The Endless Music Odyssey, Vol. 9 — Taylor Swift, wrapping up 2020 releases & more!

This edition of The Endless Music Odyssey is a bit shorter than previous editions, as I wrap up the rest of the 2020 releases I wanted to cover (with one big exception, which will be covered in a full review soon). So after one more review, I’ll begin to listen to and review new releases in 2021 (I haven’t listened to an album released this year yet as of this writing). This could also be dubbed the “Worth a Listen” edition, as every album I review in it falls under the category.

Buy It

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Stream It

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Worth a Listen

Taylor Swift — evermore

I had a lot to say about folklore and a lot of it positive. With evermore, I don’t have much to say and a lot of it a simple “meh” from me. The album starts out pretty strong for me: “willow” is catchy and grabs my attention, “champagne problems” is an interesting song about how things fall apart and “gold rush” has a lush, soaring production I can appreciate. And the best song on the album for me is “no body, no crime,” an excellently written murder ballad with a great feature from HAIM. It’s mysterious, intriguing and I hope it’s a huge hit.

But unfortunately the rest of this album does nothing for me. Ultimately the folky, alternative-influenced brand of pop runs thin for Swift. Now admittedly part of what probably hurts my perception of this album is hearing folklore and reviewing it not too long ago. So this does make me a bit more susceptible of fatigue on this sound and themes. But there’s also just not a lot different from folklore for me to get excited about evermore. The production choices feel a bit safer on this album too. Who knows maybe with time I’ll find more to appreciate about this album, but for now it’s just not a record that moves the needle much for me.

The Wild Feathers — Medium Rarities 

The Wild Feathers are a heartland/70s rock-inspired group that I’m surprised doesn’t get more buzz. They have a style and sound that is breezy and easy to like. Nevertheless if you enjoy this style of music they’re well worth your time. On their latest release Medium Rarities, they join the 1,000 mile-long list of bands who released a cover album in 2020. This album covers a variety of different eras of rock and it’s all in all pretty solid. There’s not a single bad track, but there’s nothing mind-blowing either. While the cover albums were enjoyable in 2020 for a while, I hope this trend stops in 2021. I know bands are bored right now with no touring and they’re trying to keep generating attention so they don’t get lost in the endless jungle of music in today’s world, but I’m beyond over cover albums at this point and I would rather hear more live albums instead.

Jack Harlow — That’s What They All Say

I honestly didn’t plan to pay this album any attention until I saw Sturgill Simpson give it a shoutout on Instagram. Any time an artist I enjoy recommends an artist I’ve never heard of, I’ll usually give it a look because I’ve found several great artists this way. Jack Harlow immediately became intriguing when I read that his influences are old school country like Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson and 90s/2000s hip hop like A Tribe Called Quest and Kanye (his early material, not the garbage he’s recently released). The music is not quite as intriguing though.

It’s definitely got a catchy, melodic vibe, which is apparently what Harlow says he goes for in his music. So mission accomplished. However, it’s not catchy and melodic enough to make me want to revisit it. There’s a few songs that are like his hit “Whats Poppin.” “Tyler Herro,” “Faces of My City” and “Luv is Dro” are pretty catchy and something I certainly wouldn’t skip if I heard on a playlist. But that leads me to this album’s biggest flaw: it’s too safe. It takes no chances and is the definition of playlist fodder. There’s also an abnormally large amount of references to Harlow’s high school days and classmates, which I guess isn’t shocking for someone a few years removed from graduating high school. But it doesn’t make for very interesting lyrics and certainly isn’t an interesting topic for people any older than him listening.

With age I think Harlow will get much better as he gains maturity and goes through more life experiences. He shows hints of introspection and deeper thinking at moments on this album, especially when he addresses the opportunity and privilege gap between himself and his black friends he grew up with in Kentucky (“Baxter Avenue”). So while this album is not good enough that I would seek it out to listen to in my free time, it’s not bad either where you would avoid listening to it. It’s an agreeable, pop-y hip hop album from a young artist with potential.

Black Thought — Streams of Thought, Vol. 3: Cane and Abel

Black Thought is undoubtedly one of the best MCs and lyricists in hip-hop. But it hasn’t quite necessarily translated to a great front-t0-back, full solo project. In his first two volumes of his Streams of Thought series the rapping was excellent as you would expect, but the music itself wasn’t necessarily the most engaging and interesting. It admittedly lacked some flash and they were too short to really get hooked. So on the surface for the third volume, Black Thought appears to directly address both of these: it’s a full album with major label support now, so it allowed him to bring in some heavy-hitting, big names as features. Unfortunately this album goes too far in the flash direction and loses too much substance.

