Review – Turnpike Troubadours’ “Come As You Are”

Featured on Bruce Robison’s new web series The Next Waltz, the Turnpike Troubadours revealed a new single titled “Come As You Are.” Robison’s series is dedicated to giving music fans a more intimate look at songwriting and life on the road through interviews. With the Turnpike Troubadours, we see Robison speak with the band about finding their footing in the early years with clips of them rehearsing “Come As You Are” spliced into the interview, even seeing Bruce coach the band through the opening bars of the song as they finalize the musical arrangement. The Turnpike Troubadours recorded the song in Robison’s studio in Lockhart, Texas.

“Come As You Are” opens with a solemn guitar riff, quickly joined by steel guitar ring and a quiet drum beat. The waltz tune carries traditional country sounds throughout the track, with the steel guitar and fiddle chiming in during the chorus and solos. The verses are underscored with a drum beat and acoustic guitar strum. Frontman Evan Felker sings of being reckless and careless, drinking too much and how those actions affect his relationship, hooking the story with the chorus’ final lines “I wake in the morning to start out my day to the sound of you walking away.” The band chimes in during the chorus with all their voices singing in harmony, something that’s rarely heard on the band’s albums so far. As Felker tells Robison in the interview, “The last verse is about going duck hunting and realizing you’re a jerk. Getting somewhere, sobering up, and getting your mind right, and realizing what you’re missing out on.” After a rough beginning to the year in which Evan Felker was criticized by fans after a few drunken performances, the lyrics to this song almost feel like a confession from Felker, addressing those actions and how a heavy reliance on alcohol can negatively affect your life.

The Turnpike Troubadours absolutely deliver a great, timeless country song with “Come As You Are.” A common description for country music is “3 chords and the truth” and that’s essentially what the Oklahoma band has delivered here. The lyrics are painfully honest and beautifully delivered with a musical arrangement that showcases the best sounds of country music. There’s no word about a follow-up album to their excellent self-titled from last year, but even just one new song from the Turnpike Troubadours is exciting because they’re one of the best bands making country music today. “Come As You Are” is no exception to that.

Grade: 10/10

Written by Evan Felker and Rhett Miller

Album Review – Randy Rogers Band’s ‘Nothing Shines Like Neon’

Randy Rogers Band Nothing Shines Like Neon

If you asked me to list the ten artists in 2015 in country music who had the best year, Randy Rogers would be near the top of this list. His collaboration album Hold My Beer Vol. 1 with buddy and fellow Texas country artist Wade Bowen was one of the best of 2015 and reminded everybody just how great these two are at making music. It felt like many country fans had forgotten about them, especially after their less than stellar stints on major labels in Nashville for the last few years. But now both have returned to their roots in Texas and are wholeheartedly pursuing the music they want to make.

Rogers is back with new music again in 2016, with his own Randy Rogers Band. The group is made up of Rogers, Geoffrey Hill (guitar), Jon Richardson (bass guitar), Brady Black (fiddle) and Les Lawless (drums). It’s been three years since they’ve released an album of new music. Combined with the intriguing details that have been revealed in the months leading up to this new album (being produced by the well-known Buddy Cannon and the announced collaborations most notably), it’s something many country fans have been anxiously anticipating to hear. Rogers and the band promised that this new album, Nothing Shines Like Neon, would be full of traditional country music. And after listening to this album several times, I can say they wholeheartedly lived up to this promise.

The album begins with the easy-going “San Antone.” It’s an ode to Texas and how proud they are to be back home in Texas after trying their hand in Nashville for the past several years. It’s sort of their re-introduction as a Texas country band and an appropriate opener for the album. Plus it’s quite catchy and features plenty of fiddle and steel guitar. But this is something I can say about the entire album. This is followed by the romantic ballad “Rain And The Radio.” The song is about the power being out and a couple being together in the darkness of their house. I know some listeners will express concern this song is too much like the romantic slow-jams on country radio the past few years, but I don’t think this is in that territory. This song is sincere in its romantic intentions and implies it’s more than quick fling, but rather an honest, loving moment between two people. That being said it is one of the weaker songs of the album, although not a bad song in any way.

“Neon Blues” is your classic drinking song about a woman trying to drink her heartbreak away. The woman isn’t in any mood to talk about it, but rather continue to put back shots to dull her pain. After you hear this song a few times, you’ll undoubtedly catch yourself humming it randomly as I’ve found out (this is a good thing). One of the standouts of Nothing Shines Like Neon is “Things I Need To Quit.” It’s about a man realizing a list of habits he needs to quit, most importantly a woman from his past he can’t let go of. He knows he needs to move on and quit waiting around for her to come back because it’s never going to happen. The songwriting on this song is great and really captures the feelings of someone experiencing this well.

