All posts by Brianna

Reflecting On: Jason Boland & The Stragglers – Rancho Alto

Jason Boland & the Stragglers is one of the best bands making country today. Their instrumentation, lyrics, and vocals all combine to make the perfect package. When thinking of which album I wanted to discuss by this band, I debated between this one and their 2013 release, Dark and Dirty Mile. I settled for Rancho Alto because it has the first song I ever heard by the band on it, and it’s the first album I ever bought from these guys.

Release Date: 2011

Style: Traditional Country

People Who Might Like This Album: Those who love their country music with great singing, lyrics, and instrumentation, Fans of the Turnpike Troubadours, Fans of anything authentically country

Standout Tracks: “Down Here in the Hole,” “False Accuser’s Lament,” “Woody’s Road”

The album starts off with one of the band’s best songs, “Down Here In the Hole”. It details the day of a miner who gets trapped in the mine. The line that gets to me the most is “The sun never shines down here in the hole”. The man in the song is mining because he needs the money. The track ends when he gets trapped in the mine, and nobody knows if he fell or was shoved. The instrumentation is stellar with some great fiddle play. It’s a faster song, too, which you wouldn’t expect with this subject matter.

Another favorite from this album is “False Accuser’s Lament”. The song tells the story of a man who lied about seeing someone commit a murder. The person telling the story doesn’t know if the man he accused actually did it, but he wanted the money for a new plow and to keep his land. The banker offered to pay the man in the song, along with some others, to say that they’d seen a specific man shoot someone. This is because the banker’s wife had cheated on him with the person the banker wanted imprisoned for committing murder. In the end, the false accuser loses everything to the banker due to bad weather destroying his crops. . This is yet another story song that I think is fabulous. The steel guitar and fiddle make this song stand out instrumentally, too. This track is just so layered, because you have the jealous banker bribing poor people to say the man his wife cheated on him with had committed murder. You also have the main character in the song detailing his remorse and how he keeps seeing the accused man be killed. It’s just fantastic.

“Woody’s Road” is the first song I ever heard by Jason Boland & the Stragglers. Upon doing some research, I discovered that the song was actually written by Bob Childers, but I have not heard any other version. I love this song. It’s a tribute to Woody Guthrie. The man in the song tries to follow Woody Guthrie’s example of being a friend to everyone, rambling, and doing his best to help everyone. I confess, I do not know all that much about Woody Guthrie, but this song certainly has always made me curious about him. Adding to the lyrics is the stellar instrumental talent of the Stragglers, and the great melody, and I was hooked.

The rest of the album is good, but these three songs are my favorites. “Woody’s Road” certainly led me to discovering the Stragglers, and I have not regretted it since. They make some of the finest country music being produced today, and I hope everyone reading this will check them out.

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Review – Margo Price – Weakness EP

Rating: 6/10

I will readily admit that I have not listened to Margo Price’s debut album. Despite the buzz around its release, I just never got to it. Therefore, when this new EP came out, I figured I’d give it a shot since it’s only four songs long to see if Margo Price is my kind of singer.

It turns out that I did not have long to wait to see what I thought of her voice, as it was a bit weak on the title track, which is also the EP’s opener. The lyrics aren’t bad, detailing how sometimes her weakness is stronger than she is, and she is overcome by it. As much as I like the lyrics, though, her voice is what brings the song down for me. It seems like she tries overly hard. I do like the fiddle, however.

The second song, “Just Like Love”, has some darker instrumentation, which I liked. The lyrics talk about how love is not the gentle emotion we all think it is, and that we are all the same, as humans. I think Margo Price’s vocals are a bit better here, and I do like the guitar. I just wish her voice had not been so far back in the mix for this one. Combined with the tempo of the song and the way her vocals were mixed, “Just Like Love” felt a bit sleepy.

“Paper Cowboy” is both my most and least favorite song. The lyrics are great as they discuss a man who is all talk and no action. I like all of the little digs she takes at him, too. Where this song loses me, though, is when the track diverges from singing to total instrumental. Said instrumental goes on for about three minutes or so, and I quickly got bored. Her band is quite talented, but I tend to get less excited about songs outside of the classical genre if there are no words.

Lastly, there is “Good Luck (For Ben Eyestone)”. I really like her voice in the chorus of this song. As she references him being up in the sky and hoping he can see through the stars, I am assuming this song is dedicated to someone who has passed away. She hopes he thinks of her where he is. That is definitely a great sentiment, and I like the lyrical content of the song a lot.

Overall, the lyrics for all of the songs are strong, and Margo Price has a really good backing band. I question some of the production choices, as well as the style of singing used on “Weakness”. While Margo Price does have some songs where her vocals are really well-done, I did not love this EP. I listened to it a few days before I wrote this review, and had to go back and re-listen again in preparation to write this. I was surprised by what the songs say, so that just means that it was rather forgettable. I think if you like female-sung country, you should give this a chance to see if Margo Price’s music is your thing.

