Album Review — Justin Moses’ ‘Fall Like Rain’

Bluegrass is a genre I admittedly had trouble appreciating when I was younger. I’ve always respected the genre, but it was something that was hard for me to sit down and truly enjoy. In the earlier days of the blog I covered some bluegrass and writing a review was like pulling teeth from me. Even before that I was exposed to bluegrass from my grandpa. Maybe that’s why when Sturgill Simpson mentioned having a similar experience with his own grandfather that it allowed me to connect to this two volumes of Cuttin’ Grass even more. So admittedly these albums finally made me wake up and appreciate bluegrass a lot more and I’ve been slowly diving into the genre since the release of Simpson’s first volume.

When I was searching for upcoming bluegrass releases, Justin Moses’ album caught my eye and I gave a listen to some of the pre-release singles. The sound immediately caught my ear. Keep in mind I didn’t even know until I dove into Fall Like Rain that he’s the husband of bluegrass star and mandolin virtuoso Sierra Hull, who blew me away with her work on Simpson’s bluegrass albums and her own album 25 Trips released last year was quite impressive too (definitely worth your time if you haven’t heard it). Moses’ work though is quite talented in his own right, as he delivers a really good record in Fall Like Rain.

The title track kicks off the album and it should be noted it’s an Eric Clapton cover from his Pilgrim album. Moses does a great job making it his own and re-contextualizing it within bluegrass, as the aching pain of heartbreak that permeates in the lyrics suits the bluegrass sound well. Hull joins Moses on “Taxland” for a captivating instrumental that shows off both of their impressive picking abilities. It’s so much fun and the energy of it is amazing. When I hear a song that jams this hard it only makes me miss live music even more, as I imagine this song would be even more fun to hear in-person.

Prominent bluegrass artist Dan Tyminski joins Moses on “Between the Lightning and the Thunder.” Even if you don’t listen to bluegrass, Tyminski’s voice is quite distinctive, as he’s been featured in some major hits in O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Avicci’s “Hey Brother.” With that in mind I was surprised at the restrained nature of Tyminski’s vocal performance. It’s a solid track, but as someone used to Tyminski’s vocals being more prominent this caught me off guard. Not to mention the theme of the song centering around the clashing of lightning and thunder would be seem to call for a more powerful sound to reflect this.

“Walking to Lebanon” has an appropriately Middle Eastern-inspired sound to open the album, which really catches my ear. The songwriting is just as distinctive, as Moses tells the story of a young girl who lives amongst violence and chaos in a Middle East country and is forced to walk across the desert to Lebanon with her sister to escape the bombings that have ravaged her home. It’s a tragic story with a small sense of hope that peace can be found for the young girl. I also appreciate the line from Moses when he sings “It’s hard on us all, but it’s meaner for some,” contextualizing the difference of a tough life in a first-world country versus a tough life in a third-world country. For me it’s a small reminder that somebody somewhere is experiencing something that I will likely never have to go through and I should both take solace in this and sympathize with those who are struggling.

Moses gets a chance to show off his own picking chops in a solo capacity on tracks “Wise & Born” and “Watershed.” As I said in my review of Tyler Childers’ Long Violent History, the key to great instrumental music over the course of an album is variety and conveying mood within the listener as they listen to it. And Moses does this quite well on Fall Like Rain. There’s a distinct character to each track, as “Wise & Born” feels like you’re taking an exciting ride along the countryside and “Watershed” has a soaring, flying feel about it that captures my attention.

Bluegrass legend Del McCoury joins Moses on “My Baby’s Gone.” The impressive picking of Moses combined with the high-pitched twang of McCoury make for a sweet combination on this heartbreak song. I particularly enjoy McCoury’s closing vocals on the track as he hits the highest notes of the song, as it leaves a lasting impression. It also shows the blues of bluegrass and it’s influences on the genre (hence why I liked Moses’ pick of a Clapton cover too). By the way the guest features on this album are great and Moses delivers one more when Shawn Lane of Blue Highway joins him on “Looking for a Place.” I had never heard Lane sing before this, but his voice really stands out with it’s distinctive softness. It also makes for great harmonizing with Moses on the chorus and adds to the breezy melody that envelopes the song.

