Tag Archives: country rock

Album Review: The Whiskey Gentry–Dead Ringer

Rating: 7.5/10

You know what the coolest thing about this little online blogging/music world is? It’s the friends you make through doing this, people that share a common interest and love for the same music. And one of the greatest parts of that has to be all the albums and artists friends and acquaintances of mine have sent me, not in the way of a publicist looking for a review, just as a friend looking to send me something I might like. I’ve got a “never-ending list” of these, especially since getting Twitter, and by all means, keep them coming. Anyway, The Whiskey Gentry here was one of these recommendations sent by a friend who thought I might enjoy them, and yes, they got moved straight to the front of the never-ending list just because that’s a badass name. The Whiskey Gentry? You’ve got my attention. It took awhile with this album, partly because it had to grow on me and mostly because I’ve had some stuff go on in my personal life that put me behind in writing, but I’ve discovered that not only do they have a cool name, The Whiskey Gentry have a pretty good new album here as well.

Actually, the front half of this album is pretty excellent. We’ve got a traveling musician theme running through this record, established with the opener, “Following You,” a reminder that all the other dreamers are looking up to you as you try to make it. I love the line, “the worst day on the road beats spreading paint,” as it seems to be a reminder to them as well as to the listener. The title track is a companion to this, as the lead singer, Lauren Staley, describes getting an English degree and being able to talk Shakespeare but really dreaming of being the “more famous girl on the radio” that people supposedly mistake her for. The lighthearted “Rock n Roll Band” fits this theme as well, and although it’s not quite as memorable as these two, it fits in with the whole atmosphere of this record. “Looking for Trouble” attempts to be a bit more serious, but the instrumentation is still quite lively, and Lauren’s voice, though admittedly weak on quite a few of these songs, shines here on a more subdued track. “Paris” is just, well, let’s use the band’s own description, stupid, but damn, it’s fun, and I just love this. And then if you thought all they did was play upbeat, fun stuff, “Paris” dissolves rather abruptly into “Kern River.” That same fragility in Lauren Staley’s voice works to perfection on this cover, adding a natural vulnerability to the song. This was a brilliant choice, and at track 6, I’ve no complaints with this album at all. Sure, her voice gets drowned out in places, but her personality and the lively, fun instrumentation more than make up for this. OH, and I haven’t said so yet, but this is pretty damn country, despite Apple Music amusingly calling it rock…guess they assumed because of the sheer number of boring, mid-tempo country/Americana releases in 2017, anything this upbeat and cheerful couldn’t possibly be classified as such…but I digress.

The back half does have some problems. I’ll isolate “Drinking Again” on this half because it’s just awesome, and I’ve been singing this for a week and a half. It’s about her going into rehab and pretending to care while she dreams of getting back to drinking. She’s trying to get her drinking under control, but she’s got zero intention of actually giving it up; “it’s time to start drinking again, but first I gotta make it one more day.” “Seven Year Ache” isn’t bad either–in fact, I love the arrangement–but the very frailty I pointed out earlier in her voice doesn’t suit this song, and as a huge fan of the Rosanne Cash original, I wouldn’t have wished Lauren Staley anywhere near this song. “Martha From Marfa” is meant to be stupid just like “Paris,” but it doesn’t pull it off as well, and “Say it Anyway,” although it has a good message, is just a little forgettable. The two slower songs at the end, though placed there to highlight a different side of the group, really don’t add much. The hook of “Is it Snowing Where You Are?” is just weird, and “If You Were an Astronaut” takes incredibly long to get to the point. I’ll give this one the fact that the point, once reached, is good; it’s quite a nice love song once you extract it from all the metaphors. These two, as I say, do show another side to the band and also showcase Lauren’s voice better, but I could have done without both of them. I wouldn’t call any of this especially bad, but we went from excellent to mediocre on the back half, except for “Drinking Again.”

So, yeah, this rating was a bit hard to assign because quite a bit of this album is outstanding, mixed in with some really average, unremarkable stuff. Take off the two final tracks, and we’ve got a ten-track 8.5/10 for sure. But this album is definitely worth hearing because there’s some really good stuff here, and also because it’s just so fun and lighthearted, and we haven’t gotten a lot of that this year. We haven’t gotten too much good true country anyway, let alone true country with this much energy and personality. So thanks for introducing me to The Whiskey Gentry, and now I’m passing them on to you all.

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Reflecting on: Travis Tritt–It’s All About to Change

Well, from the day we started doing these, I always knew I would cover Travis Tritt on here, and now seems like the perfect time since I am going to see him Friday. I went back and forth for an inordinate amount of time on which album to cover, considering his originals and various compilations. Over the years, I’ve worn out the album The Very Best of Travis Tritt, so ultimately I decided to cover an album not as familiar to me. I chose the album that has my two favorite Tritt songs, It’s All About to Change, but really any place is okay to start with Travis and his music.

