Album Review: The Black Lillies–Hard to Please

Rating: 9/10

Well, credit to Derek of
Country Perspective
because until he reviewed this album, I had never heard of The Black Lillies. However, this is their fourth studio album, and they are certainly a group worth checking out. Blending country, rock, and blues, they have been a staple in Americana since 2009 and have formed a unique sound that many people will enjoy.

The album’s title track and opener, “Hard to Please,” is a rocking track about a woman who is, well, hard to please. The harmonies between frontman Cruz Contreras and Trisha Gene Brady work well in this song, and the rock guitars add a nice touch. “That’s the Way it Goes Down” is another rocking song–it’s a song about forgetting our mistakes and looking forward. Once again, I am struck by the harmonies, a fact which I will stop repeating, as it is consistent throughout the album. The guitar solo in this song really adds to it. “Mercy” is a beautiful song about a couple who admit they simply need each other. “It ain’t easy for a grown man to confide that I need your love, flesh and blood, that’s why I’m calling, calling on you”–what a line. This song blends country, blues, and gospel into a unique sound that adds even more to the track. It’s definitely a standout on the album.

Trisha Gene Brady sings lead on “The First Time,” a heartbreak song about a man who continues to let her down. Trisha should take the lead on more songs, in my opinion–her bluesy voice is just incredible. The album turns decidedly more country at this point. “Bound to Roam” is an excellently written song about two lovers, Willie and Sarah; Willie is a rambler, and Sarah wants him to stop roaming and stay with her. The song tells the story, through their dialogue, of their last conversations and moments together. Everything about this song is excellent, from the vocals to the songwriting to the production; if you pick one song by this group to listen to, make it this one. “Dancin'” is another one of my favorites–here, a couple is seeking to rekindle their love by going dancing together. This song features a nice country beat and some great steel guitar. Speaking of steel guitar, you will find plenty of it on “Desire.” This is the third excellent track in a row–here, Cruz Contreras takes the lead and sings about a lost love, whom he clearly still keeps in his heart. Contreras sings, “Desire, oh desire, you can look away, but it still remains. You can’t hide that burning flame of desire.”

“Forty Days” takes the album back to a more upbeat, country rock feel. The band sings about forty days of touring on the road; it’s a fun song that is just pleasant to listen to. The piano in this song is excellent. There are better songs on Hard to Please, but this is one which I think will be enjoyed universally. “Broken Shore” was written by Contreras for his grandfather, who fought in Iwo Jima–it’s yet another excellently written song, and I can’t really do it justice with words. Contreras and Brady repeat the line, “Which way is heaven and which way is hell, it’s so hard to tell”–what a lyric. The instrumentation in this song is phenomenal, and if you had a shortage of mandolin or fiddle, you should listen to this track. Hard to Please closes with “Fade,” another well-written song in which the narrator is asking his love to promise him that she will not “fade away.” The piano works really well in this song, and it features more of those remarkable harmonies between Contreras and Brady.

Overall, I was really impressed by this album. Having never heard of The Black Lillies, I can say that this album has made me a fan. This album blends country, rock, blues, and even gospel at times, and the band excels at all of these styles. Aside from the unique sound, many of the songs have truly excellent lyrics. It is not often that an album or group is equally impressive in sound and songwriting quality, but The Black Lillies have achieved this with Hard to Please. This is definitely an album worth many listens.

