Tag Archives: Robyn Ludwick

Album Review: Emily Herring–Gliding

Rating: 7/10

How often on these endless reality shows and talent competitions do we see judges and vocal coaches stress the importance of individuality? They are not only looking for raw talent, but something unique and fresh and different. And why not, when so much of popular music continues to pump out more of the same ideas from different voices? Any music class will tell you that music cannot expand further, that at this point, it’s just rehashing old ways and modes of doing the same things–this is one of the biggest criticisms of contemporary music by those who study classical and believe modern music to be somehow inferior to that discipline. So it’s up to those makers of modern music to work within the confines of their craft to continue to stand out and present us with new ideas. And country music is often regarded as one of the most restrictive genres in which to create things, so it’s even more impressive when you see a country artist proving all of these theories wrong.

That is what we see with Emily Herring’s latest album, Gliding, as she presents a traditional approach heavily blended with influences of Western swing. So many country artists today in the independent realms are doing this east Nashville/Americana sound that by now has been absolutely done to death to the point it’s about the least original and most clich├ęd thing you can possibly do outside the mainstream, or they’re mixing in the raw rock influences of Red dirt, or they’re making West Coast country with a modern take on the polished Nashville sound. This isn’t any of that, it’s something all its own, and yet it’s more traditional than many records released this year. Herring’s influence comes closer to that of Bob Wills than anything else, but this record is not trapped in that time period either, as she’s got a voice reminiscent of Robyn Ludwick or perhaps Tanya Tucker, which lends itself to harder mixes of country and rock and gives this album yet another unique quality.

But neither Ludwick nor Tucker possess the falsetto of Emily Herring, an addition which renders her able to pull off softer, more vulnerable songs like “Midnight” and “Yellow Mailbox” right along with some of the harder stuff like the title track and the painfully honest “Right Behind Her.” This one is the highlight of the record, as she lays out the truth that she literally doesn’t know if she can go on living without her mother being there for her. “If my mother were to die, I fear that I’d be right behind her,” cuts even more when you know that her mother did die in the final stages of this album’s making. That bluntness in her writing comes out on the closer, “Getting By,” also, as she describes her days as a mechanic and only being responsible for herself, trying to stretch a dime in order to survive.

This album needed some moments of levity to brighten the mood, and they come in the form of two covers, “All the Millers in Milwaukee” and “Semi Truck.” The former especially suits Emily and her voice and allows more of the fun side of her personality to stand out. It also fits more on the record as a whole than the latter because although light, it’s still a breakup song like much of the more serious material. There’s another lighter moment in the Western swing-infused “Best Thing I’ve Seen Yet,” and although it’s not a personal favorite, it adds balance to the album and shows another, more tender side of Emily Herring.

This album is not without its flaws, and it could have used perhaps another jolt of energy and maybe some sharper songwriting in places, but it’s still a good, promising record from Herring and one that is worth checking out, if only for its unique nature. Its propensity to draw from the influences of Western swing, combined with a voice like Emily’s, suited more for classic rock or harder country but somehow lending itself to these songs very well, makes this album intriguing and certainly memorable in the country space. It might not be a record you love on first listen; rather, it’s more an acquired thing, a potential you see in a song or two that unveils itself after a few listens to the whole album. In the end, it’s that potential which shines brightest about this release, and Emily Herring becomes another cool discovery of 2017, even if the year is nearly over. Not an album, and certainly not an artist, to be overlooked.

Buy the Album

My Top Twenty-Five Albums of 2017

And now for the list you’ve all been waiting for, for the one I’ve been preparing for all year, and for the one that represents the heart and soul of what we do here. I debated much on how far to extend this list…should it be ten, or twenty, or follow suit with several of my lists this year and be thirteen? IN the end, I found that after reviewing seventy-eight albums so far in 2017 and featuring twenty-seven so far in Memorable Songs, not to mention others I’ve heard and did not include in that feature, that eight stood out above everything else and should be considered most essential on this list. Another fifteen stood out a little under that, and then it became a question of whether to cut the list of twenty-three down to twenty or search for two deserving others to round it out to twenty-five. I opted for showcasing more music, but as you’ll see, I’ve separated the most essential from the rest because those eight still stand proudly above the rest and should be recognized as such. One more note for any of you who might be newer, this list reflects the evolving, changing nature of music and my reactions to it throughout the year, so rating should not be considered a huge factor at this point–a factor, yes, but second to how well the music has held up over time.

