Category Archives: Reviews

Album Review: Turnpike Troubadours Make Oklahoma Proud With Their Self-Titled Album

Rating: 10/10

If you are not very familiar with the Red Dirt scene, allow me to introduce the Turnpike Troubadours, a Red Dirt band from my home state of Oklahoma. Their new, self-titled album, released Friday (September 18th), is their first release since 2012’s Goodbye Normal Street, and it was well worth the wait. This is an excellent place to start with the Turnpike Troubadours and with the Red Dirt scene in general.

The album opens with “The Bird Hunters,” which unashamedly features a fiddle for much of its five minutes. In fact, I’ll go ahead and say it now–I don’t think I’ve ever heard such a concentrated amount of fiddle on any other album. If you had a shortage of fiddle in your life, I suggest you purchase this album immediately…but I digress. Aside from that piece of awesomeness, the song itself is beautifully written, describing two friends hunting in Cherokee County; the narrator hunts, but his mind is on a woman whom he left in Tulsa after deciding not to marry her. It seems that this narrator was not cut out for city life, but he still misses, or at least thinks about, the woman he left behind. This is a fantastic opener and sets the tone of the album perfectly. “The Mercury” is my early favorite; here, frontman Evan Felker sings of the wild nights and women at Tulsa’s Mercury Lounge. “It’s 1 A.M., and wild and loud, like sittin’ in the middle of a funnel cloud,” pretty much sums this up. The instrumentation in this song is great, the perfect blend of fiddles and rock guitars. Next is “Down Here,” the current single, which sits at #4 on the
Texas Music Chart. This is a nice, somewhat lighthearted song in which the narrator is trying to offer a friend some encouragement during a hard time. It was a good choice for a single, and it will certainly get to #1–it hit #10 after only five weeks on the chart. It’s probably my least favorite song on the album, but when my least favorite is a solid song and a perfect single choice, I really can’t complain.

“Time of Day” is another lighthearted track about a man promising to give a woman all he has if “you give me just a minute of your time of day.” It’s a catchy song that would make a good future single. “Ringing in the Year” features some more of that great Red Dirt sound found in “The Mercury”; here, a man is missing a woman and wondering if she ever thinks about him. There’s an honesty in this song that can really connect with you if you listen to the lyrics–“Won’t you miss your whiskey in the wintertime, my dear, the way I’ve been missin’ you this fall, And cheap champagne don’t dull the pain of ringing in the year, wonderin’ if you think of me at all.” “A Little Song” is just that–an acoustic “little tune” written for a woman whom the narrator has apparently wronged, and “I wrote a little rhyme to make it right.” It’s very much a case of less is more–a simple little song that nevertheless leaves its mark on the listener. It’s more of that raw honesty from “Ringing in the Year.”

“Long Drive Home” is a musically excellent song saturated with fiddles and rock guitars. But if you think instrumentation is this ban’ds only strength, think again–the line “You still can’t forgive the times that I wish I could forget” is brilliant, perfectly capturing the narrator’s thoughts on the broken relationship described in this song. It’s another one of my favorites on this album. Now, I’ve heard a lot of fiddle, but not very much steel guitar–but just when I was wondering where I might find it, I am treated to an excellent re-recording of “Easton and Main.” This song was on their first album and tells us how the man “left my heart in Tulsa, on the corner of Easton & Main, on the Cain’s Ballroom floor, soaking up a bourbon stain.” Okay, so I found the steel guitar, and on “7 Oaks,” I pretty much find everything else. From the excellent keyboards to more of those great fiddles to a harmonica, this is just fun to listen to. The song itself tells of the hard times on a farm–“There ain’t no silver left in these pockets, and there ain’t no cornbread, and there ain’t no wine, that train don’t stop around here anymore, it done moved on down the line.” They are singing about being bankrupt and yet this is far more entertaining and fun to listen to than any tailgate party song I have ever come across. It would be incredible to hear live, as would “Doreen,” a song that tells the story of Doreen, who seems to be cheating on the narrator while he is on the road. At this point, I have no words sufficient for the instrumentation; everyone here should make it their goal to hear this band live. I can’t do it justice in writing, and I have a great feeling that this album can’t do the live versions justice either.