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Billboard Country Airplay and Country Albums Chart (November 28th)

Billboard Country Airplay

1. Chris Young–“I’m Comin’ Over” (up 2)
2. Cole Swindell–“Let Me See Ya Girl”
3. Carrie Underwood–“Smoke Break” (up 1)
4. Dan + Shay–“Nothin’ Like You” (up 1)
5. Blake Shelton–“Gonna” (up 1)
6. Old Dominion–“Break Up With Him” (down 5)
7. Jason Aldean–“Gonna Know We Were Here” (up 1)
8. Tim McGraw–“Top of the World” (up 1)
9. Cam–“Burning House” (up 1)
10. Brothers Osborne–“Stay a Little Longer” (up 1)
11. Thomas Rhett–“Die a Happy Man” (up 1)
12. LoCash–“I Love this Life” (up 2)
13. Parmalee–“Already Callin’ You Mine”
14. Jana Kramer–“I Got the Boy” (up 1)
15. Kelsea Ballerini–“Dibs” (up 2)
16. Big & Rich–“Run Away With You”
17. Sam Hunt–“Break Up in a Small Town” (up 2)
18. Granger Smith–“Back Road Song” (up 2)
19. Randy Houser–“We Went” (down 1)
20. Brad Paisley–“Country Nation” (up 1)
21. Hunter Hayes–“21” (up 1)
22. Zac Brown Band–“Beautiful Drug” (up 1)
23. Chase Bryant–“Little Bit of You” (up 1)
24. A Thousand Horses–(“This Ain’t No) Drunk Dial” (down 1)
25. Keith Urban–“Break On Me” (up 4)
26. Rascal Flatts–“I Like the Sound of That” (up 2)
27. Dierks Bentley–“Riser” (down 1)
28. Lee Brice–“That Don’t Sound Like You” (down 1)
29. Luke Bryan and Karen Fairchild–“Home Alone Tonight” (entering top 30)
30. Eric Church–“Mr. Misunderstood” (entering top 30)

  • new #1: “I’m Comin’ Over” [an actual good song]
  • next week’s #1 prediction: “Smoke Break
  • the atrocity that is “Home Alone Tonight” enters the top 30 this week, along with a good song, Eric Church’s “Mr. Misunderstood”
  • Florida Georgia Line’s “Anything Goes” finally fell from #7 to out of the top 30

Billboard Top Country Albums

1. Chris Stapleton–Traveller
2. Eric Church–Mr. Misunderstood
3. Tim McGraw–Damn Country Music [debut]
4. Carrie Underwood–Storyteller
5. Old Dominion–Meat and Candy [debut]
6. Luke Bryan–Kill the Lights
7. Sam Hunt–Montevallo
8. Blake Shelton–Reloaded: 20 #1 Hits
9. Josh Abbott Band–Front Row Seat
10. Thomas Rhett–Tangled Up
11. Cole Swindell–Down Home Sessions II (EP) [debut]
12. Little Big Town–Painkiller
13. Chris Janson–Buy me a Boat
14. Don Henley–Cass County
15. George Strait–Cold Beer Conversation
16. Hunter Hayes–21 Project
17. Eric Church–The Outsiders
18. Zac Brown Band–Jekyll + Hyde
19. Alan Jackson–Genuine: the Alan Jackson Story
20. Sam Hunt–Between the Pines: Acoustic Mixtape (EP)
21. Florida Georgia Line–Anything Goes
22. Alabama–Southern Drawl
23. Various Artists–Now That’s What I Call Country, Volume 8
24. Jason Aldean–Old Boots, New Dirt
25. Brett Eldredge–Illinois

  • Chris Stapleton enjoys a 2nd week at #1 with Traveller
  • Tim McGraw’s mostly good Damn Country Music debuts at #3
  • Josh Abbott Band’s concept album, Front Row Seat, debuts at #9

Source: Billboard

Album Review: Eric Church–Mr. Misunderstood

Rating: 8/10

When it comes to Eric Church, one just has to accept that he’s always going to be more rock than country. This doesn’t make him some sort of sellout or trend-chaser; that’s always been part of his style, and the fact that he hasn’t veered from it or tried to be a different artist than himself should be commended. If you’re looking for fiddle and steel, it’s as simple as this: don’t seek it in Eric Church’s music. However, within the confines of his rock-country status, Eric Church can bring some truly excellent music. He has shown us two sides: the more rootsy, stripped-down side found in albums like Chief and Sinners Like Me, and the sweeping, arena rock style found on The Outsiders. It’s the former that suits Eric Church, and when he dropped a surprise album in the mail to his fan club last week, we all began hoping he would get back to this. I’m glad to say that his rootsy rock-country style is indeed what we hear on Mr. Misunderstood, and the result is a very good Eric Church release.