Randy Rogers Band team up with the talented Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski on “Look Out Yonder.” This is another song that demonstrates just how far and how great this band has become over the years. Perhaps a self-reflection song for Rogers, it’s about a man returning home to his family and how he’s been many things over the years, but has always had the best intentions in mind. The instrumentation and production are light-weight, which is quite beneficial the song. This really lets the lyrics shine and tell the story at hand, allowing the listener to connect with the song and experience their own feelings with it. For many this will probably be their favorite song on Nothing Shines Like Neon.

Following this is “Tequila Eyes,” a song about a woman drinking tequila to drown her sorrows away, but as her friends explains it can only hide her true feelings for so long. It’s a solid drinking song with some great fiddle play and slightly catchy lyrics. Nothing Shines Like Neon is at it’s most fun and exciting on “Taking It As It Comes.” Rogers duets with the Texas country music icon Jerry Jeff Walker and their voices go together perfectly. Walker hasn’t missed a beat after all these years. The instrumentation is fantastic, blending piano, fiddle, steel and electric guitar throughout. It’s just one of those songs where you just can’t help to move your feet and sing along with it.

There are a lot of really good songs on this album, but none are better than “Old Moon New.” It’s a tender love ballad about a man nervously trying to profess his love to a woman through various ways. Whether it’s his love letter that he knows has a “thousand clichés” or the eleven red roses he gives her just to shake it up from the usual number, he knows the love he feels for her. He knows there’s nothing new being done under the old moon that night, but she makes it feel new when she’s with him. It’s such a refreshing and enjoyable take on the romantic, moonlight, country ballad that has been tainted in recent years. This is the type of song I could have easily seen Alan Jackson and George Strait cutting back in the 90s, with the genuine lyrics and heavy steel guitar and fiddle.

“Meet Me Tonight” is your classic “ex regret” song, as a man reaches out to a woman from his past to meet up with him tonight to rekindle a lost love. But it’s not going to be successful, as it’s just a failed relapse out of desperation. This song has the misfortune of following the best one on the album, but you shouldn’t overlook it. Jamey Johnson joins the band on the next song, “Actin’ Crazy.” Johnson did a lot of cool collaborations with fellow country artists in 2015 and to start off 2016 he’s part of another. It’s another really fun song and features the best and most witty line of the album when the duo utters, “The rent is high as Willie.” That definitely made me chuckle. Randy Rogers Band did one hell of a job picking guest artists for this album and it’s reminder that more country artists need to do fun collaborations like the ones on this album.

Nothing Shines Like Neon is capped off with “Pour One For The Poor One,” another strongly traditional country song with plenty of fiddle and steel guitar. A man has had his heart-broken after professing his love for a woman and she responds by leaving in the middle of the night. Now he’s stuck on a bar stool and asking the bartender to continue to poor out the drinks for his “poor, pitiful” self. Once again the band captures the feeling of heartbreak perfectly.

The year 2016 is quite young, but I can say with certainty that Randy Rogers Band has released the first great country album of the year with Nothing Shines Like Neon. It’s an album full of entertaining and engaging traditional country music that is sure to wet the whistle of any country fan. Randy Rogers Band does a fantastic job of balancing serious songs and fun songs. I was most impressed by the depth of the serious songs, one of the few small concerns I had coming into this album. I always knew they could make entertaining, fun songs, but to make as great of love ballads as they did on this album it demonstrates to me how much this band has grown. This is a big step forward for Randy Rogers Band and reminds everyone that they’re still one of the best in the Texas country scene. Traditional country music doesn’t get much better than it does on Nothing Shines Like Neon.

Grade: 9/10

The Hodgepodge: What I’d Like to See From Country Music in 2016

A new year brings forth the desire to reflect upon the past year. What went well, what went poorly, what can we learn, and how can we improve. That’s sort of the universal mindset for most of us in early January, and that’s the mindset I’m going to use for this first Hodgepodge of 2016. Last year had quite a bit of buzz worthy events in country music from Keith Hill’s comments regarding females on radio to Chris Stapleton’s rise and triumph at the CMAs. But instead of looking back at the year that was 2015, I want to approach this as how can we build on what happened in 2015 to make 2016 a great year for country and Americana music.

These aren’t predictions or theories of what I think may happen. These are merely my hopes for what I’d like to see happen. This is how I’d like to see country music (primarily mainstream country music) move forward in 2016. I realize some of these hopes may be outlandish and not as realistic as others given the culture of country music right now. The overall goal of this first Hodgepodge is to get a discussion moving about country music in 2016.

