Album Review – Courtney Patton’s ‘So This Is Life’ Shines a Light on Relationship’s Darker Corners

Courtney Patton is still relatively new to the country music scene, but she’s made a quick impact. Her simple, observant writing steeped in descriptive, effective imagery as earned herself a large fan base. Her musical arrangements are simple, yet beautiful; relying on an acoustic guitar, fiddles, and a steel guitar. As Courtney told Ken Morton Jr. Country music to me is simple stories with beautiful words with a simple melody and beautiful arrangement.” Patton’s follow up to her 2013 debut album, Triggering a Flood, comes after a time of life’s changes. Her parents have divorced and remarried others, and Patton herself has gotten married to fellow Texas singer/songwriter Jason Eady. The varying emotions that stem from those events make their way into the songs on Courtney Patton’s new album So This Is Life.

The album starts off with the heartbreaker “Little Black Dress.” The violins are present along with Patton’s acoustic guitar. The song’s subject packs a black dress and prepares for a night on the town, hoping to find some comfort in the arms of a stranger. Maybe she’s hoping to fall in love; maybe she’s hoping not to attach feelings to the one night with him. Regardless, the night ends with her alone, after he leaves, feeling heart-broken. “War of Art” feels a bit more personal. In this song, Patton wrestles with the conflicting desires of being a stay at home mother/wife and fueling her passion for playing music on the road. The steel guitar and accompanying production give the song a feeling of forward movement, giving her internal debates a slight sense of urgency.

“Her Next Move” deals with a woman who vies for attention from her husband. She consistently threatens to leave town and end the relationship, but her constant game of crying wolf no longer worries her husband, as he knows she’ll never act on her words. One night stands are the explored again in “Need for Wanting.” Here a woman is alone in the bar conversing with a man. She knows the man’s intentions, as she says “you look like a lesson I learned long ago.” This country ballad makes it clear that if they do end the night together, it’s nothing more than that night.

Relationships of a husband away from his wife are explored in the next two songs. “Twelve Days” is a song Patton wrote early in her marriage with Eady. The traveling musician is back on the road and the listener hears the wife’s side of their many conversations. From her telling about her local show, to asking if he brought his coat for the cold northern weather. It’s a beautiful song of a wife coping alone while she misses her husband, and both Josh and myself included this on our lists of best songs from June. On the flip side, “Killing Time” deals with a husband who is carted off to jail for stealing money. This is a more upbeat country song where the husband knows he has screwed up, and she’s left waiting for his sentence to end.

Courtney Patton sings of a woman who messed up in the relationship on “Maybe It’s You.” This woman left her man for a little bit and feels guilty about her actions. It could be the actions themselves that cause the feelings, or it could be the comfort at home and forgiveness from her husband. The simple production of the acoustic guitar and slight percussion and violins work wonderfully on this song. Another late night rendezvous is the subject of “Sure Am Glad.” This mid-tempo song finds both the man and the woman sleepless in their own homes. They both are lonely and vulnerable, and while his knock on her door was unexpected, his arrival is welcome.

The title track is a brutally honest exploration of how life can disrupt relationships. Youthful dreams of fairytale marriages are abandoned as a young mother and father work to make ends meet. As time goes on and more children are in the picture, he works long days and she’s left to tend to the home and all the chaos of raising children. It’s not the life either of them planned, and when separately dealing with this life has taken its toll, divorce is the only answer they find. It’s a heartbreaking song, but so vividly told and sung by Courtney Patton. “So This Is Life” is why people refer to country music as three chords and the truth.

The theme of loveless marriage continues on the next few songs. “Battle These Blues” deals with a husband who drinks too much and stays out too late. A common subject for females in country music, and the woman in the song is left heartbroken, unsure of how to handle this season of life. However, “Where I’ve Been” finds the woman of the marriage being the night owl. Life at home isn’t pretty, and she feels unloved by her husband. In order to fill the hole in heart he can’t, she takes to the nightlife, presumably being unfaithful. Though she’ll be ready to drop this lifestyle when he’s ready to begin again, as long as he doesn’t ask where she’s been. Finally, the album ends with “But I Did,” a song that feels like a Courtney Patton autobiography. It’s song that details the values she’s inherited from her parents while having her own free spirit. She’s always been a dreamer with a love for playing music who follows her dreams with blind faith.

