The Hodgepodge: What Song Defines Country Music to You?

willie-merle

It made it’s debut a few weeks back and now it’s back again. That right, this is an Ask The Readers Hodgepodge. It’s quite simple: I pose a question to you the readers and in the comments below we will discuss what our answers would be to the question. Sometimes it will be a yes or no question, but most times it’ll be something a little more detailed. This second Ask The Readers Hodgepodge will be quite subjective and should have a variety of answers.

If you had to choose one song, what song defines country music to you?

Guidelines:

  • This song can be from any era at anytime. Just be prepared of course to defend your choice, as someone will always be naturally curious as to why you chose a song.
  • There are no wrong answers, just like the previous Ask the Hodgepodge.
  • And of course feel free to pick songs for other genres if you feel like it, as we’re all music fans first.

 

As far as my answer for this question, the song I would pick that I feel defines country music is Townes van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty.” There have been many versions of this song, but I would have to pick Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard’s version as my favorite. The reason I would choose this song is it just has everything that a perfect country song should have. It was written by one of music’s greatest songwriters of all-time and performed by two of the best artists in the genre’s history. The song explores death, sadness and grief with some of the best storytelling you’ll ever hear in music. The instrumentation perfectly conveys the melancholy nature expressed by the lyricism in the song. To my ears it’s the perfect country song, defining the rich tapestry of the genre.

I would also highly recommend Jason Isbell and Elizabeth Cook’s version of the song, which is quite excellent too.

Upcoming/Recent Country & Americana Releases

  • Tomorrow William Michael Morgan will release his highly anticipated debut album Vinyl.
  • Also tomorrow the legendary John Prine will release his new duets album For Better, or Worse.
  • Aubrie Sellers new album New City Blues will be re-released through Warner Bros. Nashville tomorrow. “Sit Here and Cry” is going for adds at country radio on October 17.
  • Strap yourself in for October because it’s going to be a very busy month of releases, starting next Friday when the following albums are released:
    • Shovels & RopeLittle Seeds
    • Mo PitneyBehind This Guitar
    • Brent CobbSolving Problems
    • Matt WoodsHow To Survive 
  • Josh Abbott Band’s new single is “Amnesia” and it’s going for adds at country radio on October 17.
  • The Last Bandoleros released a self-titled, six song EP via digital services last week.

Throwback Thursday Song

Gary Stewart – “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles)” – I feel like a lot of week’s I’m picking too many well-known acts and songs so this week I wanted to find a deeper cut from the past. Stewart is sort of unsung when discussing the best country artists of the 70s, but he shouldn’t because his music is excellent. This is his biggest hit and one of my personal favorites.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial – So this is an album and group I’ve been hearing a lot about from fellow music fans and critics. It’s received widespread praise and finally I got around to checking it out. Well now I know why it’s getting so much praise. I’m not usually a big fan of emo indie rock, but the songwriting on display on this album is impeccable. Turns out Teens of Denial is the 10th studio album and 13th overall album by Car Seat Headrest and they’ve only been a band for six years. That’s insane! Check these guys out.

Tweet of the Week

The picture he’s referring to is John Prine hugging Isbell after he won Americana Song of the Year for “Something More Than Free” at the Americana Awards last week. I would be pretty damn happy to get a hug from a legend too.

A Spot-on Review of Luke Bryan’s New EP

luke-bryan-rehashed-bullshit

Luke Bryan released a new EP for his annual farm tour and predictably it’s not good. The only difference between it and his usual studio albums is here he thinks he can pander to farmers and the working people of America because I’m sure they see the millionaire artist who now sings about the clubs and dresses like a Nordstrom model as someone they can relate to (wanking motion). This listener above wasn’t fooled though and rightly calls him out.

