Posted in Top Picks

Top 10 Songs of 2014

SelfTitled

#10 Wade Bowen -West Texas Rain

The combination of earnest Red Dirt rock lyrics and the incomparable Vince Gill highlights an excellent album for the native Texan. The sprawling message and long harmonies are perfectly worthy of the rainstorms of the region Bowen harkens to.

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#9 Old Crow Medicine Show -Shit Creek

A furious cry against a futile relationship, “Shit Creek” features the veteran pickers at their quickest and closest to punk. Not enough can be said about their playing on this song. Really, the whole album is shockingly fresh after the departure of Willie Watson.

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# 8 Hurray for the Riff Raff -The Body Electric

Considering how true this political statement is, it’s shocking it hasn’t been made so effectively until 2014. Celebrating the murder of women (or men, for that matter) is not really the best use of music, Alynda Lee Segarra argues brilliantly. The last two lines should forever dispatch the use and advocacy of violence. And the fiddle work is sparse but stunning.

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#7 Zoe Muth -Mama Needs A Margarita

There’s still exciting work being done in the world of traditional country and Zoe Muth may be the very best proof of that in 2014. The titular character in this song sings of an escape from her newfound responsibilities over a beautiful background of strumming and steel. The tone is somewhat mournful though, as it’s clear she won’t take off or be able to return to her younger days. Maybe that’s not the worst thing. Maybe singing songs like these are enough of an escape from the mundane pains of everyday life. Listening to them sure helps.

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#6 Parker Millsap -Truck Stop Gospel

Millsap’s gorgeous raspy vocals bring to life a quirky character on the road who brings church to truck stops. In a truck, of course. The swinging guitar mixes well with fiddle and piano flourishes and the lyrics are great for a laugh.

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#5 Amy Ray -Anyhow

The Indigo Girl’s bittersweet rumination on love, life, death and faith is as devastating as it gets. It’s also shockingly simple. Life can be harsh, but there’s always something to be thankful for. The last verse may have more healing power than any therapist can offer. Also, the dobro playing is exactly what Amy Ray’s voice needs as a compliment.

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#4 Miranda Lambert -Bathroom Sink

Overlooked on Miranda’s chart-topping Platinum but not on this list, “Bathroom Sink” picks up where “Mama’s Broken Heart” left off. The mother-daughter conflict is present as is the theme of covering up emotional pain. While not quite as catchy as its predecessor, “Bathroom Sink” runs deeper and cements Miranda’s place as the queen of mainstream country in a way “Automatic” or “Platinum” never could. They might be hits now, but this is the type of song that’ll be relevant for decades.

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#3 Lee Ann Womack -The Way I’m Livin’

Epic is probably the only word to describe Womack’s title cut from my favorite album of the year. The vocals are flawless and the orchestra tops what almost any other artist who makes sense with this song would have gone with. The lyrics are unremarkable, but the melody is the best of 2014. The delivery is even better.

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#2 Zoe Muth -Annabelle

Annabelle earned Muth a rare second spot in one of my top ten lists by bringing two complex characters to life at once. Annabelle is a wanderer and a rich story teller; her sister loves her but harbors some anger toward her at the same time. The piano and cello dance at the end just as the two do in the lyrics and, even though the moment is beautiful, it’s clear nothing will change.

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#1 Angaleena Presley -All I Ever Wanted

By far the most ambitious song on this list, “All I Ever Wanted” lands at number one despite having a few flaws. Religion is a complex topic that most songs address too simply. Presley’s conversation with the devil reveals what Pope Francis has said to be true: Good people do go to  heaven regardless of their level of devotion to the church or even God. All Presley ever wanted was ‘a real good time’ and it appears she’ll get it.

Honorable Mention:

Little Big Town -Girl Crush; Eric Church -Give Me Back My Hometown; The Infamous Stringdusters -Let It Go; Mickey Guyton -Safe; Balsam Range -Everything That Glitters; Maddie & Tae -Girl In A Country Song; Doug Seegers -Angie’s Song; Sturgill Simpson -Turtles All The Way Down

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Posted in Reviews

Garth Brooks Return a Mixed Bag

With the news of Garth Brooks’ first album in 13 years came a certain amount of anticipation and a certain amount of dread. Longtime fans hoping to know which feeling was correct may still have to wonder after the release of ‘Man Against Machine’ today as the album contained both befuddling tracks best left off and solid, even spectacular additions to one of the greatest catalogues in country music.