Release Date: 1991
Style: traditional country infused with Southern rock
People Who Might Like This Album: those who like their country mixed with rock and grit
Standout Tracks: “Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone who Cares),” “Anymore,” “Bible Belt,” “Nothing Short of Dying,” “If Hell Had a Jukebox,” “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin'”
Reflections: Travis Tritt said in one of the songs on his debut album that he vowed “I’d mix Southern rock and country, and that’s just what I did.” That’s really the best explanation of Tritt and his sound. He takes the best of both traditional country and Southern rock and blends them into a sound all his own, respecting country’s roots while being very modern and forward-thinking. Those that think country is boring, try saying that after “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin” or “Bible Belt.” Incidentally, the former features Marty Stuart which just adds to its overall coolness.

I mentioned this has my two favorite Travis Tritt songs. The first is “Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares),” another country rock song where he tells his cheating ex who wants to come back home that she can call one of her “sordid affairs.” As the song says, he’s kind enough even to offer her a quarter. This song is probably the one he’s most known for, and it even made Saving Country Music’s Greatest songs of All Time which can’t be taken lightly. Incidentally,, it’s very much responsible for my current relationship too; it was a conversation about this song and Travis Tritt in general that started all of it. My other favorite is “Anymore,” where he’s telling a woman that even after much time has passed, he still loves her and he can’t keep pretending otherwise. It’s the first song of his I ever heard and one of the best examples of Travis doing more traditional country. It’s the marrying of country and rock that is his signature sound, but ballads like this and “Nothing Short of Dying” shouldn’t be overlooked either because he does these types of songs just as well. Actually, the video for “Anymore” was the first in a series of three about one character, and all three were ballads.

Like I say, there really isn’t a bad place to start with Travis Tritt, and he’s definitely an artist that you should know. From the more rock-leaning stuff to the traditional ballads, there’s something here for everyone, and this album is a good showcase of his variety in sound. So start here, and hopefully, this will make you a fan, and you will seek out more of his music.

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Album Review: Steve Earle & the Dukes–So You Wannabe an Outlaw

Rating: 8.5/10

I’m not really sure I need to write any kind of introduction to this; I’m pretty sure Steve Earle has been introducing this quite well on his own, and that may or may not be taking away from the music. So I’m going to take the advice from Steve’s own comment, and let this be about the songs. What I will say is that he stated both that he wanted to make a record inspired by the outlaws, and more specifically, Waylon, and that this record would be about dealing with loss. And what we get is basically exactly that–the front half is filled with badass, renegade/outlaw material–or at least what we might think of when referring to that term–and then the back half adds to the validity of it all by taking us on journeys of heartbreak, loneliness, and loss, and in the end, you’re left wondering if this outlaw thing is really all that great after all, and perhaps second-guessing your dream. And in a way, that separates this record from all the others trying to be cool outlaw because it shows all the sides to the story, the glamor along with the pain.

That’s not to say there aren’t painful realities on the first half. IN fact, the opener and title track starts the album by explaining all the things you have to go through if you really want to be an outlaw, albeit in a pretty lighthearted manner. Willie Nelson appears here, which adds to the message and the overall coolness of the song. You also have “Lookin’ For a Woman” and “If Mama Coulda seen Me,” both of which Earle wrote for the show Nashville–the former is a restless heartbreak song where the narrator is trying to find a woman who “Won’t do me like you,” and the latter is about a prisoner who is thankful that his mom died before she had to see him in chains. All of this half, however, is pretty upbeat, and even though the material is dark, some of the glamorous side of being an outlaw still shines forth in the attitude and in the cool blending of country and rock instrumentation. This half comes to a brilliant, angry climax with “Fixin’ To die”–this song is told from Death Row, and I didn’t mean to compare it to Chris Stapleton’s song “Death Row,” but that’s what happened. I said before that Stapleton’s didn’t quite have emotion even though he belted it–I know a lot of people disagreed, but the point I’m making is that whether it came through or not, Stapleton meant that song to be sad. When this opens and Steve Earle bellows, “I’m fixin’ to die, reckon I’m goin’ to hell” and then adds, “I’d be tellin’ you a lie if I told you I was takin’ it well,” for me, that captures all the emotions, from anger to sadness to regret. It’s an intense story and definitely a great way to complete this more rocking front half of the record.