There are some great songs on this album that show Black Thought at his full potential and utilize some excellent features (“Good Morning” with Pusha T and Killer Mike and “Steak Um” with ScHoolboy Q). “Thought vs Everybody” is a prime example of Black Thought bringing his best to the table in terms of his strengths. But the rest of this album has a very disjointed, watered-down feel in an attempt to have greater universal appeal. In the process Black Thought strips away what makes his music appealing in the first place. One of this album’s biggest flaws is multiple Portugal. The Man features, as each one feels so out of place. If Black Thought wanted to bring a more indie pop flavor to his music, there are a plethora of better options that would have been better fits with his style. Portugal. The Man has unfortunately in recent years has come to exemplify the definition of generic indie pop music. See how this isn’t a good fit with deeply lyrical-based hip hop?

It’s worth checking this album out, as there are some good things to enjoy about it. But it’s certainly not an album as a whole worth revisiting and if anything repeat listens makes one frustrated that this album couldn’t avoid such obvious pitfalls.

Avoid It

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The Endless Music Odyssey, Vol. 8 — Cody Jinks, Brent Faiyaz, Miley Cyrus & more!

Welcome to the first edition of The Endless Music Odyssey of 2021 and the eight volume overall! In this volume I take a look at several albums (plus a single) that were released in late 2020 as I continue to knock out the backlog of releases from 2020 I didn’t cover yet. So if you don’t see something covered here, it’s likely in the next volume or it’s going to be a separate review. Let’s dive in…

Buy It

Cody Jinks — Red Rocks Live

Basically if you’ve ever wanted a Cody Jinks greatest hits album, here you go. A live album is always hard to review, as they’re mostly songs that have been heard and reviewed before. So you have to judge it just like you’re at a show. And if this was a show, I would give it an easy two thumbs up. As someone who greatly misses live music, this makes you feel like you’re back in person. The only complaint I have with this album is I would have liked to have heard more crowd noise incorporated, as at times it feels like they go missing. You gotta remember to keep the live element to distinctly differentiate it from the studio recordings, otherwise it sounds sterile and uninteresting (Midland’s live album is unfortunately an example of this). If you want a great example of a modern band who does this well on their live records, see all of Blackberry Smoke’s live albums.

Other than that this is a fun album front to back that covers all of the great Jinks songs from his first handful of albums. The sped up live version of “David” and the encore, extended performance of “Loud and Heavy” are the immediate standouts. And of course I really enjoy Jinks’ cover of Alan Jackson’s “Chasin’ that Neon Rainbow,” as it’s one of my favorites from Jackson and the song fits Jinks like a glove. I’ve never seen Cody Jinks live before, but this album reminded me I need to change that once concerts return one day. This is a great live album and well worth your time and money if you’re a fan of Jinks.

Stream It

Brent Faiyaz — F**k the World

This was an album that slipped through the cracks for me last year and when I discovered this at year’s end I immediately rectified this. I wish I had heard and reviewed this sooner because it would have without question gotten attention on at least one year-end list. Brent Faiyaz is an artist I’ve been following with interest, as his independent approach has been written about countless times and he’s an example of an artist who’s figured out how to thrive outside of the traditional music system.

His debut album didn’t do a lot for me, but it showed enough potential that I hoped I would like the next one. Well I definitely enjoy F**k the World. It’s a fantastic fusion of R&B, pop, soul and hip-hop that see Faiyaz explore relationships, wealth, indulging in pleasures and consciousness of one’s own self. The song that best exemplifies this is “Clouded,” a song that clocks in just under two minutes. Despite it’s short length, this song pulls no punches and showcases everything great about this album: the catchy lyrics, Faiyaz’s confident and cool delivery, the musing lyrics and the drowning, atmospheric production that engulfs the listener.

“Been Away” is a really nice take on 90s R&B and I enjoy the wandering anxiety of doubt and trust that’s explored in a relationship. The album’s title track shows off Faiyaz’s crude humor, as best shown by the line “Fuck the world I’m a walking erection.” That’s the funny thing about this album: how Faiyaz is able to pull off this weird juxtaposition between thoughtful reflection and outward bravado. They’re polar opposite reactions, but I feel like that’s the point Faiyaz is making with this album. It shows how complicated people can be and how the inside and the outside don’t always match up. “Bluffin” only reinforces this idea. And oh yeah Faiyaz really makes some fun songs that quickly grab your attention.

As funny as this is to say out loud, a great R&B album should have a sexy, classy tone. And F**k the World quickly establishes this mood and keeps it from front to back. Also I must say this album impresses me with how long it feels in terms of runtime while listening to it despite it coming in under 30 minutes. It speaks to how great this record is and I can’t wait to hear more from Brent Faiyaz.

