Category Archives: Reviews

Album Review: Jason Isbell–Something More Than Free

Rating: 9/10

Jason Isbell follows up the critically acclaimed Southeastern (2013) with Something More Than Free. He has been praised for his excellent songwriting, and while it is justified, I felt that Southeastern was dry in places because of it. This is probably just personal taste–I don’t tend to like dark albums–but though I knew him to be talented, I found that album to be pretty boring. There are a lot of Isbell lovers out there, so please understand this is in no way a reflection of his talent, just personal taste. However, I found Something More than Free to raise the bar that many felt Southeastern set–because while the excellent songwriting is still there, it is not at the expense of the melody, and these songs are much more relatable. I found much more I could connect with in this album. People who already love Isbell–and there are many–will love this album. Those who weren’t sold before–and there were many of them as well–should check this album out.

The album opens with “If it Takes a Lifetime,” which finds the narrator searching for happiness and determined to find it if it takes him a lifetime. The track is lighthearted and immediately refreshing after the general darkness of Southeastern. Next is “24 Frames,” an excellent track about how short life is and how before you know it, it could all be gone. While the message is deep, the lyrics are light, so it does not leave you feeling utterly depressed; it’s a great balance. Next is “Flagship,” and I know a lot of people like this song, but it just does not connect with me, and here’s where the album falls from a 10 to a 9. “Flagship” is a love song, and it is marked by Jason’s excellent songwriting, but for me, the lines are so “deep,” for lack of a better word, that they aren’t relatable. I like the acoustic guitar, but I am a little bored by the melody.

“How to Forget” is an upbeat song about forgetting an old love. The melody is catchy and reminds me of something a 70’s Southern rock band might have sung. “Children of Children” is autobiographical but still relatable. Here, Isbell tells of being raised by his mother, who had him when she was a teenager. “All the years I took from her, just by being born”–what an excellent line. “Life You Chose” is an upbeat song asking an old flame if she is happy in her current life. “Are you livin’ the life you chose, are you livin’ the life that chose you?”–another excellent line that will hit many differently. The title track is an excellent song where Jason sings about thanking God for the work and looking forward to the day when he will have his reward. He says he works for “something more than free.”

If you only listen to one song on this album, please make it “Speed Trap Town.” This is about a teenage boy saying goodbye to his father in a hospital bed. I will post the opening lines here, as that is what hooked me.

She said it’s none of my business, but it breaks my heart
Dropped a dozen cheap roses in my shopping cart
Made it out to the truck without breaking down
Everybody knows you in a speed trap town
Well, it’s a Thursday night, but there’s a high school game
Sneak a bottle up the bleachers and forget my name
These 5A bastards run a shallow cross
It’s a boy’s last dream, and a man’s first loss

“Hudson Commodore” is a song about an independent woman in the Great Depression. I payed more attention to the music in this song than the lyrics. This is not a bad thing, as the 400 Unit is an excellent band. The same is true for “Palmetto Rose,” a Southern rock tribute to South Carolina, which Isbell calls the “iodine state.” This is a close second to “Speed Trap Town.” The album closes with “To a Band that I Loved” which is just that–a song about a band that Jason loved. It’s a good way to close this excellent album.

This album is great, and if you like Americana or Southern rock, or if you just like good, relatable songwriting, you should check it out.

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Album Review: Alan Jackson–Angels and Alcohol

Rating: 9/10

Well, it has finally come–the long-awaited release of music on Fridays, and with this change, the release of arguably two of the most anticipated albums of 2015. Americana fans finally get Jason IsBell’s Something More Than Free (hopefully I will get time to review this later this week, but if not, it comes recommended), and for country fans, Alan Jackson’s Angels and Alcohol It should be noted that I like to avoid streaming albums ahead of time if at all possible, and so the first time I heard Alan Jackson’s album was when I purchased it at 6 A.M. Saturday, after two long days moving and about four hours of sleep. Having said that, this album hit me in one of the rare moments of silence I’ve had in the past week, and I’m glad to say it delivered.

