Album Review – Cody Jinks’ ‘I’m Not the Devil’

Cody Jinks I'm Not the Devil

Combine the steel guitars and fiddles with Cody Jinks’ honest, heartfelt writing and a baritone twang, and you’ll find just about every factor that exemplifies what hardcore country fans look for in traditional country music. Jinks’ 2015 Adobe Sessions introduced him to a slew of fans, and now Jinks is on the road with Whitey Morgan, bringing hardcore, traditional country music to fans across the nation. And there’s absolutely no doubt that Cody Jinks’ new album I’m Not the Devil is not only traditional country, but will be one of the better traditional country albums of the year. Every song on the album is undeniably country, and Jinks truly digs deep with his approach to the songwriting, opening up his soul and struggles for the world to hear.

The ring of a steel guitar runs through the speakers as “The Same” kicks off the album. Jinks takes a subtle, yet effective approach while singing about catching up with an old flame. She pops up rather unexpectedly and strikes up a small talk conversation. While she has moved on after the end, he hints to her that his feelings haven’t changed much. Following is what can truly be described as the album’s theme with “I’m Not the Devil.” It was one of the last songs written and recorded for the album and “I’m Not the Devil” fit as the album name because it’s message permeates throughout the rest of the album. “I’m not the devil you think that I am. It ain’t no excuse, but I’m just a man. I slipped and I fell and got out of hand, but I’m not the devil you think that I am.” Many of the album’s songs deal with a man’s internal struggle between right and wrong, angels vs. demons, God vs. the Devil: coping with past mistakes and trying to move forward in a more positive way.

Cody Jinks relies on religious imagery to help tell these stories. “No Guarantees” opens up with Jinks talking about his religious upbringing. With childlike naivety, he believes reading the Bible and knowing Jesus’ words are enough to keep temptations at bay. But the reality is there are demons and temptations in his life, and it takes action and effort from a person to battle them. One thing I like about I’m Not the Devil is how Cody Jinks balances ballads with more upbeat country songs, while making the melodies work with the written material. “No Guarantees” is one of the faster tracks on the album, but it doesn’t take away from Jinks’ words and message.

“No Words” is an honest confession from a husband to his wife. He understands that he hasn’t been the best person and has made mistakes, drank too much, and not treated her well. He sees how she continues to stand beside him and not lose faith, and her devotion encourages him. He vows to be better and show her the same love. It’s a well written, touching, honest love song. “Give All You Can” is the longest song on the album, and brings out a load of passion from Jinks. From the quiet combo of a steel guitar and piano, the song evolves and grows into a musical crescendo over the five minutes. Referencing his dark places and tortured soul and being encouraged by Matthew 5, Jesus’ sermon on the mount, Jinks realizes that life needs to be lived with purpose and meaning. One mark of a great song is how it’s indescribable in what makes it great. That’s what you have with “Give All You Can”; words don’t do it justice.

“She’s All Mine” is a lighthearted love song with a simple upbeat rhythm. Jinks sings lyrics praising the great qualities in his wife, and how much he appreciates her presence in his life. Since I’m Not the Devil has such a heavy, dark mood, the song is a nice break in the mold. With that said, though, “She’s All Mine” also stands out because the writing is rather simple and unimaginative. It’s repetitive and doesn’t really have the same kind of depth as the rest of the album. The song works in the view of the album as a whole, but it doesn’t have much meat standing alone.

Cody Jinks sings of life on the road with the next couple of songs. “The Way I Am” seems to touch on feelings of doubt and frustration. “I wish I enjoyed what makes my living, did what I do with a willing hand. Some would run, but that ain’t like me. So I’ll just dream and keep on being the way I am” Jinks sings in the second stanza. It’s easy to listen to a song like this and jump to conclusions without any context, but the song is honest look at life and responsibility. And I’m sure all singers, at one point or another, get a feeling of being stuck in a rut or putting in blood, sweat, and tears without seeing the desired results. But Jinks counters this with the honky tonk foot stomper “Chase That Song.” The song uses several metaphors to describe rolling from town to town and setting up for a rowdy country show. “Chase That Song” is a rollicking good time.

