Tag Archives: traditional country

Female Fridays: Featuring Ashley Monroe

Her new album, The Blade, is out today (I will have a review of it shortly.) In light of that, it seems natural to feature Ashley Monroe on this Female Friday.

How You Might Know Ashley

She’s the beautiful voice that completes Blake Shelton’s “Lonely Tonight.” Also, she was one-third (my favorite third) of the Pistol Annies–other Annies include Miranda Lambert and Angaleena Presley.

Bio

Ashley Monroe (born September 10, 1986, from Knoxville, Tennessee), has been paying her dues for many years. At age eleven, she won a talent competition in Pigeon Forge singing “I Want to be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart” and landed a job in a theater performing several nights a week. Her idyllic life was turned upside down two years later, when her father died suddenly. Ashley mentions her father’s death often in her songs (“Like a Rose,” “Monroe Suede”.) Music was her outlet, and she became a very talented songwriter as she dealt with his death.

Ashley moved to Nashville soon after, and after a long search for a major label, Columbia Records finally took a chance on her, allowing her to start work on her debut album at nineteen. Two Singles were released, “Satisfied” and “I don’t Want To”–a duet with Ronnie Dunn–but neither charted well, and Ashley’s album went unreleased. Ashley and Columbia parted ways in 2007. (The album, Satisfied, was eventually released in 2009.)

It would be six years before Ashley would release another solo album. During those years, Ashley worked both as a songwriter and backing vocalist. Chances are, if you like country and listen to it often, you know a song that Ashley Monroe worked on. Songs that bear her writing include Jason Aldean’s “The Truth,” Miranda Lambert’s “Heart Like Mine,” and Carrie Underwood’s “Flat on the Floor.” Her backing vocals can be heard on Miranda’s “Me and Your Cigarettes,” and Wade Bowen’s “If We Ever Make it Home,” among others. In addition, she independently released an EP with Trent Dabbs (with the unoriginal title Ashley Monroe and Trent Dabbs), sang with Jack White’s Third Man House Band, and collaborated with The Raconteurs and Ricky Skaggs on a single called “Old Enough.” In 2012, she even performed a song called “Bruises” with Train and toured with the group.

The most pivotal event in Ashley’s career during this time was the formation of the Pistol Annies in 2011. Miranda Lambert and Ashley, now friends, formed the group with Angaleena Presley, making their surprise debut at the ACM Girls Night Out on April 22, 2011, with “hell on Heels.” They were an instant success and produced two remarkable albums, Hell on Heels (2011) and Annie Up (2013.) The success of the Annies rebuilt Ashley’s solo career and sparked Angaleena’s, unfortunately leading to the disbanding of the Annies in 2014. However, Ashley was signed by Warner Bros, and finally released her second solo album in 2013. The album was titled Like a Rose and was produced by Vince Gill. Like a Rose was one of the best albums I have heard in the last five years, and it was met with much deserved critical acclaim. She finally got the breakthrough she had worked so long to achieve with Like a Rose, proving that hard work and dedication really can and does pay off. My only complaint with it was it ended too soon–it only contained nine tracks, and I immediately wanted to hear more. Today I get that wish, as her third album, The Blade, is finally here. I will reserve comments on that for the review, although I will say it was also produced by Vince Gill, so one would expect it to be awesome.

Why Ashley Belongs on Country Radio

Now would be the perfect time to start playing Ashley Monroe on country radio. Everyone knows her from “Lonely Tonight.” Plus, a commenter on another site described her voice as “pure gold” and that’s the best way to put it. She is a great songwriter, but even when she didn’t write the song, she has a way of telling a story when she sings. It’s probably from dealing with the pain of her father’s death and having to grow up so young. At any rate, when Ashley Monroe sings, you want to listen, to sad songs especially, but really to anything. I have praised other women for their songwriting, but with Ashley, the strength lies in her voice. Not to mention her voice is authentically country. She could put pop beats or rock beats or whatever behind it–she doesn’t, she generally stays traditional with traces of pop here and there–but she would still sound country. We need a woman like that on the radio.

