Album Review: Mo Pitney–Behind This Guitar

Rating: 7.5/10

First of all, I know I’m quite late on this album review, and it was honestly because it took this long for me to think of anything to say about it. Some albums provoke an immediate reaction in me, and with others it takes time and several listens. I decided it was better to comment late and have the review more accurately fit my thoughts than to try and force a premature opinion. I will also say this is going to be a love it or hate it kind of album for many, due to reasons I will explain shortly.

Mo Pitney’s debut album comes almost two years after the lead single, “Country,” and for many listeners, only about half of this album was new. We can attribute this to Pitney being in the unenviable position of being signed to Curb Records–if that comment means nothing to you, you can read all about the previous dealings of Mike Curb here. To that end, a good portion of this album came out in singles ahead of its release.
Read: Single Review: Mo Pitney’s “Boy and a Girl Thing”
Pitney has sparked the interest of traditionalists in much the same way as William Michael Morgan, with all of the previously mentioned singles bringing a decidedly country sound. The weak point of most of these singles was the lyrics. Now we finally have a whole album, and a lot more to go on with Mo Pitney.

The album opens with “Country,” which is a complete exploration of that word, from what it means to live in the country to country music to soldiers fighting for their country. This song was underwhelming to me when it was released as the lead single because the lyrics were simple to almost bordering on cheesy. However, in the context of this album, it has grown on me quite a lot. I have discovered this slightly corny quality seems to be a trademark of MO Pitney. It is this trademark which will make the album a love or hate thing for a lot of people because it is pretty much present throughout the album.

“Cleanup on Aisle 5” sees the narrator standing in a grocery store after just running into his ex. It seems like he thought he was over her, but standing here with his box of Cheerios he knows that isn’t true. There is a sincerity in this song that also shines throughout the album, and that believability combined with acoustic guitars and light fiddle make this song stand out. “Come Do a Little Life” is a simple little love song in which a man is inviting a woman to spend the rest of her life with him. He describes all the things they can do together, from seeing a high school football game to going to the hardware store. It’s simple, but it works; in reality, you spend a lot more time doing mundane things like going to hardware stores than say, hooking up on tailgates. “Just a Dog” is easily the album highlight. We hear about how the narrator found the dog ten years ago on the side of the road in the rain, and thought, “It’s just a dog, right?” But he took her home, and then we hear about how he saved her when she got hit by a car, how she “lost her place on the couch” when he met a girl, and then how she helped him the night the woman left. In the end, we find out the dog has just died, and he is finally realizing how much more she was than “just a dog.”

“Everywhere” is the only song with more contemporary instrumentation, but I think it mixes the traditional and the modern rather nicely. Pitney sings about someone being everywhere with him; it could be a person, or it could be God, based on the ambiguity of the lyrics. “Boy and a Girl Thing” is next, and this one is the track I tend to skip. It’s the song where the cheesy element goes too far, citing all the ways a boy and a girl react to each other throughout the different stages of their lives. I liked it better as a single than I do in the album’s context. Another highlight is the upbeat, fun “I Met Merle haggard Today.” This song is about just that, and it’s simply a song that is just fun to listen to. “Take the Chance” advises people to take a chance when they meet someone. It’s honestly the lesser version of “As She’s Walking Away” by the Zac Brown Band and Alan Jackson; it’s the same message, but it’s very forgettable. It isn’t a bad song, but it could have been left off without effect.

“When I’m With You” is another fun, upbeat track about being with a woman; it doesn’t matter if they go anywhere or just sit together under the stars because it’s just about being with each other. The sincerity in Mo Pitney’s delivery helps the next track, “Love Her Like I Lost Her,” in which the man has a vivid dream about his girlfriend dying in a car crash. He calls her in the middle of the night to make sure she’s all right, and vows from now on to “love her like I lost her.” “Behind This Guitar” seems to be autobiographical, telling how Pitney grew up with music and is now living out his dream. He thanks all the people who helped get him to this point, and says, “I’m not the only one behind this guitar.” The album closes with “Give Me Jesus,” which many have cited as the worst moment of the whole thing. It’s a very simple song of faith, and personally, I would say even if you don’t have this faith, the honesty here is refreshing. It’s not a song like “Real Men Love Jesus,” where Christianity is some kind of checklist item of country cred. It’s genuine, and regardless of your beliefs, genuineness is desperately needed in country music right now.