Perhaps the darkest song on the album comes from the aptly named “Heavy Load.” Jinks said he wrote the song out of exhaustion, and it touches on feeling stuck, frustrated, carrying a heavy load of regret and mistakes. The outlaw-like production of the song keeps it darker, as Jinks goes so far to quote some end-of-the-world like Bible verses from Revelation during the song’s bridge. Despite how heavy the song is, “Heavy Load” is well produced and put together. “Grey” is an acoustic soul-searching song. Simply him and his guitar, Jinks sings about trying to rediscover the passion and trying to relight the fire in life.

Cody Jinks explores youthful innocence over a few songs. With “Church at Gaylor Creek,” Jinks thinks back to his church back home, and ponders how far he’s gone away from those days as a kid. He’s a man who has sinned and lived life differently than his family growing up, but times have changed and affected him. The song is Jinks looking back at his innocent years when he’s not being blinded by the mistakes of neon lights and whiskey. And with “Vampires,” Jinks, a father of two, sings of trying to protect his own children and their youthful innocence from the world. As time goes on, dreams may die and it get’s harder and harder to keep the protective veil over your children. Jinks compares himself and his efforts to Catcher in the Rye’s Holden Caulfield. I’m Not the Devil concludes with the loud, biting “Hand Me Down.” It’s a song where Jinks rattles off his frustration with politicians, Wall Street, the news, and many other things in today’s culture that don’t really sit well with him. The people trying to hand down their opinions, propaganda, and bullshit, trying to get Jinks and others to think like them instead of for themselves. It’s a repetitive song that doesn’t really dig into any item with much detail, but Jinks doesn’t hide how pissed he feels about it.

With a heavy hand, Cody Jinks hits you hard with I’m Not the Devil. The brutally honest self-reflection provides for some well-written songs. Cody Jinks unlocks his heart and puts his soul on display for everyone to see: his doubts, his frustrations, his missteps, and his love are cast into the light with nothing stopping them. Jinks expresses his vulnerability with thoughtfulness and tells his story with conviction. At times it may get too heavy, and at 13 songs the album feels a bit repetitive at places. But make no mistake, I’m Not the Devil is a great country album. Cody Jinks continues to make a name for himself as a country singer, and this album will do nothing but add more fuel to drive Jinks forward as a country star fans can proudly look toward.

Grade: 9/10

Song Review – Cody Jinks’ “I’m Not the Devil”

Cody Jinks I'm Not the Devil

In 2015 a great crop of fresh faces in country and Americana arose on many people’s radars. Hands down one of the best artists to emerge amongst this group was Cody Jinks. While it was his fourth album, Jinks’ 2015 album Adobe Sessions felt like the awaited breaking out of the next big star in the independent country scene. The album is full of traditional country, plenty of steel guitar and ballads on life and love. It was released in January, which worried me that people would overlook it and forget about it as the year progressed. That definitely wasn’t an issue, as you the readers reminded me throughout the year how much you enjoyed the album. So now Jinks is prepared to release the follow-up album on August 12, titled I’m Not the Devil. The album title track was just released though and it picks up right where Adobe Sessions left off.

A few sobering guitar licks play in the song as Jinks utters off the first line, “I’m not the devil you think that I am.” It’s a dark song where Jinks sings of a man who is ruminating over the mistakes he’s made in his life and a loved one he has hurt with his actions. He argues he’s not the devil and that he’s just a man who’s made mistakes, although he says that’s no excuse. He vows that he will change and try to make amends. I imagine once we hear the entire album this song will sound even better, but just alone it shows the kind of emotion behind Jinks’ music. Jinks wrote the song with fellow traditional country artist Ward Davis, as he told Rolling Stone in an interview:

“The album was pretty much done. The album title had been decided. On a hunch, I flew my buddy Ward Davis out to the studio to take a stab at writing together. A few hours after he arrived and an incredible amount of beer consumed, we were recording ‘I’m Not the Devil’ and in turn renaming the album.”

