Tag Archives: Willie Nelson

Collaborative Spotlight: Glen Campbell–Adios

Now for something I’ve wanted to do all year but couldn’t bring myself to: spotlighting Glen campbell’s final album. I had listened to a couple songs before now, but to try and listen to the whole thing was just too sad for a Glen fan like me. But I wanted to honor him with this and made it my goal to do before the end of 2017. I thought I’d enlist another Glen fan to help honor him as well, so I got Zack of The Musical Divide to join me in sharing his thoughts about Campbell’s last album. Neither of us wanted this to be a review, just a way to honor our friend.

Megan: So what we have here is mostly–actually I thought until I heard this that it was all–cover songs, but they’re songs that one, meant something to Glen, as they were supposedly songs he gravitated toward when he was just sitting around with his family picking his guitar, and two, a lot of them also have undertones running through them that sort of explain what’s going on for him at the time.

Zack: “I think overall that yes, Adios is mostly a covers album full of the few songs Glen was still able to play. However, the way that the majority of the tracks speak to deeper levels given his condition is chilling. I think overall it’s amazing how great and passionate he still sounded vocally, and even the instrumentation is often on point. I enjoyed the soft touches of piano on “Just Like Always” and “Postcard From Paris”, and the crisp fiddle on “Arkansas Farmboy” was a treat for the ears.

Zack: I love the rollicking banjo on the opener, “Everybody’s ‘talkin’.” I think one thing you notice with this album is that they aren’t just cover songs. They’re sort of relatable to what was his situation at the time. For example, he says everybody’s talking at him, and he can’t hear a word they’re saying. With Alzheimer’s, him “not hearing” could be him not comprehending or remembering what was being said. A joyous opener on an instrumental standpoint, but a somber way to open it all.

Megan: I noticed all that too, and as we’ve mentioned, it will sort of continue to be a theme throughout this record, lingering in the background to add a touch of sadness to the whole thing. I also am amazed by how surprisingly good his voice is.

Zack: I agree regarding him being really solid vocally all throughout this album. With the next track, “Just Like Always”, he’s recalling a special night he had with his lover, and with the soft piano bolstering it, it’s meant to be seen more as somber I think for this version. After all, we again get a line such as “Maybe someday I will forget”, and that can’t be a coincidence. Of course, there’s enough ambiguity in the writing to imply that even if he does forget that night and even if his lover in question moves on, their love will still last forever. There’s a lot of subtext here. Really solid, touching, and honestly hard to listen to so far. It’s beautiful.

Megan: Speaking of hard to listen to, enter “Funny How Time Slips Away.” It also obviously reflects what’s going on with Glen, and in that light, it’s got more meaning than the original intent of the song. He and Willie Nelson should have done more stuff together, that pair really works.

Zack: Considering this is similar thematically to Just Like Always, I see this more as a counter moment of levity considering how heavy the album starts. Considering he’s doing it with Willie, it feels just like two old buddies dusting off one of the few songs people will know is a cover right from the get go. I mean, there’s at least some humor as the narrator calls out his ex for saying she’ll love her new beau forever when that’s the same thing she told him originally. Like I said, I see it merely as a counter to the darkness so far, and it’s needed.

Megan: I’ve never heard “Arkansas Farm Boy” either. This is a more lighthearted song too, and one of the few without as much of the sad undertones and double meanings. I need to find the original of this, this is a really great song. Also love the fiddle.

Zack: Oh, this is actually an original tune. I like how he recalls his childhood here. Sure, it was tough, but at the same time he remembers everything very fondly, especially since it’s when he learned to play music. At the same time, we have allusions to his aging self again as he states he’d give anything to go back again. It rings a hell of a lot more louder than say, someone on the radio wanting to be twenty again just so they can get drunk every weekend…

Megan: I also enjoy “Am I All Alone”. It goes in with the theme of songs reflecting his state of mind. I Actually would like to hear more Vince Gill if I’m honest.

Zack: Ha, I’d like to hear more of Vince Gill as well, but at least it isn’t another “Sober Saturday Night” moment.

Megan: They talked about having to give this to Glen line by line in a lot of places, and it speaks to the fact that he is a ridiculous vocalist that it’s all so connected emotionally, like in “It Won’t Bring Her Back” and later in “She Thinks I Still Care.” “It Won’t Bring Her Back” is the highlight of the album for me so far.

