Category Archives: Reviews

Album Review: Lindi Ortega–Faded Gloryville

Rating: 8/10

As mentioned in Female Fridays, Faded Gloryville is Lindi Ortega’s fourth album for Last Gang Records. She brought in producer Dave Cobb from 2013’s Tin Star, as well as Colin Linden from 2012’s Cigarettes and Truckstops. Dave Cobb seems to be on a roll–he worked on Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free as well. Lindi experimented with “a more Muscle Shoals sound,” for which she got help with Ben Tanner of Alabama Shakes and John Paul White of The Civil Wars. The result is the most soulful album of her career to date.

The album opens with “Ashes,” which is also my favorite track. Basically, the premise is that she was once in love, but now the fire has burned out, and he has left her with “these cold, dark ashes.” Lindi’s voice soars through this song, singing, “Darling, this is madness, why don’t you come back to me? Don’t leave me in the ashes of your memory.” The title track is similar to “Tin Star” and is an ode to the disillusioned dreamers who feel like there is no hope left. However, unlike “Tin Star,” which was only for musicians, this feels more universal. It is a theme that I feel Ortega uses too often, but this is still a good song, and I prefer it to “Tin Star.”

“Tell it Like it Is,” takes a more bluesy, soulful approach. Lindi is trying to persuade a man to stop pretending and “tell it like it is.” It’s a more interesting version of Clare Dunn’s “Move On.” Next is “Someday Soon,” which is one of the more relatable songs on the album. Lindi says she’s been “spending all my nights on someone that just ain’t right” and looks forward to a day “someday soon” when she can move on from her disappointing life. This is another song that stood out for me and will hit different people in different ways. Lindi then does a cover of “To Love Somebody,” and although it is unique, I prefer the original. Some people will probably love it, I am just not one of them. It was released ahead of the album, and it was the only song I heard beforehand that I didn’t like. I haven’t warmed up to it much.

“When You Ain’t Home” is an upbeat song ironically about the narrator feeling lonely while her lover is away. I said before that I hear Dolly Parton, Stevie Nicks, and Emmylou Harris in Lindi’s voice, depending on the song, but never have I heard so much soul in her voice. I can’t think of anyone to compare her to, and while it sounds less country, it makes her sound even more like just Lindi. This side of her adds to the individuality that she so obviously prizes. I can’t say I love this song, but I do love what it brings out in her.

“Rundown Neighborhood,” is a lighthearted track about two friends who look out for each other in a bad neighborhood. They are “bad for each other,” but that’s all right because they will always have each other’s backs. Among other things, they share whiskey, rum, cigarettes, and weed. Next is “I Ain’t the Girl,” a relatable song in which Lindi tells a guy she’s not the girl for him because he’s too straight-laced. She likes “long-haired guys” who are “rugged with tattoos,” and he wears a suit and tie. It’s a fun song, but it speaks to many people who feel like they are with the wrong match. As a girl who doesn’t like pretty boys like the one she seems to be describing, I am a little biased toward this song.

In “Run Amok,” Lindi pours out her frustration with someone who is doing “every crazy drug,” alcohol, etc. It’s upbeat and catchy, but a line still caught my attention–“When you run with the devil you burn everything you tuch, bridges and money and everyone you love.” In the end, she finally gives up and decides, “I’ll just let you run amok.” The album slows down to close with “Half Moon,” a thought-provoking ballad. This is actually one of my favorite songs on Faded Gloryville, but I was surprised that I enjoyed it because it is one of those that has to be heard to appreciate. She compares people–or at least herself–to “Half moons hanging in the sky,” with something to hide, but still shining some light. This is probably the most country song on the album, and the mystery in her voice fits the lyrics very well.

All in all, this is my favorite Lindi Ortega album as a whole. Some people will not like it as much as her previous material because of the more soulful songs, but I think this is more in her wheelhouse. This is also a better mix of ballads and upbeat songs, as well as a better balance of lighthearted and dark material. Faded Gloryville is a solid album and one that I would recommend, especially for people who have just been introduced to her work.

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Album Review: Blackberry Smoke–Holding all the Roses

Rating: 10/10

Blackberry Smoke had the distinction of having the first No. 1 country album by an independent artist earlier this year. Country Exclusive didn’t exist when it came out in February, but it deserves to be reviewed. While I say that this album is a rock album first and a country album second, it does something that few pop country albums and rock country albums do well. It doesn’t seek to blend the styles all the time. In other words, rock songs are rock, and country songs are country. When the styles actually are blended, it is done flawlessly. This album was my first introduction to Blackberry Smoke, and I am now a fan.