Overall, this album is quite good. It remains country throughout, and there is a genuine sincerity about the whole thing. For me, it’s better as a collection of songs than as a whole album though, as the slight corniness starts to weigh the album down. Although there really isn’t a wrong step, aside from possibly “Boy and a Girl Thing,” there really isn’t much that stands out. “Just a Dog” is the exception to this. at the same time, I can see how many people would disagree, and find a lot to really love about this album. It’s one you really need to listen to for yourself, and definitely one that shows a lot of potential in Mo Pitney.

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Country Music vs. Good Music: Does Genre Matter?

There has been a lot of talk lately about genre lines and how important they really are. Does it matter that an album sounds country if the lyrics are bland? Is hearing songs rife with fiddle and steel on the radio really an improvement in itself, or have we gone so far that country-sounding music is praised over good music in general? Do we overlook artists like David Nail and Eric Church, both of whom have put out solid country albums in the past year, while propping up more traditional artists like Mo Pitney and William Michael Morgan just because they sound a certain way? All of this boils down to one question: Does genre really matter at all?

Well, that is a difficult question to answer, and there are differing viewpoints on all sides. This is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write because of the sheer number of people who may disagree, and I could ignore it, but I feel inclined to address it, and to be honest with myself and all of you. Honesty is absent everywhere in music right now, and that is one of the driving factors behind Country Exclusive’s existence, so I am going to do my best to provide it.

The simple answer is no, genre doesn’t matter. Good music is good music regardless of who is singing or what genre it is labeled. This is why I gave Carrie Underwood’s Storyteller two different grades–one as a country album, and one as simply an album. It makes a pretty good pop album. Kelsea Ballerini made a decent pop album too and then sent the singles to country radio–and not the best singles either, I might add, but that’s a different story. I wrote that Courtney Marie Andrews defied genre lines in Honest Life, and while not being the most country album, it is the best album I have reviewed to date. Good music can and does come out of every genre, and that is what we should be looking for the most.

To add to that, I want to say that country can be good without having fiddle and steel. I have written in several Red dirt album reviews a sentiment like, “This isn’t the album to buy if you want fiddle and steel,” followed by praise of the album. Red Dirt has a raw honesty that often surpasses genre, and this is evident in the massive sonic difference between Jason Eady and Reckless Kelly, both of whom have produced an inordinate amount of great music during their respective careers. There’s good pop country too, like the aforementioned Carrie Underwood and David Nail. Eric Church produced one of the better albums of 2015, both musically and lyrically, and you won’t find fiddle or steel anywhere on it. I have written a great deal about Maddie & Tae, advising strict traditionalists to give them a chance because they were bringing country back to radio, even if it was pop country. I praised Aubrib Sellers and her debut album which she labeled “garage country.” I’m far from a country purist, ready to criticize something immediately because it isn’t what country “should” sound like.

However, this idea of good music first has been taken too far. William Michael Morgan got a #1 at radio with “I Met a Girl,” which, while indeed lyrically weak, actually sounded country. It’s a step in the right direction as much as the songwriting on Eric Church’s album or the CMA wins of Chris stapleton. Why? Because something actually resembling country can be heard on country radio for the first time in years. But if genre doesn’t matter, why are we even celebrating? Surely Morgan’s “I Met a Girl” is just more shitty music with fiddle and steel.

It’s because truthfully, genre can’t be ignored completely. If you went to a bookstore and found the books arranged in categories of “good” and “bad,” this wouldn’t help you find a book at all. It’s because these terms are subjective. If you wanted to read crime fiction, you would go to the section marked crime fiction, and from there, you could decide which books you wanted to read. If you found romance in the crime fiction section, you would say the book has been put in the wrong place. Of course, there are books that have elements of both and can therefore be classified as both. Now, let’s apply this to music. Crime fiction might be country, romance might be pop, and the two might blend to make pop country. A book containing many different elements might be labeled just “fiction” or “literature”–in music, this could be Americana, with its blending of many styles. There are probably good books in all the different genres, but since you came looking for crime fiction, you aren’t going to be satisfied with a good romance novel. In the same way, if you want to hear traditional country, you won’t find it in the pop country of Carrie Underwood, the country rock of Eric Church, or the Americana of Jason Isbell.

Therefore, when an artist like Morgan comes along, who actually sounds traditional, it’s right to be excited that he’s getting airplay. It’s right to fight to hear more country on country radio–in fact, many of us ran to underground country simply because of the lack of country on country radio. And it’s right to want to see mainstream Nashville and country radio embrace people like Sturgill Simpson and Margo Price. We can run to Americana and give up on the mainstream altogether, but no matter how you look at it, Americana isn’t country. Some of it is excellent, but it still isn’t country. It isn’t the music we fell in love with, the music we miss. We should praise music of substance regardless of how it sounds, but the lack of country on country radio is just an important a problem as the lack of substance in the music.

