Tag Archives: traditional country

Album Review: Courtney Patton–What it’s Like to Fly Alone

Rating: 9/10

I know, I know, this record isn’t available on Spotify or Google Play, at least for the time being. There aren’t even any videos up on YouTube. It makes arguably even less sense, then, that it can be streamed on Apple Music and Amazon Music Unlimited, as opposed to just being a record available only for purchase through digital download or by buying physical copies. The merits, or lack thereof, of exclusivity can be debated, but that’s not going to change the fact that if you want to hear this new Courtney Patton release, many of you are going to have to look somewhere other than your favorite streaming outlet.

And you know what? Frankly, that’s a real shame, because this new Courtney Patton album deserves to be heard, indeed is probably worth supporting via a purchase rather than simply streaming it–but so many people are going to overlook it instead because that’s just how this often works in 2018.

So don’t be one of those people who misses out on the best record of 2018 so far because of silly things like this.

“This record is full of songs about people who have had to fly alone in some way, whether through grief, loss, life choices, addiction, or love,” says Patton about her latest effort. She goes on to say that it’s not always a depressing thing, that sometimes flying alone can help us figure out who we are and our destinies. It’s evident in this album as well, as there are definitely some melancholy moments, but the whole thing is far from a sad, lonely affair. There’s also a sense of hope and purpose running through this album which connects these characters and their stories.

For each character, flying alone seems to be slightly different. Many of them are here because of their own choices, as Patton explained. There’s the narrator of “Round Mountain,” a woman who abandoned her family after finally admitting that she wasn’t cut out for a life of raising babies and being married to a man she didn’t love. The woman here has made some mistakes and bad choices, like sleeping with another woman’s husband, but she neither apologizes for herself nor makes excuses. She’s not trying to run from what she’s done, and she’ll admit that it was wrong, but it’s also not something she’s sorry for; rather, she’s just stating the facts. It’s the same with the woman from “Devil’s Hand,” as she states that she wanted to see if his hand “felt as warm as it looked,” and that she understood what she was doing when she walked down this path. The narrator of “Open Flame” is self-aware as well, but she’s trying to walk away before the choice of adultery ruins her life and hurts her husband. She won’t be alone physically because she’ll go home to her husband, but she’ll be lonely because, as she says, she wants and needs this man instead of the one she married.

“Words to my Favorite Memory,” which first arrived in acoustic form on Patton’s duets album with Jason Eady, appears here again to explore the grief/loss side of flying alone. This song does a nice job of illustrating the connections we all have to certain songs and stories; the narrator here can’t play “My Favorite Memory” by Merle Haggard anymore because she was spinning the record when she received a call that her lover had died. “Fourteen Years” is a personal one for Courtney, written about her sister, who died tragically in a car accident and is referenced briefly in Courtney’s song “So This is Life.” “Red Bandanna Blue” was inspired by the loss of Kent Finlay, formerly the owner of Cheatham street Warehouse, although this one is written somewhat ambiguously and could be seen as a song about simply missing someone. Similar to “This Road to You,” it could be taken as a song about missing a friend or lover who simply isn’t present at the time.

Speaking of which, “This road to You” is a good example of a character still flying alone, but only for a time. This narrator is simply alone because of distance, and doing her best to get back to the one she loves. It adds a nice moment of levity to some of the darker material here. “Shove” is another one that adds a brighter moment to the album and sees a character admitting to needing some help, not being able to do it all by herself anymore. This one certainly works better in the context of the album than it did as the lead single, and really, all of these songs except possibly the cover of “Gold standard” really fit together lyrically to paint one overall picture, a picture that comes together in the title track.