The album opens with “You Can Always Come Home,” about a father telling his child to chase their dreams but to know they always have a place to come back to. The instrumentation in this song is great, with acoustic guitars and fiddles, and I found myself feeling an unintended double meaning in this song. Alan sings, “No matter how right or wrong you’ve gone, you can always come home.” After all the bro country and pop country and rock country and rap country and everything else disguised as country, this truly did feel like coming home. To have a mainstream album open with an acoustic guitar in 2015 is shocking, and in a good way. It was refreshing to say the least. The next song, “You Never Know” is a fun, upbeat song about finding love in strange places, and again the strength is the music. Here there was even a piano solo. I pay attention to lyrics more than music in songs as a rule, and the toll the false country has taken on lyrics has always hit me hardest, but this album made me really miss the country sound in a way I haven’t in a long time. I guess when you get used to hearing hip-hop and pop on country radio on a daily basis, you become immune to it.

The title track is my favorite–here the lyrics and instrumentation are both great. Alan sings, “You can’t mix angels and alcohol” and “I don’t think God meant for them to get along.” I won’t say anymore, just listen to it, it’s a great song. Next is “Gone Before You Met Me,” which describes a dream in which Alan meets Tom Sawyer and Jack Kerouac and has a nightmare about never meeting his wife. He wakes up to find her there and tells Tom and Jack to “ramble on without me.” It’s a song that potentially could do well on radio, and with the absence of George Strait, Alan might have a slightly better chance at airplay. “The One You’re Waiting On” is an excellent song told from the point of view of a man watching a woman across the room check her phone. She’s brushing men off and drinking wine while he speculates about whether the guy she’s waiting on is worth it. Next is the album’s lead single, “Jim and Jack and Hank,” an upbeat song about a man telling his girlfriend, as she’s leaving him, to go ahead because “I’ve got Jim and Jack and Hank.” He tells her, among other things, to “take your string bikkinis, your apple martinis” and “What’s left there in the bank.”

“I Leave a Light on” is a classic heartbreak song about leaving the light on for an ex’s memory. “Flaws” is the only flaw in the album–and it’s not a bad song, just doesn’t measure up to the rest. It tries to be too humorous and therefore loses the message a little, which is basically that no one is perfect. I honestly hated this song but the line “we’re all made with water, dirt, and grace” redeemed it somewhat. “When God Paints” follows this, wich also helps “Flaws,” because it acts as a second part to the story. It talks of the bigger picture and the amazing things that happen “when God paints.” Alan mentions that it’s not “always black-and-white or well-defined when God paints,” an excellent line. The album closes with “Mexico, Tequila, and Me” which is a song about exactly that. It’s the song that would sell on country radio, except that some bro country artist would sing it with hip-hop beats and bad rapping, whereas Alan keeps it country. So it probably won’t get airplay, but in a perfect world, it’s the kind of song that would. All in all, Angels and Alcohol is a great album, and in the absence of George Strait, Alan Jackson is our reigning country king. He has delivered, and I hope he will continue making refreshingly good country music.

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Single Review: Uncle Ezra Ray’s “B.Y.H.B” is The Worst Song I Have Ever Heard

Rating: 0/10

I thought the worst country song I had ever heard was Luke Bryan’s “Kick the Dust Up.” Florida Georgia Line has produced some candidates for worst country song as well, including “Sun Daze,” “Anything Goes,” and “This is How We Roll.” Sam Hunt’s latest effort, “House Party” is an attrocity. But today, I have heard a song that is worse than these by far. It is the worst “country” song I have ever heard, and in fact it is the worst song I have ever heard from any genre. In fact, this song sucks so much that Florida Georgia Line passed up the opportunity to record it…apparently even they have standards. If FGL passes on a song, you should know you have hit rock bottom.