Essential Albums

25. Kody West–Green

Standout Tracks: “Green,” “Ledges,” “Ogygia”
This album starts off an exciting trend here–a good amount of debut albums making this list. It’s been a great year for debut records, and Kody West is certainly the most interesting thing to come out of the Texas/Red Dirt scene this year. Not the best album from that scene, but something new and refreshing, blending the traditional and the modern, the country and rock influences, into something cool and promising. Check this out while you can still say you were ahead of the curve with West.
Read Full Review

24. Nikki Lane–Highway Queen

Standout Tracks: “Jackpot,” “700,000 Rednecks,” “Highway Queen,” “Forever Lasts Forever”
So many boring, mid-tempo albums in the independent/Americana scene in 2017. This is fun and vibrant, a breath of fresh air and personality. This is an artist coming into her own and being herself in the best way possible. It stands out above many others simply for the jolt of energy and life it offers, proving that you can make a good album in this scene and write smart hooks without being so serious all the time.
Read Full Review

23. Robyn Ludwick–This Tall to Ride

Standout Tracks: “Freight Train,” “Texas Jesus,” “Bars Ain’t Closin’,” “Lie to Me”
I’ve been saying this since it came out, but if you can get past the hookers and cocaine all over this record, it’s a great listen. The melodies are engaging and the sentiments relatable, and credit to Robyn Ludwick for exploring these subjects, so often ignored in country, and giving a voice to these characters. Her knack for portraying people usually so ignored and misunderstood by society is remarkable, and though not as blatant a form of social commentary as say, the next album here, this one still has a lot to say and does it in a really interesting way.
Read Full Review

22. Rhiannon Giddens–Freedom Highway

Standout Tracks: “At the Purchaser’s Option,” “Julie,” “Better Get it right The First Time”
While we’re here, I’d like to say that not including “Better Get it Right the First Time” on my Spotify and Apple Music playlists was a complete oversight, and it should have been there, though I have no idea what it would have replaced. That said, this album is better all the way through, as a whole, as it tells the story of African-American history and heritage that is more story than song, more reflection than sermon, and teaches the past while still looking hopefully into the future. Some might wonder why it isn’t higher on this list, and that goes back to a rating thing–this album is not perfect, but it’s very good and received an 8.5 here. Yet it’s just something you respect more than you enjoy, and while it’s a great album, it’s not the album you’re going to pull out and listen to over that much. Still, it’s got something to say, and it does so in fine fashion.
Read Full Review

21. Turnpike Troubadours–A Long Way From Your Heart

Standout Tracks: “Pay no Rent,” “The winding Stair Mountain Blues,” “pipe Bomb Dream,” “A Tornado Warning”
I know, I know, it’s Album of the Year for a lot of people. Turnpike did receive Album of the Year here in 2015 for their excellent self-titled release, and while this is still a great album, in the spirit of honesty, I have to say it’s not the best of their material for me like it is for a lot of people. Brianna and I reviewed this together, and she’s got a considerably more favorable opinion of it than i do. That said, the songwriting here is in some places the best of the band’s career. They’re consistently churning out good quality country music, and you can’t go wrong with any of their albums.
Read Full Review

20. Shinyribs–I Got Your Medicine

Standout Tracks: “I Gave up All I Had,” “Trouble Trouble,” “I Don’t Give a Shit,” “Tub Gut Stomp & Red-Eyed Soul”
This is the exact opposite of Rhiannon Giddens’ album before it–it’s the antithesis because it’s bright and fun, and you’ve got to be in a certain mood to appreciate it. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it’s nearly perfect for what they’re trying to accomplish here. I hold back slightly because again, you aren’t going to pull this out quite as much as some others, and also there’s only really a smattering of country here, but this is just warm, infectious music that puts a smile on your face, something we all need these days. Give this a chance.
Read Full Review

19. Steve Earle & the Dukes–So You Wannabe an Outlaw

Standout Tracks: “Walkin’ in L.A,” “Fixin’ to Die,” “This is How it Ends” (ft. Miranda Lambert)
I’ve had a strange relationship with this record–at first I loved it, then several people pointed out the pretty much sloppy production on the album, and I grew to not like it as much despite not being able to hear all the production issues myself. When reviewing albums I loved this year, I went back to this and found what I loved again–so I get it if you don’t like this album because of the production, but honestly, I enjoy the hell out of this and think it’s one of Steve Earle’s best in a good long while.
Read Full Review

