All posts by Megan

Album Review: Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen–Hold my Beer, Vol. 1

Rating: 9.5/10

There are several albums that came out earlier this year, prior to the existence of Country Exclusive, which definitely deserve discussion–some because they were incredibly awesome, others because they were incredibly awful, and still others, like Zac Brown Band’s latest album, for reasons that can only be explained in a full-length review. On weeks with fewer releases, I will do my best to catch up on albums that I feel especially deserve attention. This album came out on April 20th and is one of the best albums I’ve heard this year.

Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen are two amazing artists in their own right. They are two of the biggest names in Texas/red dirt country, and if someone asked me about red dirt, those are the first two names I’d give them. Their putting together a collaboration album is the equivalent of Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan combining their individual bro country arrogance into one glorious album full of dirt roads and bikkinis. So, the correct response to the news that Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen are teaming up and naming an album after their “Hold my Beer and Watch This” tours, is to expect Texas country gold. Thankfully, this album delivered.

The album opens with “In the Next Life,” a reflective song about the highs and lows of their careers. The line “I guess what they say is true, all you need is one good friend” pretty much sums up their chemistry and the tone of the album. It’s lighthearted and upbeat, and the instrumentation is great. Next is “I Had my Hopes up High,” an upbeat track about their experiences hitching rides from various people. I hope these were actual experiences. Once again, the instrumentation is great. In fact, let me say this now so I won’t have to repeat it for every song–Instrumentation is one thing that is awesome throughout the whole album, with steel guitar and fiddle and enough rock for this listener. I recognize the technical awesomeness of straight traditional country, but I do like a little rock as well, and that is something that Texas artists seem to blend into their country fflawlessly. If you want to look for “evolution” of the country sound, this album is where to find it.

The album slows down with the heartbreak song, “Till It Does.” I was hooked with the first line, as Wade Bowen sings: “I never told her that I loved her, but I do.” The premise is that the heartache “don’t happen till it does.” It’s such a simple line, but it’s truth. It was a great time to primarily feature Wade, as these types of songs are one of his strengths. Next is “Good Luck With That,” a fun song in which Wade wants to tell off his boss, a “certified SOB” and Randy wants to tell his wife he’s the “man of the house” and can stay out with Wade as long as he wants to. Each tells the other, “Good luck with that.” As I say often in my reviews, this song would be playing on radio right now if radio was country. The next song, “It’s Been a Great Afternoon,” is also “radio ready.” It’s a drinking song in which they have massive hangovers after possibly the night before from “Good Luck With That.” They reflect, “I can’t say we’ve had a good morning, but damn, it’s been a great afternoon.” This is my least favorite song on the album, but it works after “Good Luck With That” and it has grown on me some.

I talked about “Standards” in a rant about Luke Bryan’s comments on outlaw country. From my rant:
“Outlaw country spawned the Texas/red dirt country movement, and that’s where you will find today’s outlaws; they are people like Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers who sing about having “standards” as opposed to making “hits” and are relegated to the Texas Music Chart and Texas and Oklahoma stations willing to play their music.”

“Standards” is about a “record man” trying to pitch them a song about a dirt road, to which their response is, “I don’t have hits, I’ve got standards.” I don’t even need to explain why this is beautiful. “El Dorado” is my favorite song on the album, and is a ballad about a cowboy who is about to die. I love the line, “Better the angels should claim you than the long ride alone.” The song is reflective and peaceful more than sorrowful. Their harmonies really work well in this song, even more than in the rest of the album. “Hangin’ Out in Bars” is another standout song for me about a man who is “hangin’ out in bars” after his woman left him. This song features Randy Rogers more, and it was the perfect time for that, as this song suits his voice excellently.

Next is “Ladybug,” a lighthearted track in which they look for a ladybug or a four-leaf clover to end their bad luck on the farm. It’s the fun version of Jason Aldean’s “Amarillo Sky.” They end the album with an excellent cover of “Reasons to Quit,” which was on Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard’s famous 1983 collaboration Pancho & Lefty. They think about quitting their bad habits but decide the “reasons to quit” don’t outnumber “all the reasons why.”

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this is indeed Texas country gold. I didn’t love every song on it–I loved some and liked the rest–but the great instrumentation all the way through and their chemistry together adds to it and makes it even better. Every song on it is not a standout, but there is literally nothing to complain about with this album, and it is definitely worth a listen. I hope the “Vol. 1” means we will be getting more from these two soon.

Listen to Album

My Top Ten Country Songs (July 2015)

July had very few releases compared to June, so this is going to be divided between Jason Isbell, Alan Jackson, and Ashley Monroe. However, this is certainly not a bad thing, as all of these releases were great albums.