“U.F.O.” and “Locust Hill” close out the album in a strong way. The former is a quiet observation of the climb we all experience in life, but remaining hopeful that we can one day find the “streets paved with gold.” It works not only in a biblical context, but also striving to find that inner peace in life too. This song underscores the subtle theme throughout the album of acknowledging the rough spots we all experience, but still finding the strength and hope to overcome them and reach the heights we aspire to in our lives. It’s quite the uplifting message to take away from this album. But I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the tight instrumentals too. The small break before the instrumental reprise at the end of “U.F.O.” is a nice touch. It also provides a good contrast to the fast-picking of “Locust Hill,” as Moses leaves the listener with a real shot of energy and allows all the players on the record to really stretch their legs, which is a standard in the world of bluegrass. The collaborative nature of the genre is without question a shining aspect.

Justin Moses really delivers a fun and memorable listen with his first full-length bluegrass record Fall Like Rain. Almost all of the features are utilized well and there’s plenty of catchy melodies throughout. And unsurprisingly the picking by all the players on this project is top-notch. I would liken this album to warm comfort food for me: it’s not the flashiest nor the most distinctive. But it’s something I can come back to again and again because it’s just so solid and reliable all-around.

Stream It

Album Review — Sturgill Simpson’s ‘Cuttin’ Grass – Vol. 1 (Butcher Shoppe Sessions)’

Sturgill Simpson has always hinted at and talked about doing a bluegrass album throughout the years. Thanks to his dedicated, loyal fans who donated an overwhelming amount of money through his Dick Daddy Survival School charity endeavor he started on a whim on Instagram, Simpson lives his dream with Cuttin’ Grass – Vol. 1 (Butcher Shoppe Sessions).

Now I expected this album to be good. Simpson’s love and appreciation for bluegrass has always shined through and if you want a true glimpse into this I highly urge you to read the letter he emailed to fans expressing his gratitude (along with an update on where he’s at now as a person and an artist). But man I did not expect this album to be this good. I don’t think many people expected this much out of an album that is mostly bluegrass renditions of his previous songs along with finally recording some gems from his Sunday Valley days.

But maybe we shouldn’t have been so surprised because the list of people involved with this project are absolutely incredible and need to be recognized. David Ferguson produces the album, who’s been involved with numerous projects with Simpson. Mark Howard is on rhythm and lead guitar, Scott Vestal is on the banjo, Mike Bub is on bass, Tim O’Brien provides background vocals and is on rhythm and lead guitar, Simpson’s longtime drummer Miles Miller provides background vocals and is on percussion, and the iconic Stuart Duncan is on fiddle. Finally the player I feel who is most important on this album and that’s Sierra Hull on mandolin and who also provides background vocals.

Hull is the secret sauce behind why this album is so damn good. As always she shines brightly on mandolin, but her background vocals are just as integral to this album’s quality and there’s no song that’s more apparent on than “Breaker’s Roar.” The original version of this song on A Sailor’s Guide to Earth was already hauntingly dark and beautiful. But this new bluegrass version is actually even better than the original, which blows my mind. Hull’s background vocals are a big reason why, as it gives the song a heavenly soft sound that feels equal parts soothing and trippy. It makes for such an addictive listen and it’s arguably the best moment on the album.

But there are a lot of moments that shine on Cuttin’ Grass. “All Around You” may not be the best opening song choice, as Simpson simply organized the track list in alphabetical order. It’s the complete opposite of his usual approach, as he’s said in the past he’s particular about the track list on his album and usually urges fans to listen to the album front to back to grasp their true spirit and meaning. But with this being such a casual and unexpected side project, I don’t think track list should be such a concern for listeners. This could easily be shuffled and enjoyed. As Simpson said this is his version of a mixtape and as someone who has listened to a lot of mixtapes from the world of hip hop, this fits the nature of them.