I daresay the majority, if not all of us, fell in love with country music, at least in part, by listening to country radio. Maybe you grew up with the legends like Haggard and Nelson. Maybe you remember Keith Whitley and Randy Travis, or maybe you miss the sounds of Alan Jackson, George Strait, and Vince Gill. Maybe you’re like me, and the first country you ever heard was the Dixie Chicks. Regardless, you heard all of them because they were played on country radio and available to the masses, just like their pop country counterparts. Pop country has always been around, but never has it replaced and eradicated the traditional as it has in recent years. Wherever your nostalgia comes from, you fell out of love with country radio after it lost the sound and substance you were drawn to. Today, even though the substance is slowly returning, there is still a noticeable lack of the sound. People growing up with country radio today might associate country with Luke Bryan or Thomas Rhett, both of whom lack the sound and the substance. Or maybe they’ll associate country with Carrie Underwood and Eric Church–they will recognize the substance but lose the sound. But until Morgan and Pardi, there hasn’t been a traditional sound being carried to the masses in years. Pop country isn’t a bad thing, but the complete elimination of the traditional is a terrible thing, and a dangerous thing for country as we know it. Therefore, when an artist like Morgan breaks through and gets a #1 single, we should all be celebrating. There is still much work to be done in Nashville, both in sound and substance, but Morgan, and others like him, are bringing hope for everyone who thought traditional country was lost. He’s not pop country, he’s not country rock, he’s not Americana. He’s just country. And I miss country. I fell in love with country. Country is my passion as a fan and my focus as a reviewer. It’s what I’ll always love the most, even though I praise and listen to plenty of good music from other genres, and it seemed, not long ago, that the music I loved would be lost forever in the mainstream. I am nothing but glad that Morgan and Pardi have broken through, and that young people out there listening to country radio once again have the opportunity to fall in love with real country the way I did. As I said, there is still a lot of work to be done, but let’s all recognize this for what it is, a positive step, and be glad for how far we’ve come.

Album Review: Courtney Marie Andrews–Honest Life

Rating: 10/10

Before I say anything, credit to trigger of Saving Country Music for bringing Courtney Marie Andrews into my life and now to my pen. There is a reason we do this–not to point out all the bad in the mainstream, but to introduce new and deserving artists to the world, to provide a platform for people seeking good music to find it. Enter Courtney Marie Andrews, a 25-year-old singer/songwriter from Phoenix, Arizona, and her latest album, Honest Life I will say two things about this record; firstly, it is not a country record, but more a folk record, with elements of country, rock, and pop mixed in, and secondly, it is the best album I have reviewed to date.

The album opens with “Rookie dreaming,” and the first lines immediately hold my attention and introduce the great songwriting that will be present throughout this entire album. “I was singing with the choir on the train. I was a traveling man, I did not yet have a name. I was a 1960s movie, I was a one-night love story, I was a you’ll never see me again.” This song features nice piano and acoustic guitar, and Courtney’s voice reminds me of an excellent cross between Joni Mitchell and Linda Ronstadt. The style resembles Ronstadt too, with the blend of country, folk, and rock that was Linda’s signature. “Not the End” is a love song in which Andrews sings from a hotel bed where she is “dreaming up every memory” to feel closer to someone she loves. “I didn’t think it was possible to lose you again, so won’t you hold me and tell me that this is not the end.” If you didn’t hear Joni Mitchell in the opener, you certainly will here; the emotion and phrasing in Courtney’s voice is closer to Mitchell’s than anything I have heard.

“Irene” adopts a more folk/pop rock sound; here, Courtney gives advice to a woman named Irene, including “keep your grace” and “don’t go falling in love with yourself.” It is universal in that it is relatable to everyone, but also could be specific to anyone who hears it. “How Quickly Your Heart Mends” is the moment where you will recall Linda Ronstadt the most; here, a woman is “hiding out in the bathroom of this bar,” devastated that her ex is acting like they never met. She put on the dress he loved, and now she feels like a fool and can’t believe he is ignoring her–“go on, and leave with your new friends, how quickly your heart mends.” The piano and steel really stand out on this track. “Let the good One Go” is another heartbreak song, this one about a woman missing someone she apparently let go. She thinks about calling him and wonders if he thinks about her, saying, “Oh you will know, when you’ve let a good one go.” The light instrumentation on this song brings the emotion and lyrics to the forefront. “Honest Life,” the album’s title track, is another simple, acoustic song that feels very personal to Courtney. “All I’ve ever wanted is an honest life, to be the person that I really am inside, to tell you all the things that I did that night. Sometimes it just ain’t easy to live an honest life.” The songwriting is excellent on this whole album, but it may be the best here–ask me tomorrow, and I might change my mind.

