Tag Archives: Jaime Wyatt

My Top Thirteen Songs of 2017

This was an incredibly hard list to make cuts from, and I already have a playlist ready to publish which includes sixty-six of the best tracks from this year and can be accessed on Spotify and Apple Music. But this is here to highlight the absolute best of the best, and in a ridiculously strong year for songs, that’s even more of a distinction. If you’re wondering why this isn’t trimmed to ten or lengthened to twenty, well, I had to stop somewhere, and this was the number I chose on the midyear list, so…

Very Honorable Mentions

  • Natalie Hemby: “Cairo, IL”
  • Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters–“Eden”
  • Ags Connolly–“Do You Realize That Now?”
  • The Secret Sisters–“Carry Me”
  • Kasey Chambers–“Jonestown”–
  • Colter Wall–“Kate McCannon”
  • The Steel Woods–“Straw in the Wind”

#13: Chris Stapleton–“Scarecrow in the Garden”

From From a Room, Volume 2

This song perfectly explains the reason we wait until mid-December to publish these. An incredible story song of a family farm started by an Irish immigrant and then passed down through generations, through seasons of prosperity and hardship, until the current narrator, the grandson, is faced with seeing the land he loves deteriorate around him. There are also biblical undertones to this, underscoring possible sin haunting the family, as the grandson sees Lucifer in the scarecrow in the garden and reads Revelation with a pistol in his other hand.

#12: Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real–“Forget About Georgia”

From Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real

What a brilliant way to write a song, linking the name Georgia with the state and his father’s song “Georgia on my Mind.” Of course he can’t forget Georgia because he’s forced to say her name in the song each night; it makes perfect sense, and even though it’s specific to this woman and that song, it’s universal because we all have associations like this that will forever make us think of certain things and people. “I pray I’ll forget about Georgia, but a part of me hopes that she’ll never forget about me” is right up there for Lyric of the Year. Also the guitar outro is definitely the Instrumental of the Year.

#11: Turnpike Troubadours–“Pay no Rent”

From A Long Way From Your Heart

Written about Evan Felker’s late aunt, but also written in that universal Evan Felker way that makes it somehow relatable to anyone who has ever lost someone. It’s even ambiguous enough to mean a former friend or lover, but at the same time, it’s the detail and unique turns of phrase that elevate this above so many other songs about loss. It’s at once grieving and reflective, sad over the loss but looking back fondly at the memories. And “in my heart you pay no rent” is up there for Hook of the Year.

#10: Angaleena Presley–“Wrangled”

From Wrangled

This is a gorgeous song both melodically and lyrically, and yes, wins Melody of the Year. There are a lot of frank moments of honesty on Angaleena Presley’s latest record, but this one is delivered in such a subtle way. The woman in question is not angry so much as tired, defeated, sick of her life and her husband and perhaps most underrated about this song, sick of the church women around her who seem to enjoy all of this. I think Presley is saying so perfectly what so many women are feeling and probably would like to say, but she’s also not saying it with hatred or in a polarizing way, just a quiet, calm resignation that ultimately speaks more.

#9: Sarah Jane Scouten–“Acre of Shells”

From When the Bloom Falls From the Rose

This one I’m actually struggling for words to explain, as it’s just the beauty in hearing it. A brilliantly written love song; I know in that department this year, we’re all focused on “Vampires,” but this is just as hard-hitting. And the actual Lyric of the Year goes to “How could I ever love somebody else? IN an acre of shells, you’ll find just one pearl. And how could I ever love somebody else when I know that you’re in the world?” What a perfect illustration; stand on the beach and think of the infinite number of shells around you. Hell, think of the number of shells just within your reach or field of vision…and in all that space, you’ll find just one pearl. What a special and simple way to describe someone you love.