Back to “All Around You,” maybe it’s because it’s one of my favorite songs from Simpson, but it works for me as an opener. It works because it’s one of the best performances on the record and it feels like all the aforementioned players above get to shine in moments throughout the song. Duncan’s fiddle play and Hull’s mandolin player in particular gives the song that dynamic and uplifting feel that the original version of the song does so well.

“All The Pretty Colors” is the first of four Sunday Valley songs Simpson records on the album and each one are a welcome sight to those of us who have wanted them after years of shoddy recordings on YouTube. This one is about getting your heart broken and watching the colors fade away from your world. The hook of this song is so clever and catchy with the Van Gogh reference and the play on words with “And all the pretty blue is fading/From the sea of tears I’m wading.” The contemplative “I Wonder” is another heartbreak song about wondering where you ex is and what they’re doing now. The strings on this song give it an appropriately dark and brooding feel.

“Sometimes Wine” is about acting like you’re not broken up when an ex walks out the door, but then later coping with drinking and lamenting the loss. Despite the somber nature of the lyrics, Vestal’s banjo is pretty hot and gives the song a strong melody. Out of the four Sunday Valley songs though, it’s “I Don’t Mind” that is the undisputed best (consensus seems to agree too, as it was the highest selling and streaming song of the entire album when it released). What starts out as a beautiful proclamation of love and finding God quickly turns to a lonely man’s desperate plea for the love of his life to take him back. It’s one of Simpson’s best songs he’s ever written, as the aching pain and yearning for someone that was once so close and now so far is so poignantly described to exhibit the duality of love’s light and darkness. The only complaint I have is why did it have to take so long to get a proper version? No wonder his wife told him to not come home until he recorded this song for the album.

The bending sounds of the fiddle that greets you on “Just Let Go” are so satisfying and once again sets the tone perfectly for a song on this album. “Life Ain’t Fair and the World is Mean” unsurprisingly works really well as a bluegrass song, as do all the songs from High Top Mountain on this album. I especially enjoy the harmonizing of Simpson, Hull, Miller and O’Brien on this track. The same can be said of “A Little Light,” which has always felt like a bluegrass song, even though it was on the psychedelic Metamodern Sounds in Country Music.

Simpson really blazes through a lot of the songs on this record at a blistering pace, which works for the most part. But it’s nice when he slows it down on songs like “Life of Sin,” “Old King Coal,” “Time After All” and “Voices.” It allows for the album to breathe a bit and let the melody simmer. But when he does let it rip on songs like “Long White Line,” “Sitting Here Without You,” “The Storm” and “Railroad of Sin,” it’s a lot of fun. Those last two songs in particular stand out, as the fury of both Simpson’s vocals and the guitars show how brawny bluegrass can sound. It’s the definition of when bluegrass “rocks out” and how a banjo can be just as powerful of an instrument as an electric guitar on full blare. This version of “Railroad of Sin” has a strong argument being even better than the original.

Two of Metamodern’s three most iconic songs, “Living the Dream” and “Turtles All the Way Down” were songs I was really curious to hear interpreted in bluegrass, as I would like to imagine these were two of the harder adaptions. While both of these are enjoyable renditions in bluegrass form, they definitely don’t touch the originals. The dripping steel guitar on “Living the Dream” and the tripping on balls nature of “Turtles All the Way Down” are integral to what make these songs so great. Not to mention the slower pace of the originals allows the lyrics to deliver better impact, while the more frenetic pace of their bluegrass covers lack gravitas.