So This Is Life couldn’t have a more appropriate album title. The songs detail relationships of all kinds: happy and sad marriages and temporary flings with strong women and weaker women. It’s a personal album where Courtney Patton has dug into her soul with a few songs that could be direct snapshots from her life. These songs are delivered with eloquent lyrics and vivid images and a vocal delivery that matches each mood beautifully. The musical arrangements, as beautiful as they are, sometimes drag the album. There’s a bit of monotony among some of the songs’ productions. So This Is Life is a songwriters album: the focus is on the stories that Patton has penned. It’s a darker album simply because it tosses a spotlight on real moments that most would want to avoid in songs. However, country music’s legacy wouldn’t be what it is without songs like the ones found here. Courtney Patton’s So This Is Life is real; it’s honest; and it’s as heartbreaking as it is beautiful.

Grade: 8/10

Album Review – The Leavelles’ ‘Mostly True Stories’

The Leavelles

The Texas country music scene is sprawling with various bands and it can be dizzying to keep up with all of them. Really it’s impossible. Today I talk about another group from Texas, The Leavelles. The band originally formed in the early 2000s in North Texas. It went through a few different iterations before forming the current group that makes up the band now. It’s a four person group made up of Frank Colwell, David Mahaffey, Joe McClour and Justin Russell. Once they settled this core group, they set out in November 2014 to work out the arrangements for their debut full length album, which at the time was set to have 15 songs. When they recorded it in February 2015 they narrowed it down to 10 songs and released Mostly True Stories on April 15. Today I take a listen to their debut album to hear if their brand of Americana/roots rock music.

The album begins with the acoustic driven “Something Old” deals with life and making changes as you get older. I think the instrumentation could have been stronger, as it would have elevated the lyrics more. “Maureen” has a rock country production that features plenty of electric guitar. It’s about two people named Maureen and Bobby, who grew up as outcasts mocked by the people around them. Eventually they cross paths and fall in love with each other. It’s a quirky love song that I find endearing. The one song I didn’t like on the album was “X’s & O’s.” I thought the production was too light and the cliché Rolling Stones references in the beginning were unnecessary. The “nah nah nahs” kind of annoy me too.

“Story of You” is a love song with some nice electric guitar riffs. While I think the theme and story being told in the song is good, I thought the lyrics could have been a little better at telling a descriptive love story. “Parish Hall” is a rocking song that is neither good nor bad. It needed more “oomph” to stand out and catch the listener’s attention. The Leavelles go back to the acoustic sound in “Fuzzy,” a song about life in general. Just like “Something Old” I think the instrumentation could have been stronger and elevated the song in the process. One of my favorite songs on the album is “We All Come Broken.” It’s about how we’re all born flawed and full of sin, so we all shouldn’t be surprised when we screw up. I enjoy the harmonies on this song and its something the group needs to do more on their songs.

The Leavelles sing of their love for country and rock music, along with the themes associated with each on “One Foot in the Pulpit.” They know both Billy Graham and Jack White. While I like that they’re singing from their hearts, it’s a little cliché. Being that they’re a group from Texas, it’s no surprise that The Leavelles would have a song or two about something from the state. Well that’s the case on the song “Wilmeth,” which is about trying to find the little town of Wilmeth, Texas. The guitars in the bridge are a nice surprise and I think this is the type of song that fits right into the group’s wheelhouse. The final song on the album is “Pack Your Bags,” which is a self-reflection song where the group sings about the tough life of being on the road all the time. This is especially true for smaller acts, as they need every gig they can get to keep their head above water and increases their chance of being recognized. The harmonica is a really nice touch and gives the song that bluesy feel, which suits the theme well. It’s a great way to close out this album.

