Album Review – George Strait’s ‘Honky Tonk Time Machine’

George Strait is one of the greatest country artists of all-time and few would dispute his king of country music title. He proved it years ago. But sometimes even a king can miss. With his newest album Honky Tonk Time Machine, it’s a big miss for me. In fact, I find it an absolute chore to get through most of this album. The album starts off well with “Every Little Honky Tonk Bar.” It’s a bar anthem for the working class, everyday men and women looking to tie one off after a long week. Throughout the years he’s consistently knocked these songs out of the park and this one is no different, as it’s his bread and butter to perfectly capture the feeling of this familiar theme.

“Two More Wishes” is an enjoyable tune about Strait likening his bottle of alcohol to a genie in a bottle, using it to make the woman of his dreams appear. I love the casual, easy-going nature of the song, as it works because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. I enjoy the stripped-down sound of “Some Nights” and the lyrics really capture the feeling of existential dread in the wake of a hard breakup. Just like bar anthems, Strait knocks out heartbreak ballads in his sleep. After this song, the album unfortunately takes a big dive in quality. I can’t stand “God and Country Music” and for two big reasons: 1) The preachy, saccharine and sanctimonious nature of the lyrics. 2) A child singing. I know it was a big deal for Strait to have his grandson on the song, but I just can’t stand the sound of children singing. It’s like nails on a chalk board for me.

“Blue Water” would be a great song about finding a break from the troubles of life in an ocean if it was a minute shorter. That’s because the hook gets annoyingly repetitive after like two minutes. I can only listen to “blueeeeee waterrrr” so many times before I want to rip my ears out. “Sometimes Love” is a song on this album and that’s all I have say about that. “Codigo” is an ad poorly disguised as a song. If Florida Georgia Line or Luke Bryan cut a song about their own brand of liquor, people would be screaming for the death penalty for them. But Strait is apparently immune from being criticized for this. Well I’ll say it: this is corporate, huckster, shilling, horseshit and Strait should be ashamed for cutting such a song.

I want to like “Old Violin” and I respect Strait for addressing mortality and his life. But I’ve heard Willie Nelson release at least five songs in the last few years address this same topic, where the songwriting absolutely runs circles around the lyrics of “Old Violin.” Sorry George, but Willie set the bar and you didn’t meet it with this song. “Take Me Away” is boring and forgettable. “The Weight of the Badge” is predictable and as a result it fails to make an emotional connection with me. I feel like this song spends too much time telling me how hard it is to be a police officer and how admirable they are instead of showing it through strong storytelling and letting me come to this conclusion on my own. It’s like taking a camel to water: don’t drag me to it, lead me to it.

The album’s title track is trying to be an upbeat and raucous bar anthem that makes you want to move your feet, but it fails to do so, and I put this on the weak and at times weird lyrics. These lyrics in particular stand out: “He’s gonna make damn sure the jukebox don’t rock/And the record’s gonna be the only thing that bops/He’s an old-school cold longneck DJ/And look at him now, here comes them old green snakes.” What? I feel like the songwriters just threw a bunch of words together, made sure to sprinkle in a couple common words people will only hear and then hope nobody actually reads the whole lines. This isn’t different from a lot of the ridiculous tripe populating the top of the country charts.

“What Goes Up” is a reminder of why I don’t like most overtly Christian songs: they’re boring. The lyrics sound like they’re directly quoting from the Bible or a church sermon instead of taking a story and then relating it back to spirituality/religion and how it plays a role in the emotions/story. A great example of this is Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High on that Mountain.” The final track on the album, “Sing One with Willie”, is a fun song and it’s great to hear two legends finally do a song together. But after a few listens I’ve had my fill of the song. It’s a shame they couldn’t have collaborated on a song with more substance instead of a novelty track. That’s really the story of this album: I expected more.

I’m sure George Strait will bounce back on the next one, as this is a rare blip on the radar for an all-time great. But still it’s hard for me to label Honky Tonk Time Machine as anything but a big disappointment and a large step down from his previous album Cold Beer Conversation.

Grade: 3/10

Album Review – Alison Krauss’ ‘Windy City’

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When discussing some of the best and brightest artists in the history of country music, Alison Krauss is a name that should come up. I feel like she’s one of the most underrated artists of the genre, probably due to being more involved with bluegrass with her band Union Station. But she’s pretty much done it all in both genres. Her 27 Grammys, tied for second most all-time, is shining proof of this. Whether it’s her bluegrass work with Union Station, doing a duet album with Robert Plant or her own great work on her own, she shines and gains widespread attention. Now after over 18 years, Krauss has released a new album of solo material. Together with veteran country producer Buddy Cannon, the two picked out ten classic country songs to cover. And the results are really good.