“Water in a Well” closes the album and I love it as a closer because it features some of Simpson’s most impactful songwriting. This album also has a great focus on the earlier part of Simpson’s career and this song is one of his best from his early days. It’s another instance where Simpson does a great job of capturing the feelings of heartbreak, as it’s a complicated mixture of sadness, regret and getting over it. Hull once again shines too, as the mandolin gives the song a weeping nature that perfectly suits the lyrics and her background vocals once again add that needed extra emotional layer.

In Simpson’s letter he says he could do about 17 more of these mixtapes and that sounds great to me. On the next one I hope he tackles some bluegrass interpretations of SOUND & FURY, as it could make for an interesting challenge for him and the listener. People seemed to really overlook the quality songwriting of that album and I think bluegrass versions could make them re-evaluate it. His covers of The Osborne Brothers’ “Listening To The Rain” and Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” would make fine additions too. But I’m not sure how difficult this may be to cover these songs nor his SOUND & FURY songs due to legal/licensing reasons. In the infamous Uproxx interview, he mentions licensing masters for a term before getting them back, so he may not have the rights to SOUND & FURY songs returned to him yet.

Sturgill 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 Sturgill Simpson.

Grade: 9/10

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 

Album Review – Sierra Hull’s ‘Weighted Mind’ is a Beautiful Coming of Age Album

Sierra Hull was a child prodigy in bluegrass music. At age 11, Hull joined Alison Krauss on the Grand Ole Opry stage and soon thereafter signed with Rounder Records. Sierra Hull’s mandolin playing has earned her high praise and respect in the music world. Krauss even said of Hull, “Talent like hers is so rare, and I don’t think it stops.” Banjo master Bela Fleck says, “She plays the mandolin with a degree of refined elegance and freedom that few have achieved.” Sierra Hull released her first album at 16, and now, 8 years later, has released her 3rd full length album with Fleck serving as the producer. Hull’s Weighted Mind shows how her own songwriting has taken a step forward to match the maturity in her musicianship.

As suggested by the cover art and album title, Weighted Mind is Hull’s own, cluttered mind, weighing her down and she tries to make sense of her life. Like most people in their early 20s, Hull too was struggling to find her identity while transitioning into full-blown adulthood. The result is an intimate album with a simple production. Per Fleck’s recommendation, the songs were recorded without much of a backing band – only Hull’s mandolin along with Fleck’s banjo and Ethan Jodziewicz on the bass. No percussions, just a quiet production of strings allowing Hull’s voice to shine and lyrics to be heard.

The opening track of “Stranded” showcases the instrumental skills of Sierra Hull. The introductory track moves from a quiet calmness, gradually becoming a bit more chaotic and darker as Hull sings “dear 22, I’m stranded here” before transitioning right into “Compass.” Building off the lyric of feeling stranded, she sings of readying herself for a journey of self discovery. Feeling lost and sure, she throws away her old self, trusting that what is meant to be will be. “Choices And Changes” continues on the theme of this mental and emotional journey. “If you won’t go where I’m going, then I’ll have to go alone,” Hull sings with acceptance and confidence. There’s more urgency in her mandolin play, complimenting the lyrics of needing to move forward because the changes are necessary.

“Wings Of The Dawn” reads as if it’s a prayer for guidance. It’s a hopeful realization that she won’t feel lost forever. Hull’s higher vocals and mandolin picking are beautifully complimented with the lower bass and violin. With the extended solo in the song’s middle, the complex instrumentation takes a front seat on the song, showcasing Hull’s skills more, as well as Fleck’s production skills. “Wings Of The Dawn” is nicely layered with vocal harmonies on the chorus as well. One of the best tracks on Weighted Mind, in my opinion, is “Birthday.” Here Hull sings to what seems to be a former lover. She remembers that its his birthday, but after the break-up, he’s left angry and heartbroken. Hull still cares for him, and accepts that he would rather remain angry at her and ignore her because there’s nothing she can say to change the situation. Beautiful lyrics combined with Hull’s soothing vocals help “Birthday” shine.

