Category Archives: Playlists

Memorable Songs From Overlooked Albums: June 26th

Yeah, okay, so three of these four albums are quite forgettable, but I still think I prefer the term “overlooked” because I don’t want to single out stuff that isn’t forgettable as such, and for the stuff that is, I’ll have plenty of time to tell you when I bring up the songs. For new people or people new to this feature, this is a semi-regular feature that pops up whenever enough songs are there to make one, and it consists of songs from forgettable/mediocre albums, songs from albums we didn’t cover due to time constraints or out of deference to artists, and songs from albums that we just didn’t have anything to say about but still thought some tracks deserved a feature. Today’s, like last time, is pretty eclectic.

Shannon McNally: “Banshee Moan”

Shannon McNally’s album, Black Irish, is the one that stands out here as not forgettable. In fact, it’s actually pretty great, but seven of the twelve tracks are covers, and just because of time constraints, I’m not reviewing this. The thing is, though, that Shannon said she wanted to “let the best songs win” when she picked the covers–but the best songs on the album are the three that she had a hand in writing. So I’m featuring them here today so that you can get to know her. Would love to see her release a whole album of original music. This one was written for women struggling in the music industry, and it’s the best one on the record.

Shannon McNally: “I Went to the Well”

The interesting thing about the covers on Shannon’s record is that she covers everything from country to Americana to blues. This original one has more of a bluesy slant, and it shows off that side of her voice.

Shannon McNally: “Roll Away the Stone”

The three that McNally wrote or co-wrote are all right in a row on her record, and after the slow, sad “Banshee Moan” and the easygoing “I Went to the Well,” we get this upbeat, fun track to close things. This one’s also more bluesy and features some great saxophone.

Ray Scott: “Livin’ This Way”

Ray Scott promised more grit on his latest record, Guitar for Sale, and that seemed to be true with the first two songs. Then it just got pretty boring. There are some other decent songs on Ray’s album, but the first two really stand out above the rest and give the record the energy it needed and should have sustain throughout.

Ray Scott: “Put Down the Bottle”

This is really almost the same song as “Livin’ This Way”–well, more like its antithesis. The former is the explanation for why Ray lives like this, this one is an acknowledgement that one of these days he should think about changing. Anyway, he has a knack for these types of songs.

Luke Combs: “When it Rains it Pours”

Honestly, I know this has been met with mixed opinions, but personally? Thank God he chose this as the single because it’s truly the only thing that stood out for me on his debut album, This One’s For You on first listen. AS you’ll see, another song did end up making this list, but man, this has to be the most boring, safe, forgettable album I’ve heard in 2017. I know the single, as I said, has been greeted with mixed reception, but sue me, it’s just fun. The narrator’s girlfriend leaves him after he had a “time” out one night–that’s why some people think he was just a jerk to begin with, but it’s really not all that clear about what exactly he did–and then he goes on a complete lucky streak, and his life is all the better for her leaving. I just love this, I can’t help it.

Luke Combs: “I Got Away With You”

I kept hearing about the potential Luke showed on the back half of his record, so I gave that half another shot, and this love song did emerge that second time as quite unique and memorable.

Lady Antebellum: “Somebody Else’s Heart”

And finally we come to the comeback album by Lady A entitled Heart Break, and let me tell you, this record is not bad per se, but it’s just boring as all hell by the end. It’s mediocre, not awful, but there were three songs that stood proudly out of it to show the true potential of this group, and in doing so, they ultimately took down the value of the whole thing. This one is not as great as the last two, but it’s a nice song about two friends who want more but are afraid of what the next day will bring and wish they could love the other tonight with “somebody else’s heart.”

Lady Antebellum: “Famous”

A very nice and vividly detailed song about all the pitfalls of being famous and in the spotlight. There’s even a steel guitar solo in this one.

