Tag Archives: excellent songwriting

Album Review: Courtney Marie Andrews–Honest Life

Rating: 10/10

Before I say anything, credit to trigger of Saving Country Music for bringing Courtney Marie Andrews into my life and now to my pen. There is a reason we do this–not to point out all the bad in the mainstream, but to introduce new and deserving artists to the world, to provide a platform for people seeking good music to find it. Enter Courtney Marie Andrews, a 25-year-old singer/songwriter from Phoenix, Arizona, and her latest album, Honest Life I will say two things about this record; firstly, it is not a country record, but more a folk record, with elements of country, rock, and pop mixed in, and secondly, it is the best album I have reviewed to date.

The album opens with “Rookie dreaming,” and the first lines immediately hold my attention and introduce the great songwriting that will be present throughout this entire album. “I was singing with the choir on the train. I was a traveling man, I did not yet have a name. I was a 1960s movie, I was a one-night love story, I was a you’ll never see me again.” This song features nice piano and acoustic guitar, and Courtney’s voice reminds me of an excellent cross between Joni Mitchell and Linda Ronstadt. The style resembles Ronstadt too, with the blend of country, folk, and rock that was Linda’s signature. “Not the End” is a love song in which Andrews sings from a hotel bed where she is “dreaming up every memory” to feel closer to someone she loves. “I didn’t think it was possible to lose you again, so won’t you hold me and tell me that this is not the end.” If you didn’t hear Joni Mitchell in the opener, you certainly will here; the emotion and phrasing in Courtney’s voice is closer to Mitchell’s than anything I have heard.

“Irene” adopts a more folk/pop rock sound; here, Courtney gives advice to a woman named Irene, including “keep your grace” and “don’t go falling in love with yourself.” It is universal in that it is relatable to everyone, but also could be specific to anyone who hears it. “How Quickly Your Heart Mends” is the moment where you will recall Linda Ronstadt the most; here, a woman is “hiding out in the bathroom of this bar,” devastated that her ex is acting like they never met. She put on the dress he loved, and now she feels like a fool and can’t believe he is ignoring her–“go on, and leave with your new friends, how quickly your heart mends.” The piano and steel really stand out on this track. “Let the good One Go” is another heartbreak song, this one about a woman missing someone she apparently let go. She thinks about calling him and wonders if he thinks about her, saying, “Oh you will know, when you’ve let a good one go.” The light instrumentation on this song brings the emotion and lyrics to the forefront. “Honest Life,” the album’s title track, is another simple, acoustic song that feels very personal to Courtney. “All I’ve ever wanted is an honest life, to be the person that I really am inside, to tell you all the things that I did that night. Sometimes it just ain’t easy to live an honest life.” The songwriting is excellent on this whole album, but it may be the best here–ask me tomorrow, and I might change my mind.

The next three songs explore distance from those you love, similar to the theme introduced in “Not the End.” In “Table for One,” Courtney arrives in Ohio after a trip from Houston–the verses would suggest it might be on a tour–feeling lonely and ready to go home. “You don’t wanna be like me, this life, it ain’t free, always chained to when I leave.” This one is stripped down too and lets the lyrics and Courtney’s voice shine. “Put The Fire Out” brings back the piano and is closer to the sound of “How Quickly Your Heart Mends.” Here, Andrews sings from a plane, as she flies home to reunite with her loved ones and put her rambling life behind her. “I am ready to put the fire out. There’s a place for everything, and I think I know mine now.” This was the first one I heard from Courtney, and I’ll post it here because it should lead you to the rest of this record. “15 Highway Lines” is a similar song, but this one is focused on reuniting with the one you love after time apart;–“13 hours till I see you. Flying all around this world so you can see me too.” It really captures the love, pain, and hope unique to long-distance relationships. The album closes with “Only in my Mind,” another excellent song in which the narrator paints pictures of life with someone she loves, but these pictures are only in her mind, as the relationship has ended. It seems to be mainly her fault it is over, or at least she believes this. It’s another one that captures the emotion perfectly and closes the album brilliantly.

If you haven’t figured it out, this album is special. It isn’t strictly country; it’s a unique mix of folk, country, pop, and roc, with the perfect production for each track. It is one of those rare albums that defies and transcends genre lines and just speaks for itself. Courtney Marie Andrews has a voice you will not soon forget, recalling Joni Mitchell and Linda Ronstadt, yet still unique. The songwriting on this album is nothing short of brilliant. It’s simple and complex at once. This album is both the poetry of Jason Isbell and the relatability of Vince Gill. It is raw and honest and real, and everyone should absolutely hear it.

