Tag Archives: Southern rock

Reflecting on: Travis Tritt–It’s All About to Change

Well, from the day we started doing these, I always knew I would cover Travis Tritt on here, and now seems like the perfect time since I am going to see him Friday. I went back and forth for an inordinate amount of time on which album to cover, considering his originals and various compilations. Over the years, I’ve worn out the album The Very Best of Travis Tritt, so ultimately I decided to cover an album not as familiar to me. I chose the album that has my two favorite Tritt songs, It’s All About to Change, but really any place is okay to start with Travis and his music.

Release Date: 1991
Style: traditional country infused with Southern rock
People Who Might Like This Album: those who like their country mixed with rock and grit
Standout Tracks: “Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone who Cares),” “Anymore,” “Bible Belt,” “Nothing Short of Dying,” “If Hell Had a Jukebox,” “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin'”
Reflections: Travis Tritt said in one of the songs on his debut album that he vowed “I’d mix Southern rock and country, and that’s just what I did.” That’s really the best explanation of Tritt and his sound. He takes the best of both traditional country and Southern rock and blends them into a sound all his own, respecting country’s roots while being very modern and forward-thinking. Those that think country is boring, try saying that after “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin” or “Bible Belt.” Incidentally, the former features Marty Stuart which just adds to its overall coolness.

I mentioned this has my two favorite Travis Tritt songs. The first is “Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares),” another country rock song where he tells his cheating ex who wants to come back home that she can call one of her “sordid affairs.” As the song says, he’s kind enough even to offer her a quarter. This song is probably the one he’s most known for, and it even made Saving Country Music’s Greatest songs of All Time which can’t be taken lightly. Incidentally,, it’s very much responsible for my current relationship too; it was a conversation about this song and Travis Tritt in general that started all of it. My other favorite is “Anymore,” where he’s telling a woman that even after much time has passed, he still loves her and he can’t keep pretending otherwise. It’s the first song of his I ever heard and one of the best examples of Travis doing more traditional country. It’s the marrying of country and rock that is his signature sound, but ballads like this and “Nothing Short of Dying” shouldn’t be overlooked either because he does these types of songs just as well. Actually, the video for “Anymore” was the first in a series of three about one character, and all three were ballads.

Like I say, there really isn’t a bad place to start with Travis Tritt, and he’s definitely an artist that you should know. From the more rock-leaning stuff to the traditional ballads, there’s something here for everyone, and this album is a good showcase of his variety in sound. So start here, and hopefully, this will make you a fan, and you will seek out more of his music.

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Collaborative Review: The Steel Woods–Straw in the Wind

Well, you all really seemed to enjoy our collaborative review style on Chris Stapleton’s album, and several of you suggested we keep doing it. We enjoyed it as well, so we’re back with a conversation about the debut album from Southern rock band The steel woods, Straw in the Wind. This one’s a little different in style and will reflect the style of most of these if we continue; Stapleton’s was track-by-track simply because it was so short–and also because we didn’t really know how well we could pull off such a thing. Any feedback on our style would be appreciated, as we’re still perfecting it, but we’re having fun with it, and we hope you enjoy it as much as we do. With all of that said, let’s get to Straw in the Wind.

