Album Review: Don Henley–Cass County

Rating: 9/10

Since the moment Don Henley announced that he was making a country album, much of the country music community has been wondering if, and even assuming that, this album would be another country album by a rocker seeking some cash and attention–Steven Tyler anyone? I never wondered about this; Don Henley has no reason to make a country album other than genuinely wanting to make a country album. And now that Cass County has arrived, it’s proven that this isn’t just another rocker looking to exploit the country format, this is a true country album by an artist with obvious love and respect for the genre’s roots and tradition. In short, Don Henley lived up to my expectations with this record, and if you had reservations, I’m here to tell you you needn’t have worried.

Let me say I am reviewing the deluxe version, which is important because some of the songs are not in the same order on the main version. I will state which songs are not on Cass County, but it’s important to know that the ones that are might not be in the same place on the album.

The album opens with “Bramble Rose,” and right away, you can tell this is traditional country, with steel guitar making a grand appearance on the opening beat. This is about a woman whose love has “grown as sharp as a bramble rose.” It’s a nice opener–also, it features Mick Jagger and Miranda Lambert, making perhaps the most unlikely musical threesome I have ever heard. I come away from it more impressed by Miranda Lambert’s vocals than I have ever been–and this from one of the biggest Miranda Lambert fans you’ll ever meet–and wondering what Mick Jagger would sound like in country. Don Henley has several duets on this album, and this is something common to all; all the singers sound their best. It’s like Don brings out something in them that they don’t try to bring out themselves, like he believes in them more than they do. Speaking of duets, the album’s impressive lineup continues with “The Cost of Living,” a duet with none other than Merle Haggard–yes, the guy that just critiqued all modern country, so there’s an endorsement for this album in his name alone. The song itself is about living with the hand you are dealt and not letting life’s troubles get you down; “It’s the cost of living, and everyone pays.” I now want a Don Henley and Merle Haggard duets album, as this sounded better vocally than anything on the already great
Django and Jimmie.

“No, Thank You,” is a fun little country rock song saying “no, thank you” to, well, pretty much everything that is “too good to be true” because he’s “been there, done that.” “Waiting Tables” displays excellent country storytelling, as we learn about the life of a 23-year-old single mom who works as a waitress and hopes for better days. “Take a Picture of This” tells another great story, this time of a married couple who captured their life in pictures, but now they are getting divorced after many years together. “Too Far Gone,” only featured on the deluxe version, is a traditional country song rife with piano and steel. It’s about a man who knows his woman loves someone else, but he is “too far gone” to accept this. Don Henley really captures the emotion in this song and makes it one of the better tracks on a great album.

“That Old Flame,” the first song released from the album, has more of a country rock feel and features the always remarkable Martina McBride. The two sing about reconnecting with an old flame and wondering if they miss each other or simply their youth. “There is danger in the embers, you have only yourself to blame, if you get burned and try to rekindle that old flame”–this is just good songwriting, and this song is simply catchy. “The Brand New Tenessee Waltz,” only on this version, goes back to traditional country and features some of the best instrumentation on the album, including a nice fiddle appearance. “Words Can Break Your Heart” is next, a song about just that, a relationship being torn apart by harsh words. I especially love the line, “It only takes a breath or two to tear your world apart.” The cover of “When I Stop Dreaming,” featuring Dolly Parton, is one of the best songs of the whole bunch and one that I will post here. Dolly Parton sounds better than she has in years, and I’m pretty sure she hasn’t hit that high note in a long while. If anyone had any doubts about this album being real country, this song should shatter them in about 2.6 seconds.