#8: Jaime Wyatt–“Wishing Well”

From Felony Blues

I wish I could give this Opener of the Year, and if it weren’t for a song coming up on this list, I would award it. You think we can’t have fun songs up here in the top ten of the year? Well, Jaime Wyatt can. And it’s because despite this one being easily the most playable and fun, even almost radio-friendly, of the bunch, it’s a deep and personal song to Jaime about second chances and starting over in life. And we can all relate to it, maybe not to her exact circumstances, but to that feeling of praying for better days but learning to deal with what we have–“bought my ticket for the rainbow, but it just hasn’t come through” is another incredible lyric and something we can all understand.

#7: Shannon McNally–“Banshee Moan

From Black Irish, featured in Memorable Songs

If you’re saying: “who?” right now, please listen to this ridiculously underrated song. This is why we have the Memorable Songs feature, as this gets the honor of being the only one here not from an album we reviewed. This is what Keith Urban couldn’t say with “Female” and what Margo Price could have said with “Pay Gap,” but the former was made for radio, performed by a male, and written by committee, and the latter was too shallow for these kinds of sentiments. This is a beautiful, subtle, yet timely and honest portrayal of the discrimination that women do face in the workplace and in society, as well as a call to those women to mourn for all their sisters, past and present, who have gone through this.

#6: Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit–“If we Were Vampires”

From The Nashville Sound

What a beautiful and terrifying way to look at love, knowing you or your lover will one day be gone. It’s both a morbid way to look at things and a reminder to treat each day as if it were your last; indeed, as Isbell sings, “maybe time running out is a gift.” Another thing that hasn’t been praised enough about the song are the little details in the first verse that he lists off; he’s saying “it’s not” to all of these things before explaining that “it is” the fact that one day one of them will be gone which gives him urgency. We get to that part and forget the specificity and the beauty in all of the “it’s nots,” as he lists unique details that could only be specific to Amanda Shires and speak of a love deep and familiar. Add the fact that she sings with him here, and this is just a brilliant song through and through.

#5: Jason Eady–“Barabbas”

From Jason Eady’s self-titled record

IN terms of sheer idea for a song, this has got to be the best of the year. It’s written about the man who was set free in order that Jesus might be crucified, yet nowhere, aside from the title, do we hear Barabbas or Jesus mentioned. It’s both deeply personal to those of faith and universal to all, and this speaks to the subtlety in the storytelling of Jason Eady. Also, we like to talk about Amanda shires and Morgane Stapleton adding a lot to their husbands’ records, but Courtney Patton’s harmony here adds a gorgeous element to this as well.

#4: Aaron Watson–“Clear Isabel”

From Vaquero

This song is the perfect explanation for why we have to separate songs from albums, and even songs from artists. Yeah, Aaron Watson made a pretty light, fun record–and then there’s this, the best story song of the year. It’s the tale of Mariano and his daughter, Isabel, who flee to Texas to escape the cartels of Mexico. It ends happily for Isabel, as she ends up married to the narrator. But Mariano is deported and ends up shot in the back before he can come to America legally. Another timely song that speaks to issues facing us in 2017, but again, not told with hatred, but rather told in the form of a story, to educate and unite as only music can. Add in the instrumental prelude, “Mariano’s Dream,” and this song gets even better.

#3: Angaleena Presley: “Dreams Don’t Come True”

From Wrangled

Well, this definitely gets Opener of the Year. Who opens a record by telling their audience dreams don’t come true, and not only that, “don’t let anyone tell you they do?” It’s 2017, we’re all supposed to be living our lives to the fullest and such; there are so many songs telling us we’re perfect how we are, and if we believe in ourselves, our dreams will certainly come true…and then this comes at you like a complete reality check. Instead of making hit records, Angaleena wound up pregnant. Instead of being famous for three chords and the truth, she’s struggled in the industry to get the recognition she deserves. And it’s sadly a reality much truer for many of us than the platitudes we hear so often these days. Yet this song is told with enough humor that it lightens the blow a little and is delivered as fresh, candid honesty that sometimes not even our closest friends and family can give us.