As great as its lyrics are, however, this album’s strongest points lie in its instrumentation and production. Traditional through and through, this record can’t be labeled Americana or even mistaken for the Texas country sound that one might attach to this artist’s name. This can’t be called anything but stone cold, three-chord country. There’s plenty of fiddle happily contributing here, especially on “Round Mountain” and the title track. Steel guitar cries out in “Devils’ Hand,” “Red Bandanna Blue,” and “Fourteen Years,” making the last three songs of this album the place for steel enthusiasts to start. The piano makes its presence felt in several places as well, particularly on “Open Flame” and “Fourteen Years.” Instrumentally, this is an improvement from Courtney Patton’s last record; while that one was traditional throughout also, this one explores more variety within those parameters, adding texture and color to certain songs. And eat your heart out, Americana artists, this is beautifully, cleanly produced, without any ridiculous attempts to sound retro or throwback or you know, like shit just for the sake of sounding like shit. Courtney produced this herself, and she did a fantastic job with it.

So yeah, in short, there’s not a lot wrong with this record at all. The only thing I can maybe say is it could have had perhaps another upbeat moment, but that’s me being very nitpicky, as this also is an improvement from her last album in terms of variety in tempo and mood. IN fact, I’d have sooner taken out a track like the “Gold Standard” cover that doesn’t add to the theme of the album than added anything to what feels like a complete story. The lyrics and stories work very well together to paint this picture. The production is tasteful and pretty much nearly flawless. You can tell a lot of care went into this album both lyrically and musically, and the result is the best record yet to grace our presence in 2018. Courtney Patton should be proud of this.

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Album Review: First Aid Kit–Ruins

Rating: 8/10

I recently called Caitlyn Smith’s debut a benchmark of vocal ability–and this latest record by Swedish sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg, known collectively as First aid Kit, might just be the benchmark of harmony, and how to express lyrics already so potent in even deeper ways with just the right chords and dissonance. Similar to the Secret Sisters, these siblings have an uncanny ability to bring out that forgotten element of music and make harmony one of the key factors of their musical expression. Melody and vocal ability are not the only musical elements being thrown out the window in the age of the song, and duos like these are necessary to help remind us of the dying art and great importance of harmony.

So take all the harmonic nuances and chilling chords of a Secret Sisters record, but add much more variation in style. The Secret Sister’s’ latest record was minimalist, allowing their vocals and harmony to be the main focus. First Aid Kit’s approach is to showcase their incredible singing with backdrops of folk/Americana, (“Fireworks,” “Ruins,”) pop, (“Rebel Heart,” “It’s a Shame,”) and stone cold country (“Postcard.”) IN this way, the production is varied and interesting and only serves to elevate the sister’s talent and prove they can excel at more than one style. It’s also what might hold them at arm’s length from traditionalists and more mainstream fans alike, but rather than their sound feeling like it can’t make up its mind, it feels defined. Far more than many, First aid Kit have, for the most part, a distinct handle on how best to produce a particular song to let that song live up to its full potential and resonate with its listeners.

Then we add to all of this all the complex and heightened emotions of a breakup record, triggered by Klara’s own recent split, and this record gets a touch of the same restlessness and self-discovery which marked Lilly Hiatt’s latest album, Trinity Lane. Similar to that record, this First aid Kit release largely captures a moment in time and all the various emotions sparked by that moment. There’s a sense of loss on some songs, regret on others, and a thread of hope running through the entire album that connects the whole thing and makes it cohesive, regardless of the varying styles and moods.

It’s hard to single out individual songs from this project because the whole thing tells its own story and takes a complete journey, contributing more as a finished product than as the sum of separate songs. Certainly the most country offering here is the charming, shuffling “Postcard,” which makes great use of the piano, an instrument I’d have liked to have found more on this album after hearing its effect on this song. It’s hard to question the ever-building five-minute opener, “Rebel Heart,” either, although this one does decidedly lean more towards the folk pop side of things. There’s vulnerability on “Fireworks,” reflection on “My Wild Sweet Love,” and forward-thinking resolve on “It’s a Shame.” It all works together and serves a purpose, and really, for the first eight tracks of this ten-track journey, there is no measurable misstep.

