Review – Charlie Worsham’s “The Beginning of Things”

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Charlie Worsham is a name that more people should know in country music. His debut album, Rubberband, is an excellent singer-songwriter album with an eclectic sound, rich, heartfelt stories, and Worsham’s smooth, soft vocals. While he hasn’t seen much traction from the album, Charlie Worsham’s career is still young, as he’s set to release his second album this spring. To begin promotion for the album, titled Beginning of Things, Worsham has released the album’s title track for fans to hear. The song centers around William, or Bill, a man who only seems to enjoy the beginning of things. With unfinished home projects and unrealized life dreams, Bill settles down with his childhood love, Sam. Bill and Sam have a daughter, only for him to run out and become an estranged man in the lives of those two women. The song doesn’t resolve Bill’s story in a happy fashion, keeping with the status quo of the story Worsham has presented. In trying to tell a story that pretty much spans a lifetime, writers Abe Stoklasa and Donovan Woods, pack quite a bit into four minutes. The result is a rushed story with details quickly rattled off to get to the next place in timeline. The song itself doesn’t change much with the tempo over the duration, hovering in the mid-tempo range with the same acoustic guitar strum repeated. “The Beginning of Things” is a bold endeavor of a story song that doesn’t quite hit the mark for the intended wordplay or emotional effect. With that said, it’s exciting to hear new music from Charlie Worsham, and his upcoming album is one to look out for.

Grade: 6/10

Recommend? – Worth one listen

Written by Abe Stoklasa and Donovan Woods

Album Review – Mack McKenzie’s ‘A Million Miles’

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Mack McKenzie came across the radar of Country Perspective in 2014. He released debut album One Last, One More late in year and it really impressed me. The Dayton, Ohio area based artist’s vocal style and approach evokes thoughts of Texas-based country artist Jason Eady. A lot of the songs on the album delved into darker matters such as depression and heartbreak, perfectly fitting of his gravel-y toned voice. I think what I enjoyed the most about his debut album was how confident and sure he was in his sound. You could just tell he knows what type of music he wants to make when he goes into a studio and thought behind it. So I was eager to hear how he would follow-up this solid debut with his new sophomore album A Million Miles. One thing that stands out about it immediately is it has a more cohesive theme throughout it. But it doesn’t necessarily always work on each song.

One of the standouts of this album is definitely “Drunk Over Your.” It’s your classic drink your sorrows away country song. This is the kind of song that fits McKenzie really well and can knock out with ease. The amount of sorrow and darkness in his voice really sets the perfect tone for the song. “Tell Me” sees a man pleading and hoping that his ex is missing him as much as he misses her everyday. He wonders if she wakes up from dreams in the middle of the night and if that she wants him back again. It’s a desperate, clinging hope for something that probably still isn’t there. “I Wonder” is very much along the same lines, but I think “Tell Me” gets this desperate hoping across better.

The desperation comes across great too on “M – 3.” The man just refuses to stop giving a damn about the woman he lost and he’s willing to wait a while for her to come back. This could mean him or her changing, but he refuses to give up on something that he feels so strongly about. It’s a really strong song and shows off McKenzie’s ultimate strength: expressing pain and heartbreak in his words and vocals. This theme is kind of reversed on “Where Do You Get Off.” Here the man calls bullshit on his ex saying she still loves him. But then realizes he still loves her too. In other words things are pretty complicated between the two. Neither can really come out and say what they want.

The biggest problem I seem to find with this album is that I find some of the songs over stay their welcome. That’s most exemplified on “Reasons.” It’s a perfectly fine song about a couple giving up on love while still together. But there’s no reason why it should be nearly eight minutes in length. If you’re going to make a song this long, it better be justified. It reminds me of what one of my old English teachers used to tell me: if you can say something in fewer words than what you’ve written, you need to do it. Otherwise you’re just filling space. McKenzie tackles romance and passion in “Give It To Me.” And as much as I want to like it, I just don’t. It comes off too schmaltzy for my taste. It’s not bad, but I just don’t think it fits him and his style. He’s at his best when he’s singing about grittier themes and this just seems a little too polished for him.