#2: Jason Eady–“Black Jesus”

From Jason Eady

This one was only an Honorable Mention on my midyear list, but it has come out of the blue over the past few months to earn its place here. This is exactly the song we need in 2017, not dividing us into races and classes and sexes, yet not preachy and judgmental and ultimately accomplishing nothing with its message. Its subtlety was the reason it hadn’t earned a top spot by the middle of the year, but that’s the exact reason it has earned this now–Jason Eady simply tells a story of two men, one white and one black, coming together, side by side at work, bonding over music. We need more songs like this, spreading unity and peace, and yet at the same time, there are a lot of them that just come off preachy. This song has been covered on two other albums that I know of in 2017, and that speaks to how it’s impacting many people in its own special, subtle way.

Song of the Year: Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit–“Last of my Kind”

From The Nashville Sound

This, as I say, was a ridiculously difficult list to make, but I kept coming back to this song. It’s a picture of nostalgia for days past and people now gone, something we can all relate to, but it’s the aforementioned details in Jason Isbell’s writing that blow me away here. The narrator is unhappy with life in the city; seems like an ordinary theme, but a line like “nobody here can dance like me, everybody clapping on the one and the three” is just insane. It’s a sentiment many of us can understand, yet it also seems to be personal to Isbell, reflecting the dichotomy he experiences as a Southerner with often very different views from those around him. It’s that feeling of being caught in the middle, of never belonging, of life seeming to have passed you by. It’s ironic that he feels like the last of his kind because so many of us feel this way too. Ultimately, this is that perfect balance of personal and universal, specific and timeless, and this, in a very strong list, is the best song of 2017 and the one that has affected me the most.

My Top Ten Albums of 2017 so Far

Editor’s Note: Why didn’t I choose thirteen again? Actually, I was going to, but these ten just stand out above the ones I would pick for eleven, twelve, and thirteen, so they’ll just be in the Honorable Mentions. This has a little, but not much, to do with the original grades given to these albums; it’s more about music that holds up, so some of these might have lower ratings than you’d expect, and there are some that we rated higher that didn’t make this list because I simply don’t go back and listen to them, and for me, that’s what music is all about. It might be a 9 on paper, but if I’m not listening to it months later, that number is arbitrary, so don’t let the numbers factor into it too much at this point. Lastly, just like the songs, these are my picks, not necessarily those of Country exclusive as a whole, and these are, unlike the songs, in order for me.

#10: The Steel Woods–Straw in the Wind

Original Rating: 8/10
This honestly would be higher on the list right now because the first half is excellent, but it does drop off some for me in the back half. Still, it’s a very nice debut from The Steel Woods, tinged with Southern rock, blues, bluegrass, and country; in fact, I’d like to make the point that look how many of these entries are debuts, what a cool year for debut records.
Read Full Review

#9: Chris Stapleton–From a Room, Volume 1

Original Rating: 8/10
Some of you are going to hate me for ranking it this low, and others are going to hate me for saying it’s better than Traveller. But it’s a more consistent effort from Stapleton than his first record, and it’s still holding up nicely.
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#8: Shinyribs–I Got Your Medicine

Original Rating: 9/10
Yeah, okay, this ranks higher as an album than some others that will be higher on this list, and I still stand by that 9 too. It’s definitely the most fun album here. It doesn’t hold up quite as much as some lower-ranked albums coming up because you have to be in a certain mood to play it. But Shinyribs is the type of group you should just let yourself enjoy; they won’t be for everyone, but they should be.
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#7: Robyn Ludwick–This Tall to Ride

Original Rating: 7.5/10
All right, what is it about this one? Well, it just works its way in. It’s unique and cool, and no, the hookers and cocaine all over this record won’t be for everyone, but if you can get past the dark material Robyn writes and sings about, this is a great record. It’s definitely being underappreciated, and I underrated it, not necessarily because I undervalued the songs themselves but because I underestimated its mileage and ability to be replayed which it turns out has been great.
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#6: Jaime Wyatt–Felony Blues