Zack: Really? I actually didn’t know that. Everything blends together so well that I would have never guessed. Unfortunately it makes sense, but the fact that you can hardly even tell is stunning. Anyway, moving on to “It Won’t Bring Her Back”, the advice from a friend to another to let go of a past lover on “It Won’t Bring Her Back” is reminiscent of “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” in a way. Unfortunately we do lose people whether it be through breakups, them moving away, and deaths among scenarios. There is a time for grieving, but what’s most important is that we move on knowing we’ll always have those memories to go back to in our time of need, at least for now.

Zack: “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” is another moment of levity akin to “Funny How Time Slips Away” only much more upbeat. It’s amazing how much charisma Glen still had at this point.

Megan: Everybody and their mother has covered that song, and yet it’s still great. I second your thoughts on that charisma thing. Like I said, it’s amazing how invested he is emotionally in all these songs if it had to be done line by line a lot. His family and his producer said that they picked songs he always picked up his guitar and sang because he would know them easier. They said he knew some of it, but a lot of days, they had to give it to him line by line so he could remember. Given that, it’s a testament to his talent that he can interpret all these songs so well.

Zack: That honestly just made listening to this a lot tougher. Especially now that we’ve gotten to my personal favorite here, “Postcard From Paris”. I love that his family provides harmony on this one. It’s easily my favorite track here. The imagery that centers around him traveling around the world hoping to find himself is an interesting spin, and the fact that in the end, he can’t do it without his friend (assuming it’s his lover) is touching. In a way the traveling could even be seen as a metaphor for him traveling somewhere else in his mind, and the fact that his family sings “I wish you were here”…damn it, this piano ballad nearly made me cry.

Megan: I agree, it’s a truly lovely song with another story of missing someone with undertones of what he is going through as it talks about things like the shadows falling all around. There is some really great piano supporting this one as well. Although, it’s good we have the next song, “A Thing Called Love” to lighten the mood. The song will just put a smile on your face after that incredibly heartbreaking moment. Very well-placed and correct, asserting that love can bring down even the strongest and most jaded of us all.

Zack: I agree, it’s another moment of levity, but I still think there’s something more to this. After all, it essentially echoes what Just Like Always did which is show how love can prevail over disease, death, or really anything. It’s the one thing that will remain after we’re gone, mentally or physically.

Megan: Really excellent point there.

Zack: Thank you! Or rather, thank Glen.

Megan: And now we’re at the closer, “Adios”. “I miss the blood red sunset, but I’ll miss you the most.” Yeah, that sums up this whole album. It’s a depressing goodbye song, but also it’s reflective and not as obviously about death, so it leaves you sad but not devastated. There are a lot of depressing moments here, but this album is kind of comforting as well.

Zack: Yes, “Adios” is obviously a somber closer, but I enjoy the ambiguity in the writing. Jimmy Webb has a way of saying a lot with very few words, and this is an example. It’s a touching sort of “goodbye” song that sure, is meant to signal a breakup more than anything, but that doesn’t mean the sentiment on this particular album doesn’t ring louder than that. Overall, this is the type of album that’s hard to talk about in so many ways. The many covers here take on new meanings in the context of this album, and knowing what you said about him having to do most of this line by line…it’s just heartbreaking really. Still, the finished product which is now the official last Glen Campbell album is a treasure.

Megan: Yeah, this was hard to listen to and hard to talk about, but in a way, it’s also a comforting listen and a bit of a snapshot into what Glen was going through when he recorded this. Enjoyed sharing his final album with you, and thank you, Glen, for a lifetime and legacy of music.

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Some Second Impressions of 2017 Albums

Before I get to the flurry of year-end lists, I’d like to address a few things I’ve got significantly different opinions on now than when they were first reviewed. The rating is not the important thing to focus on with these year-end lists because certain things hold up over time better than others, and you will find some albums high on that list that weren’t rated as highly originally. Music changes over time, as do our reactions to it, and there are albums I’ve both overrated and underrated in 2017. This post will reflect these and hopefully shed some light on the upcoming albums list.

Albums I’ve Underrated

Robyn Ludwick–This Tall to Ride
I even said this during my midyear list, but the main reason for the underrating of this was I doubted its ability to be replayed over time, but it holds up quite well and continues to get better. Originally a 7.5, this would get a strong 8 now.