I think The Leavelles certainly show some flashes of greatness in Mostly True Stories. I enjoyed the instrumentation a lot at times, but I wish it was more consistent throughout the album. I thought the vocals were good and even better when harmonizing. The lyrics were probably the weakest spot for me, as they could have been deeper and more engaging with the listeners. The Rolling Stones clichés are done to death and should be avoided in songs. Despite some flaws, does a lot more right than wrong and it’s certainly solid enough that I recommend giving a listen. This is just the debut album and I think the band is poised for better music to come. I think this is a nice start for The Leavelles and the potential is there to standout more.

Grade: 7/10

Album Review – Jamie Lin Wilson’s ‘Holidays and Wedding Rings’ is a Solid Debut Album

Jamie Lin Wilson has thrived under the radar in the Texas country music world. She’s been part of two groups: Americana rockers The Gougers, and the all female country quartet The Trishas. Wilson has appeared as a backing singer or duet partner for several Texas country acts like Robert Earl Keen and Turnpike Troubadours, and she’s also co-written with other songwriters like Jason Eady. Outside of all those projects, Wilson has managed to release a solo EP called Dirty Blonde Hair. Now five years later, Jamie Lin Wilson has her first full length solo album release with Holidays and Wedding Rings.

The album opens up with the up-tempo country tune “Just Like Heartache.” The song describes how heartache can hit you hard and keep you down despite how hard you try to move on. Being in the arms of another won’t fix it, but the company is nice until the worst has passed. Wilson’s smooth, unique voice moves nicely through the song and shows why a solo album is necessary. She continues to explore heartache in “She’ll Take Tonight.” Here, our female character searches for a nicer man than she’s used to, but she’ll continue settle for the man of the night until the right one finds her. The mid-tempo instrumentation and mix of various guitars give the old topic a fresh sound.

Jamie Lin Wilson shows some great storytelling chops over the next few songs. “You Left My Chair” was inspired by an old photograph: a rundown house with overgrown weeds in the yard. Co-written with Jason Eady and Adam Hood, the trio pen a story about a woman who returns to the old, abandoned house she built presumably after a divorce to find her favorite chair still there. Wilson sings the ballad wonderfully. Up next is a duet with fellow Texas singer, Wade Bowen. Together the pair wrote “Just Some Things,” a heartbreaking song about two lovers both in an affair. The duo sing the respective parts of the cheaters, who both regret and feel distressed after betraying the ones they love. As hard as they wish things could be different, they know what they did was wrong and can’t be undone. The duo perfectly describe their actions as “running for the edge and thinking you’ll fly, knowing damn well that it’s suicide.” That simile is heart wrenching, and this song is what country music is all about. Both Wilson and Bowen are fantastic on this cheating song.

Photo by Modern Trade

“Moving Along” acts almost as a follow-up to Wilson’s side of the story in “Just Some Things.” The marriage is over in “Moving Along,” and as the song progresses, Wilson sings of how strength and confidence in being alone grows as time moves along. However, she does miss little things like “Holidays and wedding rings” (The album’s name comes from a line in this song). The upbeat production to the song works well to aid the journey aspect of the story. Jamie Lin Wilson tries her hand at a murder ballad in “Roses by the Dozen.” Her man yells at her after she sins badly in their relationship and she retaliated by killing him. His dead body lays underneath a rose-bush. Wives/girlfriends murder their male partners has become quite the cliché for female acts over the years, and the production alongside Wilson’s voice do not do enough to help the song feel fresh.