“Praying For Rain” is next, and here is where Don Henley’s vocals shine most. I have talked about the other singers, but it’s important to know that Henley himself put a lot of effort into this, and I hear it most in this song–this is where Don Henley takes Jason Aldean’s “Amarillo Sky” and shows Aldean how to sing it correctly. The next two tracks are only found on this version. The first is a simple little song called “Too Much Pride,” about the dangers of this, and the next is a nice cover of “She Sang Hymns out of Tune,” which is probably the only song I could do without, and that’s only because I am not a fan of the song; Henley certainly does it well, though. “Train in the Distance” sees the narrator looking back on his youth and reflecting on his dreams. It’s one I can’t really explain, and you need to hear it to really appreciate it. “A Younger Man” is one of my favorites; here, the narrator is singing to a woman who is in love with him, but he tells her “You’re looking for a younger man, not me.” Apparently, she’s an “angel from the future,” while he is “an old devil from the past.” This is really a standout on an already great album. The album concludes with “Where I Am Now,” a great rocking track after all the seriousness of the last two songs. It’s an excellent way to close this album–and both versions close with it, so obviously Don Henley agrees.

okay, Cass County is a very good album, and all of you who thought Don Henley came to country for the wrong reasons should be pleasantly surprised. I highly recommend this album for traditional and contemporary fans alike–the majority is more traditional, but there are nice country rock tracks too. In fact, I’ll post one of each. Cass County is definitely worth checking out!

Listen to Album

Billboard Country Airplay and Country Albums Chart (October 3rd)

Billboard Country Airplay

1. Kenny Chesney–“Save It for a Rainy Day” (up 3)
2. Keith Urban–“John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16”
3. Chris Janson–“Buy Me a Boat”
4. Brett Eldredge–“Lose My Mind” (up 1)
5. Thomas Rhett–“Crash and Burn” (down 4)
6. Luke Bryan–“Strip it Down” (up 2)
7. Florida Georgia Line–“Anything Goes” (up 2)
8. Chase Rice–“Gonna Wanna Tonight” (up 3)
9. Carrie Underwood–“Smoke Break” (up 5) [tied for biggest gainer]
10. Maddie & Tae–“Fly”
11. Old Dominion–“Break Up With Him” (up 1)
12. Cole Swindell–“Let Me See Ya Girl” (up 1)
13. Dan + Shay–“Nothin’ Like You” (up 2)
14. Blake Shelton–“Gonna” (up 2)
15. Chris Young–“I’m Comin’ Over” (up 5) [tied for biggest gainer]
16. Lady Antebellum–“Long Stretch of Love” (up 1)
17. Jake Owen–“Real Life” (up 1)
18. Tim McGraw–“Top of the World” (up 3)
19. Cam–“Burning House”
20. Jason Aldean–“Gonna Know We Were Here” (up 2)
21. Brothers Osborne–“Stay a Little Longer” (up 3)
22. Big & Rich–“Run Away With You” (up 1)
23. Parmalee–“Already Callin’ You Mine” (up 2)
24. Kelsea Ballerini–“Dibs” (up 2)
25. LoCash–“I Love This Life” (up 2)
26. Jana Kramer–“I Got the Boy” (up 2)
27. Hunter Hayes–“21” (up 2)
28. The Band Perry–“Live Forever” (up 2)
29. A Thousand Horses–“(This Ain’t No) Drunk Dial” (entering top 30)
30. Chase Bryant–“Little Bit of You” (entering top 30)

  • new #1: “Save It for a Rainy Day”
  • next week’s #1 prediction: “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16”
  • Dustin Lynch’s “Hell of a Night” and Sam Hunt’s “House Party” fell from #6 and #7, respectively, to out of the top 30
  • A Thousand Horses and Chase Bryant enter the top 30 with the less than impressive “(This Ain’t No) Drunk Dial” and “Little Bit of You”