Conversation

Megan: One of the highest points on this whole record for me was the instrumentation. That’s what drew me in right away on the opener, “Axe.” On that song, it’s a nice mix of country and rock. You get hints of country, bluegrass, Southern rock, and blues throughout the album, but it’s always just fantastic.
Brianna: I completely agree on the instrumentation. They blend all these different genres seemingly without effort.
Megan: If you had to put this into one genre, what would you call it? I keep seeing them labeled Southern rock, but I’m not sure that explains all of it.
Brianna: I honestly don’t know if that’s possible to do. I mean, I do agree that Southern rock is the main thing. But they just take so many different styles and mix them up.
Megan: Yeah, and they do it so well, like you say, without effort. I think sonically, lots of people could find something to love about this album. What songs stood out most lyrically?
Brianna: Oh, “Straw in the Wind” is my favorite song here. It tells a dark story, and that was the one that hooked me on this album. Aside from that, I like the lyrics of “Better in the Fall,” which I took to be about a man loving the act of falling in love but being unable to keep the relationship alive after that. The imagery here was great. I also liked “Della Jane’s Heart,” although that one really reminded me of Turnpike Troubadours’ “Doreen.” I loved “Uncle Lloyd,” and how it talked about finding family to whom you aren’t related by blood. I also quite liked “If we Never Go.” It was a really simple song about two young people in a relationship needing to roam and be on their own away from family.
Megan: I completely agree on “Straw in the Wind,” which tells the story of a small town where travelers aren’t welcome, and what a line this is: “strangers ’round here disappear like straw in the wind.” also agree on “Della Jane’s Heart,” and that stylistically reminds me of Turnpike Troubadours as well–actually, it’s like bluegrass meets Red dirt. I think these two together make the strongest moment of the record. I’d also add “The Secret,” which has grown on me after a couple listens. It tells the secret that Satan was really a woman and not the serpent. The imagery here of a man, I presume Adam, “staring at a half-eaten apple” is on the cover, which adds to the darkness of this whole thing.
Brianna: That line from “Straw in the Wind” just sticks out above all the other lyrics on this album. I like the idea behind “The Secret” more than I do the actual song.
Megan: That’s true for me on quite a few of these songs, although not “The Secret.” There’s a vagueness in a lot of them, especially on the back half, that starts to drag the album down a little.
Brianna: Yes, and that’s the thing that really brings this album down for me. I like a song to be able to be whatever the listener makes of it, but when there are multiple instances of this, it grows tiresome. I believe the song “Whatever it Means to You” could have been a little nudge to say to the listener that the songs could mean whatever you think they do. Granted, I could be completely wrong about this, but putting in a song where you say “all that means is whatever it means to you” on a pretty vague album does tend to send that message.
Megan: Glad you mentioned that because that song really gets on my nerves. Basically, it lists a bunch of superstitions as well as signs of faith and says they mean nothing except what people make of them, and then says “all these songs” also mean only what you make of them. Lowest point on the album for me, along with “Hole in the Sky” and “Wild and Blue,” which are just forgettable filler. It doesn’t help that these three are right in a row either. actually, the song you mentioned, “If we Never Go,” is by far the best moment on the back half.
Brianna: Same for me, although I do have to mention the really cool harmonica play on “Wild and Blue.” It’s a classic song, but their version just didn’t stand out for me beyond the instrumentation. But yes, I definitely think “If we Never Go” was the best moment on that part of the album.
Megan: I didn’t know “Wild and Blue” was a cover, and I’ve literally just looked up the original, which is by John Anderson…difference: I actually like this song. You’re right, their version doesn’t stand out at all.
Brianna: Alan Jackson has a pretty good version on his bluegrass record, and that’s where I first heard the song. Compared to that, the version on this album is disappointing except in the instrumentation. That’s pretty much the way I feel about the remainder of the album too–disappointing and sometimes vague subject matter, but stellar instrumentation and good vocals.
Megan: Yep, I’d agree. NO other standouts besides the ones we’ve mentioned, but the vocals are incredible, glad you brought that up. Wes Bayliss is a fine vocalist. Instrumentation is very strong throughout. Some really great lyrical moments in here too, sprinkled among the vagueness. Overall, some filler on a 13-song album, but a really strong, promising debut from The steel woods. Nice, solid 8 from me.
Brianna: I would give this album an 8 as well. It has some filler moments as we’ve said, but also quite a few amazing ones. I can’t get the title track or “If we Never Go” out of my head. I am extremely impressed with the caliber of talent this band possesses, and despite the vagueness in some of these songs, I can’t give this album any less.

Collective Rating: 8/10

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Song Review: “Cumberland Gap” by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Rating: 9/10

I took some time with the second song from Isbell’s upcoming album before commenting on it here because “Hope the High Road” grew more and more forgettable as I listened to it. Brianna reviewed that, and she was quite impressed; so was I at first, but as I say, it started to get more generic. So I gave “Cumberland Gap” several listens, and I’m happy to say it’s having exactly the opposite effect, getting better each time.