The album’s title track and opener starts with just Church and an acoustic guitar, which is immediately better than anything on The Outsiders and shows promise for the rest of the record. It’s an ode to all those who don’t fit in but will one day lead the band and be popular because of their music. “Your buddies get their rocks off on top 40 radio, but you love your daddy’s vinyl and old time rock ‘n’ roll” feels like a personal line for Eric Church, and this song feels quite honest. I wish it had stayed stripped-down throughout the entire song, but that’s not a critical comment so much as a personal preference. “Mistress Named Music” is one of my favorites; this is a song about the allure music can have on people. “I’m still chasing this song with a guitar full of freedom and a head full of lines”–what an excellent lyric. The production builds throughout this song, really capturing the song in a way that was held back slightly on “Mr. Misunderstood.” “Chattanooga Lucy” is a song people will either love or hate–it’s a bluesy rock song about, well, a woman nicknamed “Chattanooga Lucy”–but it’s a song where I pay much more attention to everything happening musically. Incidentally, I should point out that only seven musicians are given credit for contributing to this album, including Eric Church and producer Jay Joyce–say what you will about Church, but this is just insane in 2015 for a mainstream artist. It results in a very cohesive, sometimes live-sounding album, even if it isn’t country-sounding.

“Mixed Drinks About Feelings” features Susan Tedeschi, who is a ridiculously talented artist in her own right–just go listen to the Tedeschi Trucks Band–and whose name makes me think this will be an excellent track. It’s not an excellent one, but it is a pretty damn good one–the two sing this song well together, and the line “my figured out has never been more confused” cannot be overlooked. Now, I have listened to “Knives of New Orleans” several times, and I still have no words to write that would explain it–it’s just a remarkable display of songwriting that you should listen to. It tells a great story, and it’s a case where I feel the rock production really works. It doesn’t matter if you wanted to hear country–if you’re a fan of damn good music, give this a listen.

The next two songs suffer from slight production issues; I could have done without the lead-ins of electronic drums on these tracks. “Round Here Buzz” could be a single; it’s a nice small-town anthem that actually feels somewhat authentic, as opposed to every checklist country song we’ve ever been exposed to. Having said that, although it’s not a bad song, it doesn’t really do anything for the album. “Kill a Word” is a very interesting, well-written take on bullying and hate. “If I could kill a word” is the premise–Church sings of beating “regret,” shooting “goodbye,” and choking “Lonely,” among other things. “Holdin’ my Own” is a simple little song about just that: fighting adversity and standing one’s ground. It’s a song that might be overshadowed by others on this album, but after some listens, this one has come out of nowhere to be one of my personal favorites. It’s a case of “less is more,” and it’s just pleasant to listen to and will connect with many. “Record Year” is a little too pop for my taste in places, but having said that, it could make a good single and is certainly not a straight pop song–I’d probably call it pop rock. It’s a heartbreak song in which the narrator is trying to get over a woman by playing various “records”–as an avid listener of “everything from Jones to Janis” too, like the narrator, I can identify with this song quite a lot and just wish it sounded a little less pop. However, there’s no doubt that some of the best songwriting on the entire album is found on this song. “Three Year Old” closes the album nicely–it’s a song about the lessons we can learn from children, from the ridiculous to the profound.