More Traditional Country Music on Radio

The success of Chris Stapleton as 2015 came to a close should not be taken lightly. Stapleton’s Traveller was released to critical acclaim, and his three CMAs in November proved traditional sounding country music still had popular appeal. Kacey Musgraves continued her commitment to traditional country music with Pageant Material. While her sophomore album didn’t quite have the same success as Stapleton this year, Musgraves still has some popular appeal maintaining a steady headlining tour in support of the new album. And, of course, Sturgill Simpson has signed on with a major label and may release an album this year.

Traditional newcomers like Mo Pitney, Jake Worthington, and William Jake Worthington EPMichael Morgan have released singles and EPs that have impressed critics. Jana Kramer found success with her single “I Got The Boy”, a ballad that calls back to the sounds of 90s country. And The Dixie Chicks, one of the top acts in country in the past 15 years, has announced a reunion tour which could result in new music. I hope more and more artists with a traditional leaning style come out of the woodwork, including full length albums from several of the aforementioned artists. The demand for more traditional country music is high, and the supply appears to be growing. I’d like to see more traditional country music on the radio, especially if Stapleton’s “Nobody to Blame” charts well.

A Radio Split

The mere fact that Billboard has recently added a new country chart solely dedicated to radio play (the Hot Country Songs chart takes streaming and digital sales into account) tells me that radio is still an important media source even in this digital age today. If traditional country music does gain more popularity while singers like Sam Hunt, Luke Bryan, and Kelsea Ballerini continue to spew pop garbage onto country radio, I think the argument for radio split could be reignited. Putting traditional singers on their own format with newcomers and legends alike will allow fans to listen to that music on radio without having to wait for “Break Up in a Small Town” and “Home Alone Tonight” to play first.

Bigger Spotlight on Americana and Indie Country

Dave Cobb winning a CMA award for Chris Stapleton’s Traveller was huge. Cobb has produced many critically acclaimed albums for artists like Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell. Those two artists have gained more popularity in their own independent music world. And as Saving Country Music suggested, Miranda Lambert dating indie rocker Anderson East could lead to more eyes on the indie music side of things. 2015 saw many non-mainstream artists have number one albums and earn new fans. Even Kacey Musgraves pushed her new music to Americana radio. Americana radio could grow this year, giving these true artists a much deserved audience increase.

137650_4657More Females on Radio

In the wake of Keith Hill’s tomato comments, we saw Kelsea Ballerini get a number one single. Newcomer Cam peaked at number 2 with “Burning House” on the Airplay Charts, and Carrie Underwood had a few singles find some great, if still underwhelming, chart success. Mickey Guyton’s “Better Than You Left Me” received more radio adds upon its release than any other artist ever. More awareness was brought to the disparity between male and female artists in regards to radio play, and I hope 2016 continues the trend of bringing more females onto country radio. There’s a talented pool of women who are ignored.

Mainstream Country Music Defining Itself/Gatekeepers

The term “country music” is rather arbitrary these days. You have club songs like “Beautiful Drug” and R&B inspired pop songs like “Break Up in a Small Town” sitting in the top 30 of the Country Airplay chart, alongside truer country songs like “Nobody to Blame.” It doesn’t matter what the song sounds like, if it’s labeled country, it’ll be played on country radio. It’s this type of saturation of musical forms which should drive a split. But if the radio split does not happen, country music is in desperate need of a gatekeeper to tell Sam Hunt to take his shitty pop music out of Nashville and onto top-40 pop radio.

Fair Payouts from Streaming

This is more concerned with the music business as a whole, but something that’s important in this day and age. Apple Music, Amazon, Pandora, Spotify and others are growing the availability of online music streaming. We’ve seen several complaints about the low artist payouts that come from Spotify play counts. If music continues to trend toward online streaming options and away from standard radio, then these companies need to find a better way to compensate the artists whose music is played on these services. Or music listeners just need to suck it up and pay $12 for an album if they want to listen to the music uninterrupted.

Upcoming/Recent Music Releases

Josh covered the upcoming album releases earlier this week, but here are few known coming single releases:

  • Trace Adkins’ “Jesus and Jones” goes for radio adds on January 19.
  • Old Dominion’s newest single for radio is “Snapback”
  • Cole Swindell’s newest single is called “You Should Be Here.”
  • Drake White has a new single out called “Livin’ The Dream.” Zack’s first post for Country Perspective will be a review for the song published tomorrow.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Yesterday’s Wine” by George Jones & Merle Haggard. “Yesterday’s Wine” was written by and originally recorded by Willie Nelson in 1971, but I’ll admit that I like Jones & Haggard’s cover better. The song is great, and Blackberry Smoke even has a cover which they recorded with George Jones and Jamey Johnson.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week


Twenty One Pilots – Blurryface. I listened to a lot of Alternative Rock music over my Christmas vacation and heard “Stressed Out” quite a bit. I hadn’t listened to Twenty One Pilots at all before then, but I was intrigued and liked their album Blurryface. The album was released early last year, but it’s a good one to revisit.