Lady Antebellum: “Hurt”

And the best for last; honestly, I love this song. It’s just beautiful, from the melody to the vocals to the lyrics about being so in love with someone that you’d do anything for them but also knowing they could take their love back at any time and knowing your vulnerability. As the song says, “if you’re reckless with your love just to take it back, you could hurt somebody like that.” Just listen to this.

My Top Ten Albums of 2017 so Far

Editor’s Note: Why didn’t I choose thirteen again? Actually, I was going to, but these ten just stand out above the ones I would pick for eleven, twelve, and thirteen, so they’ll just be in the Honorable Mentions. This has a little, but not much, to do with the original grades given to these albums; it’s more about music that holds up, so some of these might have lower ratings than you’d expect, and there are some that we rated higher that didn’t make this list because I simply don’t go back and listen to them, and for me, that’s what music is all about. It might be a 9 on paper, but if I’m not listening to it months later, that number is arbitrary, so don’t let the numbers factor into it too much at this point. Lastly, just like the songs, these are my picks, not necessarily those of Country exclusive as a whole, and these are, unlike the songs, in order for me.

#10: The Steel Woods–Straw in the Wind

Original Rating: 8/10
This honestly would be higher on the list right now because the first half is excellent, but it does drop off some for me in the back half. Still, it’s a very nice debut from The Steel Woods, tinged with Southern rock, blues, bluegrass, and country; in fact, I’d like to make the point that look how many of these entries are debuts, what a cool year for debut records.
Read Full Review

#9: Chris Stapleton–From a Room, Volume 1

Original Rating: 8/10
Some of you are going to hate me for ranking it this low, and others are going to hate me for saying it’s better than Traveller. But it’s a more consistent effort from Stapleton than his first record, and it’s still holding up nicely.
Read Full Review

#8: Shinyribs–I Got Your Medicine

Original Rating: 9/10
Yeah, okay, this ranks higher as an album than some others that will be higher on this list, and I still stand by that 9 too. It’s definitely the most fun album here. It doesn’t hold up quite as much as some lower-ranked albums coming up because you have to be in a certain mood to play it. But Shinyribs is the type of group you should just let yourself enjoy; they won’t be for everyone, but they should be.
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#7: Robyn Ludwick–This Tall to Ride

Original Rating: 7.5/10
All right, what is it about this one? Well, it just works its way in. It’s unique and cool, and no, the hookers and cocaine all over this record won’t be for everyone, but if you can get past the dark material Robyn writes and sings about, this is a great record. It’s definitely being underappreciated, and I underrated it, not necessarily because I undervalued the songs themselves but because I underestimated its mileage and ability to be replayed which it turns out has been great.
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#6: Jaime Wyatt–Felony Blues

Original Rating: 7.5/10
Yeah, I said this rating would be misleading when I reviewed it, and it turns out I was right. It’s hard to grade a seven-song project, and when four songs turn out to be excellent tracks, and the other three are good, it’s hard to question this. It’s short, sure, but there’s no filler like there has been on many albums this year. Jaime Wyatt’s is another debut record, and this is probably the most promising one I’ve heard all year. She’s someone you should definitely keep your eye on, and since February, this has gone from being a strong debut to one of the best albums of 2017.
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#5: Kasey Chambers–Dragonfly

Original Rating: 8/10
Please, stop caring that this is a double album, and do yourself a favor by listening to it. This has been massively underrated, both because Kasey is Australian and because it’s a double album, but it’s one of the most consistent and diverse releases of the year–there’s something here for everyone, from traditional to blues to folk rock to gospel to country pop. Go check it out.
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#4: Jason Eady (self-titled)

Original Rating: 9/10
This is going to be a dark horse for Album of the Year; Jason Eady is the only person who could make a completely stripped-back, acoustic record that could be played without electricity (except for some steel guitar) and have it compete with the best albums of the year based on his songwriting and melodies alone. This record grows on me every time I listen to it. Another somewhat underappreciated album, and definitely the best album to come out of the Texas/Red dirt scene thus far this year.
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#3: Angaleena Presley–Wrangled