The next three songs explore distance from those you love, similar to the theme introduced in “Not the End.” In “Table for One,” Courtney arrives in Ohio after a trip from Houston–the verses would suggest it might be on a tour–feeling lonely and ready to go home. “You don’t wanna be like me, this life, it ain’t free, always chained to when I leave.” This one is stripped down too and lets the lyrics and Courtney’s voice shine. “Put The Fire Out” brings back the piano and is closer to the sound of “How Quickly Your Heart Mends.” Here, Andrews sings from a plane, as she flies home to reunite with her loved ones and put her rambling life behind her. “I am ready to put the fire out. There’s a place for everything, and I think I know mine now.” This was the first one I heard from Courtney, and I’ll post it here because it should lead you to the rest of this record. “15 Highway Lines” is a similar song, but this one is focused on reuniting with the one you love after time apart;–“13 hours till I see you. Flying all around this world so you can see me too.” It really captures the love, pain, and hope unique to long-distance relationships. The album closes with “Only in my Mind,” another excellent song in which the narrator paints pictures of life with someone she loves, but these pictures are only in her mind, as the relationship has ended. It seems to be mainly her fault it is over, or at least she believes this. It’s another one that captures the emotion perfectly and closes the album brilliantly.

If you haven’t figured it out, this album is special. It isn’t strictly country; it’s a unique mix of folk, country, pop, and roc, with the perfect production for each track. It is one of those rare albums that defies and transcends genre lines and just speaks for itself. Courtney Marie Andrews has a voice you will not soon forget, recalling Joni Mitchell and Linda Ronstadt, yet still unique. The songwriting on this album is nothing short of brilliant. It’s simple and complex at once. This album is both the poetry of Jason Isbell and the relatability of Vince Gill. It is raw and honest and real, and everyone should absolutely hear it.

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Album Review: William Michael Morgan–Vinyl

Rating: 8/10

William Michael Morgan gained the attention of traditionalists about a year ago, when he released “I Met a Girl,” the decidedly country, if lyrically underwhelming, arrangement of a song written by none other than country music antichrist Sam Hunt. To some, this was a mark against him immediately; to others, myself included, this proved that Morgan cared about the traditional sound of his music. In March, his EP arrived, bringing nothing ground-breaking yet filled with promise and potential.

Review: William Michael Morgan EP

We finally got a full album from Morgan Friday, and although it’s not perfect, it’s an unapologetically country record coming out of mainstream Nashville which is a victory in itself in 2016. It’s not Haggard and Jones country, but it is Strait and Jackson and Keith Whitley country, and that’s exactly what we need right now–a mainstream artist bringing a true country sound to the masses. The Jason Isbells and Turnpike Troubadours of the world won’t get airplay; William Michael Morgan’s “I Met a Girl” will hit #1 this week. Because of this, we need to root for William Michael Morgan as much as Isbell and the Troubadours. With all that in mind, I’ll get to my thoughts on Vinyl

The album opens with “People Like Me,” a decidedly country song that could have been a hit on 90;s radio. If you read this at all, you know the importance I place on openers, and this one signifies William Michael Morgan’s country approach without apology. Many artists who are releasing pretty good albums with a few terrible singles choose the said terrible singles as openers, thereby hurting the album as a whole–Zac Brown Band’s “Beautiful drug,” anyone? The premise of “People Like Me” is an ode to the working class people who didn’t go to college and live paycheck to paycheck. “Vinyl,” the title track, follows; I have mixed opinions about this one. I quite liked it on the EP; it’s a song about an old-fashioned love that is classic like vinyl. It’s not a hookup song or disrespectful by any means, but I do find the repeated use of ‘girl” to be annoying; it’s the same thing we criticize Florida Georgia line for, so I can’t let Morgan get by with lazy lyricism even if it has country instrumentation. It’s hard to form an opinion here, and I can see how people could enjoy it or hate it.