Tweet of the Week

Hard to argue with that.

Two iTunes Reviews That I Don’t Understand

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The top review was left under Chris Stapleton’s Traveller. I don’t understand how you can listen to Chris Stapleton sing and think his voice is the worst thing ever.

The second review was for Old Dominion’s Meat and Candy. The worst album of 2015 deserves some more hating on. I don’t understand how you could possibly compare Old Dominion to Alabama.

Both reviews are just absurd.

Note from the author: I’m happy to take the reigns of The Hodgepodge back from Josh after a short hiatus last year. The end of 2015 was insanely busy for me at work and at home (all good things!). But things have calmed down for now and I’m glad to have more time to write again. 

I omitted the “This Day in Country Music History” for this week. Was this a category you enjoyed to read when I wrote The Hodgepodge last year? If so, I’ll gladly bring it back. If not, I’ll come up with something else to add to the feature. Thanks!

Country Perspective’s 2015 Duo/Group of the Year

When it came to determining the winner for Group or Duo of the year, the main factor we took into determination was impact. All five groups we nominated delivered quality music and carry a dedicated fan base, but which of the five made the biggest impact to Country and Americana music? Maddie & Tae’s Start Here left quite the impact on mainstream country. Start Here is a great album and showed that Maddie & Tae are poised to take a position of leadership in country music, but this is just the beginning for the duo. The fact remains that they have room to grow and certainly have the potential to improve, build off Start Here and be the female leaders of country music that the Dixie Chicks were once upon a time. However, there was one other pair whose traditional country music album release left a bit bigger impact. Country Perspective’s 2015 Duo of the Year is Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen.

Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen’s Hold My Beer album was a career defining album for each Texas singer. In a time where Texas country musicians continue to let the new Nashville sound influence their music more, blurring the line that once separated Texas country from the rest of the genre, Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen showed leadership expected from two of the genre’s most well-known names.

Rogers and Bowen both dabbled their feet on a mainstream label, while not entirely abandoning their roots in the process. After failing to make a mainstream impact, they’ve both returned to independent labels for their new music. Rogers and Bowen said country music can still be country music and proved it with Hold My Beer. From traditional country heartbreak in “Til It Does” to fun protest with “Standards;” from covers of country greats like Merle Haggard to originals celebrating friendship, Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen let their talents speak for themselves. And even though “Standards” was rightfully named Song of the Year, “El Dorado”, the five-minute chronicle of a dying cowboy, may be the album’s best song. Randy & Wade are established enough in the genre where their decisions carry more weight than newcomers. In respect to their position in the genre, this leadership in the fight for traditional country music cannot go unnoticed.

Randy Rogers has been hard at work this year with his own band recording new music. He has promised that the band’s new album due out next month will continue his delivery of traditional country music. This year Wade Bowen also appeared on Jamie Lin Wilson’s debut album in a traditional country duet about lovers regretting their affair. Hold My Beer doesn’t appear to be an anomaly, as both Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen seem poised to continue bringing traditional country music to the forefront of the genre.

The Hodgepodge: Is Country Music at the Point of No Return?

Country Picture

A couple of months ago, Josh published a two-part Hodgepodge series about the mainstream country bubble on the verge of bursting. (Read part 1 and part 2 for some background). Call this an indirect continuation of that series, if you will. It’s no secret that mainstream country has been consistently low quality this year. How many new singles have Josh and I graded at three or lower in 2015? Quite a few; and the output from country’s biggest artists don’t appear to change that trend anytime soon.

The question I want to explore today is if country music has reached the point of no return? Has Music Row spread itself too thin with trend chasing and genre experimentation to return mainstream country to its roots? When I was at the Cody Canada & The Departed show last Saturday, the band played a Hank Cochran cover song. Before doing so, Cody Canada addressed the crowd and said, “Once upon a time ago, there was this thing called country music. You guys remember that?” While extreme, the comment was directed to Nashville and is rather true. That comment got me wondering if mainstream country could ever return to being country.