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Reflecting On: Ricky Van Shelton – Greatest Hits Plus

Ricky van Shelton is an interesting artist. I will readily admit that I do not know his studio albums that well, which is something that I really need to remedy. Since I still would like to talk about his music, though, I thought I’d talk about a collection of his biggest songs entitled Greatest Hits Plus.

Release Date: August 11, 1992

Style: Traditional Country

People Who Might Like This Album: Those who love the 90s country sound, people who like love songs

Standout Tracks: “Somebody Lied,” “Statue of a Fool,” “From a Jack to a King”

This album starts off with one of my favorite songs by Ricky Van Shelton, “Just As I Am”. It’s a love song all about how he was accepted, just as he was. I love this song, because it’s all about knowing that despite someone’s flaws, they still have good parts to them. I love the steel guitar in this song too.

“Somebody Lied” is my favorite song on the whole album, I think. It’s fantastic in that it tells the story of a man who gets a call from his ex. He says he got over her the day she left him, and someone is making up stories about him crying over her, and talking about her. What would it matter if the rumors were true, would it change how she feels, he wonders. Would she show up to help him heal? It doesn’t matter though, because it wasn’t him, just someone who looks a lot like him and loves someone like her. The most poignant moment in the song for me, because I know it so well, is when he sings about someone saying he showed her picture to a stranger, and he sings “don’t you think I’ve got no pride?” It’s incredible, really.

Because I can’t seem to stop talking about the love songs, I’ll discuss “I’ll Leave This World Loving You”. It’s my second favorite, I think. It’s basically about how a man will leave the world loving a woman, even though she’s leaving him. His voice in this song is really amazing, and when combined with the lyrics, it really creates the feelings he’s trying to convey.

I know that “Statue of a Fool” is a cover, but this is my absolute favorite version of this song. His voice really makes the lyrics of the song shine. The lyrics describe a man who let love get away from him, and now he bitterly regrets it. This is the first version of the song I ever heard, and for me, it’s what I come back to whenever I want to listen to the song. I just love the imagery and how it’s describing the statue and how it resembles him.

Then, there’s a duet with Dolly Parton, “Rockin’ Years”. This is the very first song I heard by Ricky Van Shelton. I love how it details the story of two people pledging to stand by each other throughout their lives. They’ll be there for one another always, and they won’t ever stray from each other. I think these two really shine together, and it’s a great place to start if you have never heard of Ricky Van Shelton.

I also love “From a Jack to a King”. I believe this is another cover, but again, I love this version. The card puns are fantastic, detailing how he is the “king of her heart” because of “lady luck”. The song is more upbeat, and I like the cleverness of the lyrics.

As I’ve said before, I think Ricky Van Shelton is pretty underrated. I love his singing, and he does emotional songs very well. There are some more upbeat songs on this album, I just highlighted my favorites which mostly happen to be slower and more emotional. I think you’re definitely missing out if you don’t at least check out his music and see if he’s your kind of vocalist.

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Reflecting On: Marty Robbins – Gunfighter Ballads And Trail Songs

I have alluded to my love for Marty Robins in the past, and I figured that it was about time that I discussed one of his albums in detail. It may be a cliché choice, but for this week’s reflection, I’m going to discuss what is probably his biggest album, Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs.

Release Date: September 1959

Genre: The Western side of country and western

People Who Might Like This Album: Those who like cowboy stories and songs

Standout Tracks: “Big Iron,” “They’re Hanging Me Tonight,” “Utah Carol,” “Running Gun,” “El Paso”

The thing about Marty Robbins is, a lot of his songs are stories. They are sung stories, but stories nonetheless. Many of them do not have a traditional chorus, just one or two phrases that link the whole thing together. “Big Iron” is a fantastic example of this. It’s all about how an outlaw underestimates a ranger who had come to take him in. Even though I have heard the song multiple times, I still find myself drawn to the story and what will happen next.

Then, there’s “They’re Hanging Me Tonight.” It’s all about a man who was going to be hanged for murder. He had killed his ex-girlfriend because she’d left him for another man. He knew it wasn’t right, but he did it anyway. What I find interesting about this song is that the man does not run, he knows he deserves his punishment.

I love the melody of “Utah Carol”. The story is sad too. A cowboy was in love with his boss’s daughter, and so he put a blanket on his saddle so that she could ride his horse easier. The blanket caused a stampede, and though she tried to tie the blanket in place, she fell off the horse and into the cattle, while doing so. Utah Carol tried to save her, and was ultimately successful, but he himself was killed. This is one of my favorite songs, just because it’s such a poignant tale. He saved the girl he loved, but not himself.

“Running Gun” is a fantastic song. A man leaves his girl far behind, because he feels guilty for becoming a paid killer. He planned to send for her when he’d reached Mexico, but never got that far as the man was killed by a bounty hunter who was faster than him. He knows that the bounty hunter will one day face someone else who is faster than him, but his last thoughts are of his girlfriend and how a woman should never love a running gun.

