The Endless Music Odyssey, Vol. 3 — Freddie Gibbs, Eric Church, Khruangbin & More!

Hey y’all! There are several albums I’ve been wanting to talk about since taking my break, so no fancy introduction is needed. Let’s talk about some albums….

Freddie Gibbs & The AlchemistAlfredo

Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist both solidify themselves as two of the most consistent artists in hip-hop with Alfredo. Gibbs’ rapping and flow are flawless while The Alchemist’s beats are smooth and his sampling is completely on point throughout. Opener “1985” may be the best opening song to an album I’ve heard in 2020, as the blaring guitar and Gibbs’ relentless attack approach to the lyrics makes me want to hit play over and over again. The lyricism is what you come to expect from Gibbs, which is not a knock at all, as he raps about cocaine, the dark sides of the street and mixes in his trademark dark humor. He also has more social commentary, as on “Scottie Beam” he ominously raps his execution may be televised, highlighting the systemic racism in the country. All the features on this album fit well, especially Rick Ross and Benny The Butcher (I definitely want to hear Gibbs and Butcher together again). This is a pretty great project and for many artists this would be amongst their best, but Gibbs sets the bar pretty damn high with previous projects like Piñata and Bandana. So I guess you could call this 9/10 album slightly down for Gibbs as hilarious as this is to type. But seriously don’t sleep on this album, as it’s one of the best you’ll hear out of hip hop in 2020. Light 9/10

Run The JewelsRTJ4

Unfortunately this album just flat out bored me and I just lose more interest in it as I delve deeper into it. It certainly has nothing to do with the messages, as they’re timely, important and should be heard. But every other aspect of this project feels like I’ve heard it before from the duo and it was better. While I rated Run the Jewels 3 quite highly, admittedly it didn’t hold up as well as time has passed. I thought it was due to the runtime. But now after listening to RTJ4, the issue is clearer. The delivery, approach and style of the lyrics have simply waned for Killer Mike and El-P. On Run the Jewels 3 they covered over a lot of this because it wasn’t as prevalent like it is on this album and quite frankly the beats were much more interesting and varied on Run the Jewels 3 (there’s not a single beat on this album that comes as close to being as interesting or cool as “Panther Like a Panther”). 

Not to mention the idea well feels empty on this album. Nothing feels new, it all feels the same and maybe that’s the point on how injustice in this country never changes, which is the reoccurring message of this album. But I feel like this album is all about great messages and the songs themselves are an afterthought. As I’ve continually said, great messages won’t be heard if the songs themselves aren’t interesting or good. Run the Jewels 3 managed to deliver timely messages behind great music. And this album seems to forget the latter. That’s largely the conclusion I come away from with this album: the music just isn’t as interesting like the previous three records. Light 5/10

Diplo/Thomas WesleyChapter 1: Snake Oil

I’ve talked about before how electronic and country will eventually be fused together more and how it will become a more prevalent sub genre (for better or worse). So I was actually quite excited to hear that famous electronic producer Diplo would be trying his hand at a country album. The ultimate result? Very hit and miss for me. What works: “Heartless” with Morgan Wallen is surprisingly something I’ve come to enjoy. The delivery of Wallen gives the song an infectious urgency and the drum machines are actually utilized in a way that makes the song enjoyably catchy (so many from the pop genre completely bastardize drum machines and make them a torturous ear worm). The unlikely team up of Thomas Rhett and Young Thug on “Dance with Me” is fun, although I would have liked to have heard more from Young Thug. “On Me” may be my favorite though, as Noah Cyrus delivers a memorable vocal performance. “So Long” and “Heartbreak” are solid tracks too.

