Category Archives: Playlists

Memorable Songs From forgettable Albums: March 22nd

So, I honestly just thought of the idea for this feature while I was sitting here for what has to be at least the fifth time trying to articulate something intelligent to say about Josh Turner’s latest album, Deep South. That album is not really a bad record, but fell short of the expectations of a lot of Josh Turner fans, including myself, and honestly, after this review, the only song I’m probably ever going to listen to again is “Lay Low.” It’s very hard to sit down and write about an album like this because it’s not bad enough to warrant a rant but it’s not good enough to praise and if it’s not worth my time to listen to, it’s difficult to make it worth my time and energy to write about. The same is true for Little Big town’s latest effort because, while it’s definitely a step in the right direction after Painkiller, it’s not something I want to listen to again. The problem is that the good songs on these albums get overlooked when the records don’t get reviewed. So I think I’ve found a way to highlight standout songs on less than stellar albums in a way that benefits the artists and better serves the music, all while saving myself and you the time of discussing mediocre music. You can expect these features whenever, well, I feel that there have been enough songs sliding through the cracks to warrant one. 🙂 let me know what you guys think!

Natalie Hemby: “Cairo, IL”

Yes, I know, this album came out in January, and I should have talked about it then, but I couldn’t think of anything to say. The overall album has a very sleepy feel to it, and I didn’t have much to put to paper. But this is one of the best songs of the year, and it’s better to recognize it late than never. It’s a beautiful, stripped-back song about a Mississippi river town, now a shell of what it once was. If you haven’t heard it yet, do it now. You will fall in love with it.

Natalie Hemby: “Time Honored Tradition”

The other standout of Puxico that shouldn’t go overlooked. Just an easygoing, nostalgic track where once again, the production and lyrics really work.

Little Big Town: “Better Man”

I will go right ahead and say strict traditionalists aren’t going to like this because it’s way more pop than country. It’s the songwriting that got to me on this, and it’s no surprise that Taylor swift wrote it. That’s going to immediately turn some people off and immediately make others hit play. I almost didn’t even include it because most have already heard it since it was a radio hit, but it did stand out for me on their album, so here it is.

Little Big Town: “Beat UP Bible”

This one is the most country on their otherwise pop/adult contemporary album and tells the story of a Bible that’s been in the family for generations. It’s also one of the most interesting moments on The Breaker. Kimberly Schlapman can’t be anything but country, and if they’d give her the lead on more songs, they’d be going in a much better direction.

Alison Krauss: “You Don’t Know Me”

Alison Krauss’s classic covers album Windy City is an interesting one. There’s nothing wrong with it at all, and by placing this song here, I’m really kind of calling the album forgettable. It’s really quite good but sleepy. It’s not really for me, and it’s something I respect more than I enjoy. I thought there were some good covers, especially “Gentle on my Mind.” However, this one really stood out above the others and stood out more than as a great cover, it stood out as a great Alison Krauss song.

Josh Turner: “Lay Low”

Well, you probably all know this one too, as this came out ahead of an album meant to be released in March 2015, but as it was the very song that inspired this feature in the first place, I thought it deserved to be here. As far as Josh turner’s album, there are probably Josh fans who are going to get behind it more than I did, but basically it was just underwhelming and lackluster, and then you had this great song “Lay Low” sticking out like a sore thumb to remind you of better days.

Country Exclusive’s Most Essential Albums of 2015

It must be noted that Country Exclusive did not come into existence until halfway through 2015, so many albums were not reviewed. Others may have been considered for this list if this site had been in existence longer. Having said that, when I thought back over the albums I’d reviewed, ten stood out to me, and two stand out which I didn’t review but which it would be criminal not to mention on a year-end list, so Country Exclusive is declaring twelve albums “most essential” for 2015. It should also be noted that some of these albums have had more sustainability for me than others, and therefore albums that were reviewed higher earlier in the year may still not have made this list.

#12: Courtney Patton–So This is Life

This album seems to be getting overlooked in a lot of year-end lists, and that is unbelievable to me. This album has some of the best songwriting I’ve heard this year, and many songs that stood out above everything else this year. A couple tracks kept it from being one of the best albums of the year, but the songs on So This is Life are truly some of the best of 2015. From one-night stands to prison to divorce, Courtney Patton tells the real stories of life and relationships, all in simple acoustic arrangements. This is country music at its finest. I mentioned sustainability, and this album has it–I find myself going back to Courtney Patton’s album more than many which are ranked higher on this list.