 

Kishi Bashi — “Never Ending Dream”

I usually stick to albums for The Endless Music Odyssey, but I had to make an exception here. Kishi Bashi continues to be one of the most underrated artists in indie music and his pop sensibilities are incredible. His new song “Never Ending Dream” only drives this point harder. Made as the theme song for Apple TV+ kids show Stillwater, this song is so damn bright and colorful, as it bursts with the kind of happiness you expect from a song for a kid’s show. Yet it’s not cartoony or corny and works equally great as a regular song. The soaring, whimsical melody and the catchy lyrics can’t help but make me grin as I listen. Can more people finally start paying attention to Bashi on his next project, please?

Worth a Listen

Miley Cyrus — Plastic Hearts

I really wanted to like this album more than I ultimately did. It’s the type of album I’ve been hoping to hear from Miley Cyrus: an 80s pop rock album with a modern touch. This style of music is right in my wheelhouse. It starts out promising, as the first three songs are pretty good and feature strong hooks. Then you get to “Prisoner” and I’m expecting something great with Dua Lipa being featured. After all Lipa released one of the best pop albums of 2020 and she did an excellent job of utilizing retro sounds. But this song is so underwhelming. Lipa’s vocals sound incredibly weak and I can’t believe there’s no harmonies on the song, as it strongly calls for it.

The rest of the album follows suit for the most part with songs that have potential, but fall short. I will say an exception is “Night Crawling,” as Billy Idol’s feature is good and the over-the-top, synth driven sound has a real infectious appeal. Some songs the hooks are weak (“Midnight Sky”, “Hate Me”), others the production is half-baked (“High,” “Golden G String”) and lacks any sort of melody or groove. I’m shocked by the lack of guitars featured on this album, as you would think this style of music would feature plenty of guitars. But they’re largely absent until “Edge of Midnight,” which is a clear highlight of the album (even this song could use more guitars). Stevie Nicks sounds great on the feature and there’s harmonies that give the song real power (see why this was needed for “Prisoner”).

While Miley Cyrus clearly appreciates 80s pop rock, her execution of it on Plastic Hearts is unfortunately lacking overall. If you enjoy this style of music, it’s definitely worth one listen and who knows you might find more to like than I did. But as someone who’s listened to a lot of this type of music, there’s certain elements that just aren’t strong enough for this album to rival any of it’s inspiration.

Izaak Opetz — Hot & Heavy-Handed

While the chill and lo-fi approach Izaak Opetz takes to this is intriguing and drew me in, the only song I found myself wanting to re-listen to was “Drunk on a Plane.” And I feel like that was only because of my familiarity with it and the jarring contrast to the original. This is a fun novelty album that I’m glad I gave a chance, but not something I see myself returning to in the future. The aesthetic and presentation of this album is make or break for you.

Ariana Grande — Positions 

Ariana Grande has a fantastic voice, probably one of the best in pop music today. But her music has always proved to be elusively appealing to me because it feels like her songs just lack the type of melody that get me interested in a pop song. Her songs also have a more modern sleekness, which I personally don’t enjoy as much as pop music that reutilizes retro sounds and combines with modern stylings. There’s a few songs I enjoy on this and while I respect Grande’s work, it’s just not something that appeals to me.

Goodie Mob — Survival Kit

Man, the production on this is fantastic! It’s rich, varied and immediately commands your attention. There’s a melting pot of influences from hip hop to soul to gospel. Andre 3000 and Big Boi deliver great features as you expect from Outkast. And CeeLo Green is singing his ass off throughout it. But the songwriting is just flat-out weak and fails to hold my attention in any way. The hooks are somehow even weaker and are instantly forgettable. It’s worth a listen just for the production, but if the songwriting was just a little better this album might have bumped up a category. Damn shame.

Jim Clack — Submariner 

For a debut album, this is a decent effort from Jim Clack and shows enough potential that I would check out his next project. But this one just doesn’t quite have enough to go from decent to good. The songwriting is not bad and explores interesting themes, but it falls just short of being interesting enough to merit revisiting. The touches of harmonica throughout give the songs a nice bluesy feel. Clack has passionate vocals, but at times stretches himself a bit too thin like on “Long Lost Innocence.” He feels much more comfortable vocally on the rowdy and catchy “Sick” and the reflective “Someday I’ll Go into Space.” It’s a short project, so if you enjoy country music with a bluesier, rougher edge I think you’ll find things to enjoy.

Avoid It

38 Spesh — Interstate 38

The production on this is intriguing at first and keeps you listening. It’s the clear strong point. But the hooks on this are weak, the lyrics are not memorable and it feels like 38 Spesh’s flow never changes throughout the album. Even Benny the Butcher’s feature is kind of unremarkable. This album feels like the perfect example of an unfortunate side-effect in music, but especially in hip-hop: artists are churning out music so quickly that it pressures those around them to keep pace and not being forgotten by listeners. Not to mention it also pressures a lot of artists to stay close to the sound “that works.” The result is album’s like this that feel like your standard hip hop album in today’s music world; there’s nothing that really stands out or is remarkable.