What doesn’t work: The Jonas Brothers are good pop artists but don’t belong anywhere near a country record and “Lonely” doesn’t feel country in the slightest. “Do Si Do” has a good idea on paper but it’s bone dry and boring. Julia Michaels continues to prove she’s one of the most boring artists in music today with her appearances (her voice is the music equivalent of paint drying). “Hometown” is your standard generic, mediocre pop country that I’m not shocked Zac Brown signed on to take part in (it would fit nicely on his garbage solo album). And the inclusion of Diplo’s remix of “Old Town Road” is well…Diplo says it best in his interview with Apple Music: “We just added this on because it was on Columbia.” Hey, at least he’s honest! And I appreciate that he admits this album is a bit incoherent (because it definitely is). So while this is by no means a great album, it shows flashes of potential and makes me want to hear what he has in store for the next album. Light 5/10

Gone WestCanyons

You know I had some hope for this group to be a fresh sound in the mainstream realm. Instead I’m not entirely convinced this isn’t Gloriana but they somehow added former pop star Colbie Cailat as the new front-woman. This is just dull, generic pop country album in a sea full of so many albums that already sound like this. Don’t bother with this/10

Jimmy BuffettLife On The Flip Side

Well I’m not sure what I expected listening to this. It’s a Jimmy Buffett album. If you want light beach music this is it. I imagine this is best enjoyed while drinking a few on the beach. It’s five o’clock somewhere/10

Gabby BarrettGoldmine

While lead single “I Hope” is an enjoyable revenge ballad in the same vein as Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats,” the rest of this album is unfortunately your average pop country mediocrity. Barrett really doesn’t establish a unique sound or identity with this album and instead teeters between bad Underwood impersonation and radio bait. Solid 3/10

Blackberry SmokeLive From Capricorn Sound Studios EP

As always an enjoyable listen from one of the best rock bands in music today. Although I will admit I hoped to enjoy this more. While I enjoy the guest vocals of Jimmy Hall, I would have liked to have heard more from Charlie Starr on lead vocals. But it’s a minor nitpick on an otherwise pretty good EP. Light 8/10

Hill CountrySelf-titled

I’ve seen a lot of buzz about this album and Luke Combs even gave this group a shoutout. So I had to check this out even though I found Zane Williams’ solo output to be hit and miss in the past. Ultimately this is a country album that does nothing spectacularly but it does nothing wrong either. It’s an enjoyable mixture of country, roots rock and bluegrass that has something for all types of country listeners. It’s breezy and accessible music that represents a solid start for this new group. 7/10

Khruangbin Mordechai

I find it difficult to get into instrumental music most of the time and even harder to review it. But Khruangbin is easily an exception to this rule. I had never heard of this group until their excellent collaborative Texas Sun EP with Leon Bridges earlier this year. I’m so glad I found them, as I’ve now listened to their entire catalog after hearing the EP. Even better that they’ve dropped even more music with new album Mordechai. While I wouldn’t put it at the level of their great, southwestern-flavored 2018 album Con Todo El Mundo, this album is another pretty damn good record from the trio. This album centers mostly around a groovy, psychedelic funk sound with tinges of disco and jam pop mixed in at times. The band also surprises by mixing in some vocals on this record and they actually work pretty well. Most importantly they don’t detract from the hypnotic sounds of the band, which will always be the focus and strength of the group. If I had to pick my favorites they would be “Time (You and I)”, “Father Bird, Mother Bird” and album closer “Shida.” The latter is probably the top song for me, as the bass line is simply flawless. And if you’re looking for a relaxing album, you will be hard-pressed to find one more chill than this one in 2020. Solid 9/10

Eric Church — “Stick That in Your Country Song”

Finally I have to of course comment on the lead single for Eric Church’s upcoming new album, “Stick That in Your Country Song.” Without a doubt Church has been one of the best artists in country music for the last several years, as both Mr. Misunderstood and Desperate Man were fantastic albums. So he easily has the clout and respect to drop a song that’s basically calling out lazy songwriting and pandering bullshit being released by all kinds of artists in the industry. Church has been a bit more understated and introspective on his last two albums, so he was due to bring back the fiery, passionate side. 

