All posts by Brianna

Single Review – Jason Isbell – “Hope the High Road”

Rating: 8/10

Driving guitars start off the new Jason Isbell song, and it immediately sets the mood. If you were expecting more of the acoustic-driven tracks you got from his last two albums, think again with this particular song, at least. I think this is a very welcome change. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Something More than Free and Southeastern. However, this change back to more rock songs is awesome. It’s fast, quick, and it catches you right away.
Now we get to the lyrics. Some of these seem fairly autobiographical, with him saying things like he’s sang enough about himself and he’s sick of the white man’s blues. The overall message I get from this song is that he’s over the negativity, and he wants to be happy. Included in this is the fact that he wants some vague person he mentions in the lyrics to find a world in which they want to live in, and to not be tired and angry.
After hearing this song, I’m interested to see what the rest of this album holds in store. I fully admit that I have yet to check out his first few records, but I’m a definite fan of Isbell and his music. If the other songs on The Nashville Sound are similar to this musically, I’ll be happy.

Album Review – AJ Hobbs – Too Much is Never Enough

Rating: 8/10

When Megan first approached me about checking out this album, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d actually never heard of AJ Hobbs, but when she told me he was saying his music was “outlaw soul”, I knew I had to give it a shot. Let me tell you, he delivers on both fronts.
This album was quite unique from anything I’ve heard in a while. AJ Hobbs is a good singer, with a nice soulful voice. His backing band was awesome, particularly his steel guitar player. He put horns throughout this album on occasion too, and I haven’t seen that since Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. Finally, there were his backup singers. They were soul singers, and even though they were just his backing vocalists, they really helped this album be more than just an outlaw country album. All that is to say that AJ Hobbs’ self-appointed label of “outlaw soul” is very fitting.
The opening track “Too Much is Never Enough” is pretty great. It’s fast with a party vibe. Except that the good times can actually be a bit too good. One beer is too much, but too much is never enough, as he says in the song. Things slow down for “Life Without You”. The sentiment of this track is nice because he’s basically saying his life, though crazy, isn’t worth living without his wife or girlfriend. The only thing that really made this song stand out is the tempo change and guitar solo near the end. “The Loser” starts a bit of a trend with this album. The main character is tired of his nine-to-five job, and the bindings of domestic life. He’d much rather be out on the road making music. I found AJ Hobbs’ portrayal of weariness quite convincing, and it definitely helps the song stand out.
Then there is “The Bottle Let Me Down”. It’s a cover of the Merle Haggard classic, with a slower, bluesy slant. There are some really great horns in this version. It’s not my thing personally, since I like the more country versions, but if you like soul and blues music, check this one out. “Daddy Loved the Lord” is one of my favorite songs off the album. It’s got some awesome piano in it for starters, even a solo. The actual lyrics are all about how a family split up due to a father who was a drug addict and alcoholic. He was religious, but he still couldn’t love his family enough to keep them all together. “East Side” isn’t my favorite song off of the album, but it has a nice theme behind it. The main character pledges to be there for a troubled movie star whom he loves, regardless of whether her troubles are of her own making, or just those of the fast changes of life.
“Shit Just Got Real” stands out right away due to the driving guitars and tempo. It’s a breakup song, where the main character is just tired of his life. He’s sick of being busy, is resigned to the fact that his wife threatens to leave him for being an alcoholic, and all he wants is just the money to pay his bills. This song’s instrumentation is great, with some very well-done guitar play. Once again, Hobbs skillfully portrays world-weariness. I love these kinds of songs from him.
I noticed the fiddle on the next song right away. “Are You Going to Tennessee?” is forgettable, other than that. It tells the story of a man who just wants to go to Tennessee where he could feel like he belonged, and not have to think about anything. The man is a musician, so it makes sense, but the theme of wanting to escape is a bit old at this point.
Due to this, “A Whole Lot of You and Me” is a nice break from all the tired songs on this album. It’s about a man who just wants to spend time with the woman he loves. A relatively happy song is nice to hear from Hobbs, even though it doesn’t completely stand out as unique. “Take it Slow” is the only duet on this album. It features Dominique Pruitt, whom I’d never heard of. I like how soulful her voice is. It involves two people meeting in a bar. The reason that that isn’t totally cliche is because you find out that the two are exes, who just can’t seem to leave each other alone. While I appreciated that it featured two exes, I thought the voices didn’t properly fit together. I ended up liking the duet more than I first thought, but it does take a minute to really get into the song.
“Waylon & Merle” shows off the steel guitar that’s so great on this album. The song itself is about a musician who has no luck, so he dedicates his songs to Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard, because those two knew the secret to musical success, and that’s what he is striving for. Finally, there’s “Tomorrow I’ll be Hurtin’”. You’d think it is a party song, but no. In actuality, it’s one of the darker tracks on this album, since it features a musician, once again. He puts on a show for the crowd, but then struggles to make money the next day. I think this is a great song to close the album out with, because it really represents a lot of what AJ Hobbs is trying to say here.
With all that said, Too Much is Never Enough is quite a striking album. AJ Hobbs is very convincing in his portrayal of the world-weary man. He does repeat this theme quite a bit, but I just can’t help liking the songs. What can I say? I love a singer who can portray emotion with vocal skill and delivery. Plus, he reminds me a bit of Jackson Taylor on his faster songs with the outlaw attitude. I think if you like musicians who do what they want, and if soul music is even remotely appealing to you with your country, this will be an album you should check out.

