Album Review: Kasey Chambers–Bittersweet

Rating: 10/10

First of all, I want to give credit to Josh Schott of
Country Perspective
because until he reviewed this album yesterday, I had never listened to Kasey Chambers. I’d only heard the name and knew her to be an Australian country singer. Now, it says a lot about the quality of this album that after one day, I have listened to it and am here reviewing it. Kasey Chambers is a name you should know, and you can expect a future Female Friday fully devoted to her. But for now, let’s focus on her latest studio album, Bittersweet, which recently became available everywhere (Australia has had it since 2014.)

The album opens with “Oh Grace,” which almost exclusively features a banjo and Kasey’s remarkable voice. Here, Kasey sings as a man asking a woman, Grace, to marry him. He is poor and has nothing to offer her but love, but says that all he has is “yours for eternity, if I make you my wife.” It’s nice to hear a banjo used for good and not evil; rather than being a pop song with banjo added to pretend to be country, this is a country song where a banjo drives the beat. “Is God Real?” finds Kasey struggling with the question and deciding that she’ll pray to Him anyway. The concept of God is discussed throughout this album, and it’s refreshing and honest to hear, regardless of your views on the matter. “Wheelbarrow” is probably the most intriguing song on the album, and the bluesy instrumentation blends nicely with the lyrics and Chambers’s vocals to make it catchy. In this song, there is a whole new side of Chambers’s voice than the softer one presented on “Oh Grace,” and it’s hard to say which style suits her voice better.

“I Would Do” is a love song listing all the things Kasey would do for her man. I love the opening line: “Everybody plays the fool, I am no exception to the rule.” “Hell of a Way To Go” is a nice country rock song about dying of a broken heart. Next is “House on a Hill,” a beautiful song where Kasey sings with her father, fellow country singer Bill Chambers, about a house that is falling apart and about to be torn down. “It’s been through it all, and there’s cracks in the walls, they may as well just take me down too”–what a great line.

“Stalker” comes next, and after the darkness of “House on a Hill,” it works. It is a fun, upbeat song literally about being someone’s stalker. The lyrics can only be described as disturbing. On my first listen, it was extremely creepy. On my second listen, it was hilarious. I like to think Kasey put this on the album solely for shock value and/or to creep out everyone she knew–if your friend wrote this, you would sincerely hope it wasn’t meant for you. “Heaven or Hell” is one of my early favorites on the album; it deals with where we go when we die and also speaks to hypocrites, saying that our deeds will all come out one day. More excellent songwriting is present here–“Clever little liar with a righteous tongue, reputation to uphold. One of these days you’re gonna have to come out of the lies you’ve told.” The melody is catchy too, and the song is saved from being judgmental as well because she speaks to herself in the last verse, saying she’ll have to change her ways and “one of these days, you’re gonna have to get down on your knees and pray.” It’s like a Kacey Musgraves song but less confrontational.

“Bittersweet,” the album’s title track, is a duet with fellow Australian singer Bernard Fanning. Their voices work well together in this song as they speculate on their former love and whether they should get back together. I can’t say enough about the excellent songwriting on this album, and “Too Late To Save Me” gives us more of it. There is something so honest about a song that opens like this: “They hear me cry, they hear me roar, they call me late, they call me whore.” It’s a song about a prostitute trying to cope with her life and wondering if God can still save her. Again, the banjo drives the beat of this rocking song and the instrumentation goes well with the lyrics. “Christmas Day” is another song with a religious theme; here Kasey tells the story of Mary and Joseph from a more romantic perspective. It is less a Christmas song and more a country love song, and it works very well on the album. Bittersweet closes with “I’m Alive,” a bluegrass song where the banjo that backed many of the songs basically takes over. It’s a celebratory song that sees Kasey coming out on top and thankful to be alive after hard times. She mentions that she “drank like a bitch” and “made it through the hardest fucking year,” which again adds to the honesty of the album. I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard “whore” and “bitch” uttered in a country album, and there’s something very real about it that is missing in much of today’s country. I’m not saying you have to say things like that to be real, but their presence proves that what we’re hearing from Kasey Chambers is indeed real songwriting coming from her perspective rather than polished-up radio hits that tell us little more about the actual artist than that they want to sell records.

This is a fantastic album, and Kasey Chambers is a name you should be familiar with. She’s Australia’s hidden gem, and this album proves it. As I said earlier, it should tell you a lot about the quality of this music that I found time to review it within one day of ever listening to a Kasey Chambers song.

