Derek’s Top 10 Country & Americana Songs – September 2015

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As I’ve pretty much come to expect with each month, September has brought us some great country music releases. Red Dirt bands from Oklahoma, country legends, rockstars and more all contributed to a great month of country music.

Disclaimer: due to George Strait’s Cold Beer Conversation’s limited release availability, I haven’t had the chance to purchase or even listen to it yet. Unfortunately, that means I can’t include his music on this month’s list. I’m sorry for delivering an incomplete list, but I trust that my list would be adjusted to accommodate for a couple of Strait’s songs. With that said, I’m still able to fill out ten songs that still represent the best of September.

  1. “The Bird Hunters” by Turnpike Troubadours I have a hard time believing that this song would be moved from the top spot even with Strait’s inclusion. The Turnpike Troubadours absolutely deliver on this song from the soaring fiddles to Evan Felker’s vocal delivery. “The Bird Hunters” captivates you with its story and holds that attention throughout. Their new album is without a doubt a top-5 album for me this year and “The Bird Hunters” is probably a top-10 song for me this year as well.
  2. “When I Stop Dreaming” by Don Henley (feat. Dolly Parton) Don Henley and Dolly Parton harmonize together beautifully. This duet is a great addition to country’s many male-female collaborations. The instrumentation is fantastic and Dolly sounds great. Henley collaborated with many other country artists on Cass County but this duet with Dolly Parton takes the cake.
  3. “The Man in the Mirror (The Girl On the Plane)” by The Damn Quails This song intrigued right away as I listened to it. The lyrics of this break up tune are very well thought out and brilliantly delivered. The song’s production does a great job carrying the listener through the song with a fitting mood.
  4. “Easton & Main” by Turnpike Troubadours This is a re-release of a song from Turnpike’s debut album, but this new recording sounds even better. The Turnpike Troubadours do a great job with the musical delivery and the production of this song sets a great mood for a country dance number.
  5. “The Cost of Living” by Don Henley (feat. Merle Haggard) A song about the physical and emotional costs of living sung by two old, wise men is just about perfect. Haggard sounds excellent on this track, better even than some of the songs on Django and Jimmie if you ask me. Great lyrics and great production. This is the type of song everyone can relate t0.
  6. “You Still Get to Me” by Clint Black (feat. Lisa Hartman) Clint Black and his wife, Lisa Hartman Black, have a history of great love song duets and this one is no different. Their harmonies are still great, the mid-tempo production is well done, and the lyrics tell a story of long time lovers still feeling the passion and joy of love. It’s a familiar story not written or presented in a fluffy, cheesy way.
  7. “Song of Home” by The Damn Quails “Song of Home” is a beautiful song about a musician and his family. The production rises and falls in a way that helps the song move at a nice pace. It’s a great country music story song.
  8. “7 Oaks” by Turnpike Troubadours This is one of the most fun songs off their new, self-titled album. “7 Oaks” depicts the rough life of a farmer who has the government breathing down his neck for money. Before complying, the farmer burns down his house and ruins his land before moving onto an Indian Reservation to avoid this problem in the future. Fun, unique lyrics and good up-beat instrumentation.
  9. “Dead Bury the Dead” by The Legendary Shack Shakers The Southern Surreal is an album full of great, unique instrumentation on every track. “Dead Bury the Dead” is just one example of the band’s great guitar work. The vocal performance is worth noting as well.
  10. “Faster Than You Think” by The Damn Quails I was really impressed with The Damn Quails’ newest album.  Josh does a great job describing why “Faster Than You Think” is one of the noteworthy songs from the album: “It’s a song about the world changing around you faster than you think. Everything about this song is catchy, especially the songwriting. It’s well done and it’s easy to get stuck in your head.

Honorable Mentions:

  • “The Driver” by Charles Kelley (feat. Eric Paslay and Dierks Bentley)
  • “Long Drive Home” and “How Do You Fall Out of Love” by Turnpike Troubadours
  • “Waiting Tables” by Don Henley
  • “Oklahoma Blue” and “Out of the Birdcage” by The Damn Quails
  • “With a Straight Face” by Mac McAnally

Josh’s Top Ten Country & Americana Songs – September 2015

September 2015

September was like pretty much every other month this year: mainstream country gave us mostly crap, while the other country scenes and Americana gave us absolute gold. Coming into the month there was only one album I expected to deliver big time and it certainly did. But then we got a surprisingly fantastic album from an iconic singer and a surprise album from a legend too. These three albums dominated the month of September and I’m sure all of you enjoyed at least one of them. Unfortunately for some independent acts who put out really solid albums this shut them out of the top ten for the most part. But it’s never a bad thing to have too much great music! So without further ado my top ten best country and Americana songs for the month of September.