This song along with the rest of the album was recorded at Sonic Ranch Studios in Tornillo, Texas. If that name “Sonic Ranch” rings a bell, that’s because this is where Jinks’ buddy and touring mate Whitey Morgan recorded his 2015 album of the same name. That album of course was one of the year’s best. If I’m Not the Devil is as great as that album, then I for one am excited to hear it. “I’m Not the Devil” is an example of why so many independent country fans are flocking to Jinks. The instrumentation and production are arranged very well and complements the lyrics perfectly. It’s the perfect teaser to get people excited. There are a lot of traditional country artists this year experimenting and drifting from the traditional sound (which hasn’t been entirely bad). Cody Jinks on the other hand is sticking to the genre’s roots and making fantastic, pure country music.

(Also that cover art is amazing!)

Grade: 9/10

Looking Back at The Top 20 Albums of 2015

Country Perspective's 2015 Most Essential Albums

Lately I decided to go back and take a look at all of the album grades I handed out last year. When it comes to grading albums, it can be very polarizing to say the very least and I know there are times when you flat out disagree with me. Other times we’re in complete agreement. One of the toughest aspects of grading is deciding what album is worthy of a 10/10. What constitutes a 10/10 can vary amongst people and I’ve found context is one of the biggest determining factors. Some view a 10/10 in a historical context, some view it in a yearly context, some in a genre context, etc. When it comes to a 10/10 to me, at its core it all comes to a feel for me. I can usually sense a 10/10 from my first listen and I know it’s the mark of a truly great album.

Another important thing I keep in mind when grading is not putting too much weight on the artist’s past material. It should be considered for in terms of comparison for their average sound and whether they deviate from it or not. But in my mind you shouldn’t knock a current album’s grade just because it isn’t as good as the last one in your mind. For example, it baffled me how so many people knocked their grade for Jason Isbell’s 2015 album Something More Than Free because it wasn’t as good in their mind as his previous album Southeastern, so therefore it can’t be a 10/10 if they gave Southeastern a 10/10 in their mind. I also consider it unfair to hold an album in a historical light right upon its release. In my opinion it takes years to determine how well it holds up historically, all-time. Finally I believe there’s no such thing as a perfect album. Every album has its little flaws and has areas where it could be a little better. So I think giving a 10/10 only in the case of it being “perfect” is a little absurd. But as they say it’s all subjective and I just wanted to clarify how I look at albums.

Without further ado I wanted to give you my thoughts on what I would grade albums I gave a 10/10 last year at this current time after having more time to digest and listen to them. Some have held up and some have not. Like I said at the beginning of the year when I announced we were approaching 10/10 grades differently this year, I gave way too many last year. So now I give you what I believe the true 10/10 grades, as well as what I believe didn’t hold up as 10/10. There probably won’t be another post like this next year because I’m being more focused on the grading this year and don’t have any regrets like last year. So here you go:

10/10

Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free

Whitey Morgan – Sonic Ranch 

Chris Stapleton – Traveller 

Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen – Hold My Beer 

Don Henley – Cass County

Turnpike Troubadours – Self-Titled

Houndmouth – Little Neon Limelight

Whitney Rose – Heartbreaker of the Year

Thoughts: Of course our album of the year choice is still a 10/10. I also still stand by my point that Something More Than Free is a better album than Southeastern, even though I’m aware this is unpopular. The key word here is album. If you asked me to pick the best three songs amongst the two albums, I’m probably picking them from Southeastern. But looking at both as whole albums, Something More Than Free is better because it flows better as a whole, thematically and sonically. I know people will disagree.