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#11: Jason Boland & the Stragglers–Squelch

From the Texas country/Red Dirt scene came an album filled with politically charged material and social commentary. Jason Boland & the Stragglers have been a mainstay in the Red Dirt scene since 2001, and this album proves why. Much like Courtney’s album gave us some of the best songwriting, Squelch delivered some of the best instrumentation and production, making the political lyrics come to us in excellent ways. Even if you don’t like such material, you will find much to appreciate here, like the upbeat “Heartland Bypass” or the beautiful ballad “Bienville.”

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#10: Kacey Musgraves–Pageant Material

Kacey Musgraves didn’t do anything spectacular with her second album–she just continued on a path that earned her success and plenty of hardware the first time. Though she has all but been blacklisted by country radio, Kacey Musgraves remains an important ambassador to the mainstream, and though Pageant Material is not the best album of 2015, it is certainly one of the most important. Kacey symbolizes the few artists still carrying a torch for traditional country and still being allowed to do so with mainstream success. It’s a solid album, and more than that, it’s the album Kacey Musgraves wanted to make. Not only that, but most artists these days are covering things like “Uptown Funk”–this album unashamedly features Willie Nelson and Kacey on a duet on one of Willie Nelson’s least-known songs.

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#9: Blackberry Smoke–Holding all the Roses

This album is more rock than country–in fact, it only features a couple of straight country tracks. But that is part of what makes this album wonderful. It is an album that does not seek to blend genre all the time at the expense of the music. It knows what it is and does not pretend to be something else. Some songs are rock; some are country. Both styles are done flawlessly. When the styles are blended, such as on the title track, it is a sound unique to Blackberry Smoke. This album had the distinction in February of becoming the first album by an independent artist to top the Billboard Country Albums chart, and its importance here should not be overlooked. It’s not the album to buy if you want fiddle and steel, but it has still earned its place–also, this album was the first to earn a ten by Country Exclusive.

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#8: Whitey Morgan & the 78’s–Sonic Ranch

This is the polar opposite of Blackberry Smoke’s album. If you want an album that is “stone cold country,” I refer you to this one. People who think Sturgill Simpson sounds like Waylon have obviously never listened to Whitey Morgan. Others would probably rank this album a bit higher even, and if you want an example of the best “country”–not Americana, not country rock, not pop country–album this year, it would probably be this one. Unfortunately, this was one album I did not get a chance to review–but if you miss the truly classic country sound and raw, honest songwriting of “outlaw country,” it is an album that should not be overlooked.

#7: Don Henley–Cass County

2015 has been the year of the washed-up rocker jumping on the country band wagon. In fact, I declared “B.Y.H.B.,” the first single from the “90’s supergroup” Uncle Ezra Ray, to be the worst song I’d ever heard. But then there’s Don Henley. He came to country to make an actual country record, one that would stand the test of time. This album features Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride, and interestingly, Mick Jagger–and all contribute to make Cass County a standout country album. This got a nine when I reviewed it, but I was reviewing the deluxe version–the original Cass County would have received a ten. Thank you, Don Henley, for showing all the rockers and most of mainstream country what country really should be.

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#6: Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen–Hold my Beer, Volume 1

From the world of Texas country came a collaboration album in April. Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen are both forces to be reckoned with within the Texas country scene, but many underestimated this album–until the first single, “Standards.” “I don’t have hits, I’ve got standards” they sing–and the song became an anthem for Texas and independent artists and fans everywhere. This album is just fun to listen to. The friends have great chemistry throughout the record. And then when you think it’s all lighthearted fun, “El Dorado” comes on and takes your breath away. The best thing about this record is the “volume 1”; I look forward to many more of these collaborations.

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#5: Chris Stapleton–Traveller

This is another album which I did not get a chance to review–but what would 2015 have been without Chris Stapleton? Traveller is an excellent album filled with influences from country, soul, and blues. Chris Stapleton’s voice is remarkable, and his songwriting is what made him this name in the first place. Tracks like “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore” and “Whiskey and You” simply speak for themselves. And then there’s all the CMA nominations–Chris Stapleton is forever changing the course of history with his wins for Album of the Year, New Artist of the Year, and Top Male Vocalist. If there was ever a time when the comments, “If you’re not on country radio, you don’t exist,” rang false, it was the night Stapleton swept the CMA’s. Traveller is an excellent choice for Album of the Year, and the impact its success is having on country music only adds to the justification for it being on this list.