Original Rating: 7.5/10
Yeah, I said this rating would be misleading when I reviewed it, and it turns out I was right. It’s hard to grade a seven-song project, and when four songs turn out to be excellent tracks, and the other three are good, it’s hard to question this. It’s short, sure, but there’s no filler like there has been on many albums this year. Jaime Wyatt’s is another debut record, and this is probably the most promising one I’ve heard all year. She’s someone you should definitely keep your eye on, and since February, this has gone from being a strong debut to one of the best albums of 2017.
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#5: Kasey Chambers–Dragonfly

Original Rating: 8/10
Please, stop caring that this is a double album, and do yourself a favor by listening to it. This has been massively underrated, both because Kasey is Australian and because it’s a double album, but it’s one of the most consistent and diverse releases of the year–there’s something here for everyone, from traditional to blues to folk rock to gospel to country pop. Go check it out.
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#4: Jason Eady (self-titled)

Original Rating: 9/10
This is going to be a dark horse for Album of the Year; Jason Eady is the only person who could make a completely stripped-back, acoustic record that could be played without electricity (except for some steel guitar) and have it compete with the best albums of the year based on his songwriting and melodies alone. This record grows on me every time I listen to it. Another somewhat underappreciated album, and definitely the best album to come out of the Texas/Red dirt scene thus far this year.
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#3: Angaleena Presley–Wrangled

Original Rating: 10/10
I know, some of you that know how I felt about this record are falling out of your chairs right now that this is #3. I still love it, and these top three are all excellent. The reason this has slid momentarily to #3 is that I come back to it all the time, but not as much to the entire album as to specific songs. But like I said, these top three are all almost interchangeable, and some of the songwriting here is the best of 2017 so far.
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#2: Colter Wall (self-titled)

Original Rating: 9/10
All right, so yeah, this has passed Angaleena. There are still a couple of boring songs, so I wouldn’t give it a 10–although I might change angallena’s to a 9 or 9.5 if I were reviewing her today–but man, what a timeless album. This pretty much blew me away on the first listen–which is the case with all the top three–and just like Jason’s, it’s very minimal, and all you need is Colter’s throwback voice and his stories and melodies. Excellent record. Another debut, by the way.
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#1: Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives–Way out West

Original Rating: 10/10
Back in March, nothing had blown me away in 2017. I remember talking about the fact that there had been some good albums, but not great ones. I was a little discouraged–and then this came along and blew everything out of the water, and I’m still waiting for something to top it. It’s been a much better year since, and 2017 will be an entertaining year waiting to see if an album can possibly top the musical genius Marty Stuart put into this album and depiction of the West. It’s not a lyrical masterpiece; in fact, none of its songs made yesterday’s list. But that’s what makes it even more special; Marty went into a genre that is lyrically focused and made a western album based purely off the musical styles and mood. It’s, at least for me, a flawless record.
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Honorable Mentions

  • Sam Outlaw–Tenderheart (would have been #11)
  • Kody West–Green (would have been #12, another debut)
  • Aaron Watson–Vaquero (would have been #13)
  • Nikki Lane–Highway Queen
  • Rhiannon Giddens–Freedom Highway
  • Sunny Sweeney–Trophy
  • The Mavericks–Brand New Day
  • Zephaniah Ohora–This Highway (this will probably make future lists, but I need more listens

Albums on the Radar, With Potential to be Reviewed

Being listed here does not mean Brianna or I will review these, it just means we’re aware, and they may be considered, but have not been reviewed yet.