10. Ashley Monroe–“I’m Good at Leavin'”–A great “rambling woman” song about being the girl who can’t stay home and clean and raise children. When the No. 10 song got a ten in my review, you know the list is going to be great.
9. Alan Jackson–“The One You’re Waiting On”–An excellently written song told from the point of view of a man observing a woman across the room waiting on her date. He watches her check her phone and turn men away, speculating about whether the guy she’s waiting on is really worth it.
8. Jason Isbell–“Something More Than Free”–A great ode to the working class that is what country is really all about…call him Americana or folk or rock, but this is country at its finest.
7. Jason Isbell–“Palmetto Rose”–I hesitated to put this here, as this is more Southern rock, but it would be incorrect not to list this upbeat tribute to South Carolina, the “iodine state.”
6. Alan Jackson–“Gone Before You Met Me”–This is a fun song off Jackson’s album where he meets Tom Sawyer and Jack Kerouac and decides in the end that family life is better than rambling. It’s a good thing to see a singer uphold family values, and it shows that you can name-drop without being obnoxious about it.
5. Alan Jackson–“Angels and Alcohol”–A classic country commentary on mixing women with alcoholism, complete with great instrementation and lyrics.
4. Alan Jackson–“You Can Always Come Home”–As I said in my Angels and Alcohol review, this song took on a double meaning for me, and it felt like coming home after all the crap being marketed as country on a daily basis.
3. Ashley Monroe–“The Blade”–A heartbreak song with perfect imagery and a beautiful melody. “You caught it by the handle, and I caught it by the blade”…excellent.
2. Ashley Monroe–“Dixie”–I said in my review of The Blade that this song should get a twelve, and I still believe that. It’s a great song about being sick of the South, and would have scored No. 1 for me any other month.
1. Jason Isbell–“Speed Trap Town”–I told you once, and I’ll tell you again…please listen to this song. This tear jerker about a teenager saying goodbye to his father in a small town hospital will be a candidate for my song of the year. It’s going to be hard to beat.

Honorable Mentions

  • Jason Isbell’s “Life you Chose” and “24 Frames”
  • Ashley Monroe’s “If the Devil Don’t Want Me” and “Bombshell

Female Fridays: Featuring Angaleena Presley

Last week, I featured her fellow Pistol Annie Ashley Monroe, so this week I thought I would introduce Angaleena Presley.

How You Might Know Angaleena

As mentioned above, she was a member of the Pistol Annies, along with Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe.

Bio

Angaleena Presley’s career has been considerably shorter than those of my previously featured females, so naturally her bio would be shorter. However, while digging for Angaleena info–I also knew less about her than the others I have featured–I found two things that together paint a far better and more accurate picture of the Angaleena I listen to than a long list of facts about her career ever could. From Angaleena’s Web site:

If there’s a pedigree for a modern country music star, then Angaleena Presley fits all of the criteria: a coal miner’s daughter; native of Beauty, Kentucky; a direct descendent of the original feuding McCoys; a one-time single mother; a graduate of both the school of hard knocks and college; a former cashier at both Wal-Mart and Winn-Dixie. Perhaps best of all the member of Platinum-selling Pistol Annies (with Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe) says she “doesn’t know how to not tell the truth”

From an interview with Rolling Stone, in reference to her musical influences:

When I was in college, I was in my dorm and I heard Patty Griffin singing “Sweet Lorraine.” I rose up and was like, “Whoa, she just said a bad word!” Loretta Lynn, she was forthcoming in her songs, but Patty Griffin was just like, “This is how it was: ‘My dad called me a [slut] and [a whore] on my wedding day.'” It opened some kind of Pandora’s box in my creative psyche. I think about a month later I wrote the first song that I thought, “OK, I think I might have something here.”

Angaleena Presley (born September 1st, 1976 in Martin County, Kentucky, and raised in beauty, Kentucky), has indeed gained a reputation for telling “the truth” in her songwriting. After graduating from Eastern Kentucky University, she moved to Nashville in 2000 and soon gained a publishing deal. Through her publisher, she later met Ashley Monroe, which would eventually pay off–but not until 2011, with the formation of the Pistol Annies. As I mentioned last week, they released two excellent albums, Hell on Heels (2011) and Annie Up (2013.) I have already introduced Ashley and Angaleena, and everyone knows Miranda, but I have debated doing an entire Female Friday with Pistol Annies as well, as their music is remarkable in its own right. One of my biggest disappointments last year was the news that Pistol Annies had broken up.