“Missing” is one of the highlights of the album; here, Morgan escapes the world for awhile to go “on a mission to be missing.” He ignores his messages and leaves the world behind, something we all should do a little more often. The instrumentation and production combine to make this a really fun and enjoyable listen. Next is the single, “I Met a Girl,”–this has grown on me considerably since its release. It’s a very basic song about, well, meeting a girl, but although the lyrics aren’t earth-shattering, there’s a sincerity about it that really stands out. “Spend it All on You” is a nice, lighthearted track about getting away with a girl to enjoy time together. This one is one of the more modern-leaning songs on the album, but modern-leaning is the key here; it is still traditional. IN fact, the whole album stays with a definite traditional sound. “Beer Drinker” came from the EP; there is not much to say about this song. Its lyrics could be considered shallow by some, as it attributes everything that gets done to the work of beer drinkers. However, as I stated in the EP review, we all love George Strait’s “Stop and Drink,” and that doesn’t come off pandering at all. It is just a fun song that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I think “Beer Drinker” is intended to be much the same.

“I Know Who he Is” is another highlight; I wish the production were a little less modern-leaning here, but the lyrics are great. The narrator is talking to the doctor about his dad, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease;

I don’t wanna hear he’s going downhill, what about thank God he’s around still? Looking right through me’s not at all the way I see him. I don’t mind at all remembering for him, he doesn’t have to get why I adore him. He doesn’t have to know me, I know who he is.

“Cheap Cologne” carries a throwback, Keith Whitley style sound that really suits Morgan. This was one of the highlights of the EP and is about a man who lies at home in bed with his bourbon while his woman is out, probably cheating–She don’t smoke cigarettes, and I don’t wear cheap cologne.” “Something to drink About” is similar to “Beer Drinker” in that it walks a fine line between safe and shallow. It just lists all the possible reasons for drinking, which again is quite like strait’s “Stop and Drink.” This could have been left off and it would have made no difference, but it doesn’t really hurt the album either. “Lonesomeville,” co-written by William Michael Morgan, is the best of the album–it’s a classic country heartbreak song that has been told thousands of times, and that’s really all I can say about it. It speaks for itself with a listen. The album closes with “Backseat driver,” which has emerged over several listens as a dark horse for my personal favorite. It’s a song about a young man leaving home while his dad gives him advice about the road ahead and tells him, “I can’t be your backseat driver anymore.” This one isn’t as traditional as some of the others, but this one is more believable from the 22-year-old Morgan, and this authenticity makes it stand out.

Overall, this is a really solid album, especially for a debut. William Michael Morgan is perfectly clear and uncompromising in his desire to make country music with a traditional sound. The lyrics are weak in places, and there are definitely some safe songs. This album has its flaws, but it also has several standouts. Most importantly, it is filled with promise for William Michael Morgan and for mainstream country in general.

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Exclusive Interview: Jamie Lin Wilson

Jamie Lin Wilson is an ever-growing presence in the Texas/Red Dirt scene, with the Gougers, the Trishas and most recently as a solo artist, with 2015’s excellent Holidays and Wedding Rings. For more detailed information, you can read her Female Friday, featured here about a year ago. This interview was conducted by myself and Jennifer Lane during the 4th Annual Medicine Stone, discussed in detail here. Jamie Lin was gracious enough to sit down with us, in a casual skirt and tank top, hair still wet, in short giving the same comfortable, down-to-earth impression reflected in this photo. She was happy to tell us about Medicine Stone, the Texas/Red Dirt scene, and her unique story in all of it.

Country Exclusive: So is this your first time at Medicine Stone?

Jamie Lin Wilson: No, I came last year. Last year was my first trip here.

CE: Were you playing at the bar then, or were you on the main stage?

JLW: I was on the main stage last year too.

CE: What do you think about this event, and what the Turnpike Troubadours have started?

JLW: Man, it’s, it’s beautiful. There are people camping out all over the place, inviting everybody to their campsites, sharing…like last night, I got here very late last night, so I caught the end of Randy Rogers’s set, and then Mike and the Moonpies’ after party show. And then we just kind of walked around, and there were hamburgers being cooked…I stayed up till 4 AM, and I wasn’t even trying to. (laughter) It was like, all of a sudden, it’s 4 AM, how did that happen?

CE: So you would definitely come back.

JLW: Oh, I’d come back as long as they’ll have me. I love it. And the Turnpike boys, I mean, I’ve known them for a long time. Since they were in a van, which actually wasn’t that long ago. (laughter)

CE: NO, it wasn’t.

