Posted in Album Ideas, On Air

The Committed Relationship as a Sexy Thrill: Ideas Behind The Songs

by Trevor Christian, photo courtesy Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches

On Banjo Nickaru and Western ScoochesVery Next Thing, the closest thing to a lyrical theme to emerge from the collection of standards, old-time and originals presented is the thrill of being in a committed relationship. Not the excitement that comes from a new relationship or the comfort of an established one, but the renewable passion that extends through marriage and shows up in everyday interactions and activities.

Betina Hershey, the guitar player and almost always the lead singer for the group, more than touched on the sexual aspect of her relationship with her husband, multi-instrumentalist and band leader Nick Russo in her original tune “I Don’t Believe In Love.” The ironically named song jokes about how calling a relationship ‘love’ might bring with it all the bad experiences Hershey had come to associate with the word. It also suggested that though the relationship would be committed, it wouldn’t be conventional in label or practice. The lyrics encourage a suitor to “ring my bell every night” and contain a few phrases like “eat my honeydew” and “sprinkle me, you beautiful man” that at least seem designed to come across as suggestive. When talking with me for the February 6 episode of Country Pocket on WUSB, Hershey credited her parents with forming positive attitudes about relationships.

“I come from parents who were hippies and musicians and super loving and very expressive so they understood how to talk about anything,” she said. “I knew so many things about my parents that were really handy as a teenager going out into the world and figuring out how to live my own life and be bold and try things. I believe that life should be an exploration of love and joy as much as possible.”

The album’s other original, “I’m Gettin’ Married,” was a song Hershey and Russo co-wrote from the male point of view, though the same attitude about relationships still shined through. Marriage might mean less time out with friends and more time spent playing with baby toys, the song argues, but it’s still limitless: “Now my sin is perfectly legal/I do what I want every night/I stare in their eyes and wonder/how can this be so right?”

Though the majority of the covers on Very Next Thing address different topics, the two that   Even if she hadn’t used the word mischievous when introducing the song at the group’s performance Bay Shore’s Eclectic Cafe, Hershey’s facial expressions during “Ain’t Misbehavin’” conveyed that mood. She grinned and looked around the room out of the sides of her smiling eyes. For her, the tune isn’t a proud statement of fidelity despite temptation. It’s an exciting chance to celebrate how happy she is in her relationship while rejecting suitors from a place of total confidence.

“Nobody But My Baby Is Getting My Love” follows a similar theme. Hershey said her reason for selecting the old fashioned tune was its “gleeful” mood.

“I’m in my skin and I’m happy. It’s that kind of a song.”

Russo and Hershey do seem to be in a fantastic place. On a Saturday night, they were out playing the with friends their children call uncles while joking with each other between interview segments.

“We have so much fun playing these things together. It’s our play.” She also credited strong communication skills with keeping the couple happy.

To hear the characteristically quirky story of their courtship, listen in to part of our conversation on the topic here: 

Posted in On Air

Pharis and Jason Romero Talk With Country Pocket

I was lucky enough to have the chance to talk to Pharis and Jason Romero from the out on their tour of the Western parts of Canada and the United States via Skype yesterday. They’re supporting they’re incredible new album “A Wanderer I’ll Stay” and I’m supporting my show on WUSB 90.1 which happens to be called Country Pocket like this site. I’ll be broadcasting the full interview along with most of the album on Friday at 7 am in a full hour dedicated to this serene folk singing duo, but for those who can’t tune in or just aren’t awake yet at that hour, I thought I’d provide our pre-recorded conversation for you to listen to here. Below are both parts of the interview and the powerful title track from “Wanderer,” along with a link to buy the album on Bandcamp.

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.

Posted in Reviews, Top Picks

The Lone Bellow’s Sophomore Release Somehow Improves on Their Debut

It was always going to be difficult for The Lone Bellow to exceed their soaring first album. And yet, the Brooklyn trio that’s so difficult to assign a genre to has shown they can somehow equal its highlights while missing of fewer songs. The harmonies are sharper and arrangements slightly less predictable; this time around the only formula followed is variety.

For fans of the first album, everything is there and more. “Heaven Don’t Call Me Home” provides a foot-stomping good time. “Fake Roses” expertly describes loneliness before easing the pain with a bit of compassion. “Then Came the Morning” is a breakup song equal parts bitter and uplifting. “Call to War” is haunting and shockingly pretty considering its subject. Links to the videos can be found here.

But the highlight has to be Marietta, which really doesn’t compare to anything the group has done before. It tells the story of a relationship troubled by mental illness. “I’ll let you in again,” Williams sings to the title character, “and patiently wait for your storm.” He refers to a time Marietta was at a low point as “in your midnight,” a time when loneliness “seeps through the cracks in your floor.” He also includes the line “what you call your family are gone.” It’s heavy and almost too dark to bear for someone with a similar character in their life. It’s also uncompromisingly true and therefore gorgeous. Thank you, The Lone Bellow, for representing such a difficult topic with such beautiful words. Even in the banner year of new releases that is 2015, this song and album will likely still stand out.

Score: A+

Must Hear: “Marietta,” “Fake Roses” “Then Came the Morning” “Heaven Don’t Call Me Home” “Call To War” “Diners” “Cold As It Is”

Skip: “I Let You Go”

Posted in Reviews, Top Picks

The Mulligan Brothers Remain Near Perfect

2836393In their first album, The Mulligan Brothers suggested they one day might write a song just stupid enough to make the radio. Thankfully for their fans, they haven’t yet.

