Tag Archives: Natalie Hemby

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: Liz Rose–Swimming Alone

Rating: 6/10

If you listened to the first two Taylor Swift albums–you know, back when she did sound rather country–you’ve heard a Liz Rose song. Liz Rose is most famous for having co-written most of the songs on Swift’s first two albums and helping to make her career, lending the skill of a professional songwriter to stories from a girl over thirty years younger and somehow making the partnership work to perfection. Liz Rose also has a songwriting credit on Little Big Town’s “Girl crush,” as well as many other mainstream hits, always seeming to find that balance between commercial success and critical acclaim. So when news came that she was releasing an album, that couldn’t be taken lightly; rather, it was like hearing about Natalie Hemby, Lori McKenna, and Brandy Clark before her, definitely something to be excited and intrigued about.
The difference? Liz Rose didn’t want to make this record “pitchable.” She didn’t come into it looking for subsequent records or tour dates–in fact, she said that after she wrote the album closer, “My Apology,” she felt like the story had ended, and this might be the only Liz rose record to ever grace our presence. Also, she’s not a performer, though her vocal talent here would counter that notion. Still, you have to come into this record knowing what it is to fully get it; it’s just a little story of Rose’s life told in song, and she just happened to have Nashville connections and a publishing company, so you stumbled upon a copy.
That’s the cool thing about this record. It’s dated, but not in the timeless, throwback way of Colter wall, more like in the way of your mom or aunt or grandma telling their stories about growing up in the 50’s and 60’s. It’s trapped there in that time period, and that’s why it’s crucial to understand where Liz Rose is coming from lest it just be an out-of-date, old-fashioned affair. One of the best songs here is the opener, “Grocery Money,” where Rose tells of her mother’s sacrifice and shares the details about growing up with little but somehow always having enough to get by. You’ll hear in “Five ‘n’ Dime” how she worked with her family at one of these stores, in “Woodstock” that she was pissed off to be too young in 1969 to go, and in “Tulsa” about an adventure with her best friend when she was thirteen and ran away from home to “God knows where, Oklahoma.” You’ll get a sense of her fearlessness and motivation to carve out a career for herself in the songwriting industry, an industry she entered at the age of thirty-seven, when you hear “Swimming Alone” and learn that she’s used to finding her own way. You’ll get a glimpse into her love life with “Letters From Prison,” telling the story of a teenage boyfriend who later sent letters to her office and wanted autographs of country stars to distract him from his “personal hell,” and “Ex-Husbands,” the humorous tale of her marriage history that is the highlight of this record and has the potential to get cut despite Rose writing the album to be “unpitchable.” There are also more touching moments, like the aforementioned “My Apology,” where Liz Rose apologizes to her parents, old lovers, and even herself for her mistakes, and “Yellow Room,” where she’s missing and saying goodbye to her father. all in all, it’s a very personal, very unique reflection of her life, much like a snapshot into the life of a relative or a friend, only told in musical form.
AT the same time, that’s also the thing that holds this record back. It’s very personal and cool, but in many places so much so that it won’t be relatable to many. That’s not what Liz rose was going for here, though; she just wanted to make a record for herself. I think people who grew up in these same times will find much to relate to and to love about this album anyway, and this is why I featured it. Personally, although it’s a really cool album and idea, and although the production makes it much more catchy and less boring than these types of singer-songwriter albums generally are, it doesn’t hold up for me beyond the initial interesting glimpse into the life of Liz Rose. The songs “Grocery Money,” “ex-Husbands,” and “Woodstock” stand out above the others, and as a fan, I would pick them off the record; indeed, that’s almost what I did in order to feature Liz rose and this album. I wanted to enjoy this more, particularly as someone who respects the songwriting of Rose, but at the end of the day, a lot of it just isn’t for me, and that directly speaks to the fact that I can’t really relate to these stories and times. But it’s a record that will be for a lot of people despite, or perhaps even because of, its personal nature. People from Rose’s generation especially will connect to this album, and in light of Liz Rose’s intent with this project, the result was a cool listen if nothing else.

Listen to Album

Memorable Songs From forgettable Albums: March 22nd

So, I honestly just thought of the idea for this feature while I was sitting here for what has to be at least the fifth time trying to articulate something intelligent to say about Josh Turner’s latest album, Deep South. That album is not really a bad record, but fell short of the expectations of a lot of Josh Turner fans, including myself, and honestly, after this review, the only song I’m probably ever going to listen to again is “Lay Low.” It’s very hard to sit down and write about an album like this because it’s not bad enough to warrant a rant but it’s not good enough to praise and if it’s not worth my time to listen to, it’s difficult to make it worth my time and energy to write about. The same is true for Little Big town’s latest effort because, while it’s definitely a step in the right direction after Painkiller, it’s not something I want to listen to again. The problem is that the good songs on these albums get overlooked when the records don’t get reviewed. So I think I’ve found a way to highlight standout songs on less than stellar albums in a way that benefits the artists and better serves the music, all while saving myself and you the time of discussing mediocre music. You can expect these features whenever, well, I feel that there have been enough songs sliding through the cracks to warrant one. 🙂 let me know what you guys think!

Natalie Hemby: “Cairo, IL”

Yes, I know, this album came out in January, and I should have talked about it then, but I couldn’t think of anything to say. The overall album has a very sleepy feel to it, and I didn’t have much to put to paper. But this is one of the best songs of the year, and it’s better to recognize it late than never. It’s a beautiful, stripped-back song about a Mississippi river town, now a shell of what it once was. If you haven’t heard it yet, do it now. You will fall in love with it.

Natalie Hemby: “Time Honored Tradition”

The other standout of Puxico that shouldn’t go overlooked. Just an easygoing, nostalgic track where once again, the production and lyrics really work.

Little Big Town: “Better Man”

I will go right ahead and say strict traditionalists aren’t going to like this because it’s way more pop than country. It’s the songwriting that got to me on this, and it’s no surprise that Taylor swift wrote it. That’s going to immediately turn some people off and immediately make others hit play. I almost didn’t even include it because most have already heard it since it was a radio hit, but it did stand out for me on their album, so here it is.

Little Big Town: “Beat UP Bible”

This one is the most country on their otherwise pop/adult contemporary album and tells the story of a Bible that’s been in the family for generations. It’s also one of the most interesting moments on The Breaker. Kimberly Schlapman can’t be anything but country, and if they’d give her the lead on more songs, they’d be going in a much better direction.

Alison Krauss: “You Don’t Know Me”

Alison Krauss’s classic covers album Windy City is an interesting one. There’s nothing wrong with it at all, and by placing this song here, I’m really kind of calling the album forgettable. It’s really quite good but sleepy. It’s not really for me, and it’s something I respect more than I enjoy. I thought there were some good covers, especially “Gentle on my Mind.” However, this one really stood out above the others and stood out more than as a great cover, it stood out as a great Alison Krauss song.

Josh Turner: “Lay Low”

Well, you probably all know this one too, as this came out ahead of an album meant to be released in March 2015, but as it was the very song that inspired this feature in the first place, I thought it deserved to be here. As far as Josh turner’s album, there are probably Josh fans who are going to get behind it more than I did, but basically it was just underwhelming and lackluster, and then you had this great song “Lay Low” sticking out like a sore thumb to remind you of better days.