Country music has experienced an alarming wave of rockers flooding the genre in recent years. Sometimes this is a smooth transition and produces good music, (Sheryl Crow), while other times we get train wrecks (Darius Rucker.) Regardless, bandwagon jumping has been increasingly popular–even Steven Tyler “went country” earlier this year. Usually, though, the bandwagon jumpers were somewhat big names. Not this time–the newest band to infect “country” is Uncle Ezra Ray, a washed-up “super group” made up of Uncle Cracker, Mark McGrath from 90’s band Sugar Ray, and Kevin Griffin, from 90’s band Better Than Ezra. Their debut single, “B.Y.H.B” (bring your hot body( is an embarrassment to country and music in general. And now, without further ado, I will rip apart the song that Florida Georgia Line actually had a chance to record and passed on.

There is nothing in this song to compliment. It is full of bad rapping and terrible instrumentation. The repeated lyric of “we gots to party” is sprinkled throughout the song (you’re all in your forties, you don’t “gots” to do anything.) Kevin Griffin is the main voice, and he sounds obnoxious and whiny. I can’t believe they are all established singers because they sound talentless. The lyrics are pathetic, from “yesterday we sent a tweet out, everybody come out” (just wow) to “home girls jumping out of a Cadillac drinkin’ ice cold 40 from a brown sack” (home girls should not be in country, and do you even know what a “home girl” is? You’re in your forties.) Also, a brown sack? Really? Have you ever been to a party like that. Also, they mention drinking beer, rum, a Mai Tai, and wine–so they gots to go throw up or pass out in about 2.6 seconds. They gots to go get some pills for tomorrow’s hangover. And don’t even get me started on the chorus, where we get this pathetic excuse for songwriting

Can I get a hey hey, can I get a what what
Can I get a hell yeah, raisin’ up a cup-cup?
Said, hotty-totty, good God Almighty
We gots, we gots, yeah we gots to party
Beep beep, nah that ain’t a truck truck
It’s me thinkin’ uh huh when she backin’ up up

and then something unintelligible (oh, did I mention you can’t hear their terrible vocals because the equally terrible production drowns it out?) about a splash of Bacardi, followed by “B.Y.H.b, bring your hot body.” Firstly, who the hell thinks this is country, and secondly who the hell thinks this is a good song? Somewhere, Hank Williams and Waylon Jennings are rolling over in their graves.

P.S. The lyrics I quoted are all in the first verse. That should tell you how attrocious the rest of the song is, if you don’t want to listen–and I wouldn’t blame you.

P.P.S. What does this say about the state of country music–three washed-up has-beens with no talent can genre-hop to country and have a chance at a hit while others are not played because they are too “country?” Not to mention there are thousands of talented people playing in bars and clubs for tips and standing in line at reality show auditions who can’t get a record deal because they won’t sing shit like this. Please, please avoid this song. Do not let radio make money off it. Do not allow it to be called country, lest other psongs follow in its footsteps and country music see the end of its days.

Album Review: Courtney Patton–So This is Life

Rating: 8.5/10

I’ll start here by being honest–when this album came out on June 9th, I had not even heard the name Courtney Patton. So this review comes late for two reasons; firstly, Country Exclusive did not exist then, and secondly, when I did hear of her, I wanted to take my time really listening before reviewing her. For anyone out there like me, Courtney Patton is a Texas country artist, the wife of better known Texas singer/songwriter Jason Eady, and So This is Life is her third album.

So This is Life is characterized throughout by acoustic arrangements and excellent songwriting. I say this now to avoid having to say “the instrumentation and songwriting are excellent” over and over–just assume so unless I say otherwise. “Little Black Dress” tells the story of a one-night stand, and the woman being left alone and brokenhearted. I immediately fell in love with Courtney’s voice here–she tells a story perfectly. “War of Art” is another great story, this one somewhat autobiographical, of a wife and mother struggling with her passion for songwriting and performing. She sings

And I’ve heard it all before
Singin’ to a whiskey-soaked dance floor
Ain’t no job for a mother and a wife
So I try to do things right
But at what cost is it worth the fight
I just couldn’t let that war take my life.

