What a great month for country music! I was absolutely blown away by the amount of quality music. There were numerous great albums and singles that kept this country music fan quite happy. Narrowing it down to ten songs proved to be challenge, but after much deliberation I’ve narrowed down my top ten country songs for January 2015. Onto the list!
- The Lone Bellow – “Cold As It Is” – There were a lot of great songs on the fantastic new album from The Lone Bellow, but this is the song I find myself playing the most. It’s the perfect blend of country, rock and blues. It’s impossible not to marvel at how great this song is. My favorite country song released in 2015 so far.
- Justin Townes Earle – “Call Ya Momma” – Without a doubt the standout from Earle’s new album Absent Fathers. Earle displays the perfect amount of emotion in his voice to draw the listener in. The bluesy country instrumentation is pretty great too. This song is a home run all-around.
- The Lone Bellow – “Then Came The Morning” – The opener and title track of The Lone Bellow’s new album will floor you upon first listen. The uplifting melody makes this a pretty good song. The harmonies, especially in the last quarter of the song make this a great song.
- Jamey Johnson – “Alabama Pines” – After going years without hearing any new non-holiday material, we finally got a new song from the Alabama artist in “Alabama Pines.” And it’s pretty damn good. It’s the first single off of his new upcoming album and if this is a precursor to it then we’re in for a potential album of the year candidate. Just imagine this is probably not even the best song off of it. To hear it click here.
- The Lone Bellow – “Marietta” – The Lone Bellow make up three of the top five spots in my top ten list. Not a surprise considering it’s the first candidate for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year. I connected with this stirring love ballad from the first listen. To me the trio perfectly captured the emotion of a love struck person trying to win back their love.
- Cody Jinks – “Cast No Stones” – I’ve been waiting for a while for a country song that tackles judgmental bible thumpers and Jinks delivered it to me. Mainstream country artists today wouldn’t have the balls to make a song like this and I would venture to say not a lot of independent artists would either. Too many would fear they’re alienating their fan base. This is one of the many great songs off his new Adobe Sessions album. Jinks also does a great job getting his message across, without it coming out the wrong way.
- Justin Townes Earle – “Day and Night” – This song immediately follows “Call Ya Momma” on Earle’s album. A tough act to follow, but this song is nearly just as good. This song is all about Earle’s voice guiding the story and the emotions involved. It’s a self-reflective story of how his former life and current life are night and day. Earle is celebrating his newfound happiness and I think all listeners can appreciate this.
- First Aid Kit – “Brother” – Surprise! I bet not too many of you were even aware of this song just being released. I didn’t either until I was randomly searching around the web. Turns out this song didn’t make the cut on First Aid Kit’s 2014 album Stay Gold and was only released as a bonus track on the Japanese version. It was just released this month along with “America” (which was only available before in vinyl) and two Stockholm Session recordings of “Stay Gold” and “My Silver Lining.” This song is dedicated to the sisters’ brother and it’s a really moving tribute. I can’t wait for their next album.
- Cody Canada & the Departed – “All Nighter” – For those who didn’t read about this song in my review of Cody Canada and the Departed’s new album HippieLovePunk, here’s what it’s about:The song deals with how life is short, so you should live it up and not be afraid to have fun. It should be noted Canada is joined on vocals by all four Braun brothers, Willy and Cody of Reckless Kelly, along with Micky and Gary of Micky & The Motorcars. The song is dedicated to Mark McCoy, a former bassist for the latter band who drowned to death in Idaho a few years ago. It’s a pretty cool tribute with a nice story behind it.
- Ryan Bingham – “Broken Heart Tattoos” – Rounding out the top ten is the emotional “Broken Heart Tattoos” from Ryan Bingham’s new album Fear and Saturday Night. I didn’t enjoy this album as much as others did, but I thought there were some pretty good songs off of it. I thought this one stood out the most. From Derek’s great review: “I hear a ton of Bob Dylan influence in Ryan Bingham on this album, and this song is particularly evident of that influence. Here, Bingham is singing to his child. Children are born into innocence, without worry and without pain at first. However, this song encourages, “take your sweet time and walk a straight line. And don’t you be shy of your wilder side or be afraid to let loose with broken heart tattoos.”