“Cumberland Gap” speaks directly to the life and hardship in that region, but even if you’re not from that little stretch of a Appalachia running through Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee, you can relate to a town with little else besides “churches, bars, and grocery stores” if you come from any little town in America or across the world. It’s that universality that makes the lyrics of the song stand out and will help many understand the pain the narrator feels as he tries to avoid facing the window at the local bar so he can imagine himself in any other town. It’s remarkable how these lyrics can still speak even with this heavy production–because let me tell you, this is not country or folk or singer/songwriter, this is rock, or perhaps more accurately southern rock. This is what Jason Isbell promised ahead of The Nashville Sound, and it’s certainly present on this song. That production works here, as it adds an edge and an anger to the darkness of these lyrics.
The one criticism I have against “Cumberland Gap” is sometimes the lyrics can be lost in the recording, and I wish I could hear them more clearly. It took several listens to make out some of them, and once I could, the song got even better. overall, though, this made me look forward to the album much more than “hope the High road.” But definitely be prepared for the rock production because if these two tracks are any indication, this will not be another Something More Than Free. Take that as you will; so far, I’m on board.

Written by: Jason Isbell

Album Review: Blackberry Smoke–Holding all the Roses

Rating: 10/10

Blackberry Smoke had the distinction of having the first No. 1 country album by an independent artist earlier this year. Country Exclusive didn’t exist when it came out in February, but it deserves to be reviewed. While I say that this album is a rock album first and a country album second, it does something that few pop country albums and rock country albums do well. It doesn’t seek to blend the styles all the time. In other words, rock songs are rock, and country songs are country. When the styles actually are blended, it is done flawlessly. This album was my first introduction to Blackberry Smoke, and I am now a fan.

The rock song “Let me Help You (Find the Door”) opens the album. These lines were my first meeting with Blackberry Smoke

Why’s it got to be the same damn thing,
The same damn song that everybody wants to sing
Same sons of bitches still rigging the game
They sell the same old faces with a brand-new name

I love that they chose to open with this; it shows that what you see is what you get. I also like the rock protest element of the song blended with the lyrics protesting the state of country. Next is “Holding All the Roses,” in which they blend acoustic guitars and fiddles with electric guitars to create the closest thing to country metal I’ve ever heard. Lyrically, it’s great too, with lines about coming out of hard times and “Holding all the roses on the other side.” This is probably my favorite song on the album, but it’s really hard to pick.

Next is “Living in the Song,” a song about living out the words to a heartbreak song. It’s got rock music and country lyrics…that’s all I can say. Following this is the fun rock song aptly titled “Rock and Roll Again.” It feels like I just stepped back into the 70’s here with this. If there were more of these songs on the album, it would bring it down, but one is just right and feels more like an experiment that worked rather than a completely different sound. Next is the blended track, “Woman in the Moon.” This is a slower song which describes living life “a little off-kilter.” I paid more attention here to the instrumentation, which features haunting fiddles and electric guitars. It’s a song that’s hard to explain and one you need to hear for yourself to really appreciate. “Too High” is the first completely country song and is something I could picture on an Alabama album. “That mountain is too high for me to climb, that river is too deep and it’s too wide,” the group sings. This feeling seems to be temporary though, and this feels like a laidback, less angry version of “Holding all the Roses.”

“Wish in One Hand” goes back to rock. It’s a song about someone who is wishing to be rich, liked by everyone, etc. They illustrate that this will never be reality with the brilliant line, “Wish in one hand, shit in the other, see which one fills up first for you, brother.” The instrumental “Randolph Country Farewell” is a nice acoustic country interlude before “Payback’s a Bitch.” This rock song is about a man telling a woman just that. I love the line, “If I were you, I’d sleep with one eye open.” I also love how much thought the group seems to put into their lyrics, even on rock songs. It makes you want to listen to the words as much as the music. Their lyrical focus comes from their country leanings.

