Category Archives: Reviews

Album Review: Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters (self-titled)

Rating: 7/10

All right, so I’m not overly familiar with The Honeycutters, and some people in this situation like to take a little time before such a release to listen to past albums and perhaps familiarize themselves more with a band or artist, but for me, I enjoy just staying ignorant and getting to know the artist through the new record. I know a few Honeycutters songs, but I’ve never listened to one of their albums, and for me, this is an opportunity to see if the new album can make me a fan. They’ve changed themselves to Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters–and kept the Honeycutters part simply for less confusion–but that’s just simply long to write, so I’ll stick with just the Honeycutters mostly.

So after listening, yes, I’m definitely enjoying this group, and Amanda Anne Platt is a fine vocalist and wordsmith. There are some great songs here too, which I’ll get to, but first, I do have one giant criticism of the album as a whole, and I usually don’t like to start reviews off negatively, but this has to be said. This entire album is going to sound better in October. It’s got fall/winter vibes, and it’s just not a record I want to pull out in June and listen to. The opener, “Birthday song,” even mentions the fall, and it just puts you in that frame of mind, and you never leave. It’s mid-tempo all the way through too, so there’s never really any upbeat, summery atmosphere, and I just can’t help but wonder why on earth they released this album right at the beginning of summer. It would probably rate higher than a 7 in October, and hell, it will probably be one of the albums that grows on me throughout the year. So please, I encourage you, if this album bores you or puts you in a somber mood, pull it out again in October.

That said, even though I can’t really listen to this record as a whole right now, there are some really standout songs. There is a moment in the heart of the album where you have three incredible songs in a row in “Eden,” “The Guitar Case,” and “Learning How to Love Him.” I keep replaying these three. “Eden” tells of the hardships of a family living in the heartland of Indiana; the woman has lost her job and is struggling to get by each day with her kids. It’s unclear whether she is divorced or widowed. The hook here is astounding–I say, please, let me back inside the garden. I won’t eat anything that’s fallen from that goddamned tree.” It’s not where I thought this was going, and it’s interesting because it alludes to the fact that original sin brought all this on, or at least that this character thinks so. “The Guitar Case” seems to be autobiographical and describes Amanda Platt’s struggles as a singer–“You can do what you love, or you can go to hell.” The melody in this one is also really nice and adds to the song, along with some nice piano, which I should mention is an instrument used pretty liberally by this group and which I enjoy. Brianna pointed out recently that it’s not used enough in country, and she’s 100% right. Then there’s “Learning How to Love Him,” which was written for Platt’s friend about her struggles to love her husband all the years they were married; now suddenly he’s terminal, and she finally understands what love truly means, and nothing else matters. If you listen to these three, particularly right in a row, and don’t come away with respect for the songwriting of Amanda Platt, I’d be shocked.

There are a couple of other nice moments too, like in the love songs “Rare Thing” and “What We’ve Got.” The latter sees Platt confronting her selfish past and finally being glad that she can appreciate love instead of wanting everyone to want her; it’s quite a mature, honest way to present a love song, calling herself “ugly and unkind.” “The Good Guys” is another good one trying to convince a man to do the right thing and buy the woman he loves a ring and start a life together. There’s more piano here, and once again, the melody really enhances the song. Actually, a lot of the songs are quite good on their own, it’s just that they run together in album form. As I said before, there needs to be more of a variety in tempo, and there’s also some unnecessary, frankly boring filler on this thirteen-track record. “Diamond in the Rough” is the best example of a track they could have just left off.

Overall, this is a nice, pleasant listen. Amanda Anne Platt is a pretty great singer, which isn’t always the case in Americana music, and she does a great job bringing out the emotion in tracks like “Learning How to Love Him” and “Eden.” There are some really well-written songs too, and the instrumentation and melodies work well with the songs. There’s some filler, but the main problem is just that it’s a fall album. IN October, I might give this an 8.5, but it’s just too mid-tempo and sleepy right now in June. So, I recommend checking it out, listening to some songs, and then coming back to the album in say, four or five months.

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Album Review – Zephaniah Ohora – This Highway

Rating: 9/10

I had never heard of Zephaniah Ohora until Megan mentioned him to me by saying that Trigger over at Saving Country Music had given his album a 9.5 out of 10 rating. Then, she dropped the words “classic country album”, and I was sold. I knew I had to at least give this unknown artist a listen and se what I thought.

I don’t know much about Zephaniah Ohora, but when I saw that he is from New York, I was excited to see what his music would sound like. As it turns out, he made some truly authentic country songs that could be timeless in terms of sound.

