Tag Archives: traditional country

Album Review – Zephaniah Ohora – This Highway

Rating: 9/10

I had never heard of Zephaniah Ohora until Megan mentioned him to me by saying that Trigger over at Saving Country Music had given his album a 9.5 out of 10 rating. Then, she dropped the words “classic country album”, and I was sold. I knew I had to at least give this unknown artist a listen and se what I thought.

I don’t know much about Zephaniah Ohora, but when I saw that he is from New York, I was excited to see what his music would sound like. As it turns out, he made some truly authentic country songs that could be timeless in terms of sound.

To start with, this album features some really well-done instrumentation. I like that on some songs, there is a touch of piano. Personally, I feel that the piano is a much under-used instrument in country nowadays. There’s some really well-done fiddle, too. By far, though, my favorite instrument is the steel guitar, which is fantastic all throughout this album. If I had to point to a specific moment where it really works, listen to the track “For a Moment or Two”. It’s a sad song in which a man is trying to lie to himself that he hasn’t lost his partner, and the guitar really sells the emotions of this song in a moment unlike anything I’ve heard so far this year. If I had to pick a favorite track off of this record, I’m pretty sure this would be it. It’s the only waltz time song on here, and a fantastic way to end the album.

The previous ten tracks aren’t bad by any means, either. The album starts off with “Way Down in my Soul”, which is a love song about how the woman he loves helped him out of a dark time in his life. There is some great fiddle play here, and its a very good opening track. “I Do Believe I’ve Had Enough” tells of a man who’s tired of the city and wants to move back to the country. I don’t think I’ve heard a song with this theme for quite some time, and I really appreciate it, especially since things are even more hectic since the time when songs like “Big City” came out. “Take Your Love Out of Town” is intriguing. The actual music of the song is country, but the tempo reminds me of something the Eagles might have done in the 70s. It’s not derivative by any means, but it just reminded me of the tempo on songs like “Peaceful Easy Feeling”. The actual lyrics involve a man telling his lover to go and be with someone else, but he also says that if the woman misses him, she can come back home. He did her wrong, and he wants her to go, but only if she has no feelings for him. I believe this is a very realistic portrayal of emotions one would feel in this situation, instead of just saying that he wants one thing or the other. Human emotions are far more complex than that, and I appreciate Zephaniah Ohora being willing to capture that fact.

The title track tells about a highway that just won’t end. Given his occupation, I found that this song could be taken literally and metaphorically, where the highway is life. Either way, I like the song, although it isn’t one that completely stands out to me. One that does stand out for me is “Songs My Mama Sang”. It starts off talking about how a boy and his mother would walk their farm fields and she’d sing to him. The boy had his whole life ahead of them. Then, as a young man, he got a job and got lost in the rush of living, but all by himself, he sang the songs his mother used to sing to him. The song is pretty sad, but I like that it isn’t nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake. “High Class City Girl from the Country” is a standout song for me, because it tells of a woman who likes fashion and keeping conversation light, and she’s all about the city life. However, she’s really from the country, and is trying to leave that all behind for the sake of being considered a fine and high class woman. This is true to life nowadays, I’d say, as a lot of people do exactly what the woman in the song did.

Now, we come to a really unique song. “I Can’t Let Go (Even Though I Set You Free” is about murder. Basically, the man in the lyrics tells the woman he loves that she can leave him, but when she tries he shoots her. He can’t deal with the fact that she would no longer be his. It was painful for him to do it, but he just couldn’t let her leave him. In terms of subject matter, this track is definitely different from all the others. You’d expect a song with this theme to be slow, but it’s more mid-tempo than anything. “She’s Leaving in the Morning” is all about a man being left by his woman, who now loves someone else. This song isn’t particularly memorable, but it’s not bad either. “He Can Have Tomorrow (I’ll Take Yesterday” involves a man who is telling the woman he is with that she can go and be with the man that she loves. Although she tried to make him jealous, he isn’t, and he only wants what they used to have. He doesn’t want her future, he wants her past. “Something Stupid” is the only cover on this album. It features Dori Freeman, who I really like. The song itself is all about someone trying to tell the person they’re with that they love them, but said person is very cynical and would only think that it’s a line. I haven’t heard the original, but I liked the lyrics. What I don’t quite care for is how Dori Freeman and Zephaniah Ohora sing the lyrics. Not their harmonies, but the notes they used, the melody itself. It just felt off to me. Like I said previously, “For A Moment or Two” caps the album off beautifully. It felt like Zephaniah Ohora really pulled out all the stops for this song in terms of lyrics and instrumentation. It really shows what he and his band are capable of, and it’s the track I keep coming back to.