Billboard Top Country Albums

1. Brett Eldredge–Illinois [debut]
2. Luke Bryan–Kill the Lights
3. Sam Hunt–Montevallo
4. Zac Brown Band–Jekyll + Hyde
5. Eric Church–The Outsiders
6. Florida Georgia Line–Anything Goes
7. Maddie & Tae–Start Here
8. Little Big Town–Painkiller
9. Alan Jackson–Angels and Alcohol
10. Jason Aldean–Old Boots, New Dirt
11. Brantley Gilbert–Just as I Am
12. Kip Moore–Wild Ones
13. Kacey Musgraves–Pageant Material
14. Chris Stapleton–Traveller
15. Various Artists–Now That’s What I Call Country, Volume 8
16. Elvis Presley–Elvis Presley Forever
17. Zac Brown Band–Greatest Hits So Far…
18. Jason Isbell–Something More Than Free
19. Chase Rice–Ignite the Night
20. Kelsea Ballerini–The First Time
21. Willie Nelson/Merle Haggard–Django and Jimmie
22. Cole Swindell–Cole Swindell
23. Carrie Underwood–Greatest Hits: Decade #1
24. Darius Rucker–Southern Style
25. Various Artists–Mud Digger, Volume 6

  • Brett Eldredge’s mediocre r&b-influenced Illinois finally replaces Luke Bryan’s horrifying album at the top, and for that, I have to thank Brett
  • look at the staying power of Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, and Willie and Merle, enough said

Source: Billboard

George Strait Announces New Album to be Released…Friday?

You read this right: in a press conference held earlier today (September 22nd), George Strait announced a new album, Cold Beer Conversation, is coming out this Friday! The album will be available exclusively through Apple Music and Wal-Mart. Here’s a track listing, provided from Windmill’s Country:

Track Listing

1. “It Was Love” (Keith Gattis)
2. “Cold Beer Conversation” (Al Anderson / Ben Hayslip / Jimmy Yeary)
3. “Let It Go” (Keith Gattis / Bubba Strait / George Strait)
4. “Goin’ Goin Gone” (Wyatt Earp / Keith Gattis)
5. “Something Going Down” (writers to be confirmed)
6. “Take Me To Texas” (Brandy Clark / Shane McAnally)
7. “It Takes All Kinds” (George Strait, Bubba Strait, Bob Regan and Wil Nance)
8. “Stop & Drink” (Dale Dodson / Troy Jones)
9. “Everything I See” (Dean Dillon / Keith Gattis / Bubba Strait / George Strait)
10. “Rock Paper Scissors” (Casey Beathard / Monty Criswell / Bubba Strait)
11. “Wish You Well” (Clint Daniels / Jeff Hyde / Brice Long)
12. “Cheaper Than A Shrink” (Bill Anderson / Buddy Cannon / Jamey Johnson)
13. “Even When I Can’t Feel It” (Dean Dillon / Ben Hayslip / Lee Thomas Miller)

Also, Strait will be one of the first to perform at the new Las Vegas Arena–he will return to live performances for dates on April 22nd and 23rd, 2016, and September 9th and 10th. Strait will be joined in Vegas by Kacey Musgraves.

In light of the album, there will be no Female Friday. I will have a review of this as soon as I can!

P.S. As a George Strait fan, yes!

Random Thoughts of the Week: The Top Five Signs of Hope for Mainstream Country

2015 has been the year of the sellout in country music. The two most disappointing sellouts of the year for me were easily the Zac Brown Band and the Eli Young Band, the former with the release of the EDM single “Beautiful Drug” to country radio, and the latter with the terrible single “Turn it On” and the subsequent EP, as well as the horrible “country remix” of “Honey, I’m Good” with Andy Grammer. Keith Urban was a close third, using his talent to give us the brilliant “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16,” a song that personally pisses me off about as much as “Kick the Dust Up” because Keith Urban knows better. Easton Corbin used his George Strait-esque voice, previously used for “A Little More Country Than That,” to record an album full of bro country pickup lines. Brett Eldredge, though never really carrying a torch for traditional country, was never really working aginst us until his recent r&b album Illinois. Danielle Bradbery has remade herself into a wannabe pop star for the sake of reviving an already struggling career. Even the legendary Alabama sunk to the low of releasing “Southern Drawl,” a desperate attempt to be cool that failed in every respect, coolness especially. And now, Eric Paslay’s new single, “High Class” seems to have finally pushed everyone off the deep end with its blatant metro-bro bullshit lyrics and style–and this coming from the person who obviously knows better, as “She Don’t Love You” so effectively proved. In times like these, people start saying we should forsake country altogether and start calling ourselves Americana fans, that we should just surrender our beloved “country music” to these sellouts, country carpetbaggers, and metro-bro douchebags, and go listen to Americana. They say that all hope for “country” as we knew it is lost.

