Tag Archives: Randy Rogers Band

Concert Review: The 4th Annual Medicine Stone

Last weekend, I had the great opportunity to attend Medicine Stone, known by its web site as “the fastest-growing Red Dirt experience in Oklahoma.” Started in 2013 and organized by Turnpike Troubadours and Jason Boland, Medicine Stone is a three-day event held on the Illinois River in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, featuring Texas/Red Dirt music in all its forms–from the more traditional country sound of Jamie Lin Wilson to the rock sound of Cody Canada and the Departed, and everything in between. The sounds in Red dirt music and at Medicine stone are quite diverse, but there is a common thread running through it all, the quality of the music and the care that these artists put into their songs.

It was impossible to see everyone, due to artists playing in different locations at the same time, but I tried to experience as much as possible. I’ll only cover the artists I heard, but here is a link to the complete lineup of artists. It is quite an impressive and diverse list.

The event kicked off on Thursday with artists playing in a bar on site before the main stage area opened. I was impressed with my first exposure to Bleu Edmondson, who performed his Red Dirt hits such as “$50 and a Flask of Crown.” Shane Smith & the Saints, of Austin, Texas, opened on the main stage–with their harmonies, smart lyrics, and unique sound, they were definitely one of the highlights of the whole weekend. Shane Smith mentioned that they had come to Medicine Stone in 2015 and played in the bar, and that they had been invited to play on the main stage this year because of the tremendous amount of positive feedback and requests to hear more. I think they have a bright future in the Texas scene, and I highly recommend getting to know this band. William Clark Green and Stoney LaRue followed, both of whom have been established in the Red Dirt scene for years. Green performed many of his hits, as well as snippets of the Beatles and the Rolling stones. Stoney laRue made his mark on the event with what he described as the song that made his career, “Oklahoma Breakdown.” There is something special about hearing this live in Oklahoma, with thousands of fellow Oklahomans all singing along to it. The night closed with the excellent Randy Rogers Band, a more laidback, country sound after the rock leanings of both William Clark Green and Stoeny LaRue. The thing that impressed me the most about the Randy Rogers Band was how much their live music sounds like their recordings; it is a testament to the commitment to live music throughout this subgenre of music.

Friday offered the best lineup, and the attendance reflected this. Before the main stage opened, I had the opportunity to see two artists I’d never heard of, Kaitlin Butts and Midnight River Choir. Kaitlin Butts is a name you should check out if you like more traditional country–she sang many times with just her guitar, and when her band broke into Merle Haggard’s “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink,” she had the entire crowd dancing. Midnight River Choir is a name you should check out if you like the more country rock sound of Texas music; I regretted that their performance overlapped Kaitlin’s because most people missed one or the other, and both were unsung standouts of Medicine Stone.

The main stage opened that night with the increasingly popular Jamie Lin Wilson, whom I also had the pleasure of interviewing during the festival; you can read that interview on Country Exclusive in the coming days! Wilson’s set was the most country of the weekend on the main stage, and a highlight of her time onstage was the murder song “Roses by the Dozen,” before which she advised us, “If you need someone to come creep out your festival, just call me.” Micky & the Motorcars followed, bringing a mix of country and rock, with more upbeat material. Reckless Kelly, another household name in the Red Dirt scene, came out next and performed many songs from their new album, Sunset Motel, released Friday and available for the first time at Medicine Stone. This band was another standout, singing everything from Merle Haggard to Bruce Springsteen covers and doing justice to both. They easily offered the most diverse sound within their set, and because of this, everyone could have found something to like from them. The Americana band American Aquarium, from Raleigh, North Carolina, followed; they seemed slightly out of place among the many Texas and Oklahoma-based artists, and theirs was the only set that I didn’t enjoy throughout. However, the quality and care in their music was much the same, and they showed it on highlights like “Losing Side of Twenty-Five.” The lead singer, BJ Barham, stated that “if we can get 6,000 people to come to the middle of fucking nowhere just to listen to some music, it proves people still care about music.” The night closed with Turnpike Troubadours, and I could have devoted an entire article to their performance alone–all I can say about them is please, please go listen to them live. Nothing I can say will do them justice. From the moment they kicked off with “Doreen,” until they closed with “Long Hot Summer Day,” they had the attention of everyone in the crowd. I heard a lot of great music each day, but the Turnpike Troubadours are on another level.