  1. Don Henley (feat. Dolly Parton) – “When I Stop Dreaming” – The release of Eagles’ frontman Don Henley’s country album has been hyped up for months and based on the people he had involved with the project, I expected a good album. Instead he delivered a fantastic album in Cass County. There are a lot of great songs on it, but the crown jewel to me hands down is Henley’s duet with Dolly Parton on “When I Stop Dreaming.” The vocal performances by these two are out of this world and bring out the best in each other. This is what makes for a memorable duet like this one. It may just even be a candidate for Country Perspective’s Song of the Year.
  2. George Strait – “Everything I See” – I almost put this song at #1 and went back and forth on it for a while before deciding to slot “Everything I See” in at #2. Nobody saw Strait delivering a new album this year, let alone only announcing it four days before the actual release. It’s a really good album that has many classic Strait moments, but the best to me is this song. Strait sings about losing a close friend, probably referring to his father who died not so long ago (shout out to reader southtexaspistolero for pointing this out). It’s an emotional song and yet another example of why Strait is one of the all-time greats in country music.
  3. Don Henley – “Waiting Tables” – Henley proves to be a great storyteller throughout Cass County. But the best example of it is arguably on “Waiting Tables.” He sings about a young girl who has made mistakes early in life and is now stuck waiting tables and hoping for an opportunity to get out of her dead-end situation. This song not only tells an interesting story, but it’s catchy too. Plus, Jamey Johnson is on the background vocals!
  4. Turnpike Troubadours – “The Bird Hunters” – It had been three long years since the Turnpike Troubadours had released a new album, which is too damn long. The waiting paid off though, as their new self-titled album is one of the year’s best. The Oklahoma band deliver a variety of marvelous songs throughout the album, but the opener “The Bird Hunters” may just be the best on it. Like “Waiting Tables” above, this song tells an interesting story about heartbreak and left wondering about past decisions. And when you put arguably the best instrumentation in country music behind poignant lyrics, you get memorable songs like this one.
  5. George Strait – “Even When I Can’t Feel It” – This was the closer to Strait’s new album and it was the second emotional heartbreak song on it. In another era, this song would be released to country radio and easily reach #1. But instead all of us traditional country fans will just enjoy this album cut.
  6. Turnpike Troubadours – “Long Drive Home” – When I did my first listen-through of the Turnpike Troubadours’ album, this song was one that immediately caught my attention. The harmonies and instrumentation blend together so well and make for an enjoyable experience. It’s the kind of song that makes me want to see this band in-person.
  7. Don Henley – “Take A Picture of This” – This is one of the most interesting songs on Henley’s album, as you’re led to believe through the first two-thirds of it that it’s just a romantic love song about a couple reflecting back on memories through the years. Instead it turns out to be a song about a man realizing he no longer loves his wife and their nice memories are just in the past and there are no more ahead. This is what you call the opposite of a cliché.
  8. Turnpike Troubadours – “Easton & Main” – This immediately follows “Long Drive Home” and it’s one of a string of strong songs that closes out the album for the Troubadours. This song has plenty of fiddle and something that’s right at home at the dance halls in Texas.
  9. George Strait – “It Takes All Kinds” – Any time George Strait does some Western swing, it’s a good thing.
  10. The Legendary Shack Shakers – “The Buzzard and The Bell” – I think I changed this spot five different times before posting this. I ultimately went with this song because it features some of the most bizarrely cool instrumentation I’ve heard this year.

*Note: Strait’s songs will not appear on the Spotify playlist below, since his new album is not available on Spotify. So I filled out the playlist with some independent bands that just missed out on the top ten and deserving of more attention. Check them out!

 

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Damn Quails – “Oklahoma Blue,” “Faster Than You’d Think” & “Woody Guthrie”
  • Jon Pardi – “Head Over Boots”
  • The Legendary Shack Shakers – “Cold” & “MisAmerica”
  • Patrick Sweany – “Back Home” & “Afraid of You”
  • Turnpike Troubadours – “7 Oaks” & “Ringing In The Year”
  • George Strait – “Cheaper Than A Shrink” & “It Was Love”
  • Don Henley – “Praying For Rain” 

 

Album Review – The Legendary Shack Shakers’ ‘The Southern Surreal’

The Legendary Shack Shakers Southern Surreal

Are you looking for music that’s really out there and mixes a bunch of genres together? Well then The Legendary Shack Shakers are exactly what you’re looking for. I’ve reviewed a lot of genre defying music here on the site, but I don’t think of them hold a candle to the way The Legendary Shack Shakers blend so many different genres together. The primary sounds you’ll hear them mix together are southern gothic, swamp rock, blues, rockabilly, rock ‘n roll and country music. The Legendary Shack Shakers are made up of J.D. Wilkes (vocals, harmonica, banjo), Mark Robertson (upright bass, electronic bass, backing vocals), Rod Hamdallah (guitar) and Brett Whitacre (drums). Together they create music that is impossible to label and yet also leaves you wanting more. That’s what I took away from their new album The Southern Surreal.