The results are pretty good, as Church brings an infectious energy in all aspects. The lyrics are as subtle as a hammer to the head and get the point across pretty well, while also bringing attention to what needs to be heard more in country songs. It’s interesting how Church did not have a hand in writing this song, as this is not only a rarity for him, but this song also fits him perfectly. While I’m not fond of country songs that focus on if something is country or not these days, this song is not really about being country, but rather demanding more from his fellow artists. And he’s absolutely right to call them out for this. Once again I’m excited for another Church album!

Album Review — Zac Brown Band’s ‘The Owl’

(Warning: Long review! I don’t like writing them, but this is what happens when this band releases divisive music because I did the same thing two albums ago for this group.)

It’s confounding to many what Zac Brown Band have become. But I actually don’t think the band has changed and I’ll explain throughout this review. I think one big problem this band is running into is they continue to label their albums as country and send singles to country radio, yet in interviews they (and by they, it’s really Zac Brown) say they don’t limit themselves to one genre. Do they not understand how this confuses people? You can’t have your cake and eat it too. People don’t like to be bullshitted and they just want it given to them straight (see Sturgill Simpson on his new album, yet for some reason Billboard still put him on the country albums chart). Instead this band didn’t give it to fans straight and now they’re pissed. As a result this album is being put through the ringer and it’s justified for the band’s confusing signals, but at the same time the most egregious moments on the album are overshadowing what I believe to be some promising signs.

Sorry for this little rant, but it had to be said before I could finally talk about the music on this band’s new album The Owl.

Opening track “The Woods” is pretty fun and upbeat, making it a good choice for an opening track. It’s basically about doing your own thing and acknowledging that we all have different things that make us tick. This is a great song and approach for a band that wants to bend genres and do something different. I think even if you don’t like this song, you can at least respect the sentiment. “Need This” is supposed to be an island getaway song, but I have to tell you I’m not feeling the tropical, beach vibes on this. And when I think of a song like this, I think of a more relaxing tone and not the frenetic sound of this song. It’s just really odd and off-putting considering the theme.

Then we get to “OMW,” which is super catchy. And in this case, it’s not good. It’s not good at all. Because then you get this annoying song about getting a text saying OMW from a significant other stuck in your head. It’s one of the worst ear worms I’ve ever had stuck in my head because the lyrics are so vapid, dumb and not fun. So naturally this will end up a single. “Someone I Used To Know” is one of the better songs on the album, as it’s about someone looking back on their former selves and letting go of it for the person they are now. It’s a great song about growing as a person and one of the few moments on the album where the lyrics go beyond a base level. The sound is even fun and has flashes of country.

The most fun track on the album though is “Me and the Boys in the Band.” That’s because this track plays into this band’s strength of jam band, roots influenced rock with fun, singalong lyrics. The fiddle play of Jimmy de Martini can actually be heard, which has felt missing in this band’s music. You can also hear the band in Zac Brown Band on this song, which is no surprise as it’s one of the few songs on this album that doesn’t have outside writers that Brown brought in (this one is written by Brown, Clay Cook and Luke Laird). If you look at the songwriters on each song of this album, it’s quite telling of how each song turned out.

“Finish What We Started” is about a couple trying to reconcile and keep their relationship intact. Brandi Carlile sounds great as usual as the guest artist on this song, but the song itself doesn’t really do much for me. It lacks the heart and passion needed to really get the lyrics across, which I put on a weak vocal performance from Brown. This was a decent song that could have been great.

“God Given” is…I’m not quite sure how to best describe it. Basically I imagine Zac Brown (this has his finger prints all over it and I refuse to believe this was the band’s idea) was listening to the Rap Caviar playlist on Spotify one day and he thought to himself, “I could do something like this.” But he never thought if he should do it. You’re not a rapper! And hearing Zac Brown sing about Gucci bags and Vera whips is one of the most awkward and clumsy things you’ll hear this year. The lyrics aren’t even bad, but they fit someone like Bruno Mars or Justin Timberlake, not Zac Brown Band. Give this song to Timberlake and it would sound great. This song is the equivalent of someone knowingly putting on leather pants that are five sizes too small and then walking around like everything is fine. It’s not fine, it’s weird and we all feel second-hand embarrassment.