There were several artists on Saturday that I didn’t experience. I got to hear Cody Canada and the Departed, the most rock-leaning group there, and probably in the whole Red Dirt scene. It impressed me how many different sounds the organizers of Medicine Stone incorporated into the event. The Departed played some new songs and some of the Cross Canadian Ragweed hits. Also, I just want to point out, as rock influenced as they are, fiddle and steel were featured prominently in several of their songs–take note, mainstream Nashville. The night closed with Jason Boland & the Stragglers, another band you should absolutely see live. They, like Randy Rogers Band, sound very similar live to their recordings.

Texas/Red dirt is very hard to define. It can be country or rock and is usually a unique mix of the two. Cody Canada said onstage that “it is a community of people who share each other’s songs and love for music.” However you define it, there is something common in all of it, raw honesty in songs, the quality of the material, and the unwavering commitment to live music. Turnpike Troubadours and Jason Boland have accomplished a great thing by creating an event to celebrate this unique subgenre, and anyone with a love for country, rock, or just real, quality music should consider attending Medicine stone.

Album Review: Sean McConnell’s Self-Titled Album

Rating: 9/10

One of the most enjoyable things about being a reviewer is the ability to introduce people to new and deserving artists. Sean McConnell’s name is not new–he has had an established name in the Texas scene for fifteen years, recording numerous albums as well as writing for better-known artists like Wade Bowen and the Randy Rogers Band. But for casual fans and many serious fans of country music, his new self-titled album will be the first encounter with Sean McConnell. I will immediately say it is not strictly country; some songs are more country than others, but the album leans more toward Americana, or perhaps the rock side of the Texas/red dirt sound. As I’ve said often, it is not the album to buy for fiddle and steel, but there is a lot to love about this album.

The album opens with “Holy Days,” an upbeat, pop rock song about the early days of the band and a girl from the past. McConnell has said much of this album is autobiographical, and this song seems to reflect that, pointing to the days when his band was starting to gain popularity. The driving production fits this song and sets the tone of the album. “Ghost Town” follows–this one is more country rock and sees McConnell visiting his old hometown, only to discover everything has changed, and the people here are all strangers. He sees everything as it once was, but it will never be the same. The lyric “I can’t tell if I wanna build a shrine or just burn it to the ground” captures the conflict in this song perfectly. “Bottom of the Sea,” a re-recording from an earlier EP, is more of the upbeat style found in the opener. the lyrics shouldn’t be overlooked, though–“the hardest part of living is knowing that you’re gonna die, trying to leave a legacy with only so much time. I don’t know about you but I’m getting sick and tired of living on the surface and in between the lines.” The lighthearted production can distract a little from the seriousness of the song at first, but after a couple listens, that starts to add to the song.

Beautiful Rose” is the first song I would call strictly country. The stripped-back production and country instrumentation work well here, as McConnell sings about how life is not always what you expect it to be–“but I’ll take the thorns for this beautiful rose.” It’s a simple, quiet moment on a mostly upbeat album. ‘Hey Mary” is a fun, lighthearted song about trying to make Mary fall in love. McConnell says she can crash at his house, and he will sleep on the floor and let her vent about the guy who made her cry. He says one day he will sing her this song and prove that he knew all along she would fall in love with him eventually. “Best We’ve Ever Been” sees a couple just spending a day together, celebrating their years together and that they are still just as much in love–“Baby, we had no idea, and I would do the same thing if we did.” It’s a simple little song that paints love as just wanting to spend time with each other.

