright.” They also collaborated with several artists (Allman Brothers, Elton John, Foo Fighters, Doobie Brothers) to make great music and admirably cover classic hits. Another thing that made me respect this group even more was Brown picking Sturgill Simpson to open for him on select tour dates. This group simply respects country music and it shows through their music and actions.

 

Who should win Country Perspective’s Best Group of 2014 award? Let us know in the comments below.