Album Review – Balto’s ‘Strangers’

balto-strangers

Balto is a group from Portland, Oregon. But the band’s story really begins in Moscow, Russia. Lead singer Dan Sheron decided to exile himself from the city and went alone to Siberia where he was inspired to write many songs of his experiences before returning to America to record those songs that make up Balto’s debut album October’s Road. The band itself formed as they describe it, “through friends of friends.” Their sound is kind of all over the place: embracing pure American rock and roll at times, while also embodying a folk, roots driven sound and a pinch of psychedelia for good measure. They’re one of those groups that fits the Americana label well mixing such a variety of sounds. It certainly comes across on their newest album Strangers, an album that not only dazzles you with their eclectic sound, but meaningful lyrics too.

Balto opens with the pondering “Lost On The Young.” The song wonders if love is lost on the young of today and goes on to wonder if we’ve become lost in the fog of the American dream. It’s quite the thought provoker. Twangy guitars usher in “Restless Generation.” The instrumentation on this song is really just flawless and draws you in with ease. One of the things you quickly learn about Balto is instrumentation is an area they absolutely excel in on this album. “CA Luv” is an instantly catchy song. Everything about this song is effortlessly smooth. The dreamy “Midnight” lulls you in and wins you over with its guitar play. The bluesy and soulful “Born Astray” is one of the best songs on Strangers. It’s about a man who realizes he’s born astray while at the same time dealing with acceptance of a break-up that he knows was the right thing (he freely admits he was a waste of time). Yet he still wonders about her and what she’s doing now. The heavy organ play really gives this song some great texture. The frenetic “Shots In The Dark” is about the heartbreak of realizing you found the right person at the wrong time. A man realizes he has to let a woman go he’s known for a while, even though he feels like he’s right for her. He sees the dreams he had with this woman dissolve before his very eyes as he’s forced to let her go. It’s just absolutely fantastic storytelling from Balto.

The piano-driven love ballad “Star of Bethlehem” is another standout of the album. The song is about an embattled relationship where both sides have felt like leaving at times, yet the other always convinces them to stay. Despite these leaving feelings, they also can’t shake the feeling it’s never a good time to leave. I love the vulnerability that is conveyed in the vocals on this song, really driving the lyrics across well. “Celebration Smile” is probably the most interesting song on the album. It’s about a man recalling the life of the woman he was married to and left for a life of freedom on his own. He realized he didn’t want a life of growing old with someone. As he says he wants to “keep the best intentions, but regret the things I’ve done.” It’s a poetic take on life choices and their effects on a person. The cherry on top of this song is the energetic electric guitar play that ends the song with a bang. “A Year Lasts A Lifetime” is another great display of the band’s infectious and driving sound. The album concludes with the heartbreak song “One Night Show.” It’s about a couple that may lie next to each other every night, but are really miles away in their hearts. As the song says, it’s the perfect one night show: pretending to be so close, yet so far away. Its another great tragedy penned on this album.

Simply put Strangers is a fantastic album. Balto intrigued me from my first listen of Strangers and the more I pulled back the layers of this album, the more impressed I became. There’s such a rich, variety display of sounds throughout this album that pair up so well with their lyrical counterparts. It’s an album that kind of pulls you every which way and you feel a little bit of everything listening to it. While the instrumentation is something that will immediately impress, the songwriting is equally admirable and lead vocalist Sheron really does a great job bringing the songs to life. Strangers is the type of album that will leave a smile on your face and reward you for listening from start to finish.

Grade: 9/10

 

Recommend? – Yes! (especially if you enjoy acts like Robert Ellis, Chris King or enjoyed The War on Drugs’ last album)

Album Highlights: Shots In The Dark, Celebration Smile, Born Astray, One Night Show, Star of Bethlehem, CA Luv

Bad Songs: None

Wallpaper: None


Album Review – Aaron Watson’s ‘Vaquero’

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Aaron Watson is undoubtedly one of the biggest stars of the Texas country scene. In terms of stature and achievements, he’s the Luke Bryan of the scene. Watson has racked up numerous #1 hits at Texas radio and has established quite a following over his career. He also achieved a historic accomplishment with his last album The Underdog, becoming the first ever independent, male country artist to debut at #1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. It’s a feat that has since been accomplished by more, but it was significant because it made many in the industry realize that independent artists can sell better than many major label artists. It also brought him onto the radar of many mainstream fans. So his follow-up and new album Vaquero certainly comes more anticipated than any of his previous releases. At 16 songs long I wasn’t sure what to expect. The result for the most part is quality country music.