Tracks I Recommend

This is not counting The Blade, as I am doing an entire album review over that. In light of that, I feel it would be a disservice to pick apart Like a Rose, as it is all awesome. So just go listen to it. As for Satisfied, everything on it is great as well, but it is more of an acquired taste, especially for those who like less twang or are just starting with Ashley. So just go listen to Like a Rose and proceed from there. With that album you cannot go wrong.

Listen to Like a Rose

Album Review: Alan Jackson–Angels and Alcohol

Rating: 9/10

Well, it has finally come–the long-awaited release of music on Fridays, and with this change, the release of arguably two of the most anticipated albums of 2015. Americana fans finally get Jason IsBell’s Something More Than Free (hopefully I will get time to review this later this week, but if not, it comes recommended), and for country fans, Alan Jackson’s Angels and Alcohol It should be noted that I like to avoid streaming albums ahead of time if at all possible, and so the first time I heard Alan Jackson’s album was when I purchased it at 6 A.M. Saturday, after two long days moving and about four hours of sleep. Having said that, this album hit me in one of the rare moments of silence I’ve had in the past week, and I’m glad to say it delivered.

The album opens with “You Can Always Come Home,” about a father telling his child to chase their dreams but to know they always have a place to come back to. The instrumentation in this song is great, with acoustic guitars and fiddles, and I found myself feeling an unintended double meaning in this song. Alan sings, “No matter how right or wrong you’ve gone, you can always come home.” After all the bro country and pop country and rock country and rap country and everything else disguised as country, this truly did feel like coming home. To have a mainstream album open with an acoustic guitar in 2015 is shocking, and in a good way. It was refreshing to say the least. The next song, “You Never Know” is a fun, upbeat song about finding love in strange places, and again the strength is the music. Here there was even a piano solo. I pay attention to lyrics more than music in songs as a rule, and the toll the false country has taken on lyrics has always hit me hardest, but this album made me really miss the country sound in a way I haven’t in a long time. I guess when you get used to hearing hip-hop and pop on country radio on a daily basis, you become immune to it.

The title track is my favorite–here the lyrics and instrumentation are both great. Alan sings, “You can’t mix angels and alcohol” and “I don’t think God meant for them to get along.” I won’t say anymore, just listen to it, it’s a great song. Next is “Gone Before You Met Me,” which describes a dream in which Alan meets Tom Sawyer and Jack Kerouac and has a nightmare about never meeting his wife. He wakes up to find her there and tells Tom and Jack to “ramble on without me.” It’s a song that potentially could do well on radio, and with the absence of George Strait, Alan might have a slightly better chance at airplay. “The One You’re Waiting On” is an excellent song told from the point of view of a man watching a woman across the room check her phone. She’s brushing men off and drinking wine while he speculates about whether the guy she’s waiting on is worth it. Next is the album’s lead single, “Jim and Jack and Hank,” an upbeat song about a man telling his girlfriend, as she’s leaving him, to go ahead because “I’ve got Jim and Jack and Hank.” He tells her, among other things, to “take your string bikkinis, your apple martinis” and “What’s left there in the bank.”

“I Leave a Light on” is a classic heartbreak song about leaving the light on for an ex’s memory. “Flaws” is the only flaw in the album–and it’s not a bad song, just doesn’t measure up to the rest. It tries to be too humorous and therefore loses the message a little, which is basically that no one is perfect. I honestly hated this song but the line “we’re all made with water, dirt, and grace” redeemed it somewhat. “When God Paints” follows this, wich also helps “Flaws,” because it acts as a second part to the story. It talks of the bigger picture and the amazing things that happen “when God paints.” Alan mentions that it’s not “always black-and-white or well-defined when God paints,” an excellent line. The album closes with “Mexico, Tequila, and Me” which is a song about exactly that. It’s the song that would sell on country radio, except that some bro country artist would sing it with hip-hop beats and bad rapping, whereas Alan keeps it country. So it probably won’t get airplay, but in a perfect world, it’s the kind of song that would. All in all, Angels and Alcohol is a great album, and in the absence of George Strait, Alan Jackson is our reigning country king. He has delivered, and I hope he will continue making refreshingly good country music.