Luke Bryan’s new song debut from the upcoming Kill the Lights is an R&B influenced sex ballad called “Strip it Down.” It sounds similar to the likes of Chase Rice’s “Gonna Wanna Tonight” and “Ride.” Jason Aldean’s last couple songs since “Burnin’ It Down” have been R&B influenced. With two of the biggest superstars out of Nashville pumping this trend out, we can expect this to only be the beginning. It’s happening because some audience focus group responded well to this trend, so the powers that be in Music Row have adopted it as the next trend to follow tailgate parties.

The immense backlash from us and our fellow critics like Grady Smith, Trigger, and Farce the Music are just a snapshot of the negative feedback reaching the attention of said superstars. That’s why we’ve been treated to complaint after complaint about these guys hating the bro-country criticism; that’s why Luke Bryan is one of the many to get immediately defensive about his music when someone even mentions the word “party.”

Trigger at Saving Country Music penned a letter to Luke Bryan encouraging Bryan, arguably the biggest name in mainstream country right now, to step up and show some leadership. The Tennessean argues that it may take more than just one artist to lead the charge for better quality. But will anyone step up and take the necessary leadership, or are the stadium sellout tours too infectious and blinding to anything else? These stadium tours are killing the culture that built country music.

As trends continue to evolve, country music seems willing to bend and go where the wind blows. This creates two problems: Firstly, building new artists/careers around these trends doesn’t allow these artists to develop a sustainable musical identity to carry them past said trend. Secondly, as discussed on Twitter by Grady Smith, these new artists being put in opening slots on arena and stadium tours doesn’t develop their skills to perform in other capacities.

The songs are built to be like arena anthems; the songs’ hooks are the key component for these openers to attract a crowd that probably doesn’t care about anyone on the stage before 9pm. So when these same artists transplant themselves onto a stage like the Opry, it’s awkward because they don’t know how to perform in that more intimate, listening-centered environment. Watch a recent Opry performance of Michael Ray’s “Kiss You in The Morning” vs. Ashley Monroe’s “The Blade” or Will Hoge’s “Little Bitty Dreams.” Ray isn’t engaged with the crowd beyond the people up front, as he has no idea how to get the crowd’s attention beyond his stage persona. Whereas Monroe or Hoge simply stand in the circle and let their music and delivery draw the crowd in; a skill they’ve mastered through their countless shows in smaller settings like bars. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that both songs are simply better than “Kiss You in The Morning.”

I’m not convinced that mainstream country can ever fully revive itself at this point. Country music is trying too hard to be everything but country, and it’s alienating the country fans that originally brought these superstars to their pedestal. I think the trend chasing and desire to sell out stadium shows have created a new culture that’ll continue to expand itself into every popular genre until no one cares about it anymore. The “rock is dead” comparisons to country music today aren’t that far off. Thankfully, the spirit of country music is alive and well in independent artists, and the Americana genre has adopted those more traditional country artists and roots rockers.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

Today in Country Music History

  • Alison Krauss (1971), Neil Perry of The Band Perry (1990), and Danielle Bradbery (1996) all celebrate birthdays today.
  • Alan Jackson tops the charts in 1994 with his cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues.”
  • Vern Gosdin has the #1 song on Billboard in 1983 with “Set ‘Em Up Joe.”

Throwback Thursday Song

“Don’t Close Your Eyes” by Keith Whitley. Whitley left this world way too soon in 1989. Keith Whitley is one of country’s many great vocalists and made quite the impact in the late 80s. “Don’t Close Your Eyes” was his first number one single, and was the start of five straight for Keith in 1988 and 1989.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Wilco’s Star Wars. This was a surprise release from the band last Friday. I honestly haven’t listened to any of Wilco’s music before, but I was intrigued to see an album named Star Wars, and even more curious with an album cover of a fluffy white cat and flowers. This album is an experimental rock album that’s as random and unpredictable as life itself. It may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but I found the album to be enjoyable.

Tweet of the Week

Divorce is never an easy thing to go through, and it sucks that Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert couldn’t make their marriage work. At the end of the day, they’re still people. They asked for privacy to deal with the issue, but I can understand why media outlets nationwide would want to publish the initial news of the divorce.

However, our favorite corporate country tabloids in The Boot and Taste of Country took it a step further. They published article after article of a Blake and Miranda relationship timeline, a photo montage/slideshow of the couple during their time together, and reaching for conclusions and making assumptions as to why Miranda may have gotten more emotional than usual during a recent concert. To be frank, it pissed me off seeing those headlines. Exploiting personal, private issues for site traffic is low.

An iTunes Review to Make You Cringe

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This was left under Luke Bryan’s Kill the Lights. This is just one of many positive reviews of people already in love with an album that hasn’t been released yet.