JLW: But I’ve just been so proud of them, watching them blow up, and I tell Evan [Felker] all the time that people out there are screaming the words to his songs, and like, there’s four thousand people in the audience,dancing and singing to all of these songs, and they don’t even know that they’re getting smarter. I’m like, “Your songs actually raise people’s IQ’s.” Because he writes so smart, and that’s the thing with all of these people that are here, like the lineup here is so great. And there’s so many more that aren’t here that are also in this scene, in the Texoma thing.

CE: I like the Texoma, because it’s usually Texas or Red Dirt, but Texoma’s good for an Oklahoman.

JLW: It’s the same, it’s the same, you know? Like there’s a definite influence with everybody of where you’re from, you can tell. If you listen to my songs, you can tell I’m from south Texas, I’ve got that. I’ve got that in me. You listen to Turnpike [Troubadours] and [Jason] Boland and stoney [LaRue] and Mike McClure and all those guys, you can tell that they’re from Oklahoma. There’s a thing. But, because of the quality of song and the give-a-shit that is put into it, that’s where it all comes together.

CE: Do you think that is unique to this scene, to the Texas scene? The uniqueness, or as you said, the give-a-shit?

JLW: I think that what is unique to Texas is…being someone who’s toured nationally, what’s unique to Texas is the passion that Texas and OKlahoma have for music, the fans. There are at least three or four venues in every major market that anybody can go to. You can go to Dallas, Oklahoma City, Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Tulsa…you can have your pick. If you’re a large band, you get a 2,000-seat venue. If you’re a small band, you get 500 and below, you know? But in other states, there’s not that option. Like if you go to Georgia, you can play this, this, this, or this. (laughter) And in Texas and Oklahoma, the scene is so supported, and the fans are so passionate, that you can play any night of the week. You can go anywhere, any night of the week and see good music. Good songwriting, good musicianship, and that is just not normal everywhere else.
You know, the scene though, the songwriting and the quality of the music is pretty similar to what’s happening in the Americana world right now, where people are confused about what happened. and we’re the same. There are people coming here who were at the Americana festival too, they’re coming from Nashville. Like Randy was there and came here last night, rEd Shahan’s coming, I did it last year, I did the shuffle. Like, we’re all a part of the same deal. People ask what makes something Americana too, because all the bands sound different. The sound is not the same; the thing that’s the same is the care that’s put into crafting a song, and the care that’s given by the fans. Whenever the fans want to hear good music, then the people put out good music. That, that is specific to the Americana scene as well as the Texas scene, and that’s why they go hand in hand. That’s why those Americana bands, [Jason] Isbell and Sturgill [Simpson] and the Black Lilies and American Aquarium and all those bands that aren’t Texas bands can come through Texas and have just as great of a turnout as locals, as people who were raised here. And it’s because the fans just want to hear good songs. How hard is that?

CE: It’s not.

JLW: (laughter) How hard is that to just give me something good? Just give me something I want to hear?

CE: I take it from hearing this, but I’ll ask anyway. A lot of texas artists try to get into Nashville scenes, to make it there. Is there any interest in that for you?

JLW: I mean, I love Nashville. I love it. I go there to write a few times a year. I’ll start doing that more next year since I’m not pushing a record right now. But I would love for those girls who wear short skirts to like, cut my songs, that would be cool. (laughter) But I don’t have any interest. I’d like to play the Opry, that’d be fun. But I don’t have any interest in being on the CMA Awards or doing that. That’s not really me. I mean, if that genre, if the top 40 genre started playing songs that I think I could write, then sure. You know, if that’s where the stardom goes, then more power to them, I’d love that. But I’m not interested in being famous. I like to sing and have my kids be proud of me for putting things out that have integrity, I think. I don’t know, does that sounds snobby?

CE: NO, not at all. It sounds the opposite. I was going to ask this later, but you led me to it. You said you’re not pushing a record, so when can we expect some new music?

JLW: Man, I’ve got things happening. I’m writing a lot right now, but I just don’t know. I haven’t figured out what I want to do with it. I’ve got some projects. Like, I want to write this record that has this and this and this and this, and then I want to write this record that has these songs on it. So we’ll see where all those land and how it happens, but I’ll probably record something next year, even if it’s just a few songs to put on Spotify or apple Music. I’m not sure that i’ll make a whole record, but you never know, I might.

CE: I look forward to it. I did really enjoy Holidays and Wedding Rings, that was one of the better albums of 2015.

