Derek’s Top Ten Country & Americana Songs – November 2015

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Fall tends to slow down in the release department, but there’s always enough for a top ten list. Tim McGraw’s newest album was, to me, surprisingly good with a couple standout songs. Eric Church’s surprise album release is solid from start to finish. Josh Abbott Band’s concept album yielded a few solid country songs, and Maren Morris’ debut EP showcases a budding pop country star. Before we dive into a month of handing out awards, let’s recap November one last time.

  1. “Record Year” by Eric Church – I can confidently say this is one of the best songs of the year in my opinion. As Josh said, Mr. Misunderstood was Church’s love letter to music and “Record Year” tells of how Church rediscovered some favorites while coping with a breakup.
  2. “Humble And Kind” by Tim McGraw – Lori McKenna is one of Nashville’s best songwriters, and “Humble And Kind” is a prime example of why I believe that. McGraw’s vocals are sincere as he lists off advice on living a good life. This was the perfect song to end Damn Country Music.
  3. “Wasn’t That Drunk” by Josh Abbott Band (feat. Carly Pearce) – Even though I misinterpreted how Act II plays out on Josh Abbott Band’s Front Row Seat, it doesn’t change the fact that “Wasn’t That Drunk” is simply a great country song. The tune details how Abbott and his wife began to fall in love and move forward. The vocals from both Abbott and Pearce are great, and the mid-tempo country production works perfectly.
  4. “Don’t Make Me Feel At Home” by Tim McGraw – Originally recorded by Wesley Dennis, this cheating country song is well told. A man who yearns for passion away from a stagnant, comfortable home. The production is a timeless country ballad and McGraw’s vocals have never sounded better.
  5. “My Church” by Maren Morris – Morris sings of how driving and belting out classic country songs bring comfort to her soul. She name drops Johnny Cash and Hank Williams without pandering and sings confidently. With an upbeat production and anthemic chorus, “My Church” (and Morris’ EP as a whole) is a good example of good pop country.
  6. “Knives Of New Orleans” by Eric Church – From the first strum of the acoustic guitar on this track, the mood is set for an epic adventure. Church details how he tries to get away after committing a crime. The passion in the vocals and production is ever-present and the song steadily builds in a beautifully fashion.
  7. “Ghosts” by Josh Abbott Band – This heartbreak song details the pain of getting over a broken relationship. The heavy production aids the tone of the song well, and Abbott sings the lyrics nicely, building and layering the hurt in the words as the song progresses.
  8. “Mistress Named Music” by Eric Church – A singer singing about how much he/she loves to sing songs isn’t the most original topic for a song, but Church’s subdued delivery draws the listener in as the blended production of country, rock and gospel keep the interest piqued. And it’s my personal taste, but I love songs that add a gospel choir for vocal harmonies. The last two minutes of this song are fantastic.
  9. “Drunk Girls Don’t Cry” by Maren Morris – Simply put, this no-bullshit approach to a friend who keeps falling for the same guy is hilarious. Trusting this guy to follow through on his words is like saying drunk girls don’t cry, everyone knows it’s wrong. The lyrics are strong, Morris owns the song with her attitude, and the pop country production works.
  10. “Autumn” by Josh Abbott Band – After the blow of the relationship’s end calms, “Autumn” tells of how Abbott’s wife is moving forward with her life. It’s a song about accepting life’s situation and changing your response to a proactive one from a reactive one.

Comment below with your favorites of the month!

Derek’s Top Ten Country & Americana Songs – August 2015

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August was a quietly great month for new Country and Americana music! Maybe it was just due to the fact that I didn’t know many of the albums were going to be released, except for the highly anticipated Lindi Ortega and Maddie & Tae albums. Either way, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of music released across the board this month, from Americana, to mainstream country, to Texas country, and even Canada! August also featured two albums that jumped toward the top of my favorite list as soon as I heard them. But without further ado, here are my favorite songs released over the past month:

  1. Be My Baby” – Whitney Rose (feat. Raul Malo): This song has it all. A beautiful production and two dynamic voices coming together to give a new twist on a classic song. I was a little hesitant to include a cover as my top song, but Whitney Rose and Raul Malo simply blow this track out of the water. It’s too damn good to ignore on this list.  
  2. “Someday Soon” – Lindi Ortega: This was my number one song until Rose’s album came out. The writing of how Ortega will pick herself up out of a bad relationship is great storytelling, and her vocal delivery is perfect match to it. The way the song builds over the 3 and a half minutes is a testament to Cobb’s production on this blues-inspired track.
  3. “Day One” – Pat Green: Pat Green’s Home was a rather average album overall, but “Day One” was one of the few songs that stood out as a great country song. (“While I Was Away” had been out as a single prior to the album release, so I’m not counting it here). The vocal delivery and production aren’t much to write home about, but they’re both clean and set a nice tone for the song. However, it’s the writing that helps “Day One” stand out. Green tells a story of how he plans to get over the break-up, but those plans will only work if he can make it through the painful first day without his love.
  4. “Let It Out” – Jonathan Tyler: This song was the definite standout on Holy Smokes. Tyler’s vocals are excellent on this track and songwriting on the topic is top-notch.  As Josh said in his review,The steel guitars throughout the song really help create a desperado state of mind in the listener, which fits perfectly with the theme of the song. Everything in this song simply works together well to make a great song.
  5. “Heartbreaker of the Year” – Whitney Rose: I love the simple production of this song. The guitar and bass line combined with the snaps are enough to catch your ear, but they also allow Rose’s haunting voice to shine and carry this track. “Heartbreaker of the Year” is a captivating song all around, and a highlight from the album of the same name.
  6. “Ashes” – Lindi Ortega: The opening song on Ortega’s Faded Gloryville is simply a great song. The poignant lyrics of not wanting to be forgotten by a love sting you and Ortega’s voice adds a whole new layer to that poignancy. The song builds and falls to a gentle conclusion perfectly. “Ashes” takes you on a journey and Ortega leads that journey wonderfully.
  7. “Go Down Slow” – The Statesboro Revue A heavy country song about a blue collar worker who’s long days and weeks leave him feeling burnt out. Singer Stewart Mann sings of his desire to feel anything but numb, and pleads for the booze to go down slow in order to feel the pain. It’s a powerful vocal performance aided by great country instrumentation.
  8. “Shut Up And Fish” – Maddie & Tae: What’s not to love about this song? Witty lyrics that don’t sound immature, excellent sassy vocals that compliment said lyrics, and a beautifully up tempo country production to boot. Start Here may be the best mainstream country album this year, and “Shut Up And Fish” is a great example of Maddie & Tae bringing fun into mainstream country music without losing any class or originality.
  9. “Undone” – The Statesboro Revue: The Statesboro Revue’s new album, Jukehouse Revival is an excellent Americana album with great country sounds. This blue-collar song about letting a load off after long work days is a great anthem to those who selflessly work to the bone because it’s necessary. The banjo plucks that lead the production are fantastic.
  10. “Everything Was Cool in 2002” – Jonathan Tyler: This psychedelic rock track isn’t necessarily country, I know. This closer on Tyler’s excellent Americana album is an awesome song though. Tyler creates a dreamy, airy atmosphere in a song where he reminisces of a past love. But the best part of this song is the awesome musical solos closing out the song and the album. The production quickly builds from the low-tempo to the up-tempo solo, but it fits and sounds excellent.

Honorable Mentions

  • “Half Moon” and “I Ain’t The Girl” by Lindi Ortega
  • “May the Good Times Never End” by Pat Green (feat. Delbert McClinton and Lee Roy Parnell)
  • “Smoke Break” by Carrie Underwood
  • “Complicated” by Kip Moore
  • “There’s a Tear in My Beer” by Whitney Rose
  • “After The Storm Blows Through” by Maddie & Tae

Derek’s Top Ten Country Songs – July 2015

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Another month in the books, and another group of artists releasing great albums and songs. True, honest lyrics and songs keeping the heart and spirit of country music alive, albeit in lesser of a light compared to those in Nashville. Jason Isbell owned this month; Something More Than Free is one of the best albums this year. Though, Alan Jackson and Ashley Monroe both offered up great albums as well!  It was a slower month in the release department, but one of the best months in terms of quality. Let’s take a look at my favorites from the month.

  1. “24 Frames” by Jason Isbell – This is one of the best songs released this year. Isbell does a great job painting the picture of life changing in the blink of an eye. The lyrics hit you hard and drive the point home that the things we have in life aren’t permanent and can fall apart in just one measly second.
  2. “The One Your Waiting On” by Alan Jackson – Alan Jackson has a natural charisma as a singer that captures the listener with every song. As Josh wrote of this song in his review of Angels and Alcohol“Only an artist like Jackson could pull off a song like this one due to the nuance of the theme. If you give this to a bro country artist, you end up with a song like Old Dominion’s “Break Up With Him.” Jackson hits this song out of the park.
  3. “Speed Trap Town” by Jason Isbell – With my first listen of Something More Than Free, this was the song that captured me the most. Isbell rips your heart out with the song about a man coping with his father’s impending death. It’s damn near impossible to describe what makes this song great, it’s one of those you need to listen to understand.
  4. “Gone Before You Met Me” by Alan Jackson – The melody of this ramblin’ man song is infectious. The description of meeting Tom Sawyer and Jack Kerouac who pride themselves as ramblin’ men help Jackson realize how much he loves his life at home with a wife and kids.
  5. “The Blade” by Ashley Monroe – This breakup song off Ashley Monroe’s album uses great imagery to tell the story. Love can be a brutal thing for people and catching a falling knife from either end is a great description for it.
  6. “Something More Than Free” by Jason Isbell – The title track to Isbell’s album is an excellent ode to the blue-collar workers, with great poetry in the lyrics. Isbell approaches the subject with enough pride to show that there’s no shaming in working hard for your life. Country music was built on blue-collar attitudes, and “Something More Than Free” captures that attitude perfectly.
  7. “Still A Southern Man” by Will Hoge – When Will Hoge puts his protest cap on, you know he means business. “Still A Southern Man” finds Hoge pondering the meaning for the Confederate Flag in the wake of so much negative news surround the symbol. Hoge’s conviction in the song is noticable, and he isn’t afraid to let his emotions run the show.
  8. “Why” by Rick Elliot – Rick Elliot’s reflection on a wild lifestyle hits many strong notes. From the Bakserfield country sound to the honest lyrics and Elliot’s deep, matter of fact delivery, “Why” is as true to country music as you can get. And to think he’s only 18…
  9. “Angels and Alcohol” by Alan Jackson – Alan Jackson sings a typical country drinking song, but tells the story well by comparing the downside of booze to the upside of love, happiness, and faith. The song is paced well and Jackson’s vocals are a bright spot.
  10. “Has Anybody Ever Told You” by Ashley Monroe – This love song from The Blade is beautifully sung by Monroe. Her desire to tell her love the things she admires about him, and making sure that he’s heard them, is a sweet gesture.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Jason Isbell’s “Flagship” and “Palmetto Rose”
  • Alan Jackson’s “When God Paints’ and “You Can Always Come Home”
  • Rick Elliot’s “If I Agreed With You”
  • Ronnie Dunn’s “Ain’t No Trucks in Texas”
  • Ashley Monroe’s “If The Devil Don’t Want Me”