The album slows down for “Fall out of Love,” a brilliantly written song reflecting on why people fall out of love. Evan Felker sings of a broken relationship with more of that raw honesty, and if you’re not blown away by the line, “You bet your heart on a diamond, and I played the clubs in spades,” then I don’t know what will impress you–and credit to R.C. Edwards for crafting such a line, making a rare but valuable contribution on the album with this song. The album concludes with a re-recording of “Bossier City,” a fun, upbeat song about going to Bossier City to party and gamble, without the girlfriend’s knowledge. It features the fiddles with which this album so boldly began, closing the album excellently and appropriately.

In case you have not figured it out, the Turnpike Troubadours have given us a fantastic album. It was certainly worth the wait and is one of the best albums of 2015. they continue to make great country music and have made Oklahoma and Red Dirt proud. I highly recommend this album.

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Album Review: Brett Eldredge–Illinois

Rating: 3.5/10

“Country” has become nothing more than a label put on albums for marketing purposes. “Country” no longer has a definition other than “whatever won’t make it in another genre.” Therefore, as a reviewer, I find myself in a curious position of reviewing albums like Kip Moore’s Wild Ones, a decent rock album incorrectly labeled as country. Sam Hunt and Kelsea Ballerini slapped country labels on their pop albums, making Sam Hunt’s album crap in two genres and Kelsea’s an incorrectly labeled album that would have been decent in the correct genre. In the case of Brett Eldredge, I find myself reviewing a decent, if generic, r&b album slapped with a country label, thereby turning it into a pretty bad country album.

The album begins with “Fire,” an upbeat, infectious song in which Eldredge is caught up in a woman’s “fire.” I commend him for the energy and life brought to this song, but there’s one glaring problem: it’s blatantly far from country, and this is the opener. And the search for country begins. I don’t find it on the next track, an r&b song called “You Can’t Stop Me.” Here is a party song made intolerable to listen to by the inclusion of Thomas Rhett, the poster child for this trend in country music. Next is the single, “Lose my Mind,” which is about a woman who makes him “crazy, and I kinda like it.” This suffers from the obvious problem of the stupid line about being in a straightjacket, as well as the same problems as “Fire”–Brett brings energy to this song certainly, but it’s still not country. Still, “decent but not country” is better than whatever I just heard with “You Can’t Stop Me.”

“Wanna be That Song” is a decent love song with lyrics that paint some nice pictures–“every life has a sound track,” and he wants to share those moments and be a part of hers. This song is pretty well-written; I only wish it had more country instrumentation because it is just a well-written r&b song. But there is heart in this song, and it is appreciated. Next is “Time Well Spent,” a beach song with the premise “wasted time is time well spent.” I find nothing especially noteworthy or offensive about it; it’s just there. “If You Were my Girl” is a love song listing all the things he would do if this were the case; it has the same problem as “Time Well Spent”–nothing stands out here at all. This is a problem throughout the album; the lyrics are bland in many of the songs. The title track, “Illinois,” shows some more heart–Brett Eldredge is from Illinois, and this is a nice ode to his home state, the “wild blue yonder.” This is a rare personal moment from Brett and the most country song on the album. I might call this “r&b country.”

“Just a Taste” sees Brett once again singing a forgettable song about a girl, whom he refers to as his “favorite flavor”–enter the token bro country offensiveness. “Drunk on Your Love” is a terrible R&b song about waking up with someone and still being “drunk on your love.” This is the worst song on the album, and if they labeled it r&b, it would still suck. Next is “Lose it All,” a song in which Brett seems to be warning a friend that he will “lose it all” if he doesn’t change his ways. Brett says, “Take it from a man who knows just how to break a heart, listen hard and listen close, I got it down to an art.” This is a surprisingly well-written song, and a bright spot on Illinois.

“Shadow” is next–here is another good song about a “shadow,” his alter ego, following him around; there’s one glaring problem, however–this is blatantly a rock song. If anyone here is familiar with the Christian rock band Skillet, you will understand when I say it’s so much a rock song that they could pull it off if they wanted to. It’s a good rock song and actually one of the better songs on the album, but to call it country is laughable. This is probably the most hated and polarizing song on Illinois, but I disagree here. Now, here’s my unpopular opinion: on an album of actual country songs, this song would have stood out as a fun experiment that worked, and people would have loved it. Think of Zac Brown Band’s “Overnight,” the r&b standout on the otherwise country Uncaged. As it is, “Shadow” is just another non-country song badly labeled as such on Illinois, an album already full of such material. The album closes with “Going Away for a While,” a catchy song about leaving to get away from the pressures of life.