Album Review – Darrell Scott’s ‘Couchville Sessions’

Darrell Scott Couchville Sessions

One of the reasons why I love Americana and great country music is the brilliant songwriting. The stories that the songs tell and the amount of emotions it brings out of the viewer is something you can’t put a price on. Derek pretty much hit the nail on the head in his piece last week on why songwriting is so important to him. Excellent songwriters don’t just spring out of thin air, so when I come across one I cherish their music. Darrell Scott is one of those few excellent songwriters. Scott of course is most well-known for penning such hits as “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” (a personal favorite of mine, most famously recorded by Brad Paisley), Travis Tritt’s “It’s A Great Day To Be Alive” and the Dixie Chicks’ hit “Long Time Gone.”

Scott is not one of flash and fame, but one of the most well-respected and revered songwriters in country and Americana circles. It’s been four years since he’s released an album of new material and he now returns with new music that really isn’t new in age. In fact they’re over a decade old. According to Garden and Gun, in the early 2000s Scott “recorded 45 songs in the living room of his house on Nashville’s Couchville Pike.” After sitting for around 15 years in a vault, Scott picked 14 of the songs (nine written by him and five covers of who he considers his heroes) out for his brand new album Couchville Sessions. And thank goodness Scott never forgot about them because this album is a master class in songwriting.

The opening track, “Down to the River”, really sets the tone for the whole album. The folksy, down to earth tone combined with sharp lyrics like when Scott sings, “and we won’t give a damn if it’s rock, folk, country or blues” really makes it easy to get into. From the first listen it drew me in and you’ll undoubtedly be singing along with it. At the end of the song, Scott’s friend and fellow singer-songwriter Guy Clark tells an anecdote about finding a crow’s nest made out of barbed wire. It’s really surreal to hear the recently passed icon tell the story and makes for one of the coolest moments I’ve heard in a song this year. The soulful “Waiting for the Clothes to Get Clean” really shows off Scott’s smooth as silk voice. He just makes it sound so flawless. The song itself is about a troubled relationship, in the most part because the guy in it is an asshole. The bluesy guitars cut through the lyrics like a hot knife through butter.

“It’s Time to Go Away” is about a relationship coming to an end and the man realizing he’s leaving for all of the right reasons. It’s really hard to describe how great of a songwriter Darrell Scott is and this song is a perfect example. The story is simple, yet told so vividly you can picture the song in your head instantly. It’s just something you have to hear. Scott covers Johnny Cash’s “Big River” next. The song is about a man following his woman down the Mississippi River, as she seems to care more about living life down throughout the river than be with him. Scott definitely does the Man in Black justice with the cover. One of my favorites on Couchville Sessions is “Love Is The Reason.” The soaring instrumentation and Scott’s voice just mesh so well on this song about love.

Another cover on the album is Hank Williams’ “Ramblin’ Man.” Darrell Scott’s version is slower and more melancholy. Or to put it more bluntly, it’s pretty damn sad. It’s the kind of song you play after a brutal breakup and play while you sit in the dark and drink. That’s probably the way Hank would have preferred it too. Only the truly patient will want to sit and listen all the way through this nearly seven-minute song, but it is worth it. “It’s About Time” is perhaps the darkest song on the album. Scott deals with his own mortality and the legacy you leave behind when you die. As he explains on the song, he’s lived it all and when death comes he will be ready. But it shouldn’t be sad because from a fallen tree new sprouts will emerge. It’s the circle of life. The Celtic folk sound really jives well with the lyrics on this song. It’s yet another example of why Darrell Scott is so respected by fellow writers and artists.

This is followed by Scott’s cover of Peter Rowan’s “Moonlight Midnight.” Rowan himself joins Scott on the song and they sound great together. It’s the most rock-influenced track on the album and features some stellar electric guitar play. Scott pokes fun at radio DJs on “Morning Man.” This is evident by the lines about getting a fat man to laugh at his jokes and signing autographs at the mall. It shows Scott has a humorous side too and helps break up some of the more serious songs on the album. I know I got some good laughs. The icing on the cake to me is how Scott makes the song sound exactly like old morning radio shows bumpers; really light, catchy and even a call name. The romantic “Come Into This Room” follows and I just have to say it’s refreshing to hear a song striving to be romantic is actually romantic. After hearing so many hackneyed attempts at this by popular country artists, my ears almost forgot what a romantic love song should sound like. So I extend a thank you to Scott for redeeming my faith that these songs can still exist.

