My Top Ten Country Songs (July 2015)

July had very few releases compared to June, so this is going to be divided between Jason Isbell, Alan Jackson, and Ashley Monroe. However, this is certainly not a bad thing, as all of these releases were great albums.

10. Ashley Monroe–“I’m Good at Leavin'”–A great “rambling woman” song about being the girl who can’t stay home and clean and raise children. When the No. 10 song got a ten in my review, you know the list is going to be great.
9. Alan Jackson–“The One You’re Waiting On”–An excellently written song told from the point of view of a man observing a woman across the room waiting on her date. He watches her check her phone and turn men away, speculating about whether the guy she’s waiting on is really worth it.
8. Jason Isbell–“Something More Than Free”–A great ode to the working class that is what country is really all about…call him Americana or folk or rock, but this is country at its finest.
7. Jason Isbell–“Palmetto Rose”–I hesitated to put this here, as this is more Southern rock, but it would be incorrect not to list this upbeat tribute to South Carolina, the “iodine state.”
6. Alan Jackson–“Gone Before You Met Me”–This is a fun song off Jackson’s album where he meets Tom Sawyer and Jack Kerouac and decides in the end that family life is better than rambling. It’s a good thing to see a singer uphold family values, and it shows that you can name-drop without being obnoxious about it.
5. Alan Jackson–“Angels and Alcohol”–A classic country commentary on mixing women with alcoholism, complete with great instrementation and lyrics.
4. Alan Jackson–“You Can Always Come Home”–As I said in my Angels and Alcohol review, this song took on a double meaning for me, and it felt like coming home after all the crap being marketed as country on a daily basis.
3. Ashley Monroe–“The Blade”–A heartbreak song with perfect imagery and a beautiful melody. “You caught it by the handle, and I caught it by the blade”…excellent.
2. Ashley Monroe–“Dixie”–I said in my review of The Blade that this song should get a twelve, and I still believe that. It’s a great song about being sick of the South, and would have scored No. 1 for me any other month.
1. Jason Isbell–“Speed Trap Town”–I told you once, and I’ll tell you again…please listen to this song. This tear jerker about a teenager saying goodbye to his father in a small town hospital will be a candidate for my song of the year. It’s going to be hard to beat.

Honorable Mentions

  • Jason Isbell’s “Life you Chose” and “24 Frames”
  • Ashley Monroe’s “If the Devil Don’t Want Me” and “Bombshell

Female Fridays: Featuring Angaleena Presley

Last week, I featured her fellow Pistol Annie Ashley Monroe, so this week I thought I would introduce Angaleena Presley.

How You Might Know Angaleena

As mentioned above, she was a member of the Pistol Annies, along with Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe.

Bio

Angaleena Presley’s career has been considerably shorter than those of my previously featured females, so naturally her bio would be shorter. However, while digging for Angaleena info–I also knew less about her than the others I have featured–I found two things that together paint a far better and more accurate picture of the Angaleena I listen to than a long list of facts about her career ever could. From Angaleena’s Web site:

If there’s a pedigree for a modern country music star, then Angaleena Presley fits all of the criteria: a coal miner’s daughter; native of Beauty, Kentucky; a direct descendent of the original feuding McCoys; a one-time single mother; a graduate of both the school of hard knocks and college; a former cashier at both Wal-Mart and Winn-Dixie. Perhaps best of all the member of Platinum-selling Pistol Annies (with Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe) says she “doesn’t know how to not tell the truth”

From an interview with Rolling Stone, in reference to her musical influences:

When I was in college, I was in my dorm and I heard Patty Griffin singing “Sweet Lorraine.” I rose up and was like, “Whoa, she just said a bad word!” Loretta Lynn, she was forthcoming in her songs, but Patty Griffin was just like, “This is how it was: ‘My dad called me a [slut] and [a whore] on my wedding day.'” It opened some kind of Pandora’s box in my creative psyche. I think about a month later I wrote the first song that I thought, “OK, I think I might have something here.”

Angaleena Presley (born September 1st, 1976 in Martin County, Kentucky, and raised in beauty, Kentucky), has indeed gained a reputation for telling “the truth” in her songwriting. After graduating from Eastern Kentucky University, she moved to Nashville in 2000 and soon gained a publishing deal. Through her publisher, she later met Ashley Monroe, which would eventually pay off–but not until 2011, with the formation of the Pistol Annies. As I mentioned last week, they released two excellent albums, Hell on Heels (2011) and Annie Up (2013.) I have already introduced Ashley and Angaleena, and everyone knows Miranda, but I have debated doing an entire Female Friday with Pistol Annies as well, as their music is remarkable in its own right. One of my biggest disappointments last year was the news that Pistol Annies had broken up.