For the most part I think a majority of the songs on A Million Miles work well and I can see the idea McKenzie is going for with the whole album. But unfortunately he just doesn’t fully execute it to its full potential. The album kind of gets off to a slow start with its two opening songs, which I find are too broad and similar. Not to mention it doesn’t really hook you into the album like opening songs should do. It wasn’t until the third song that I really started to get into the album. The middle part of this album is where it shines brightest and found myself enjoying the most. McKenzie undoubtedly likes to dig deep with his songwriting, but I think he digs too deep on this album at times to the point where you lose the listener (I had a similar criticism with Jack Ingram’s latest album). What this album also lacked was taking risks and doing more with the sound. Despite my criticisms though, I still find A Million Miles to be a good album with some nice moments that make it worth checking out.

Grade: 7/10

 

Recommend? – Yes, if you like artists such as Jason Eady, Ryan Bingham and Corb Lund

Album Highlights: Drunk Over You, M – 3, Tell Me, Where Do You Get Off

Bad Songs: None

Wallpaper: A Million Miles, Anywhere But Here

Also the album artwork is fantastic! Kudos to the artist who made it.


You can preview and purchase Mack McKenzie’s A Million Miles at Amazon, Google Play and iTunes.

Album Review – Lori McKenna’s ‘The Bird & The Rifle’

Lori McKenna has been recording and releasing music for nearly 16 years, but with her songwriting success over the past year, now is as good a time as ever for her to release an album. McKenna co-wrote Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” with Liz Rose and Hillary Lindsey, a song which captured the attention of pretty much everyone. And most recently, Tim McGraw’s “Humble & Kind”, written solely by McKenna, topped the airplay charts and has gone onto be a career hit for McGraw. McKenna teamed up with producer Dave Cobb with The Bird & The Rifle, Lori McKenna delivers nine brand new songs as well as her own recording of “Humble & Kind.”

The Bird & The Rifle begins with the heartbreaking “Wreck You.” McKenna sings from the first person point of view of a wife struggling to find out why her marriage has been falling apart. She’s not exactly sure where things went wrong or what she needs to do to change and fix it, but she’s aware that something is definitely wrong. You can hear the pain in McKenna’s voice as she sings. This is followed by the excellent title track for the album. An acoustic driven story song, Lori McKenna sings of another troubled marriage. She compares the wife to a bird and the husband to a rifle, two things that don’t go together well. While the bird can sing beautiful songs that rifle loves, the bird has the urge to fly but seems to be held down by the rifle’s fear and anger. “Something about the bird her spreading those wings always seems to bring the rifle out in him.” It’s a tried and true story, but McKenna writes and delivers it with a new sense of purpose and heart.

Lori McKenna visits small town life with “Giving Up on Your Hometown.” A bit more upbeat song than the first two, but this song takes a solemn look returning to your hometown and not recognizing how it has changed. People have passed, old hot spots have been torn down, and the place simply doesn’t feel like home anymore. Even with a more slightly upbeat production, the song doesn’t drift any faster than a mid-tempo ballad. “Halfway Home” tells the story of a woman who’s stuck in relationships with men who are unreliable or around for only one night. The song encourages the woman to keep moving on because she’s halfway home, half of the way to finding the true love she deserves. “Halfway Home” is another excellent vocal delivery from Lori McKenna.

I like Tim McGraw’s recording of “Humble & Kind”, but Lori McKenna’s recording on The Bird & The Rifle is even better. Maybe it’s due to the fact that McKenna is the lone writer of the song, but she sings the lyrics with such a conviction that isn’t present in McGraw’s recording. “Humble & Kind” is a song with fantastic lyrics, and hearing Lori McKenna sing them is a gift for the listener. “We Were Cool” is another song of nostalgia. Lori McKenna reminisces about growing up and how she and her friends felt cool riding in the older brother’s cool car. With an album full of poignant heartbreaking songs (and following the excellent “Humble & Kind”), “We Were Cool” gets a little lost in the shuffle, but it’s still a fun song to listen to, and it doesn’t make it a bad song by any stretch of the imagination.

