Tag Archives: Nashville sound

Reflecting on: The Definitive Collection: Don Williams

Friday’s Gentle Giants tribute album to Don Williams has inspired me to go back and search through his discography. I know Brianna did a Greatest Hits collection last week, but this is honestly one of the best examples of his music that is also easily accessible–many of his original albums can’t be streamed, and hopefully, hearing this one will inspire you to dig further into his albums anyway. His music is some of the first exposure to older country that I ever had growing up, and it’s some I still come back to, and for good reason.

Release Date: 2004
Style: mostly countrypolitan/the Nashville sound, some more traditional country as well
Who Might Like This Album: fans of Ronnie Milsap, fans of Sam Outlaw, fans of softer country, love songs, and heartbreak ballads
Standout Tracks: “Some Broken Hearts Never Mend,” “If Hollywood Don’t Need You,” Lord, I Hope This Day is Good,” “Good Ole Boys Like Me,” “Come Early Morning,” “I’m Just a Country Boy,” “She Never Knew Me”
Reflections: You might think Sam Outlaw is an odd reference to make when referring to a classic country singer like Don Williams, but it’s the Nashville sound that Outlaw has modernized which Williams helped to make popular in the 70’s and 80’s; he wasn’t an outlaw like Merle or Willie, and his brand of country, although sprinkled with traditional songs, leans more toward the pop country of that time–which just shows you how far the term pop country has slipped, and also that it wasn’t always synonymous with crap. There’s a reason he is called “gentle giant,”–that unmistakable bass voice is known best for love songs like “I Believe in You” and heartbreak songs like “Some Broken Hearts Never Mend” than anything else. This album, and really all Don Williams music, is an easy listen. It just puts you in a good mood. It’s relaxing and simple, and it reminds you that it didn’t take grit to make timeless music.

There’s a sincerity and depth of emotion in these songs that’s hard to come by in today’s writing, and “gentle” is also the right word to describe the voice of Don Williams. I mentioned simplicity, and it shines through on “Lord, I Hope This Day is Good,” a little prayer for just that, a good day in the midst of struggle, and “Good Ole Boys Like Me,” a song that reminds you you can sing about growing up in the South without it being one giant cliché. He can share sentiments like “If Hollywood don’t need you, honey, I still do” from my personal favorite Don Williams song, or “most of all, you’re my best friend” and have them come off as sincere rather than cheesy. It could be the bass voice or simply the way you believe the words, but Don Williams has a way of selling these types of songs that would perhaps otherwise come off too sappy. I keep coming back to that word, “gentle,” which seems to describe his voice, his style, and his songs. As I said, it’s a nice, easy listen. Start with this, and work your way through his music. I have yet to find a bad Don Williams song.

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Album Review: Sam Outlaw–Tenderheart

Rating: 8/10

If you’re unfamiliar with Sam Outlaw, you’re missing out on some great and frankly just cool, unique music. He calls his music SoCal country, and it’s got a smooth, clean feel that’s just pleasant and soothing to hear. It reminds you that polish doesn’t always remove emotion, and a record doesn’t need grit to convey something real. His debut album, 2015’s Angeleno, was one of the few projects that came out prior to Country Exclusive’s birth that I felt I had to go back and cover because the record just deserved it.

Read: album Review: Sam Outlaw–Angeleno

With all that said, this was definitely a 2017 release I was looking forward to. and after a couple listens, it’s not quite blowing me away on the level of Angeleno, but it’s another great album from Outlaw.

Tenderheart hones in on that unique style Sam Outlaw introduced with his debut record. It’s just so clean and pleasant. At times, I was reminded sonically of Jim Croce in “Time in a Bottle” or “Walking Back to Georgia.” This album has a mellow feel like those songs as well as some quietly great songwriting. The front half is particularly strong, featuring the deceivingly reflective “Bottomless Mimosas,” the bittersweet title track, and the beautifully written and achingly true “everyone’s Looking For Home.” This, I might add, was a very nice album opener and set the tone of the whole record well. The sparse arrangements throughout the album really allow the lyrics and Outlaw’s vocals to shine and bring emotion to the stories. IN many cases, it’s a matter of less is more, and that’s the reason you won’t find me explaining too many of these songs. Many of them are quite simple yet elevated by the arrangements, the clean production, and the vocal delivery. Breaking down the tracks would take away some of that beauty and experience you get just by listening to Sam Outlaw’s music.

One exception I feel I should highlight is “Two broken Hearts,” a song depicting the fate of two missing broken hearts after two people found each other one night. Another exception is “She’s Playing Hard to Get (Rid of),” which gets points for the originality in the title and hook even if the songwriting here doesn’t quite live up to it. Still, it’s the mood of the record that really brings it to life and makes tracks like the previously mentioned “Bottomless Mimosas” stand out.