Listen to Album

Billboard Country Airplay and Country Albums Chart (September 5th)

Billboard Country Airplay

1. Frankie Ballard–“Young and Crazy” (up 1)
2. Sam Hunt–“House Party” (up 1)
3. Dustin Lynch–“Hell of a Night” (up 1)
4. Thomas Rhett–“Crash and Burn” (up 2)
5. Chris Janson–“Buy Me a Boat” (up 2)
6. Keith Urban–“John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” (up 2)
7. Zac Brown Band–“Loving You Easy” (down 6)
8. Brett Eldredge–“Lose My Mind” (up 1)
9. Kenny Chesney–“Save It for a Rainy Day” (up 1)
10. Michael Ray–“Kiss You in the Morning” (down 5)
11. Eric Church–“Like a Wrecking Ball” (up 1)
12. Maddie & Tae–“Fly” (up 1)
13. Chase Rice–“Gonna Wanna Tonight” (up 1)
14. Florida Georgia Line–“Anything Goes” (up 1)
15. Cole Swindell–“Let Me See Ya Girl” (up 1)
16. Luke Bryan–“Strip It Down” (up 7) [biggest gainer]
17. Old Dominion–“Break Up With Him” (up 2)
18. Dan + Shay–“Nothin’ Like You” (down 1)
19. Jake Owen–“Real Life” (down 1)
20. Lady Antebellum–“Long Stretch of Love”
21. Kip Moore–“I’m To Blame”
22. Blake Shelton–“Gonna” (up 4)
23. Cam–“Burning House” (down 1)
24. Carrie Underwood–“Smoke Break” (entering top 30) [most added song this week]
25. Chris Young–“I’m Comin’ Over”
26. Big & Rich–“Run Away With You” (down 2)
27. Brothers Osborne–“Stay a Little Longer”
28. Parmalee–“Already Callin’ You Mine”
29. Tim McGraw–“Top of the World” (re-entering top 30)
30. Jason Aldean–“Gonna Know We Were Here” (entering top 30)

  • new #1: “Young and Crazy”
  • next week’s #1 prediction: “house Party”
  • “Kick the Dust Up” mercifully fell out of the top 30 from #11. I hope I never hear that shit again.
  • Kelsea Ballerini’s “Dibs” fell from #30 to #31
  • Hunter Hayes’s “21” fell from #29 to #33
  • when you look at 13-17, suddenly 13-15 and 17 look like gems thrown in next to the atrocity that is “Strip it Down
  • Carrie Underwood’s “Smoke Break” enters with Jason Aldean’s “Gonna Know We Were Here” to fulfill the “crap must enter with each good song” quota

Billboard Top Country Albums

1. Luke Bryan–Kill the Lights (This makes me want to throw up)
2. Elvis Presley–Elvis Forever [debut]
3. Sam Hunt–Montevallo
4. Zac Brown Band–Jekyll + Hyde
5. Pat Green–Home [debut]
6. Eric Church–The Outsiders
7. Alan Jackson–Angels and Alcohol
8. Jason Isbell–Something More Than Free
9. Little Big Town–Painkiller
10. Florida Georgia Line–Anything Goes
11. Jason Aldean–Old Boots, New Dirt
12. Brantley Gilbert–Just as I Am
13. Various Artists–Now That’s What I Call Country, Volume 8
14. Michael Ray–Michael Ray
15. Luke Bryan–Crash My Party
16. Kacey Musgraves–Pageant Material
17. Zac Brown Band–Greatest Hits So Far…
18. Chase Rice–Ignite the Night
19. Willie Nelson/Merle Haggard–Django and Jimmie
20. Blake Shelton–Bringing Back the Sunshine
21. Cole Swindell–Cole Swindell
22. Kenny Chesney–The Big Revival
23. Carrie Underwood–Greatest Hits: Decade #1
24. Tim McGraw–35 Biggest Hits
25. Miranda Lambert–Platinum

  • Michael Ray follows in the footsteps of Canaan Smith, Kelsea Ballerini, and Easton Corbin, falling from his debut at #4 to #14
  • Texas artist Pat Green’s Home debuts at #5
  • at least Luke Bryan no longer has three albums on this chart

Source: Billboard

Album Review: Sam Outlaw–Angeleno

Rating: 9/10

Earlier this year, before the existence of this blog, several albums came out that are definitely worth reviewing. This is true in the case of Sam Outlaw, whose debut album came out in June. While the album, Angeleno, falls short of being a ten for me, it is still one of the better albums of the year, and definitely one of the most unique. For its uniqueness alone, it should not be overlooked. With a name like Sam Outlaw, one would expect outlaw country music, or at least an attempt at outlaw country, but instead this is more of the Nashville sound that came before outlaw country. (Outlaw chose this name because it was his late mother’s maiden name.) But I feel many people are probably turned off by the name alone, and if so, you have been missing some great music.