#4: Jason Isbell–Something More Than Free

Before everyone starts freaking out that Jason Isbell is fourth, let me say that any of the top seven of these could have easily claimed the top spot. Jason Isbell gave us an album full of his always excellent storytelling. This album, in my opinion, was miles better than Southeastern, as it is much more relatable. However, there are times when the beauty of the songwriting sacrifices relatability or the melody, and that is why I have ranked this album fourth. However, Something More Than Free, is, in some respects, the best album of the year, celebrating life and love in a raw, honest way. It went #1 on the rock, country, and folk charts, proving that Jason Isbell transcends genre. This is the album that made me, and will make many, a believer in Jason Isbell.

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#3: Kasey Chambers–Bittersweet

Perhaps the most underrated, but one of the most relatable and sustainable, albums on this list. Kasey Chambers is Australia’s hidden gem. She’s been selling platinum records and winning awards there for over a decade. It’s time we appreciated her music worldwide. Kasey went into Bittersweet wanting to make an album with a live feel. She wanted the album to be “real” and “raw”–and that is what she delivers. It’s a simple album, with a banjo backing many of the tracks, and Kasey’s voice shines through beautifully. Her lyrics are some of the most honest I’ve seen; many of the tracks focus on what seem to be personal reflections on and struggles with God. “Real” is the best word to describe this record–we hear about love, heaven and hell, prostitution, etc. Kasey’s not afraid to say “whore, “bitch,” and “fuck” on this album either, and there’s something to embrace about the honesty of that. The best music makes you feel and relate, and that is simply what happens when you hear this album.

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#2: Maddie & Tae–Start Here

Now, the same people that freaked out for Jason Isbell being fourth are going crazy that Maddie & Tae are higher. Well, I have spent many words on Maddie & Tae, and I’ll keep doing so. Maddie & Tae may have a slight pop influence, but that is simply it: it’s slight. When I listen to Start Here, I notice this: here is a debut album, by a young female duo, with mandolins, fiddles, steel, and banjos. Maddie & Tae are actually making it on the radio. They are the ones who can turn the tide of mainstream country back. In a world where the established acts like Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean and Blake Shelton can’t speak for themselves and sell out to trends, Maddie & Tae are carrying a torch for traditional country the size of Texas. They are doing it in a genius fashion; without a slight pop influence, their music wouldn’t have a prayer on country radio. Yet here they are, two new artists, females even, calling out the sexist lyrics of the bros and the use of drum machines. And Start Here proves it’s not just talk. With harmonies akin to the Dixie Chicks and relatable lyrics for today’s youth, Maddie & Tae are a force to be reckoned with.

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#1: Turnpike Troubadours–The Turnpike Troubadours

This album is simply the best of 2015. There is quite simply nothing to complain about. The instrumentation is excellent, and I’ve never heard so much fiddle on any other album. The lyrics are incredible as well, from the five-minute opener, “The Bird Hunters” to the heart-wrenching “Fall out of Love.” “you bet your heart on a diamond, and I played the clubs in spades”–what a line! I would be hard-pressed to pick the best song on this album, and it has only gotten better with time. I don’t know what else to say, it’s just an excellent album from start to finish.

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Country Exclusive’s Essential Songs of 2015

I thought long and hard about this, and since Country Exclusive did not come into existence until halfway through the year, and therefore did not do as many reviews as other sites, I am not going to name a 2015 Song of the Year. There are surely songs that I did not review which would make this list if I had reviewed them; in fact, a few on this list were not covered here. As for the album list, I will have nominees and an Album of the Year, as I did cover most of the essential albums of 2015. But here is a list of songs from 2015 that I feel everyone should definitely check out! If you have overlooked any of them, please correct this now. They are listed alphabetically, and not by any sort of rank.

Essential Songs of 2015

1. “After the Storm Blows Through” by Maddie & Tae
2. “Ashes” by Lindi Ortega
3. “Be my Baby” by Whitney Rose and Raul Malo
4. “The Bird Hunters” by Turnpike Troubadours
5. “Bienville” by Jason Boland & the Stragglers
6. “The Blade” by Ashley Monroe
7. “Bound to Roam” by The Black Lillies
8. “Bramble Rose” by Don Henley, featuring Mick Jagger and Miranda Lambert
9. “Burning House” by Cam
10. “Cost of Living” by Don Henley, featuring Merle Haggard
11. “David” by Cody Jinks
12. “Dixie” by Ashley Monroe
13. “El Dorado” by Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen
14. “Fall out of Love” by Turnpike Troubadours
15. “Ghost Town” by Sam Outlaw
16. “Good ‘ol Boys’ Club” by Kacey Musgraves
17. “Half Moon” by Lindi Ortega
18. “Has Anybody Ever Told You” by Ashley Monroe
19. “Heartland Bypass” by Jason Boland & the Stragglers
20. “House on a Hill” by Kasey Chambers
21. “If the Devil Don’t Want Me” by Ashley Monroe
22. “Just Some Things” by Jamie Lin Wilson, featuring Wade Bowen
23. “Knives of New Orleans” by Eric Church
24. “Long Drive Home” by Turnpike Troubadours
25. “Need for Wanting” by Courtney Patton
26. “Oh Grace” by Kasey Chambers
27. “Pageant Material” by Kacey Musgraves
28. “Record Year” by Eric Church
29. “Roots and Wings” by Miranda Lambert
30. “Shut up and Fish” by Maddie & Tae
31. “So This is Life” by Courtney Patton
32. “Somebody to Love” by Kacey Musgraves
33. “Something More than Free” by Jason Isbell
34. “Speed Trap Town” by Jason Isbell
35. “Standards” by Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen
36. “Suffer in Peace” by Tyler Farr
37. “Traveller” by Chris Stapleton
38. “Too Late to Save Me” by Kasey Chambers
39. “War of Art” by Courtney Patton
40. “When I stop Dreaming” by Don Henley, featuring Dolly Parton