To start with, this album features some really well-done instrumentation. I like that on some songs, there is a touch of piano. Personally, I feel that the piano is a much under-used instrument in country nowadays. There’s some really well-done fiddle, too. By far, though, my favorite instrument is the steel guitar, which is fantastic all throughout this album. If I had to point to a specific moment where it really works, listen to the track “For a Moment or Two”. It’s a sad song in which a man is trying to lie to himself that he hasn’t lost his partner, and the guitar really sells the emotions of this song in a moment unlike anything I’ve heard so far this year. If I had to pick a favorite track off of this record, I’m pretty sure this would be it. It’s the only waltz time song on here, and a fantastic way to end the album.

The previous ten tracks aren’t bad by any means, either. The album starts off with “Way Down in my Soul”, which is a love song about how the woman he loves helped him out of a dark time in his life. There is some great fiddle play here, and its a very good opening track. “I Do Believe I’ve Had Enough” tells of a man who’s tired of the city and wants to move back to the country. I don’t think I’ve heard a song with this theme for quite some time, and I really appreciate it, especially since things are even more hectic since the time when songs like “Big City” came out. “Take Your Love Out of Town” is intriguing. The actual music of the song is country, but the tempo reminds me of something the Eagles might have done in the 70s. It’s not derivative by any means, but it just reminded me of the tempo on songs like “Peaceful Easy Feeling”. The actual lyrics involve a man telling his lover to go and be with someone else, but he also says that if the woman misses him, she can come back home. He did her wrong, and he wants her to go, but only if she has no feelings for him. I believe this is a very realistic portrayal of emotions one would feel in this situation, instead of just saying that he wants one thing or the other. Human emotions are far more complex than that, and I appreciate Zephaniah Ohora being willing to capture that fact.

The title track tells about a highway that just won’t end. Given his occupation, I found that this song could be taken literally and metaphorically, where the highway is life. Either way, I like the song, although it isn’t one that completely stands out to me. One that does stand out for me is “Songs My Mama Sang”. It starts off talking about how a boy and his mother would walk their farm fields and she’d sing to him. The boy had his whole life ahead of them. Then, as a young man, he got a job and got lost in the rush of living, but all by himself, he sang the songs his mother used to sing to him. The song is pretty sad, but I like that it isn’t nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake. “High Class City Girl from the Country” is a standout song for me, because it tells of a woman who likes fashion and keeping conversation light, and she’s all about the city life. However, she’s really from the country, and is trying to leave that all behind for the sake of being considered a fine and high class woman. This is true to life nowadays, I’d say, as a lot of people do exactly what the woman in the song did.

Now, we come to a really unique song. “I Can’t Let Go (Even Though I Set You Free” is about murder. Basically, the man in the lyrics tells the woman he loves that she can leave him, but when she tries he shoots her. He can’t deal with the fact that she would no longer be his. It was painful for him to do it, but he just couldn’t let her leave him. In terms of subject matter, this track is definitely different from all the others. You’d expect a song with this theme to be slow, but it’s more mid-tempo than anything. “She’s Leaving in the Morning” is all about a man being left by his woman, who now loves someone else. This song isn’t particularly memorable, but it’s not bad either. “He Can Have Tomorrow (I’ll Take Yesterday” involves a man who is telling the woman he is with that she can go and be with the man that she loves. Although she tried to make him jealous, he isn’t, and he only wants what they used to have. He doesn’t want her future, he wants her past. “Something Stupid” is the only cover on this album. It features Dori Freeman, who I really like. The song itself is all about someone trying to tell the person they’re with that they love them, but said person is very cynical and would only think that it’s a line. I haven’t heard the original, but I liked the lyrics. What I don’t quite care for is how Dori Freeman and Zephaniah Ohora sing the lyrics. Not their harmonies, but the notes they used, the melody itself. It just felt off to me. Like I said previously, “For A Moment or Two” caps the album off beautifully. It felt like Zephaniah Ohora really pulled out all the stops for this song in terms of lyrics and instrumentation. It really shows what he and his band are capable of, and it’s the track I keep coming back to.

Overall, I quite like this album. It truly sounds like it could have come out many years ago, but its subject matter is still quite applicable today. While Zephaniah Ohora doesn’t have a voice that particularly stands out, he is a good vocalist who is good at capturing many different emotions. I have to agree with Triggers review where he talks about how he’s glad that Zephaniah Ohora didn’t attempt to put on a Southern accent or make Southern references. It really gives this album a unique quality, and separates it from everything else out there. The artist knows who and what he is, and he’s not trying to be anything different. I can only think of three downsides to this record. There are a lot of mid-tempo songs, so it could use more speed,. Not all the songs were memorable, as I’ve stated above. Finally, I did find it odd sometimes where the lyrics were placed within the instrumentation. It felt a bit off to me, since the lyrics occasionally came a second or two after I was expecting them. Still, I think if classic country is your kind of music, you need to check this out. You’ll be hard pressed to find anything with this kind of sound or appeal, at least in terms of the albums that have been released so far this year.