Blackberry Smoke ventures back to country for the next two songs. “Lay it All on Me” is a fun song that paints an amusing picture of our dirty little secrets. The narrator falls in love with a girl with a complicated past and is now on the run from her and her brother after being caught cheating. “No Way Back to Eden” argues that the world is so full of sin and evil that it is beyond help. It’s another one that you really need to hear to appreciate. The album closes much as it began–with an angry rock song. “Fire in the Hole” feels more personal, like an attack on a record label or executive. Lines like “I can’t see why you are the one who holds the key” point to this, but I could be wrong.

Holding all the Roses is an excellent album. It’s more rock than country, but it succeeds at both. If you want to hear nothing but steel guitar and stripped-down country, this is not the album for you. If you love rock and country, and would like to see what would happen if AC/DC and Charlie Daniels produced a musical child, buy this album. It’s one of the best albums of the year by far.

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Album Review: Jason Isbell–Something More Than Free

Rating: 9/10

Jason Isbell follows up the critically acclaimed Southeastern (2013) with Something More Than Free. He has been praised for his excellent songwriting, and while it is justified, I felt that Southeastern was dry in places because of it. This is probably just personal taste–I don’t tend to like dark albums–but though I knew him to be talented, I found that album to be pretty boring. There are a lot of Isbell lovers out there, so please understand this is in no way a reflection of his talent, just personal taste. However, I found Something More than Free to raise the bar that many felt Southeastern set–because while the excellent songwriting is still there, it is not at the expense of the melody, and these songs are much more relatable. I found much more I could connect with in this album. People who already love Isbell–and there are many–will love this album. Those who weren’t sold before–and there were many of them as well–should check this album out.

The album opens with “If it Takes a Lifetime,” which finds the narrator searching for happiness and determined to find it if it takes him a lifetime. The track is lighthearted and immediately refreshing after the general darkness of Southeastern. Next is “24 Frames,” an excellent track about how short life is and how before you know it, it could all be gone. While the message is deep, the lyrics are light, so it does not leave you feeling utterly depressed; it’s a great balance. Next is “Flagship,” and I know a lot of people like this song, but it just does not connect with me, and here’s where the album falls from a 10 to a 9. “Flagship” is a love song, and it is marked by Jason’s excellent songwriting, but for me, the lines are so “deep,” for lack of a better word, that they aren’t relatable. I like the acoustic guitar, but I am a little bored by the melody.

“How to Forget” is an upbeat song about forgetting an old love. The melody is catchy and reminds me of something a 70’s Southern rock band might have sung. “Children of Children” is autobiographical but still relatable. Here, Isbell tells of being raised by his mother, who had him when she was a teenager. “All the years I took from her, just by being born”–what an excellent line. “Life You Chose” is an upbeat song asking an old flame if she is happy in her current life. “Are you livin’ the life you chose, are you livin’ the life that chose you?”–another excellent line that will hit many differently. The title track is an excellent song where Jason sings about thanking God for the work and looking forward to the day when he will have his reward. He says he works for “something more than free.”

If you only listen to one song on this album, please make it “Speed Trap Town.” This is about a teenage boy saying goodbye to his father in a hospital bed. I will post the opening lines here, as that is what hooked me.

She said it’s none of my business, but it breaks my heart
Dropped a dozen cheap roses in my shopping cart
Made it out to the truck without breaking down
Everybody knows you in a speed trap town
Well, it’s a Thursday night, but there’s a high school game
Sneak a bottle up the bleachers and forget my name
These 5A bastards run a shallow cross
It’s a boy’s last dream, and a man’s first loss

“Hudson Commodore” is a song about an independent woman in the Great Depression. I payed more attention to the music in this song than the lyrics. This is not a bad thing, as the 400 Unit is an excellent band. The same is true for “Palmetto Rose,” a Southern rock tribute to South Carolina, which Isbell calls the “iodine state.” This is a close second to “Speed Trap Town.” The album closes with “To a Band that I Loved” which is just that–a song about a band that Jason loved. It’s a good way to close this excellent album.

This album is great, and if you like Americana or Southern rock, or if you just like good, relatable songwriting, you should check it out.

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