Tag Archives: Sam Outlaw

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”

Collaboration with Critically Country

So I did a collaboration piece with Alex at Critically Country discussing the month of April–topics include Angaleena Presley, Jason Eady, Sam Outlaw, Whiskey Riff, the female perspective, radio collapsing in twelve months…yeah, I think that’s it. Anyway, go check out that piece, as well as Critically Country.

The Country Music Chat Featuring Country Exclusive

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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