“Her Next Move” is a lyrical low point for me (still good, just not great) about a woman seeking attention from her husband by threatening to do things like “take their daughter across state lines.” “Need for Wanting” is my favorite track on the album; here Courtney again discusses a one-night stand, asking the man in the bar not to “misinterpret my need for wanting tonight.” She says she won’t leave with him but at the end we hear, “But if you like, come in, since you understand my need for wanting tonight.”

“Twelve Days” was written about Courtney missing her husband Jason Eady while he is on the road–“I can make it twelve days, I’ve waited longer.” “Killing Time” is more upbeat, and tells about a woman’s husband “killing time” in prison for stealing money. “Maybe it’s You” is another low point for me lyrically; it is a love song about being forgiven after making some mistakes in the relationship. “Sure Am Glad” goes back to the one-night stand material, this time between two friends–“You caught me off guard when I heard that knock on my door, but I sure am glad that I’m not alone anymore.”

The title track was written about Courtney’s parents. “So This is Life” tells the story of a marriage that wasn’t what they pictured–the wife watches TV and wishes for someone to talk to, while the husband works days and nights trying to get by. They end up divorced after he takes a lover in a midllife crisis. This song is painfully accurate and is my second favorite track. “Battle These Blues” is another lyrical low point for me (again, still good) where a wife deals with a husband who drinks too much and stays out late. By contrast, “Where I’ve Been” is excellent, and here the wife says she’s not getting the love she needs, so she’s being unfaithful. She says, “If you ever decide that you ever want to try again, I’ll be here in the mornin’ just don’t ask me where I’ve been.” “But I Did” closes the album with an autobiographical track about Courtney’s life–“I was born the oldest one with patience like my mother, the fire and heart of my father, and a spirit of my own.”

This album is musically excellent. All twelve songs are good, and most are great. The only thing I wished for is that there were one or two more upbeat songs because listening to the album as a whole sometimes makes it feel slow. All the same, Courtney Patton is a force to be reckoned with, and I highly recommend So This is Life.

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Single Review: Clare Dunn’s “Move on”

Rating: 3/10

So, it’s no secret that I want to see more women getting country radio attention. And for anyone who knows me, it’s no secret that I like a little rock in my country, and love both sides of Miranda Lambert–the traditional country side of “Roots and Wings” and the pop rock side displayed on “Little Red Wagon.” So when Miranda Lambert selected Clare Dunn for her Roadside Bars and Pink Guitars tour, claming that
“you don’t see that many women who get up there and really slay a guitar and play some real rock ‘n’ roll country”
I was excited to hear Clare’s music. Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when Clare’s new single “Move on” became the most added song to country radio after Lambert and Little Big Town’s “Smokin’ and Drinkin,” and I knew I had to review it.

But here’s the problem–where Miranda calls it “rock ‘n’ roll country,” I don’t hear anything country about “Move On.” It’s a pretty good song–certainly wouldn’t make me change the radio station–and that’s why it’s not getting a lower rating, but if this song were being sold as a pop or rock song, I would give it an 8 or 9. Sell it as country, and that’s why it gets a 3.

“Move on” is about a woman asking the man to hurry up and “move on” from pretending to be just friends when it’s obvious they both want more. She uses lines like “Sometimes I wish you just, Well, if I told you what I’m really thinkin’ it might make you blush.” She wants him to “move on, move on, move on, and make your move on me.” It reminds me a little of “Are you Gonna Kiss me or Not” by Thompson Square, and lyrically, it’s not a bad song.

Musically, it’s pretty good too–for a pop rock song. I love the electric guitars and drum loops–but nothing in it is country. This is Clare Dunn being the rock version of Kelsea Ballerini. Kelsea Ballerini is talented, but as a pop artist. Clare Dunn is talented, but as a pop or rock artist. Neither belong on country radio, and it is unfortunate that these women are getting airplay over more traditional artists like Sunny Sweeney or Kacey Musgraves. Apparently, in 2015, you can just write anything short of straight rap–and that’s probably coming–and decide it’s country. Clare Dunn, call yourself pop or rock, and this rating will change drastically.