Review: Lindi Ortega–Til the Goin’ gets Gone EP

Rating: 8/10

Lindi Ortega left Nashville, and nearly country music, behind after realizing that despite her awards and critical acclaim, she still couldn’t pay her rent. Eventually, she ended up at the piano writing what she believed would be her final song, “Final Bow.” But as it so often does, music came out of these struggles, and “Final Bow” ended up as the first song on Ortega’s new EP. And even though it’s only 4 songs, there’s that common thread of pain and hope running through this EP that gives this project a cohesive feel generally not possible, and definitely not easy, with EP’s.
The title track opens the EP, speaking of going on despite all of life’s hardships “til the goin’ gets gone.” Perhaps the line that sums up this whole EP and Ortega’s frame of mind is “and I hope someday they find me, see that I was on my way, when I lay down by the side of the road where I made my grave.” The sparse arrangements here and throughout the EP really add to it, and let the world-weariness in Lindi’s voice shine through. This is an excellent song, and it’s the one you should pick if you only choose one. Next is “What a Girls Gotta Do,” another heartbreaking song in which Lindi sings about a stripper who can’t pay her bills and had no choice but to take this job: “it might make your daddy cry, but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do to survive.” This is another one you should absolutely hear. Ortega’s cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Waiting ‘Round to die” fits the EP perfectly; this is the first time I’ve heard a woman sing this song, and she really pulls it off well. “Final Bow” closes the EP, and because there are only four songs, this brings it down as a whole from a ten. My problems with this one are, although the lyrics are great and it speaks to Lindi personally, it’s almost so personal that it doesn’t really connect. She wrote it as her farewell to music and didn’t think it would see the light of day, and even though it fits with the tone of the album, it doesn’t have the universality that makes “Til the Goin’ gets Gone” stand out. Also, the other songs featured acoustic guitar, and this one switches to piano which I didn’t really feel worked for it and interrupted the feel of the EP.
It’s a shame that Lindi Ortega went through so much in her life to inspire this music, to make every word on this short project sound real and borne of pain and struggle. But music is meant to be real and relatable, and through her hardships, she produced something beautiful. I absolutely recommend checking out this EP, and I hope we’ll be seeing more from her in the future.

Listen to EP

Single Review – Jason Isbell – “Hope the High Road”

Rating: 8/10

Driving guitars start off the new Jason Isbell song, and it immediately sets the mood. If you were expecting more of the acoustic-driven tracks you got from his last two albums, think again with this particular song, at least. I think this is a very welcome change. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Something More than Free and Southeastern. However, this change back to more rock songs is awesome. It’s fast, quick, and it catches you right away.
Now we get to the lyrics. Some of these seem fairly autobiographical, with him saying things like he’s sang enough about himself and he’s sick of the white man’s blues. The overall message I get from this song is that he’s over the negativity, and he wants to be happy. Included in this is the fact that he wants some vague person he mentions in the lyrics to find a world in which they want to live in, and to not be tired and angry.
After hearing this song, I’m interested to see what the rest of this album holds in store. I fully admit that I have yet to check out his first few records, but I’m a definite fan of Isbell and his music. If the other songs on The Nashville Sound are similar to this musically, I’ll be happy.

Single Review: “Speak to a Girl” by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill

Rating: 5/10

Ok, I’m not coming at this as some purist who has a problem with 90% of Faith Hill’s catalogue because it’s more pop/adult contemporary than country. I’ve enjoyed a good chunk of music by both these singers, and they’ve made some excellent songs together. For proof beyond my word, I suggest “Like we Never Loved at All,” “I Need You,” “Angry All the Time,” and “Meanwhile, Back at Mama’s.” That’s not even mentioning the two they’re probably most known for, “It’s Your Love and Let’s Make Love.” So the news that they’re releasing a duets album could potentially mean we’re getting some great music, and if Hill’s inclusion inherently means a more pop sound, I would think that is expected by now. So let’s just establish the fact this is a pop song, judge it accordingly–or not–and move on.
The song itself is about all the things a man should do in order to make a woman fall in love with him. The song explains she doesn’t care about money; she wants a man who respects his mother and treats her right. A pretty cool line is “she wants you to mean what you say and mean everything that you’re saying.” all in all, it’s a nice message and if it does well on radio at all, it will be a blessed contrast from the way radio hits normally speak about women. The two, as always, sing well together.
Still, even though it’s a good message, it feels underdeveloped. it could have been more specific, less generic. The lyrics are a little shallow in places, and I have no idea why sometimes the writers chose “she just want” instead of “she just wants” because it just sounds ridiculous. I guess it’s trying to sound urban or cool, but it really got on my nerves. IN the end, it balances out to just be kind of forgettable which means it will probably be a massive hit in today’s radio climate. Then again, there is a female, and the words are about respecting females, so that’s two strikes against it.
I really wanted to like this song, but it’s just there and really doesn’t do much for me either way. I hope the album will be better.