Tyler Childers–Purgatory
This just gets better with each listen. Some albums this year were great at first but had no sustainability (see below.) This still really doesn’t have one defining song, but it’s great all the way through and is one of the best albums of the year. It’s also my most played, with the possible exception of Colter Wall’s self-titled release.

Crystal Bowersox–Alive
I don’t care that this is a live album. I don’t care that a bit of the material appears on Crystal’s previous records. If there is one album I could recommend to all you critics that I see getting criminally overlooked, that I wish you would pull off your back burners and give a proper review to and consideration of in your endless lists, it’s this one. And I’ll go ahead and say it–this is the best album vocally of the year, bar none.

Zephaniah Ohora–This Highway
This one was done by Brianna, and she gave it a 9, as it rightfully deserves, but I have to say, it took me months to come around to this. And this is a brilliant album, definitely one of the best of the year.

Albums I’ve Overrated

And now for the controversial bits of this piece…

Willie Nelson–God’s Problem Child
Still a great listen, but it doesn’t have much staying power or relatability. I don’t really know what else to say.

Sunny Sweeney–Trophy
Look, I know this is high on a lot of year-end lists, and it’s a good record. It’s just, for me, not her best record. It was the album I was most looking forward to in early 2017 because I am a huge Sunny Sweeney fan, and taken as an album, there’s not much to criticize. But it hasn’t held up at all…I wish I could say more, and I did enjoy some of these songs better live, but this just didn’t stay with me.

Chris Stapleton–From a Room, Vol. 1
I’ve said it already, but if Stapleton had combined these releases, this would be a different story. As it is, we’ve got two decent albums, both with some filler, and neither with too much longevity.

Angaleena Presley–Wrangled
This is still one of the best albums of the year, but I would not give it a 10/10 if reviewing today. Still one of the top 5, maybe 3 albums of the year, but I’d have to pull back slightly from that perfect grade.

I’ve got some slightly different opinions on several other albums this year, but these are the most significant and will be most reflected in the year-end list. Above all, music is meant to be enjoyed and played, and these ratings ultimately mean nothing if the music doesn’t hold up throughout the year. I’ve tried to be less rigid in my opinions this year than in the past, and these changes are honest reflections of that. I look forward to sharing all the year-end lists with you all!

Album Review: Charley Pride–Music in my Heart

Rating: 8/10

The Apple Music description of this album is unintentionally hilarious, citing it as “traditional country.” Why is this funny? Because in all my time using the service, I’ve never seen anything so specific labeling a country project: you get “country,” “Americana,” “folk,” “singer-songwriter,” and it’s the same in other genres. You don’t get specifics like “pop country,” “Red Dirt,” or “country rock.” I did see “traditional folk” on Shinyribs’ latest, but that’s arguably not even all that accurate, so I’m not sure that counts as specific. But this album is so unabashedly country that even the Apple Music people felt it should be called “traditional country.” And you know what? If there’s been any album in 2017 or really during all the time I’ve written here that deserves this classification, Music in my Heart qualifies. Forget genre-bending and trying to undefined country music; Charley Pride has made an album so undeniable and unapologetic in its countriness that even Apple Music recognizes it and wants to make sure you’re entirely aware that this is different from Sam Hunt and all the others irresponsibly using the term to market music that is nowhere close to country at all and is more often than not crappy in its rightful genre as well.

That’s ultimately the strongest point of this record. There’s great Americana and pop country and Red Dirt, and we shouldn’t let genre solely dictate our musical tastes, but there’s something so inexplicably comforting about hearing fiddle and steel and three-chord arrangements that words just can’t express. If you’re a fan of country music, even if you’re not a purist–which I’m certainly not–you can’t help but listen to this album, with its shuffling rhythms and scandalous amounts of fiddle and steel, and be thankful that not everyone has forsaken this sound for Americana or some other blend of country. IN sound, this is country in its purest form, or at least in the purest form you’re going to get it in 2017.

But just because it’s country doesn’t mean it’s good, so let’s talk about the writing. I don’t think any one song is going to blow you away, but the lyrics are pretty strong throughout. It’s just as country in theme as it is in sound, featuring many songs about love and heartbreak. “New Patches” is a pretty clever take on a tried-and-true country theme, likening finding someone new to the inadvisable practice of sewing new patches on old garments. “All by my Lonesome” is another standout, and the copious amounts of fiddle here certainly help. “The Way it Was in ’51” is the only one that really deviates from these themes, and it’s one of the strongest songs on the record lyrically, really painting the pictures of that year well. But honestly, sometimes you don’t even pay attention to the lyrics because you’re so caught up in the sound.