We are off to a great start to 2015! There were several great album releases this month, and a few singles that are equally as impressive. To be honest, I could have easily made this a top-20 list, but in sticking with Country Perspective’s tradition, I’ll keep it at the 10 songs I enjoyed the most from this month. Two of my top songs are not currently on Spotify, so I’ve put the YouTube clips of the songs here, but you’ll find the rest of the songs in the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the post.
- “Alabama Pines” Jamey Johnson – As Josh said in his review, “It’s beautifully simple and traditional with a feel good message. It will also create a sense of nostalgia in many listeners I think too, something many mainstream country songs tried to do in 2014 and failed at doing so.” “Alabama Pines” is simply great country music; the best song of the month!
- “Diners” The Lone Bellow – This Americana trio’s new album, Then Came the Morning, is simply fantastic. My favorite song from the collection, The Lone Bellow sing of broken love and a realization that the love is true. They use an analogy of old diners and jukeboxes to tell the story. They sing with such emotion and passion that sell the story. This song is special.
- “Island in the Sky” Ryan Bingham – Without a doubt, this is the standout track from Bingham’s new album Fear and Saturday Night. Bingham sings this song of hope with genuine passion, and the inclusion of the harmonica in the production is a welcome addition.
- “The Messenger” Stanford Road – A heartbreaking tune about a woman not wanting to face the truth of her husband, a soldier, dying on the battlefield. This husband-wife duo deliver on this track. Again, as Josh wrote in his review of the song, “ It’s a song filled with emotion that will certainly move most listeners. The lyrics are simple, yet very effective. The instrumentation drives the mood of this song perfectly.
- “Snow Falls in June” Ryan Bingham – A love song where Bingham devotes himself to his love. If she’s depressed or feeling down, he’ll always be there for her. It’s a beautiful, well written song.
- “Call To War” The Lone Bellow – A driving acoustic production with beautiful vocals. “Call To War” has the feel of a preparation for a new journey. Great writing with equally great vocals help this song stand out among the crowd of a great album.
- “Rock and Roll” Cody Jinks – As Josh wrote in his review of Adobe Sessions, “The lyrics are kept simple to tell a complicated story like someone going through alcohol addiction. It’s a real sentimental song that caps off this album well.” Jinks tells a compelling story and sings with authenticity that draws the listener into the song.
- “Broken Heart Tattoos” Ryan Bingham – A third Bingham song on this list. Fear and Saturday Night was an album with several standout tracks, and this is one of them. Written as a letter for his son, Bingham speaks of his youthful innocence and encourages him to let loose if need be.
- “All Nighter” Cody Canada & The Departed – Off their new album, HippieLovePunk, a song written about the passing of Mark McCoy of Micky and the Motorcars. Cody Canada recruits the Braun brothers from Reckless Kelly and the aforementioned Motorcars to help sing the tribute song.
- “Homegrown” Zac Brown Band – The new single off an upcoming album. The men from Georgia blend modern influences with their own sonic style and tell a story of appreciation for simple life and great friends.
- “If You Don’t Love Me” The Lone Bellow
- “Dirt” Cody Jinks
- “Leave Me Another Day” Judson Cole Band
- “Take My Love” The Lone Bellow
- “Farther From Me” Justin Townes Earle
Last November I was introduced to the UK country group Stanford Road. The band is made up of the husband-wife duo Terry Muller and Rachael Muller. For those who don’t remember, they call themselves Stanford Road because that was the name of the street they met each other and lived as neighbors. Their Open Ended EP they released last November was a very good collection of music. Today I look at their brand new single “The Messenger,” to see if they can deliver good music again.
The song starts off with some soft acoustic guitar play and this is the only instrumentation used throughout the song. It only rises and lowers in tempo in the appropriate spots. I like this singer-songwriter, stripped down approach Stanford Road uses in their music. Many times with country music “less is more” is usually true and this something I’m always screaming at mainstream acts when I’m reviewing another overproduced offering from them. It also makes great sense for a duo, especially a duo like this that writes their own songs, because a great duo is always defined by their harmonies and balance of vocals.
As for the theme and lyrics, the song is set in a time of war and how someone deals with the bad news brought to them by the messenger boy. The lyrics that stood out to me in this song are when Rachael crooned:
“The beautiful solider, married a year/She wanted to hold you forever and keep you near/Oh won’t you stop, why can’t you wait?/Don’t want you breaking news today/Give them tonight or let the truth be a lie/Messenger boy you’ll never destroy this place of hallowed ground.”