Overall, Illinois is generic and forgettable. It’s mostly an r&B album, and as such, it would be a decent but bland album. However, someone thought to give this album the designation “country.” “Country” it is most certainly not, and although there are a few good songs and personal moments, this fact can’t be overlooked. It says a lot to me that what I consider the best song on this album, “shadow,” is the most blatantly non-country song of them all. So, would I recommend this album? Well, if you like r&b, maybe. If you like rock, listen to “Shadow” certainly–in fact, that’s what I’ll post here. If you were hoping for country, then keep looking.

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Album Review: The Statesboro Revue–Jukehouse Revival

Rating: 8.5/10

Stewart Mann, the lead singer and chief songwriter for the Texas-based band known as The Statesboro Revue, says he has ” always strived to create a sound that doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel; merely merge the little idiosyncrasies of all my influences and shape them in a manner that might someday be looked upon as my own unique sound.” It seems he and the band are well on their way; they have found their home in the Texas country scene, but their sound is far removed from that of many of their fellow Texas country artists, mixing country, rock, and blues into a style all their own. Their third album, Jukehouse Revival, just released in August, is a great showcase of the sound and is seeing success on both the Americana and
Texas charts.

The album opens with “Bedroom Floor,” a catchy, mid-tempo song in which Mann talks about how he likes to “smoke and drink” and “hammer down,” but now, as he gets older, it has caught up to him, and “now I always wind up down on the bedroom floor.” In my opinion, a big part of an album’s appeal comes from track placement, especially an opener. I have reviewed better albums, but this one has one of the best openers I have ever heard, in terms of setting the mood of the album perfectly and and capturing my attention. Also, if this is your first time with the band–it was mine–this is a great song to keep you listening. “Every Town” sees Mann spending the night with various women after each show; “there’s one of you in every town.” He wakes up enjoying the fact that he can leave, but she’ll have to stay and deal with the rumors. I’m not sure if I should like this song so much as a woman, but the country rock production makes it simply catchy and hard not to enjoy. The current single, “Undone,” currently at #17 on the Texas Music Chart, is simply about a man who likes to let go and party on the weekends. The difference between this and any bro country anthem? This narrator “got a family that depends on me” and works hard all week, using the weekend to “come undone” and forget about the pressures of life. The correct use of the banjo is also a glaring difference.

“Tallahassee” is an upbeat song where I pay more attention to the excellent country instrumentation–fiddles and keyboards–than the lyrics. The actual song is about trying to get home and thinking of someone back in Tallahassee, but I had to make myself focus on these lyrics after several listens because I was focused on the music. The keyboards show up again in “Roll on Mama,” in which Mann tries to convince the women in the bars to “take a late night chance” on him. “Count On Me” is a nice love song about how he will be there for his woman through hard times; she can always count on him. This was a nice serious moment in the lighthearted album, but it stood out more for good placement than for anything in the song. “Like the Sound” is basically a bro country song, complete with a river and a name-drop of Johnny Cash; it’s better than its bro country counterparts because of the country rock production, but it was still completely unnecessary. Next is “Honkytonkin,” a song that is simply about this: going “honkytonkin” with his woman. It’s got great country rock instrumentation and more of these awesome keyboards, but lyrically, it’s nothing special. Still, it works well on this album, which I’m finding out more and more is very aptly named.

“Satisfied” is another love song–here the narrator is doing everything he can to win a “pretty little girl from Arkansas,” promising to give her everything he can and saying, “I’ll keep you satisfied.” I can’t help but compare this to “Count on Me,” and this is much better lyrically. “Go Down Slow” is the serious counterpart to “Undone.” In “undone,” the man wanted to just let go and party–here, after the hard week, he is praying the alcohol will “go down slow.” “I’d rather feel some pain than nothing at all” captures the desperation in this song better than anything I could write. The steel guitars add to the sadness here to make this a raw, seemingly brutally honest song that stands out harshly and beautifully on the lighthearted album. Jukehouse Revival closes with “Last Ramble,” one of my personal favorites; here, death is compared to a man’s “last ramble” and looked on as a journey to heaven and God, not something to be sorrowful over. This is told from the point of view of the dying man; it’s a peaceful, comforting song and a good way to end the album.