Another album standout is the brutally honest “Old Men Young Women.” For starters, this song has one of the best opening lyrics. “You can have him; I hope you have fun. I guess wife number three could be the one.” Lori McKenna, presumably singing from the perspective of wife number one, speaks to the young third wife, shining a light on the dark corners of the marriage. She’s the trophy and link to a past he’ll never experience again, and he has the material resources to provide for her. But at the end of the day, neither one is fulfilled emotionally and it’s only a matter of time before the relationship meets its inevitable end.

“All These Things” is an upbeat love song, perhaps the most upbeat song of the album. McKenna lists off several different things and situations that illustrate the strength to their devotion to one another. “Always Want You” is a song about trying to get over a break up. Just like water runs through the creek bed or church bells ring on Sunday, McKenna believes she’ll always want the one she can’t have. “If Whiskey Were a Woman” is another heartbreaking song about a marriage on the rocks. Again, Lori McKenna is singing from the perspective of a woman who has let her marriage fall apart. She knows she can’t love and comfort her husband like she should, and compares herself to the whiskey he clings to and drinks, and how she would be if she were the whiskey.

In a word, The Bird & The Rifle is excellent. Lori McKenna writes and sings great stories with a stunning conviction and honesty. These truly are McKenna’s stories to tell, and she sells you on that truth. Even with the slower and mid-tempo production, Dave Cobb helps keep the focus of the album on McKenna’s voice and words, which is where the strength of the album lies. Whether it’s a single word choice in the title track or the biting delivery in “Old Men Young Women”, Lori McKenna let’s focal point of the album shine. The Bird & The Rifle is a must listen and a must buy album. Lori McKenna delivers a stunning country, folk album.

Grade: 10/10

 

 

Album Review – Darrell Scott’s ‘Couchville Sessions’

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One of the reasons why I love Americana and great country music is the brilliant songwriting. The stories that the songs tell and the amount of emotions it brings out of the viewer is something you can’t put a price on. Derek pretty much hit the nail on the head in his piece last week on why songwriting is so important to him. Excellent songwriters don’t just spring out of thin air, so when I come across one I cherish their music. Darrell Scott is one of those few excellent songwriters. Scott of course is most well-known for penning such hits as “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” (a personal favorite of mine, most famously recorded by Brad Paisley), Travis Tritt’s “It’s A Great Day To Be Alive” and the Dixie Chicks’ hit “Long Time Gone.”

Scott is not one of flash and fame, but one of the most well-respected and revered songwriters in country and Americana circles. It’s been four years since he’s released an album of new material and he now returns with new music that really isn’t new in age. In fact they’re over a decade old. According to Garden and Gun, in the early 2000s Scott “recorded 45 songs in the living room of his house on Nashville’s Couchville Pike.” After sitting for around 15 years in a vault, Scott picked 14 of the songs (nine written by him and five covers of who he considers his heroes) out for his brand new album Couchville Sessions. And thank goodness Scott never forgot about them because this album is a master class in songwriting.

The opening track, “Down to the River”, really sets the tone for the whole album. The folksy, down to earth tone combined with sharp lyrics like when Scott sings, “and we won’t give a damn if it’s rock, folk, country or blues” really makes it easy to get into. From the first listen it drew me in and you’ll undoubtedly be singing along with it. At the end of the song, Scott’s friend and fellow singer-songwriter Guy Clark tells an anecdote about finding a crow’s nest made out of barbed wire. It’s really surreal to hear the recently passed icon tell the story and makes for one of the coolest moments I’ve heard in a song this year. The soulful “Waiting for the Clothes to Get Clean” really shows off Scott’s smooth as silk voice. He just makes it sound so flawless. The song itself is about a troubled relationship, in the most part because the guy in it is an asshole. The bluesy guitars cut through the lyrics like a hot knife through butter.