“Warrior” is about the strength and resiliency of people who serve in the armed forces and the struggles they deal with. On an album with multiple bad lyrical moments, this is certainly not one of them and I applaud the songwriters for actually crafting a great song about an important issue around soldiers that isn’t full of the usual clichés you hear in patriotic songs. “Shoofly Pie” has a roots-y and funky sound that I enjoy, similar in the vein of “Me and the Boys in the Band,” as it fits this band really well. The lyrics are fine (they don’t employ a sexual euphemism in a tacky or sophomoric way), but the hook gets repetitive so quickly. This song could have easily been like a minute shorter. “Already On Fire” is another track where I really enjoy the sound. It’s more on the rock side, which this band has demonstrated many times they’re great at, but for some reason they refuse to make a full-blown rock album. The lyrical imagery fits the sound well too, as it gives the song a sinister mood I enjoy.

Closing song “Leaving Love Behind” is the classic sound and song many grew accustom to with this group. It’s about looking back at a relationship that’s ended and trying to let go of the love that was once shared. I imagine Brown drew from his separation from his wife for this song, as you can feel the emotion from the opening note. Most importantly this song feels like the group made it and not Zac Brown with a bunch of outside writers and producers. It proves my point too about the songwriters, as this was written by Brown, Cook, Coy Bowles, de Martini, and Tim and Phil Hanseroth. This song shows this band can still be brilliant when they choose to be.

While many have taken their shots at this album and have come away from it more concerned for the Zac Brown Band than ever before, I actually take away from The Owl that this band is still great. The problem is not the band in Zac Brown Band, but Zac Brown himself. If you remove the three worst songs on this album, the remaining songs are overall pretty good. But the three worst songs are so bad that for many it just completely dominates the rest of The Owl. And it’s clear that the worst moments on this album are of Brown’s doing (see that terrible solo pop album he released as further proof). When Zac Brown Band is allowed to be a tight and cohesive band for a full album, they’re great. But does Zac Brown really want to be in a band anymore? Or is he more interested in his own vanity projects and ideas?

Grade: 6/10

Review – Zac Brown Band’s “My Old Man”

zac-brown-band-my-old-man

Welcome Home. As you longtime readers know, I wasn’t fond of Zac Brown Band’s last album Jekyll + Hyde. While it wasn’t a bad album, it was a disappointment and I let my criticisms of the album be known, most notably the lackluster songwriting and releasing an EDM song to country radio. They were better than this and many other fans expressed the same. The band seemed to get the message, as in late 2016 they let it be known their next album would go back to their roots. Now we get to hear if they walk the walk with their new single “My Old Man.” From the very first listen, it’s quite clear that this group is back where they belong. There’s no other way to put this: the song is gorgeous and features Zac Brown Band at their best. The song is about a man recalling the upbringing by his father and the impact it had on him. He’s now a father of his own and hoping to pass this along to his own son. All the while he’s hoping his father is still looking down on him, hoping he’s as proud of him as a man when he was a child. This is the type of impactful and emotion-packed songwriting I’ve been wanting to hear from them. Brown delivers the same type of vulnerable vocal performance that he delivered with “Grandma’s Garden” on Southern Family, perfectly fitting the song. The harmonies are great and well placed. Then we get to the instrumentation, which is an area Zac Brown Band has always thrived in. But they even take this to a new level, with the delicate acoustic guitar sweeping through the song and excellent fiddle play from Jimmy de Martini is heavily featured that was so lacking on the previous album. Of course credit has to also go to Dave Cobb, who is producing this song and the entirety of their upcoming album Welcome Home (I had a sneaking suspicion after seeing the band switched to Elektra/Warner). “My Old Man” is absolutely fantastic and this makes me pretty excited for what’s in-store for the rest of the album.

Grade: 9/10

 

Recommend? – YES!