Overall, I quite like this album. It truly sounds like it could have come out many years ago, but its subject matter is still quite applicable today. While Zephaniah Ohora doesn’t have a voice that particularly stands out, he is a good vocalist who is good at capturing many different emotions. I have to agree with Triggers review where he talks about how he’s glad that Zephaniah Ohora didn’t attempt to put on a Southern accent or make Southern references. It really gives this album a unique quality, and separates it from everything else out there. The artist knows who and what he is, and he’s not trying to be anything different. I can only think of three downsides to this record. There are a lot of mid-tempo songs, so it could use more speed,. Not all the songs were memorable, as I’ve stated above. Finally, I did find it odd sometimes where the lyrics were placed within the instrumentation. It felt a bit off to me, since the lyrics occasionally came a second or two after I was expecting them. Still, I think if classic country is your kind of music, you need to check this out. You’ll be hard pressed to find anything with this kind of sound or appeal, at least in terms of the albums that have been released so far this year.

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Reflecting On: Corb Lund – Cabin Fever

Today, I decided to discuss Corb Lund. He’s a very underrated Canadian country artist. I love Corb Lund’s music, because he can be funny, serious, and tell you a good story. He does this all on Cabin Fever, his release from 2012. I chose this particular record both for this reason, and because it’s the one that got me into Corb Lund’s Music.

Release Date: August 10, 2012

Style: Traditional Country

People Who Might Like This Album: Fans of quirky songwriting, people who love story songs

Standout Tracks: “September,” “Drink It Like You Mean It,” “Priceless Antique Pistol Shoots Startled Owner,” “Pour Em Kinda Strong”

First off, this album is really diverse in its songs. Corb Lund is funny on tracks like “Cows Around and Bible on the Dash”, heartbroken on “September”, and tells an amazing story on “Pour Em Kinda Strong”. I love how his music has a lot of cowboy themes. He is very witty in some of his lines, too. There is something here for everyone, that’s for sure.

Cabin Fever made a great introduction for me when I was first getting into his music. It’s not all doom and gloom, but there are some really good stories here too. “Pour Em Kinda Strong” may possibly be my favorite song in Corb Lund’s whole catalogue. It tells the story of an arrogant outlaw who ends up getting killed by the bartender he started out the song being a jerk to. The lyrics go “pour em kinda strong cuz I won’t be here long”, which is ironic given that he ends up dying at the end of the song. It’s pure genius. “September” is all about how much he misses his girlfriend who left him for New York City. He states that “there ain’t nobody in New York City who could need you half as bad”. I love the guitar on this song. “Priceless Antique Pistol Shoots Startled Owner” tells the tale of an expert gun owner who is killed by a man to whom he was showing said gun. The thing I like about this song is that it’s instrumentally quieter, so it really lets the lyrics shine, which is very important on a track like this. Finally, “Drink It Like You Mean It” is just a very fun drinking song. It’s got some good steel guitar, and it’s a well-done honky tonk track. He says “Drink it like you mean it, like the serious people do”. I just really love the instrumentation and lyrics here.

I could write many paragraphs detailing Corb Lund’s lyrical genius. He’s ironic on “Priceless Antique Pistol”, hilarious on songs like “Cows Around” where he details the blessings and curses of having cows, and just generally unique in his approach to song writing. I definitely think this is a great place to start getting into Corb Lund’s music. If you like cowboy stories, fun songs that aren’t cliche, and some interesting themes you don’t really hear in songs today, I definitely recommend Corb Lund and all of his albums.

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Reflecting on: The Definitive Collection: Don Williams

Friday’s Gentle Giants tribute album to Don Williams has inspired me to go back and search through his discography. I know Brianna did a Greatest Hits collection last week, but this is honestly one of the best examples of his music that is also easily accessible–many of his original albums can’t be streamed, and hopefully, hearing this one will inspire you to dig further into his albums anyway. His music is some of the first exposure to older country that I ever had growing up, and it’s some I still come back to, and for good reason.