Listen to album

Female Fridays: Featuring Sunny Sweeney

Last week, I featured Katie Armiger and noted that she is one of my favorite underrated female country artists. I love her sound because it is pop country that is done very well. This week, I am featuring Sunny Sweeney, one of my favorite traditional country females.

How You Might Know Sunny

Sunny Sweeney had a top 10 hit in 2011 with “From a Table Away” which many will remember. She was also an opener on Miranda Lambert’s recent Certified Platinum tour.

Bio

Sunny Sweeney (born December 7, 1976 in Houston, Texas, and raised in Longview), got a degree in public relations and even tried to make it in the “real” world for awhile. That is, until one day when she picked up a guitar and made the life-changing decision to pursue singing and songwriting. She began playing several shows a week in Texas and quickly had a growing fan base. In 2006, she independently released Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame, which, according to her Web site,
found its way onto the desk of Big Machine Records president Scott Borchetta
This turn of events led to a record deal and the re-release of the album in 2007, with three singles making the Texas Music Chart.

In 2010, after signing to Republic Nashville, a joint venture between Big Machine and Universal Republic, Sunny released the well-known “From a Table Away.” This has been her highest charting single–on a major chart–and peaked at No. 10. it was followed by the excellent album Concrete. Concrete was my first experience with Sunny Sweeney, and I couldn’t wait to hear more music from her. Other less-known singles from that album include “Staying’s Worse Than Leaving” and “Drink Myself Single.”

For whatever reason–we can speculate on many–Sunny Sweeney and Big Machine parted ways after this album. In 2014, Sunny released her third album, Provoked with Thirty Tigers, the self-proclaimed
“home for independent artists.”
The first two singles, “Bad Girl Phase” and “My Bed”–a duet with fellow Texas singer Will Hoge that Sunny co-wrote with Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley of the Pistol Annies–hit No. 1 on the Texas Music Chart. This makes Sunny Sweeney the first female to have two consecutive singles hit No. 1 on the Texas charts. She said of the experience, “I am very honored to be the first female to ever have two number one songs back to back on the Texas music chart…I believe firmly that if you just keep following your heart and working your butt off, you will see the payoff and positive results.”

Why Sunny Belongs on Country Radio

Why? Well, for one, she’s already proved she can get chart success with “From a Table Away.” That song wasn’t a pop song either–it was a traditional sounding song about the “other woman” witnessing the husband, whom she thought was ready to leave his wife, from a table away with his wife. The husband is obviously still in love with the wife, and the other woman is confronting him later after having seen them together. This song did well on the charts, so why is it inconceivable to think Sunny could have radio success again? Not to mention she’s doing very well on the Texas Music Chart right now–proving that if actual country music was getting played on “country” radio, she would be highly successful. Also, much like Katie Armiger, her songwriting is relatable and autobiographical. However, unlike younger artists, such as Katie and Taylor Swift, Sunny writes from a place of more experience. Her songs speak of marriage, divorce, and adultery–many times from the view of the “other woman,”–in a way that says she’s lived the lyrics.

In addition, Sunny got a lot of exposure from Miranda Lambert’s Certified Platinum tour, so many more people should know her music now. But sadly, when I was standing in line before the doors opened to see Miranda on that very tour, a local DJ was spinning Miranda Lambert and Justin Moore hits (Justin was the other opener.) After awhile, he called out, “All of you know Miranda Lambert” to which we all cheered. Then he added, “But how many of you know Sunny Sweeney?” A handful of people answered. He said, “Well, here’s one of her songs,” and played “Bad Girl Phase,” one of the recent No. 1 Texas Music Chart singles. For many standing around me, that was the first they’d heard of Sunny Sweeney, and that speaks volumes. The same crowd that was cheering for Miranda Lambert should have been cheering for Sunny Sweeney, and yet most did not even know her name.

