Derek’s Top Ten Country Songs – September 2014

 

There were quite a bit of music releases this month, so for me to narrow this down to ten wasn’t as easy as I thought.  In my opinion, the best song released this month was Keeley Valentino’s “Burned.” I said quite a bit about the song in my review of her EP, here’s a snippet: Perhaps the most impressive part of the whole song is the fact that Keeley hits such a high note in the choruses. Her high-notes combined with the echoing instrumentation create a sort of haunting emptiness that captures the emotions of the song’s characters.” Without a doubt that was the song that stood out to me the most this month. Number two is Lee Ann Womack’s “Same Kind of Different” which was easily her best song on The Way I’m Livin’. I’m not surprised that women hit the top two marks on my top ten. Female country singers have been releasing a number of quality albums over the past few years, and I hope to see that trend continue. The Phillip Fox Band gets a spot at number three with the impressive Country Fried Rock N’ Roll western tune “Nothin’ Worse Than Weak.” Number four is The Roy’s heartbreaking, yet well-written Alzheimer’s song called “Sometimes.” Rounding out the top five, I have my favorite song from Tim McGraw’s Sundown Heaven Townhis duet with Catherine Dunn called “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools.”

The Phillip Fox Band appears again at number six with “Ava Lee”, the upbeat love song about a couple living life in the fast lane, and the man debates if he should settle down and have a future with her. Josh Turner’s new single, “Lay Low” comes in at number seven. Lee Ann Womack shows up again at number eight with “Prelude: Fly.” I was captivated by this track during my first listen and it features some great vocal work from Womack. Keeley Valentino makes another appearance on the list with “Love Will Come Around Again” at number nine. It’s a great song about getting over a break up and preparing yourself for when the next person comes to capture your heart. Finally, concluding the top ten is Wade Bowen with “When I Woke Up Today.”  This fun song is about finding joy in life and remaining positive while the trials of a life on the road take form. It’s a great lead off single for his new self-titled album due out late next month.

Honorable Mentions:

  • “Your Daddy’s Boots” by Dustin Lynch – I really wanted this song in my top ten. It’s easily the best song on Where It’s At and possibly Lynch’s best of his young career.
  • “Sick of Me” by Tim McGraw – Another standout track from Sundown Heaven Town. Great song writing and a good, mid-tempo traditional/modern blend of country music.
  • “Writin’ a New Damn Book” by Phillip Fox Band. A great up-beat southern rock song about marking your own path through life.
  • “Heaven Needed Her More” by The Roys. A beautiful song about getting over a death of a loved one and remaining positive through the heartbreak.

October has a ton of albums due out.  Next month’s top ten list might be even harder!

Album Review – Tim McGraw’s Sundown Heaven Town

Tim-McGraw-Album-Cover

I don’t like the trend of country music loading albums with a large number of songs. I understand that album sales aren’t as lucrative and sustaining as they used to be. I understand that artists see the most money from ticket sales. And I know that it’s easier to pile songs onto an album than to release radio singles over the course of a couple of years while on a long tour, but I don’t like it. Filler songs take away from the album’s overall impact. Say what you will about Blake Shelton, but at least that guy cuts 11 or 12 songs for his records to make them cohesive. The deluxe edition of Tim McGraw’s new album, Sundown Heaven Town, is way too long, coming in at a whopping 18 songs. The problem with this is that the extra five songs don’t really add anything to this album, and actually take away from the overall quality of Sundown Heaven Town. However, deluxe edition or not, Tim McGraw still has a number of quality tracks here. We can breathe easy because it appears McGraw’s trend chasing days may be over.

The Best Songs on The Album

“Meanwhile Back At Mama’s” still stands as a great song and is, without a doubt, one of the better songs here. The other big standout song here is “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools.” McGraw sings this song with his cousin, Catherine Dunn, providing background vocals and harmonies. Dunn has a beautiful voice here and this may jump-start her into a record deal. Back to the song, this is a great country love song with steel guitars and simple instrumentation about recognizing how temporary and unfulfilling a life of booze is compared to longevity of marriage and love. “Sick of Me” is a song about a couple after a break-up. She is doing well and he is drunk/hungover, feeling sorry and missing her. He’s tired of who he is and wants to change to get her back. There’s a quiet steel guitar behind the drums and electric guitars here; this song does a good job of blending traditional country sounds with a modern rock country sound.  Finally, “Portland, Maine” is a great acoustic heartbreak song. In this song about a long-distance relationship ending McGraw, in a time zone far from the East coast, pulls the plug because it’s not working. He knows she won’t be coming back home and they know he won’t leave that town. It’s sad, it’s heartbreaking and Tim has a great, stripped back vocal performance here.

The Worst Songs on The Album

If we’re just looking at the normal album, “Lookin’ for that Girl” is the only one worth calling out for its terrible auto-tuned, electronic crap trying to pass as a country song. Considering the deluxe edition, you can add “I’m Feelin’ You” to that list for pretty much the same reasons. Auto-tune does not belong in country, plain and simple.

The Rest of The Album

Tim McGraw has some solid modern country songs like “Overrated.” This song has a nice banjo beat and builds to a rocking chorus in a song about love being the only thing that matters in life. It’s a great track to kick off this album. McGraw’s next single, “Shotgun Rider,” is undeniably country in sound. Lyrically, a little trendy with a girl in the truck, but this song stands out because this song could be about his wife, finance or a girl he intends to propose to. The point of this song is that this is the “shotgun rider” Tim McGraw wants for the rest of his life. Songs like “Words are Medicine”, “Dust” and “Keep on Truckin’” are a little cliché in their respective content areas about lifestyles and overcoming hardships, but they’re a pretty typical country-rock blend and don’t sound out of place here. “Last Turn Home” and “Still On the Line” have much more pop sounds in the music. However, both these song offers some depth about love and heartbreak respectively, so in my mind they’re not terrible.

The deluxe edition offers a lot of mediocre songs behind a fairly solid album. “Lincoln Continentals and Cadillacs” is a pop-country song that McGraw sings as a duet with Kid Rock. This is the type of song you’d expect from Kid Rock and to be honest Tim isn’t terrible here. It’s about reminiscing to the old days when they were cool guys with cool cars getting girls. In today’s mainstream radio, the song may be viewed with a bro-country eye. But while the song isn’t as deep as the better tracks on this album, it has a fun nostalgic feel to it. Also, since this is a deluxe edition song it leads me to believe this is intended to be an album novelty (and maybe for award show performances) more so than a potential single.

Overall Thoughts

The rest of the deluxe edition, “Kids Today”, “The View”, and “Black Jacket” aren’t all that strong and certainly filler songs. In fact, just due to the fact that Kid Rock is featured, “Lincoln Continentals and Cadillacs” is the only bonus track that has some purpose or marketability. The deluxe version bogs the whole album down. The 13 songs of the normal version of Sundown Heaven Town carry some good weight for mainstream country. For the most part, you get a sense that Tim McGraw and his team realize that there’s a want for more traditional sounding country music back in the mainstream circle. There are songs that toe the line between modern musical trends and traditional sounds, but many songs here feature good lyrical content and depth. With the exception of “Lookin’ for That Girl,” the regular version of the album is the type of album McGraw has built his career on and the type of album he should release. Tim McGraw still has relevancy with his music; he’s one capable of bringing mainstream back to more of its roots and several songs here prove that. Overall, fans of Tim McGraw and traditional country music overall can breathe a little easier now, especially listening to the first half of Sundown Heaven Town.

Grade: 7.5/10 (Deluxe Edition: 6/10)