“It’s Time to Go Away” is about a relationship coming to an end and the man realizing he’s leaving for all of the right reasons. It’s really hard to describe how great of a songwriter Darrell Scott is and this song is a perfect example. The story is simple, yet told so vividly you can picture the song in your head instantly. It’s just something you have to hear. Scott covers Johnny Cash’s “Big River” next. The song is about a man following his woman down the Mississippi River, as she seems to care more about living life down throughout the river than be with him. Scott definitely does the Man in Black justice with the cover. One of my favorites on Couchville Sessions is “Love Is The Reason.” The soaring instrumentation and Scott’s voice just mesh so well on this song about love.

Another cover on the album is Hank Williams’ “Ramblin’ Man.” Darrell Scott’s version is slower and more melancholy. Or to put it more bluntly, it’s pretty damn sad. It’s the kind of song you play after a brutal breakup and play while you sit in the dark and drink. That’s probably the way Hank would have preferred it too. Only the truly patient will want to sit and listen all the way through this nearly seven-minute song, but it is worth it. “It’s About Time” is perhaps the darkest song on the album. Scott deals with his own mortality and the legacy you leave behind when you die. As he explains on the song, he’s lived it all and when death comes he will be ready. But it shouldn’t be sad because from a fallen tree new sprouts will emerge. It’s the circle of life. The Celtic folk sound really jives well with the lyrics on this song. It’s yet another example of why Darrell Scott is so respected by fellow writers and artists.

This is followed by Scott’s cover of Peter Rowan’s “Moonlight Midnight.” Rowan himself joins Scott on the song and they sound great together. It’s the most rock-influenced track on the album and features some stellar electric guitar play. Scott pokes fun at radio DJs on “Morning Man.” This is evident by the lines about getting a fat man to laugh at his jokes and signing autographs at the mall. It shows Scott has a humorous side too and helps break up some of the more serious songs on the album. I know I got some good laughs. The icing on the cake to me is how Scott makes the song sound exactly like old morning radio shows bumpers; really light, catchy and even a call name. The romantic “Come Into This Room” follows and I just have to say it’s refreshing to hear a song striving to be romantic is actually romantic. After hearing so many hackneyed attempts at this by popular country artists, my ears almost forgot what a romantic love song should sound like. So I extend a thank you to Scott for redeeming my faith that these songs can still exist.

“Loretta” is the third cover song on the album and it’s by the legendary Townes Van Zandt. Scott really hits a home run with the cover songs he chooses and of course you never go wrong with a Townes song. When it comes to Van Zandt songs, you just need to hear them for yourself. The final cover song on the album is James Taylor’s “Another Grey Morning.” The song is about waking up and living out the same things each day. The woman in the song is so exasperated with the monotony that she thinks she would maybe rather have death over another grey morning. It’s a little extreme, but for anyone who has felt depressed, they could relate to the feeling. Couchville Sessions closes out with “Free (This Is The Love Song).” It’s what it says it is, as Scott sings a love song he probably should have sung sooner to a woman he loves. It comes from a man who has experienced life and realizes he’s made mistakes along the way and this is one he’s trying to amend. It’s another nugget of wisdom Scott imparts upon the listener.

Upon the very first listen of Couchville Sessions, I instantly connected with it and loved it. It’s like a long-lost friend you knew you never had and found again. If you’re not familiar with the work of Darrell Scott, just listen to this once and you’ll be blown away. The songwriting is fantastic and the instrumentation is pretty damn good too. The only thing I would say I don’t like about the album is it runs a tad too long at 14 songs, even though every single song is good. It’s hard to believe these songs have just been sitting around for 15 years. We can only hope we hear the rest of the 45 songs recorded in that same session. In the meantime I can’t recommend Couchville Sessions enough. You aren’t going to get too much better than this.

Grade: 9/10

Album Review – Robbie Fulks’ ‘Upland Stories’

With 13 albums in 20 years, Robbie Fulks is a singer and songwriter who deserves a large audience. Now over 50 years old, Fulks is a songwriter with life experience and wisdom to offer through his music, which is how many will perceive his newest album Upland Stories. An album that put musical production in the back seat in order to make room for storytelling and eloquent lyricism, Upland Stories is a look at the world through Robbie Fulks’ eyes. Songs full of nostalgia and longing for the time of youthful innocence, Fulks’ honest look at life makes for a great album full of story songs.