The best takeaway from ‘Man Against Machine’ is that Brooks decided not to modernize, instead appealing directly to the fans he’s held since the early 90s. Thank God for that. He may have even gone back further, relying heavily on elements of 80s rock in two of his first three tracks. The songs are solid, but perhaps not what people were expecting.

The two songs offered as previews, including lead single ‘People Loving People’ and ‘Send ‘Em On Down the Road,’ are both bland and unworthy representatives at the good contained within the album.

That good is captured well in ‘Mom,’ a conversation between a baby and God that probably brought most people who listened to it to tears. When Brooks assumes the voice of the Almighty, it sounds just about like what one might expect him to sound like. Expect it to become a standard on Mother’s Day.

‘She’s Tired of Boys’ and ‘Fish’ are also highlights, with the ridiculous ‘Rodeo and Juliet’ and weak ‘Cowboys Forever’ representing worst of what ‘Machine’ has to offer. The two better tracks are conversational and carry a unique message, as do many of Brooks’ better songs. But even Garth can’t slip “thoust” into a song without it becoming awkward, nor can he rhyme “nation” and “generation” without pushing the limits of what people will want to hear.

‘Midnight Train’ is the safe choice for best on the album, with ‘Tacoma’ being slightly more divisive. The latter, which ends the album with a touch of heartbreaking gospel, is a flawed but beautiful southern soul song. It’s slightly over-performed, but largely retains its power thanks to good writing and vocals that work the majority of the time. ‘Midnight Train’ relies on exception drum and steel guitar work, as well as a straightforward and earnest performance from Brooks.

Had Brooks released an album more typical to his format, trimming the three of four songs that run more than five minutes and leaving off the four weakest songs to keep it to 10 tracks, we may be looking at something incredible. Instead, it’s an above average album for its time but below par for the lofty standards Brooks created for himself in the 90s with classics such as ‘No Fences’ and ‘Ropin’ the Wind.’

Image courtesy Garth Brooks’ Twitter. Yeah, he has a Twitter now and that’s awesome. @GarthBrooks

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.

Posted in Reviews

Wade Bowen and the Good Small Label Album that Actually Sold

Image courtesy of Wade Bowen

By Trevor Christian

There may no longer be a place at Sony Nashville for Texas singer-songwriter Wade Bowen, but there’s clearly a place on iTunes for him. And on the morning of his album’s release, that place was second on the country charts and fourth overall.

Bowen is most well known for his singles “Saturday Night” and “Songs About Trucks,” which both go against the grain of the country radio narrative of wild nights and dirt roads. “Saturday Night” is the melancholy story of a man in a bar wishing for quiet; “Songs About Trucks” is literally a request for someone to stop singing about trucks. Sony Nashville and Bowen decided to part ways after the later of the two tunes failed to chart in 2013. Bowen moved to Amp, a much smaller label that has a history of allowing for some pretty creative work. Continue reading “Wade Bowen and the Good Small Label Album that Actually Sold”

Posted in Reviews

Angaleena Up: Presley’s Album Among Year’s Best

Image courtesy of Angaleena Presley’s website.

By Trevor Christian

Angaleena Presley, the least known of the country supergroup Pistol Annies, could be well on her way to stardom herself.

Thanks to Presley’s amazing work with Pistol Annies — see “Lemon Drop” for one she penned herself — and the four rewarding singles she released leading up to her debut album, “American Middle Class,” earned a place as one of the most anticipated albums of the year among a certain type of country fan. Yet, upon getting a hold of it, most will find that her earthy tone and relatable lyrics make it feel like she’s been around for a long time already. Continue reading “Angaleena Up: Presley’s Album Among Year’s Best”

Posted in Reviews

Doug Seegers’ Stunning Debut at 62

Photo courtesy of Doug Seegers

By Trevor Christian

In the past year, Doug Seegers has gone from homeless on the streets of Nashville to being the top-selling artist in Sweden by singing a style of country blues not popular in either nationfor decades. Perhaps the only thing more incredible than Seegers’ story is his debut album, “Going Down to the River.”

Seegers, who was born in neighboring Setauket 62 years ago, beautifully wails tragic love songs and waltzes through blues tracks in a voice that any true fan of American roots music will instantly recognize as classic and soulful. It’s almost as if the only thing Seegers needed to succeed was the ability to draw on the pain of living in Nashville for 17 years, watching others make it big while continuing to fall short and battle addiction.

Continue reading “Doug Seegers’ Stunning Debut at 62”