Relationships are explored a little deeper starting with “Seven Year Drought.” The entire song is a metaphor for a marriage in a bad dry spell. Wilson will fight to the end or until it eats her alive. The couple hopes and waits for something better to come their way. However, the relationship in “Yours and Mine” couldn’t be any happier. The bluegrass inspired country tune describes a couple who have pride and joy in the life they’ve built together. It may not be the most glamorous lifestyle, but it’s their life and that’s what makes it beautiful. “Whisper on My Skin” uses great imagery to depict a man who is in a bad spell in his life. She’s been in that lull of life, and she needs her husband in her life now. She describes the little things she finds joy in like a sun shining through the window on their bed, her favorite picture of them, and their intimacy. She does her best to encourage him in this spell of life. The production is excellent in it’s less-is-more approach with a lone guitar strum aiding. The vocals are more on the forefront on this track than any other on the album.

“Nighttime Blues” is a similar song to “She’ll Take Tonight.” The only difference is the character here is a man who’s using one night stands to help get over a broken heart. The production is more upbeat on this song; the country instrumentation is fabulous on “Nighttime Blues.” For my money, “Here Tonight” is the best song on the album. The song tells the story of a woman who is expecting to die by the end of the night. She’s joined by her family: her favorite child, a new granddaughter and her husband. The dying woman reminisces over her life and makes sure she lets her present family know how much she loves them. The song takes a celebratory approach to the end of long life, and how her family is her light. The album ends with another celebratory song called “Old Oldsmobile.” This mid-tempo song tells us of a married couple who just learned a third baby is on the way. To celebrate and feel young again, she yearns for them to breakout the old Oldsmobile for a picnic lunch, reigniting the youthful, lustful spark of their love and life together.

Holidays and Wedding Rings is a solid debut album for Jamie Lin Wilson. She has a haunting, beautiful ring to her voice that helps her stand out among other solo female acts. Her writing is sharp with vivid descriptions making these real life stories stand out. Fans love country music for the honest, everyday songs that are written and sung, and that’s exactly what you’ll find here: a variety of life’s ups and downs, reasons to celebrate and reasons to ache. The musical variety from track to track also help each song find a place on the album. Jamie Lin Wilson is sought after from her peers for a reason. She has the whole package as a country singer-songwriter, and Holidays and Wedding Rings is a great showcase of Wilson’s talent.

Grade: 9/10

Album Review – William Clark Green’s ‘Ringling Road’

WCG

William Clark Green is one of Texas’ fastest rising stars. His 2013 album, Rose Queen, yielded three top-ten singles for Green on the Texas country charts. Among those top-tens were two chart toppers, including the award-winning “She Likes the Beatles.” The album prior to Rose Queen, 2010’s Misunderstood, sparked the fire for Green. And after Rose Queen’s success, people began calling William Clark Green the next big thing in Texas Country. The 28-year-old singer-songwriter doesn’t quite feel the same way, but the hype surrounding him doesn’t crack his focus. Green reunites with producer Rachel Loy and brings in a few extra guitar players to the recording session for his fourth studio album, Ringling Road. And the result of this fire power is an album that could add more fuel to William Clark Green’s blaze across the Lone Star State and beyond.

Ringling Road starts off with the autobiographical “Next Big Thing.” Here, Green address the hype head on, addressing his hardships of life on the road and still having no money, despite all this critical hype. “The next big thing, what’s that mean? Oh it’s hard to pay your dues when there ain’t no money in the bank. It’s a shame. I got to make to the show but there ain’t no gas in the tank.” There’s a heavy rock production to song, but it’s not as if Green is angry about the hype of his career. With that said though, that’s the type of songwriting you get from William Clark Green: brutal honesty in every situation. “Sticks and Stones” deals with small town gossip. The townsfolk spread rumors about Green and his life on the road, but their words don’t bother him because they’re “nothing but sticks and stones.” The upbeat, roots rocking production drive the song to quick end.

“Creek Don’t Rise” is the most country offering on the whole album. The songwriting here is sharp. The relationship has hit some rough patches, but they’re determined to get through it tonight, if the Lord wills it and the flood of a rising creek doesn’t interfere. The fiddle up front on the melody is a great touch on this two-stepping country jam. Up next is the polarizing title track. “Ringling Road” describes the dysfunctional circus in town: cocaine-addicted trapeze artists, the drunk clown, and the love triangle between the snake charmer, human cannon ball and tattooed man. William Clark Green really does describe a freak show in the truest sense. “Ringling Road” sits as an outlier track in an album of heartbreak tunes, small town life, and life on the road; and you’ll either love or hate this rocking, entertaining freak show song.