The waltzing “Losing You” opens up Windy City. Right away it’s obvious Krauss sounds as fantastic as ever on this tragic Brenda Lee heartbreak ballad. Krauss gets more upbeat on “It’s Goodbye and So Long To You.” It’s an instantly catchy track with plenty of horns and steel guitar. Krauss delivers a Dolly-like vocal performance, really giving the song more punch. The album’s title track is a heartbreak song about Chicago capturing the heart of a woman’s man and begging to have him back. She walks the lonely streets of the city wondering if she’ll ever win him back. It’s an adaptation of the Osborne Brothers’ song of the same name. One of my favorites on the album is her cover of Willie Nelson’s “I Never Cared For You.” It’s a clever song about the person saying they never cared for their ex, although admitted to be an outright lie and a coping mechanism in a time of heartbreak. Krauss really nails the emotion of the song. “River In The Rain” is an Roger Miller song that Krauss does more than great justice. Originally this was a duet between Huck Finn and a slave, but Krauss turns this into a touching love song. Anyone can cover a song, but I love it when an artist makes the cover their own and Krauss certainly does this.

Another standout on Windy City is Vern Gosdin’s “Dream of Me.” It’s a song that perfectly suits Krauss’ voice, as she sings of telling her man to dream of her every time he feels down and blue. Laden with plenty of steel guitar to go with these great lyrics, this one was an instant favorite for me. John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind,” made famous of course by Glen Campbell, is another cover on Windy City. It might be my new favorite cover of the song. Of course this is a really enjoyable song in itself. “Poison Love” is a really simple song that you can instantly gravitate to and find yourself singing along with from the first listen. The piano-driven Brenda Lee song “All Alone Am I” is a taste of how great Krauss can be on more vulnerable tracks. But this is best demonstrated on the album’s final track “You Don’t Know Me.” It’s an Eddy Arnold song about letting possible love slipping through your fingers and being left to forever wonder what if. You’ll never truly know them and they’ll truly never know you. It’s regret that’ll never leave you. Krauss is at her absolute best here, as well as the instrumentation. Each perfectly frames the song and delivers a gut-punch to close out the album.

For fans of classic country and Alison Krauss, Windy City is a real joy to listen to from start to finish. I really applaud Krauss and Cannon for picking a great group of songs to cover. There’s plenty of variety, a song for any mood you’re in on this album. Each listen through you’ll have a new favorite. It’s also an educational album for those aren’t as informed about the history of the genre and brings to light some quality old artists worth knowing about. I wouldn’t be surprised if this album sees Krauss add to her staggering Grammys total. Krauss once again delivers really good music with Windy City.

Grade: 8/10

 

Recommend? – Yes

Album Highlights: You Don’t Know Me, I Never Cared For You, It’s Goodbye and So Long To You, Dream of Me, Losing You

Bad Songs: None

Wallpaper: None


Album Review – Dale Watson and Ray Benson’s ‘Dale & Ray’

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Long-time readers know one of the things I’ve constantly harped for more in country music is duo collaboration albums. So it warmed my heart to see two old legends get together and release a new album to kick off the New Year. I’m of course referring to Ameripolitan artist Dale Watson and Asleep At The Wheel frontman Ray Benson. The longtime friends and icons have been apparently plotting an album together for over 10 years, but it just kept getting put off. Well it hasn’t put off anymore, as they’ve released their new record Dale & Ray. And thank goodness they didn’t put it off anymore because this album is pure country goodness from start to finish.

The old friends open with the introductory “The Ballad of Dale and Ray.” They sing of what they love, like pot, drinking and especially great country music. I specifically love the part where they sing of loving Hank Williams accompanied by an empathic “senior.” The iconic duo pays respect to the late great Merle Haggard on “Feelin’ Haggard.” They sum up how most of us felt the moment we heard we lost Haggard last year. In addition they pay respect to his impact and mention several of his best songs. It’s quite fitting and a great song to boot. They pay tribute to another great in Buck Owens on “Cryin’ to Cryin’ Time Again.” It’s a reference of course to Owens’ classic “Crying Time.” They hit it out of the park on their cover of The Louvin Brothers’ “I Wish You Knew.” The catchy instrumentation is what made me love it on the very first listen, as the twangy fiddles and steel guitar make it instantly infectious. It isn’t the only cover, as they also tackle Willie Nelson’s “Write Your Own Songs.” The song famously takes a no-prisoners aim at the record labels and the executives behind them, as it basically says they’re all lazy assholes. This is definitely a message I can appreciate.

“Bus’ Breakdown” is the duo at their most fun, as this bluegrass ditty recalls a business deal they made where Benson sold Watson a broke down old bus. Watson and Benson offer a message of hope on “Forget About Tomorrow Today.” At one point they reference the divisive nature of the recent election, arguing politicians don’t care about us and it’s best just to focus on what’s in front of us today. “A Hangover Ago” is your classic country drinking song, complete with the thick steel guitar throughout. “Nobody’s Ever Down in Texas” has a decidedly Western Swing sound and of course pays obligatory homage to the duo’s home state. The album closes with the waltzing love song “Sittin’ and Thinkin’ About You.” The light and breezy production really gives the song a carefree feeling, at the same time harkening back to the golden days of country music.

