Posted in Blogs

Top 10 Aaron Watson Songs

Aaron Watson made Texas, traditional and indie country fans so proud this week by topping the charts with The Underdog an earnest album mostly absent of the cliches that have bogged down the genre in recent years. But Watson has been around since 2002 and has at times shown flashes of brilliance brighter than anything Nashville could produce. What’s consistent is that in his lyrics, family values trump party mantras and women are talked about as true lovers and heartaches but not as hookups or arm candy. Here’s my Top 10 Aaron Watson Songs, with a bit of emphasis put on the new stuff. It’s just his best album yet.

10. Reckless (2004)

Reckless both laments and celebrates an old teenage relationship, though it seems to lean more heavily in the direction of celebration. After all, Aaron says he’d take the ride again for the thrill of it.

9. That Look (2014)

Contemporary country, but for adults. That Look describes a committed relationship that’s good “but even better when she gets that look.” Sinatra and wine are used in seduction, though, and both people are involved in making the other happy, something that shouldn’t be as refreshing to hear as it is.

8. Barbed Wire Halo (2008)

Aaron pays tribute to heroes in other songs, but none are so richly realized as the character in Barbed Wire Halo. A widower, soldier and tattooed man who treated his congregation as family dies in this song infused with hymns.

7. Fast Cars Slow Kisses (2010)

A country song about two offbeat traditionalists who fall in love on the Internet of all places. The title, which is what the woman wrote on her dating profile as two of their favorite things, is a decent play on words. A relatable love song for those who feel different than those around them.

6. July in Cheyenne (Song For Lane’s Momma) (2012)

The best of Aaron’s rodeo songs. Most of the details surrounding a rodeo star’s death are left out in favor of the details of that rodeo star’s life and his family’s feelings. The ending, which reminds his mother that the next time she sees him he won’t be dying like the last time she did, is absolutely devastating in the best way possible.

5. The Road (2010)

Aaron singes as a road. Or is it life? Either way, it the song serves as a reminder not to blame circumstances for actions but to instead take some responsibility for them. Life certainly isn’t that cut and dry, but it’s nicely done and true in more instances than not.

4. Off The Record (2002)

A painful confession of love in the midst of a divorce. Aaron was in his 20s when he sang it, though he clearly appreciated the need for a song about more complicated relationships. He does a good job at capturing the frustration that comes along with lawyers and change.

3. The Prayer (2015)

This song evokes the image of Johnny Cash in the midst of a drug overdose praying for salvation. That’s about as bold as it gets in the country world. Luckily for fans, the payoff is huge, if a little heavy. Contains the excellent line: “Lord, I am just a man, I cannot be the king of me.”

2. Shut Up and Dance (2002)

A couple tries to reconnect after experiencing strife, with Aaron singing from the point of view of the one attempting to stoke the flame. There’s no clear end to the story, but I’d like to think the la-di-das at the end are what they’re dancing along to.

1. Bluebonnets (Julia’s Song) (2015)

To experience the loss of a child like Aaron did is almost unimaginable. That he was able to turn it all into a beautiful, almost uplifting song evoking his faith is unbelievable. Bluebonnets reminds us to cherish every moment and to appreciate something so transient as life by packing light and loving heavy. It’s also the best look at why AW is so lovable.

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Posted in Blogs

On “Dress Blues” And Why We Should Praise Zac Brown

So I’m sure you’ve heard by now that the Zac Brown Band went ahead and performed “Dress Blues” on ESPN last night. For some country music purists, this was sacrilege. Many of Isbell’s fans took to Twitter bashing Zac for touching a song of such depth.

Recently, I reviewed the ZBB single “Homegrown,” and while it was melodically complex and sounded great, it was clearly one of the band’s made-for-radio cuts. “Dress Blues” would be a fantastic song for the ZBB catalogue and could possibly bring something emotional to the radio as well. Isbell’s fans had failed to see what a huge opportunity this could be for the songwriter and country music in general. Luckily, Isbell, a great musician with an equally great Twitter personality, did see it.

He is so right. Zac and friends deserve credit for picking this song over a girls and drinking song that probably could have made them more money. Heck, they’ve always deserved more credit than that. They’ve always been down-home but they’ve rarely done anything ‘bro-ish.’ My take on the whole situation is best explained by this tweet:

Thank you, Shelley, for adding the same measured thought and complexity to your tweet that you demand in your songwriting.

Singles Tuesday will come later in the day. I thought this needed to be said sooner.

Posted in Blogs, News

Country Takes on Spotify and iTunes

Country music fans may be forced to reexamine their allegiances to popular digital music services such as iTunes and Spotify after this past couple of weeks.

Taylor Swift recently removed her entire catalogue from Spotify, most of which was exceptional country music. Jason Aldean, who according to the Tennessean broke Spotify records for a country album with the more than 3 million streams ‘Old Boots, New Dirt’ garnered, removed only his most recent work from the service.

Continue reading “Country Takes on Spotify and iTunes”

Posted in Blogs

Country Pocket CMA Awards Picks

Of the numerous country music awards shows dotted throughout the year, it’s typically the Country Music Academy Awards that come the closest to getting it right. Rather than try to predict them, I’m simply going to share what my ballot would look like if I had one along with some commentary on why I made the pick. Though there are a couple of categories I’d like to see go to someone who isn’t nominated, I’ll do my best to stick to the parameters.