18. Dori Freeman–Letters Never Read

Standout Tracks: “Cold Waves,” “If I Could Make You My Own,” “over There,” “That’s All Right”
The album to check out for that long-lost Appalachian sound. For me, not quite as good as her outstanding debut–tied for unofficial Album of the Year in 2016–but still a solid collection of tunes. Dori didn’t change much, or anything really, with this approach, but why should you when it worked so perfectly the first time?
Read Full Review

17. John Moreland–Big Bad Luv

Standout Tracks: “Love is Not an Answer,” “No Glory in Regret,” “Sallisaw Blue,” “It Don’t Suit Me (Like Before”)
Some of this is the best songwriting of the year. And it’s not just his lyrics, it’s the production and, most of all, the warm, engaging melodies that keep you coming back and listening. In fact, a lack of accessibility may be this record’s only flaw, as it’s almost too deep, and he’s almost writing too much on another level. That said, this is poetry at its finest and set to melodies that really allow it to shine and grow over time.
Read Full Review

16. Jaime Wyatt–Felony Blues

Standout Tracks: “Wishing Well,” “Wasco,” “Stone Hotel”
Another debut record, and one of the most exciting of the year. This is easily the project that has grown the most for me throughout the year, as Jaime’s music only continues to get better. A nice little album that draws on her own experience in the best way possible to tell a story of second chances and starting over, and to actually create something I’d call outlaw country, if that were a style.
Read Full Review

15. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit–The Nashville Sound

Standout Tracks: “Last of my Kind,” “Tupelo,” “If we Were Vampires,” “Something to Love”
And here it is, the album that produced the 2017 Song of the Year. Once again, Jason Isbell delivers with a slice of that incredible songwriting, and on this album, it also gets backed up by more interesting and diverse production. Not a perfect album, and I still don’t know what the hell “Chaos and Clothes” is supposed to be, but this is his best and most accessible album to date.
Read Full Review

14. Kasey Chambers–Dragonfly

Standout Tracks: “Ain’t NO Little Girl,” “Jonestown,” “Shackle and Chain,” “Talkin’ Baby Blues,” “Summer Pillow,” “Golden Rails”
More standouts here because we’ve got a double album on our hands. Much like Dori Freeman, Kasey Chambers isn’t necessarily breaking any new ground here, and this isn’t quite on the level of her excellent 2015 record Bittersweet, but this is an expansive showcasing of all her styles, from more traditional to rock to bluegrass to pop. She can do it all very well, and it continues to baffle me how little love we give her in the States.
Read Full Review

13. Travis Meadows–First Cigarette

Standout Tracks: “McDowell Road,” “Sideways,” “First Cigarette,” “Pray for Jungleland”
This album has to get Production of the Year, not necessarily because it’s the most impressive display, but because it is the album where the production contributes most to the overall story and general enjoyment of this record. It’s a little journey through his life, nostalgic for the past but content with the present, and the extra care taken to do things like make all of the songs flow into each other so that it’s as if you’re taking the trip right along with Travis, makes this a special listen.
Read Full Review

12. The Infamous Stringdusters–Laws of Gravity

Standout Tracks: “Freedom,” “Black Elk,” “This ‘ol Building,” “Maxwell”
Well, I didn’t get to nearly as much bluegrass as I’d have liked this year, but this is one badass bluegrass record and the best one I’ve heard in 2017. It’s got all the wonderful instrumentation we expect from this genre, but it’s also got great storytelling, not to mention a youthfulness and vibrancy permeating the whole thing. This is the album to send people’s way who think bluegrass is stuffy and boring and old-fashioned, trust me.
Read Full Review

11. Crystal Bowersox–Alive

Standout Tracks: “A Broken Wing,” “The Ride,” “Marlboro Man,” “Let me Walk Away,” “NO Mistake,” “Mine all Mine”
I don’t know why more people didn’t pay attention to this throughout the year, but now’s your chance. This is a live album, but it’s not your typical one recorded for a huge audience and just providing live versions of previously released material. This was recorded in an intimate setting for sixty people over the course of three shows and features mostly new songs. It’s a unique album about being alive that captures perfectly her current state of mind and explores all the joy and pain that being alive has to offer. And this is, without question, the best album vocally of the year.
Read Full Review