The aptly named Jukehouse Revival is, for the most part, an excellent album. There are some lyrical weak points, and “Like the Sound” was unnecessary in my opinion, but the unique sound that Stewart Mann seeks makes this album a standout. I have reviewed albums with better songwriting, but this album is simply fun and enjoyable to listen to. If you enjoy country rock, you will definitely like Jukehouse Revival.

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Review: Alabama Sells Out Hugely with “Southern Drawl”

Rating: 0/10

Alabama, what were you thinking? I can’t even believe I had to write the above title. You gave us “Mountain Music,” “Love in the First Degree,” “Roll On,” and so many other great songs. You had a remarkable career as one of the most successful groups in country music history. You haven’t produced a studio album in fifteen years, and this…thing is what we get? Did you hear Florida Georgia Line say “Alabama on the boom box,” or Jason Aldean say he was “jammin’ to some old Alabama with you baby” while he was “burnin’ it down” and think, “We can make cool music too?” Or was it the collaboration with Brad Paisley who was “listenin’ to old Alabama, parked somewhere in Tennessee” that made you think this would all be okay? Whatever it was, this thing is pathetic…you had no reason to sell out, and you won’t be successful doing it. The recording of this song will have been nothing but an embarrassing stain on the great legacy of Alabama.

Okay, as everyone can see, Alabama’s new song “Southern Drawl” sucks. The intro sounds exactly like “We Will Rock You.” They added in fake applause which go oh so nicely with the blaring rock guitars. Then the vocals start, and I can’t tell if this is a bad parody of checklist/bro country or just an ill-advised attempt to be cool, but this is some sort of song listing all the things that make them Southern. “Life sounds better with a Southern drawl” might sound more convincing if they had a Southern drawl while singing it. Their vocals are terrible and not Alabama quality, and they can’t keep up with the track. Then the bridge comes, and with it the only redeeming quality in this song, the piano solo. That might have moved it up to a 1, but then Alabama actually raps. Yes, I wrote that sentence…Alabama raps. And with that, I don’t know what else to say about it, it’s just awful, and I wish I had never heard it and could erase this from my knowledge/memory of Alabama. This song has received virtually no attention except for its bad reviews, so there was literally no point in selling out like this. Their album, also named Southern Drawl, is due out September 18th, and it can only be better than this. Then again, I never thought I would hear this train wreck come out of the Alabama that I loved. If this is what was coming after fifteen years, they should have never made another album.

Here’s a live version–and it should tell you something about the recording that I had to listen to most of this to tell that it was indeed a live version. It doesn’t sound all that different.

Single Review: Mo Pitney’s “Boy and a Girl Thing”

Rating: 6.5/10

Mo pitney–that’s a country name if ever there was one. And his debut single, the aptly titled “Country,” proved that this is what he hopes to be: a traditional country artist. So far, we only have a few singles from Pitney–he is signed with Curb Records, so God only knows when his debut album will finally be announced–but everything we have so far is rife with traditional instrumentation and storytelling. Add to that Mo Pitney’s deep, authentic country voice, and he could have a lot of potential as a true country artist.

Enter Mo Pitney’s latest single, “Boy and a Girl Thing.” This is a pretty straightforward song that talks about how a “boy and girl” interact throughout their lives. When they’re young, “he’s gross, she’s got cooties.” Later, the girl wears makeup, and the boy notices her. They are both nervous around each other. Eventually, they are married and have children. Pitney explains that this is all “a boy and a girl thing.” The lyrics are pretty unoriginal really–not bad, just not original–and this is why it doesn’t get a higher rating. However, the instrumentation is definitely a plus. This song is just simply pleasant to listen to. Fiddles and steel guitars are both present here–I heard this on the radio yesterday and was shocked by how strange it was to hear so much steel guitar on country radio. It’s exciting that Mo Pitney is a young new artist who can possibly bring the same type of relatability as Maddie & Tae. We should all see hope in young artists like this who can potentially help bring country back to a more traditional, or at least balanced, sound. I certainly hope
Mike Curb doesn’t add Mo Pitney to the list of artists he’s screwed over and we get a debut album sooner rather than later. In the meantime, this song is not bad.

Here’s an acoustic version, which is all I could find on YouTube. I highly recommend the studio version for the aforementioned country production. This version is available on Apple Music and Spotify.