The album opens with “Who Do You Think You Are,” a mid-tempo love song featuring horns and acoustic guitars. It’s pretty good, but I’m not sure if it would hold my attention if this was the first song I heard from Sam Outlaw (it wasn’t.) Having said that, there’s nothing wrong with it either. Next is “Keep It Interesting,” another mid-tempo song which does hold my attention and is about a couple keeping their love alive by “Keeping it interesting.” And yes, by “it” I do mean sex. You can argue that “keeping it interesting” might mean several things, but I think the intent was sex. Evidence for this includes lines like “Your mama and your daddy might think it’s a sin.” This is a refreshing song that is one of my favorites on the album. Next is “I’m not Jealous,” an interesting take on a cheating song in which he tells the cheating woman, “I’m not jealous of them, I’m embarrassed for you.”” Love Her For Awhile” is the first song I heard from Sam Outlaw, and it’s hard to say what caught my attention about it. It’s very much a case of less is more. It’s a simple little song about not really being able to explain the feelings he has, but somehow knowing that he’ll “love her for awhile.” There is something very honest about this song that made me wonder who sang it, and when I found out it was Sam Outlaw, a name I’d heard but basically ignored, I went looking for his music.

The title track is a love song with a western feel that tells a story. It’s a good love song and tells a great story, but on an album of love songs, it doesn’t stand out for this listener as much as the others. By contrast, “Country Love Song” is one of the best love songs on the album. Here, Outlaw is on the road and wondering if a woman back home will still love him as much as she used to when he finally returns. He says, “I wish that I could send you a country love song.” Again, there is honesty in this song that really helps it. Next is “Ghost Town,” and if you only listen to one Sam Outlaw song, make it this. This is one of the best songs of the year. From the instrumentation to the melody to the lyrics to the vocals, I can’t do it justice in words. It’s about a man returning home and traveling through ghost towns, and through excellent pictures, we are told the story of both the narrator and the towns. This is country at its best.

Next is a drinking song called “Jesus, Take the Wheel (And Drive me to a Bar).” It’s not bad as drinking songs go, but I could have done without it. “It Might Kill Me” is a great heartbreak song in which his friends are telling him the pain will get better. In response, Sam Outlaw sings, “If it don’t kill you, it just makes you better. It might kill me, it might.” The instrumentation in this song is excellent, featuring a great balance of steel guitar. “Keep a Close Eye On Me” finds Sam asking God to watch over him and make him into a better person. “Oh, Lord, keep a close eye on me” is an excellent line.

“Old-Fashioned” speaks of a kind of love that is less common in today’s culture. This love is the kind where men and women stand by each other and help each other. I like the sentiment of this song, but I felt it needed more lyrics. After two short verses, we are left with really nice instrumentation, but I kept waiting for an end to the song that never came. Angeleno closes with the simple heartbreak song “Hole Down in My Heart,” the first upbeat song on the entire album. It sticks out like a sore thumb among the slow and mid-tempo songs before it, and I think it should have been balanced by another upbeat song. Instead of showing variety, the lone track feels like it was thrown in on the end and doesn’t go well with the rest of the album.

Overall, Angeleno is a great listen and showcases the Nashville sound at its best. If “Hole Down in My Heart” and “Jesus, Take the Wheel (and Drive me To a Bar)” were removed, this album would be a ten. This album is one of the most unique releases of 2015 and features some of the best songwriting of the year. Don’t ignore this album because of the name Sam Outlaw.

Listen to album

Random Thoughts of the Week: How Country Music Made me a Nicki Minaj Fan

Now, before anyone loses respect for me due to the above statement or decides my opinions about country music are no longer valid, please understand that title for what it was. Also, understand that we all are music lovers first, before genre lines ever come into play. I say this because I have seen comments on other sites saying people who profess love and/or knowledge of other genres do not care as much about country music as those who love country exclusively. So, as ridiculous an opinion as this might be, I felt I should address it before making my main point.