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Album Review: Wheeler Walker Jr.–Ol’ Wheeler

Rating: 7/10

**Language**

All right, I’m rising to another challenge this week, attempting to review Wheeler Walker Jr. So, for anyone possibly living under a rock who might otherwise be shocked by the content here, Wheeler is a character personified by comedian Ben Hoffman who rose to prominence rather quickly last year by releasing foul-mouthed, sexually explicit, and generally vulgar country songs, all while simultaneously creating a persona surrounding him of bashing Nashville and the current state of pop country. So for the easily offended and/or faint of heart, I don’t recommend reading on–he’s not for everyone. For all those out there who can take a joke, enjoy stuff like say, Rodney Carrington, and/or just like some really well-done, straight-up traditional country instrumentation, please read on. But you’ve been informed, so now I’m going to treat Wheeler like a real artist because that’s how this music is presented, and that’s part of its genius.
The glaring problem with Wheeler’s debut album, Redneck Shit, was that it was funny and provided quite a lot of shock value, but it didn’t really hold up. Some of it was vulgar for the sake of being vulgar, and Wheeler has definitely improved on that front. You still have plenty of examples of this on the new record; “Pussy King” was a fun single for a couple minutes, but it didn’t stay with me either, and it also went in a more bluesy direction which I don’t think suits Wheeler’s style. But then you have moments like “Summers in Kentucky,” which seems to be quite a serious song about Wheeler being out on the road and thinking about an ex from his past–she’s now married with kids, but he says that if she wants to leave her husband, she can come on tour with him. They’ve both “aged like shit,” and he’d trade all the young girls to have her “flabby ass” back. It’s songs like this, where the vulgarity comes out at unexpected moments to make serious songs funny, and yes, also to add something to the song, that make wheeler stand out as more than a comedy act and rather a country artist, which is what Wheeler’s character is going for. There’s also “Fuckin’ Around,” which is your classic country cheating song with a twist–Wheeler has been fucking around on his wife, Kacey, while on the road, but she has been doing the same back home, and now they’re both confessing their various misdeeds. Kacey’s part is sung by Nikki Lane, and she was a fantastic choice for this role. You also have a nice moment in “Drunk sluts,” where Wheeler laments his bad luck in love and that these types of girls are all he can seem to find. “Small Town Saturday Night” stands out too because it could be any mainstream party song–except for its traditional instrumentation and the fact that the characters are high on paint and propositioning a married woman while her husband “drain(s) his dick” in the bathroom–“drinking and smoking and looking for something to fuck.” The point is, instead of coming off as songs that were written for the sole purpose of being as vulgar as possible, a good portion of this record comes off as serious, if especially crass, country, and that makes it, for me, an improvement for Wheeler.
I mentioned the instrumentation, and except for “Pussy King,” which as I mentioned has a more bluesy slant, this is straight-up traditional country. Even if it’s not funny, or the humor wears off, it’s more country than 90% of the stuff being marketed as such, and Dave Cobb did a tremendous job with it. Wheeler also calls out Nashville in the closer, “Poon,” which backs up the things he says all over social media and in podcasts. It won’t be for everyone obviously, but it’s comedy, and damn it, it’s funny, and there’s wit in these songs and in Wheeler’s writing. And on top of that, it’s country. Credit to Wheeler walker Jr. for delivering us something different and unique, and even more than that, for being able to do it differently, and much better, a second time.

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Single Review and Rant: Kelsea Ballerini’s “Legends”