Lastly, there’s “El Paso”. I cannot talk about Marty Robbins without mentioning it. This is his best-known song, and for good reason. In it, he tells yet another story. This time, it’s all about a man who was in love with a Mexican dancer. He got jealous of a cowboy who captured her attention one day, and a gunfight ensued. He killed the stranger and rode away from El Paso, where the song is set. However, he eventually went back because he missed the dancer, and when he got there, he was killed. I remember watching TV as a kid, and a countdown of the best songs of all time was on. I don’t recall if it was just in country, but “El Paso” either made number one, or close to it. Either way, I was fascinated, and it led me to Marty Robbins’ other music. It’s still my favorite song of his.

Like I said before, Marty Robbins does a lot of story songs, and this album is almost nothing but. I love a good story song, though, and I’m pretty sure my love for them started here when I first heard “El Paso”. Another thing I love about Marty Robbins is his voice. I have never heard anyone who sounded like him. Of course, everyone has different voices, but something about his particular voice and singing style is just fantastic. If you like music set in the West or cowboy stories, I highly recommend checking this album out if you have not.

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Album Review: Sons of the Palomino (self-titled)

Rating: 7/10

Before I get too in-depth about this album, I would like to talk about what Sons of the Palomino are trying to do here. With this album, the band tries to recapture an era and a feel, that of the Palomino, a club where classic country stars played during the 80s and 90s. Megan told me I should read the band’s biography before listening to the album, and though I would have liked it anyway given how country the material is, I’m glad I knew all of the information about the band’s goals going in. It helps give the album a special feel.

As for the album itself, I did not love the whole thing. There were songs that I felt were too sleepy for my taste, like “Old Roads and Lost Highways”. Then, the album had a couple songs which I did not connect to emotionally, like “Whiskey Years”. I should have liked the latter more than I did, as it tells the tale of a man looking forward to the day where he can be sober and not have to drink his pain away.

For all of the lackluster moments on this album, though, I felt a real love for the instrumentation. Even on songs I did not care for, I always loved the actual musicianship. The steel guitar, fiddle, piano…it all goes back to the days of an older style of country. It’s a style that I personally gravitate toward, so even when I was ambivalent about the actual lyrics, I always liked the instrumentation.

With all of the things I didn’t personally get into about this album out of the way, let’s talk about the good stuff. The first track, “Runnin’ Around,” is what convinced me I needed to hear what this band were selling. It’s a mid-tempo country song about a man who knows his girlfriend is cheating, and how he won’t be there when she comes looking for him. Done a million times? Sure, but this band makes it fun, and again. The instrumentation here is stellar. The next song, “Authentic,” brings in something else unique about this album. At various points, there are featured guest stars singing in parts of the song. Well, the band certainly couldn’t get more “Authentic” than John Anderson, and let me tell you. Hearing him on this track was awesome. The actual lyrics tell of being real and true to yourself, and not trying to be some fake version of country. In the days of pop country, and many people not knowing what country really is, this song is a must-listen. “Countryholic” is pretty hilarious, as the song discusses a man who just loves Waylon and Willie, steel guitar, and boots. It’s a bit cliché, but I chuckled a few times.

I liked the slower and more feeling-driven “Outta This Town”. It’s all about a man who can’t seem to leave his hometown. The planes never stop there, the train never makes a trip to the town, and he gets a woman pregnant and marries her. Thus, he’s stuck in the town. This one features Emmylou Harris on backing vocals, and I thought it made a nice change from all the faster songs. As much as I’m bored of all the drinking songs in today’s mainstream country scene, “Hole In The Wall” was an easy listen. I didn’t love it, but it was pleasant enough. The lyrics revolve around wanting to find a little bar with cold beer, a small dance floor, and a jukebox. I just liked the instrumentation, the lyrics, and everything combined to make this an enjoyable, if not completely amazing, song. My favorite emotional song is definitely “Unbroken People”. It’s all about feeling the pain of losing loved ones, but leaning on platitudes people say like “everything will be okay,” or “you’re gonna make it.”. This was the song that really resonated with me emotionally, where most of the others failed to do so. Finally, there’s “Used to be a Country Town”. I loved Gretchen Wilson’s part of the song, and it really just made me want to go listen to more of her music. The song itself is all about how they used to party in a town that used to be country. They wasted their money, but they had fun doing it.

Overall, I liked this album. The guest stars featured made it really unique. There were some I actually missed until I later went back and looked at who was featured. I did not catch Vince Gill or Jamey Johnson. The musicians did a wonderful job at bringing back the sounds of 80s and 90s country, too. I love good piano, fiddle and steel guitar, and I got all three of those in spades. Lastly, I must talk about the skills of the lead singer. Jeffrey Steele has quite the vocal range. When I was first listening to this album, I thought there were more guest stars than the site of the Sons of the Palomino alludes to. In fact, it’s just that Steele can sing in both very low and very high registers. It’s pretty awesome stuff. I think if you like the 80s and 90s era of country music, you are doing yourself a disservice by not checking this album out. The instrumentation is great, there are some really well-done songs here, and seeing names like John Anderson’s on a contemporary project like this is really cool.

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