Album Review: Jaime Wyatt–Felony Blues

Rating: 7.5/10

Jaime Wyatt’s debut effort comes to us from a place of authenticity few artists can really claim; she was convicted of robbing her drug dealer and subsequently served time in prison. Upon her release, the hardship and stigma that came with her past eventually led her to country music. I could go into more detail, but I feel like I should keep my focus as much on Wyatt’s music as possible. Still, it is worth noting because the album’s title rings true in a way that much of today’s music doesn’t, and the raw honesty that comes with life experience like this can serve music well, and certainly does in Jaime Wyatt’s case.

This is an interesting album to discuss, as it isn’t really quite an EP or an album. At seven songs and thirty minutes, it lies somewhere between the two. The rating may be slightly misleading because there are some really fantastic songs and some really average songs. So in order to better serve Jaime Wyatt and the potential shown in several places on this record, I will discuss the high and low points rather than going through the album track by track.

A definite high point on this record is the instrumentation. The opener, “Wishing Well,” immediately captured my attention with its driving production. From the opening line, “I wanna wake up somewhere where you don’t have to lose,” I was drawn to the raw quality in Jaime’s voice. This is the kind of song she really excels at, and I’d like to see more like it from her in the future. Lovers of fiddle and steel should check out “Wasco,” arguably the album’s best track. The narrator in this song is in love with an inmate and dreams of graduating high school and going to be with him, singing, “ain’t nobody gonna tell me who to love.” Songs like this and “Stone Hotel” directly speak to Wyatt’s past and give an authentic feel to the album. “Stone Hotel” especially seems autobiographical, telling the story of an inmate looking back on her conviction and forward to the day when she gets out of prison and can try to live a different life. Another song that stood out for me after a couple listens is the easygoing “Your Loving Saves Me.” “Hard as concrete, soft as gravy, Jesus is cool, but your loving saves me.” Once again, the production and instrumentation really fit the song well.

“From Outer Space” is one of the lower points of the album. I have listened to it several times, and it just doesn’t connect with me like some of the other songs. Jaime Wyatt’s voice really elevates the acoustic “Giving Back the Best of Me” and the cover of Merle Haggard’s classic heartbreak song “Misery and Gin,” but these songs don’t stand out like the more upbeat, rocking material. They are still really solid tracks, but I find myself coming back to “Wishing Well” and “Wasco” more than anything else because the personality and potential of Jaime Wyatt is clearest on these songs.

Overall, this is a pretty solid album. The highlights are the more upbeat tracks, especially “Wishing “well” and “Wasco.” The production works well with each song, and there are some nice lyrical moments as well. But more than anything on the album itself, this debut shows the potential of Jaime Wyatt. This won’t necessarily blow you away, but it shows promise, and Jaime Wyatt is a name you should keep an eye on.

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Album Review – Vaquero by Aaron Watson