Rating: 1/10

Look, I’ll be the first to say that I didn’t hate Kelsea Ballerini’s debut album; I think she’s a good vocalist, and she showed potential as a songwriter in several places. It was sorely mislabeled as a country project when most of it was straight pop, and the few pop country offerings were mostly way too overproduced. To add to this, she released a couple of God-awful singles to country radio in the massively annoying “Dibs” and female bro country-ish “Yeah Boy.” But she also released a pretty nice one in “Peter pan” and a catchy, if pop, song in “Love me Like You Mean It,” and I was interested to see if her second album would take her into the land of full-on Disney pop princess music or more into stuff like Lauren Alaina’s recent record, definitely pop-leaning but with more substance and maturity.
So we come to “Legends,” Kelsea’s first single from her new record, and here’s what she had to say about it…”Every time I’ve listened to it, I find a different meaning … it brings me back to the heartbreak I wrote it from.” she goes on to say that at different times, she’s thought of her fans and her journey, and now she thinks of it as a “legendary love story” and concludes with the sentiment, “I hope everyone hears something in it that brings them to a place of nostalgia and is as excited as I am to begin this new chapter together.”
Well, let me say for the record, listening to “Legends” only brings me to a place of boredom, and it makes me about as excited to hear the rest of her new album as I would be to watch paint dry. I want to find something to like, or at least something positive to say, and it’s not like I’d change the station if this came on because it’s not outright obnoxious like “Dibs” or “Yeah Boy”–but that’s just it, it’s so vapid and shallow, and there’s just nothing at all here. It’s supposed to be this legendary tale of past love, but the only line that sticks out is “I’ll always wear the crown that you gave me,” and that’s just because that line is so idiotic and conjures up more images of the Disney princess music I mentioned before. I suppose maybe it’s talking about prom, but the fact remains it’s a lazy piece of songwriting throughout, and when I think of legendary love stories, I don’t think of songs where neither the melody nor the lyrics stand out and where the singer doesn’t even sound engaged. Yes, as I said, Ballerini does have a good voice, and in a technical sense, she sings this well, but she sounds so bored–and who wouldn’t be? It’s vapid, bland, safe, formulaic, and so forgettable that it’s not harmless 4-ish or 5-ish material like “Speak to a Girl” but complete emptiness similar to “Live Forever” by The Band Perry from a couple years ago. In fact, that song is a great comparison because while there’s not something glaringly wrong with this, like offensive lyrics or cringe-worthy Sam Hunt style spoken word, it’s the nothingness of this song which renders it awful. And finally, let’s erase the notion that this in any way, shape, or form should have ever been considered country–but that’s almost an afterthought, because at least the most recent atrocities to receive a rant here, Keith Urban’s “The Fighter” and Thomas Rhett’s “Craving You,” were actually catchy and therefore at least marginally better as pop songs. This? this is a failure in both genres and wouldn’t make it on pop radio.
I want to find something to like about Kelsea Ballerini. I want to support more women being given a voice on country radio, but this is not country in the slightest, and there are so many more women, both country and even in the pop and pop country realms, who deserve the limited space more than her, and if “Legends” is a success, it will in no way represent progress, either for females in country or for music of substance and the genre in general. Here’s to hoping her album is much, much better than this.

Written by: Kelsea Ballerini, Glen Whitehead, Hillary Lindsey

Song Review: “White Man’s world” by Jason Isbell And the 400 Unit

Rating: 8.5/10

Let me first say I didn’t want to review every single from the new Jason Isbell album, so I didn’t cover “If we Were Vampires,” but that is one of the best songs of jason Isbell’s career. I wouldn’t have covered this one either, except that I feel it needs discussing, and more than a couple sentences in an album review. More than that, I see, understandably, that people are hesitant to review it because of the political backlash that could ensue. But we all pretty much knew Jason Isbell was going to get political at some point on this albu, and he released this song ahead of The Nashville Sound for a reason; he didn’t want it to be an album cut that people ignored or passed over, he wanted people to be talking about it, so I’m rising to that challenge.
Jason Isbell is quite up front in his delivery of this, speaking as the white man in a “white man’s world,” a “white man’s street,” a “white man’s town,” and “a white man’s nation.” This is what makes this song speaking out against discrimination arguably more hard-hitting; it’s not coming from a minority, it’s coming from a white man who recognizes that it’s a white man’s world and wants to change that. He looks at his daughter and notes that “thought this world could be hers one day, but her mama knew better.” He goes on to explain that “her mama wants to change that Nashville sound, but they’re never gonna let her.” It’s acknowledging both the discrimination against women in general and specifically within Nashville and country music. Isbell goes on to lament that the highway was built over a Native Ameircan burial ground–“got the bones of the red man under my feet” and then regrets that he ever turned a deaf ear to “another white man’s joke” when he looks “into a black man’s eyes.” It’s told with frankness and honesty, and the little details like that last fact, that he has been guilty of ignoring such things in the past, make the song real and regretful as opposed to just preachy. He ends the song by saying that he still carries hope, maybe because of the “fire in my little girl’s eyes.” It’s exactly the kind of song we need in 2017, and credit to Jason Isbell, a white man, for being the one to deliver it.
My slight criticisms with this song have to do with the fact it doesn’t quite stick melodically. The verses do, when he’s listing the examples I mentioned, but the chorus isn’t really grabbing me, and in that sense, it sort of reminds me of the first single, “Hope the High road,” because the melody doesn’t stand out all that much. There’s some really nice blending of country and rock instrumentation, and the fiddle solo adds a nice touch. Still, although the music is where my criticism lies, it’s the lyrics that make this song important, and it’s the lyrics that Jason Isbell wanted us to be discussing and pondering. So, overall, it’s a very nice and timely song that has me looking forward even more to Jason Isbell’s record.

Written by: Jason Isbell