10. John Baumann–Proving Grounds

Standout Tracks: “Old Stone Church,” “When Ophelia Comes to Town,” “Here I Come,” “Holding it Down,” “The Trouble With Drinkin'”
This album is the perfect balance between both sides of the Texas scene–the side with more depth and incredible songwriting, and the side with cool, vibrant songs that would sound awesome in a live setting. And if you wonder why only one of these songs made my Apple Music and Spotify playlists, it’s honestly because I could have picked almost the entire album and decided to limit myself.
Read Full Review

9. Justin Payne–Coal Camp (EP)

Standout Tracks: “Miner’s Soul,” “Piece of my Life,” but it’s better as a whole
Yes, I know, an EP actually made it this high on the list. It’s because Justin Payne’s very special love letter to the coal region of West Virginia is just right at six songs. Plus, it’s got the added awesomeness of actually being delivered by a coal miner. This blew me away the first time I heard it, and it still does.
Read Full Review

Most Essential Albums

8. Zephaniah Ohora–This Highway

Standout Tracks: “Way Down in my Soul,” “High Class City Girl From the Country,” “She’s Leaving in the Morning,” “I Do Believe I’ve Had Enough”
And now for the eight that were impossibly hard to rank. This one is certainly the most country and is a near flawless representation of the countrypolitan sound. And it’s by some guy from New York City, thoroughly walking all over the stereotype that you have to be “authentic” to make good country music. The sheer genius of this is that he doesn’t try to hide anything or be something he isn’t, and that in turn makes it authentic. Also, this is another debut, so imagining where Zephaniah Ohora can go from here is pretty exciting.
Read Full Review

7. Jason Eady (self-titled)

Standout Tracks: “Barabbas,” “Black Jesus,” “NO Genie in This Bottle”
So, Jason Eady produced two of my top five songs of the year which is pretty impressive and insane. It’s also pretty insane that in a year of mid-tempo, boring country/Americana releases, Jason released a completely stripped-back, acoustic affair, and yet because of the sheer beauty in the songwriting and the warmth of the melodies, it manages to rise above everything else and be one of the best albums of the year.
Read Full Review

6. Tyler Childers–Purgatory

Standout Tracks: “Whitehouse Road,” “Lady May,” “Honky Tonk flame,” “I swear (to God),” “Tattoos”
This is my most played album of 2017, and it gets better each time. I wrote all these standouts here, but this one, like some others here, is better as a full listen, as you go on Tyler’s journey of finding love, screwing it up, and turning to vices. And although this isn’t a debut, this is his second album and his first major moment, and it’s a moment that has been very well deserved.
Read Full Review

5. Suzanne Santo–Ruby Red

Standout Tracks: “Best out of Me,” “Better Than That,” (ft. Butch Walker), “Ghost in my Bed,” “Love Fucked UP”
Another solo debut. This, although it’s certainly got some acoustic, country-leaning moments, tilts more toward the rock side of things, and I debated whether to include it this high on a country list for that very reason. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t one of the best records of the year for me and another one of the few that blew me away from the very beginning. A hard-edged album that talks of drinking and sex and vices, it’s definitely got something to say. Probably not for everyone, but definitely for me.
Read Full Review

4. Ags Connolly–Nothin’ Unexpected

Standout Tracks: “Haunts Like This,” “Do You realize That Now?”, “Neon Jail”
My only regret here is that I wish it hadn’t taken me till July to hear this because I could have been enjoying it since February. This is nothing flashy, or “unexpected,” but it’s a case of everything just working–the extra touches of instrumentation like the piano and accordion, the wonderful melodies, the lyrics that sink in more and more each time you hear it. This is another one I’ve loved from the start. The definition of a nice, easy listen. And to top it all off, this guy’s British, so he joins Zephaniah Ohora in proving that just being yourself and singing in your own accent about your own stuff can produce the best music.
Read Full Review

3. Angaleena Presley–Wrangled

Standout Tracks: “Dreams Don’t Come True,” “Wrangled,” “Good Girl Down,” “Mama I Tried”
Yep, another one that had me on first listen. This is Angaleena Presley’s self-proclaimed “f you” record to the industry, and in candid, sometimes subtle, often angry and inappropriate, ways, she delivers just that. She addresses her struggles in the business and the discrimination against women, and does so in engaging and entertaining ways that keep this album playable and interesting despite the importance of the messages being conveyed.
Read Full Review

2. Colter Wall (self-titled)

Standout Tracks: literally everything here except “You Look to Yours”
Another debut, another one that throws the authenticity debate out the window, as Colter’s from Canada, and another one that absolutely blew me away from the beginning. Colter Wall and his astounding, throwback country voice have a ridiculously bright future ahead of them, and when you combine that voice with tales like these, of hopping trains and sleeping in lonely hotels, of murdering your girlfriend and spending your days in prison for it, this record captures another time and place in a way that makes it, well, timeless.
Read Full Review