However, the breakup of the Annies was mostly due to the revival of Ashley’s solo career and the beginning of Angaleena’s. Angaleena’s debut album, American Middle Class, was released on October 14, 2014, under Slate Creek Records. It is a traditional country album with some elements of blues and bluegrass mixed in here and there. It does indeed tell the “truth,” containing songs about pregnancy, drug abuse, the bad economy, etc. The album was met with much critical acclaim, and Angaleena finally proved that she could succeed on her own just as Ashley and Miranda had done.

Why Angaleena Belongs on Country Radio

While I do not feel that she is “radio ready” in this current climate like the other women I have featured–they all have songs that lean slightly toward pop country or rock country–she would be ideal for radio if it actually played country instead of everything else. She would benefit if country split into different genres or if Americana started gaining a wider influence and stealing more country artists (this is the direction Kacey Musgraves is heading.) She is a modern day Loretta Lynn, penning songs about real life that she actually lived. I read the quote from her site above and immediately her songs and songs she wrote for Pistol Annies come to mind. She was a coal miner’s daughter from Kentucky, (“American Middle Class” and “Dry County Blues,”) a single mother (“Trading One Heartbreak for Another” and “Housewife’s Prayer” by Pistol Annies and her own song “Drunk,”) a cashier (“Grocery Store,”) etc. I’ll be honest here and say that she was an acquired taste for me both in the Annies and as a solo artist, but there is no question she is a talented singer and songwriter and deserves more recognition. I will also say that while I just described her as an acquired taste, I am glad I took the time to acquire it, because I truly enjoy Angaleena Presley music and am looking forward to her sophomore album.

Tracks I Recommend

Last week, I didn’t want to pick apart Ashley Monroe’s excellent album Like a Rose, feeling that to do so would be a disservice. Many would say the same about the picking apart of Angaleena’s American Middle Class as well. So before I do it, I will say that if you like more twang and/or bluegrass influence, you will like the whole album. There is not a bad song on it lyrically. The purpose of this highlighting of tracks is more to ease newcomers into Angaleena’s style.

1. American Middle Class–American Middle Class
2. Better off Red–American Middle Class
3. All I Ever Wanted–American Middle Class
4. Life of the Party–American Middle Class
5. Drunk–American Middle Class

Listen to American Middle Class

Also, if you are a Texas country fan like me, you should check out JB and the Moonshine Band’s “Black and White” featuring Angaleena Presley. There doesn’t seem to be a YouTube video of that, or I’d post it here. But it’s worth a listen, especially if you don’t end up liking Angaleena’s style.

Billboard Country Airplay and Country Albums Chart (August 8th)

Billboard Country Airplay

1. Brantley Gilbert–“One Hell of an Amen” (up 1)
2. Jason Aldean–“Tonight Looks Good on You” (down 1)
3. Michael Ray–“Kiss you in the Morning” (up 1)
4. Luke Bryan–“Kick the Dust up” (up 2)
5. Zac Brown Band–“Loving You Easy” (up 4)
6. Frankie Ballard–“Young and Crazy” (up 2)
7. Dustin Lynch–“Hell of a Night” (up 5)
8. Sam Hunt–“House Party” (up 3)
9. Brad Paisley–“Crushin’ It” (up 1)
10. Canaan Smith–“Love you Like That” (down 5)
11. Thomas Rhett–“Crash and Burn” (up 2)
12. Chris Janson–“Buy me a Boat” (up 3)
13. Keith Urban–“John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” (up 4)
14. Brett Eldredge–“Lose my Mind” (up 2)
15. Eric Church–“Like a Wrecking Ball” (down 1)
16. Maddie & Tae–“Fly” (up 3)
17. Kenny Chesney–“Save it for a Rainy Day” (up 6) [biggest gainer]
18. Jake Owen–“Real Life” (up 2)
19. Chase Rice–“Gonna Wanna Tonight” (down 1)
20. Kip Moore–“I’m to Blame” (up 2)
21. Cole Swindell–“Let me See ya Girl”
22. Florida Georgia Line–“Anything Goes” (up 5)
23. Old Dominion–“Break up With Him” (up 1)
24. Lady Antebellum–“Long Stretch of Love” (up 2)
25. Dan + Shay–“Nothin’ Like You”
26. Cam–“Burning House” (up 2)
27. Big & Rich–“Run Away With You” (up 2)
28. Brothers Osborne–“Stay a Little Longer” (up 2)
29. Parmalee–“Already Callin’ You Mine” (entering top 30)
30. Chris Young–“I’m Comin’ Over” (entering top 30)