Rating: 6/10

Aaron Watson is one of those names I heard about in Texas country, but always forgot to look up. When Megan approached me about reviewing this album, I figured that now was as good a time as any to check out his music. Therefore, when I sat down to listen to Vaquero, I wasn’t sure quite what to expect.
This album has great instrumentation. I realized that right off the bat when “Texas Lullaby” started playing with some quite well-done accordion. Not all the songs feature this instrument, but I love it wherever it is played. There is fiddle and steel guitar all throughout this album, so a traditional country fan listening to this will not be disappointed anywhere instrumentation-wise. I will say, though, that there are a few songs where the instruments needlessly extend things, but that’s just my personal opinion.
For me, it’s the lyrics that bring this album down. Not on every song, but there are many times throughout this album where words and phrases are repeated, and the same subject matter is approached in three different songs. It began to get tiring after a while.
This is not to say that the album is bad. The aforementioned “Texas Lullaby” is a great opening song. Granted, the references to Texas did get a bit over-the-top for my taste, but the song itself is good. It tells the story of a soldier from Texas(whom they called Texas), and how he loved his home state. He fell in love with a girl, and all he wanted to do was come home from the war, live his life in Texas, and not have anyone mourn for him when he died and was buried in Texas. I like it quite a lot.
After this song is where things take a turn. “Take You Home Tonight” is about a man just wanting to spend some quality time at home with the woman he loves. “These Old Boots Have Roots” talks about how the man in the song has deep ties to his town. It would have been much better had the phrase “these old boots have roots” not been repeated so much. Plus, the song just seems a bit haphazardly put together with lots of references made, but nothing being followed through. “Be My Girl Tonight” is about wanting to break down barriers between a couple by spending some time being physically intimate. Personally, I think this is a bit too close to the theme of “Take You Home Tonight”, although the former is about getting back to a good place in the relationship. The latter is more of a feel-good song. “They Don’t Make em Like They Used To” is, of course, a nostalgic song. It discusses how the world has changed over time, and wonders if people of the future will say the same about people of our time.
“Vaquero” is one of my favorites off of this album. In this song, a Mexican cowboy tells the main character stories about his life in exchange for shots of tequila. I really like the instrumentation of this song, especially since it is one of the ones that featured an accordion. “Outta Style” is a love song about two people in love still feeling the same after many years. “Run Wild Horses” is yet another love song that is about the passion the main character of the song feels for his partner. This makes three different songs in the first half of the album that are all about physical passion in some form, so by this point, it gets a bit old.
The instrumental prelude of “Mariano’s Dream” follows “Run Wild Horses.” Mariano is the father of the girl the next song, “Clear Isabel”, focuses on. “Clear Isabel” is my favorite song off of this album, I think. It is a very timely song about Isabel and her father trying to escape the cartels of Mexico, whom Mariano had got on the wrong side of as he was a lawman. To escape them, the two flee to America where they work for the parents of the main character of the song. Isabel ends up married to him, while Mariano gets deported. They receive a green card for Mariano, but it comes two years too late because Mariano had gotten shot. I have a huge weakness for story songs, and this is a great example of one.
“Big Love in a Small Town” celebrates the fact that the main character found love and it is in his tiny hometown. It may be behind the times to some, but to him, that’s a good thing. I really like “One Two Step at a Time”. It has great honkytonk traditional instrumentation, and the lyrics focus on a girl who isn’t into anything fancy. She just wants some homemade tamales, a Texas bar, and a two step. “Amen Amigo” is a bit forgettable. It is about a man just wanting to go back to the days when he, his friends, and his girl went down to Mexico and partied all night. “The Arrow” isn’t a bad song, but it is very vague. It’s a song in which the singer gives advice about keeping to your dreams and hopes, and not letting anything change you. While those themes are great, there is no story behind it, which makes me not connect to the song emotionally. “Rolling Stone” tells the tale of a singer who loves his wife, but can’t stay home. He has to be out on the road, chasing his dreams of being a musician. However, he always thinks of her. This is a good song for someone like Aaron Watson to sing. The final song “Diamonds & Daughters” tells of a father’s love for his daughter, and how he’d always be there for her even after she gets married. Although she is all grown up, she’s still his little girl. I quite like this one.
Overall, this is not a bad album. It is very long at 16 songs, and many of these tracks are overextended with instrumental parts, or repeated choruses. If even a few of these songs had been taken away, I think it would have made for a better album as a whole. However, there are some really good songs here, too. As I said, “Clear Isabel”, “Vaquero”, and “Diamonds & Daughters” are quite good. If you’re looking for music with lots of fiddle, steel guitar, and even some accordion, this album has all of it. With all that in mind, it’s not something I love but I don’t regret listening to it, either.

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Album Review: Nikki Lane–Highway Queen

Rating: 8/10

For those unfamiliar with Nikki Lane, Highway queen is her third studio album. I will admit to having checked out lane before, but not really being impressed by either of her two previous records. This was mainly due to production, and Nikki apparently wasn’t sold on it either. She has stated that for this album, she wanted a producer who wouldn’t overshadow her and who would bring out the best in her. So her boyfriend, Americana artist Jonathan Tyler, helped produce this record, and what we get is a great showcase of Nikki lane and her talent.