  • The Infamous Stringdusters–Laws of Gravity
  • Lauren Alaina–Road Less Traveled
  • The Secret Sisters–You Don’t Own Me Anymore
  • Ray Scott–Guitar for Sale
  • Glen Campbell–Adios
  • Shannon McNally–Black Irish
  • Joseph Huber–The Suffering Stage
  • Tony Jackson (self-titled)
  • John Baumann–Proving Grounds
  • Jake Worthington–Hell of a Highway
  • Ags Connolly–Nothin’ Unexpected

My Top 13 Songs of 2017 So Far

Editor’s Note: I wrote “my” instead of “Country Exclusive’s” for a reason; this does not necessarily reflect the views of our entire site. Also, these are not, and I repeat, not, in any order. Finally, with the exception of one song which I felt it would be idiotic to leave out, these are all from stuff we have covered in some fashion, either by a full-length review or perhaps through a feature in our “Memorable Songs from Overlooked Albums” pieces. Normally, I would restrict this to stuff one of us has actually written about, but that would leave out one song which, like I say, it would be a glaring sin not to bring up here. So take all this into consideration, and feel free to leave your own lists of songs and thoughts about these in the comments below!

Aaron Watson: “Clear Isabel”

From Vaquero
The first song to really blow my mind in 2017, this is a great and timely story about Isabel and her father, Mariano, who flee to America to escape the cartels of Mexico. Isabel ends up married to the narrator of the song, but her father is deported and later gunned down. It’s an honest and heartbreaking look at immigration, not to mention a brilliant song. Even better with the instrumental prelude, “Mariano’s Dream.”

Jaime Wyatt: “Wishing Well”

From Felony Blues
Jaime Wyatt is probably the name I’m most excited about breaking out in 2017. She has a way of singing about hardship that still manages to put a smile on your face, and this is just a stellar song that gets better every time I hear it.

Natalie Hemby: “Cairo, IL”

This one comes off Puxico, which we didn’t review in full, but it was partly responsible for the “Memorable Songs” features because this track about the lonely, forgotten river town of Cairo, Illinois, is one of the best songs of the year and should by no means be overlooked.

Jason Eady: “Barabbas”

From Jason Eady’s self-titled album
Purely from a songwriting standpoint, this has to be the cleverest thing to come out this year, telling us the story of the man freed by the crucifixion of Jesus, yet never mentioning Jesus or religion, and instead allowing the song to be a timeless track for everyone, although connecting even more deeply with those of faith.

Angaleena Presley: “Dreams Don’t Come True

From Wrangled
This just blew me away on the first listen; who’s going to tell you, especially at the beginning of their record, that look, dreams don’t come true, and don’t believe anyone who says otherwise? But it’s Angaleena Presley’s reality, and credit her for confronting it head-on to deliver us something so powerfully painful and honest.

Angaleena Presley: “Wrangled”

Also from Wrangled
Angaleena Presley has the distinction of being the only one on the list with two entries, but this song is equally deserving. From the wonderful melody to the thought-provoking lyrics about being “wrangled” by her life and husband, this song stands out just as much as “Dreams Don’t Come True.”

Brad Paisley: “Gold All Over the Ground”

From Love and War
What, a mainstream name like Brad Paisley? Yes, that’s what I said. This is Paisley’s musical adaptation of a poem composed by Johnny Cash in the 1960’s, and they don’t make love songs like this anymore. Between the poetry of Cash and the arrangement of Paisley, it has definitely earned its place among the best songs so far in 2017.

Colter Wall: “Kate McCannon

From Colter Wall’s self-titled album
There were many outstanding songs on Colter Wall’s debut record, I just picked the one that shined a tiny bit brighter than the rest.

Chris Stapleton: “Either Way”

From From a Room, Volume 1
I didn’t always think Chris Stapleton showed emotion on his new album–sometimes he just belted songs, and they lost a little of the passion. But this is one moment where he absolutely killed it, and this version might be better than the original LeeAnn Womack version.

The Steel Woods: “Straw in the Wind”

From Straw in the Wind
What a dark, ominous tale–this one comes from one of our collaborative reviews, and Brianna and I both agreed that this story of a town where strangers “disappear like straw in the wind” is a standout of the record.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: “If we Were Vampires”

Yeah, here’s the one I didn’t review, but this is one of the best songs of Isbell’s career, and when I said they don’t make love songs like that anymore about Paisley’s, I guess Isbell proved me wrong. He mentions all the details he loves about his wife, and more than that, he makes you think of death as a gift because it allows you to be a better lover and make the moments last. What a beautiful and morbid picture of love; I’ve never been sad, happy, and scared while listening to a love song before, but that’s what Jason Isbell does here.