It does end on a bit of a whimper, however, at least compared to the extremely high bar the sisters set for themselves earlier, especially across the first half of this record. “Hem of her Dress” is the glaring exception to their smart production choices, bursting forth into some sort of loud, boisterous, almost mariachi ending that completely takes away from the thoughtful lyrics of the song and does not match with the acoustic feel at the beginning. The closer, on the other hand, called “Nothing Has to be True,” is very smart sonically but doesn’t carry as much weight lyrically as some of the other material here. Maybe it’s just the standards to which I’m holding this talented group, but it definitely seems like First Aid Kit end this record at a decidedly lower point than the one at which it started. That’s not to take away too much from a great album, but honestly, halfway through this release, I thought we might be looking at the first 10/10 of the year.

And that’s mostly what you should take away from this review, that a good portion of this album is not just good or even great; rather, a good portion of this album is flawless. The production is interesting and tasteful, the writing is smart both melodically and lyrically, and the harmonies are stellar. I mentioned that some people might not get this group, people on both sides of the divide, but perhaps a better way to view First Aid Kit is that they’ve got something to offer everyone, and all of it is quality music of substance. For this listener, a lot of it happens to work, but if your tastes are stricter, maybe you’ll gravitate solely toward the more traditional “Postcard” or the more modern “Rebel Heart.” Whatever your natural inclination, I encourage you to give these sisters and this album a listen; talent and good music cross all genre lines.

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Album Review – Laura Benitez and the Heartache – With All its Thorns

Rating: 8/10

It’s no surprise to anyone who reads my reviews on Country Exclusive that I love traditional country music. If an artist currently makes authentic country with lots of steel—and said artist has a voice I appreciate—I’m a pretty easy sell. If you feel the same way as I do about music that fits these requirements, you need to check out Laura Benitez and the Heartache.

When you press play on the first song on this album, you know what you’re in for right away. There’s well-done instrumentation with lots of steel guitar, some nice and mostly upbeat rhythms, and even the occasional accordion. I was immediately interested in what kind of work Laura Benitez would create.

If the instrumentation is what caught my interest first, it was the lyrics that made me stay. The thing about this album is, there are a few songs where one line tells the whole story. “Ghost Ship” uses the line “I don’t know where you are” to help tell the tale of someone who has lost a loved one in a fire, and cannot locate that person afterword. “In Red” uses the lyrics “I should have married you in red” to act as a well-done omen. Upon a couple’s marriage, the new bride spills wine on her dress and jokingly says “I should have married you in red”. By the end of the song, the marriage isn’t going well at all, and she kills her husband. Then, there are songs that take words and twist them around. “The Fool I Am Right Now” is a honky tonk song about a woman who has been the fool who has maxed out her credit cards. She’s been the fool who didn’t take care of her car. However, she’d rather be the fool she is right now, which is a fool in love. “Why Does it Matter” details a woman saying it doesn’t matter if her man doesn’t love her, she’ll still do the same things she always does. It doesn’t matter to her if he has any feelings for her anymore. “But if it doesn’t matter,” she sings, “why does it matter so much?”

The rest of the songs are just as good. The first song, “Something Better Than a Broken Heart” revolves around a woman who thought she’d get something better than a broken heart. Her dreams of a home and love were all proven wrong when her partner left her. One of my favorites is the next track, “Easier Things to Do”. She sings about how it would be easier to not play music and to not love the man she loves, but she still does. “Our Remember Whens” is an awesome honky tonk song about a woman who’s just met someone. She’s excited for them to get to all of their memories. She looks forward to looking back into the past with her partner, sharing jokes and good times together.

“Whiskey Makes Me Love You” is an upbeat song, but it essentially says that alcohol makes her love the person she’s with, even though she already loves them a lot. “Almost The Right One(Casi Mi Cielo” is a sad song about a woman who thought she found the perfect man for her, the one she’d be with forever. As it turned out, he was almost the right one, painfully ending things when it could easily have turned into forever. “Secrets” details a couple where both the man and woman are cheating on their spouse. They justify it with “secrets are better than lies”. “Nora Went Down the Mountain” details the story of a woman who had been happily married, until one day when she just left home with no warning. This song is probably the most forgettable on the whole album, in my opinion. That’s saying a lot, though, since I like it well enough.