Original Rating: 10/10
I know, some of you that know how I felt about this record are falling out of your chairs right now that this is #3. I still love it, and these top three are all excellent. The reason this has slid momentarily to #3 is that I come back to it all the time, but not as much to the entire album as to specific songs. But like I said, these top three are all almost interchangeable, and some of the songwriting here is the best of 2017 so far.
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#2: Colter Wall (self-titled)

Original Rating: 9/10
All right, so yeah, this has passed Angaleena. There are still a couple of boring songs, so I wouldn’t give it a 10–although I might change angallena’s to a 9 or 9.5 if I were reviewing her today–but man, what a timeless album. This pretty much blew me away on the first listen–which is the case with all the top three–and just like Jason’s, it’s very minimal, and all you need is Colter’s throwback voice and his stories and melodies. Excellent record. Another debut, by the way.
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#1: Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives–Way out West

Original Rating: 10/10
Back in March, nothing had blown me away in 2017. I remember talking about the fact that there had been some good albums, but not great ones. I was a little discouraged–and then this came along and blew everything out of the water, and I’m still waiting for something to top it. It’s been a much better year since, and 2017 will be an entertaining year waiting to see if an album can possibly top the musical genius Marty Stuart put into this album and depiction of the West. It’s not a lyrical masterpiece; in fact, none of its songs made yesterday’s list. But that’s what makes it even more special; Marty went into a genre that is lyrically focused and made a western album based purely off the musical styles and mood. It’s, at least for me, a flawless record.
Read Full Review

Honorable Mentions

  • Sam Outlaw–Tenderheart (would have been #11)
  • Kody West–Green (would have been #12, another debut)
  • Aaron Watson–Vaquero (would have been #13)
  • Nikki Lane–Highway Queen
  • Rhiannon Giddens–Freedom Highway
  • Sunny Sweeney–Trophy
  • The Mavericks–Brand New Day
  • Zephaniah Ohora–This Highway (this will probably make future lists, but I need more listens

Albums on the Radar, With Potential to be Reviewed

Being listed here does not mean Brianna or I will review these, it just means we’re aware, and they may be considered, but have not been reviewed yet.

  • The Infamous Stringdusters–Laws of Gravity
  • Lauren Alaina–Road Less Traveled
  • The Secret Sisters–You Don’t Own Me Anymore
  • Ray Scott–Guitar for Sale
  • Glen Campbell–Adios
  • Shannon McNally–Black Irish
  • Joseph Huber–The Suffering Stage
  • Tony Jackson (self-titled)
  • John Baumann–Proving Grounds
  • Jake Worthington–Hell of a Highway
  • Ags Connolly–Nothin’ Unexpected

My Top 13 Songs of 2017 So Far

Editor’s Note: I wrote “my” instead of “Country Exclusive’s” for a reason; this does not necessarily reflect the views of our entire site. Also, these are not, and I repeat, not, in any order. Finally, with the exception of one song which I felt it would be idiotic to leave out, these are all from stuff we have covered in some fashion, either by a full-length review or perhaps through a feature in our “Memorable Songs from Overlooked Albums” pieces. Normally, I would restrict this to stuff one of us has actually written about, but that would leave out one song which, like I say, it would be a glaring sin not to bring up here. So take all this into consideration, and feel free to leave your own lists of songs and thoughts about these in the comments below!

Aaron Watson: “Clear Isabel”

From Vaquero
The first song to really blow my mind in 2017, this is a great and timely story about Isabel and her father, Mariano, who flee to America to escape the cartels of Mexico. Isabel ends up married to the narrator of the song, but her father is deported and later gunned down. It’s an honest and heartbreaking look at immigration, not to mention a brilliant song. Even better with the instrumental prelude, “Mariano’s Dream.”

Jaime Wyatt: “Wishing Well”

From Felony Blues
Jaime Wyatt is probably the name I’m most excited about breaking out in 2017. She has a way of singing about hardship that still manages to put a smile on your face, and this is just a stellar song that gets better every time I hear it.