“Final This Time” hits you like a brick. In this heartbreaker, Green sings with the tune’s co-writer, Dani Flowers, about a relationship that’s hopefully done for good. The guitar is heavy and moody, a harmonica chimes in, and you can hear the agony in both of their voices as they plead for the end to stick. Flowers’ addition for the female role in the song is a great touch. The song moves slowly, but the development pays off as the pleas turn desperate. On “Fool Me Once” William Clark Green tells of a lonely man who jumps from woman to woman night after night. He doesn’t want to keep waking up alone, so he begs this woman to fool him once. Even if she’s lying, he wants to believe she loves him just to give him some temporary comfort.

“Sympathy” is the current single from the album, and shines as one of the top tracks. His ex-lover just got her own heart-broken by another man. Seeing her in pain brings Green some delight, and he’s not going to sympathize since she made him feel the same way. The song moves nicely between acoustic verses and rocking, anthemic choruses. “Sympathy” is more rock than country, but lyrically the song gets the karma point across without being brash or evil in its story. “Hey Sarah” carries a steel guitar in the production. The song is about getting over Sarah after the relationship ended. Whether it’s in a bar, in the arms of another woman, or at church, Green is determined to get over her.

On “Old Fashioned” William Clark Green takes the stage to complain about simpler times and ways of life disappearing. It begins as a nice sentiment with great imagery of how Austin is becoming like LA. “The interstate’s pumping just like a vein full of California license plates.” However, as the song progresses, Green becomes angrier with the way things have become and quite frankly, he gets rather preachy with his message. “Going Home” is about being excited about getting back home after being out on the road. He’s looking forward to seeing his love again, spending time with her in the bedroom, and simply just reuniting. There’s a light country/rock melody to the production that fits nicely with the lyrics. Finally, William Clark Green hits you hard with another heartbreaker to end the album. “Still Think About You” is as honest as someone can be in a song. He screwed up the relationship and knows it. He knows he may have led her on and is sorry that she “fell in love with someone you could never inspire.” It’s heartbreaking as he details how they first met to the eventual break up. The accompanying piano adds to the emotional brick of the song.

Even with the title track addressing the issue, Ringling Road is an album that won’t quiet the praises and hype of William Clark Green. He is a skilled singer and songwriter who conveys the emotion of the story perfectly. His voice, his lyrics, and the production of the songs work great in conjunction to create a mood that sticks with you. Ringling Road may be more southern rock than actual country, but the 11 tracks all come from the same roots. There’s a reason why William Clark Green has the praise he does, and Ringling Road could very well be the final push for the breakthrough his supporters have hyped up for the past couple of years.

Grade: 8/10

Album Review – Zane Williams’ ‘Texas Like That’

Zane

Zane Williams has built a reputation through writing and singing traditional-influenced story country songs. In fact, his big break came from the song “Hurry Home,” a song that won the John Lennon Songwriting Contest in 2005. That led to the song being cut by Jason Michael Carroll, and a record deal with Big Yellow Dog Music. Zane Williams has an appreciation for country music that tells stories, so much so, that he posted a video on his Facebook page talking about country’s current state.

 “I’ve always loved country music the best. And when I first discovered country music, what I fell in love with about it was that the lyrics were real… They were story songs. Songs that made you laugh, made you cry.”

Williams goes on to say that country needs to go back to more songs like that and away from constant, good-time, party songs.  He specifically praises Aaron Watson, Sunny Sweeny, Will Hoge, and Sturgill Simpson for creating the type of country music he grew up on. In response to this video, fellow Texas country singer Chris King challenged Zane Williams on his comments. King calls out a few of the songs on Williams’ new album Texas Like That for being the type of song that Zane Williams complains about in the video. The conversation ultimately came to an “agree to disagree” conclusion, but it certainly adds a bit of intrigue coming into this review.