The Endless Music Odyssey, Vol, 7 — Kylie Minogue, AC/DC, Cam & more!

Kylie Minogue — DISCO 

I’ve written many times on this blog about Carly Rae Jepsen’s style of pop music and how it has such a refreshing, timeless sound. This sound couldn’t have come from nowhere. There had to be artists before her that undoubtedly inspired Jepsen’s sound. So that set me off on a music discovery that brought me to several artists who shaped her sound and one of those artists is Kylie Minogue.

Turns out she’s been churning out catchy pop music for decades! Yet she’s never really caught on in the United States, which is both shocking and unfortunate because her music is phenomenal. Lucky for me this discovery of her music happened months ago and gave me ample time to familiarize myself with her music, as it happened to be she had a new album in DISCO dropping in November. Her new album DISCO is not much different from the rest of her discography: it’s fun, catchy and makes you want to dance.

Opening song “Magic” has an effortless glide about it and invites you into the album to have a good time. “Miss a Thing” is a bouncy invitation to escape to the dance floor and “Monday Blues” while predictable in it’s songwriting, just has a likably infectious beat. “Supernova” lives up to it’s name: this song is just a burst of energy a la the explosion of a star. The energy is cranked to the max, in your face and I dare you not to want to dance when the “burst” happens in the hook. “Say Something” utilizes the synth to perfection. “Where Does The DJ Go?” and “Dance Floor Darling” are absolute in ear worms in the best possible definition of the phrase. And the album concludes with the uplifting, inspirational love song “Celebrate You” that encourages you to fall in love with someone that makes the best of you come out. 

This album is full of soaring production that lives up to it’s album name while also giving it a fresh, modern feel. The songwriting focuses around love, excitement and just pure joy. To me it’s one of those albums that if you love pop and disco music, it’s impossible to come away not smiling. Minogue meant for this album to be enjoyable escapism and DISCO is absolutely phenomenal in this regard. It’s easily one of my favorite pop albums of 2020.

Grade: 9/10

AC/DC — POWER UP

I never thought I would get an opportunity to review one of my favorite acts of all-time. The first album I ever enjoyed front to back is AC/DC’s Back In Black and they’re the band I credit for falling in love with rock music. I’m even happier that I get to write positively about their new music, as their last album Rock or Bust was mediocre at best (putting it nicely). Of course there were several issues surrounding this album, as Malcolm Young wad rapidly declining in health. Everybody in the band is getting up in age. And lead singer Brian Johnson lost enough of his hearing that he had to stop touring with the band.

AC/DC is a band you don’t count out though. Angus Young rallied the troops for this album, reuniting the band to cut songs that him and his brother had stored in a vault for years. And thanks to the brilliance of modern technology, Johnson’s hearing was restored. The result: POWER UP showcases this group at their best. There’s anthemic, blaring riffs, strong hooks and powerful vocals. Critics of this band say they never change and well that’s the point. AC/DC has never pretended to be songwriting savants nor producing the most complex chord structure. Their goal has always been pretty simple: providing the anthems to a loud and fun party. They want you to have a good time and forget about the world. And they once again do this with what is most likely their final album.

You know you’re in for something great from opening song “Realize.” You got the signature gang vocals, a grasping energy, catchy riffs and sticky hooks. “Rejection” is a really enjoyable revenge anthem and lead single “Shot In The Dark” has one of the strongest hooks I’ve heard from an AC/DC single in several years. “Through The Mists of Time” immediately caught my eye with it’s very un-AC/DC title, as it seems more like a Led Zeppelin song title. And it’s arguably the best song on the album, as it’s soaring sound gives it a mystical aura around it. The gang vocals are a real treat on “Kick You When You’re Down” and the riff has some real muscle behind it. The buildup on “Demon Fire” is exciting, as the crashing of the drums on the hook makes you want to bang your head in unison. That’s when you know you have a great rock song. Johnson sounds as great as ever on this particular track too. And then the album appropriate concludes with the easy-to-singalong with “Code Red.” I can already picture this being a huge hit live. 

This record is a fantastic swan song and a perfect way for a legendary band to take their final bow. The entire band is on their A game and you couldn’t ask for better performances from these guys. I’ve seen some say this one of the group’s best albums and I can absolutely buy this argument. Personally I wouldn’t put it in my top three, but maybe top five. Regardless, I find this album to be quite poetic. Everybody thought this group was done when Bon Scott passed, but then they made their career-defining album in Back In Black. And everybody again thought they were done when Malcolm Young passed amidst other group issues. But once again they have surpassed expectations and made a damn great album.