Of the others that hold up to a 10/10, I know there’s only three of them that some people would disagree. While Traveller being at 14 songs is not ideal and detracted from it in people’s minds, it ultimately doesn’t hurt the album’s overall quality in my opinion. Houndmouth may never put out a better album than Little Neon Limelight again, especially in light of the news of Katie Toupin departing from the band earlier this year. Her vocals were a big reason why I loved that album. As for Whitney Rose’s Heartbreaker of the Year, it just does such a great job of standing out and taking risks while remaining rooted in country. It’s why she won our Female Artist of the Year award.

9/9

Tami Neilson – Don’t Be Afraid 

Sam Outlaw – Angeleno 

The Malpass Brothers – Self-Titled

The Lone Bellow – Then Came The Morning 

Thoughts: So now we get to the albums where they didn’t hold up. Don’t Be Afraid ultimately doesn’t hold up for me because it just doesn’t follow the emotional punch of its title song all the way through the album. Angeleno was a big favorite in a lot of circles, but I just don’t get the same feeling as I did when I first listened to it. It just doesn’t sound as good hearing it back now, but it’s still a great album. The Malpass Brothers are an act I really enjoy, but giving 10/10 to an album mostly full of cover songs wasn’t the right choice. Then we have one of the big surprises for me of 2015 and that’s The Lone Bellow’s Then Came The Morning. A lot of people missed this one because it was a January release. It’s still a really really good album, but it just doesn’t make the cut in my mind for a 10/10, although it’s close.

8/8

Maddie & Tae – Start Here

Jonathan Tyler – Holy Smokes

Dwight Yoakam – Second Hand Heart

The Mavericks – Mono

Banditos – Self-Titled

Thoughts: This is where I know I’m ruffling feathers and people won’t like my downgrading. But I remind you this is just my opinion and not the end all be all. We’ll start with the elephant in the room: Maddie & Tae’s Start Here. I’m a big fan of this duo and that’s one of the things that ultimately clouded my final grade. There’s arguably no other act in mainstream country I want to see succeed more than these two. So I gave Start Here a grade it shouldn’t have received. There’s a lot of really good moments on the album, but it doesn’t follow that through on all of it’s songs. “Your Side of Town” is one song that brings it down, as well as “Right Here, Right Now” and “No Place Like You” for just not being memorable songs. I still say their best album will come when they finally get fed up of the games you have to play on a major label and leave to make their own records on Thirty Tigers.

My fandom also clouded my judgement on Second Hand Heart and Mono. Dwight Yoakam is a living legend and The Mavericks are perhaps one of the most underrated acts in music. Both delivered really good albums with some fun songs, but they’re just not 10/10 albums. Both needed more serious songs on the album to merit it. I enjoy Jonathan Tyler’s Holy Smokes and even bought it on vinyl, but I don’t know what I was thinking giving it 10/10. Maybe it was the summer heat? Ditto for Banditos’ self-titled album. Just a case of me going overboard.

Oh and one last thing. I wanted to give you what I considered a ranking of the top 20 albums of 2015. I think this will also serve useful to those who have just found the site and are looking for great music. These are albums you can’t go wrong with and you can’t go wrong with any of the ones I mentioned above too. My top 20 ranking is all albums reviewed, not just what I reviewed. If you have any questions about this, feel free to ask below.