Memorable Songs From forgettable Albums: March 22nd

So, I honestly just thought of the idea for this feature while I was sitting here for what has to be at least the fifth time trying to articulate something intelligent to say about Josh Turner’s latest album, Deep South. That album is not really a bad record, but fell short of the expectations of a lot of Josh Turner fans, including myself, and honestly, after this review, the only song I’m probably ever going to listen to again is “Lay Low.” It’s very hard to sit down and write about an album like this because it’s not bad enough to warrant a rant but it’s not good enough to praise and if it’s not worth my time to listen to, it’s difficult to make it worth my time and energy to write about. The same is true for Little Big town’s latest effort because, while it’s definitely a step in the right direction after Painkiller, it’s not something I want to listen to again. The problem is that the good songs on these albums get overlooked when the records don’t get reviewed. So I think I’ve found a way to highlight standout songs on less than stellar albums in a way that benefits the artists and better serves the music, all while saving myself and you the time of discussing mediocre music. You can expect these features whenever, well, I feel that there have been enough songs sliding through the cracks to warrant one. 🙂 let me know what you guys think!

Natalie Hemby: “Cairo, IL”

Yes, I know, this album came out in January, and I should have talked about it then, but I couldn’t think of anything to say. The overall album has a very sleepy feel to it, and I didn’t have much to put to paper. But this is one of the best songs of the year, and it’s better to recognize it late than never. It’s a beautiful, stripped-back song about a Mississippi river town, now a shell of what it once was. If you haven’t heard it yet, do it now. You will fall in love with it.

Natalie Hemby: “Time Honored Tradition”

The other standout of Puxico that shouldn’t go overlooked. Just an easygoing, nostalgic track where once again, the production and lyrics really work.

Little Big Town: “Better Man”

I will go right ahead and say strict traditionalists aren’t going to like this because it’s way more pop than country. It’s the songwriting that got to me on this, and it’s no surprise that Taylor swift wrote it. That’s going to immediately turn some people off and immediately make others hit play. I almost didn’t even include it because most have already heard it since it was a radio hit, but it did stand out for me on their album, so here it is.

Little Big Town: “Beat UP Bible”

This one is the most country on their otherwise pop/adult contemporary album and tells the story of a Bible that’s been in the family for generations. It’s also one of the most interesting moments on The Breaker. Kimberly Schlapman can’t be anything but country, and if they’d give her the lead on more songs, they’d be going in a much better direction.

Alison Krauss: “You Don’t Know Me”

Alison Krauss’s classic covers album Windy City is an interesting one. There’s nothing wrong with it at all, and by placing this song here, I’m really kind of calling the album forgettable. It’s really quite good but sleepy. It’s not really for me, and it’s something I respect more than I enjoy. I thought there were some good covers, especially “Gentle on my Mind.” However, this one really stood out above the others and stood out more than as a great cover, it stood out as a great Alison Krauss song.

Josh Turner: “Lay Low”

Well, you probably all know this one too, as this came out ahead of an album meant to be released in March 2015, but as it was the very song that inspired this feature in the first place, I thought it deserved to be here. As far as Josh turner’s album, there are probably Josh fans who are going to get behind it more than I did, but basically it was just underwhelming and lackluster, and then you had this great song “Lay Low” sticking out like a sore thumb to remind you of better days.