The album opens with the catchy, upbeat “700,000 Rednecks,” a lighthearted song about all the hardships of being a musician, and all the things “it takes to get to the top.” I am very careful about designating something outlaw country–in fact, I am not sure I have ever labeled anything I have reviewed here as such–but that’s what comes to mind with this song and throughout much of the record. A few tracks lean more toward Americana, but mostly I would call it outlaw country. “Highway queen” is a fun, upbeat track that seems to be a personal anthem for Nikki. The woman in the song lives on the road and travels alone; “the highway queen don’t need no king.” “Lay You down” is another upbeat track about a woman watching her man leave her and asking who will be there for him when he dies alone. The instrumentation, which is the strongest point of the record, is catchy, but it doesn’t really go with the lyrics, and for me, this is one of the weaker tracks.

“Jackpot” is a highlight of the album; this is a fun love song comparing true love to finally hitting the jackpot in Vegas after putting in so many quarters that came up short. If you pick one Nikki Lane song to listen to, make it this one. “Companion” is a more serious love ballad, and once again, for me it is a weaker track. Lane’s voice and style just don’t work as much on these types of songs as they do on the more rocking, upbeat, fun tracks. “Big Mouth” is one of those; it’s literally a song about telling someone to shut the hell up and stay out of her business. Think Kacey Musgraves lyrics but with Miranda Lambert attitude. “Foolish Heart” is another more serious song, this time about finally finding love but fearing losing it all again. This one is better than the previous serious tracks. “Send the Sun” is the type of love song Nikki Lane excels at; much like “Jackpot,” it is more lighthearted. It’s about long-distance love; while they miss each other at night, they promise to “send the sun your way, wake you up with a dawn full of golden rays.” Even though the miles separate them, they can’t imagine being with anyone else.

I have listened to “Muddy Waters” several times, and honestly I have no idea what it’s trying to convey. It’s a pleasant song musically and lyrically, but it seems underdeveloped somehow. Lane repeats, “I don’t believe ’cause I don’t wanna believe” but it’s pretty unclear what she’s referring to. Maybe someone more intelligent than me can figure it out. The album ends with the excellent “Forever Lasts Forever,” and for the first time on the record, Nikki really nails a serious song. This one is about divorce. The lyrics in this song really paint a great picture; “we swore for better or worse, and it was better at first, and worse at the end. They say forever lasts forever till forever becomes never again.” Lane also brings out the emotion in this song well, and it closes the album on a high note.

This is the best place to start with Nikki Lane’s music. The instrumentation is definitely the high point of the record. Lyrically, some of the serious songs don’t connect with me as much, but Lane proves she can deliver them well with “Forever Lasts Forever.” The highlights are the more fun tracks like “Jackpot,” “Highway queen,” and “700,000 Rednecks.” This is a really unique style like that of outlaw country, and Nikki’s unique voice works well with it. I”d definitely recommend getting to know this album and Nikki Lane.

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Country Exclusive Welcomes a New Writer