“Loretta” is the third cover song on the album and it’s by the legendary Townes Van Zandt. Scott really hits a home run with the cover songs he chooses and of course you never go wrong with a Townes song. When it comes to Van Zandt songs, you just need to hear them for yourself. The final cover song on the album is James Taylor’s “Another Grey Morning.” The song is about waking up and living out the same things each day. The woman in the song is so exasperated with the monotony that she thinks she would maybe rather have death over another grey morning. It’s a little extreme, but for anyone who has felt depressed, they could relate to the feeling. Couchville Sessions closes out with “Free (This Is The Love Song).” It’s what it says it is, as Scott sings a love song he probably should have sung sooner to a woman he loves. It comes from a man who has experienced life and realizes he’s made mistakes along the way and this is one he’s trying to amend. It’s another nugget of wisdom Scott imparts upon the listener.

Upon the very first listen of Couchville Sessions, I instantly connected with it and loved it. It’s like a long-lost friend you knew you never had and found again. If you’re not familiar with the work of Darrell Scott, just listen to this once and you’ll be blown away. The songwriting is fantastic and the instrumentation is pretty damn good too. The only thing I would say I don’t like about the album is it runs a tad too long at 14 songs, even though every single song is good. It’s hard to believe these songs have just been sitting around for 15 years. We can only hope we hear the rest of the 45 songs recorded in that same session. In the meantime I can’t recommend Couchville Sessions enough. You aren’t going to get too much better than this.

Grade: 9/10

Josh’s Top Ten Country Songs – May 2015

May 2015

May was absolutely stacked! Every week there was some sort of great country music being released. The two top contenders for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year award were released. These two artists’ albums take up the majority of the top ten. A debut solo album from a Texas country artist turned heads and an EP from one of the best in mainstream country music impressed me. On top of that the most country album of the year from a talented duo blew me away. Choosing this month’s top ten was very difficult, so if a favorite of yours didn’t make it just know the competition was fierce. So without further ado the top ten country songs of May…