Entertainer of the Year – In a totally awesome and unexpected twist, this category went to George Strait as a sort of lifetime achievement award. But if ‘entertainer’ goes beyond the scope of album quality to include things like concert performances and public personality, it’s hard to imagine anyone has anything on Blake Shelton, except maybe his equally awesome wife. Now go follow their Twitters. You won’t regret it.

Luke Bryan
Miranda Lambert
Blake Shelton
George Strait
Keith Urban

Female Vocalist of the Year – Taylor Swift has moved on from country. As upsetting as it is, I think the CMA Awards should move on from her. While Lambert has a winning streak going in this category and Kacey Musgraves has the best material to work with, Carrie Underwood just released the incredibly performed ‘Something in the Water’ and probably has the strongest voice of the five. She deserves the award.

Miranda Lambert
Martina McBride
Kacey Musgraves
Taylor Swift
Carrie Underwood

Male Vocalist of the Year – Dierks Bentley and Urban both had their strongest album in years during this voting period while Shelton did not have an album. Luke Bryan might be a top seller, but he’s also a bit controversial in his excessive use of pop in crossover songs. While Bentley and Urban are both fine choices, Eric Church is a better one. He has the top selling country album of 2014 with the critical acclaim to match.

Dierks Bentley
Luke Bryan
Eric Church
Blake Shelton
Keith Urban

Vocal Group of the Year – Little Big Town’s latest album is fiercely original and sounds amazing. Lady Antebellum, their competitor with the biggest name, had an off year. Considering the Zac Brown Band didn’t release anything original this year, LBT should have an easy time winning it out.

Eli Young Band
Lady Antebellum
Little Big Town
The Band Perry
Zac Brown Band

Album of the Year – This award should make like a Christian on Sunday morning and go to Church. Only Bryan doesn’t totally deserve the win, though.

‘Crash My Party,’ Luke Bryan
‘Fuse,’ Keith Urban
‘Platinum,’ Miranda Lambert
‘Riser,’ Dierks Bentley
‘The Outsiders,’ Eric Church

Song of the Year – It pains me not to hand this award to Church and Laird, but ‘Follow Your Arrow’ is too significant with its liberal lyrics and sweet, casual melody to ignore. Plus, Brandy Clark’s ’12 Stories’ deserved a few more nominations and this is the only way I can think to make up for it.

‘Automatic,’ Miranda Lambert (Written by Nicole Galyon, Natalie Hemby and Miranda Lambert)
‘Follow Your Arrow,’ Kacey Musgraves (Written by Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally)
‘Give Me Back My Hometown,’ Eric Church (Written by Eric Church and Luke Laird)
‘I Don’t Dance,’ Lee Brice (Written by Lee Brice, Rob Hatch and Dallas Davidson)
‘I Hold On,’ Dierks Bentley (Written by Brett James and Dierks Bentley)

Vocal Duo of the Year – Congratulations, Florida Georgia Line. You two are the most significant country music band that features more than one and fewer than three vocalists. Take that as you will.

Dan + Shay
Florida Georgia Line
Love and Theft
The Swon Brothers
Thompson Square

New Artist of the Year – Thomas Rhett may have one of the better albums in the sub-genre known as bro-country, but Clark had a traditional album for the ages. Moore wouldn’t be a bad choice, though.

Brandy Clark
Brett Eldredge
Kip Moore
Thomas Rhett
Cole Swindell

Single of the Year – Can all the party singles be please be as catchy and clever as ‘Drunk on a Plane?’ Still, Church deserves to dominate this year. I wouldn’t be upset if any of these won, though. This is definitely the best slate of options of any of the categories this year.

‘Automatic,’ Miranda Lambert
‘Drunk on a Plane,’ Dierks Bentley
‘Give Me Back My Hometown,’ Eric Church
‘Meanwhile Back at Mama’s,’ Tim McGraw and Faith Hill
‘Mine Would Be You,’ Blake Shelton

Musical Event of the Year – ‘Meanwhile Back at Mama’s’ is more than an event. It’s a really good song. Again, there isn’t really a bad choice among these.

‘Bakersfield,’ Vince Gill and Paul Franklin
‘Meanwhile Back at Mama’s,’ Tim McGraw and Faith Hill
‘Somethin’ Bad,’ Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood
‘We Were Us,’ Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert
‘You Can’t Make Old Friends,’ Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton

Music Video of the Year – ‘Bartender’ might not be the best song among these, but the music video was hilarious.

‘Automatic,’ Miranda Lambert
‘Bartender,’ Lady Antebellum
‘Drunk on a Plane,’ Dierks Bentley
‘Follow Your Arrow,’ Kacey Musgraves
‘Somethin’ Bad,’ Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood

Musician of the Year – I had the privilege of seeing Jerry Douglas in concert this year. It was an experience worth my imaginary vote.

Sam Bush
Jerry Douglas
Paul Franklin
Dann Huff
Mac McAnally

Thanks to CBS for the photo of the greatest CMA Awards moment ever and The CMA website for the list of nominees.