The woman in the song is struggling to come to grips with the reality of her situation and realize that she has lost the love of her life to the war. She hopes it is all a lie and doesn’t want the messenger boy to deliver the news that will tear down her walls. The “hallowed ground” refers to the love between the husband and wife that is now destroyed because the husband died in the war. Rachael’s vocals do a fantastic job of expressing the somber and dark mood of this song. While it took me a few listens to really grasp this song, once I did grasp what this song is about it definitely makes you feel the pain and sorrow of the woman in the song.
Stanford Road once again delivers with “The Messenger.” It’s a song filled with emotion that will certainly move most listeners. The lyrics are simple, yet very effective. The instrumentation drives the mood of this song perfectly. Both Terry and Rachael harmonize well together, most notably on the chorus when they sing the word “hallowed” together to really set the tone of this song. I would definitely recommend checking out Stanford Road’s “The Messenger.” Country music needs more heartfelt songs like this one.
While the majority of country music reviewed on Country Perspective comes from America, sometimes I like to go across the pond and review something from neighbors in the United Kingdom. Today is one of those times as I review the new EP from Stanford Road called Open Ended. Stanford Road is made up of Terry ‘Blackjaz’ Muller and Rachael Muller, a husband and wife duo. The reason they call themselves Stanford Road is because it’s the name of the street where they first met and lived as neighbors. Open Ended is their first ever EP, which they recorded at Aubitt Studios in Southhampton, UK with producer Rob Aubrey. They wrote the majority of the songs on this album, as they are songwriters. They also cover one song I’m sure many of you are quite familiar with. So let’s take a look at the duo’s first EP.
The EP starts off with a song called “Letters.” This song is about a woman who falls in love with a man who she considers the devil, similar to how her mother fell in love with a man who she considered the devil too. This is an Americana song with country influences. I have to say the duo is quite good together and the Rachael’s voice is quite powerful. The lyrics help tell the story well and I overall find the song to be quite solid. This is followed up with “So Wrong,” which seems to be a self-reflective song about the husband and wife’s relationship together. Everyone, including themselves thought they were so wrong together. But after seven years together they’ve proven doubters wrong. It’s a nice little love song that let’s the duo’s personalities shine through. I like the mandolin play in this song too.
“Independence Highway” is an upbeat song about someone leaving home and going out on their own. The person finds out it’s harder than they thought out on their own and the father brings them home later in the song. The message of this song is slanted towards a younger listener who is just starting out in life. I like the beat of this song and it’s easy on the ears. The next song, “Fool’s Comfort,” takes a sadder tone. This song is about a relationship falling apart and the feeling of love in the relationship becoming a fool’s comfort. Again I think Rachael’s voice really shines and gives this song the raw emotion it needs to reach the listener. A solid heartbreak ballad.
Open Ended concludes with their cover of Brooks & Dunn’s Grammy winning song, “Cowgirls Don’t Cry.” This song of course was made by popular by the duo and later they did a collaboration with Reba McEntire on the song. It’s a mid tempo paced song about a girl who is taught by her father that cowgirls don’t cry. She remembers this throughout hardships in her life and by the end of the song she calls her dad on the phone after finding out he’s dying. He reminds her that she shouldn’t cry again. It’s a powerful song and I think Stanford Road did a great job covering it and hitting the emotional points. This is by no means an easy song to sing and its great awareness by the duo to pick a song they know they can do justice to it. Too many artists pick songs to cover that are outside their comfort zone. Not only do they cover it well, but they put their own twist on it to make it their own.
This is a nice little offering from Stanford Road and they certainly show some potential. I would describe their overall sound more Americana than country, but there are certainly influences of country along with folk. These are all solid showings and in the future I hope they tackle deeper material. They also need to focus more on harmonies, as a duo’s bread and butter should always be their harmonies (look at Shovels & Rope). This is just the beginning for the duo though and I’m sure they will find themselves and their perfect sound as their career progresses. It’s really difficult to judge EP as it’s only really a quick look at what an artist can offer. I feel there weren’t any bad spots on this EP and the only criticisms I have are very minor: more music and music with a little more depth. Other than that a good showing for Stanford Road. Once again I take a trip across the pond for a review and find more great music from the UK.