Album of the Year

1. Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives–Way Out West

Standout Tracks: “Please Don’t Say Goodbye,” “Way Out West,” “Air Mail Special,” but really, it’s about the album as a whole
And speaking of capturing another time and place, enter Marty Stuart and this album…only instead of capturing it in the throwback way of Colter Wall, this is done in a vibrant, fresh, forward-thinking manner. It’s an almost psychedelic record, an exact representation of country evolving in 2017 in a way that still respects the roots of the genre. I’ve said this before, but in a genre of lyrics and stories, the risk that Marty Stuart took by delivering this in a thematic way that connected the songs by their music and mood should be commended. It’s almost cinematic, and in an era where the album concept is being lost in the mainstream, and in the independent scene where it’s thriving, the albums are still basically just collections of good songs, this record literally has to be played all the way through to be fully understood and appreciated. A concept record and a fine one, the most impressive one of 2017.
Read Full Review

P.S. Honorable Mention to Kesha, who couldn’t qualify for this list because of genre, and her album Rainbow for being far and away the best non-country album I’ve heard in 2017.

Some Second Impressions of 2017 Albums

Before I get to the flurry of year-end lists, I’d like to address a few things I’ve got significantly different opinions on now than when they were first reviewed. The rating is not the important thing to focus on with these year-end lists because certain things hold up over time better than others, and you will find some albums high on that list that weren’t rated as highly originally. Music changes over time, as do our reactions to it, and there are albums I’ve both overrated and underrated in 2017. This post will reflect these and hopefully shed some light on the upcoming albums list.

Albums I’ve Underrated

Robyn Ludwick–This Tall to Ride
I even said this during my midyear list, but the main reason for the underrating of this was I doubted its ability to be replayed over time, but it holds up quite well and continues to get better. Originally a 7.5, this would get a strong 8 now.

Tyler Childers–Purgatory
This just gets better with each listen. Some albums this year were great at first but had no sustainability (see below.) This still really doesn’t have one defining song, but it’s great all the way through and is one of the best albums of the year. It’s also my most played, with the possible exception of Colter Wall’s self-titled release.

Crystal Bowersox–Alive
I don’t care that this is a live album. I don’t care that a bit of the material appears on Crystal’s previous records. If there is one album I could recommend to all you critics that I see getting criminally overlooked, that I wish you would pull off your back burners and give a proper review to and consideration of in your endless lists, it’s this one. And I’ll go ahead and say it–this is the best album vocally of the year, bar none.

Zephaniah Ohora–This Highway
This one was done by Brianna, and she gave it a 9, as it rightfully deserves, but I have to say, it took me months to come around to this. And this is a brilliant album, definitely one of the best of the year.

Albums I’ve Overrated

And now for the controversial bits of this piece…

Willie Nelson–God’s Problem Child
Still a great listen, but it doesn’t have much staying power or relatability. I don’t really know what else to say.

Sunny Sweeney–Trophy
Look, I know this is high on a lot of year-end lists, and it’s a good record. It’s just, for me, not her best record. It was the album I was most looking forward to in early 2017 because I am a huge Sunny Sweeney fan, and taken as an album, there’s not much to criticize. But it hasn’t held up at all…I wish I could say more, and I did enjoy some of these songs better live, but this just didn’t stay with me.

Chris Stapleton–From a Room, Vol. 1
I’ve said it already, but if Stapleton had combined these releases, this would be a different story. As it is, we’ve got two decent albums, both with some filler, and neither with too much longevity.

Angaleena Presley–Wrangled
This is still one of the best albums of the year, but I would not give it a 10/10 if reviewing today. Still one of the top 5, maybe 3 albums of the year, but I’d have to pull back slightly from that perfect grade.

I’ve got some slightly different opinions on several other albums this year, but these are the most significant and will be most reflected in the year-end list. Above all, music is meant to be enjoyed and played, and these ratings ultimately mean nothing if the music doesn’t hold up throughout the year. I’ve tried to be less rigid in my opinions this year than in the past, and these changes are honest reflections of that. I look forward to sharing all the year-end lists with you all!