Although not every song stands out, the universality in these songs does, and this relatability is the thing that Willie Nelson’s record lacked. That’s no criticism of Willie, but he reflected much on old age and the end of life, and at seventy-nine, Charley Pride could be doing the same. Again, no disrespect to Willie Nelson, or to Pride if/when he explores these subjects, but the songs of Music in my Heart are much more relatable and universal in theme, and that’s what ultimately was missing for me on God’s Problem Child. This is an album that I think will have considerably more mileage for younger listeners, and certainly for me.

There’s not much to criticize here, but the lack of variety thematically does start to make this run together a little in the middle of the record. There’s virtually no variety in tempo either, so that doesn’t really help matters. The closer and title track is really the only up-tempo track here, and it probably could have used a couple more earlier on the album to spice things up.

Overall, this is just a really comforting record. I don’t really know how else to put it. You aren’t going to be blown away lyrically, but there are still a lot of good songs. The highest point of the album, though, is that honest, three-chord country. I say all the time, “this isn’t the album to buy if you want fiddle and steel,” usually followed by praise of the album. But friends, this most certainly is the album to buy if you want fiddle and steel; you’ll have no shortage of them. I should also mention how good Charley Pride’s voice is at his age–I was admittedly a little amazed by that. This is not a flawless record, but it’s a good one, and one a lot of people will surely enjoy.

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Single Review: Toby Keith’s “Wacky Tobaccy”

Rating: 0/10

Congratulations country music, you’ve actually produced a stupider song than “Body Like a Back road.”

And before I even talk about this, let’s get two things perfectly clear. One, I don’t hate the majority of Toby Keith’s music like virtually everyone in the country blogging world would expect me to. Yes, he’s produced some terrible songs in his career, especially over the past five years, and he’s made an ass of himself politically and culturally many times over. Still, I own quite a few of his albums, and some of those early songs of his were great. Two, since I’m a more conservative-leaning redneck from Oklahoma–ironically not unlike Toby here–let me stress that I believe marijuana should be legalized medically throughout the country as soon as possible, and I’m not against it recreationally either. I think that should be decided state by state, but that’s more because of my political philosophy about states’ rights than my personal views on pot. I’ll even go so far as to say that if/when we get to vote on that in Oklahoma, I’ll vote for its legalization both medically and recreationally.

Now, I’m glad we got that out of the way because this is the stupidest “marijuana-promoting” song in the history of songs like this. I wrote that in quotes because it does nothing to further marijuana advocacy by reducing smoking weed to this list of stereotypical bullshit compiled here by Toby Keith. OH, and they also have Willie Nelson in the video because we need one more reminder that Willie smokes weed. We get it, you smoke pot–and that goes for all artists wearing this out until it’s become a tired cliché, not just Toby Keith and Willie Nelson. And if you truly want it to be legal, to help cancer patients or hell, even to have a smoke in your yard without consequence, you wouldn’t release this God-awful song to the masses. It does nothing but set back the progress by marijuana advocacy groups and supporters like Nelson himself; the last line is asking if there are any Fritos, of all things. I don’t think it’s making any kind of argument for why we should legalize weed when it portrays marijuana users like this, in the simplest, most stereotypical ways possible.

Look, I get it, Toby Keith, you’re trying to be cool with this song, and ironically it does say something that even ultra-conservative Toby Keith is now releasing stuff like this in support of it. It’s not just Kacey Musgraves and “Follow Your arrow” now; in short, it’s not just a “liberal” thing. But it also strengthens the point that marijuana use has long since been normalized. We’re well past the point of using pot references to be cool or shocking, and this song is just stupid and painfully outdated, not to mention lazily written. One more thing, it’s meant to be funny, and it fails at that too. So not only does it not work as a weed-promoting single, it doesn’t work as a fun novelty song either.

So, to sum it all up, this song sucks. One of the worst songs I’ve heard in 2017 so far.