The rock song “Let me Help You (Find the Door”) opens the album. These lines were my first meeting with Blackberry Smoke

Why’s it got to be the same damn thing,
The same damn song that everybody wants to sing
Same sons of bitches still rigging the game
They sell the same old faces with a brand-new name

I love that they chose to open with this; it shows that what you see is what you get. I also like the rock protest element of the song blended with the lyrics protesting the state of country. Next is “Holding All the Roses,” in which they blend acoustic guitars and fiddles with electric guitars to create the closest thing to country metal I’ve ever heard. Lyrically, it’s great too, with lines about coming out of hard times and “Holding all the roses on the other side.” This is probably my favorite song on the album, but it’s really hard to pick.

Next is “Living in the Song,” a song about living out the words to a heartbreak song. It’s got rock music and country lyrics…that’s all I can say. Following this is the fun rock song aptly titled “Rock and Roll Again.” It feels like I just stepped back into the 70’s here with this. If there were more of these songs on the album, it would bring it down, but one is just right and feels more like an experiment that worked rather than a completely different sound. Next is the blended track, “Woman in the Moon.” This is a slower song which describes living life “a little off-kilter.” I paid more attention here to the instrumentation, which features haunting fiddles and electric guitars. It’s a song that’s hard to explain and one you need to hear for yourself to really appreciate. “Too High” is the first completely country song and is something I could picture on an Alabama album. “That mountain is too high for me to climb, that river is too deep and it’s too wide,” the group sings. This feeling seems to be temporary though, and this feels like a laidback, less angry version of “Holding all the Roses.”

“Wish in One Hand” goes back to rock. It’s a song about someone who is wishing to be rich, liked by everyone, etc. They illustrate that this will never be reality with the brilliant line, “Wish in one hand, shit in the other, see which one fills up first for you, brother.” The instrumental “Randolph Country Farewell” is a nice acoustic country interlude before “Payback’s a Bitch.” This rock song is about a man telling a woman just that. I love the line, “If I were you, I’d sleep with one eye open.” I also love how much thought the group seems to put into their lyrics, even on rock songs. It makes you want to listen to the words as much as the music. Their lyrical focus comes from their country leanings.

Blackberry Smoke ventures back to country for the next two songs. “Lay it All on Me” is a fun song that paints an amusing picture of our dirty little secrets. The narrator falls in love with a girl with a complicated past and is now on the run from her and her brother after being caught cheating. “No Way Back to Eden” argues that the world is so full of sin and evil that it is beyond help. It’s another one that you really need to hear to appreciate. The album closes much as it began–with an angry rock song. “Fire in the Hole” feels more personal, like an attack on a record label or executive. Lines like “I can’t see why you are the one who holds the key” point to this, but I could be wrong.

Holding all the Roses is an excellent album. It’s more rock than country, but it succeeds at both. If you want to hear nothing but steel guitar and stripped-down country, this is not the album for you. If you love rock and country, and would like to see what would happen if AC/DC and Charlie Daniels produced a musical child, buy this album. It’s one of the best albums of the year by far.

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Single Review: Luke Bryan Explores a New Kind of Crap With “Strip it Down”

Rating: 0/10

Luke Bryan has released a second song from his upcoming album Kill the Lights–and it actually is not a copy of “That’s my Kind of Night” or “Kick the Dust Up.” Country Exclusive didn’t exist when the atrocity that is “Kick the Dust Up” came out, so you were saved the rant, but let me say that that “song” was one of the driving factors behind this blog. I didn’t think I could possibly hate anything Luke produced worse than “Kick the Dust Up,” but then I have underestimated these things before. Enter “Strip it Down,” the r&b/pop copy of Jason Aldean’s hit “Burnin’ it Down.” Incidentally, Luke released this lyric video “exclusively” on Tinder, and I won’t go into a rant about how sleazy this is, but do yourself a favor and go read Trigger’s own rant on SCM
Here From the article:

It’s only fair to mention that officially, Tinder is not meant to be exclusively about setting up sex rendezvous. It’s just a dating app. But I’ll tell you this: If I was looking to blow off a little steam and hook up for the night, or was feeling a little lonely and wanted to go looking for love, the last thing I would want to see is the country music Gomer Pyle on there shilling his stupid video. I mean shit, you can’t get away from this guy.

But since SCM took care of that, let’s discuss the song itself. It’s about Luke wanting to reconnect with an old love by “stripping it down.” Immediately, Dierks Bentley’s “Come a Little Closer” comes to mind, as this is basically the premise of that song as well. So let’s compare the two.