JLW: Thank you, I was really proud of it.

CE: You should have been. When did you know you wanted to pursue music as a career?

JLW: Yeah, that’s a thing that just kind of happened. I got a guitar whenever I was a sophomore in college, and learned some chords, and I always knew that I could sing pretty good. I would just sit in my room and sing these songs, and eventually I started going to this open mic night. And probably the third one, someone asked me to be in their band. Hey you wanna come open for us and be in my band? sure. And that ended up being Shane Walker, who was in the Gougers with me, and then I was in a band. It just kind of became what I did, and then I enjoyed it, and I just never stopped. So here I am. (laughter)

CE: So here you are. Do you have anyone that influenced you musically?

JLW: Oh everybody. I mean, I can listen to things that I grew up listening to like Highway 101 and Dolly Parton and Kathy Mattea and Mark Chesnutt and Merle Haggard, George Jones and Ray Price and Bob Wills, all of these people that I listened to as a kid, and then I listen to them now and I go, Oh that’s where I got that from. I listen to Dolly and Emmylou [Harris], and I’m like, That’s where my voice came from, that’s cool. I pick it apart. Musically, I go through stages. I’ll just listen to something for three months, one record. And then I’ll find someone else, and just dive into it, and then I’ll listen to another guy. So as it turns out, I end up having all of these certain types of music. I go, Yeah that was the first half of 2003, I remember that, when I was into that record. You know, Gillian Welch and Lyle Lovett got me into Guy [Clark] and Townes [Van Zandt] and John Prine. And then I went to Tom petty and Tom Waits, and then you go to Jet. Jack White and all of his things. You pick it apart, and you get something from everybody.
And then, people ask me what I’m influenced by now, and honestly, it’s my friends. That’s who I listen to. People who are piers of mine put out records. Turnpike Troubadours and Drew Kennedy, Jack Ingram, have you heard Jack Ingram’s new record?

CE: I have not, I’ve been told I need to.

JLW: Oh, please do. It’s so good, so good. Just he himself is inspiring. But, Courtney Patton, Jason Eady, Kaitlin [Butts], all of these people who are friends of mine. Wade Bowen. We have this little group of friends that we all send each other songs. Like, hey I wrote this song, listen to it. A few weeks ago, one of my friends sent me a song that was new, and I listened to it, and that inspired me to write this other song. And I sent it to my friends, and that song inspired them to write these songs. It’s like this web of inspiration and influence. The Texas scene, in general, is so supportive of each other. We all build each other up and we love each other and we send each other pictures of babies and go to each other’s weddings.

CE: You’re family.

JLW: We’re a family. It’s cool, and I don’t know if it’s been like that forever, but it is like that now. I’ve got a hotel room over here and I was just walking through and I was like, “Oh, Kaitlin! You slept in a tent? Come take a shower in my room.” (laughter) Like, I’ve got three girls that are in and out of my room showering because we all love each other. Yeah, I’ve got a room, take it. Come sleep, take a nap. We all help each other, and that’s how it’s supposed to be. We jump up and sing with each other.

CE: There has been a lot of talk about the lack of female representation in Nashville and on radio. do you feel that in this scene?