Yesterday, (August 24th),
Saving Country Music
published an article containing some of the preliminary results of a study conducted by McMaster University. The university is studying the open-mindedness of music fans of specific genres to other genres. In other words, if someone listens to mostly country music, are they more or less likely to also listen to other genres? According to the study, country fans rank fourth in open-mindedness among the ten genres studied. The most interesting early finding was that rap, dance, and pop fans are the three most cloes-minded groups. In other words, people who listen to these three genres are not likely to be open to other music. Also, the study highlighted some “asymmetrical pairings” between certain genres. One such pairing was country and pop; country fans are more likely to listen to pop, but pop fans won’t share that love for country. So, those fans who become “country” fans because of Sam Hunt won’t suddenly start listening to Kacey Musgraves, but a country fan who likes Taylor Swift might then develop a taste for Katy Perry.

This explains why, in its effort to please the close-minded pop fans flooding “country” music, country has all but forsaken its roots. Heaven forbid a fifteen-year-old be subjected to the lyricism of Cam’s “Burning House” when she could learn about partying and sex from Luke Bryan’s douche masterpiece “Kick The Dust Up.” Country singers even go so far as to call actual country music boring and paint the fans as close-minded old people, all for the sake of keeping their fickle pop fan base happy.

So if we’re not making Kacey Musgraves fans out of Sam Hunt groupies, what is this wave of bad pop music actually doing? Well, this is what happened in my case. I grew up with country in the 90’s and 00’s. I liked most country and even the pop country of early Taylor Swift. By 2010, country radio was becoming one tailgating song after another. The country that I loved, which used to feature steel guitars, fiddles, and storytelling, now came with hip-hop beats, rap, and lyrics about clubbing. I didn’t know about all the country I could be listening to; all I knew was country radio. In my mind, country had died. I tried to like the bro country and pop country, but I grew more and more frustrated with it until last year, when I decided that if country was dead, I should find something else to listen to. I had listened to so much bad pop music that I welcomed good pop music. Even their club songs are better than country’s club songs. If I have to listen to that anyway, I’d certainly rather hear Nicki Minaj’s “The Night is Still Young” than Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind of Night.” I’ll always love country more, but when your choices are pop and worse pop with a twang, you take pop any day. During that time, I came to appreciate a considerable amount of pop music. I am extremely grateful for sites like SCM and Country Perspective that helped me find good country music again. Country music is still alive and well, and for that, I can be thankfull. Country music is still my favorite genre because it carries lyrics of substance, but as a music lover first, I am glad in a way that I was open to pop. (I guess that’s what comes from being an open-minded country fan.) I am certainly glad that is not all I have the choice of listening to though. These days, I would say I listen to about 80% country and 20% pop. I have always liked a little music from other genres as well, including rock, Christian, and r&b, but country and pop are the two I listen to on a regular basis. Having said that, I still hate most of the crap on country radio because it is bad pop and worse country.

The alarming thing is that my case seems to be more common than it should be. People argue that Sam Hunt or Taylor Swift can bring someone into country, and then this person might suddenly start liking Ashley Monroe and Alan Jackson. This sounds ridiculous on the surface, and now a study has backed it up. Also, pop fans are by definition listening to what is popular; in other words, someone who is introduced to “country” because of Sam Hunt is generally not going to go seeking Ashley Monroe and Alan Jackson. And seeking is what they’d have to do, because God forbid country radio play anything with substance. It seems far more likely, then, that someone who likes Ashley Monroe and Alan Jackson but who doesn’t hear anything except bad pop music on the local country station, would switch the station in exasperation and develop an appreciation for whatever is playing. I imagine there are a lot more people who have Ashley Monroe and Nicki Minaj in their iTunes library than those who have Ashley Monroe and Sam Hunt. Even more than that, there are those who have Sam Hunt and Nicki Minaj, because out of the three, these two are the most similar, which says a lot, (and nothing good) about the state of country music. Country fans are not being created by all this pop influence. All that is happening is that more pop fans are being created in response to the bad excuse for pop music that country continues to produce. By catering to the close-minded pop fans, country music continues to lose its identity in favor of being an inferior version of the music these close-minded fans love.

Tomatoes of the Week: Maddie & Tae

Their debut album comes out Friday, so they will be our featured females.

Random Country Suggestion: Miranda Lambert–“Roots and Wings”

Sadly, this wasn’t chosen as a single and we are stuck with “Smokin’ and Drinkin'” instead.