Overall, this is without a doubt the best release we have yet been granted from Eric Church. There is no use belaboring the point that there is no fiddle and steel, and that this is at its core a rock album. This has always been Eric Church’s place in music, and his rock-country sound is at its best on Mr. Misunderstood. There are some truly excellent moments of songwriting here, most notably on “Knives of New Orleans” and “Record Year,” and it’s important to note that Church either wrote or co-wrote every single track. The fact that there are only seven musicians on this entire album is nothing short of mind-blowing. As I said earlier, you know what you’re getting with Eric Church–so either don’t listen, and miss some truly great music, or go into it with that in mind when you do listen. And if you do listen, you’ll find a lot to love about this album.

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“Who the Hell is Chris Stapleton?”: Answering the Question in the Minds of Millions of Sam Hunt Fans

Who is Chris Stapleton? This is a question on millions of Google searches and in the minds of Sam Hunt fans everywhere since Wednesday night (November 4th), when their beloved Sam Hunt was shut out at the CMA’s by this guy they’d never heard of. It was a huge upset when Stapleton beat out Hunt, Thomas Rhett, Kelsea Ballerini, and Maddie & Tae for New Artist of the Year. But then he went on to win Album of the Year for Traveller, so the Sam Hunt fans were forced to admit this Chris Stapleton might be a name worth knowing. Later, he even won the Male Vocalist of the Year award, breaking Blake Shelton’s five-year winning streak and causing Luke Bryan’s Entertainer of the Year win to look at best like an afterthought and at worst completely comical. Eric Church, predicted to be a front runner for the top awards, was shut out except for a joint win with Keith Urban for Event of the Year for “Raise ’em Up.” Little Big Town’s three wins looked unimportant compared to Chris Stapleton’s sweep. Both Luke Bryan and Miranda Lambert thanked Stapleton in their acceptance speeches, and Luke noted that seeing Stapleton “have this night is so uplifting.” To add to all of this, Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake took the stage for what was undoubtedly the best performance of the evening, singing “Tennessee Whiskey” and “Drink You Away.”

So naturally, the million-dollar question among the masses is, “Who the bloody hell is Chris Stapleton?”

In an effort to answer this for themselves, the country community has launched Chris’s only album, Traveller, straight to the top of the iTunes chart. He has never had a hit crack the top 40 on Billboard Country Airplay, but that could all soon change. Chris Stapleton will now be a household name. Traditionalists everywhere are dancing in the streets, some even calling Chris Stapleton our “country music savior”–rest assured that Country Exclusive does not hold this view–but this will certainly change Chris Stapleton’s life forever.

So aside from the 2015 CMA’s making Chris Stapleton an overnight superstar, what has this actually done for our beloved country music?

The sweep of Chris Stapleton has finally begun to put mainstream artists and independent artists on equal footing, in terms of recognition. Stapleton is widely respected in the industry for writing others’ hits, both traditional and otherwise–in fact, on many traditionalist blogs, Chris Stapleton is often ridiculed for having taken part in such pieces of shit as Thomas Rhett’s “South Side.” Although Traveller is his debut album, Chris Stapleton is a name that has been around Nashville for many years, and the news that he was making an album was welcome and long overdue to many dedicated fans. The CMA took notice of all this. It didn’t matter that Stapleton has had little to no commercial success. If there was ever a time when the comments of Gary Overton–“If you’re not on country radio, you don’t exist”–rang false, it was Wednesday night. This is a statement that radio cannot ignore. Country radio is no longer the only way to gain attention and recognition–in fact, radio-supported Sam Hunt, Thomas Rhett, and Kelsea Ballerini left the CMA’s empty-handed. It may be that country radio will take notice of this and start to play artists like Chris Stapleton and Kacey Musgraves–album sales and declining radio ratings in 2015 have suggested country radio’s loss of relevancy, and this was the ultimate indicator. Country music may look back on this day in its history and find that the victories of Chris Stapleton, traditional country, and music of substance marked the beginning of the returning of country to its roots. Chris Stapleton is no “savior”–country cannot be saved overnight. His music blends country, blues, and soul, and so many have been quick to complain that he is not “strictly” country, so we should not be so excited about this victory. But we are music fans first, and Chris Stapleton has brought a huge victory, both for country music and for music in general, and for this we should all be forever grateful.