If I have anything to say against this album, it’s that nothing really blew me away like “Ghost Town” on Angeleno. Some of this record is better than that album as a whole, so that’s not entirely a fair criticism, but I kept waiting for that one moment where I would just sit back and be blown away by musical greatness. admittedly, I might be grading Sam Outlaw a little too harshly because the main reason I feel this way stems from the fact that I’ve seen what he is capable of. “Ghost Town” was one of the best songs of 2015. I don’t think you’ll find a song of the Year contender here, but this album is stronger in places than Outlaw’s first. Having said that, the back half does start to run together a little, and I don’t think the last few songs will hold up like the first seven. For me, the shining exception to this is “All my Life,” where the narrator is explaining to a woman in his hometown that even though he has the rest of his life to find a wife, he’d rather spend it with her. It’s a nice twist on a love song, and it’s also one of the only upbeat moments on a mostly mid-tempo album, so it certainly stands out.

Overall, this album is another great one from Sam Outlaw. He continues to do what he does best, perfecting his so-called SoCal country sound into something unique and cool, a modern take on the Nashville sound that suits his voice and these songs excellently well. As I said, it shows that it doesn’t take grit to be authentic. Although there isn’t a “Ghost Town” moment on Tenderheart, it’s a really nice, solid album most of the way through, and there’s a lot about it to enjoy.

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Album Review: Sam Outlaw–Angeleno

Rating: 9/10

Earlier this year, before the existence of this blog, several albums came out that are definitely worth reviewing. This is true in the case of Sam Outlaw, whose debut album came out in June. While the album, Angeleno, falls short of being a ten for me, it is still one of the better albums of the year, and definitely one of the most unique. For its uniqueness alone, it should not be overlooked. With a name like Sam Outlaw, one would expect outlaw country music, or at least an attempt at outlaw country, but instead this is more of the Nashville sound that came before outlaw country. (Outlaw chose this name because it was his late mother’s maiden name.) But I feel many people are probably turned off by the name alone, and if so, you have been missing some great music.

The album opens with “Who Do You Think You Are,” a mid-tempo love song featuring horns and acoustic guitars. It’s pretty good, but I’m not sure if it would hold my attention if this was the first song I heard from Sam Outlaw (it wasn’t.) Having said that, there’s nothing wrong with it either. Next is “Keep It Interesting,” another mid-tempo song which does hold my attention and is about a couple keeping their love alive by “Keeping it interesting.” And yes, by “it” I do mean sex. You can argue that “keeping it interesting” might mean several things, but I think the intent was sex. Evidence for this includes lines like “Your mama and your daddy might think it’s a sin.” This is a refreshing song that is one of my favorites on the album. Next is “I’m not Jealous,” an interesting take on a cheating song in which he tells the cheating woman, “I’m not jealous of them, I’m embarrassed for you.”” Love Her For Awhile” is the first song I heard from Sam Outlaw, and it’s hard to say what caught my attention about it. It’s very much a case of less is more. It’s a simple little song about not really being able to explain the feelings he has, but somehow knowing that he’ll “love her for awhile.” There is something very honest about this song that made me wonder who sang it, and when I found out it was Sam Outlaw, a name I’d heard but basically ignored, I went looking for his music.

The title track is a love song with a western feel that tells a story. It’s a good love song and tells a great story, but on an album of love songs, it doesn’t stand out for this listener as much as the others. By contrast, “Country Love Song” is one of the best love songs on the album. Here, Outlaw is on the road and wondering if a woman back home will still love him as much as she used to when he finally returns. He says, “I wish that I could send you a country love song.” Again, there is honesty in this song that really helps it. Next is “Ghost Town,” and if you only listen to one Sam Outlaw song, make it this. This is one of the best songs of the year. From the instrumentation to the melody to the lyrics to the vocals, I can’t do it justice in words. It’s about a man returning home and traveling through ghost towns, and through excellent pictures, we are told the story of both the narrator and the towns. This is country at its best.

Next is a drinking song called “Jesus, Take the Wheel (And Drive me to a Bar).” It’s not bad as drinking songs go, but I could have done without it. “It Might Kill Me” is a great heartbreak song in which his friends are telling him the pain will get better. In response, Sam Outlaw sings, “If it don’t kill you, it just makes you better. It might kill me, it might.” The instrumentation in this song is excellent, featuring a great balance of steel guitar. “Keep a Close Eye On Me” finds Sam asking God to watch over him and make him into a better person. “Oh, Lord, keep a close eye on me” is an excellent line.

“Old-Fashioned” speaks of a kind of love that is less common in today’s culture. This love is the kind where men and women stand by each other and help each other. I like the sentiment of this song, but I felt it needed more lyrics. After two short verses, we are left with really nice instrumentation, but I kept waiting for an end to the song that never came. Angeleno closes with the simple heartbreak song “Hole Down in My Heart,” the first upbeat song on the entire album. It sticks out like a sore thumb among the slow and mid-tempo songs before it, and I think it should have been balanced by another upbeat song. Instead of showing variety, the lone track feels like it was thrown in on the end and doesn’t go well with the rest of the album.

Overall, Angeleno is a great listen and showcases the Nashville sound at its best. If “Hole Down in My Heart” and “Jesus, Take the Wheel (and Drive me To a Bar)” were removed, this album would be a ten. This album is one of the most unique releases of 2015 and features some of the best songwriting of the year. Don’t ignore this album because of the name Sam Outlaw.

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