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Album Review: Dori Freeman Impresses With her Self-Titled Debut

Rating: 10/10

Sometimes, when I listen to albums for review, it takes a few listens to form an overall opinion. Often, this serves the music well and allows me to appreciate things I had not first noticed, usually leading to better reviews. Often, on the first listen, certain songs stand out immediately; some above the rest, some that could have been left off the entire project. And then there are rare occasions when an album hits me on that first listen–these are the albums which deserve the highest praise because they take me out of a place of critical review altogether and leave me just enjoying the music. This is connection, and relatability, and it is at the heart of all music. I speak about production and instrumentation and songwriting, but at the end of the day, music is meant to make the listener feel something. With that in mind, meet Dori Freeman, a 24-year-old singer-songwriter from the Appalachian Mountains of Galax, Virginia, who brings us an album influenced by classic country, bluegrass, folk, and the Appalachian sound. You will certainly feel something when you hear this album–and it excels in production, instrumentation, and songwriting as well.

We are introduced to Dori Freeman with only her guitar and her voice, unheard of on any album in 2016, much less a debut. “You Say,” the opener, immediately hooks me with its first lines–“You say you can’t save me, but I never asked you to. Can’t you just believe that I only wanted to lie there with you.” In Dori’s voice, I hear the Appalachian sound that has long been lost in country music. It’s raw and honest, and makes you want to keep listening, accomplishing everything an opener should. It also tells me Dori Freeman is willing to take risks. “Where I Stood” is still just Dori and her guitar, although hear there are harmonies. This is a song about two people in a relationship who are reflecting that their love has died and that if they could do it again, they would not have chosen each other–“What happened to your dreams, what happened to mine? You’re wasting my love, and I’m wasting your time. I know you’d go back if you could, and you’d leave me standing right there where I stood.” “Go on Lovin'” is a classic country heartbreak song, with plenty of fiddle and steel, and more simple, honest lyrics–“How am I supposed to go on lovin’ when you left me feelin’ like I don’t know how.” Dori Freeman has a cry in her voice common to the Appalachian sound that really fits this song.

“Tell Me” is a pop-influenced track, but it’s not the pop country of 2016; it’s the vintage pop sound of Lynn Anderson and reminds me of something Whitney Rose might record today. Here, Dori is trying to convince a man to admit he wants her; it seems to be apparent to her that he does. The production actually really fits this, and if anything adds to the album as a whole–it proves that Dori Freeman knows how to interpret a lyric. Vintage pop worked better here than traditional country, and this speaks to Dori’s understanding of music in general. “Fine Fine Fine” is an upbeat song about catching a man cheating, but it’s “fine, fine, fine, if you wanna walk that line, but you’ll be leavin’ me behind if you do.” This one is also reminiscent of a Whitney Rose track, although with more country than “Tell Me.” There is some enjoyable piano on this track; we need more country piano playing. “Any Wonder” again carries the Whitney Rose-like influence of vintage pop and traditional country, although this is more country than the last. This is about two people falling for each other, and all the emotions that come with it–happiness and fear and anticipation. It’s a more complex song than the rest, capturing the various emotions perfectly.

And then there is “Ain’t Nobody.” I said that Dori is not afraid to take risks–and here is a song with only her voice and her snapping fingers. This is an Appalachian-influenced song if ever there was one; it’s an ode to the workers in the Appalachian coal mines, the farmers, the mothers, and the prisoners–“I work all night, I work all day, well, I work all night, I work all day. I said, I work all night, I work all day, cause ain’t nobody gonna pay my way.” Dori Freeman’s voice is raw, honest, and incredible, and it is absolutely remarkable that this is a cappella. If you choose one Dori Freeman song to listen to, pick this one, because it will make you a believer, and you will have to listen to all the others. It is one I will post here. “Lullaby” is another classic heartbreak song, this one about a woman who is up at night thinking of a man who is with someone else. This song brings back the country piano playing, and it fits the song perfectly. In fact, I cannot readily think of an album I have reviewed here where every song was so well-produced, with the possible exception of Kasey Chambers’s Bittersweet. “Song for Paul” returns to simply Dori, her guitar, and harmonies. This is another heartbreak song, and once again the lyrics are wonderful; Dori is telling Paul that whenever he should get lonely, “somewhere I’ll be thinking of you.” The album closes with “Still a Child,” a song about a man who won’t commit or grow up; “You say you need me, but I need a man, and you are still a child.” It’s an excellent way to close an incredible album.