Kasey Chambers: “Jonestown

From Dragonfly
The standout of Chambers’ recent double album, this one deals with hardship and discrimination and tells a great story. Probably the most underrated and least known one on the list.

Trisha Yearwood: “Maggie’s Dream”

This one is from the Gentle Giants album, and like I said before when I mentioned this song, I don’t care that it’s a cover, it’s still one of the best songs of the year. Trisha Yearwood delivered a better rendition of an already great song, and she’s earned her place on this list.

Honorable Mentions

  • Jason Eady: “Black Jesus”
  • John Moreland: “Love is Not an Answer”
  • Lauren Alaina: “Same Day, Different Bottle”
  • Zac Brown Band: “All the Best”
  • Kelleigh Bannen: “Church clothes”
  • Rhiannon Giddens: “Better Get it Right the First Time”
  • Sam Outlaw: “Everyone’s Looking For Home”

Album Review: Jaime Wyatt–Felony Blues

Rating: 7.5/10

Jaime Wyatt’s debut effort comes to us from a place of authenticity few artists can really claim; she was convicted of robbing her drug dealer and subsequently served time in prison. Upon her release, the hardship and stigma that came with her past eventually led her to country music. I could go into more detail, but I feel like I should keep my focus as much on Wyatt’s music as possible. Still, it is worth noting because the album’s title rings true in a way that much of today’s music doesn’t, and the raw honesty that comes with life experience like this can serve music well, and certainly does in Jaime Wyatt’s case.

This is an interesting album to discuss, as it isn’t really quite an EP or an album. At seven songs and thirty minutes, it lies somewhere between the two. The rating may be slightly misleading because there are some really fantastic songs and some really average songs. So in order to better serve Jaime Wyatt and the potential shown in several places on this record, I will discuss the high and low points rather than going through the album track by track.

A definite high point on this record is the instrumentation. The opener, “Wishing Well,” immediately captured my attention with its driving production. From the opening line, “I wanna wake up somewhere where you don’t have to lose,” I was drawn to the raw quality in Jaime’s voice. This is the kind of song she really excels at, and I’d like to see more like it from her in the future. Lovers of fiddle and steel should check out “Wasco,” arguably the album’s best track. The narrator in this song is in love with an inmate and dreams of graduating high school and going to be with him, singing, “ain’t nobody gonna tell me who to love.” Songs like this and “Stone Hotel” directly speak to Wyatt’s past and give an authentic feel to the album. “Stone Hotel” especially seems autobiographical, telling the story of an inmate looking back on her conviction and forward to the day when she gets out of prison and can try to live a different life. Another song that stood out for me after a couple listens is the easygoing “Your Loving Saves Me.” “Hard as concrete, soft as gravy, Jesus is cool, but your loving saves me.” Once again, the production and instrumentation really fit the song well.

“From Outer Space” is one of the lower points of the album. I have listened to it several times, and it just doesn’t connect with me like some of the other songs. Jaime Wyatt’s voice really elevates the acoustic “Giving Back the Best of Me” and the cover of Merle Haggard’s classic heartbreak song “Misery and Gin,” but these songs don’t stand out like the more upbeat, rocking material. They are still really solid tracks, but I find myself coming back to “Wishing Well” and “Wasco” more than anything else because the personality and potential of Jaime Wyatt is clearest on these songs.

Overall, this is a pretty solid album. The highlights are the more upbeat tracks, especially “Wishing “well” and “Wasco.” The production works well with each song, and there are some nice lyrical moments as well. But more than anything on the album itself, this debut shows the potential of Jaime Wyatt. This won’t necessarily blow you away, but it shows promise, and Jaime Wyatt is a name you should keep an eye on.

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