Dierks’s is country with some rock. Like I already said, this is pop and r&b, with the only reference to country being the comment about getting back to the way things were “When it was an old back road and an old school beat, Cowboy boots by your little bare feet.” Dirt roads get an obligatory mention even when the song is not bro country. I assume the “old school beat” is the bro country sound before this new r&b/pop/metro-politan disease infected the genre…irony at its finest. Also, Dierks Bentley talked much more about the girl. “I feel like layin’ you down on a bed of sweet surrender where we can work it all out,” “I wanna touch you like a cleansing rain,.” and “I feel like lettin’ go of everything that stands between us and the love we used to know.” Luke does say, “Let me run my fingers down your back” but more often we find lines about the scenery, like the “white cotton sheets,” “feel my belt turn loose from these old blue jeans,” and this completely unnecessary “I wanna drop this cell phone out, Let it shatter on the ground.” It’s trying to be romantic, but it comes off like he is in a hurry to have sex rather than desperate to get back the love they lost. In fact, love is never mentioned, at least not in that context; the song simply says, “We both know that we lost it somehow, let’s get it found, strip it down, down, down.” The word “Love” is mentioned once in the bridge, with the line, “I just wanna love you so bad, baby.” So again, it sounds like he is just desperate to hook up with her. Then again, if they are getting back to the way it was on an old back road with an old school beat, then hooking up with her by a river is probably what he is going for here. Last, but certainly not least, Dierks Bentley’s “Come a Little Closer” shows emotion and actually makes you want to go have sex, whereas Luke Bryan’s “Strip it Down” just made me bored, distracted, and eventually disgusted and ready to rant about it.

This is not headache inducing like “Kick the Dust Up” and maybe wouldn’t have gotten a 0 if I hadn’t compared it to “Come a Little Closer.” But the fact is, I immediately did, and in that light, this song goes from being boring, unoriginal crap to something I hate as bad, if not worse than, his bro country collection. Those songs, at least, did what they set out to accomplish. This, after “Kick the Dust Up,” certainly does not bode well for Friday’s album.

Album Review: Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen–Hold my Beer, Vol. 1

Rating: 9.5/10

There are several albums that came out earlier this year, prior to the existence of Country Exclusive, which definitely deserve discussion–some because they were incredibly awesome, others because they were incredibly awful, and still others, like Zac Brown Band’s latest album, for reasons that can only be explained in a full-length review. On weeks with fewer releases, I will do my best to catch up on albums that I feel especially deserve attention. This album came out on April 20th and is one of the best albums I’ve heard this year.

Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen are two amazing artists in their own right. They are two of the biggest names in Texas/red dirt country, and if someone asked me about red dirt, those are the first two names I’d give them. Their putting together a collaboration album is the equivalent of Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan combining their individual bro country arrogance into one glorious album full of dirt roads and bikkinis. So, the correct response to the news that Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen are teaming up and naming an album after their “Hold my Beer and Watch This” tours, is to expect Texas country gold. Thankfully, this album delivered.

The album opens with “In the Next Life,” a reflective song about the highs and lows of their careers. The line “I guess what they say is true, all you need is one good friend” pretty much sums up their chemistry and the tone of the album. It’s lighthearted and upbeat, and the instrumentation is great. Next is “I Had my Hopes up High,” an upbeat track about their experiences hitching rides from various people. I hope these were actual experiences. Once again, the instrumentation is great. In fact, let me say this now so I won’t have to repeat it for every song–Instrumentation is one thing that is awesome throughout the whole album, with steel guitar and fiddle and enough rock for this listener. I recognize the technical awesomeness of straight traditional country, but I do like a little rock as well, and that is something that Texas artists seem to blend into their country fflawlessly. If you want to look for “evolution” of the country sound, this album is where to find it.

The album slows down with the heartbreak song, “Till It Does.” I was hooked with the first line, as Wade Bowen sings: “I never told her that I loved her, but I do.” The premise is that the heartache “don’t happen till it does.” It’s such a simple line, but it’s truth. It was a great time to primarily feature Wade, as these types of songs are one of his strengths. Next is “Good Luck With That,” a fun song in which Wade wants to tell off his boss, a “certified SOB” and Randy wants to tell his wife he’s the “man of the house” and can stay out with Wade as long as he wants to. Each tells the other, “Good luck with that.” As I say often in my reviews, this song would be playing on radio right now if radio was country. The next song, “It’s Been a Great Afternoon,” is also “radio ready.” It’s a drinking song in which they have massive hangovers after possibly the night before from “Good Luck With That.” They reflect, “I can’t say we’ve had a good morning, but damn, it’s been a great afternoon.” This is my least favorite song on the album, but it works after “Good Luck With That” and it has grown on me some.