  • new No. 1: “one Hell of an Amen”
  • next week’s No. 1 prediction: “Kiss You in the Morning”
  • Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” and Blake Shelton’s “Sangria” fell from No. 3 and No. 7, respectively, to out of the top 30
  • an actual good song enters the top 30 (Chris Young) but is balanced by crap entering as well (Parmalee)

Billboard Top Country Albums

1. Jason Isbell–Something More Than Free [debut]
2. Alan Jackson–Angels and Alcohol [debut]
3. Sam Hunt–Montevallo
4. Zac Brown Band–Jekyll + Hyde
5. Eric Church–The Outsiders
6. Little Big Town–Painkiller
7. Kacey Musgraves–Pageant Material
8. Various Artists–Now That’s What I Call Country, Volume 8
9. Jason Aldean–Old Boots, New Dirt
10. Brantley Gilbert–Just as I Am
11. Florida Georgia Line–Anything Goes
12. Willie Nelson/Merle Haggard–Django and Jimmie
13. Moonshine Bandits–Blacked Out [debut]
14. Luke Bryan–Crash my Party
15. Easton Corbin–About to Get Real
16. Chase Rice–Ignite The Night
17. Luke Bryan–Spring Break…Checkin’ Out
18. Lee Bryce–Mixtape: ‘Til Summer’s Gone (EP)
19. Kenny Chesney–The Big Revival
20. Cole Swindell–Cole Swindell
21. Carrie Underwood–Greatest Hits: Decade #1
22. Zac Brown Band–Greatest Hits So Far…
23. Blake Shelton–Bringing Back the Sunshine
24. Tim McGraw–35 Biggest Hits
25. Miranda Lambert–Platinum

  • Jason Isbell and Alan Jackson score a huge victory for country music by taking the No. 1 and No. 2 spots this week
  • Canaan Smith and Kelsea Ballerini are no longer in the top 25…Kelsea’s album came out on May 19th, and Canaan’s came out on June 23rd…look at their staying power
  • after a long absence, Miranda Lambert’s Platinum is in the top 25 again this week

Source: Billboard

Single Review: Kelsea Ballerini’s “Dibs” is Female Bro Country

Rating: 1/10

When it comes to Kelsea Ballerini, I have mixed feelings. She is seen as the next Taylor Swift in country music, a comparison that is both fair and unfair in some ways. They are both more pop than country, but I actually preferred Taylor’s brand of country, and certainly her songwriting, to Kelsea’s. Having said that, I had far less of a problem with “Love me Like You Mean It” than many traditionalists, and while I didn’t feel that it deserved country airplay, I thought it was a good pop song and was proud of Kelsea for hitting No. 1 with it. I’d prefer a more traditional artist, but seeing as “country” radio is basically pop radio with banjo these days, Kelsea must still be recognized among her piers as having a remarkable achievement for a female country artist, even if “country” is nothing more than a label to her.

This brings us to Kelsea’s second single, “Dibs.” For me, the instrumentation here is slightly better than in “Love me Like You Mean It.” I base this on the fact that when I first heard “Love Me,” I thought I was listening to a pop song. When I play “Dibs,” the thought that comes to mind is pop country. The bigger problem with “Dibs” is the lyrics. Basically, it is about Kelsea calling “dibs” on some guy she sees at a bar. Here are the lines in the chorus that made me lose all hope for this song:”If you’ve got a Friday night free and a shotgun seat, Well I’m just saying I ain’t got nowhere to be.” Really? What happened to “Girl in a Country Song?” Maddie & Tae said, “We used to get a little respect, Now we’re lucky if we even get to climb up in your truck, keep our mouth shut, and ride along.” Apparently Kelsea doesn’t want respect and is fine with riding shotgun. I don’t know about the rest of the women out there, but I’m with Maddie & Tae.

At the end of the chorus, Kelsea goes into a very annoying Sam Hunt style spoken-word list of what she’s calling dibs on:

I’m calling dibs
On your lips,
On your kiss,
On your time,
Boy, I’m calling dibs
On your hand,
On your heart
All mine

Later in the song, she actually sings these lines which is much less annoying and makes me wonder why we had to be subjected to the spoken-word bit in the first place. Oh, right…because it worked for Sam Hunt so it must be awesome.