Sierra Hull shows off more of her mandolin brilliance on the album’s title track. It’s the only instrument found on the track, and her solo toward the song’s end is executed perfectly, a way in which only a veteran player could. The lyrics feel like a commentary and explanation of the album as a whole. Hull steps away from herself for a song. On “Fallen Man” she sings from the point of view of a dying man. This is a man’s final thoughts as he drifts away into the afterlife; they’re his final thoughts about his process of dying. A quick song with simple strums, but beautifully sung by Hull. “The In-Between” again finds Sierra Hull commenting on her situation in life and finding motivation. “Life is a hanging sharp edge sword,” she sings in the second verse. Life may throw curve balls, but if you don’t let it get the best of you, then you’ll be bound to come out on the good side of the in-between. At 5 minutes long, “The In-Between” features another extended solo where Sierra Hull wows with her mandolin skills with the bass layered behind her to create a dynamic instrumental break before the song ends with one final chorus.

“Lullaby” finds Hull singing to her mother, pleading for love and comfort. Hull sings that she’ll never be too old to cry to her mom when she’s feeling down and dejected. The lyrics are reflective, honest, and perhaps the most vulnerable of the whole album. This is a song which she wrote by herself, which adds more authenticity to her heartfelt delivery. “Lullaby” is another one of Weighted Minds’ strongest songs. “Queen of Hearts/Royal Tea” is a song dealing with love and heartbreak. Lyrically, it’s a bit more traditional than “Birthday” in the sense that if her love leaves her, she’ll feel lost because “young men are plenty, but sweethearts few.” The song features several instrumental breaks where Bela Fleck joins in on the banjo alongside Hull’s mandolin and Jodziewicz’s bass.

Love has ended again in “I’ll Be Fine.” Sierra Hull sings to a man who has wronged her one too many times. She ends the relationship and tells him she’ll be fine in time. It’s a song of hope because this storm of heartbreak will blow over. The instrumentation shifts as the song progresses moving from a smoother, hopeful sound to more harsh picking in the middle, and returning to the hopeful, smooth mandolin strum as the song concludes. Hull’s dynamic vocal delivery on “I’ll Be Fine” is one of the best on the album. Weighted Mind concludes with “Black River.” On this emotional journey, Hull hasn’t quite found her way, but it’s hopeful that she will. As Hull sings in the chorus, “A thousand years is but a day, they say. And maybe in a thousand more, I will find my way.” A complex, but brilliant lyric portraying both doubt and hope. While not as instrumentally rich as other songs, “Black River” does have an excellent multi-vocal harmony in the final chorus, with Alison Krauss lending her vocals to the mix behind Hull’s. “Black River” is a confident end to the album.

It’s easy to see why Sierra Hull is held in such high regard as both a mandolin musician and a singer-songwriter. The vulnerability and honesty embedded in the lyrics show maturity in Hull that seems beyond what you’d expect from your average 24-year-old, but Sierra Hull is anything but average. Her skills and delivery on Weighted Mind are proof that she’s earned every bit of praise that’s come her way. Rich and complex, Weighted Mind is album for the listener. It’s not easy to pick up on the masterful intricacies at first, but that’s the beauty of the album. The closer you listen to the music and to Hull’s words, the more beauty you’ll find.

Grade: 9/10

Weighted Mind can be purchased through Amazon and iTunes.

Country Perspective’s Best of Country & Americana Music – January 2016

January 2016

Welcome to the revamped and improved monthly best of lists from Country Perspective. Last year Derek and myself would each pick the top ten songs of each month and then write something about each of them. By the end of the year I felt like the feature was getting stale. With the addition of Zack this year, I realize putting out three different playlists would be overkill. Not to mention there’s so much good music that can be released each month that it can be hard to choose just ten songs. So I went to the drawing board and came up with some tweaks to make it better. Now each month we will have one post where all three of us share our thoughts on the music that was released and some of our favorites. Below that will be a Spotify playlist of all the songs we enjoyed. If you’re a fan of Spotify and use it, we have good news as we now have a Country Perspective Spotify page. You can check it out and subscribe here. So let’s talk about the month of January!