  1. Whitey Morgan – “Still Drunk, Still Crazy, Still Blue” – This is not only the best song of the month for me, but one of the best of the year. Morgan absolutely hit a home run with this Scott H. Biram song. It has the perfect amount of emotion, edge and twangy steel guitar. This was one of many great songs on the excellent Sonic Ranch album.
  2. Chris Stapleton – “Parachute” – The other phenomenal album released in May was Chris Stapleton’s Traveller, which produced plenty of stunning songs. My favorite though is the rollicking “Parachute,” written by Stapleton and Jim Beavers. The lyrics are fantastic and catchy too. The instrumentation and Stapleton’s vocals are flawless.
  3. Chris Stapleton – “Whiskey and You” – I went back and forth on choosing where these two Stapleton songs should be placed. If you ask me tomorrow, I would maybe move “Whiskey and You” up to #2. Tim McGraw and Jason Eady originally recorded this song before Stapleton, but neither did the song as much justice as Stapleton. He wrote the song so I’m not too surprised his performance is the best, but what makes his version stand out is the stripped down instrumentation allowing Stapleton’s vocals to shine.
  4. Whitey Morgan – “Waitin’ Round To Die” – On my first few listens of the Sonic Ranch album, this wasn’t one of my favorites. As I’ve listened to it more though, this song just gets better every time I hear it. Townes Van Zandt wrote this song years ago and never even knew who Morgan was when he wrote it, but this just feels tailor-made for Whitey. His bellowing vocals and the gritty theme of the album just all fits so well around this song. I can’t imagine another artist covering this song better.
  5. Jon Pardi – “Borrowed Time” – Nine times out of ten mainstream country music has been giving us crap in 2015. But when we get that one time that’s good, it’s freaking great. Jon Pardi’s new EP The B-Sides, 2011-2014 is a must-buy for country music fans. The whole thing is great, but the song that stands out the most is the emotional “Borrowed Time” that deals with how short life is and how you should remember to live life to the fullest. Bravo to Pardi for pushing to have this EP released. It proves he’s the real deal and someone to keep an eye on.
  6. Jamie Lin Wilson – “Roses By The Dozen” – Jamie Lin Wilson had been part of numerous groups in her music career up to this point, but she’s now on her own and her debut album Holidays & Wedding Rings proves that she can hold her own as a solo artist. “Roses By The Dozen” is a chilling murder ballad that gave me goosebumps on the first listen. It’s not completely obvious the wife in the song murdered her husband until midway through the song, but when that obvious moment emerges it blows the listeners’ minds.
  7. The Malpass Brothers – “Here In Alberta I’ll Stay” – Who are these guys? This is a young duo determined to be as country as possible. I’ve been dying to review their self-titled album that was just released and you’ll finally get to see it tomorrow. So you’ll see more on this tomorrow. For now give a listen for yourself.
  8. Chris Stapleton – “Sometimes I Cry” – This is the third song on the list for Stapleton and it’s the closing song on Traveller. Stapleton performed this song live in front of a small group in the iconic RCA Studio A. Stapleton crams all of his emotion into this song and then some. His voice shines many times on the album, but it arguably shines brightest on this song.
  9. Whitey Morgan – “That’s How I Got To Memphis” – Whitey once again covered a song from an iconic country artist perfectly. This time it’s a Tom T. Hall song and closes out Sonic Ranch with a bang. I think many listeners will overlook this song, but I personally think it’s a great heartbreak ballad that Whitey delivers well.
  10. The Malpass Brothers – “It’ll Be Me” – Once again wait until tomorrow. Older readers and country historians will recognize that this is a Jerry Lee Lewis song. The Malpass Brothers brilliantly cover it.

 

Honorable Mentions:

  • Chris Stapleton – “More of You” & “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore”
  • Whitey Morgan – “Leavin’ Again” & “Me and the Whiskey”
  • Jon Pardi – “Rainy Night Song” & “Drinkin’ With Me”
  • Jamie Lin Wilson – “Just Some Things (feat. Wade Bowen)” & “Yours & Mine”
  • Mickey Guyton – “Why Baby Why” & “Somebody Else Will”
  • Miranda Lambert – “Roots and Wings”

 

Album Review – Whitey Morgan’s ‘Sonic Ranch’ is Absolutely Amazing

Whitey Morgan Sonic Ranch

I’ve been waiting for months to write a review for this album. I fortunately received an early copy of this album and I’ve been listening to it ever since. When I hear something this great, I want to tell everyone about it. Now I finally can. Before I even write the review I’m just going to tell you right now: go buy Whitey Morgan’s Sonic Ranch. When I alluded to there being at least one album of the year candidate being released in May, many of you assumed I was referring to Chris Stapleton’s Traveller album. Well that wasn’t it, as that surprised me. This is the album I was referring to. Morgan, a Flint, Michigan native, along with his band the 78s delivered an album that even surpasses Traveller in my mind. It’s that damn great. This is music straight out of the Waylon Jennings era of country music. I think you get the picture, so without further I’m going to break down this phenomenal album the best I can, even though I know my words won’t do it justice.

Sonic Ranch starts off with “Me and the Whiskey,” which immediately establishes the theme of this album: gritty, booze drenched heartache and pain. In this song the man has given up on pretty much everything, from God to his mom to cocaine. It’s now just him and his whiskey as he drinks everything away. It’s a great song to kick off this album and prepares the listener for the rest of the album experience. Morgan gives us pure, honky tonk country goodness with “LowDown on the Backstreets.” Really the entire album is honky-tonk country, but this one sticks out to me because of its brilliant instrumentation. The steel guitar and piano are perfect in this song. Next is the Townes Van Zandt penned “Waitin’ Round To Die.” Morgan does the famous Texas songwriter justice in this cover and fits perfectly with the theme of the album. The song tells the story of a man who’s lived a hard life. This includes growing up with separated parents, a woman stealing all of his money and getting thrown into prison for two years. When he does get out his only friend now is codeine, which he says doesn’t drink, smoke or lie to him like everyone else in his life. It’s an emotional song that you really need to hear for yourself.