In case you couldn’t tell, I really liked this album. Laura Benitez brings a nice flair to this music with her voice, and the fact that she’s a Spanish speaker. I love the inclusion of the accordion, all of the steel guitar, and the cleverness of the lyrics. All in all, this is one of my new favorite discoveries of 2018 so far!

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Album Review: Teea Goans – Swing, Shuffle And Sway

Rating: 7.5/10

I always get excited when I discover a new traditional country singer, particularly if that vocalist also happens to be female. Therefore, when I saw Trigger from Saving Country Music talking about Teea Goans in those terms, I knew I had to check her out.

It was love at first listen when I heard the opening notes of “Go Down Swinging’”. It’s a shuffle featuring fiddle and steel, all about how much she loves swing and country music. With her high, clear voice, I admired Teea Goans’ singing as well. The next song slows things down. “I’d Be a Legend in my Time” is all about how if heartache and sadness brought fame, she’d be a legend. It’s a good cover, for sure. She is able to deliver the song in such a way that you really feel the emotion.

“Heart Over Mind” tells of a woman who knows she should leave her partner, but then, he makes the woman think he loves her, and her heart won’t let her end things. This is yet another shuffle, and I have to say that this is very welcome since a lot of albums are filled with more slow songs. “That’s the Thing About Love” has lyrics that revolve around the myriad of feelings one can get while infatuated with someone. While not an especially memorable song, the melody and Teea Goans’ pleasant voice make it listenable.

Next is my favorite song off of this album. “Just Because She Always Has” tells the tale of a man who took his partner for granted. She always cleaned up for him and did the cooking. She had always loved him despite everything, but just because she had always done and felt those things before didn’t mean that she always would. This is an amazing country song, and I highly recommend that if you don’t listen to the whole album, you should check out this individual song, at least. “It Ain’t Nothin’” is a cover sung with Mark Wills. I confess, I keep hearing Randy Travis singing this, but I found it an good cover. It’s upbeat and fun.

“Tell Me I’m Crazy” is another sad country song, with some awesome steel guitar. The woman wants to be convinced that she’s crazy and her relationship isn’t ending. This is probably my second favorite track off of this album. “Steel Guitar Rag” is fun and upbeat, and it’s all about how great the steel guitar sounds. Since I’m all for more steel guitar, I found this song fun. I haven’t heard the original, but I do like this version.

“I Know the Lord Will Stand By Me” is one of two gospel songs on this project. It’s upbeat with some really well-done piano, all about how she knows that Jesus will keep her safe and happy. “You Don’t Know Me” is a song about unrequited love. The woman in the song says that even though she’s been friends with a man for years, he doesn’t really know her. This is because she has dreams of him and wants to be with him. I find this song pretty forgettable, but it’s not bad.

“A Way To Survive” features some more awesome fiddle. It’s a song wherein the protagonist keeps her former lover’s picture and letters. Reliving her memories is what kept her going and helped her survive. The last song is the other gospel track on the album. “Mercy Walked In” is about a person who was guilty of something unspecified, but then was let go due to mercy. For me, this song gives way too few details. I know logically that it’s all about God and his mercy, but the vagueness keeps me from really getting emotionally into the song.

Overall, I quite like this album. I think Teea Goans is a singer to watch if you like more traditional country music. I even like that she was willing to include some gospel on this album, since there are some gospel influences in country. The instrumentation on here is stellar, too. There is a pretty even number of fast and slow songs, which makes a refreshing change from all of the slower albums. In short, if you are looking for a female singer who does traditional country right, look no further than Teea Goans.

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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 clichéd 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.

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