 

Written by Zac Brown, Niko Moon & Ben Simonetti

Country Perspective’s 2016 Song of the Year Nominees

You can find many good songs. You can find a good bit of great songs. But finding truly excellent songs that grasp your mind, heart and soul is something that is no easy task. It takes a true artist pouring blood, sweat and tears into their music. It takes guts and honesty to create something truly lasting and spectacular. Of course it’s not just fantastic, soul-reaching songwriting. It’s the perfect instrumentation to complement it and an artist’s voice to truly connect with the music at hand. This is the criteria it takes to win Country Perspective’s 2016 Song of the Year award.

In addition other factors taken into consideration are impact and the way it relates to the current year’s events and happenings. I will ultimately determine which song will win, but I also want to hear from you the readers who is deserving of the award. Your comments will be considered for determining what wins and you could possibly sway what should be the winner. So be sure to sound off in the comments! Without further ado the nominees for Country Perspective’s 2016 Song of the Year (in no particular order):

Lori McKenna – “Old Men Young Women”

Many probably expected another Lori McKenna song to land here, but this was by far the best song on her album The Bird & The Rifle in my mind. McKenna ruthlessly picks apart the dynamics of an older man and younger woman dating, speaking from the point of view someone who’s dated the older man before and the hell she went through in the process.

Margo Price – “Hands of Time”

Margo Price opens her debut album with an absolute bang, “Hands of Time,” and it’s stuck with me ever since. As she grows older with each year she learns the cruel lesson of father time while fighting the everyday obstacles of life and trying to fulfill the lofty goal of restoring the former family farm to its rightful owner.

Turnpike Troubadours – “Come As You Are”

They didn’t even release a new album this year and yet the Turnpike Troubadours land a Song of the Year nomination for a second straight year. This one comes courtesy of The New Waltz series and co-written by Felker, the song is about a man admitting his reckless and drunken lifestyle is hurting him and everyone around him. In typical TT fashion, it’s quite biting.

Parker Millsap – “Heaven Sent”

Perhaps one of the most overlooked songs of the year from an overlooked artist. Parker Millsap delivered a fine album in The Very Last Day, but “Heaven Sent” is the shining jewel of the record. The song is from the point of view a gay man who has come out to his father and desperately seeks for him to love him like he did when he thought he was straight. It’s a very cutting and emotional song on a subject that’s not common in country music.

Sturgill Simpson – “Call to Arms”

Sturgill landed here two years ago with “Turtles All The Way Down” and it was the only award he didn’t win of the three he was nominated for. Once again he has three nominations and lands here with perhaps the most visceral song he’s ever recorded, “Call to Arms.” Fueled by anger and conviction, Simpson rips the systems of society from the war on drugs to actual war to the everyday bullshit in media. It was certainly an ear-catching exclamation point to A Sailor’s Guide to Earth.

Brandy Clark – “I Cried”

Brandy Clark released a pretty good album in Big Day in a Small Town. There were many good songs on that album, but it was her appearance on Southern Family that caught my eye the most. Heartbreak is what Clark excels at and “I Cry” fits her like a glove. The song is about watching a grandparent lose their significant other and the heart-wrenching pain one goes through as you not only watch someone go through it, but experience your own emotions. Clark nails it.

BJ Barham – “Unfortunate Kind”

Sticking with heart-wrenching, BJ Barham released the darkest and most depressing album I heard all year. But its brilliant at the same time. I thought reader Brett summed it up well a few days ago in the comments: “strong writing, but makes you wanna drink yourself to a comma.” Well this song is the center-piece of this fantastic tragedy, as Barham sings about a husband and wife falling in love, only for one day the wife to die tragically young and leaving the husband in pieces.

Karen Jonas – “The Garden”

I didn’t think Karen Jonas could top her fantastic debut Oklahoma Lottery, but she somehow did with Country Songs. The album is chockfull of great music, but the absolute standout to my ears was “The Garden.” The most dynamic song of her young career so far, it’s about a mysterious falling out of forbidden love amongst young lovers and the woman looking back on it years later. If the songwriting isn’t enough to impress you, the song goes even further with absolute killer instrumentation in the bridge you have to hear for yourself.