However, the breakup of the Annies was mostly due to the revival of Ashley’s solo career and the beginning of Angaleena’s. Angaleena’s debut album, American Middle Class, was released on October 14, 2014, under Slate Creek Records. It is a traditional country album with some elements of blues and bluegrass mixed in here and there. It does indeed tell the “truth,” containing songs about pregnancy, drug abuse, the bad economy, etc. The album was met with much critical acclaim, and Angaleena finally proved that she could succeed on her own just as Ashley and Miranda had done.

Why Angaleena Belongs on Country Radio

While I do not feel that she is “radio ready” in this current climate like the other women I have featured–they all have songs that lean slightly toward pop country or rock country–she would be ideal for radio if it actually played country instead of everything else. She would benefit if country split into different genres or if Americana started gaining a wider influence and stealing more country artists (this is the direction Kacey Musgraves is heading.) She is a modern day Loretta Lynn, penning songs about real life that she actually lived. I read the quote from her site above and immediately her songs and songs she wrote for Pistol Annies come to mind. She was a coal miner’s daughter from Kentucky, (“American Middle Class” and “Dry County Blues,”) a single mother (“Trading One Heartbreak for Another” and “Housewife’s Prayer” by Pistol Annies and her own song “Drunk,”) a cashier (“Grocery Store,”) etc. I’ll be honest here and say that she was an acquired taste for me both in the Annies and as a solo artist, but there is no question she is a talented singer and songwriter and deserves more recognition. I will also say that while I just described her as an acquired taste, I am glad I took the time to acquire it, because I truly enjoy Angaleena Presley music and am looking forward to her sophomore album.

Tracks I Recommend

Last week, I didn’t want to pick apart Ashley Monroe’s excellent album Like a Rose, feeling that to do so would be a disservice. Many would say the same about the picking apart of Angaleena’s American Middle Class as well. So before I do it, I will say that if you like more twang and/or bluegrass influence, you will like the whole album. There is not a bad song on it lyrically. The purpose of this highlighting of tracks is more to ease newcomers into Angaleena’s style.

1. American Middle Class–American Middle Class
2. Better off Red–American Middle Class
3. All I Ever Wanted–American Middle Class
4. Life of the Party–American Middle Class
5. Drunk–American Middle Class

Listen to American Middle Class

Also, if you are a Texas country fan like me, you should check out JB and the Moonshine Band’s “Black and White” featuring Angaleena Presley. There doesn’t seem to be a YouTube video of that, or I’d post it here. But it’s worth a listen, especially if you don’t end up liking Angaleena’s style.

Billboard Country Airplay and Country Albums Chart (August 8th)

Billboard Country Airplay

1. Brantley Gilbert–“One Hell of an Amen” (up 1)
2. Jason Aldean–“Tonight Looks Good on You” (down 1)
3. Michael Ray–“Kiss you in the Morning” (up 1)
4. Luke Bryan–“Kick the Dust up” (up 2)
5. Zac Brown Band–“Loving You Easy” (up 4)
6. Frankie Ballard–“Young and Crazy” (up 2)
7. Dustin Lynch–“Hell of a Night” (up 5)
8. Sam Hunt–“House Party” (up 3)
9. Brad Paisley–“Crushin’ It” (up 1)
10. Canaan Smith–“Love you Like That” (down 5)
11. Thomas Rhett–“Crash and Burn” (up 2)
12. Chris Janson–“Buy me a Boat” (up 3)
13. Keith Urban–“John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” (up 4)
14. Brett Eldredge–“Lose my Mind” (up 2)
15. Eric Church–“Like a Wrecking Ball” (down 1)
16. Maddie & Tae–“Fly” (up 3)
17. Kenny Chesney–“Save it for a Rainy Day” (up 6) [biggest gainer]
18. Jake Owen–“Real Life” (up 2)
19. Chase Rice–“Gonna Wanna Tonight” (down 1)
20. Kip Moore–“I’m to Blame” (up 2)
21. Cole Swindell–“Let me See ya Girl”
22. Florida Georgia Line–“Anything Goes” (up 5)
23. Old Dominion–“Break up With Him” (up 1)
24. Lady Antebellum–“Long Stretch of Love” (up 2)
25. Dan + Shay–“Nothin’ Like You”
26. Cam–“Burning House” (up 2)
27. Big & Rich–“Run Away With You” (up 2)
28. Brothers Osborne–“Stay a Little Longer” (up 2)
29. Parmalee–“Already Callin’ You Mine” (entering top 30)
30. Chris Young–“I’m Comin’ Over” (entering top 30)

  • new No. 1: “one Hell of an Amen”
  • next week’s No. 1 prediction: “Kiss You in the Morning”
  • Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” and Blake Shelton’s “Sangria” fell from No. 3 and No. 7, respectively, to out of the top 30
  • an actual good song enters the top 30 (Chris Young) but is balanced by crap entering as well (Parmalee)