Grade: 9/10

Cam — The Otherside

I thought my friend Zack at The Musical Divide wrote a fantastic review on this album, as he summed up in great detail the absolute frustrations of this record. So I highly encourage you to read his review. I’ll reiterate one of his main takeaways: man, I really wanted to like this album more. Cam is such a fun and likable artist who brings a lot of sly intelligence to her songwriting (see a song like “My Mistake”). She also did a solid job with producer Jeff Bhasker of mixing country and pop on her debut album

She once again teams up with Bhasker on The Otherside and the results just aren’t as good. The production on this album is flat and doesn’t stand out in any significant way. It just sort of all blends together, very much reminding of the disappointing sophomore Maddie & Tae album. Outside of “Dianne” (a three-year old song that sounds like it came from a completely different project) and “Like A Movie,” I won’t remember anything else from this album. There’s no wow moment and it’s not that there is any bad songs on this album, it’s just a forgettable record all around. I can remember pretty much remember every song from Untamed

So unfortunately the sophomore slump has struck with Cam. I wouldn’t be surprised if she bounced back in a big way on the next album, as she’s just too talented to be limited to albums like this one. I hope she switches up producers, as I think it’s needed. Personally, I think she could make some real magic with Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk, as I think their approaches would mesh well. 

Grade: 5/10

Brent Cobb — Keep ‘Em on They Toes

The same story of Cam’s album above is the case for Brent Cobb’s Keep ‘Em on They Toes. I had high hopes for Cobb after being really impressed by Providence Canyon (an album I hope to one day cover). I will say Cobb does have a good excuse in that this album was basically something he did to kill time during quarantine. But then again there have been plenty of great quarantine albums released too. Just like Cam, Cobb will undoubtedly bounce back. If I had to pick some songs worth listening to from this album, I would pick the title track, “Shut up and Sing” and “The World is Ending.” 

Grade: 5/10

Parker McCollum — Hollywood Gold EP

There’s always another artist getting buzz out of the Texas country scenes. For me, these buzz picks tend to be hit and miss. Unfortunately Parker McCollum falls more into the latter. There’s just nothing about this EP that catches my attention. It’s perfectly fine music and it’s not terrible. McCollum has a nice voice. But I could close my eyes and pick a record out of the pile pop country records produced in the last year and I could find an album or EP of songs identical to these ones. Songs like “Young Man’s Blues” and “Hallie Ray Light” of course sound great when you compare it to country radio or if you’re just looking at Texas country. But when you put it up against all of country music, it does not stand out from the crowd enough to catch my attention and keep it. 

Grade: 5/10

(Put it like this to give you an insight into my grading: When I give an album a 5 or 6, it’s something I’ll listen to if you play it for me. But I won’t seek it out. If I give an album a 7 or 8, it’s something I can see myself seeking out and listening to six months to a year from now. If I give an album a 9 or 10, it’s something I can see myself seeking out and listening to for years.)

The Cadillac Three — Tabasco & Sweet Tea

I got three song into this album and said nope. I’ll still maintain COUNTRY FUZZ was a solid album though, as it had much better focus and songwriting. 

Grade: Don’t bother

The Endless Music Odyssey, Vol. 5 — CeeLo Green, Caylee Hammack & more!

CeeLo GreenCeeLo Green is Thomas Callaway

Dan Auerbach, David Ferguson and Easy Eye Sound just continue to churn out quality albums. This time it comes from veteran R&B artist CeeLo Green, who is known for such hits like “Crazy” as part of Gnarls Barkley and “Forget You” as a solo artist. But this album is much different than his popular material, as the glitz and glamour is all stripped away in favor of more subtle and smooth sounds. It’s an enjoyable mix of R&B, soul, pop, gospel and even some country. Many have described Green as a chameleon-like performer and I think this album exemplifies this more than any of his others.

There’s simmering love songs like “For You,” “I Wonder How Love Feels” and “Doing It All Together” that mix soul and pop to great results. “Lead Me” shows how Green can absolutely excel at gospel with his passionate vocals and makes me wish there were more gospel moments. “Little Mama” and “Don’t Lie” show another side of Green, being a father, which was great to see from him. But the two songs that intrigued me most were when he dipped into a more country-influenced sounds on “People Watching” and “Slow Down.” The former is a simple, yet bouncy song about observing the world around you and taking in the little things. The latter is a fantastic cover of his Easy Eye Sound label mate John Anderson. CeeLo Green covering John Anderson is not something I thought I would ever write about, but hey it’s 2020 and it works well.