Bro country was bad enough, but now we have females singing it? The worst part about this is that there are actually some decent songs on Kelsea’s debut album that I wouldn’t mind being released as singles. It’s actually a decent pop album–a terrible country album, but a decent pop album–so if she released “First Time” or “Secondhand Smoke” or “Peter Pan,” all of which are closer to pop country than this spoken-word pop song, I’d have less of a problem. Even “Xo” which is a straight pop song like “Love Me” that doesn’t belong on country radio at all would bother me less. This is upsetting because a woman has stooped to singing the bro country crap…and it will get played. I would rather Kelsea identify herself with pop because that’s what she really is, but as long as she continues to call herself country, she could at least refrain from releasing singles like this. I’ll take straight pop labeled country over female bro country any day.

Random Thoughts of the Week: Jason Isbell and Alan Jackson Prove Quality is Worth More Than Airplay

Congratulations to Jason Isbell and Alan Jackson, who have claimed the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, respectively, on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. Both released excellent albums–I reviewed them both here on Country Exclusive–on July 17th, the first Friday release date for albums in North America. Jackson’s Angels and Alcohol was a traditional album by a country veteran, released on a major label. Isbell’s Something More Than Free was an Americana/Southern rock/folk/country blend marked by excellent songwriting, released independently. Musically, these albums were polar opposites–well, as opposite as two albums can be within the same genre. While they both had great songwriting, the content on their albums was quite different, and their ways of storytelling and crafting lyrics aren’t similar either.

So what did these two albums have in common? Musically, although different, each had a distinct country sound. As I have mentioned, each contained quality music marked with great songwriting. I gave each album a 9 when I reviewed them. Each contained many songs written solely by the artist. This is especially surprising in Jackson’s case, considering that most mainstream songs are written by at least three people these days. (It takes at least three to write crap about a dirt road, but one can write good music?) Jackson wrote seven of the ten tracks on his album. Isbell’s songwriting is something he has been praised for and something I discussed at length in his review; for him to write the material on his album, however, is not as unusual because he is an independent artist.

But, wait…there’s something else glaringly obvious these two albums have in common. Neither has had five minutes of radio support. Jackson has had a little and may have more with a future single, but he has not had airplay comparative to what he should have with the No. 2 album in the country. Isbell isn’t getting airplay at all and yet has managed to beat Jackson by less than 500 units after a fight that came down to the wire. Both albums sold over 46,000 copies.

And here I thought if you weren’t on country radio, you didn’t exist. If you were living under a rock in February, that is what Gary Overton, CEO of Sony Music Nashville, who was later fired, infamously told The Tennessean–“If you’re not on country radio, you don’t exist.” Overton’s comments were the cause of an uproar from Texas artists such as Aaron Watson who, after claiming the No. 1 album that very week, noted, “My name is Aaron Watson. I’m not played on country radio. And I have the #1 record in country music this week. I do exist.” Aaron Watson went to settle the matter with Bobby Bones and, in a strange turn of events, was told that he was being “disrespectful to women” for calling a producer “sweetheart.” This led to an epic online rant from Texas artist Charlie Robison–too long to post here–which in turn led to Florida Georgia Line’s tweet that they had “lost a lot of respect” for Robison. His reply was, “How do you lose respect for someone who doesn’t exist?”

Overton’s comments were overshadowed by the idiocy of Keith Hill in May, but they shouldn’t be overlooked. Alan Jackson and Jason Isbell certainly exist–and there is a silent majority out there buying their albums saying they’d rather search the Internet and streaming services to find good music than listen to what is offered on radio. Kacey Musgraves has been all but blacklisted on country radio, and she has held her position on the chart, debuting at No. 1 quietly. We may also see this next week with Ashley Monroe–fingers crossed–whom I have never heard on the radio. Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard don’t get played anymore, and their album Django and Jimmie has had no problem staying in the top ten, while radio-supported Billy Currington, Canaan Smith, Kelsea Ballerini, and Easton Corbin struggle to keep their places on the charts. What would happen if they lost radio support? How long will country radio ignore the numbers? Maybe they can ignore a bunch of traditionalists griping on blogs, but It’s not just people griping on blogs anymore, it’s on the charts now.

Tomato of the Week: Angaleena Presley

As I featured her fellow Pistol Annie Ashley Monroe last week, I thought it fitting that she should be this week. Check out her article on Female Friday!

Random Country Suggestion: Zac Brown Band–“Bittersweet”

Great song off their new album, Jekyll + Hyde. It should be a future single.

Non-Country Suggestion: Chris Tomlin–Love Ran Red

I often post pop music here, but as I’ve mentioned before, I like a little of everything, and I like some Christian music too. If you don’t like Christian music, don’t listen. If you do, you are probably familiar with Chris Tomlin, and his work speaks for itself. He is the Strait or Jackson in the Christian world that just keeps releasing good music, and his latest album is no different.

Listen to Love Ran Red

That’s all for this week’s Random Thoughts!