Tracks I Recommend

You cannot go wrong with either Concrete or Provoked, but if I had to narrow it down, here’s where I’d start.

1. Amy–Concrete
2. From a Table Away–Concrete
3. Fall for Me–Concrete
4. Staying’s Worse Than Leaving–Concrete
5. My Bed (featuring Will Hoge)–Provoked
6. Carolina on the Line–Provoked
7. Find Me–Provoked
8. Bad Girl Phase–Provoked
9. You Don’t Know Your Husband–Provoked
10. Drink Myself Single–Concrete
11. Refresh my Memory–Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame

Listen to Concrete

Listen to Provoked

These are the two No. 1 Texas Music Chart singles. Both are great, but my personal favorite is “My Bed.”

Album Review: Courtney Patton–So This is Life

Rating: 8.5/10

I’ll start here by being honest–when this album came out on June 9th, I had not even heard the name Courtney Patton. So this review comes late for two reasons; firstly, Country Exclusive did not exist then, and secondly, when I did hear of her, I wanted to take my time really listening before reviewing her. For anyone out there like me, Courtney Patton is a Texas country artist, the wife of better known Texas singer/songwriter Jason Eady, and So This is Life is her third album.

So This is Life is characterized throughout by acoustic arrangements and excellent songwriting. I say this now to avoid having to say “the instrumentation and songwriting are excellent” over and over–just assume so unless I say otherwise. “Little Black Dress” tells the story of a one-night stand, and the woman being left alone and brokenhearted. I immediately fell in love with Courtney’s voice here–she tells a story perfectly. “War of Art” is another great story, this one somewhat autobiographical, of a wife and mother struggling with her passion for songwriting and performing. She sings

And I’ve heard it all before
Singin’ to a whiskey-soaked dance floor
Ain’t no job for a mother and a wife
So I try to do things right
But at what cost is it worth the fight
I just couldn’t let that war take my life.

“Her Next Move” is a lyrical low point for me (still good, just not great) about a woman seeking attention from her husband by threatening to do things like “take their daughter across state lines.” “Need for Wanting” is my favorite track on the album; here Courtney again discusses a one-night stand, asking the man in the bar not to “misinterpret my need for wanting tonight.” She says she won’t leave with him but at the end we hear, “But if you like, come in, since you understand my need for wanting tonight.”

“Twelve Days” was written about Courtney missing her husband Jason Eady while he is on the road–“I can make it twelve days, I’ve waited longer.” “Killing Time” is more upbeat, and tells about a woman’s husband “killing time” in prison for stealing money. “Maybe it’s You” is another low point for me lyrically; it is a love song about being forgiven after making some mistakes in the relationship. “Sure Am Glad” goes back to the one-night stand material, this time between two friends–“You caught me off guard when I heard that knock on my door, but I sure am glad that I’m not alone anymore.”

The title track was written about Courtney’s parents. “So This is Life” tells the story of a marriage that wasn’t what they pictured–the wife watches TV and wishes for someone to talk to, while the husband works days and nights trying to get by. They end up divorced after he takes a lover in a midllife crisis. This song is painfully accurate and is my second favorite track. “Battle These Blues” is another lyrical low point for me (again, still good) where a wife deals with a husband who drinks too much and stays out late. By contrast, “Where I’ve Been” is excellent, and here the wife says she’s not getting the love she needs, so she’s being unfaithful. She says, “If you ever decide that you ever want to try again, I’ll be here in the mornin’ just don’t ask me where I’ve been.” “But I Did” closes the album with an autobiographical track about Courtney’s life–“I was born the oldest one with patience like my mother, the fire and heart of my father, and a spirit of my own.”

This album is musically excellent. All twelve songs are good, and most are great. The only thing I wished for is that there were one or two more upbeat songs because listening to the album as a whole sometimes makes it feel slow. All the same, Courtney Patton is a force to be reckoned with, and I highly recommend So This is Life.

Listen to album