It’s the back half, however, that really makes this album shine and adds an authenticity to these opening songs. It’s one thing to sing about being an outlaw for the sake of it, but when you get to stuff like “This is How it Ends” and “You Broke my Heart” and see there’s a tender side to this story, it really adds something to the whole project. Steve Earle mentioned loss, and it is explored in every form here, from the heartbreak in these two songs, the former of which features Miranda Lambert, to the poverty and self-doubt in the excellent “Walkin’ in LA” to the closer, “Goodbye Michelangelo,” a tribute to Guy Clark. “Walkin’ in LA” features Johnny Bush, the writer of “Whiskey River,” and it’s one of the best songs on this whole thing, despite it not being the most flashy. It’s one of those rare gems where the melody, the lyrics, and the instrumentation all work together flawlessly to form an incredible piece of music. The melody and beautiful acoustic guitar play in “Goodbye Michelangelo” really add to that song as well. It’s a great way to close the album.

As much as I loved this record, I do have a couple criticisms. There are a few songs that felt like filler; “Girl on the Mountain” was sandwiched between “This is How it Ends” and “You Broke my Heart,” and so it stands out as the weakest heartbreak song of the three. At first, I really didn’t enjoy the pairing of Earle and Miranda Lambert, but that’s growing on me, mainly because it’s just such a damn good song. My initial problem was that Lambert is meant to be singing harmony, but sometimes she drowns out Steve. I’m starting to like it better because in doing so, she makes it easier to understand some of the lyrics. ON the front half, “The Firebreak Line” is quite a fun song, but it doesn’t necessarily add much. “News From Colorado,” the only subdued song on the front half, is also a little vague and underdeveloped lyrically. But all these are really minor, nitpicking criticisms, and overall, this record is pretty great.

So, in conclusion, this is a pretty fascinating album. First, you have the angry front half, and then you have the subdued, heartbroken back half, and together they tell a very good story. Steve Earle is a fine songwriter, and the natural grit in his voice just accidentally adds a lot to this album and the stories told. Every collaborator also brought something to the record. I mentioned there were some weaker songs, or perhaps even filler, but at the same time, it’s one of the few albums I’ve played in 2017 without a single bad track. Very nice, solid album. Give it a listen.

P.S. I’m not reviewing the deluxe version, but that also has four pretty awesome covers of songs previously written by Waylon, Willie, and Billy Joe shaver.

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Reflecting on: Steve Earle–Copperhead Road

Yeah, okay, so I’m going to refer to Steve Earle quite a lot in the next few days, so just get used to it. Ever since we heard about the new album, I’ve known I would do a reflection of Steve this week. The obvious choice would be Guitar Town–that’s the one album everyone seems to cite as his best, and it’s the album that Earle said inspired him to make this new record when he revisited it for its thirtieth anniversary. But Copperhead Road is the one I’m doing instead; for one, just because Guitar Town is more well-known, and also because the title track is such a signature song for Steve Earle and a timeless song in country music. It’s a song I’ve grown up hearing everywhere, and my final decision came to do this album when Brianna broke my heart by telling me she’d never heard that song.

Release Date: 1988
Style: country rock, almost like Red Dirt before we called it that
People Who Might Like This Album: fans of Texas and Red Dirt music, especially the harder-leaning stuff, maybe people who like stuff like Eric Church or Kip Moore
Standout Tracks: “Copperhead Road,” “The Devil’s Right Hand,” “Snake Oil,” “Nothing But a Child”
Reflections: All right, so this was cool for me, because I know some Steve Earle songs, but I’m not overly familiar with his albums. It wasn’t a first-listen sort of experience when I played Copperhead Road for this piece, but it also wasn’t something I knew like the back of my hand. What struck me that I’ve not really thought about before is the style; in 1988, you had stuff like George Strait and Keith Whitley and Randy Travis fighting for a more traditional sound on country radio, fighting to take back country from the more pop-influenced stuff–and then there’s this, which is just totally different from any of that. Nowadays, you get so many mainstream artists blending country and rock–some do it well like Eric Church and occasionally Kip Moore, which is why I mentioned them above, and some just release arena rock with no country influence. The point is, it’s normal; that’s basically what the entirety of Red Dirt music sounds like. in 1988, this was a very unique sound, and like I say, I’ve never really taken time to consider that fully.
I mentioned the title track, and now I have to say, if you’ve made it to this point in your journey without hearing “Copperhead Road,” I’m frankly a little shocked; it’s just such a classic, at least where I’m from. I heard it all the time growing up, at various events, bars, wedding receptions, etc. Anyway, it’s a fun song about a Vietnam veteran whose family made moonshine, and after the war, he uses that knowledge to grow and sell marijuana “down copperhead Road.” “Snake Oil” is another fun one; I’m reminded a little listening to this record that stuff can be fun and upbeat and still be well-written, a lesson mainstream Nashville could learn. But there are some serious moments too, like the closer, a stripped-back religious song called “Nothing but a Child.” It’s probably the most country one here.
I don’t think Steve Earle has always put out good music; in fact, I’m more excited for Friday’s release from him than I have been for one of his records in years. But those early albums were great, and you should check them out. And yeah, that goes for Guitar Town as well, even though I didn’t write about it.