One of the definite highlights of the album is the autobiographical “Queen of St. Mary’s Choir.” sean McConnell sings about his life as “the product of desire between the guitar kid from Hudson and the queen of St. Mary’s choir.” He embraces the characteristics he got from both his paretns, and that he became a musician. Another highlight is “Running underwater”–this one sees McConnell dealing with personal struggles and calling on Jesus to help, if indeed God is out there. The imagery in this song hit me the first time–“Oh, what a dream I had last night. I could not scream, I could not fight. And the more I pushed, and the more I pried, it got harder and harder, like running underwater.” The production and the lyrics blend perfectly here, and it is one you should just listen to. “One Acre of Land” is another very country song and another highlight. McConnell says that he doesn’t have a lot of money but “we could build a dream right where we stand on one acre of land.” It’s another one that speaks for itself with a listen. The album closes with “Babylon,” a song in which a broken relationship is compared to Babylon. This is another one like “Running Underwater,” where the songwriting paints wonderful pictures. “we’re a tattered flag where the mighty fell, we’re a rusty coin in a wishing well, we’re the only lie that you couldn’t sell, Babylon.” Sean McConnell sings this with incredible emotion, and the song builds throughout to match the intensity. It’s an excellent way to close a great album, although ten songs leaves me wishing it were a bit longer.

Overall, this is a great album. The songwriting is excellent in places, and although it isn’t the most country thing out there, it fits within Americana well. It blends styles nicely, and the production on each song works well with the lyrics. Sean McConnell said this album was somewhat personal and autobiographical, and it reflects that authenticity. This is definitely an album worth checking out!

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Album Review: Randy Rogers Band–Nothing Shines Like Neon

Rating: 9/10

Following the excellent 2015 collaboration with Wade Bowen, Hold my Beer, Volume 1, Randy Rogers is back with his band for Nothing Shines Like Neon. This album marks the return of the Randy Rogers Band to Texas after some albums in Nashville, and it was preceeded with news that it would be an album of traditional country, complete with appearances by Alison Krauss and Jerry Jeff Walker. Well, the album is available today, and I can safely say it lived up to its expectations, and it is the first great album of 2016.

The album opens with “San Antone,” a nice ode to Texas that celebrates coming back after their years away. Songs about Texas are common in Texas country, but this one stands out after the band’s years in Nashville and works perfectly. It is a fitting opener for the album, and right away I can see that the promise of traditional country rings true. Fiddle, steel, and acoustic guitar are prominent here, and will continue to be throughout the album. “Rain and the Radio” is a catchy, upbeat song about a couple enjoying being with each other when the power is out. They don’t need anything but the rain and the radio; this doesn’t stand out as one of the best songs on the album, but it is a song that gets better with each listen and earns its place quietly. “Neon Blues,” the album’s first single, is a classic song about a woman in a bar drinking away the pain of a past relationship. Much like “Rain and the Radio,” this one is catchy and gets better with each listen. It is unclear here whether the narrator is the one who hurt her, the bartender, or just someone in the bar, but he has observed this woman and is advising someone else not to waste his time pursuing her. It was certainly a good single choice.

“Things I Need to Quit” sees a man listing all the habits he needs to rid himself of: alcohol, cigarettes, but most importantly, the woman who has him in this position. Randy Rogers sings of a girl who is getting dressed and waiting for a cab–“she looks a lot like you, ain’t that a shame. Girl, I’m all messed up, and you’re to blame.” It’s a very honest and relatable song that will connect with many. “Look Out Yonder” is one of the best songs on the album. Featuring Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski, it tells the story from a brother’s point of view, as he looks out at the road and sees his wayward brother finally coming home, guitar strapped to his back. The instrumentation, lyrics, and harmonies blend beautifully in this song, and it is really one that you should hear. “Tequila Eyes” sees the narrator seeking out his friend, who is trying to find comfort in a bar. Apparently this is quite unlike her, and this narrator is broken, trying to tell her that tequila won’t hide the pain. Randy Rogers delivers the emotion in this song wonderfully, and the fiddle in this song is excellent. After the rawness of “Tequila Eyes” comes the expertly placed “Taking it as it Comes.” This is one of the most fun moments on the album, and the fiddles and rock guitars on this song remind me of a Turnpike Troubadours track. Jerry Jeff Walker is featured here, and basically this song is just about taking life as it comes and not letting life get to you; it’s just a fun song.