Lydia Loveless – “Real”

Lydia Loveless is anything but conventional and her newest album Real really proves this. With out any care in the world for genre lines, Loveless delivers honestly great music and deep lyrics. But it’s the album’s title track and final song that really delivers. It explores the mindset of a young woman and the helpless they can feel when it comes to love. It’s one of the most real love songs you’ll hear all year.

Kelsey Waldon – “All By Myself”

Kelsey Waldon really broke out this year with the release of her sophomore album I’ve Got A Way and was one of the best I heard all year. It’s pure country music throughout with even better lyrics to accompany it. It can be hard to pick the best song on an album like this one, but I found the one that really shined the most was “All By Myself.” It’s empowering anthem that’s lesson to the listener is you should follow the beat of your own drum, particularly women. You should only be yourself and nobody else’s.

Zac Brown – “Grandma’s Garden”

Who’d thunk Zac Brown of all people would land a nominee for Song of the Year? This comes a year after Zac Brown Band nearly walked away with Worst Song of the Year for the dreadful “Beautiful Drug.” I guess this speaks to the magic of Dave Cobb, as he brings out the absolute best in Brown here with the perfect song choice for him. It’s a tear-jerker of a song about a man who grew up helping his grandma with the garden and the life lessons she bestowed upon him. Eventually she passes away and the man realizes at her funeral what an impact she made on him. On an album full of great music, it’s speak to how great this song is.

Daniel Meade & The Flying Mules – “Leave Me to Bleed”

I would have to say that 2016 has probably been a pretty good year for Daniel Meade & The Flying Mules. They were not only chosen to open up for Sturgill Simpson on a European swing of his tour, but released a really good album too. Let Me off at the Bottom is probably one of the most under-talked albums of the year and it shouldn’t because this group is as good as almost any other in the genre. The group really excels at making fun and engaging music, but here they show they’re just as good at making darker music. This song is about a man finding his bride committed suicide right before they were to wed and being left to live with survivor’s guilt. It’s even darker than it sounds.

Breelan Angel – “Rhinestone World”

This song was one of the early song of the year contenders and I can confidently say it’s held up well. Breelan Angel is an up and comer in the Texas scene that immediately caught my attention upon hearing this song. We’ve had a lot of protest songs in country music the past few years, even ones concerning women in the genre. But “Rhinestone World” addresses the latter in the best way, calling out sexist perverts in the industry and the emphasis placed on looks over music when it comes to women. The song shouts out pioneering women like Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn who experienced the same. I think those legends would be awfully proud of a song like this one.

Miranda Lambert – “To Learn Her”

Miranda Lambert absolutely delivers in spades on her new double album The Weight of These Wings. As I said in my review, it’s the crown jewel of her career so far and that’s in big part to the raw and honest songwriting throughout it. There were many standouts you could pick on this album, but to me the one I’ll probably never forget and the best on the album is “To Learn Her.” First off it sounds like a classic country song with the thick pedal steel guitar. Then you get to the song itself, which is about how you can never truly learn someone just by asking how they are. There’s so much honesty in the lyrics and Lambert sings them with conviction.

Country Perspective’s Best Country and Americana Songs of 2016 So Far

As we look back at the best and worst of the first half of 2016, we take today to highlight over the songs that have stood out to us. Great lyrics, passionate vocals, and a good, fitting production all work together to create songs that connect with the listeners for a variety of reasons. Some of these songs were part of albums, others were released as singles with no albums attached, but all are great country and Americana songs.

Remember too that it’s impossible for us to keep up with every single release, and we do our best to cover the most songs possible. So please don’t be that person in the comments section that says something along the lines of: “This list is irrelevant because (insert song) isn’t on it” or “This list sucks.” Agree or disagree all you want, just be respectful about it. Not everyone has the same opinion, so keep this in mind.

YouTube videos available for the top songs are provided, and all songs are compiled into a Spotify playlist at the end of the post.

So without further ado, Country Perspective’s ten best country and Americana songs so far in 2016 (in no particular order).….