Non-Country Suggestion: Nicki Minaj: “All Things Go”

One of the results of me being an open-minded country fan.

Album Review: Kip Moore–Wild Ones

Country Rating: 5/10
Rock Rating: 7/10

This album was a hard one to review. Kip Moore is naturally more of a rocker than a country singer, and Wild Ones is much more of a rock album. Having said that, it’s a pretty good rock album. To rate it higher on a country Web site is therefore unfair; however, to not recognize the quality of the music is also a disservice. Hence, I gave this two ratings. If country singers actually put out country music, this problem doesn’t exist, but that’s not the case in 2015. Instead, we get pop and rock and r&b disguised as country, and more often than not, the music is just as bad in its real genre. This is not the case with Kip Moore, and for that, he and his album should be commended.

The album’s title track is a decent rock song about partying on the weekends “with the ones your mama said to run from, the ones your daddy kept you from.” The drums drive the beat of this song, and I can tell thought was put into the production. Also, they are not partying on some dirt road or even in a club; the location is actually not mentioned, and focus is more on the “wild ones” having fun. Next is “Come and Get It,” a song in which Kip is telling a woman to “come and get” his love. He asks her, “Girl, what’s the matter with you, can’t you see it when it’s standing right in front of you?” Again, the production is a plus, with drums rising throughout the song. In “Girl of the Summer,” Kip once again shows some originality by taking a familiar theme (missing a summer love) and giving it some life. Next is “Magic,” a love song in which he compares a woman’s love to a fairy tale. It is pretty original and the production helps it, but I could have done without this song being on the album. To me, it doesn’t add anything to Wild Ones at all, either from a country or rock perspective.

“That Was Us” has more of a pop rock feel. In this slow song, an old theme is once again introduced (reminiscing about old times with friends.) However, these characters actually have names, and a story is actually told. In the third verse, two friends are stopped by the cops on their way to kill a man who has been abusing their female friend. Next is “Lipstick,” a song about how Kip has traveled literally everywhere in the country to be with his woman and “Kiss your lipstick.” The production makes this a great rock song, but the point is lost because it is more about all the places he has been (three verses of listing places) than about coming back home to the woman. “What Ya Got on Tonight?” finds Moore on the road again, seeing many beautiful women but still missing someone at home and asking her, “what ya got on tonight?” Production is once again a plus, but not much to say about the lyrics.

Next is “Heart’s Desire,” a song with better lyrics where he knows he has messed up and lost a woman, and he wants her to understand she is his “heart’s desire.” “Complicated” also features well-written lyrics, telling the story of a love that is realistic, unlike the fairy tale in “Magic.” “It don’t always go just like you hoped it would, but sometimes complicated’s pretty damn good.” Also, this song sounds like an actual blend of country and rock. The lead single, “I’m To Blame” has grown on me somewhat, but it still feels like it’s missing something–perhaps a guitar solo. I do like the attitude in the song and the acknowledgement that there are consequences for our actions. “That’s All Right With Me” is another verse of the same song; a song where Kip makes no apologies for being country and being himself. However, I’d rather it resemble “I’m To Blame” than some of the other songs where people try (and fail) to prove their country cred. I think I would have liked this and “I’m To Blame” better if they were not back-to-back on the album. “Running For You” is a pop rock love song where Kip Moore promises to come “running for you” whenever she needs him. Finally, “Comeback Kid” paints the picture of a man struggling to rise from hard times and asking a woman to not give up on him. This song has some great lyrics, including “I’m a Hail Mary pass on homecoming night, six points down, the clock ticking by, come hell or high water, I still believe I can win, Just call me the comeback kid.” I could be wrong, but this song feels somewhat personal to Kip Moore, and that makes it one of the better songs on the album.

On the deluxe version, you will find “What I Do,” another verse of “I’m to Blame” (this one is helped by its track placement), “Backseat,” an actual good song about hooking up in a backseat because it focuses on the nerves and the girl, (again, old theme, new life), and “Burn the Whole World Down,” a song where the narrator is running away because a girl won’t commit. This song should have made the main album in my opinion because it is one of the better ones overall.

If there had been even two or three more songs with country leanings, this would have been a decent country album. This, however, is clearly a rock album. Having said that, as a rock album it’s good. The production is great for most of the album and there are some well-written songs too. Wild Ones is in the unique position of being a good non-country album to come out of mainstream Nashville. The most significant problem with it it is that it is being marketed as country.

Listen to Wild Ones