Well, here are some signs of hope, in no particular order of importance.

Dierks Bentley

Dierks Bentley is not selling out, as his latest single, “Riser,” has proven. I will be incredibly shocked if he succumbs to the trends, as he has no reason to. He has found the perfect balance between quality and airplay and doesn’t seem to care that he often does not get the recognition he deserves. He has made quality music throughout his career and has no reason to change that now; he’s found a formula that works for him even in this country radio climate.

Carrie Underwood

Carrie Underwood is not a traditional country artist, but she’s here because she defines what actual pop country should sound like. She takes the best of pop and country and blends them well, offering songs that both display depth in storytelling and are radio-ready. Although I was not as impressed with her new single, “Smoke Break,” as many, it certainly does not follow the current trends, and her new album, Storyteller, could be a factor in turning back the tide of mainstream country music to a real pop-country sound–what we have now is straight pop poorly disguised and incorrectly labled as country.


True, Cam has only given us two singles and an EP so far, but the reason she’s in my top five signs of hope for mainstream country is that On the Verge supported her. Her first single, “My Mistake,” was a nice pop country blend, but “Burning House,” the sponsored single, is a completely acoustic, traditional country song. The fact that this program supported an artist like that signals change. Cam’s debut album cannot come soon enough!

Chris Stapleton

Some would argue whether Chris Stapleton is mainstream, but I don’t see why. He’s on a major label and has even received some airplay. Traveller is nominated for Album of the Year by the CMA, and Stapleton is nominated for Male Vocalist of the Year and New Artist of the Year. Stapleton with three nominations is a sure sign of hope.

Maddie & Tae

I have written a lot about these ladies, but I’ll say it again–they can bring those that think “country” = Sam Hunt and Kelsea Ballerini back to country. Radio has actually given them a shot. They’ve proven they’re not afraid of fighting for country; they’ve spoken out against drum machines and their debut single was “Girl in a Country Song.” The fact that Scott Borchetta and Big Machine are behind them and that they’re actually getting played is a huge sign of hope.

Despite all the selling out, there are still a lot of reasons to hope for mainstream country, perhaps now more than ever. More and more independent artists are seeing success in album sales that mainstream Nashville can’t ignore. Country legend Merle Haggard, a name-drop in many of today’s songs, is openly speaking out. Represented above are established artists and newcomers alike, fighting for real country music. I didn’t even mention Mo Pitney, Ashley Monroe, Kacey Musgraves, Jon Pardi–the list goes on. Not to mention Tim McGraw’s new album will unashamedly be titled Damn Country Music. I wasn’t thrilled by the lead single, but the album title certainly intrigues me. The point of all this is that mainstream country is far from hopeless–in fact, after years of fighting, we are finally seeing numbers on our side, artists speaking out, and more traditional artists being signed and getting airplay. In short, although it is happening slowly, we are seeing results. Why should we give up now? The day we leave our own fight and run to Americana is the day that country music will be lost.

Tomato of the Week: Jamie Lin Wilson

I featured her friend and fellow Texas country artist, Courtney Patton, last week, so this week, I am covering Jamie Lin Wilson. Check out her full article on Female Friday!

Random Country Suggestion: Randy Rogers Band–Burning the Day

A great album from one of my favorite Texas/Red Dirt bands.