“Cow Tools” is a quick guitar-only introduction that plays right into the actual first song on the album, “Mud.” Right away you get a great taste of the band’s signature swamp rock/country sound. It’s multilayered sound is like a smorgasbord for the ears. The song has a fantastic closer with the drum play and seamlessly transitions into the next song, “MisAmerica.” It’s a rocking song with fantastic instrumentation. It has a very noticeable garage rock sound that makes for a fun song and the standout of it is without a doubt the great guitar solo from Hamdallah. A short and eerie introduction titled “Grinning Man” preludes “Cold.” The song is very much in the southern gothic vein, but it’s combined with a rockabilly sound that makes for an actually catchy sound. I never thought I would call a southern gothic inspired song catchy, but there you go.

“Dead Bury the Dead” seems to be about letting people who are dead inside take care themselves. Or it could be a play on a quote from Jesus in the Bible. It’s a song very open to interpretation. However you interpret it, the instrumentation is great. I would describe the sound as punk rock meets the blues. It’s amazing how this band can combine so many genres together and create unique and engaging music. One of the more country songs on the album is “The One That Got Away.” It’s about reflecting back on the one who got away and how they’re now out of reach. The infectious guitar licks combined with the solid lyrics make for a pretty good song. The fast-paced, rockabilly tune “Young Heart, Old Soul” is next. It’s loud, quick and fun. You will at the very least be moving your feet to this song by the end of it and I imagine at live shows this will be really popular. It’s a song you can’t help but dance to. “Fool’s Truth” is another loud, fast and short song with plenty of harmonic and drums.

This introduces one of the coolest moments on the album, which is “The Dog Was Dead.” It’s not a song, but a spoken word track featuring Billy Bob Thornton telling a story with some spacey guitar play in the background. The story is about a 19 year-old man working on the patch crew on the highway department coming across a dying dog on the road. His crew said they needed to take it to a vet or something, but the man said the dog was dead. Next he took his shovel and put the dog out of its misery, to the chagrin of the crew. Once again he reiterated the dog was dead and was just something he had to do, even if he didn’t want to. Some will say this was a pointless inclusion on the album, but to me it fits perfectly with the whole theme of the record. I thought it was really well done and Thornton was the perfect choice.

“Down to the Bone” is the type of song that will sound much better live than on an album. So I’m not sure if I would have put this song on The Southern Surreal. It’s not a bad song by any stretch and it’s certainly good, but I just think it’s more suited for live performances. The Legendary Shack Shakers get loud and in your face again with “Christ Alrighty.” The instrumentation is absolutely fantastic on this song. The harmonica play from Wilkes really stands out and impressed me the most about the song. “Demon Rum” sounds like something Hank Williams would sing if he were still alive today. It’s a drinking song about demon rum not letting go of you. It has an old timey sound with the piano and taps. This song is short, but definitely one of the better tracks of the album.

My favorite track on the album hands down though is “The Buzzard and the Bell.” The sound is southern gothic meets blue grass meets rock and it’s just flat-out awesome. The banjo play is top-notch. I could listen to this song over and over again. My only wish is that it was longer, as the song is only one minute and 51 seconds long. The Southern Surreal closes out with “Born Under a Bad Sign,” a song about a man born with bad luck. It’s a southern gothic/rock song that starts out with some heavy drum and percussion play, which is appropriate considering the pace of the song is noticeably slow. It creates an almost psychedelic-like feeling in the listener. The song is definitely an odd one to be the closing song, but then again perhaps this appropriate for album like this one.

The Legendary Shack Shaker’s new album The Southern Surreal is weird and bizarre, but in a good way. There are so many different sounds going on in this album, yet the band pulls it all together and makes it work. Despite the album having a listed 15 tracks, it’s only around 35 minutes long. This left me wanting a little more for sure, which is odd to say about an album with this many tracks. Without a doubt the instrumentation is the biggest pro of this album and band. Their sound is magnificently unique. I only wish the lyrics could live up to it’s height too, as I felt it a little lacking in this area. Regardless, The Southern Surreal is a really good album. It’s certainly a strange journey you need to hear for yourself.

Grade: 8/10