Even though it’s hard to pick a favorite on an album as good as this one, “Still Drunk, Still Crazy, Still Blue” stands out a little more for me than the rest. Everything in this song works so well together that I liken it to a well-oiled machine. You couldn’t make it any better. The punctuating moment of this song is when Whitey croons out, “Well I’m still drunk, still blue, I’m still all fucked up over you/I’m still stoned, I’m still alone.” It really helps paint the picture of a heartbroken man drinking himself silly. It may seem like a simple song, but the emotions and instrumentation really make this song special. “Leavin’ Again” is about a man who continues to watch his woman leave him over and over again. It tears him up so much that he “shakes and cries like a child.” He admits he hasn’t been his best, but he still wants another chance. It’s a fantastic heartbreak song that expresses the emotion of it so well.

The next song, “Goin’ Down Rock,” seems to be the epilogue to “Leavin’ Again.” The man is basically sleeping around and refuses to go down unless he “goes down rocking.” Basically he wants to live life as hard as possible and won’t go down unless he’s doing it full throttle. Once again the steel guitars are just fantastic. The quietest track on the album is “Good Timin’ Man,” a song about a man struggling to be his normal self due to his alcohol and relationship problems. He’s able to put on the façade when he’s in front of everyone, but deep down he’s hurting. The choice of alternating between an acoustic guitar and pedal steel guitar throughout is great. “Drunken Nights in the City” sets the scene of the grimy and seedy underbelly of cities across America. Morgan warns of shady characters and crooks ready to “take you for more than you know.” When Morgan seeks redemption from a preacher, the preacher tells him he’s been on the streets far too long. In other words, he’s broke beyond repair, as the streets have become a part of him. Again Morgan does a brilliant job of painting the scene in listeners’ heads.

The penultimate song on the album, “Ain’t Gonna Take It Anymore,” is about a man who catches flack from his woman about screwing around and finding some incriminating stuff on his phone. Fed up, the man sets out into town with a bottle of whiskey in his hand to drink her away. While at the bar he finds a woman whose beauty strikes him, but that’s when he notices her husband looking at him in a drunken stupor, who warns him to get the hell out of there. That’s when the man realizes he’s bitten off more than he can chew and heads home, where he should have stayed in the first place. It’s a self-deprecating song with the right mix of humor and reality. Sonic Ranch closes out with “That’s How I Got To Memphis,” the story of how a man ended up in Memphis because he followed his love there. She ended up leaving, but he doesn’t regret following his heart. He still loves her and wants to find her to tell her this, as he seems to be determined to go wherever to win her heart. It’s a touching love song that beautifully caps off the album.

What makes this album stand out above a lot of other country albums released so far is how cohesive and tight-knit everything is on this album. The instrumentation and the production is flat-out perfect. The lyrics are emotional and tell brilliant stories throughout it. Morgan’s bellowing voice reminds me of a lot of Waylon Jennings and Sturgill Simpson, yet Whitey is much more gruff and gritty giving it a different texture compared to the likes of Jennings and Simpson. The album is the exact right length of 10 songs. It leaves no room for unnecessary filler that can bring the quality down. It’s straight, no-holds barred, outlaw-style country music that will leave you wanting more. This is the kind of album that will make people take notice of Whitey Morgan and put him on the radar of country music fans everywhere. This is an artist and album everyone needs to hear. Sonic Ranch right now is one of the top candidates for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year. There are very few country albums better than this one.

Grade: 10/10

For those who collect vinyl, you can purchase this album in three different colors (standard black, white, orange) off of Whitey’s website right here.