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Album Review: Robyn Ludwick–This Tall to Ride

Rating: 7.5/10

If you want a good endorsement for Robyn Ludwick and her music, Jamie Lin Wilson recommended her to me back in September when I asked her to give us the names of some Texas country females we should be listening to. Robyn’s also the sister of Charlie and Bruce Robison which definitely counts for a lot in the Texas scene. I could go on with more of an introduction, but those two points alone should get you interested right away, even before we get into the fascinating album that is This Tall to Ride.

This Tall To Ride–yeah, that’s certainly an appropriate name because this record and the material presented here won’t be for the faint of heart. Like a height restriction on a roller coaster, the title is there to warn unsuspecting listeners, and to let you know just what kind of ride you’re embarking on, and indeed to offer you the chance to turn around at the last minute and avoid this adventure altogether. It’s a ride that takes you through life on the streets and lonely motels, and tells stories of coping with hard times by turning to vices. Yeah, that last has been done a thousand times in country–but not Robyn Ludwick’s way, where the vices are often cocaine and casual, or even solicited, sex. I counted the word “cocaine” twelve times on this record, and you don’t hear a lyric like the opening line to the excellent “Texas Jesus” in just any country project–“She says baby, I don’t jerk just anyone, but this one’s under the table, it’s gonna be loads of fun. But he don’t care, she’s like Mexican heroin, and it’s blockin’ his hurt for awhile.”

That theme of blocking hurt and pain permeates this album, and it’s what makes all the drug references somehow fit; it’s like rock lyrics, but told with a country songwriter’s care for crafting a story, almost the opposite of the way in which Texas country artists normally mix the two genres. Robyn Ludwick writes and sings in a manner that makes you feel all the sorrow of these characters and understand why they often turn to drugs and strangers for comfort. She has taken their lives and almost made them seem glamorous, and that takes as much of a talent as writing your own stories in song, if not more–it’s interesting that she can step so well into these roles and sing with such conviction. And that’s not what she’ll sing about on this whole album, but it’s where her writing shines brightest, and it’s where the unique, sort of raspy tones in her vocal quality work to perfection to add a rough edge to these songs. That rawness in her voice especially enhances “Freight Train,” one of the other standout moments on this album.

This record is a bit hard to judge because there’s some filler mixed in with some absolute gems. You have some truly excellent songs; I already mentioned “Freight Train” and “Texas Jesus,” and I can add “Bars Ain’t Closin’,” “Lie to Me,” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Shoes” to that too. “Bars Ain’t Closin'” features some nice steel guitar as well and tells a great, desperate story of heartbreak and missing someone; it’s cool to hear more country instrumentation paired with lyrics like Robyn’s, and it makes her and these songs all the more unique within this subgenre of Texas country. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Shoes” speaks of life on the streets, and those sighs explain perfectly what the main characters were seeking when Ludwick sings, “she didn’t love him, but on the streets, you get hungry man.” But then, mixed in with these standouts, there are just some bland tracks like “Love You For It,”–which is an unfortunate opener that won’t hold your attention like an opener should–and “Junkies and Clowns.” Nothing bad on the album, just really mediocre songs, especially in comparison to some of the others–definitely what Country Perspective would have dubbed wallpaper. It was really difficult to rate this, and in that respect, it reminded me of Jaime Wyatt’s latest album because the good here is absolutely great, but there’s also some really average to balance it out. The one thing I will say for the weaker tracks, though, is that the melodies are engaging. IN fact, melody is one of the strongest points of the album all the way through, and it serves to add another element of accessibility to lyrics like these that might not otherwise be enjoyable and/or relatable.

Overall, this is just a cool, unique album. No, it’s not going to be for everyone, but that’s part of music and art, and the fact that this could be polarizing speaks both to the talent and audacity of Robyn Ludwick and to the fact that this record had something to say. Credit to Robyn for telling the stories of people so often ignored and/or misunderstood by society, and for allowing us all a glimpse into their lives and perspectives, exploring themes so seldom ventured into in country music. There’s some damn great music on here too; some of these tracks are honestly just brilliant in songwriting, and their melodies will stay with you. There’s some mediocrity and filler, and based on the outstanding parts of the album, Robyn Ludwick is capable of better, but it balances out to be a solid album, and worth your time, if indeed you’re ready for the roller coaster. Cool record, glad I went along for the ride.

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