JLW: This scene is weird regarding girls, and it’s nobody’s fault, I don’t think. I think that the thing with girls here, and in general…the scene in Texas and OKlahoma is driven very much by beer. There are these really big venues, and the definition of success is higher than like, in the Americana scene, for example. You go around and play all of these rooms, they’re 200-seat venues, 200-seat rooms. You sell it out, that’s a really big deal. Well, in Texas, there’s a 2,000-seat venue in every market! And if you’re not Randy Rogers or Wade Bowen or Turnpike or Boland, people selling out those big venues, then you’re not considered successful. But my band, the Trishas, sold out Green Hall, and that’s 700 people. And we sold out the Kessler, and we fill up rooms all over the state. But if it’s a 400-seat venue, then it’s like, Oh well that was just a little room. But anywhere else in the world, that’s success. And to us, that’s success. That’s what we want to do. So the lack of female representation…there’s Kelly Willis, there’s Robyn Ludwick, all four of us Trishas individually play by ourselves, there’s Kaitlin, there’s Courtney, there’s all these new girls coming up in Texas and I don’t know, we’re fine. Like it doesn’t offend me. I don’t want to play Midnight Rodeo, that’s not what I do. My songs don’t translate in venues that are 2,000-seat, everybody have a party. Like most guys, 80% of guys…most statistics are made up on the spot, but I would say the majority of guys who start playing music start playing music because they want to impress a girl. They want to be in high school sitting on the back of a pickup truck, the one with the guitar at the campfire, to get the girl. So inherently, guys want to have attention with them with their guitar, like, Look at this solo! So that’s how they start. Then, some of them become thoughtful, poetic songwriters, and some of them go, hey let’s party. And both things are cool, both things are good, both serve a purpose. But women, we pick up a guitar and start playing songs because we have something to say. But women are thoughtful way before men are thoughtful, not that they’re not both thoughtful as grownups, but when they start…it’s therapeutic for me. Like all my women friends, they write songs because it makes them feel good, or because I have to get this out of me right now. And sure, once you figure out how to craft it, you can write a party song, and that’s awesome, that’s great. But inherently, we’re just different. And that’s cool. And it shouldn’t hurt anybody’s feelings. (laughter) You know, Courtney Patton’s thoughtful, beautiful songs that make people cry, aren’t going to be played at the Texas Hall of Fame. That crowd’s not going to say, Wait she’s playing something beautiful, let me put down this quarter pitcher of beer and go listen to her. (laughter) But in a theater or listening room, that’s where that kind of songwriting shines. And so we choose to play venues like this. And people like Evan who write both kinds, you know, he writes super thoughtful songs that also make you want to party. I don’t know how he does it, but they’re great, he can go in either one. He can go play in a listening room or he can play this other venue. So it’s song-driven, and style-driven, and where you get the crowds. Like my crowd is older. My crowd goes out at 8:00 and goes home by ten, and they buy expensive wine and drink scotch and pay a $25 ticket to be quiet and sit there and enjoy a show. And I’m not saying there aren’t guys like that too, like Kevin Welch. I’m not saying only women play listening rooms and only men play parties.

CE: But it’s the songwriting that lends itself to them.

JLW: yeah! If I played party songs, then I’d want to go to Midnight Rodeo. But I don’t. I like doing that sometimes, opening for the guys and going, “I’ll play my most up tempo 45 minutes right now, and make everybody feel good, and then Turnpike’s gonna come out.” That’s cool, but I’m not going to headline there. It doesn’t hurt my feelings, and it does not offend me. At all.

CE; OK. As I said, we do features on women because people do know them less. So what women would you recommend we listen to? Obviously Courtney.

JLW: Oh yes, do you know Courtney’s stuff yet?

CE; OH yes, I’ve reviewed it, and I love it. So who would you recommend so that we can know them?

JLW: Well, there’s Kaitlin Butts, she’s here today. There’s Kayla Ray, I’m sure you know her too. She’s awesome. There’s Kelley Mickwee, Trisha with me. There’s some new girls coming up in Texas like Jackie Darlene…I’m sure you’ve already done Kelly Willis, and the big guns…Robyn Ludwick, do you know her?

CE; Yes. I know of Kaitlin, but I’ll maybe get to hear her today. I have two other questions that are just general. What does country music mean to you, what is it for you?

JLW: Country music. Let’s see. Country music. I think the thing that is specific to it and made the genre happen, when it came to be at all, is that it’s about real life. And that is also what’s dying right now on the vine is country music that’s pushed to the masses isn’t about real life. I think there’s a shift happening back around, everything’s cyclical. But country music started for grownups. It’s about hard times and real-life situations, and that’s cool. It’s always been pop music’s for kids and country music is for grownups, bruce Robison told me that one time and I was like, Yeah that’s true! And e said, “Country music’s not for grownups anymore.” Now radio is being pushed to younger kids. That’s what’s changed, and that’s why it’s all party songs and bonfires and shit. But, whenever a song comes out that they let out, like “The House That Built Me,” for example…that song had zero production, there’s not even drums on it, and it was, like, the most successful song in a decade because it’s real! It had real emotion, and people were like, Finally a song that’s real! And authenticity, you can feel it. Country music’s always been authentic and real. And it still is, with people that are making real country music, it’s just that’s not what you hear.

CE; The last question will probably be difficult for you with all these influences. Give us one album you would pick if you could only listen to that for the rest of your life.

JLW: one? The rest of my life?

CE; You can pick three.

JLW: Three, I can do three. Tom T. Hall, The Year Clayton Delaney Died, Lyle Lovett, It’s Not Big, It’s Large, and…this is hard. I think, the Trio record. Those are my three today, ask me again tomorrow…oh wait, fourth runner-up, Tom Petty, Heartbreak Companion.

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