Listen to album

No non-country suggestion, just go listen to these glaring signs of hope.

Texas Music From Oklahoma: A Look at the Texas Music Chart (September 21st)

Texas Music Chart

1. Turnpike Troubadours–“Down Here” (up 3)
2. Cory Morrow–“Old With You”
3. Matt Kimbrow–“Livin’ the Good Life” (up 2)
4. Reckless Kelly–“Real Cool Hand” (up 2)
5. Curtis Grimes–“Smile That Smile” (up 2)
6. Bart Crow–“Life Comes at You Fast” (up 2)
7. Pat Green–“While I Was Away” (down 4)
8. Whiskey Myers–“Shelter From the Rain” (up 1)
9. Cody Canada and the Departed–“Easy” (down 8)
10. Kevin Fowler & Deryl Dodd–“Damn This Ol’ Honky Tonk Dream” (up 2)
11. Kyle Park–“What Goes Around Comes Around” (down 1)
12. Miles Williams–“Teasin’ Me” (up 2)
13. The Statesboro Revue–“Undone” (up 4)
14. Casey Donahew Band–“Loser” (up 2)
15. Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen–“Lady Bug” (up 4)
16. JB and the Moonshine Band–“Shotgun, Rifle, and a .45” (down 1)
17. Mike Ryan–“Girls I Date” (up 1)
18. Josh Grider–“You Dream I’ll Drive” (up 3)
19. Uncle Lucius–“Don’t Own the Right” (up 4)
20. TJ Broscoff–“Phone Calls” (up 4)
21. Stoney LaRue–“Easy She Comes” (down 1)
22. Rich O’Toole–“Talk About the Weather”
23. Wade Bowen–“Sun Shines on a Dreamer” (down 12) [biggest loser]
24. Granger Smith–“Back Road Song” (down 11)
25. Mario Flores–“Beer Time” (up 3)
26. Saints Eleven–“I Don’t”
27. Jason James–“I’ve Been Drinkin’ More” (up 3)
28. Chance Anderson Band–“245 Miles” (up 1)
29. Zane Williams–“She Is” (down 2)
30. Tori Martin–“Woman Up” (up 3)
31. Aaron Einhouse–“I Could Fall” (down 6)
32. Jon Wolfe–“Don’t it Feel Good” (up 5)
33. Kaleb McIntire–“Ozark Mountain Stomp” (up 5)
34. Casey Berry–“Blood of the Lamb” (up 2)
35. Dalton Domino–“Jesus & Handbags”
36. Ray Johnston Band–“Small Town Square” (up 3)
37. Roger Creager & Cody Johnson–“If You Had to Choose” (up 7)
38. Luke Robinson–“Roses on the Radio” (down 4)
39. American Aquarium–“Losing Side of Twenty-Five” (up 1)
40. Micky & The Motorcars–“Tonight we Ride” (entering top 50)
41. Paul Thorn–“Everybody Needs Somebody”
42. Blue Water Highway Band–“Medicine Man” (up 8) [biggest gainer]
43. Cody Jinks–“Loud and Heavy” (up 4)
44. Bri Bagwell–“My Boots” (up 2)
45. William Clark Green–“Ringling Road” (entering top 50)
46. Cody Joe Hodges–“One More Drink” (up 2)
47. Cody Johnson–“Proud” (down 4)
48. The Damn Quails–“Just a Little While” (down 6)
49. Breelan Angel–“She Made Your Bed” (down 4)
50. Josh Fuller–“On the Radio” (entering top 50)

  • the Turnpike Troubadours hit the top with “Down Here” to coincide with their excellent album release
  • next week’s #1 prediction: “Down Here
  • William Clark Green is back on the chart at #45 with “Ringling Road”
  • Micky & the Motorcars’ “Tonight we Ride” debuts at #40

Source: Texas Music Chart

Honest Reviews and Exclusive Commentary on the Latest Country Music