The album closes out with another highlight in “The Way,” a brooding song about fighting your way through darkness. Green’s voice really excels in these dramatic songs, as his dynamic voice can add the right amount of tension to build up the lyrics. If you’re into soul music or enjoy Green’s voice, this album is definitely worth your time. 8/10

Caylee HammackIf It Wasn’t For You

The potential of Caylee Hammack is great. She has an incredible voice and when she incorporates her personal experiences into her songwriting, it makes for some damn compelling music. “Small Town Hypocrite” is easily the star of this album, an in-depth look at seven-year relationship that took Hammack away from a music scholarship and changed her life in several ways. And not only is the attention to detail great in the lyrics, but her vocal performance adds just the right amount of emotional touch. The best example is when she sings “When I chose you and daddy gave me hell/I made myself into someone else/Just to love you, damn, I loved you.” The aching regret and hesitation in her voice as she delivers these final words cuts straight to the heart. 

Hammack has other great moments on this album too like “Redhead.” Hammack and Reba sound great together and I’m surprised this wasn’t chosen for her new single, as it’s catchy and fun to singalong with. Hammack, Tenille Townes and Ashley McBryde sound fantastic harmonizing together on “Mean Something,” which is a song dripping with honesty about people seeking to be something more in a world filled with a lot of selfishness and lack of substance. “Sister,” “Forged in the Fire” and “Family Tree” are other solid songs where Hammack peels back layers of her life to deliver heartfelt messages and show the lessons she’s learned. “Gold” is a heartfelt epilogue to “Small Town Hypocrite” and “New Level of Life” is a fun closer to the album that features one of the more interesting production moments on the album.  

But this album falls frustratingly short of being great and I largely blame this on the production. It ultimately hinders Hammack more than it helps, as most of the time it feels very paint-by-numbers as far as pop country goes. Hammack’s voice isn’t fully utilized, as it’s bright and dynamic, so why not fully feature it? It’s also frustrating to have songs in the middle of the album like “Preciatcha,” “Just Like You,” “Just Friends” and “King Size Bed” that pigeonhole her into generic pop country. It’s just not that interesting and throws the flow of the album off for me. It’s not really surprising, as new artists typically have these kinds of songs on their debut album to appease labels who like to send them to radio. Nevertheless, this is a decent debut album from Hammack. 6/10

DUCKWRTHSuperGood

Smooth, slick and funky are the three best words to describe this album. If you’re looking for lyrical prowess, this album won’t have it. Not to say the lyrics are bad. They’re solid, yet unspectacular as most of the lyrics deal with love and enjoying the party. But if you’re looking for some smooth beats, this album is overflowing with them. This is an album to move to and sing along with on a Saturday night. While it’s listed as hip-hop, this is far from a straight hip-hop record. No, I would describe this more along the lines of Tyler the Creator’s IGOR. This album is very much genre fluid, an enjoyable blend of hip-hop, R&B, soul, pop and disco. While I was a big fan of DUCKWRTH’s earlier material that was edgier and had an almost rock flavor to them, it’s clear this sound seems to suit him best. And he did kind of foreshadow this on “MICHUUL,” aspiring to be like the king of pop. And this music is definitely a strong step into that sound. 8/10

The MavericksEn Español

This is definitely one of those times where I wish I had taken more Spanish classes. I know some of the language, but unfortunately not enough to understand and appreciate the lyrics of this album. If anybody would happen to know how to procure a translated version of it, I would be happy to go more in-depth on this album. So for now I can only analyze the other elements of this album and they’re top level as always from the eclectic and dynamic group. The instrumentation is flamboyant, colorful and vibrant, a beautiful mixture of country, pop, Tex Mex and a whole lot more. Raul Malo still has one of the best voices in music, as it still sounds as flawless as ever. So based on the two elements of this album I can understand, this is another great album from The Mavericks. 

Margo PricePerfectly Imperfect At The Ryman

This is the best Margo Price album and you can’t tell me otherwise. In the last edition of The Endless Music Odyssey, I expressed my disappointment with her latest studio album and how it fails to capture the energy of her live shows that get rave reviews. I’ve never seen her live, but I potentially will next year as she opens for a Chris Stapleton show I have tickets to see. This reminded me that she actually released a live album on Bandcamp earlier this year and it had slipped through the cracks for yours truly. After listening to this album, it further cements the sentiment she’s better live. She has a fiery and infectious personality that unfortunately just gets sanded away in her studio recordings. But in a live setting she’s unleashed and at her very best. Her vocals don’t feel restrained and you even get to hear her excellent vibrato on multiple songs, which baffles me that this isn’t featured much on her studio albums. 

I hope whoever produces her next album takes cues from this live album and finds a way to incorporate them. Old Crow Medicine Show was in this same boat for years too and Gary Clark Jr. is still in this boat. It’s a rare occurrence it feels like in music to sound good live, but not in the studio, as it’s usually the other way around for several artists. 8/10

Tucker BeathardKING

Well I’ll say this: at least his voice is tolerable now. I once said he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket and that his voice was grating to the ears. It didn’t help either he was another victim of On The Verge, which is a legal payola way of making someone a “star”, but really just distorts reality. Also a smart move to delete all of his music with Big Machine Records and to start a clean slate. 