If you haven’t figured it out, you need to hear this album if you consider yourself a fan of country, Americana, bluegrass, folk, or music. This is one of the best albums I have reviewed, and it makes me glad to help introduce the world to an unknown artist like this who deserves to be heard. This is an album of simple, tasteful production; every song is produced as it should be. The songwriting is excellent, and Dori Freeman has a unique and incredible voice carrying the nearly forgotten Appalachian sound. To add to all this, Dori took risks, like singing a cappella and with only a guitar–and this is her debut; she stands only to improve. But more than any of that, it’s a raw, honest album, that does everything music is supposed to; it evokes emotion in the listener, and it’s simply relatable and enjoyable music. Dori Freeman is a name you should know–and this is an album you should hear, and hear again.

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Album Review: Kasey Chambers–Bittersweet

Rating: 10/10

First of all, I want to give credit to Josh Schott of
Country Perspective
because until he reviewed this album yesterday, I had never listened to Kasey Chambers. I’d only heard the name and knew her to be an Australian country singer. Now, it says a lot about the quality of this album that after one day, I have listened to it and am here reviewing it. Kasey Chambers is a name you should know, and you can expect a future Female Friday fully devoted to her. But for now, let’s focus on her latest studio album, Bittersweet, which recently became available everywhere (Australia has had it since 2014.)

The album opens with “Oh Grace,” which almost exclusively features a banjo and Kasey’s remarkable voice. Here, Kasey sings as a man asking a woman, Grace, to marry him. He is poor and has nothing to offer her but love, but says that all he has is “yours for eternity, if I make you my wife.” It’s nice to hear a banjo used for good and not evil; rather than being a pop song with banjo added to pretend to be country, this is a country song where a banjo drives the beat. “Is God Real?” finds Kasey struggling with the question and deciding that she’ll pray to Him anyway. The concept of God is discussed throughout this album, and it’s refreshing and honest to hear, regardless of your views on the matter. “Wheelbarrow” is probably the most intriguing song on the album, and the bluesy instrumentation blends nicely with the lyrics and Chambers’s vocals to make it catchy. In this song, there is a whole new side of Chambers’s voice than the softer one presented on “Oh Grace,” and it’s hard to say which style suits her voice better.

“I Would Do” is a love song listing all the things Kasey would do for her man. I love the opening line: “Everybody plays the fool, I am no exception to the rule.” “Hell of a Way To Go” is a nice country rock song about dying of a broken heart. Next is “House on a Hill,” a beautiful song where Kasey sings with her father, fellow country singer Bill Chambers, about a house that is falling apart and about to be torn down. “It’s been through it all, and there’s cracks in the walls, they may as well just take me down too”–what a great line.

“Stalker” comes next, and after the darkness of “House on a Hill,” it works. It is a fun, upbeat song literally about being someone’s stalker. The lyrics can only be described as disturbing. On my first listen, it was extremely creepy. On my second listen, it was hilarious. I like to think Kasey put this on the album solely for shock value and/or to creep out everyone she knew–if your friend wrote this, you would sincerely hope it wasn’t meant for you. “Heaven or Hell” is one of my early favorites on the album; it deals with where we go when we die and also speaks to hypocrites, saying that our deeds will all come out one day. More excellent songwriting is present here–“Clever little liar with a righteous tongue, reputation to uphold. One of these days you’re gonna have to come out of the lies you’ve told.” The melody is catchy too, and the song is saved from being judgmental as well because she speaks to herself in the last verse, saying she’ll have to change her ways and “one of these days, you’re gonna have to get down on your knees and pray.” It’s like a Kacey Musgraves song but less confrontational.

“Bittersweet,” the album’s title track, is a duet with fellow Australian singer Bernard Fanning. Their voices work well together in this song as they speculate on their former love and whether they should get back together. I can’t say enough about the excellent songwriting on this album, and “Too Late To Save Me” gives us more of it. There is something so honest about a song that opens like this: “They hear me cry, they hear me roar, they call me late, they call me whore.” It’s a song about a prostitute trying to cope with her life and wondering if God can still save her. Again, the banjo drives the beat of this rocking song and the instrumentation goes well with the lyrics. “Christmas Day” is another song with a religious theme; here Kasey tells the story of Mary and Joseph from a more romantic perspective. It is less a Christmas song and more a country love song, and it works very well on the album. Bittersweet closes with “I’m Alive,” a bluegrass song where the banjo that backed many of the songs basically takes over. It’s a celebratory song that sees Kasey coming out on top and thankful to be alive after hard times. She mentions that she “drank like a bitch” and “made it through the hardest fucking year,” which again adds to the honesty of the album. I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard “whore” and “bitch” uttered in a country album, and there’s something very real about it that is missing in much of today’s country. I’m not saying you have to say things like that to be real, but their presence proves that what we’re hearing from Kasey Chambers is indeed real songwriting coming from her perspective rather than polished-up radio hits that tell us little more about the actual artist than that they want to sell records.