(Click on the song name to see the full review)

“Hands of Time” by Margo Price

The opening track to Price’s Midwest Farmer’s Daughter is a beautiful six-minute trip into Margo’s life growing up on the farm and trying to get her life established as an adult. Price’s higher pitched delivery stands out on top of the heavy bass line.

“Heaven Sent” by Parker Millsap

“Heaven Sent” brilliantly tackles a difficult and rarely seen subject in country or Americana music. Millsap sings from the perspective of a gay son trying to figure out why his preacher father can’t accept him for who he is. The vocals capture the confusion and frustration of the son.

“Goodbye Kiss” by Flatland Cavalry

This new country band from Texas tell a common breakup story a fresh sense of pain from the narrator. Before saying goodbye for good, the couple in the song share one final kiss, which leaves an aching memory for the song’s narrator. Great country production, and the vocals and lyrics work together to paint a picture of pain and regret.

“Pink Flamingos” by Erik Dylan

Murder ballads are a common theme in country and Americana, but Erik Dylan’s “Pink Flamingos” flips the trope on its head. It’s a justifiable murder because the victim was a child predator, and Dylan’s vocal delivery is the icing on the cake of a well-written song.

“Rhinestone World” by Breelan Angel

There are protest songs that are good, there are protest songs that are bad, and then there’s Breelan Angel’s protest song. Being released in the aftermath of Keith Hill’s tomato comments and Katie Armiger’s claims against her label, “Rhinestone World” gives a voice for the women who are expected to act differently to get their moment in the spotlight. It’s the only song to get a 10/10 rating on Country Perspective this year.

“Take It Down” by Chris King

Chris King’s Animal is a fantastic concept album detailing a man trying to move past the fall of his relationship. “Take It Down” is the emotional peak of the album, where the narrator deals directly with the hurt from the relationship’s end. It’s a hurt caused by seeing her picture in a bar they once visited together. Great songwriting and vocals from Chris King.

“Call to Arms” by Sturgill Simpson

The final song on Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is a fiercely political song against the news cycle leaders in our culture today. The song features an extended musical solo of horns and guitars, making a blended country and rock melody.

“Ain’t Nobody” by Dori Freeman

One of the most unique songs we’ve heard this year, this song is beautifully sung A-Capella by Freeman accompanied by only her finger snaps. Dori Freeman’s self titled debut is an excellent album, and this song proved to be the standout from the album.

“Grandma’s Garden” by Zac Brown

It’s hard to pick only one song from Southern Family, as the album is full of great songs from some of country and Americana’s best. Zac Brown’s tale of a family matriarch and the family she grew is wonderfully sang from Brown. It touches on one of country music highest values, and shows how great Zac Brown and Dave Cobb work together.

“She Ain’t In It” by Jon Pardi

We haven’t reviewed this song from Pardi’s upcoming California Sunrise, but this song pre-release show’s Pardi’s devotion to keeping country’s tradition alive. “She Ain’t In It” is another well-written heartbreak song, and a features a production that calls back to the 90s country sound.

Honorable Mentions

  • “You Are My Sunshine” by Morgane Stapleton – We didn’t feel right bumping one of the great songs above for a cover song, but “You Are My Sunshine” might be one of the best recordings of the year.
  • “I Cried” by Brandy Clark – A third song on this list featured from Southern Family. “I Cried” is poignant, with great vocals from Clark.
  • “Holdin’ Her” by Chris Janson – A beautiful, personal love song from Janson, featuring great vocals and an excellent country production.
  • “Blue Besides” by The Honeycutters – A great country production on a song dealing with the pains of growing up.
  • “Breaker’s Roar” by Sturgill Simpson – Another great song from Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, where Sturgill Simpson sings to encourage his son during hard times in life.
  • “Record Year” by Eric Church – Released last year, but the song is still on the rising on the charts this year. “Record Year” has great lyrics with Eric Church’s word play with using music to overcome heartbreak.
  • “My Last Song” by Addison Johnson – As Josh said in his review, “the song tackles life so poignantly. It’s not so much dark, but rather looks at life in a simplistic, mature manner that can resonate deeply with anyone who listens.”