Category Archives: Random Reflections

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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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: Jason Eady–Daylight and Dark

I commented during my review of the new Jason Eady record back in April that it has to be one of my biggest regrets about starting Country Exclusive in June 2015 that I never got the opportunity to talk about the masterpiece that is Daylight and Dark from this platform. But hey, now we have a category for it, so I’ll take any excuse. This may be my favorite album of all time–don’t lock me into that, because it’s a close race between several, and these things are very subject to change, but it’s up there.

Release Date: January 2014

Style: traditional country/Texas country

People Who Might Like This Album: fans of really traditional country with lots of steel, people who like darker lyrical content

Standout Tracks: This is hard to do but…”Daylight and Dark,” “The Other side of Abilene,” “Temptation,” “Lonesome Down and Out,” “OK Whiskey,” “Liars and Fools,” “we Might Just Miss each Other” (featuring Courtney Patton)

Reflections: I remember the exact day I heard this…sort of. Not the exact date, and not much about the day itself prior to discovering this album, it was just one of those days back when I was first getting into this scene and before I started here where I was discovering all kinds of new music. I kept being flooded with new names to check out, and some of them were good, some of them boring, but all a cool discovery process. The thing I remember about the day I found Jason Eady was it hadn’t been an easy day for me personally, and we all know those albums and songs that connect with us and send us back to emotions and feelings long ago. It wasn’t a good time in my life when I found this album, and maybe that’s why, though dark stuff usually isn’t what I gravitate toward, something about the depth of sorrow and uncertainty in this album, coupled with all that traditional instrumentation in a time when my ears were starved for it, and topped off with the raw emotion in Jason Eady’s vocal delivery, just made me stop what I was doing and sit there and listen to this whole album. And then a good chunk of the rest of his discography. I don’t think I’ve ever done that for any artist unless I meant to sit and listen to them for review; with Jason, I heard one song and then made it the priority of my day to hear the rest. It brought me comfort and healing in a way that only certain things can–there’s a lot to be said for music that can cheer you up, and I’m a real proponent of stuff like that, but this just connected with me in a way that’s undeniable.

So now that I’ve rambled on about that, I guess I should actually talk about the songs and why it’s so great. “Daylight and Dark” is just excellent, capturing perfectly the state of mind of someone caught both literally and metaphorically between daylight and dark and not sure where to go in his life. The same sentiments echo in “Lonesome Down and Out” and more subtly so in “Late Night Diner,” even though that’s an Adam Hood cover. There’s a cleverness in the writing here that is just unmatched; even now, I hear cool new underlying things in the lyrics. That’s true on his newest record too, although not quite to this degree. He doesn’t just have “one too many” in that song, he has “one, two…many.” Also, “one becomes tomorrow.” And “we might just miss each other” means they might barely miss running into each other and not have to dredge up old feelings, they might only miss each other and not get the chance to run into each other and see where those feelings lead, and they might, after all, though they didn’t want to admit it, miss each other. This one, sung with Courtney Patton, gave me my first clue that a duets album from them would be great. These are just two of many cool examples of subtleties in the writing; in fact, the two I’ve illustrated are more obvious ones. It’s also just really country, and just a comfort to listen to. I could go on and on, but for multiple reasons, not the least of which that I am procrastinating packing for my trip by writing this, I will conclude this by saying that nothing I write will do it justice, and if you haven’t heard this, you’re missing out on one of the best and most traditional albums released in the past ten years.

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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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Reflecting on: Travis Tritt–It’s All About to Change

Well, from the day we started doing these, I always knew I would cover Travis Tritt on here, and now seems like the perfect time since I am going to see him Friday. I went back and forth for an inordinate amount of time on which album to cover, considering his originals and various compilations. Over the years, I’ve worn out the album The Very Best of Travis Tritt, so ultimately I decided to cover an album not as familiar to me. I chose the album that has my two favorite Tritt songs, It’s All About to Change, but really any place is okay to start with Travis and his music.

Release Date: 1991
Style: traditional country infused with Southern rock
People Who Might Like This Album: those who like their country mixed with rock and grit
Standout Tracks: “Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone who Cares),” “Anymore,” “Bible Belt,” “Nothing Short of Dying,” “If Hell Had a Jukebox,” “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin'”
Reflections: Travis Tritt said in one of the songs on his debut album that he vowed “I’d mix Southern rock and country, and that’s just what I did.” That’s really the best explanation of Tritt and his sound. He takes the best of both traditional country and Southern rock and blends them into a sound all his own, respecting country’s roots while being very modern and forward-thinking. Those that think country is boring, try saying that after “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin” or “Bible Belt.” Incidentally, the former features Marty Stuart which just adds to its overall coolness.

I mentioned this has my two favorite Travis Tritt songs. The first is “Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares),” another country rock song where he tells his cheating ex who wants to come back home that she can call one of her “sordid affairs.” As the song says, he’s kind enough even to offer her a quarter. This song is probably the one he’s most known for, and it even made Saving Country Music’s Greatest songs of All Time which can’t be taken lightly. Incidentally,, it’s very much responsible for my current relationship too; it was a conversation about this song and Travis Tritt in general that started all of it. My other favorite is “Anymore,” where he’s telling a woman that even after much time has passed, he still loves her and he can’t keep pretending otherwise. It’s the first song of his I ever heard and one of the best examples of Travis doing more traditional country. It’s the marrying of country and rock that is his signature sound, but ballads like this and “Nothing Short of Dying” shouldn’t be overlooked either because he does these types of songs just as well. Actually, the video for “Anymore” was the first in a series of three about one character, and all three were ballads.

Like I say, there really isn’t a bad place to start with Travis Tritt, and he’s definitely an artist that you should know. From the more rock-leaning stuff to the traditional ballads, there’s something here for everyone, and this album is a good showcase of his variety in sound. So start here, and hopefully, this will make you a fan, and you will seek out more of his music.

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