Release Date: 2004
Style: mostly countrypolitan/the Nashville sound, some more traditional country as well
Who Might Like This Album: fans of Ronnie Milsap, fans of Sam Outlaw, fans of softer country, love songs, and heartbreak ballads
Standout Tracks: “Some Broken Hearts Never Mend,” “If Hollywood Don’t Need You,” Lord, I Hope This Day is Good,” “Good Ole Boys Like Me,” “Come Early Morning,” “I’m Just a Country Boy,” “She Never Knew Me”
Reflections: You might think Sam Outlaw is an odd reference to make when referring to a classic country singer like Don Williams, but it’s the Nashville sound that Outlaw has modernized which Williams helped to make popular in the 70’s and 80’s; he wasn’t an outlaw like Merle or Willie, and his brand of country, although sprinkled with traditional songs, leans more toward the pop country of that time–which just shows you how far the term pop country has slipped, and also that it wasn’t always synonymous with crap. There’s a reason he is called “gentle giant,”–that unmistakable bass voice is known best for love songs like “I Believe in You” and heartbreak songs like “Some Broken Hearts Never Mend” than anything else. This album, and really all Don Williams music, is an easy listen. It just puts you in a good mood. It’s relaxing and simple, and it reminds you that it didn’t take grit to make timeless music.
There’s a sincerity and depth of emotion in these songs that’s hard to come by in today’s writing, and “gentle” is also the right word to describe the voice of Don Williams. I mentioned simplicity, and it shines through on “Lord, I Hope This Day is Good,” a little prayer for just that, a good day in the midst of struggle, and “Good Ole Boys Like Me,” a song that reminds you you can sing about growing up in the South without it being one giant cliché. He can share sentiments like “If Hollywood don’t need you, honey, I still do” from my personal favorite Don Williams song, or “most of all, you’re my best friend” and have them come off as sincere rather than cheesy. It could be the bass voice or simply the way you believe the words, but Don Williams has a way of selling these types of songs that would perhaps otherwise come off too sappy. I keep coming back to that word, “gentle,” which seems to describe his voice, his style, and his songs. As I said, it’s a nice, easy listen. Start with this, and work your way through his music. I have yet to find a bad Don Williams song.

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Reflecting On: 20th Century Masters- The Millennium Collection – The Best Of Loretta Lynn

Growing up, I heard Loretta Lynn’s music a lot. Although it took me years to understand the lyrics fully, my love for her music was something I picked up quite early on in life. This album, in particular, was the one I heard the most. While I have since heard her original albums, I always come back to this greatest hits collection.

Release Date: 1999

Style: Traditional Country

People Who Might Like This Album: Fans of female artists, and those who appreciate songs about real emotions

Standout Tracks: The whole album since it’s a greatest hits collection

If you don’t know any of Loretta Lynn’s songs, this is a great place to start. You get to hear about her childhood growing up in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, where her father worked in the coal mines, on “Coal Miner’s Daughter”. There’s also the fantastic “You Ain’t Woman Enough”, where Loretta Lynn tells a woman who’s trying to win over her husband that she isn’t going to let said woman have him. This album also features the classic “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’”, where she tells the previously mentioned husband not to come home after he’s been out drinking all night. There’s also two of her duets with fellow classic country artist, Conway Twitty. As one of the premiere sets of duet partners in country music, you can’t get any better. “Lead Me On” is a fantastic example of a cheating song from both the male and female perspective. Really, the only downside to this album is that it doesn’t contain “Fist City”.

The thing that makes Loretta Lynn so good is that she wrote relatable songs from a woman’s perspective, in a time when nearly all country stars were male. That part hasn’t changed a lot nowadays, which only means that her music applies just as strongly today as it did then. Loretta Lynn wrote about the harsh realities of growing up poor in Kentucky. Her songs discussed what it was like to be a housewife to a husband who didn’t always put her first, and she even talked about jealousy. Her music is very human and real, and it’s something I come back to, time and time again.

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Reflecting On: Dwight Yoakam – Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc. Etc.

It was only a matter of time until I turned to classic country for my Random Reflections. I love lots of older artists and songs, so I’m extremely excited to be able to talk about them here. Today, I thought I’d feature one of my top favorites, Dwight Yoakam’s debut album, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.

Release Date: 1986

Style: Traditional Country

People Who Might Like this Album: Fans of fiddle and traditional country with faster tempos

Standout Tracks: “Honky Tonk Man,” “South Of Cincinnati,” “Guitars, Cadillacs,” “Miner’s Prayer”

The opening guitar of “Honky Tonk Man” is some of the catchiest I’ve ever heard. It immediately gets you in the mood for the faster tempo of the song. It’s about a man who constantly hangs out in the bar, only to want to go back home when he’s out of money. In addition to fun songs, there’s the classic “South of Cincinnati”. This is one of Dwight Yoakam’s best songs in my opinion. It tells the tale of a woman who writes letters to her ex saying that if he ever returns south of Cincinnati, she’d go back to being with him. The thing that makes this a classic is that she writes these letters for fourteen years and puts them in her Bible, never sending them. Then, you have the title track. It’s a deceptively upbeat song wherein he sings “guitars, Cadillacs, hillbilly music, is the only thing that keeps me hanging on”. I love it because it’s fun, but there’s also the emotion behind it, as the girl he loved ruined his naivety, and now he’s hanging on to what he knows. Lastly, there’s “Miner’s Prayer”. Dwight Yoakam is from Kentucky, so the fact that he did a song about a miner wanting to escape the mine was no surprise. However, I do love this song with its banjo and Dwight’s expressive vocals.

This album is still one of my favorites from Dwight Yoakam. He still plays many of these songs live today, and they have become some of his biggest hits. There are a few fiddle solos on this album too, and I love them. If you have never heard of or checked out Dwight Yoakam’s music, there’s no place to begin like the beginning.

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