“Alabama At Night” is one of three songs on the album influenced by James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. The book details the desolate lifestyle of southern farmers during the Great Depression. “Alabama At Night” offers a view of the beauty surrounding the dusty fields and weary workers. Fulks’ writes about an out-of-towner who stops in town and is blown away by the beauty and peace of the night sky over Alabama. “Baby Rocked Her Dolly” details an old man recalling and sharing memories of his family singing and dancing together. Robbie Fulks does a great job with this cover of Frankie Miller’s song written by Merle Kilgore.

Fulks’ strength as a songwriter is capturing emotions, and “Never Come Home” best exemplifies that. It’s a story song that finds an old, dying man returning home for his final days. His presence at home is unwelcome from his family and the locals, and the man regrets his decision to spend his few remaining days at home. Fulks’ vocals perfectly capture the heartbreak of the song. “Sarah Jane” tells the story of a man who’s lonely as he continues to chase the wrong dreams. The man has had rotten luck in pursuit of his dreams, and he misses his home with the woman he loves.

Robbie Fulks brings in his bluegrass roots with “Aunt Peg’s New Old Man.” After the passing of her long time husband, Aunt Peg has a new boyfriend who’s a little quirky to the rest of family, who are only too eager to learn as little as possible about the guy. The lyrics aren’t anything special, but the bluegrass production of the song is great, and it’s a welcome upbeat number as most of the album has an acoustic production. Fulks’ recalls his mistakes and carelessness as a teenager in “Needed.” After falling in love with a girl, she gets pregnant and Fulks gets cold feet with their relationship. It’s a story that builds up heartbreak and regret, only to turn it on its head with the final verse.

Robbie Fulks sings of memories in “South Bend Soldiers On.” A man seasoned with life sees how life around him as changed. And as things continue to change, he relies more on his memories of the past for joy. The song paints a grim picture of memories and includes my favorite lyric on the whole album. “If all that we’re made of is the ghosts inside our head, who could blame us for pretending otherwise?” 

The next two songs were also influenced from Let Us Praise Famous Men. “America Is A Hard Religion” is another bluegrass song. This song correlates directly with the book’s content as Fulks’ sings of the farmers struggling to find prosperity in the dusty fields. “A Miracle” focuses more on how the Great Depression also affected areas beside the south. The big cities aren’t as grand as they once were, and all anyone can do is hope for change. It’s interesting for Fulks to choose that book and time period to write a handful songs about, but he does a great job on spreading his focus and painting a complete picture with “Alabama At Night”, “America Is A Hard Religion”, and “A Miracle.”

“Sweet As Sweet Comes” is a jazzy and bluesy influenced song with a prominent upright bass line in the production mix. It’s a love song where Fulks sings to how much he loves his wife and wouldn’t change a thing about their life together. It’s a good love song and an honest sentiment from Fulks. “Katy Kay” is a rambunctious bluegrass song. Fulks sings of a man who only falls in love with sad girls he can fix, and this man is nervous for the day when Katy Kay will no longer be sad. The story is goofy, but it’s a fun song to listen to. Upland Stories comes to a close with the album’s longest song, “Fare Thee Well, Carolina Gals.” Fulks sings of his foolish escapades while living in North Carolina. He remembers the times he had growing up while he prepares to move on to the next chapter of his life.

Upland Stories is like an invitation into the mind of a man who’s lived a lot of life and has wisdom to pass on to the next generation. Songs about regret, mistakes, and lessons learned are what you’ll find in Robbie Fulks’ thirteenth album. Even with the great songwriting, the album still has its flaws, mainly in the production. There are times where the album falls into a monotoned acoustic production that bridges multiple songs, and there are a few times where Fulks’ voice is hard to hear in the mix of the music. But Robbie Fulks’ seasoned voice fits perfectly with the lyrics he’s written. Upland Stories is an album with rich stories and a unique songwriting style, but you have to devote yourself to the listen in order to fully grasp Robbie Fulks’ stories and wisdom.

Grade: 8/10