  1. Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free
  2. Whitey Morgan – Sonic Ranch
  3. Chris Stapleton – Traveller 
  4. Turnpike Troubadours – Self-Titled (This one has gotten even better for me upon more listens)
  5. Wade Bowen & Randy Rogers – Hold My Beer
  6. Don Henley – Cass County (Still can’t believe the drummer for the Eagles made a top ten country album of the year)
  7. John Moreland – High on Tulsa Heat (This one has really grown on me)
  8. Blackberry Smoke – Holding All The Roses
  9. Houndmouth – Little Neon Limelight 
  10. Whitney Rose – Heartbreaker of the Year
  11. Eric Church – Mr. Misunderstood (Still not giving this a 10/10, Church fans. So don’t ask)
  12. The Lone Bellow – Then Came The Morning
  13. Sam Outlaw – Angeleno (This placing will get more complaints than you realize)
  14. Brandi Carlile – The Firewatcher’s Daughter (I hate myself for giving out 9.5/10 grades at one point)
  15. Cody Jinks – Adobe Sessions (Most under-the-radar debut of 2015)
  16. Gretchen Peters – Blackbirds
  17. Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material (Deserves a lot more credit than it received)
  18. Corb Lund – Things That Can’t Be Undone (Also deserved more credit)
  19. Tami Neilson – Don’t Be Afraid
  20. Will Hoge – Small Town Dreams (I always forget about this one, which is dumb)

Just missed the cut: James McMurtry’s Complicated Game, Tony Furtado’s The Bell, Justin Townes Earle’s Absent Fathers and Jami Lin Wilson’s Holidays and Wedding Rings.

Country Perspective’s 40 Most Essential Country & Americana Albums of 2015

Country Perspective's 2015 Most Essential Albums

We’ve reached the end of 2015 and as you’ve seen over this last month there have numerous best of and worst of lists and everything in between. The “listpocalypse” as many dub it is finally ending and we can start focusing on new music really soon. But before we look forward to the new music of 2016, we want to look back one last time on the music of country and Americana in 2015. These are the albums we consider the absolute must listen albums of 2015 if you’re a fan of country and Americana. We should point out that this year’s essential albums list is different in that last year’s list was all albums that we ranked 8/10 or better. This year’s essential list only contains albums (and a few EPs) ranked 9/10 or better.

Originally we wanted to just have it narrowed down to 25 albums, but then it grew to 30 and then 35 before eventually 40. We wanted to make sure we go all of the great music on the list! Keep in mind if we didn’t put an album on this list it’s not because we’re haters or we’re attacking your favorite artist. Do not turn the comments section into “Well you didn’t put (insert name) on the list and you didn’t put this on the list, so I hate it.” Instead put together your own list in the comments if you want, as this is more constructive and creates more interesting conversation.

Now that I’ve gotten all of the ground rules out of the way, let’s get to the music. These are what we consider the 36 most essential country and Americana albums of 2015.

The Best of the Best

Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free

Whitey Morgan – Sonic Ranch

Chris Stapleton – Traveller 

The Awesome Ones

Don Henley – Cass County 

Tami Neilson – Don’t Be Afraid

Houndmouth – Little Neon Limelight 

Wade Bowen & Randy Rogers – Hold My Beer, Vol. 1

Turnpike Troubadours – Turnpike Troubadours

Sam Outlaw – Angeleno 

Jonathan Tyler – Holy Smokes

Blackberry Smoke – Holding All The Roses

Pretty Damn Great

Whitney Rose – Heartbreaker of the Year

Maddie & Tae – Start Here

Cody Jinks – Adobe Sessions

Eric Church – Mr. Misunderstood

Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material

Gretchen Peters – Blackbirds

Brandi Carlile – The Firewatcher’s Daughter

The Malpass Brothers – The Malpass Brothers

Rick Elliot – West of the Rockies EP

The Lone Bellow – Then Came The Morning

“I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair”

Dwight Yoakam – Second Hand Heart 

George Strait – Cold Beer Conversation

Alan Jackson – Angels & Alcohol

James McMurtry – Complicated Game

Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard – Django & Jimmie

Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell – The Traveling Kind

A Little Bit of Everything

John Moreland – High On Tulsa Heat

The Mavericks – Mono

Banditos – Banditos

Corb Lund – Things That Can’t Be Undone

Lindi Ortega – Faded Gloryville 

Will Hoge – Small Town Dreams

Jon Pardi – The B-Sides, 2011-2014 EP

Jamie Lin Wilson – Holidays & Wedding Rings

Justin Townes Earle – Absent Fathers 

Tony Furtado – The Bell

Allison Moorer – Down To Believing 

Kasey Chambers – Bittersweet

The Black Lillies – Hard To Please 

Country Perspective’s 2015 Male Artist of the Year Nominees

Over the course of 2015 we saw many talented male country and Americana artists put out fantastic albums. Determining who will win Country Perspective’s 2015 Male Artist of the Year award will be no easy feat. The main guidelines for determining who should win are the following: the quality of music they’ve released in 2015, the impact they have made on the genre over the course of the year and the amount of growth they made as an individual artist.