As always, I’d love to hear your favorite songs from this month!

Derek’s Top Ten Country Songs – May 2015

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It seems as Mainstream Country continues to release terrible singles and albums, artists on the indie circuit and Texas releases great albums to counter the bad. May treated us to two definite album of the year candidates, and all around honest, true country music from all the artists listed here. There’s a busy summer ahead with many high-profile releases on tap, but before that, let’s look back at some of my favorite songs released this past month.

  1. “Still Drunk, Still Crazy, Still Blue” – Whitey Morgan: This Scott H. Biram cover is fantastic. Morgan brings intensity to the song that isn’t found in many heartbreak songs. This version has jumped toward the top of my list of great cover songs. “Still Drunk, Still Crazy, Still Blue” is the definite standout from the excellent album Sonic Ranch.
  2. “Whiskey And You” – Chris Stapleton: A song that’s been recorded by Tim McGraw and Jason Eady, but Stapleton’s version is the best. The heartache story of drowning your sorrow after she leaves is flawless, and Stapleton’s vocal performance here sells that pain. Sometimes simple is better, and that’s what this song’s production is. This was my favorite off of Chris Stapleton’s debut album Traveller.
  3. “It’ll Be Me” – Malpass Brothers: A great callback to the golden age of music and a perfect blend of rock n’ roll and country music. Brothers Taylor and Chris sound straight out of 1957 with this Jerry Lee Lewis cover.
  4. “Just Some Things” – Jamie Lin Wilson (feat. Wade Bowen): A heartbreaking story about an affair and how guilt of cheating eats at both of them. Wilson and Bowen both deliver the emotional pain of the situation perfectly. This duet is one of highlights from Wilson’s solo debut Holidays and Wedding Rings.
  5. “Leavin’ Again” – Whitey Morgan: Good old-fashioned country music. A beautiful steel guitar and Morgan’s country drawl work together to raise this leaving song to a whole new level. “Leavin’ Again” is a great example of production and vocal performance helping a familiar story sound fresh. Also, I love the melodies from the choir behind Morgan’s vocals.
  6. “When The Stars Come Out” – Chris Stapleton: The light weight of the lyrics and production stick with me on this song. The production builds at a great pace and Stapleton’s smooth vocals sound great. The use of the steel guitar on this track is excellent.
  7. “Baby, We’re Really In Love” – Malpass Brothers: Another cover from the Malpass Brothers of a music legend. Their self-titled album is chock-full of great country covers, and this old Hank Williams tune is no exception. From the beautiful ring of the steel guitar to a vocal performance that would surely make old Hank smile.
  8. “Drunken Nights in the City” – Whitey Morgan: Morgan paints a grim picture of hitting rock bottom. His deep voice captivates you and takes you along on his journey from bar to bar meeting all night women and crooked men along the way.
  9. “Borrowed Time” – Jon Pardi: From Pardi’s B-Sides EP, this might be his best song in both lyrics and vocals. It’s a song that calls for appreciating time as we have it since our time on Earth will one day stop. Jon Pardi might be one of the best, underrated country acts in the mainstream light, and “Borrowed Time” is a prime example of that.
  10. “The Devil Named Music” – Chris Stapleton: A tough chronicle of how a musician’s life on the road isn’t as polished and fun as some may think. The heavy harmonica sets the tone for this song.

Honorable Mentions:

  • “Here Tonight” and “You Left My Chair” – Jamie Lin Wilson
  • “Why Baby Why” – Mickey Guyton
  • “Parachute” and “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore” – Chris Stapleton
  • “Waitin’ ‘Round to Die” and “That’s How I Got to Memphis” – Whitey Morgan
  • “A Death in the Family” – Malpass Brothers

Sound off below and let me know what your favorites are!