“Via Portland,” the Alabama group’s second studio effort, finds them all in fine form, especially Ross Newell. His voice is still sweet and rich and the lyrics he sings with that voice are still worthy of it. “Wait For Me” is one of the better album openings I’ve heard in a long time and though the words are simple, something unusual for this band, the melody more than carries the song.

Some of the ideas this band comes up with for songs are absolutely unbelievable. A man talks to himself unconvincingly about a breakup while driving in his car to distract himself from the very topic he’s rambling about in “City Full of Streets.” In “Calamine,” another man is taken on a terrifying ride across the country and eventually killed by his murderous friend who earned his nickname for relieving the itch of his trigger finger. Calamine, of course, is a gun. “Let Them Ring” uses patriotic language to describe a drinking problem fueled by a breakup in a way that illustrates the downside to a certain kind of freedom. There’s also “Bad Idea,” a song named for something that the brothers claim make for beautiful days. “Let Them Ring” may miss the mark, but it’s better to hear a band try something ambitious than listen to another song we’ve heard done before.

Of course there are scores of great lines to choose from in this album, but I’ll point to one in the song about long distance relationships made difficult by distance and death, “Run On Ahead,” as my favorite.

“I wish we lived forever/Oh, how I wish it wasn’t so/That our minds wear out our bodies just like shoes.”

Is “Via Portland” as good as the debut album? Almost, but it only fell short because nothing was quite as perfect as “Sensible Shoes.” The harmonies are better, this time around, though, so it is of a high enough quality to earn my top mark and keep The Mulligan Brothers at the top of my list of most promising and under-appreciated talents in Americana music today.

Score: A+

Must Hear: “Wait For Me,” “Calamine” “I Don’t Wanna Know,” “City Full of Streets,” “Run On Ahead,” “So Are You”

Skip: “Let Them Ring” “Not Always What It Seems”

Posted in News

Preview Sunday: The Lone Bellow’s ‘Then Came The Morning’

UPDATE: The whole thing is available thanks to NPR. NPR is seriously amazing.

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 9.36.18 PMWhen and what: 
“Then Came The Morning” is The Lone Bellow’s second studio album. It’s coming out on January 27th. Who they are: The Lone Bellow is a Brooklyn-based trio of transplanted Southerners who absolutely crushed it on their debut album almost two years ago to the day. Zach Williams is typically the lead singer, though vocal harmonies are the single most important element of what The Long Bellow does. They’re best described as indie folk but there are strong elements of gospel and country in some if not most of their songs. Their formula is to rock out loudest right before the last refrain. Aaron Dessner (The National) produced their latest effort. Continue reading “Preview Sunday: The Lone Bellow’s ‘Then Came The Morning’”

Posted in Reviews

Cody Canada and the Departed Dig Deep in the Red Dirt

Cody Canada wants what’s comin’ to him, just as he should. With fellow red dirt rockers like Will Hoge and Wade Bowen tasting success in recent years, it seems only fair that the former Cross Canadian Ragweed singer joins in with his and his band’s latest album, “HippieLovePunk.” Continue reading “Cody Canada and the Departed Dig Deep in the Red Dirt”

Posted in Reviews

Singles Tuesday: Tim McGraw’s ‘Diamond Rings and Old Barstools’ Plus More


“Diamond Rings and Old Barstools” may seem like an odd pairing, but the two work well when combined in a Tim McGraw song. Tim comes up with a creative way to say he’s not good enough for a woman, alluding to a problem with alcohol in a subtle enough way that it feels fresh. Not everything about Sundown Heaven Town is perfect, but the singles are pretty impressive so far.

Continue reading “Singles Tuesday: Tim McGraw’s ‘Diamond Rings and Old Barstools’ Plus More”

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 Reviews

Singles Tuesday: “Wherever Is Your Heart,” “Going Out Like That”

-And with that, the first single of 2015 that pertains to this blog finds me wanting it to be March already. Brandi Carlile is leaning more heavily on the twins than ever in her latest two folk-rock singles.

Admittedly, “Wherever Is Your Heart” is one of the simpler entries in the singer-songwriter’s impressive catalogue, and one that does not live up to “The Story” or “Hard Way Home.” But “Wherever” is a showcase for Carlile’s vocal and harmonizing skills as well as the band’s ability to turn up the energy with a simple pair of guitars.

I’d say this one serves best as a hint of what’s to come in March when “The Firewatcher’s Daughter” drops, rather than as an album highlight. “The Eye,” the new album’s first single, falls squarely into the latter category, so check that out too.

Reba McEntire is also back with new music in the form of “Going Out Like That,” an uplifting radio-ready single that’s traditional enough to please at least some of her loyal fans. Her voice is a little deeper these days, but the heavy hooks and voice alterations make her sound slightly more modern. Don’t get me wrong. This single would still do better a couple of decades ago, but it’s still good and may work anyway.

It may not be a stretch to read into the title in terms of McEntire’s career. A cancelled sitcom was certainly not going to be her last appearance on the big stage. Her NASH Icon debut seems like a more ambitious release than I once thought. Hopefully this comeback goes well, though it may find more traction in the realm of adult contemporary than pop-country.