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Rating: 8/10

Ever since I first heard Whitney Rose’s last album Heartbreaker of the Year, I have been looking forward to hearing more music from her. Therefore, I was really excited to hear her new South Texas Suite EP when it was released back in January. Given Whitney Rose’s move to Texas, I was curious about whether or not this EP would sound different from her last album.

Upon listening, I can definitely say that it does. It’s still got the nice blend of pop and country Whitney Rose did so well on Heartbreaker of the Year, but with a great Texas bent. That is shown right away on the opening track “Three Minute Love Affair”. There is some really good accordion, and it immediately sets the tone for the song. It revolves around a couple on the dance floor. They had never met before the dance, but for three minutes of the song, they are in the midst of a love affair of music and movement. For those three minutes, it’s just the two of them, the dance, and the song.

Next is “Analog”, where Whitney talks about wanting things to be simpler. She wants records instead of digital music, and a memory instead of a photograph. It’s a really nice song about wanting to get back things that we’ve lost because of technology. It’s not preachy by any means as the technology part was just briefly mentioned in the song, but I thought it was a nice sentiment. I really like the instrumentation, too. It’s got a slower pace, with a bit of an older pop sound.

Following these two songs, there’s “My Boots”. This is my favorite track off of the EP. It’s all about Whitney Rose just wanting to be herself. No matter where she goes, she just wants to be comfortable, and she won’t dress herself up to make a better impression. This song has some really good steel guitar and fiddle in it, too, so that always helps.

“Blue Bonnets” is all about the main character wanting to make things better for her partner. She wants to remind him of all the good things the world has to offer when he comes home. The music of this song really reminds me of 60s pop, and it brings back the vintage Whitney Rose sound heard on her last album that I liked so much, because while it has that older pop flair, there is some great fiddle too. Then there’s “Looking back on Luckenbach”. I love the title of this one. The main character is looking back to the town where a lot of her best memories were made. This is probably the song that I like the least, but it’s not bad at all. It’s got a nice easy pace with some really good instrumentation.

Lastly, there’s “How About A Hand for the Band”. It’s a simple instrumental where the band gets to show off their skills. I thought this was a great way to give the musicians a chance to shine. As Whitney Rose produced this herself, I just thought it was a really nice touch.

Overall, I do quite like this EP. I really like the new Texas sound Whitney Rose worked with on here. From the accordion to the steel, to some honky tonk settings and Texas themes, I thought it was an interesting step for her. I’m definitely eager to see what she comes out with next.

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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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