Album Review: Aubrie Sellers–New City Blues

Rating: 8.5/10

Often, we traditionalists are labeled by the mainstream as close-minded purists living in the past, wanting everything to sound like Hank Williams and Waylon Jennings. We can’t embrace anything new and forward-thinking. Well, sit back and listen, because I am a traditionalist reviewer about to embrace something quite new and different. Meet Aubrie Sellers, the daughter of the brilliant singer Lee Ann Womack and songwriter Jason Sellers. Aubrie comes onto the scene in a time when country music is desperate for women, for substance, and yes, for originality. She brings us a style she calls “garage country”–a blend of country, Americana, and garage rock. Much like Whitney Rose’s 2015 Heartbreaker of the Year, with its blend of traditional country and vintage pop, Aubrie’s New City Blues introduces something new to country music that you won’t have heard before–something not every listener will embrace, and something that is at times overdone and forced on this record, but something for which Aubrie Sellers will stand out and for which she should be commended.

The album opens with guitar licks, introducing us to garage country long before we meet Aubrie. This album is unapologetic in what it wants to be, unlike Cam’s recent effort, Untamed, which, though it showed Cam’s potential, struggled to say anything and find an identity. “Light of Day,” the first track, tells me two more things–I quite like garage country, and Aubrie Sellers sounds remarkably like her mother, which is an absolutely wonderful thing. “Light of Day” is infectious, the perfect way of introducing us to Aubrie Sellers and to the style. “Sit Here and Cry” is an upbeat heartbreak song, which I find quite intriguing. It features some great harmonica play, but the lyrics are nothing special, and the garage country is a bit overdone here. “Paper Doll” is a moment of complete rock–and on this song of frustration with girls acting like “paper dolls” with their “fake makeup,” this approach works. More songs like this would bring the album down, but “Paper Doll” stands out as a highlight, an experiment.

“Losing Ground” slows the album down–here, Aubrie sings of a woman who is going through a difficult time; “But I’m not crazy, I’m just losing ground,” she sings. The heartfelt honesty in this song really sells it, and I am glad this song was more strip-back, allowing Aubrie’s voice to shine, along with the lyrics. It should be noted that this is one of two songs on New City Blues solely written by Aubrie Sellers, which makes me excited for her future as a songwriter. Next is “Magazines”–a full garage country rant about the lies magazines tell women, from weight loss plans to how to get a man. It’s something that Kacey Musgraves or Brandy Clark would sing, and I am not surprised that Brandy Clark was a writer. “Magazines” seems a little overproduced; it feels like the garage country is a bit forced. “Dreaming in the Day” gets everything right–the production and the lyrics and Aubrie’s vocals go together perfectly. Here, the narrator sings of “sitting at a green light,” still thinking of the night before with her man. “Liar Liar” is another one where the production fits perfectly, telling the story of a man in a bar who is good at lying to women. “Humming Song” is the other song written solely by Sellers; it’s another strip-back moment that might sound happy and pleasant if the lyrics weren’t so sad. The woman here is heartbroken over her man falling for someone else, and writing this new woman love letters. It’s the slow, stripped-down counterpart to “Sit Here and Cry”–both are lighthearted songs on the surface, but the lyrics are actually quite dark.

“Just to be With You” returns to Aubrie’s signature garage country, complete with distortions–here, a woman is quitting her job, stealing a car, and generally being reckless in order to be with a man who lives far away. The production fits here; it is just as reckless as the lyrics. Love will make us do bizarre things, and this song does a good job of expressing that desperation. “People Talking” tells of the things people say behind our backs–Aubrie sings, “My ears only burn when they’re not around. Go on believe them, what am I to do? It’s only people talking, it’s not true.” This feels like an honest moment on the album, and because of that, I feel it is slightly overproduced. Here, the style doesn’t add to the song, it distracts from Aubrie’s voice and the lyrics.

The next three songs get the production absolutely right. “Something Special” is about a woman asking her man to do “something special, something we don’t do all the time.” It’s one of the better songs on the album, and one I keep coming back to. “Loveless Rolling Stone” is about a rambling woman who seems to be missing someone–“They say home is where the heart is, and if that’s so, I must be a loveless rolling stone”–what a line. “Like the Rain” is the most country moment on the album; it’s a song about a man who “floods my heart, then leaves it desert dry.” I am glad this song lets Aubrie’s voice shine and tell us the story. She really conveys the sadness of the woman in this song well. The album closes with the full garage country “Living is Killing Me.” Honestly, I’ve listened to this song four times, and I can’t quote a line. It’s not bad, it’s just unnecessary. Fourteen songs is generally too many for an album, and this one feels like filler, and further forces the style.