Natalie Hemby: “Cairo, IL”

This one comes off Puxico, which we didn’t review in full, but it was partly responsible for the “Memorable Songs” features because this track about the lonely, forgotten river town of Cairo, Illinois, is one of the best songs of the year and should by no means be overlooked.

Jason Eady: “Barabbas”

From Jason Eady’s self-titled album
Purely from a songwriting standpoint, this has to be the cleverest thing to come out this year, telling us the story of the man freed by the crucifixion of Jesus, yet never mentioning Jesus or religion, and instead allowing the song to be a timeless track for everyone, although connecting even more deeply with those of faith.

Angaleena Presley: “Dreams Don’t Come True

From Wrangled
This just blew me away on the first listen; who’s going to tell you, especially at the beginning of their record, that look, dreams don’t come true, and don’t believe anyone who says otherwise? But it’s Angaleena Presley’s reality, and credit her for confronting it head-on to deliver us something so powerfully painful and honest.

Angaleena Presley: “Wrangled”

Also from Wrangled
Angaleena Presley has the distinction of being the only one on the list with two entries, but this song is equally deserving. From the wonderful melody to the thought-provoking lyrics about being “wrangled” by her life and husband, this song stands out just as much as “Dreams Don’t Come True.”

Brad Paisley: “Gold All Over the Ground”

From Love and War
What, a mainstream name like Brad Paisley? Yes, that’s what I said. This is Paisley’s musical adaptation of a poem composed by Johnny Cash in the 1960’s, and they don’t make love songs like this anymore. Between the poetry of Cash and the arrangement of Paisley, it has definitely earned its place among the best songs so far in 2017.

Colter Wall: “Kate McCannon

From Colter Wall’s self-titled album
There were many outstanding songs on Colter Wall’s debut record, I just picked the one that shined a tiny bit brighter than the rest.

Chris Stapleton: “Either Way”

From From a Room, Volume 1
I didn’t always think Chris Stapleton showed emotion on his new album–sometimes he just belted songs, and they lost a little of the passion. But this is one moment where he absolutely killed it, and this version might be better than the original LeeAnn Womack version.

The Steel Woods: “Straw in the Wind”

From Straw in the Wind
What a dark, ominous tale–this one comes from one of our collaborative reviews, and Brianna and I both agreed that this story of a town where strangers “disappear like straw in the wind” is a standout of the record.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: “If we Were Vampires”

Yeah, here’s the one I didn’t review, but this is one of the best songs of Isbell’s career, and when I said they don’t make love songs like that anymore about Paisley’s, I guess Isbell proved me wrong. He mentions all the details he loves about his wife, and more than that, he makes you think of death as a gift because it allows you to be a better lover and make the moments last. What a beautiful and morbid picture of love; I’ve never been sad, happy, and scared while listening to a love song before, but that’s what Jason Isbell does here.

Kasey Chambers: “Jonestown

From Dragonfly
The standout of Chambers’ recent double album, this one deals with hardship and discrimination and tells a great story. Probably the most underrated and least known one on the list.

Trisha Yearwood: “Maggie’s Dream”

This one is from the Gentle Giants album, and like I said before when I mentioned this song, I don’t care that it’s a cover, it’s still one of the best songs of the year. Trisha Yearwood delivered a better rendition of an already great song, and she’s earned her place on this list.

Honorable Mentions

  • Jason Eady: “Black Jesus”
  • John Moreland: “Love is Not an Answer”
  • Lauren Alaina: “Same Day, Different Bottle”
  • Zac Brown Band: “All the Best”
  • Kelleigh Bannen: “Church clothes”
  • Rhiannon Giddens: “Better Get it Right the First Time”
  • Sam Outlaw: “Everyone’s Looking For Home”

Memorable Songs From Overlooked Albums: June 1st

You’ll notice I wrote “overlooked” instead of forgettable this time–that’s because the majority of these fall into the category of us having nothing to say about the album rather than really being forgettable. some of them are, but writing “forgettable albums” would be somewhat misleading for most of them. Now, many of you know the drill–standout songs that truly did come off mediocre/forgettable albums, songs from albums we didn’t cover due to time constraints or out of deference to artists, or like most of today’s, songs from albums we just didn’t have much to say about but still thought some tracks deserved a feature. Today’s is quite an eclectic list, from traditional to Americana to pop country to Texas and Red dirt, so there should be something for everyone. As always, this feature arrives when there are enough songs sliding through the cracks to produce one.

Sarah Shook & The Disarmers: “Keep the Home Fires Burnin'”

Man, this song is absolutely great. I heard it, and I was so excited for their debut album Sidelong. Cool instrumentation, nice lyrics, and really catchy and fun despite it being a heartbreak song which I thoroughly enjoyed. I loved all the energy put into it–it’s not something you see every day in Americana/singer-songwriter albums. I thought it could be a really nice debut…and the whole rest of their album was just boring. It’s one of the few that does fit the forgettable albums label. I do think there was great, interesting instrumentation throughout it, but this song opens it amazingly, and then there’s just nothing. It would be extremely sad not to feature this, though, it’s a really good song, and I think they’ve got massive potential.

Dalton Domino: “Decent Man”

Dalton’s album Corners really doesn’t fit the “forgettable albums” label either, more just the “not for us” label; neither Bri nor I could really get behind it, but we’re heavily in the minority. Obviously a lot of people really enjoy it, and so I wanted to feature a song from it so that you all could enjoy it too, if you’re so inclined. It’s definitely unique, and credit to Dalton Domino for doing something cool and different in the Texas/Red Dirt scene, even if I’m not personally on board. I do quite enjoy this one.

Rascal Flatts: “Back To Us”

I went back and forth about whether or not to review this. This was an ironic album title for a project that was mostly mediocre and bland, with some God-awful moments and a couple of bright spots that really drove home the point that if Rascal Flatts actually tried to live up to that title, they could once again make good pop country. I never hated them, they just shouldn’t have started trend-chasing. Anyway, I could have probably written a lot about their album, but the title track has emerged as quite a good song, and I want to remind everyone what Rascal Flatts is capable of when they do it right, so I’m putting it here.

Jade Jackson: “Bridges”

This falls also into that “not for us” category. The music in this album is really very good though, and Jade does a nice job balancing between more country rock songs and more singer-songwriter stuff. It’s the latter, at least for me, which suits her voice more, and this song is a good example. I think Jade Jackson is probably the one that people are either going to love or hate–she’s got a very unique voice, and if vocals aren’t really a factor for you, you’ll probably love this album. But I’m not sure everyone will like her voice, and that’s ok. I want to stress, though, that of the albums I’ve listed here, this is probably the best one in my opinion, and it’s simply personal preference holding it back for me.

Jade Jackson: “Gilded

The title track is probably the best song from it, from those lyrics to the melody to that fiddle. It’s another more singer-songwriter type track, and as I say, Jade Jackson’s voice works more with these songs.

Evan Michaels Band: “Like it Should”

This one comes from an EP, Ain’t no Stopping This, and it’s really more just that we don’t generally cover EP’s for a number of reasons, so they are just held to higher standards. As for this particular EP, from the Evan Michaels Band of Stillwater, Oklahoma, I thought it showed potential, but they will need to do the very thing I credited Dalton domino for above–stand out in the ever-growing Texas/Red Dirt scene. That said, “Like it Should” stands out off the EP as a nice song about missing an ex and shows off that potential I mentioned.

Alison Krauss: “Till the Rivers All Run Dry”

Let’s end this feature in fine fashion, with two excellent covers of Don Williams classics turned in for the Gentle Giants album. Again, cover albums are just held to higher standards, and these two outshined the rest. This is an excellent love song; Don Williams’ version was great, and Krauss does a nice job interpreting it and making it her own.

Trisha Yearwood: “Maggie’s Dream”

Yes, the best for last. Honestly, this cover is better than the original. Maybe it cuts deeper with a woman singing the lines, or maybe you just believe Yearwood’s rendition more, but this story of Maggie, a waitress at a truck stop in Asheville who’s nearing fifty and longing to be married despite what she tells everyone around her, was good before and now even better. Honestly one of the best songs I’ve heard this year despite the fact it’s a cover.

Memorable Songs From Forgettable Albums: April 24th

So, this is a semi-regular feature in which I highlight songs from albums that weren’t good enough to be praised or horrific enough to warrant a rant, albums where we feel we would benefit the artist and serve the music more by isolating certain tracks, and sometimes albums we simply didn’t have anything to say about but still felt deserved some attention. It’s a fun way to highlight more music and save us the time of writing–and you the time of reading–reviews we weren’t passionate about. This feature will appear whenever enough songs are sliding through the cracks to produce one.

RaeLynn: “Love Triangle”

This is the one many of you will know, as it was the single off her recently released album. I’ve been one of RaeLynn’s biggest critics in the past–although, ironically, not on Country exclusive–but this song about the “Love triangle” between a daughter and her divorced parents that is autobiographical to RaeLynn is pop country done right and the kind of song we should be championing on radio. the youth listening to country radio today need real songs like this–and when RaeLynn’s being herself, her vocal quality also improves.

RaeLynn: “Diamonds”

RaeLynn’s WildHorse is mostly a pop album–and not a great one–but this one stands out as a nice pop song and would be a nice single choice, explaining how diamonds mean nothing unless they come with the right person and sentiment. It’s another one where you can see RaeLynn’s potential.

RaeLynn: “Praying For Rain”

Not much to say here, and they did overproduce it, but I can’t help enjoying this. It just feels like another, rare moment where Raelynn is being herself.

Trace Adkins: “Watered Down”

Man, what an all-around disappointing album from Trace. It wasn’t terrible, but it just felt like a wasted opportunity most of the way through. This song about coming to terms with his age stands out in a weird way on an album where mostly he’s not letting go, but on its own, it’s quite a fine listen, and he should do more stuff like this.

Trace Adkins: “Something’s Going On”

Ok, so the title track to Trace’s album starts out making you think the woman is cheating–she’s wearing her clothes tighter, her heels higher, and “something’s going on.” It ends up being a sex song, and yeah, it would have been better as a cheating song because the dark melody fits this. But it’s still a nice song, and Trace Adkins pulls this off rather well. And that melody is still just quite cool.

Trace Adkins: “Gonna Make You Miss Me”

Just catchy as all hell…sue me.

Caroline Spence: “Heart of Somebody”

Yeah, this one is just an album neither Brianna nor I could think of much to say about, but it seems to be getting overlooked by a lot of blogs, and there’s some fine songwriting here. If this album, Spades and Roses, gets reviewed, I’m probably giving it a 6/10–but it’s an unfair 6 because there were four songs I’d cherry-pick. The rest of the album was honestly really sleepy for me; style wise, Caroline’s a bit like Sam Outlaw, and where the quality of the writing doesn’t match the mood, the record can drag on. But don’t overlook her just because we couldn’t find any words. (Also, look, we’re giving an independent/folk/Americana album criticism.)

Caroline Spence: “All the Beds I’ve Made”

It occurs to me I didn’t really say what “Heart of Somebody” was about, and there, Caroline was dreaming to give her heart to someone; it seems here, she found someone in this nice love song.

Caroline Spence: “Softball”

The highlight of Spades and Roses, focusing on equality for women and how women can sometimes do the same things as men and it’s still seen as different; even if you’re hitting home runs and stealing bases, it’s called softball.

Caroline Spence: “Hotel Amarillo”

The only one on the album where Caroline deviates slightly from her sound; this one’s more folk rock and tells of her life on the road and missing those she loves.