So, this running a blog and keeping up with all this new music can be overwhelming. I have heard the same from several fellow bloggers. I have no idea how Trigger at SCM does it alone, and he writes more than all of us combined. For that, he deserves the utmost respect. For all the rest of us, or at least for me, it gets overwhelming. More than that, there are lots of albums I listen to but just can’t seem to put my thoughts about them onto paper. I am extremely proud of how far Country exclusive has come and grateful to the readers and commenters that make it happen and seem to want to hear what I have to say. I want to see it grow even further, to cover more music, and ultimately to reach more people and showcase more deserving artists.
With that in mind, I am happy to welcome another writer, Brianna, to Country Exclusive. You can expect her arrival within the next couple of weeks. Brianna is a fellow lover of country music, especially the more traditional and alternative music that many of us embrace, and she also does reviews of books. Our connection came, as many great connections do, somewhat by accident, in a conversation over a game of poker. I am excited to welcome her and learn from everything she has to say. Different perspectives are always great to have, and reading the same opinion can be tiresome at times. It’s great to have different opinions and observations about the same song or album. Most importantly, we’ll get to talk about more good music this way, and that can only be a good thing. 🙂
Oh, and one more thing. With Brianna coming onboard, I will have more time, so I’m thrilled to announce Female Fridays are coming back. They won’t be every Friday like before, but you can expect them once or twice a month. I know many of you really enjoyed that feature, and it was one of my favorite things to write. You’ll be seeing their return very soon. Finally, thank you all for making Country Exclusive what it is today because without you, I’d still be boring my family with my facts and opinions and perpetual ranting about country radio. And without you, I wouldn’t have this problem of not being able to cover everything on my own because I’d be writing to the air. So thank you for blessing me with this problem, and Brianna and I look forward to sharing more great country music with you all.

Single Review: “The Fighter” by Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood

Country Rating: 0/10
Pop Rating: 3/10

I remember when Keith Urban actually tried. Now, there are a lot of traditionalists who have probably hated or at least dismissed Keith Urban from the start. His music always had pop and rock influence, and I can see how many strict traditionalists wouldn’t enjoy it. But there’s no denying his talent as a musician, singer, and songwriter. There was a time when he wrote many of his songs and sang with passion. As a reviewer, I can say without bias that he produced a lot of good pop country throughout his career, and as a music fan, I can say with absolute bias that I owned every Urban album right up through Get Closer. He’s recorded some great music in his time, and if you have any doubt of this, go listen to “Stupid Boy” and “The Luxury of Knowing.”

And then, somewhere around Keith’s American Idol stint, and the single “Little Bit of Everything,” all that talent started going to waste, and Urban’s passion and musicianship was lost in the wake of cringe-worthy pop music and the chasing of money and continued mainstream relevancy at all costs. It’s one thing when Kane Brown or Thomas Rhett gives us bad music, but Keith Urban knows better, and his self-awareness leaves me much more disgusted by “John Cougar, John deere, John 3:16” than by some arguably worse singles from these artists. All of this brings me to his latest effort, “The Fighter,” which may be his biggest insult to the genre and former Keith fans yet.

“The Fighter” has no semblance of country anywhere. It is generic pop music with electronic beats and some of the least impassioned vocals I’ve ever heard from either Keith or Carrie Underwood. Yes, that’s right, I forgot to mention Underwood’s part in this, but that is understandable, since mostly she just repeats the same three lines in the chorus like a bored backup singer. The song itself is about Keith Urban being a fighter for Underwood, who presumably got out of a bad relationship and needs to feel protected. The premise of Keith Urban being this type of guy is unintentionally hilarious, and Carrie Underwood doesn’t work as the character who needs to lean on him either. “What if I fall? What if I cry?” she keeps asking. It’s just annoying and doesn’t seem like her at all. There are some other obnoxious lyrics in the verses; Keith sings, “He never knew what he had, thank God.” So he is glad that she went through the hell of the previous relationship so that she would end up with him. Also, the line “he didn’t deserve you ’cause your precious heart is a precious heart” is just downright lazy ssongwriting. This song should be laughed off country radio, but it’s not even much better as a pop song and would probably be laughed off pop radio, so country is where it will stay. Reiterating why country radio will play it would be beating a dead horse, so I’ll spare you all that. But it’s artists like Keith Urban, who know better than this, can do better than this, and have done better than this, but choose instead to resort to absolute laziness because it will sell, that say more about the state of the genre and the fans who will buy this than anything else. The real tragedy is not that Urban recorded “The Fighter,” but that in 2017, he can get away with recording songs like this because that’s all he needs to do to sell records. This is one of the worst songs of his career, and without a doubt the worst song to which carrie Underwood has lent her voice.