“Old Moon New” is probably the best song on Nothing Shines Like Neon. Here, a man sings about writing a woman clichéd love letters and giving her eleven roses “just to shake it up.” He says he knows that “there’s nothing new under that old moon” but “girl, you make that old moon new.” It’s a beautiful song and stands out in contrast to all the songs about back roads and moonlight we’ve been hearing from mainstream country music. “Meet Me Tonight” is another standout on this album; it reminds me of an earlier Randy Rogers Band song, “One More Goodbye.” Here, a man is asking an old love to meet up with him one last time; he knows it won’t last, but he still misses her. The Randy Rogers Band really seem to have a knack for capturing the emotion in these types of songs, and I think this is one that while having the unfortunate placement after “Old Moon New” will surpass it in quality with more listens.

“Actin’ Crazy” is an instant personal favorite. If “Old Moon New” is the best serious song, this song is the most witty. Featuring Jamey Johnson–has Jamey Johnson ever lent his voice to a bad song?–this song tells the story of a man writing a letter back home to Texas, presumably from L.A. or some other city. This man is living a life that is “one chaotic wreck” and knows he is getting nowhere. Some of my favorite lyrics are present here, among them “these folks make me proud to be from Texas” and “the rent’s as high as Willie.” This song also makes me ready for that Jamey Johnson album we’ve been hearing about forever. The album closes with “Pour one for the Poor One,” your classic country song about a man drinking away his troubles after his woman has left him. They promised traditional country, and this song is a perfect way to close an album of such music.

Overall, this is a truly enjoyable album. The Randy Rogers Band balance serious and fun songs well, and the light and dark material combine to make this an album that is not only critically great, but listenable and relatable as well. They promised an album of traditional country, and that is what this album delivers. Nothing Shines Like Neon is a great start to 2016 for country music.

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Random Thoughts of the Week: The Top Five Signs of Hope for Mainstream Country

2015 has been the year of the sellout in country music. The two most disappointing sellouts of the year for me were easily the Zac Brown Band and the Eli Young Band, the former with the release of the EDM single “Beautiful Drug” to country radio, and the latter with the terrible single “Turn it On” and the subsequent EP, as well as the horrible “country remix” of “Honey, I’m Good” with Andy Grammer. Keith Urban was a close third, using his talent to give us the brilliant “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16,” a song that personally pisses me off about as much as “Kick the Dust Up” because Keith Urban knows better. Easton Corbin used his George Strait-esque voice, previously used for “A Little More Country Than That,” to record an album full of bro country pickup lines. Brett Eldredge, though never really carrying a torch for traditional country, was never really working aginst us until his recent r&b album Illinois. Danielle Bradbery has remade herself into a wannabe pop star for the sake of reviving an already struggling career. Even the legendary Alabama sunk to the low of releasing “Southern Drawl,” a desperate attempt to be cool that failed in every respect, coolness especially. And now, Eric Paslay’s new single, “High Class” seems to have finally pushed everyone off the deep end with its blatant metro-bro bullshit lyrics and style–and this coming from the person who obviously knows better, as “She Don’t Love You” so effectively proved. In times like these, people start saying we should forsake country altogether and start calling ourselves Americana fans, that we should just surrender our beloved “country music” to these sellouts, country carpetbaggers, and metro-bro douchebags, and go listen to Americana. They say that all hope for “country” as we knew it is lost.