Album Review – AJ Hobbs – Too Much is Never Enough

Rating: 8/10

When Megan first approached me about checking out this album, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d actually never heard of AJ Hobbs, but when she told me he was saying his music was “outlaw soul”, I knew I had to give it a shot. Let me tell you, he delivers on both fronts.
This album was quite unique from anything I’ve heard in a while. AJ Hobbs is a good singer, with a nice soulful voice. His backing band was awesome, particularly his steel guitar player. He put horns throughout this album on occasion too, and I haven’t seen that since Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. Finally, there were his backup singers. They were soul singers, and even though they were just his backing vocalists, they really helped this album be more than just an outlaw country album. All that is to say that AJ Hobbs’ self-appointed label of “outlaw soul” is very fitting.
The opening track “Too Much is Never Enough” is pretty great. It’s fast with a party vibe. Except that the good times can actually be a bit too good. One beer is too much, but too much is never enough, as he says in the song. Things slow down for “Life Without You”. The sentiment of this track is nice because he’s basically saying his life, though crazy, isn’t worth living without his wife or girlfriend. The only thing that really made this song stand out is the tempo change and guitar solo near the end. “The Loser” starts a bit of a trend with this album. The main character is tired of his nine-to-five job, and the bindings of domestic life. He’d much rather be out on the road making music. I found AJ Hobbs’ portrayal of weariness quite convincing, and it definitely helps the song stand out.
Then there is “The Bottle Let Me Down”. It’s a cover of the Merle Haggard classic, with a slower, bluesy slant. There are some really great horns in this version. It’s not my thing personally, since I like the more country versions, but if you like soul and blues music, check this one out. “Daddy Loved the Lord” is one of my favorite songs off the album. It’s got some awesome piano in it for starters, even a solo. The actual lyrics are all about how a family split up due to a father who was a drug addict and alcoholic. He was religious, but he still couldn’t love his family enough to keep them all together. “East Side” isn’t my favorite song off of the album, but it has a nice theme behind it. The main character pledges to be there for a troubled movie star whom he loves, regardless of whether her troubles are of her own making, or just those of the fast changes of life.
“Shit Just Got Real” stands out right away due to the driving guitars and tempo. It’s a breakup song, where the main character is just tired of his life. He’s sick of being busy, is resigned to the fact that his wife threatens to leave him for being an alcoholic, and all he wants is just the money to pay his bills. This song’s instrumentation is great, with some very well-done guitar play. Once again, Hobbs skillfully portrays world-weariness. I love these kinds of songs from him.
I noticed the fiddle on the next song right away. “Are You Going to Tennessee?” is forgettable, other than that. It tells the story of a man who just wants to go to Tennessee where he could feel like he belonged, and not have to think about anything. The man is a musician, so it makes sense, but the theme of wanting to escape is a bit old at this point.
Due to this, “A Whole Lot of You and Me” is a nice break from all the tired songs on this album. It’s about a man who just wants to spend time with the woman he loves. A relatively happy song is nice to hear from Hobbs, even though it doesn’t completely stand out as unique. “Take it Slow” is the only duet on this album. It features Dominique Pruitt, whom I’d never heard of. I like how soulful her voice is. It involves two people meeting in a bar. The reason that that isn’t totally cliche is because you find out that the two are exes, who just can’t seem to leave each other alone. While I appreciated that it featured two exes, I thought the voices didn’t properly fit together. I ended up liking the duet more than I first thought, but it does take a minute to really get into the song.
“Waylon & Merle” shows off the steel guitar that’s so great on this album. The song itself is about a musician who has no luck, so he dedicates his songs to Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard, because those two knew the secret to musical success, and that’s what he is striving for. Finally, there’s “Tomorrow I’ll be Hurtin’”. You’d think it is a party song, but no. In actuality, it’s one of the darker tracks on this album, since it features a musician, once again. He puts on a show for the crowd, but then struggles to make money the next day. I think this is a great song to close the album out with, because it really represents a lot of what AJ Hobbs is trying to say here.
With all that said, Too Much is Never Enough is quite a striking album. AJ Hobbs is very convincing in his portrayal of the world-weary man. He does repeat this theme quite a bit, but I just can’t help liking the songs. What can I say? I love a singer who can portray emotion with vocal skill and delivery. Plus, he reminds me a bit of Jackson Taylor on his faster songs with the outlaw attitude. I think if you like musicians who do what they want, and if soul music is even remotely appealing to you with your country, this will be an album you should check out.

Buy the Album on Amazon

Honest Reviews and Exclusive Updates on the Latest Country Music