This is a fantastic album, and Kasey Chambers is a name you should be familiar with. She’s Australia’s hidden gem, and this album proves it. As I said earlier, it should tell you a lot about the quality of this music that I found time to review it within one day of ever listening to a Kasey Chambers song.

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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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Female Fridays: Featuring Katie Armiger

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am tired of people defending Keith Hill by saying there aren’t any women out there for country radio to play. Enter Female Fridays, which will seek to correct this problem by giving the “tomatoes” a place to be discovered, heard, and appreciated. I am very excited to feature Katie Armiger, one of my favorite women in country music, on the first Female Friday.

How You Might Know Katie

While she has not had much airplay, Katie Armiger has had fairly consistent success with her videos on GAC’s Top 20 Countdown. Many will remember the video for “Safe,” a tribute to first responders that got over 2 million hits on YouTube.

Bio

Kaitie Armiger (born June 23, 1991, from Sugarland, Texas) got her start at the age of fourteen after winning a talent competition sponsored by a Houston radio station. She won some demo sessions in Nashville, which eventually turned into a full album and a recording contract with Cold River Records. She has recorded four studio albums to date, including her self-titled debut, (2007), Believe (2008), Confessions of a Nice Girl(2010) and Fall into Me(2013.) She is known for her excellent songwriting–she co-wrote all of the fourteen tracks on Fall Into Me and, similar to Taylor Swift, claims much of her writing is autobiographical. My first introduction to Katie was on the excellent Fall Into Me, but since then, I have listened to her earlier material, and there are many great tracks sprinkled throughout her earlier albums as well. Her growth as a singer and a songwriter is evident.

Katie Armiger’s fifth studio album was due out this summer. She had already released the lead single, “One Night Between Friends” and even held an album-listening party for fans on June 14th at the CMA Music Festival in Nashville. Then, on June 16th, Cold River Records president Pete OHeeron released this statement

Katie Armiger has decided to take a breather and decide her next career aspirations. … It has been the thrill of a lifetime to work with her and watch her blossom into one of the best singer-songwriters of her generation. Katie is a special talent and an even better person. As a label, we love her and support her decision and we will always be her biggest fans.

He went on to say that the label had no plans for a reduction in staff, that Katie’s album had been shelved, and that those who had entered her new contest, “Girls With Dreams” (a songwriting competition for a $10,000 scholarship) would be reimbursed. This is Katie’s own reaction, which she posted later on Instagram

Let’s try this again since that was taken down…’A Breather? Quit country music? Leaving my career behind?’ Not my words, and certainly not my intention. I’ll be able to make an official statement soon… Love you all! OH… I no longer have access to my Twitter or FB accounts.

Incidentally, this was also taken down, and this has been the last we’ve heard from Katie. Regardless of what happens–and I hope she’ll be able to go somewhere else and keep making great music–it is awful to see an artist so misrepresented by her label and her new album shelved so close to its release.

Why Katie Belongs on Country Radio

This won’t be a strong case for every female I feature–not every artist has “radio ready” material; Garth Brooks’s latest single choices are good examples of this. However, Katie should be on country radio. Her songs are pop country that is done well, like early Taylor Swift and Mickey Guyton (I will eventually feature Guyton too.) Her writing is relatable and vulnerable, again like that of Taylor Swift, and she reminds me of what Taylor would have become if she had stayed country. Katie Armiger has the honesty that has been lost in country music, the same honesty that made Taylor Swift successful. Fall Into Me is an album full of songs about love–in fact, Katie said the album is about
“love in all its many forms” and yet every song seems different, and each is relatable, especially to women. I think if Katie got more airplay, she would have the radio success that Taylor Swift proved relatable songwriting is worth–and not only that, it would be pop country instead of straight pop on country radio.

Tracks I Recommend

As I said, Fall Into Me is a great pop country album, and there are several good earlier tracks worth a listen too, but if you are getting to know Katie, here’s where I recommend you start.

1. I’m Free–Fall Into Me
2. Better in a Black Dress–Fall Into Me
3. The Heart Wants What it Wants (single)
4. Black and White–Fall Into Me
5. Stealing Hearts–Fall Into Me
6. Okay Alone–Fall Into Me
7. Man I Thought You Were–Fall Into Me
8. Playin’ With Fire–Fall Into Me (although this leans toward pop, so if you don’t like that, you might not like it)
9. Cardboard Boxes–Fall Into Me
10. Something Better–Believe
11. Scream–Confessions of a Nice Girl
12. Just Can’t Say Goodbye–Katie Armiger

Listen to Fall Into Me

This is an excellent cover of the Selena Gomez song that Katie released earlier this year.

That’s all for the first Female Friday!