So I will say I can now listen to his voice without wanting to turn the song off. But he sounds essentially like every other male pop country artist. Still progress of course to go from bad to generic, but not really good either. None of these songs compel me to say anything other than it’s a song, except for “One Upper.” It’s a song about two characters: a rich asshole in a suit who thinks he can buy everything with money and an average joe who ultimately thinks he’s better because he has a hot girlfriend. What endearing people! 4/10

Josh TurnerCountry State of Mind

Just like I said about Jon Pardi’s Rancho Fiesta Sessions, take this for what it is and you’ll have an enjoyable listen. This is another solid country covers album released in a year where there’s been several. Needless to say I’m starting to get a little fatigued by them at this point. There’s not a bad song on this album, but the highlights in my eyes are “I’ve Got It Made” with John Anderson, the album title track with Chris Janson, “I Can Tell by the Way You Dance,” “Forever and Ever, Amen” with Randy Travis and “Desperately” with Maddie & Tae. 8/10

The Endless Music Odyssey, Vol. 3 — Freddie Gibbs, Eric Church, Khruangbin & More!

Hey y’all! There are several albums I’ve been wanting to talk about since taking my break, so no fancy introduction is needed. Let’s talk about some albums….

Freddie Gibbs & The AlchemistAlfredo

Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist both solidify themselves as two of the most consistent artists in hip-hop with Alfredo. Gibbs’ rapping and flow are flawless while The Alchemist’s beats are smooth and his sampling is completely on point throughout. Opener “1985” may be the best opening song to an album I’ve heard in 2020, as the blaring guitar and Gibbs’ relentless attack approach to the lyrics makes me want to hit play over and over again. The lyricism is what you come to expect from Gibbs, which is not a knock at all, as he raps about cocaine, the dark sides of the street and mixes in his trademark dark humor. He also has more social commentary, as on “Scottie Beam” he ominously raps his execution may be televised, highlighting the systemic racism in the country. All the features on this album fit well, especially Rick Ross and Benny The Butcher (I definitely want to hear Gibbs and Butcher together again). This is a pretty great project and for many artists this would be amongst their best, but Gibbs sets the bar pretty damn high with previous projects like Piñata and Bandana. So I guess you could call this 9/10 album slightly down for Gibbs as hilarious as this is to type. But seriously don’t sleep on this album, as it’s one of the best you’ll hear out of hip hop in 2020. Light 9/10

Run The JewelsRTJ4

Unfortunately this album just flat out bored me and I just lose more interest in it as I delve deeper into it. It certainly has nothing to do with the messages, as they’re timely, important and should be heard. But every other aspect of this project feels like I’ve heard it before from the duo and it was better. While I rated Run the Jewels 3 quite highly, admittedly it didn’t hold up as well as time has passed. I thought it was due to the runtime. But now after listening to RTJ4, the issue is clearer. The delivery, approach and style of the lyrics have simply waned for Killer Mike and El-P. On Run the Jewels 3 they covered over a lot of this because it wasn’t as prevalent like it is on this album and quite frankly the beats were much more interesting and varied on Run the Jewels 3 (there’s not a single beat on this album that comes as close to being as interesting or cool as “Panther Like a Panther”). 

Not to mention the idea well feels empty on this album. Nothing feels new, it all feels the same and maybe that’s the point on how injustice in this country never changes, which is the reoccurring message of this album. But I feel like this album is all about great messages and the songs themselves are an afterthought. As I’ve continually said, great messages won’t be heard if the songs themselves aren’t interesting or good. Run the Jewels 3 managed to deliver timely messages behind great music. And this album seems to forget the latter. That’s largely the conclusion I come away from with this album: the music just isn’t as interesting like the previous three records. Light 5/10

Diplo/Thomas WesleyChapter 1: Snake Oil

I’ve talked about before how electronic and country will eventually be fused together more and how it will become a more prevalent sub genre (for better or worse). So I was actually quite excited to hear that famous electronic producer Diplo would be trying his hand at a country album. The ultimate result? Very hit and miss for me. What works: “Heartless” with Morgan Wallen is surprisingly something I’ve come to enjoy. The delivery of Wallen gives the song an infectious urgency and the drum machines are actually utilized in a way that makes the song enjoyably catchy (so many from the pop genre completely bastardize drum machines and make them a torturous ear worm). The unlikely team up of Thomas Rhett and Young Thug on “Dance with Me” is fun, although I would have liked to have heard more from Young Thug. “On Me” may be my favorite though, as Noah Cyrus delivers a memorable vocal performance. “So Long” and “Heartbreak” are solid tracks too.