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.
Read Full Review

#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.
Read Full Review

#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.
Read Full Review

#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.
Read Full Review

#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.
Read Full Review

#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.
Read Full Review

#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.
Read Full Review

#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.
Read Full Review

#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.
Read Full Review

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

Album Review: Robyn Ludwick–This Tall to Ride

Rating: 7.5/10

If you want a good endorsement for Robyn Ludwick and her music, Jamie Lin Wilson recommended her to me back in September when I asked her to give us the names of some Texas country females we should be listening to. Robyn’s also the sister of Charlie and Bruce Robison which definitely counts for a lot in the Texas scene. I could go on with more of an introduction, but those two points alone should get you interested right away, even before we get into the fascinating album that is This Tall to Ride.

This Tall To Ride–yeah, that’s certainly an appropriate name because this record and the material presented here won’t be for the faint of heart. Like a height restriction on a roller coaster, the title is there to warn unsuspecting listeners, and to let you know just what kind of ride you’re embarking on, and indeed to offer you the chance to turn around at the last minute and avoid this adventure altogether. It’s a ride that takes you through life on the streets and lonely motels, and tells stories of coping with hard times by turning to vices. Yeah, that last has been done a thousand times in country–but not Robyn Ludwick’s way, where the vices are often cocaine and casual, or even solicited, sex. I counted the word “cocaine” twelve times on this record, and you don’t hear a lyric like the opening line to the excellent “Texas Jesus” in just any country project–“She says baby, I don’t jerk just anyone, but this one’s under the table, it’s gonna be loads of fun. But he don’t care, she’s like Mexican heroin, and it’s blockin’ his hurt for awhile.”

That theme of blocking hurt and pain permeates this album, and it’s what makes all the drug references somehow fit; it’s like rock lyrics, but told with a country songwriter’s care for crafting a story, almost the opposite of the way in which Texas country artists normally mix the two genres. Robyn Ludwick writes and sings in a manner that makes you feel all the sorrow of these characters and understand why they often turn to drugs and strangers for comfort. She has taken their lives and almost made them seem glamorous, and that takes as much of a talent as writing your own stories in song, if not more–it’s interesting that she can step so well into these roles and sing with such conviction. And that’s not what she’ll sing about on this whole album, but it’s where her writing shines brightest, and it’s where the unique, sort of raspy tones in her vocal quality work to perfection to add a rough edge to these songs. That rawness in her voice especially enhances “Freight Train,” one of the other standout moments on this album.

This record is a bit hard to judge because there’s some filler mixed in with some absolute gems. You have some truly excellent songs; I already mentioned “Freight Train” and “Texas Jesus,” and I can add “Bars Ain’t Closin’,” “Lie to Me,” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Shoes” to that too. “Bars Ain’t Closin'” features some nice steel guitar as well and tells a great, desperate story of heartbreak and missing someone; it’s cool to hear more country instrumentation paired with lyrics like Robyn’s, and it makes her and these songs all the more unique within this subgenre of Texas country. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Shoes” speaks of life on the streets, and those sighs explain perfectly what the main characters were seeking when Ludwick sings, “she didn’t love him, but on the streets, you get hungry man.” But then, mixed in with these standouts, there are just some bland tracks like “Love You For It,”–which is an unfortunate opener that won’t hold your attention like an opener should–and “Junkies and Clowns.” Nothing bad on the album, just really mediocre songs, especially in comparison to some of the others–definitely what Country Perspective would have dubbed wallpaper. It was really difficult to rate this, and in that respect, it reminded me of Jaime Wyatt’s latest album because the good here is absolutely great, but there’s also some really average to balance it out. The one thing I will say for the weaker tracks, though, is that the melodies are engaging. IN fact, melody is one of the strongest points of the album all the way through, and it serves to add another element of accessibility to lyrics like these that might not otherwise be enjoyable and/or relatable.

Overall, this is just a cool, unique album. No, it’s not going to be for everyone, but that’s part of music and art, and the fact that this could be polarizing speaks both to the talent and audacity of Robyn Ludwick and to the fact that this record had something to say. Credit to Robyn for telling the stories of people so often ignored and/or misunderstood by society, and for allowing us all a glimpse into their lives and perspectives, exploring themes so seldom ventured into in country music. There’s some damn great music on here too; some of these tracks are honestly just brilliant in songwriting, and their melodies will stay with you. There’s some mediocrity and filler, and based on the outstanding parts of the album, Robyn Ludwick is capable of better, but it balances out to be a solid album, and worth your time, if indeed you’re ready for the roller coaster. Cool record, glad I went along for the ride.

Listen to Album