Well, here are some signs of hope, in no particular order of importance.

Dierks Bentley

Dierks Bentley is not selling out, as his latest single, “Riser,” has proven. I will be incredibly shocked if he succumbs to the trends, as he has no reason to. He has found the perfect balance between quality and airplay and doesn’t seem to care that he often does not get the recognition he deserves. He has made quality music throughout his career and has no reason to change that now; he’s found a formula that works for him even in this country radio climate.

Carrie Underwood

Carrie Underwood is not a traditional country artist, but she’s here because she defines what actual pop country should sound like. She takes the best of pop and country and blends them well, offering songs that both display depth in storytelling and are radio-ready. Although I was not as impressed with her new single, “Smoke Break,” as many, it certainly does not follow the current trends, and her new album, Storyteller, could be a factor in turning back the tide of mainstream country music to a real pop-country sound–what we have now is straight pop poorly disguised and incorrectly labled as country.

Cam

True, Cam has only given us two singles and an EP so far, but the reason she’s in my top five signs of hope for mainstream country is that On the Verge supported her. Her first single, “My Mistake,” was a nice pop country blend, but “Burning House,” the sponsored single, is a completely acoustic, traditional country song. The fact that this program supported an artist like that signals change. Cam’s debut album cannot come soon enough!

Chris Stapleton

Some would argue whether Chris Stapleton is mainstream, but I don’t see why. He’s on a major label and has even received some airplay. Traveller is nominated for Album of the Year by the CMA, and Stapleton is nominated for Male Vocalist of the Year and New Artist of the Year. Stapleton with three nominations is a sure sign of hope.

Maddie & Tae

I have written a lot about these ladies, but I’ll say it again–they can bring those that think “country” = Sam Hunt and Kelsea Ballerini back to country. Radio has actually given them a shot. They’ve proven they’re not afraid of fighting for country; they’ve spoken out against drum machines and their debut single was “Girl in a Country Song.” The fact that Scott Borchetta and Big Machine are behind them and that they’re actually getting played is a huge sign of hope.

Despite all the selling out, there are still a lot of reasons to hope for mainstream country, perhaps now more than ever. More and more independent artists are seeing success in album sales that mainstream Nashville can’t ignore. Country legend Merle Haggard, a name-drop in many of today’s songs, is openly speaking out. Represented above are established artists and newcomers alike, fighting for real country music. I didn’t even mention Mo Pitney, Ashley Monroe, Kacey Musgraves, Jon Pardi–the list goes on. Not to mention Tim McGraw’s new album will unashamedly be titled Damn Country Music. I wasn’t thrilled by the lead single, but the album title certainly intrigues me. The point of all this is that mainstream country is far from hopeless–in fact, after years of fighting, we are finally seeing numbers on our side, artists speaking out, and more traditional artists being signed and getting airplay. In short, although it is happening slowly, we are seeing results. Why should we give up now? The day we leave our own fight and run to Americana is the day that country music will be lost.

Tomato of the Week: Jamie Lin Wilson

I featured her friend and fellow Texas country artist, Courtney Patton, last week, so this week, I am covering Jamie Lin Wilson. Check out her full article on Female Friday!

Random Country Suggestion: Randy Rogers Band–Burning the Day

A great album from one of my favorite Texas/Red Dirt bands.

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No non-country suggestion, just go listen to these glaring signs of hope.

Album Review: Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen–Hold my Beer, Vol. 1

Rating: 9.5/10

There are several albums that came out earlier this year, prior to the existence of Country Exclusive, which definitely deserve discussion–some because they were incredibly awesome, others because they were incredibly awful, and still others, like Zac Brown Band’s latest album, for reasons that can only be explained in a full-length review. On weeks with fewer releases, I will do my best to catch up on albums that I feel especially deserve attention. This album came out on April 20th and is one of the best albums I’ve heard this year.

Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen are two amazing artists in their own right. They are two of the biggest names in Texas/red dirt country, and if someone asked me about red dirt, those are the first two names I’d give them. Their putting together a collaboration album is the equivalent of Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan combining their individual bro country arrogance into one glorious album full of dirt roads and bikkinis. So, the correct response to the news that Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen are teaming up and naming an album after their “Hold my Beer and Watch This” tours, is to expect Texas country gold. Thankfully, this album delivered.

The album opens with “In the Next Life,” a reflective song about the highs and lows of their careers. The line “I guess what they say is true, all you need is one good friend” pretty much sums up their chemistry and the tone of the album. It’s lighthearted and upbeat, and the instrumentation is great. Next is “I Had my Hopes up High,” an upbeat track about their experiences hitching rides from various people. I hope these were actual experiences. Once again, the instrumentation is great. In fact, let me say this now so I won’t have to repeat it for every song–Instrumentation is one thing that is awesome throughout the whole album, with steel guitar and fiddle and enough rock for this listener. I recognize the technical awesomeness of straight traditional country, but I do like a little rock as well, and that is something that Texas artists seem to blend into their country fflawlessly. If you want to look for “evolution” of the country sound, this album is where to find it.

The album slows down with the heartbreak song, “Till It Does.” I was hooked with the first line, as Wade Bowen sings: “I never told her that I loved her, but I do.” The premise is that the heartache “don’t happen till it does.” It’s such a simple line, but it’s truth. It was a great time to primarily feature Wade, as these types of songs are one of his strengths. Next is “Good Luck With That,” a fun song in which Wade wants to tell off his boss, a “certified SOB” and Randy wants to tell his wife he’s the “man of the house” and can stay out with Wade as long as he wants to. Each tells the other, “Good luck with that.” As I say often in my reviews, this song would be playing on radio right now if radio was country. The next song, “It’s Been a Great Afternoon,” is also “radio ready.” It’s a drinking song in which they have massive hangovers after possibly the night before from “Good Luck With That.” They reflect, “I can’t say we’ve had a good morning, but damn, it’s been a great afternoon.” This is my least favorite song on the album, but it works after “Good Luck With That” and it has grown on me some.

I talked about “Standards” in a rant about Luke Bryan’s comments on outlaw country. From my rant:
“Outlaw country spawned the Texas/red dirt country movement, and that’s where you will find today’s outlaws; they are people like Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers who sing about having “standards” as opposed to making “hits” and are relegated to the Texas Music Chart and Texas and Oklahoma stations willing to play their music.”

“Standards” is about a “record man” trying to pitch them a song about a dirt road, to which their response is, “I don’t have hits, I’ve got standards.” I don’t even need to explain why this is beautiful. “El Dorado” is my favorite song on the album, and is a ballad about a cowboy who is about to die. I love the line, “Better the angels should claim you than the long ride alone.” The song is reflective and peaceful more than sorrowful. Their harmonies really work well in this song, even more than in the rest of the album. “Hangin’ Out in Bars” is another standout song for me about a man who is “hangin’ out in bars” after his woman left him. This song features Randy Rogers more, and it was the perfect time for that, as this song suits his voice excellently.

Next is “Ladybug,” a lighthearted track in which they look for a ladybug or a four-leaf clover to end their bad luck on the farm. It’s the fun version of Jason Aldean’s “Amarillo Sky.” They end the album with an excellent cover of “Reasons to Quit,” which was on Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard’s famous 1983 collaboration Pancho & Lefty. They think about quitting their bad habits but decide the “reasons to quit” don’t outnumber “all the reasons why.”

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this is indeed Texas country gold. I didn’t love every song on it–I loved some and liked the rest–but the great instrumentation all the way through and their chemistry together adds to it and makes it even better. Every song on it is not a standout, but there is literally nothing to complain about with this album, and it is definitely worth a listen. I hope the “Vol. 1” means we will be getting more from these two soon.

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