The opening track for Texas Like That is a folksy, acoustic driven song called “Feelin’ Free.” The song speaks of the free feeling of driving on the open road under the clear night sky. The instrumentation is right at home in Texas country with some fiddle and banjo breakdowns. Up next is “Throwback” which is the song Chris King called Zane Williams out on. The song sounds like it has a drum machine loop behind a spoken word, rap-like lyric delivery from Williams. The song is about how Williams is more old-fashioned in his way of doing things: saying “yes ma’am,” opening doors, etc. It’s not a bro song or party song, but the production isn’t quite country, and the material is a little juvenile, so I can see where King is coming from in his response. But I would argue that “Throwback” isn’t the worst on the album.

“Summer Rain” is a lust song with a slow tempo production. He describes this woman’s good looks and compares his desire for her to a “summer rain on thirsty ground.” There’s some authenticity to the production and some nice harmonies pop in halfway through the song. “She Is” is a bit more natural when it comes to a good, modern country love song. The production is simple with the guitar and drum melodies. The song depicts their relationship and how complex women can be, but that’s joy of their life together. Up next is “Just Gettin’ Started.” No, it’s not the Jason Aldean song, but it very much could be. Zane Williams comes close to rapping again in this one. The song, though is about how he wants to make love last with this girl. It’s very bro-like in the way he describes wanting to be with her, but when he says he’s only getting started, Zane Williams refers to their life, rather than their night. Still the rapping and delivery of the story take away from the lyrics. I guess maybe you could see this as a clever parody, maybe? But it comes across as a sincere song, and I think it’s another that seems suspect in the light of Zane’s video.

With that said, Zane Williams does have a song here that’s everything he loves about country music. “Jayton and Jill” is a ballad about the start of lifelong friendship. Jayton is a nobody working a dead-end job and Jill is the rebel daughter of a verbally abusive pastor. After Jill’s boyfriend gets angry at her for saying “no” in the car, he hits her and leaves her on the side of the road. Later on, Jayton is driving down the road and sees her. He brings her home, they talk all night, and become great friends. Williams describes how their friendship helped both their lost souls, and how the night they met saved their lives. It’s a beautiful, acoustic song that tells a wonderful story of a small town friendship. “Jayton and Jill” is the best song on this album, and there’s a fairly good chance it’ll make the cut on my top ten list this month. “Here’s to You” is a tribute song Williams wrote for his fans. It has a good, foot stomping country beat. For a singer with five albums and who’s toured relentlessly to earn his stripes, it’s a nice gesture. Also I like the country instrumental concluding the song featuring a fiddle, mandolin, and guitar.

“Kansas City Sunrise” is a song about a divorce. When the relationship started, he moved to Kansas City for her to build their life together. But now they’re finished and he’s moving on and away from the city in order to start fresh. This is another good country, heartbreak ballad that shifts to a more positive light as the song progresses. On “Love Is on Our Side” sings of how life is hitting them hard, but with love on their side, he feels confident they’ll push through the hard times. The production is a bit more upbeat and is nothing but country. Texas Like That ends with the title track. This song is an ode to the Texas creed. A hard-working man who won’t let age slow him down. A woman who’s equally hardworking, tough, and pretty. It’s a pandering song that connects to one group of people, and if you’re not from Texas then it’s a song that you just brush off.

Overall, Texas Like That is a good offering from Zane Williams. Even with a few songs with mainstream Music Row influences, Williams has some good, honest country tunes to counteract them. For the most part, though, this album just sort of sits in the middle of the road. Some songs with overdone topics get a fresh sound with the production and some I could do without.  But for the most part, I think Zane Williams puts his money where his mouth is in regards to his recent Facebook video.  Songs like “Jayton and Jill” and “Kansas City Sunrise” are true country story ballads that should be heard.

Grade: 6.5/10