Dale & Ray is an album I instantly grew to love. Both Dale Watson and Ray Benson sound as great as ever, showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. It’s no surprise these two deliver such a thoroughly great country album, as it’s what they’ve been doing their whole careers. This is also further proof of why we need more collaboration albums like this one because when you put together two highly talented artists like Watson and Benson you get something you’ll certainly remember. Dale & Ray is a really fun album and something any country fan should love and appreciate.

Grade: 8/10

 

Recommend ? – Yes

Album Highlights: Write Your Own Songs, Forget About Tomorrow Today, The Ballad of Dale and Ray, Feelin’ Haggard, Bus’ Breakdown

Bad Songs: None

Wallpaper: None


The Hodgepodge: What Song Defines Country Music to You?

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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

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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.

Review – Artists of Then, Now & Forever’s “Forever Country”

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So I’m just going to state right up front this isn’t going to be your ordinary, standard review. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever reviewed on the site and contemplated not even reviewing it due to its uniqueness. But I’ve been asked for my thoughts and it’s gotten a fair amount of attention at radio and in sales. Plus I love a challenge. So I decided to tackle “Forever Country.” To give background on the song, it’s been slowly hyped up by the numerous artists apart of it in the build up to its release. If you follow one of these artists on social media, chances are you’ve heard a clip of them singing on the song to give their fans a taste of their participation. This is all for promoting and honoring the 50th anniversary of the CMA Awards coming up on November 2. And it’s impressive the amount of artists that are on-board with this song. In the order they appear on the song, here are the 30 artists who take part in “Forever Country”:

  • Brad Paisley
  • Keith Urban
  • Tim McGraw
  • Faith Hill
  • Little Big Town
  • Luke Bryan
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Blake Shelton
  • George Strait
  • Kacey Musgraves
  • Eric Church
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Charley Pride
  • Randy Travis
  • Dierks Bentley
  • Trisha Yearwood
  • Lady Antebellum
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Martina McBride
  • Darius Rucker
  • Jason Aldean
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Willie Nelson
  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Alabama
  • Brett Eldredge
  • Reba
  • Alan Jackson
  • Vince Gill
  • Dolly Parton

For the most part that’s a pretty impressive lineup and it does a great job of showcasing various eras of country music, although I would say it’s noticeably missing Garth Brooks (he most likely isn’t a part of this because the song is available on services he’s against such as iTunes, Spotify and YouTube, which has also kept him from being apart of other collaborations too). The song itself is a medley mashup of three iconic songs: John Denver’s “Country Roads,” Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again” and Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.” I really can’t argue with these choices, as they’re all classics in my book. Some might take offense to a pop country artist like John Denver being one of the three artists highlighted here (somewhere the ghost of Charlie Rich is surely pissed), but he’s arguably one of the best pop country artists in the genre’s history. “Country Roads” seems to get the most time in the song upon the first listens, but after further listens and paying close attention I found all three songs got pretty equal time.

“Country Roads” does lead off and appropriately the West Virginia-born Brad Paisley is the one who leads the song. We also get a lot of pedal steel guitar up front and throughout the song, which kudos to the organizers of this song for doing the right thing. One interesting moment that catches my eye is how close Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton are to each other in the song. Luke Bryan separates each of their solo lines and I’m sure the proximity of the ex couple was merely coincidence, but nevertheless I had to point it out. Kacey Musgraves, Eric Church and George Strait all sing near each other, which put a smile on my face. Willie Nelson getting a prominent spot in the middle was definitely the right call. I thought Brett Eldredge sounded really good when he sang his parts and made me wish he would go in a more traditional direction, as his rich voice can really shine when paired with a good song. Brooks & Dunn and Alabama, two of the most prominent groups in country music history, singing together is a special moment. Reba gets the honor of leading off the main part of “I Will Always Love You” and nails it of course. Then Alan Jackson and Vince Gill following makes it one of my favorite moments in the song. Carrie Underwood leading the chorus is the perfect choice, as she can belt that line like both Dolly and Whitney Houston have done it. Then various artists layer all three songs together to create a crescendo until the finish where the queen of country music, Dolly Parton caps it off perfectly. Whoever made the choice to have Dolly close the song is genius.

I think “Forever Country” is a special moment that perfectly honors country music. And unlike other massive collaborations like “We Are The World,” this song isn’t cheesy and sanctimonious. I think a lot of credit is owed to the producer of the song, Shane McAnally. It’s not easy task melding these songs and these performers together, but he managed to really pull it off well. Everyone involved with this should be proud of their efforts and I hope to see a live performance of this at the CMA Awards because it would certainly be a memorable moment. I’m not sure this song will be remembered years from now, but in the moment it’s a really enjoyable collaboration. It’s hard not to get emotional as a country fan listening to this and as a result makes it impossible for me to really nitpick or dislike.

Grade: Two Thumbs Up 

Video is here now and it is amazing! Check it out: