Category Archives: Random Reflections

Reflecting on: How I Came to Love Country Music

It’s written in my half of our writers page that “my first and deepest love will always be country music.” That doesn’t mean I don’t like other genres, and even within country, I’m certainly not a purist. I’ve definitely come to appreciate music from many different styles over the years, and you’ll even find me discussing some of it on this blog. But my first love was country, and it will always be my passion and the one thing I feel qualified to talk about.

So where did I get that love for country music? You might think living in Oklahoma, I was ensconced in it from the day I was born, but my parents were mostly into classic pop and rock, and it’s these styles which make up my earliest memories of music. It was later, when I started school, that I first began hearing country songs, and they came from my grandma. She’d pick me up from school, and she always had our country station playing in her car. These days, it plays 80’s and 90’s and 00’s country, but back then, in the late 90’s, it was a mix of classic and modern. She and I generally gravitated toward different sounds, but that was okay because the same station that played Merle Haggard also played the Dixie Chicks, whose record was one of the first country albums I ever owned. I remember my parents” reactions at first, not believing I was getting so much into country. Both of them eventually followed me into the genre and enjoy a lot of country from the late 90’s and early 00’s.

I didn’t always love her brand of country back then, but I did get into Merle Haggard and Keith Whitley. She didn’t always love mine, but she dearly loved Brad Paisley’s “We Danced.” We could agree on George strait in equal measure, as he seemed to bridge the gap between our generations. She always loved “I Just Want to Dance With You” and “Living and Living Well.” We drifted some as I grew older, for reasons which aren’t important here, and we didn’t see each other as much as we had when I was young. But we still had that time, that few minutes between leaving school and reaching my house, and we still had that music to share.

When I got into high school, I branched out some from country, starting to get into pop and rock and modern Christian music. I never drifted too far from country music during that time, but I was always careful throughout my time in school to not completely show my obsession with it. But it was there in full force; I sang records till I could perfect them, and I also started to write songs. And even though I was discovering other genres of music at the time, my love of country music only grew stronger. And it was during this time that my grandma was diagnosed with cancer. She fought it most of the time I was in high school. We didn’t speak much about it, and it’s not like our relationship changed, but that time we had in her car and the music we shared came to mean more. She eventually went into remission, and when I graduated high school, she was well.

I went to college for my passion, and it was there that I really became exposed to different styles of music, both through friends and through popular music courses. At this time, I drifted away quite a bit from my first love and began to explore all kinds of other music, and it’s something for which I’m still thankful. I got an appreciation for all different types of music and a newfound respect for the art of making it. Country was also going pretty much off the rails by this time (2010), so I was listening to it less and less.

But no form of musical expression can speak to real-life situations like country music, and I found my first love again when my grandma’s cancer returned, this time without hope for a cure. I wanted to listen to the music that she introduced me to, and it brought me comfort during those last days as we took care of her. We eventually lost her six years ago Sunday (Nov. 19th.) I listened to Merle Haggard and Keith Whitley and George Strait nonstop after that because it was the only thing that helped me. “I Just Want to Dance with You” will always make me think of her.

Her music brought me through that time like only music can, and it’s her love of country music that still lives on in me. I am so thankful that she introduced me to it and instilled that love in me, for music is the one thing that has always been there for me no matter what. It’s the one thing I have counted on to get me through loss, divorce, loneliness, and pain. And I can never, ever thank her enough for that gift.

Reflecting On: Micky and the Motorcars – Hearts From Above

Since I have previously talked about Reckless Kelly in a Random Reflections article, it was only a matter of time until I discussed their younger brothers’ band, Micky and the Motorcars. The bands share a similar sound as far as their more rock leanings, but I’d argue that the two are different from one another. There’s Micky Braun himself, whose voice is a bit rougher than Willy Braun’s. Also, Gary Braun takes lead vocals on some songs, and on this album, they incorporated some very well-done accordion. For another thing, Micky and the Motorcars use more steel guitar in their music, making them have a country sound. Hearts From Above is my favorite album by Micky and the Motorcars, which is the reason this is the one being discussed.

Release Date: July 29, 2014

Style: Red Dirt, Rock Country

People Who Might Like this Album: Fans of Reckless Kelly, people who like their country with a bit of a rock edge

Standout Tracks: “Long Road To Nowhere”, “Destined To Fall”, “Fall Apart”, “My Girl Now”, “From Where the Sun Now Stands”

I like all of the songs on this album. However, there are twelve tracks, so I will just talk about the ones that stick out the most to me. “Long Road to Nowhere” is an interesting song, because it features the accordion I mentioned above. It’s a song about a man who regrets the end of his relationship. I love how he compares his life without her with the metaphor, “It’s a long road to nowhere, with a million miles to go, I reach for you”.

“Destined to Fall” tells the story of two people who came from broken families who were destined to fall in love with one another. The woman’s father left their family, and her mother had men in and out of their lives. As for the man in the song and whose perspective the lyrics are from, he came from a wealthy family and went to a boarding school. He broke the school’s rules, but his parents didn’t care. They just let him do whatever he wanted, so that they wouldn’t have to think about him. When he met the woman discussed in the song, they fell in love, despite their differences. I love the fiddle on this song, and how the imagery and characters are so well-developed in just a few minutes.

“Fall Apart” is another excellently drawn character portrait. This song tells of a girl who is rich and has no problems, and she just wants to escape it. She wants to have something to lose and to feel deep emotions that mean something. “She just wants to fall apart, just so she can feel it”, says the chorus. This song features some harmonica, and it works really well to set it apart. I just love how this track talks of someone who has no problems, but who wishes they had some.

“My Girl Now” is another love song. I really like the tempo and instrumentation of this one. The man in the song pleads with the woman he loves to give him a chance. If she does, he will do what he can to make her happy, and to erase the pain of her past relationships. By the end of the second verse, he’s got the girl and her life is getting better.

Finally, there’s “Where the Sun Now Stands”. It’s one of the two songs sung by Gary Braun. This is a sad song, as the lyrics detail what happened to the Nez Perce Native Americans in the nineteenth century. After a bloody war, they were promised to be returned to their homes if they would surrender. However, upon doing so, they learned that yet again, they had been lied to. The fact that these things really happened make the song that much more poignant.

If you have not heard any music by Micky and the Motorcars, I recommend checking this out. If you like Reckless Kelly, you should have no problem liking these guys. This album is a great place to start, plus it has a lot of faster and mid-tempo songs full of well-drawn characters and important topics. It has a great mix of happy and sad songs, too, and I think it is the best showcase of this band’s work.

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Reflecting on: The Lost Brothers–So Long John Fante

Well, one of the reasons for starting this feature was so that Brianna and I could explore older music we didn’t know and familiarize ourselves with new artists and styles, all while sharing those discoveries with you all. So today, I’m talking about something a little out of left field for me, an Irish folk band called the Lost Brothers, and their album So Long John Fante.

Release Date: 2011
Style: folk, close to what we’d call Americana but you know, it’s Irish, mixed with some hints of country and bluegrass and folk rock
People Who Might Like This Album: those who enjoy great melodies, harmonies and songwriting, those who like relaxing records, maybe those who like stuff like John Moreland’s latest album
Standout Tracks: “Bells They Won’t Ring,” “Pale Moon,” “Only By the Light of the Moon,” “Those Ancient Eyes,” “In the City,” “The Goodbye Kid,” “Killing Heart”
Reflections: Well, credit goes to my boyfriend Rob immediately, for showing me the absolutely excellent “Bells They Won’t ring” a couple years ago and introducing me to this little-known band from Ireland. Listen to this one if you only pick one track; it’s a heart-wrenching tale about love that went wrong somehow; “we will meet again, some other spring, but after all that’s been, bells they won’t, bells they won’t ring.” What a timeless lyric and sentiment, and that ability to capture timeless emotions like this runs throughout much of this album. “Killing Heart” is another good example; I’ll admit I didn’t like this one at first, but its lyrics advising a woman to stay away from him because he will hurt her with his “killing heart” just cannot be ignored.

Their melodies and harmonies are really what make this band shine the most, though, taking simple songs like “Only by the Light of the Moon” and “Those ancient Eyes” and elevating them to something special. Actually, and I didn’t write this above because the comparison is a very specific one and not really a generalization, their relaxed style and gentle harmonies remind me a lot of the Mavericks. As I say, it’s sort of a weird comparison because you’ll find a lot more energy in a Mavericks record, but the easygoing nature of this album is reminiscent of some of their material, as is the way the Lost Brothers pay careful attention to both their melodies and their harmonies.

As far as style, well, I had a hard enough time trying to define that above, but mostly, it’s folk/Americana. Apple Music helpfully calls it singer-songwriter. “Six Black Days” is pretty country, almost bluegrass even, and “Pale Moon,” which is my favorite here behind “Bells They Won’t ring,” also carries some country elements. A good portion of it tends to be acoustic or very sparse in instrumentation, allowing the group’s vocals to be the main focus, as they should be. “The Goodbye Kid” is probably the most glaring exception to this and is the one to look for if you want a little more variety in production. Maybe not quite something for everyone, as there’s not really anything overly upbeat, but there is a nice variety in style, so something for most.

Cool band. Nice, pleasant, comforting record. It will put a smile on your face.

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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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