Billboard Top Country Albums

1. Jason Isbell–Something More Than Free [debut]
2. Alan Jackson–Angels and Alcohol [debut]
3. Sam Hunt–Montevallo
4. Zac Brown Band–Jekyll + Hyde
5. Eric Church–The Outsiders
6. Little Big Town–Painkiller
7. Kacey Musgraves–Pageant Material
8. Various Artists–Now That’s What I Call Country, Volume 8
9. Jason Aldean–Old Boots, New Dirt
10. Brantley Gilbert–Just as I Am
11. Florida Georgia Line–Anything Goes
12. Willie Nelson/Merle Haggard–Django and Jimmie
13. Moonshine Bandits–Blacked Out [debut]
14. Luke Bryan–Crash my Party
15. Easton Corbin–About to Get Real
16. Chase Rice–Ignite The Night
17. Luke Bryan–Spring Break…Checkin’ Out
18. Lee Bryce–Mixtape: ‘Til Summer’s Gone (EP)
19. Kenny Chesney–The Big Revival
20. Cole Swindell–Cole Swindell
21. Carrie Underwood–Greatest Hits: Decade #1
22. Zac Brown Band–Greatest Hits So Far…
23. Blake Shelton–Bringing Back the Sunshine
24. Tim McGraw–35 Biggest Hits
25. Miranda Lambert–Platinum

  • Jason Isbell and Alan Jackson score a huge victory for country music by taking the No. 1 and No. 2 spots this week
  • Canaan Smith and Kelsea Ballerini are no longer in the top 25…Kelsea’s album came out on May 19th, and Canaan’s came out on June 23rd…look at their staying power
  • after a long absence, Miranda Lambert’s Platinum is in the top 25 again this week

Source: Billboard

Single Review: Kelsea Ballerini’s “Dibs” is Female Bro Country

Rating: 1/10

When it comes to Kelsea Ballerini, I have mixed feelings. She is seen as the next Taylor Swift in country music, a comparison that is both fair and unfair in some ways. They are both more pop than country, but I actually preferred Taylor’s brand of country, and certainly her songwriting, to Kelsea’s. Having said that, I had far less of a problem with “Love me Like You Mean It” than many traditionalists, and while I didn’t feel that it deserved country airplay, I thought it was a good pop song and was proud of Kelsea for hitting No. 1 with it. I’d prefer a more traditional artist, but seeing as “country” radio is basically pop radio with banjo these days, Kelsea must still be recognized among her piers as having a remarkable achievement for a female country artist, even if “country” is nothing more than a label to her.

This brings us to Kelsea’s second single, “Dibs.” For me, the instrumentation here is slightly better than in “Love me Like You Mean It.” I base this on the fact that when I first heard “Love Me,” I thought I was listening to a pop song. When I play “Dibs,” the thought that comes to mind is pop country. The bigger problem with “Dibs” is the lyrics. Basically, it is about Kelsea calling “dibs” on some guy she sees at a bar. Here are the lines in the chorus that made me lose all hope for this song:”If you’ve got a Friday night free and a shotgun seat, Well I’m just saying I ain’t got nowhere to be.” Really? What happened to “Girl in a Country Song?” Maddie & Tae said, “We used to get a little respect, Now we’re lucky if we even get to climb up in your truck, keep our mouth shut, and ride along.” Apparently Kelsea doesn’t want respect and is fine with riding shotgun. I don’t know about the rest of the women out there, but I’m with Maddie & Tae.

At the end of the chorus, Kelsea goes into a very annoying Sam Hunt style spoken-word list of what she’s calling dibs on:

I’m calling dibs
On your lips,
On your kiss,
On your time,
Boy, I’m calling dibs
On your hand,
On your heart
All mine

Later in the song, she actually sings these lines which is much less annoying and makes me wonder why we had to be subjected to the spoken-word bit in the first place. Oh, right…because it worked for Sam Hunt so it must be awesome.

Bro country was bad enough, but now we have females singing it? The worst part about this is that there are actually some decent songs on Kelsea’s debut album that I wouldn’t mind being released as singles. It’s actually a decent pop album–a terrible country album, but a decent pop album–so if she released “First Time” or “Secondhand Smoke” or “Peter Pan,” all of which are closer to pop country than this spoken-word pop song, I’d have less of a problem. Even “Xo” which is a straight pop song like “Love Me” that doesn’t belong on country radio at all would bother me less. This is upsetting because a woman has stooped to singing the bro country crap…and it will get played. I would rather Kelsea identify herself with pop because that’s what she really is, but as long as she continues to call herself country, she could at least refrain from releasing singles like this. I’ll take straight pop labeled country over female bro country any day.