Tag Archives: Willie Nelson

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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Collaborative Review: Chris Stapleton–From a Room, Volume 1

Ok, so we thought we’d try something different for this review, and if it works and you all enjoy it, we may do this on occasion for more albums in the future. Brianna and I each came into this album with very different opinions of Stapleton’s prior work; while we were both fans, she was more impressed by Traveller than I was, and a self-described Stapleton fan, and although I really enjoyed that album, I felt it was a bit too long and not quite on the level assigned to it by some critics. We both felt his unprecedented sweep of the 2015 CMA’s and subsequent historic success to be well-deserved and have both looked forward to this album. And, while we’ve both enjoyed Chris Stapleton’s second record, different songs and aspects spoke to each of us once again–it goes back to that whole “music is subjective” thing that Leon of Country Music Minds and I seemingly discuss every five minutes. So with that in mind, we thought we’d share our opinions together and just have a conversation about the music.

Track Listing

1. “Broken Halos”
Brianna: “Broken Halos” is a really nice way to open this album. From the opening acoustic guitar to Chris Stapleton’s voice, I was immediately drawn in by this song. I like the lyrics too, which are admittedly a bit vague, but seem to speak on how people help us, but eventually leave. This song has continued to grow on me with each listen. It’s one of my favorites off this album.
Megan: See, I would disagree slightly. I think it’s a really solid song, but it doesn’t draw me in as an opener like “Traveller” did off his last album. I think it’s the vagueness in the lyrics you mentioned. There’s no doubt his voice and that guitar make you want to listen, but for me, it’s not a strong opener.
Brianna: The vagueness is the one thing I’d change about that song.
2. Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning”
Megan: Wow, what a song this is. It’s a nice Willie Nelson cover, and the harmonies with his wife Morgane are always great. Although, and I’m probably going to be unpopular for saying this, I sort of feel like with this, and later on with another cover, he’s trying to manufacture another “Tennessee Whiskey” moment. And I’m just not sure that’s happening again. Still love this though.
Brianna: I never knew it was a cover until you told me, but I agree with you on feeling like he’s trying to make another “Tennessee Whiskey.” I really like the song, but at the same time, I don’t love it either. I won’t keep saying it, but his voice is fantastic. OH, and I like the imagery in the lyrics, but I guess that doesn’t really come into play here since it’s a cover.
Megan: I think it still does, to some degree. I mean, he did choose a good cover lol.
3. “Second One to Know”
Brianna: The more upbeat music on this track was a really nice change, and the theme in the lyrics is pretty clever, since he wants to be the “second one to know” if the woman he’s with decides she’s done with the relationship. It’s really catchy since the song’s fast too. It’s not my favorite, but I do wonder why this particular song was chosen to be performed on the [ACM] awards.
Megan: I agree–I like the theme and the upbeat instrumentation. Not to harp on it any more, but if I’m Stapleton, I’m opening the album with this fun little song.
Brianna: There aren’t many upbeat songs on the album, though, so maybe that would have misled the listener. Not sure why they did a lot of things they did, though.
Megan: You make a good point here–and yeah, Mercury really screwed up a lot of things, but that’s enough for a whole other piece lol.
4. “UP to No Good Livin'”
Megan: Here’s your classic country song, complete with lots of steel. Everybody who says Stapleton’s more soul than country, it’s like this song is a giant “f you” to this notion.
Brianna: Exactly. He proves he’s country with this song. NO surprise to anyone, but it’s my favorite. The steel, the vocals, the lyrics being very witty, talking about being unable to live down being up to no good.
Megan: Yep. “I’ll probably die before I live all my up to no good livin’ down”–I’m not sure you get much more country than that.
Brianna: I love it. So much.
5. “Either Way”
Brianna: I love the acoustic production here. It really allows Chris Stapleton’s voice to be the star–which it should be on a painful song like this. It took me a moment to adjust to this version of the song, since I’ve only heard Lee Ann Womack sing it, but he’s very successful at making his version stand out. The chorus gets me every time.
Megan: Yeah, and if he’s actually going to have another “Tennessee Whiskey,” it’s going to be here, as I prefer this version. The actual lyrics are about a couple passing in the hall but barely speaking, and when he belts out, “You can go, or you can stay, I won’t love you either way,” you can’t help but feel that pain. My favorite of the album.
6. “I Was Wrong”
Megan: Well, I said Stapleton isn’t more soul than country, but he’s definitely got a lot of soul in his country, and all that comes bursting out on this heartbreak song. One of the least country moments, but also one of his best vocal performances on the record.
Brianna: Yes, I have to agree with you about how soulful this song is. What I love about Chris Stapleton is that he isn’t out of place singing in a few different genres, and that it all feels natural. Back to the song…I like that he outright admits that he was wrong to his ex, as opposed to only himself.
7. “Without Your Love”
Brianna: This is my least favorite song off this album. The chorus is very catchy, though. I like that this is the next song after “I Was Wrong,” as it could be seen as the continuation of the story. I just think this song is otherwise forgettable.
Megan: It’s my least favorite too, and it does feel like the continuation of “I Was Wrong,” as in this one, he’s missing the ex. But it also adds to it being forgettable because it comes off as the lesser version of the incredible “I Was Wrong.” ON a longer album, I don’t mind this, but on a 9-track project, it feels like filler, and you can’t afford filler on a 9-song album, especially not one as stripped-back as this.
8. “Them Stems”
Brianna: It really does, as does “Them Stems.” I like the rhythm of the song, and again, the album did need a bit of a change in tempo, but this song doesn’t grab me aside from that.
Megan: Yeah, this is where we’re total opposites. I saw SCM call this filler and call the use of pot references to be cool outdated–which it is–but sue me, this is just the fun break from the rest of the album that I needed. One of my favorites. Just makes me smile every time I hear it. Also have to love the harmonica.
Brianna: Haha, I do recognize that a fun song was needed here, so I get it. And it is catchy. I don’t hate it, but it is my second least favorite.
9. “Death Row”
Megan: It’s a nice way to close the album, mixing his soulful voice with more country lyrics about a man on death row. The only tiny criticism I have for this is that while he sings the crap out of it, I don’t quite feel his pain like I do in “Either Way” and “I was Wrong.” Doesn’t quite connect with me.
Brianna: I don’t feel it emotionally either. Also, is it just me, or is the song kind of ambiguous? I don’t know if he did it or not. The reason I say that is because he says he told Jesus everything he knew, not everything he did. Plus, his lyrics are a bit hard for me to understand when the song starts.
Brianna: I love the sparse production though. It fits perfectly.
Megan: Yes, I would agree about it being ambiguous, not quite specific enough to strike a chord. That production definitely fits it and closes the whole thing well.


So, as you can see, although we both enjoyed this quite a bit, different moments stood out to each of us. My favorites were “Either Way,” “I Was Wrong,” and “Them Stems.” Brianna’s standouts were “Up to NO Good Livin'” and “Broken Halos.” WE did agree that “Without Your Love” seemed like filler, and we each thought that while this record was solid, as a 9-song effort, it seems to still be missing something. For me, it’s an overall better effort than Traveller because that was too long, but since this was shorter, I wanted it to be nothing but brilliant songs, and it didn’t quite live up to that. Brianna considers this more a solid, consistent effort all the way through for a 7.5, while I see it as a good album with a little filler but also some standout brilliance, making it about an 8.5. So we’re going with a collective

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For Brianna

For Me

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