Josh

There was certainly plenty of music to enjoy this month. Many people think January is a dead month for new music, but I learned last year that this stereotype is wrong. Once again this is proven to be true. One of the most anticipated releases of the month was Randy Rogers Band’s Nothing Shines Like Neon and it certainly lived up to my expectations. I think this group has found their perfect niche and that’s an early 90s, neo-traditional sound along the lines of Strait and Jackson. A softer sound suits them over trying to rock hard like some of their fellows Texas country artists. “Old Moon New” and “Neon Blues” were the songs that really stood out to me on this album. Aubrie Sellers delivered big with her debut album New City Blues. It’s getting near universal praise for its garage country sound that is diverse and engaging. It’s an album you need to hear if you haven’t yet. I find it hard to pick a favorite from it, but if I had to choose one it would be the “Dreaming In The Day” with its spacey production.

Outside of these two big releases, there were some really enjoyable singles put out by both mainstream and independent artists. Jennifer Nettles’ “Unlove You” is very much in the same vein of Cam’s “Burning House.” Mary Fletcher’s “I Called Him Dad” showed how to properly write a memorial song for a deceased loved one. Andrew Pope impressed me with his new single “Stormchaser.” Brothers Osborne put out a decent debut album in Pawn Shop that featured enough solid tunes that keep me optimistic about their future. And The Cactus Blossoms dazzled me with their throwback sound on their new album.

Derek

I’d say that January has been a strong start to country music this year. Nothing Shines Like Neon not only brought Randy Rogers Band back to their truest form, but gave fans some great country songs from the album. From the heartbreak song of “Neon Blues” to reinvigorating love in “Old Moon New,” Randy Rogers Band put a fresh spin on old stories. The Brothers Osborne’s debut album was rather average, but a song like “Heart Shaped Locket” showcased the duo’s full potential as a musical act. Aubrie Sellers’ New City Blues introduced us to an impressive garage country style of music with an album of many great, well written songs. “Losing Ground” was the song that stood out to me the most from New City Blues.

Established artists released some well-written songs detailing their struggles of moving on. Jennifer Nettles’ soaring “Unlove You” and Will Hoge’s subdued, quiet “Through Missing You” took different approaches to heartbreak, but both singers carry the story with confidence. Sierra Hull’s bluegrass album Weighted Mind featured song after song of beautiful vocals and impressive instrumentation, but the heartbreaking “Birthday” finds Hull having difficulty getting over a failed relationship.

Zack

The month of January definitely brought about a fine start to 2016. With new releases from Randy Rogers Band, Brothers Osborne, Aoife O’Donovan, and Aubrie Sellers, I certainly think the bar has been set for this year. Here’s my favorite music from this month.

My favorite album this month was the debut effort from Aubrie Sellers, and honestly it wasn’t even close. The combination of edgy rockers like “Paper Doll” combined with softer tracks such “Like The Rain” fuse to make one hell of a debut effort. You can waste time saying how much she sounds like her mother, but with her “garage country” sound, we have an artist who isn’t afraid to be herself and show the world who she is. Another album that I thoroughly enjoyed was Aoife O’Donovan’s “In The Magic Hour. I still want to review this album, and it may come soon, but for now I’ll tell you that Aoife’s divine, almost ghostly voice fits the melancholy vibe of these tracks like a glove. If you don’t believe me, then just check out “Stanley Park,” “Hornets,” and “The King Of All Birds.” Another album that I thought was seriously underrated was Randy Rogers Band’s “Nothing Shines Like Neon.” The major complaint I saw with this album was that it didn’t go “deep” enough. With tracks such as “Old Moon New”, and “Look Out Yonder” combined with nice mature love songs such as “Rain and The Radio” and “Meet Me Tonight” I thought there was certainly a lot to enjoy here.