There are many more, but I had to stop the list at some point!

My Top Ten Country Songs (August 2015)

I wrote this list and then looked back and realized how female-dominated it was. This month brought good releases from Lindi Ortega, Maddie & Tae, and Whitney Rose, as well as my discovery of Kasey Chambers (her album actually came out at the end of July.) Kip Moore released some good music, but most of it was rock. I haven’t actually listened to Pat Green’s latest album, Home, yet, as it came out while I was traveling. The other albums I listened to were Luke Bryan’s train wreck Kill the Lights and Michael Ray’s forgettable debut–I didn’t even bother to review this. The result is an August list rife with females.

10. Kip Moore–“Comeback Kid”–His latest was
clearly a rock album, but this song was an honest and personal moment from Kip that I really enjoyed nonetheless.
9. Kasey Chambers–“House on a Hill”–I debated whether or not to include Kasey Chambers on this list because her album actually came out at the end of July, but I didn’t discover her till August, and without her, this list would look entirely different. This duet with her father, Bill Chambers, about an old house which is about to be torn down is just one of the standouts on her
fantastic album Bittersweet.
8. Whitney Rose–“The Devil Borrowed My Boots”–“The devil borrowed my boots last night” is the best excuse for bad behavior I’ve heard in a long time, and
Whitney Rose delivers this with the same enjoyment I have when listening.
7. Kasey Chambers–“Oh Grace”–A beautiful song featuring banjo and Kasey’s remarkable voice telling us the story, from his point of view, of a man with nothing to offer Grace except his life.
6. Lindi Ortega–“Half Moon”–A lyrically brilliant song in which Lindi reflects on the “half moon hanging in the sky” and later compares herself to it. It is
one that needs to be heard to fully appreciate.
5. Kasey Chambers–“Heaven or Hell”–Another lyrically brilliant song in which Chambers speculates on where we go when we die, calls out hypocrites, and later reflects on her own standing with God.
4. Kasey Chambers–“Too Late to Save Me”–This song about a prostitute coming to terms with her life and actions is my favorite on Kasey’s album. Featuring great instrumentation, honest songwriting, and up-front lyrics like “they call me late, they call me whore,” this song is a must-listen.
3. Maddie & Tae–“Shut Up and Fish”–I’m sure you all were wondering where Maddie & Tae were, and that’s because they made it so far down on the list.
“Shut Up and Fish” is an excellent song in which the girl gets tired of an overly clingy date and ultimately pushes him in the lake. Please let this be a single.
2. Lindi Ortega–“Ashes”–There are other songs on here that are better lyrically, but Lindi’s voice sells this and puts it so high on the list. Her voice soars through this heartbreak song perfectly, and not only is it the best song on Faded Gloryville, it’s my favorite Lindi Ortega song to date.
1. Maddie & Tae–“After the Storm Blows Through”–Lindi was at the top all month until this song blew “Ashes” out of the water. I originally wrote that I thought these ladies were singing to each other, but a commenter on another site wrote that this was written about Maddie’s friend, whose father passed away. This beautiful song of friendship features great country instrumentation and chilling harmonies. It’s another must-listen.

Honorable Mentions

  • Lindi Ortega’s “I Ain’t the Girl” and “Someday Soon”
  • Kip Moore’s “Come and Get It” (I actually love this song, but it’s not country, so it doesn’t qualify.)
  • Maddie & Tae’s “Waitin’ on a Plane” and “Smoke”
  • Whitney Rose’s “Heartbreaker of the Year”
  • Kasey Chambers and Bernard Fanning’s “Bittersweet”

I’d love to hear your favorite songs from August!

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