I talked about “Standards” in a rant about Luke Bryan’s comments on outlaw country. From my rant:
“Outlaw country spawned the Texas/red dirt country movement, and that’s where you will find today’s outlaws; they are people like Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers who sing about having “standards” as opposed to making “hits” and are relegated to the Texas Music Chart and Texas and Oklahoma stations willing to play their music.”

“Standards” is about a “record man” trying to pitch them a song about a dirt road, to which their response is, “I don’t have hits, I’ve got standards.” I don’t even need to explain why this is beautiful. “El Dorado” is my favorite song on the album, and is a ballad about a cowboy who is about to die. I love the line, “Better the angels should claim you than the long ride alone.” The song is reflective and peaceful more than sorrowful. Their harmonies really work well in this song, even more than in the rest of the album. “Hangin’ Out in Bars” is another standout song for me about a man who is “hangin’ out in bars” after his woman left him. This song features Randy Rogers more, and it was the perfect time for that, as this song suits his voice excellently.

Next is “Ladybug,” a lighthearted track in which they look for a ladybug or a four-leaf clover to end their bad luck on the farm. It’s the fun version of Jason Aldean’s “Amarillo Sky.” They end the album with an excellent cover of “Reasons to Quit,” which was on Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard’s famous 1983 collaboration Pancho & Lefty. They think about quitting their bad habits but decide the “reasons to quit” don’t outnumber “all the reasons why.”

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this is indeed Texas country gold. I didn’t love every song on it–I loved some and liked the rest–but the great instrumentation all the way through and their chemistry together adds to it and makes it even better. Every song on it is not a standout, but there is literally nothing to complain about with this album, and it is definitely worth a listen. I hope the “Vol. 1” means we will be getting more from these two soon.

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Single Review: Kelsea Ballerini’s “Dibs” is Female Bro Country

Rating: 1/10

When it comes to Kelsea Ballerini, I have mixed feelings. She is seen as the next Taylor Swift in country music, a comparison that is both fair and unfair in some ways. They are both more pop than country, but I actually preferred Taylor’s brand of country, and certainly her songwriting, to Kelsea’s. Having said that, I had far less of a problem with “Love me Like You Mean It” than many traditionalists, and while I didn’t feel that it deserved country airplay, I thought it was a good pop song and was proud of Kelsea for hitting No. 1 with it. I’d prefer a more traditional artist, but seeing as “country” radio is basically pop radio with banjo these days, Kelsea must still be recognized among her piers as having a remarkable achievement for a female country artist, even if “country” is nothing more than a label to her.

This brings us to Kelsea’s second single, “Dibs.” For me, the instrumentation here is slightly better than in “Love me Like You Mean It.” I base this on the fact that when I first heard “Love Me,” I thought I was listening to a pop song. When I play “Dibs,” the thought that comes to mind is pop country. The bigger problem with “Dibs” is the lyrics. Basically, it is about Kelsea calling “dibs” on some guy she sees at a bar. Here are the lines in the chorus that made me lose all hope for this song:”If you’ve got a Friday night free and a shotgun seat, Well I’m just saying I ain’t got nowhere to be.” Really? What happened to “Girl in a Country Song?” Maddie & Tae said, “We used to get a little respect, Now we’re lucky if we even get to climb up in your truck, keep our mouth shut, and ride along.” Apparently Kelsea doesn’t want respect and is fine with riding shotgun. I don’t know about the rest of the women out there, but I’m with Maddie & Tae.

At the end of the chorus, Kelsea goes into a very annoying Sam Hunt style spoken-word list of what she’s calling dibs on:

I’m calling dibs
On your lips,
On your kiss,
On your time,
Boy, I’m calling dibs
On your hand,
On your heart
All mine

Later in the song, she actually sings these lines which is much less annoying and makes me wonder why we had to be subjected to the spoken-word bit in the first place. Oh, right…because it worked for Sam Hunt so it must be awesome.

Bro country was bad enough, but now we have females singing it? The worst part about this is that there are actually some decent songs on Kelsea’s debut album that I wouldn’t mind being released as singles. It’s actually a decent pop album–a terrible country album, but a decent pop album–so if she released “First Time” or “Secondhand Smoke” or “Peter Pan,” all of which are closer to pop country than this spoken-word pop song, I’d have less of a problem. Even “Xo” which is a straight pop song like “Love Me” that doesn’t belong on country radio at all would bother me less. This is upsetting because a woman has stooped to singing the bro country crap…and it will get played. I would rather Kelsea identify herself with pop because that’s what she really is, but as long as she continues to call herself country, she could at least refrain from releasing singles like this. I’ll take straight pop labeled country over female bro country any day.