Derek and myself will ultimately determine which artist will win, but we also want to hear from you the readers who is deserving of the award. Your comments will be highly considered for determining who wins and you could possibly sway who should be the winner. So be sure to sound off in the comments! Without further ado the nominees for Country Perspective’s 2015 Male Artist of Year (in alphabetical order):

Chris Stapleton

Chris Stapleton Traveller

The biggest critical darling and hottest artist in country music right now certainly has a case to win and is probably the favorite for many. His debut album Traveller racked up the awards at the 2015 CMA Awards and has garnered a few more nominations for the 2016 Grammy Awards. Many sites are calling it the best country album of the year and it very well could be declared the best by us too. Stapleton has no doubt made an impact this year also, as his current single “Nobody to Blame” is steadily moved up the country airplay charts. And most importantly I think he’s made a lot of his peers in mainstream country music think twice about the music they’re making.

Don Henley 

Don Henley Cass County

The face of the Eagles decided to try his hand at making a country record and ended up producing one of the best country albums of the year. Henley clearly put a lot of thought into this venture and the love and cares shines through the music as you listen to it. While it is a country record, it also has made an impact on Americana as he was recognized this year at the Americana Awards and will probably be nominated for numerous awards at next year’s show. It’s currently still charting in the top 15 of the Americana Airplay chart too. The music of the Eagles catches a lot of flack, but even the most jaded haters of the Eagles have to acknowledge the artistry displayed on Cass County.

Eric Church

Eric Church Mr. Misunderstood

Nobody was expecting new music from Eric Church in 2015 and lo behold in the midst of the 2015 CMA Awards Church surprise released his new album Mr. Misunderstood. I went into this album not expecting a great record, as Church’s last album The Outsiders left me with a sour taste and confusion as to the amount of critical acclaim it received. Well he completely blew my expectations away, as he released arguably the best mainstream country album of 2015. It was the Eric Church I had been waiting to hear for a while, as he stripped back the production and made it about the music itself. The album’s title track and lead single is well on its way to being a #1 song and I have feeling this album could produce multiple #1 songs. Like Stapleton, I think Church could help lead the way for the genre going into 2016.

Jason Isbell 

Jason Isbell Something More Than Free

The King of Americana did not disappoint with his new album Something More Than Free. It was another album of great music from Isbell. What people didn’t expect is the impact it would make on the charts, as it reached #1 on the country chart, folk chart and rock chart. It sat at #1 on the Americana chart for months and still sits at #3 as of this writing, five months after it’s release. Isbell also nabbed two nominations at the 2016 Grammy Awards and could easily win both. With Americana’s stature rising and country being forced to pay attention to independent artists more, Jason Isbell is sitting pretty right now and could raise his own legacy even higher going forward.

Whitey Morgan

Whitey Morgan Sonic Ranch

The gritty, outlaw country artist from Detroit came onto a lot of people’s radars in 2015. His new album Sonic Ranch is considered by many fans and critics to be one of the best country albums of the year. For those looking for country music in the style of 70s country, Whitey Morgan is this fan’s ideal modern artist and the closest we have to Waylon Jennings. While he didn’t have quite the Sturgill Simpson breakout I thought he could have, he’s set himself up to have it with his next album and could become one of the top names in the independent country realm. After releasing his most complete album yet, Whitey Morgan has a really bright future ahead.