What doesn’t work: The Jonas Brothers are good pop artists but don’t belong anywhere near a country record and “Lonely” doesn’t feel country in the slightest. “Do Si Do” has a good idea on paper but it’s bone dry and boring. Julia Michaels continues to prove she’s one of the most boring artists in music today with her appearances (her voice is the music equivalent of paint drying). “Hometown” is your standard generic, mediocre pop country that I’m not shocked Zac Brown signed on to take part in (it would fit nicely on his garbage solo album). And the inclusion of Diplo’s remix of “Old Town Road” is well…Diplo says it best in his interview with Apple Music: “We just added this on because it was on Columbia.” Hey, at least he’s honest! And I appreciate that he admits this album is a bit incoherent (because it definitely is). So while this is by no means a great album, it shows flashes of potential and makes me want to hear what he has in store for the next album. Light 5/10

Gone WestCanyons

You know I had some hope for this group to be a fresh sound in the mainstream realm. Instead I’m not entirely convinced this isn’t Gloriana but they somehow added former pop star Colbie Cailat as the new front-woman. This is just dull, generic pop country album in a sea full of so many albums that already sound like this. Don’t bother with this/10

Jimmy BuffettLife On The Flip Side

Well I’m not sure what I expected listening to this. It’s a Jimmy Buffett album. If you want light beach music this is it. I imagine this is best enjoyed while drinking a few on the beach. It’s five o’clock somewhere/10

Gabby BarrettGoldmine

While lead single “I Hope” is an enjoyable revenge ballad in the same vein as Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats,” the rest of this album is unfortunately your average pop country mediocrity. Barrett really doesn’t establish a unique sound or identity with this album and instead teeters between bad Underwood impersonation and radio bait. Solid 3/10

Blackberry SmokeLive From Capricorn Sound Studios EP

As always an enjoyable listen from one of the best rock bands in music today. Although I will admit I hoped to enjoy this more. While I enjoy the guest vocals of Jimmy Hall, I would have liked to have heard more from Charlie Starr on lead vocals. But it’s a minor nitpick on an otherwise pretty good EP. Light 8/10

Hill CountrySelf-titled

I’ve seen a lot of buzz about this album and Luke Combs even gave this group a shoutout. So I had to check this out even though I found Zane Williams’ solo output to be hit and miss in the past. Ultimately this is a country album that does nothing spectacularly but it does nothing wrong either. It’s an enjoyable mixture of country, roots rock and bluegrass that has something for all types of country listeners. It’s breezy and accessible music that represents a solid start for this new group. 7/10

Khruangbin Mordechai

I find it difficult to get into instrumental music most of the time and even harder to review it. But Khruangbin is easily an exception to this rule. I had never heard of this group until their excellent collaborative Texas Sun EP with Leon Bridges earlier this year. I’m so glad I found them, as I’ve now listened to their entire catalog after hearing the EP. Even better that they’ve dropped even more music with new album Mordechai. While I wouldn’t put it at the level of their great, southwestern-flavored 2018 album Con Todo El Mundo, this album is another pretty damn good record from the trio. This album centers mostly around a groovy, psychedelic funk sound with tinges of disco and jam pop mixed in at times. The band also surprises by mixing in some vocals on this record and they actually work pretty well. Most importantly they don’t detract from the hypnotic sounds of the band, which will always be the focus and strength of the group. If I had to pick my favorites they would be “Time (You and I)”, “Father Bird, Mother Bird” and album closer “Shida.” The latter is probably the top song for me, as the bass line is simply flawless. And if you’re looking for a relaxing album, you will be hard-pressed to find one more chill than this one in 2020. Solid 9/10

Eric Church — “Stick That in Your Country Song”

Finally I have to of course comment on the lead single for Eric Church’s upcoming new album, “Stick That in Your Country Song.” Without a doubt Church has been one of the best artists in country music for the last several years, as both Mr. Misunderstood and Desperate Man were fantastic albums. So he easily has the clout and respect to drop a song that’s basically calling out lazy songwriting and pandering bullshit being released by all kinds of artists in the industry. Church has been a bit more understated and introspective on his last two albums, so he was due to bring back the fiery, passionate side. 

The results are pretty good, as Church brings an infectious energy in all aspects. The lyrics are as subtle as a hammer to the head and get the point across pretty well, while also bringing attention to what needs to be heard more in country songs. It’s interesting how Church did not have a hand in writing this song, as this is not only a rarity for him, but this song also fits him perfectly. While I’m not fond of country songs that focus on if something is country or not these days, this song is not really about being country, but rather demanding more from his fellow artists. And he’s absolutely right to call them out for this. Once again I’m excited for another Church album!