Overall, this is a great album. Aubrie Sellers has a remarkable voice, and her unique garage country style is original and suits her. Still, there are moments of overproduction, where the style is simply overdone. Having said that, this is, for the most part, an excellent debut. New City Blues brings something new to the table, and it’s definitely worth checking out.

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Album Review: Randy Rogers Band–Nothing Shines Like Neon

Rating: 9/10

Following the excellent 2015 collaboration with Wade Bowen, Hold my Beer, Volume 1, Randy Rogers is back with his band for Nothing Shines Like Neon. This album marks the return of the Randy Rogers Band to Texas after some albums in Nashville, and it was preceeded with news that it would be an album of traditional country, complete with appearances by Alison Krauss and Jerry Jeff Walker. Well, the album is available today, and I can safely say it lived up to its expectations, and it is the first great album of 2016.

The album opens with “San Antone,” a nice ode to Texas that celebrates coming back after their years away. Songs about Texas are common in Texas country, but this one stands out after the band’s years in Nashville and works perfectly. It is a fitting opener for the album, and right away I can see that the promise of traditional country rings true. Fiddle, steel, and acoustic guitar are prominent here, and will continue to be throughout the album. “Rain and the Radio” is a catchy, upbeat song about a couple enjoying being with each other when the power is out. They don’t need anything but the rain and the radio; this doesn’t stand out as one of the best songs on the album, but it is a song that gets better with each listen and earns its place quietly. “Neon Blues,” the album’s first single, is a classic song about a woman in a bar drinking away the pain of a past relationship. Much like “Rain and the Radio,” this one is catchy and gets better with each listen. It is unclear here whether the narrator is the one who hurt her, the bartender, or just someone in the bar, but he has observed this woman and is advising someone else not to waste his time pursuing her. It was certainly a good single choice.

“Things I Need to Quit” sees a man listing all the habits he needs to rid himself of: alcohol, cigarettes, but most importantly, the woman who has him in this position. Randy Rogers sings of a girl who is getting dressed and waiting for a cab–“she looks a lot like you, ain’t that a shame. Girl, I’m all messed up, and you’re to blame.” It’s a very honest and relatable song that will connect with many. “Look Out Yonder” is one of the best songs on the album. Featuring Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski, it tells the story from a brother’s point of view, as he looks out at the road and sees his wayward brother finally coming home, guitar strapped to his back. The instrumentation, lyrics, and harmonies blend beautifully in this song, and it is really one that you should hear. “Tequila Eyes” sees the narrator seeking out his friend, who is trying to find comfort in a bar. Apparently this is quite unlike her, and this narrator is broken, trying to tell her that tequila won’t hide the pain. Randy Rogers delivers the emotion in this song wonderfully, and the fiddle in this song is excellent. After the rawness of “Tequila Eyes” comes the expertly placed “Taking it as it Comes.” This is one of the most fun moments on the album, and the fiddles and rock guitars on this song remind me of a Turnpike Troubadours track. Jerry Jeff Walker is featured here, and basically this song is just about taking life as it comes and not letting life get to you; it’s just a fun song.

“Old Moon New” is probably the best song on Nothing Shines Like Neon. Here, a man sings about writing a woman clich├ęd love letters and giving her eleven roses “just to shake it up.” He says he knows that “there’s nothing new under that old moon” but “girl, you make that old moon new.” It’s a beautiful song and stands out in contrast to all the songs about back roads and moonlight we’ve been hearing from mainstream country music. “Meet Me Tonight” is another standout on this album; it reminds me of an earlier Randy Rogers Band song, “One More Goodbye.” Here, a man is asking an old love to meet up with him one last time; he knows it won’t last, but he still misses her. The Randy Rogers Band really seem to have a knack for capturing the emotion in these types of songs, and I think this is one that while having the unfortunate placement after “Old Moon New” will surpass it in quality with more listens.

“Actin’ Crazy” is an instant personal favorite. If “Old Moon New” is the best serious song, this song is the most witty. Featuring Jamey Johnson–has Jamey Johnson ever lent his voice to a bad song?–this song tells the story of a man writing a letter back home to Texas, presumably from L.A. or some other city. This man is living a life that is “one chaotic wreck” and knows he is getting nowhere. Some of my favorite lyrics are present here, among them “these folks make me proud to be from Texas” and “the rent’s as high as Willie.” This song also makes me ready for that Jamey Johnson album we’ve been hearing about forever. The album closes with “Pour one for the Poor One,” your classic country song about a man drinking away his troubles after his woman has left him. They promised traditional country, and this song is a perfect way to close an album of such music.

Overall, this is a truly enjoyable album. The Randy Rogers Band balance serious and fun songs well, and the light and dark material combine to make this an album that is not only critically great, but listenable and relatable as well. They promised an album of traditional country, and that is what this album delivers. Nothing Shines Like Neon is a great start to 2016 for country music.

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