Billboard Country Airplay and Country Albums Chart (November 14th)

Billboard Country Airplay

1. Old Dominion–“Break up With Him” (up 1)
2. Cole Swindell–“Let Me See Ya Girl” (up 2)
3. Florida Georgia Line–“Anything Goes”
4. Carrie Underwood–“Smoke Break” (up 1)
5. Chris Young–“I’m Comin’ Over” (up 2)
6. Dan + Shay–“Nothin’ Like You”
7. Blake Shelton–“Gonna” (up 1)
8. Luke Bryan–“Strip it Down” (down 7)
9. Jason Aldean–“Gonna Know We Were Here” (up 2)
10. Kenny Chesney–“Save It for a Rainy Day” (down 1)
11. Cam–“Burning House” (up 1)
12. Tim McGraw–“Top of the World” (up 1)
13. Brothers Osborne–“Stay a Little Longer” (up 1)
14. Parmalee–“Already Callin’ You Mine” (up 1)
15. LoCash–“I Love This Life” (up 4)
16. Big & Rich–“Run Away With You”
17. Jana Kramer–“I Got the Boy”
18. Thomas Rhett–“Die a Happy Man” (up 2)
19. Kelsea Ballerini–“Dibs” (down 1)
20. Randy Houser–“We Went” (up 2)
21. Brad Paisley–“Country Nation”
22. Sam Hunt–“Break Up In a Small Town” (up 1)
23. Granger Smith–“Back Road Song” (up 1)
24. Hunter Hayes–“21” (up 1)
25. A Thousand Horses–(“This Ain’t No) Drunk Dial” (up 1)
26. Chase Bryant–“Little Bit of You” (up 1)
27. Dierks Bentley–“Riser” (up 1)
28. Lee Brice–“That Don’t Sound Like You” (up 1)
29. Zac Brown Band–“Beautiful Drug” (up 1)
30. Rascal Flatts–“I Like the Sound of That” (entering top 30)

  • new #1: “Break Up With Him,” aka the douchebag anthem
  • next week’s #1 prediction: “Let Me See Ya Girl”
  • Chase Rice’s “Gonna Wanna Tonight” finally, mercifully fell out of this chart after a year

Billboard Top Country Albums

1. Carrie Underwood–Storyteller [debut]
2. Blake Shelton–Reloaded: 20 #1 Hits [debut]
3. Luke Bryan–Kill the Lights
4. Thomas Rhett–Tangled Up
5. Don Henley–Cass County
6. Sam Hunt–Montevallo
7. Sam Hunt–Between the Pines: Acoustic Mixtape [debut]
8. George Strait–Cold Beer Conversation
9. Eric Church–The Outsiders
10. Jimmy Fortune–Hits & Hymns [debut]
11. Toby Keith–35 Mph Town
12. Jana Kramer–Thirty One
13. Various Artists–Now That’s What I Call Country, Volume 8
14. Colt Ford–Answer to No One: The Colt Ford Classics [debut]
15. Kelsea Ballerini–The First Time
16. Zac Brown Band–Jekyll + Hyde
17. Little Big Town–Painkiller
18. Brett Eldredge–Illinois
19. Jason Aldean–Old Boots, New Dirt
20. Carrie Underwood–Greatest Hits: Decade #1
21. Alabama–Southern Drawl
22. Florida Georgia Line–Anything Goes
23. Brantley Gilbert–Just as I Am
24. Kane Brown–Closer (EP)
25. Chris Stapleton–Traveller

  • Carrie Underwood’s Storyteller debuts at #1
  • Sam Hunt’s “acoustic mixtape” Between the Pines debuts at #7
  • Kelsea Ballerini’s The First Time moved up to #15 this week from #28

Source: Billboard