Written by: Toby Keith, Scotty Emerick

Album Review: Steve Earle & the Dukes–So You Wannabe an Outlaw

Rating: 8.5/10

I’m not really sure I need to write any kind of introduction to this; I’m pretty sure Steve Earle has been introducing this quite well on his own, and that may or may not be taking away from the music. So I’m going to take the advice from Steve’s own comment, and let this be about the songs. What I will say is that he stated both that he wanted to make a record inspired by the outlaws, and more specifically, Waylon, and that this record would be about dealing with loss. And what we get is basically exactly that–the front half is filled with badass, renegade/outlaw material–or at least what we might think of when referring to that term–and then the back half adds to the validity of it all by taking us on journeys of heartbreak, loneliness, and loss, and in the end, you’re left wondering if this outlaw thing is really all that great after all, and perhaps second-guessing your dream. And in a way, that separates this record from all the others trying to be cool outlaw because it shows all the sides to the story, the glamor along with the pain.

That’s not to say there aren’t painful realities on the first half. IN fact, the opener and title track starts the album by explaining all the things you have to go through if you really want to be an outlaw, albeit in a pretty lighthearted manner. Willie Nelson appears here, which adds to the message and the overall coolness of the song. You also have “Lookin’ For a Woman” and “If Mama Coulda seen Me,” both of which Earle wrote for the show Nashville–the former is a restless heartbreak song where the narrator is trying to find a woman who “Won’t do me like you,” and the latter is about a prisoner who is thankful that his mom died before she had to see him in chains. All of this half, however, is pretty upbeat, and even though the material is dark, some of the glamorous side of being an outlaw still shines forth in the attitude and in the cool blending of country and rock instrumentation. This half comes to a brilliant, angry climax with “Fixin’ To die”–this song is told from Death Row, and I didn’t mean to compare it to Chris Stapleton’s song “Death Row,” but that’s what happened. I said before that Stapleton’s didn’t quite have emotion even though he belted it–I know a lot of people disagreed, but the point I’m making is that whether it came through or not, Stapleton meant that song to be sad. When this opens and Steve Earle bellows, “I’m fixin’ to die, reckon I’m goin’ to hell” and then adds, “I’d be tellin’ you a lie if I told you I was takin’ it well,” for me, that captures all the emotions, from anger to sadness to regret. It’s an intense story and definitely a great way to complete this more rocking front half of the record.

It’s the back half, however, that really makes this album shine and adds an authenticity to these opening songs. It’s one thing to sing about being an outlaw for the sake of it, but when you get to stuff like “This is How it Ends” and “You Broke my Heart” and see there’s a tender side to this story, it really adds something to the whole project. Steve Earle mentioned loss, and it is explored in every form here, from the heartbreak in these two songs, the former of which features Miranda Lambert, to the poverty and self-doubt in the excellent “Walkin’ in LA” to the closer, “Goodbye Michelangelo,” a tribute to Guy Clark. “Walkin’ in LA” features Johnny Bush, the writer of “Whiskey River,” and it’s one of the best songs on this whole thing, despite it not being the most flashy. It’s one of those rare gems where the melody, the lyrics, and the instrumentation all work together flawlessly to form an incredible piece of music. The melody and beautiful acoustic guitar play in “Goodbye Michelangelo” really add to that song as well. It’s a great way to close the album.

As much as I loved this record, I do have a couple criticisms. There are a few songs that felt like filler; “Girl on the Mountain” was sandwiched between “This is How it Ends” and “You Broke my Heart,” and so it stands out as the weakest heartbreak song of the three. At first, I really didn’t enjoy the pairing of Earle and Miranda Lambert, but that’s growing on me, mainly because it’s just such a damn good song. My initial problem was that Lambert is meant to be singing harmony, but sometimes she drowns out Steve. I’m starting to like it better because in doing so, she makes it easier to understand some of the lyrics. ON the front half, “The Firebreak Line” is quite a fun song, but it doesn’t necessarily add much. “News From Colorado,” the only subdued song on the front half, is also a little vague and underdeveloped lyrically. But all these are really minor, nitpicking criticisms, and overall, this record is pretty great.

So, in conclusion, this is a pretty fascinating album. First, you have the angry front half, and then you have the subdued, heartbroken back half, and together they tell a very good story. Steve Earle is a fine songwriter, and the natural grit in his voice just accidentally adds a lot to this album and the stories told. Every collaborator also brought something to the record. I mentioned there were some weaker songs, or perhaps even filler, but at the same time, it’s one of the few albums I’ve played in 2017 without a single bad track. Very nice, solid album. Give it a listen.

P.S. I’m not reviewing the deluxe version, but that also has four pretty awesome covers of songs previously written by Waylon, Willie, and Billy Joe shaver.

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