The easy-going “Texas Lullaby” opens up the album. The song is about a guy named Texas from Texas who goes to serve in the army. It’s a pretty cliché song that takes a very contrived approach. The fiddle and steel guitar play is nice, but that doesn’t automatically absolve the lyrics of course. The next song “Take You Home Tonight” though does a much better job of striking a good balance between the lyrics and instrumentation. The song is about a couple spending the night at home together. The theme is slightly bro-ish, but Watson’s charismatic delivery and the fantastic instrumentation really carry the song well. “These Old Boots Have Roots” is probably the best traditional meets modern country song I’ve heard yet. It’s infectious, catchy and fun from the first listen, utilizing the fiddle well. This song demonstrates Watson’s ability to get the most out of songs with his likable and down home personality. Watson also excels best on love ballads like “Be My Girl.” I especially enjoy how the instrumentation really lets this song breathe and at the same time enhance the mood the song is going for.

Watson laments things not being the same as in the past on “They Don’t Make Like They Used To.” It’s a song that relies on nostalgia and at first kind of comes off curmudgeonly championing the past. But halfway through it comes back around. It touches on how we need more love, compassion and forgiveness in the world so that one day we might be looked back upon as the golden days. Your mileage will vary on this one. The album’s title track has a decidedly Tejano influence, which is great to hear. The song is about a man sitting down at the bar with an old vaquero, who bestows upon him the lessons he’s learned in his long life. It’s essentially along the same lines as the Billy Currington hit “People Are Crazy,” but I think this song does a better job of getting it’s point across. “Mariano’s Dream” is a prelude to “Clear Isabel,” arguably the best track on Vaquero. The song is about Isabel and her father Mariano, a Mexican lawman. After watching his son die at the hands of a drug cartel, Mariano packs their stuff and sets their sites for freedom in south Texas. They are discovered by a Texas man who offers them shelter and work. In the meanwhile the Texas man falls in love with Isabel, marry and have a child. They are also able to obtain a green card for her father, but unfortunately it comes too late as he’s gunned down. It’s a tragic, timely song that conveys the risks people take to seek freedom and a better life.

“One Two Step at a Time” is a song I can imagine will be a hit at the Texas dance halls. Watson gets conciliatory on “The Arrow,” which reads like advice from a father to a child. While a tad sappy, it has a good message of spreading love and kindness. Watson’s charm once again elevates an ordinary song to something I will remember. The album closes out with another standout, “Diamonds & Daughters.” It’s about a father conveying how proud and how much he loves his daughter. He recalls the first time he saw her face to now giving her off at her wedding day. The guitar-play compliments the lyrics well and gives the song some much-needed texture. It’s a great, heartfelt way to end the album.

Vaquero is a pretty solid album from Aaron Watson. I think it’s even better than his previous album The Underdog. But at the same time I can’t help but feel it should have been even better and I think the biggest culprit of this album is the album length. It’s just too long at 16 songs and I think if it was culled down to 12 songs it would have made for an overall better listen. Nevertheless there are some really good moments on this album and they outweigh the more pedestrian moments you might have to wade through. For fans of Texas country there will be a lot to like and for the curious mainstream fan this album will harken them back to the days of early 2000s country. Vaquero will further endear fans of Watson and will surely attract more seeking the sweet sounds of fiddle and steel guitar.

Grade: 7/10

 

Recommend? – Yes

Album Highlights: Clear Isabel, Diamonds & Daughters, Vaquero, Be My Girl, Take You Home Tonight, These Old Boots Have Roots

Bad Songs: None

Wallpaper: Texas Lullaby, Big Love in a Small Town, Amen Amigo, Rolling Stone, Run Wild Horses


Throwback Community Review – Josh Turner’s “Would You Go with Me”

Welcome to Country Perspective’s newest weekly feature, Throwback Community Review! Many of you enjoyed a previous similar feature The Past Pulse of Mainstream Country Music and it was one of the main inspirations behind this feature. It’s quite simple: each week there will at least one of these. I will present some information about the song and of course a video to listen to it. You will then take to the comments delivering your thoughts and a grade, on a scale from 1-10. Your grades will be averaged to get the community grade for the song. The comments will be open for a few days before I close them to tabulate the average. Songs from any era of country music could go show up here and I’m open to suggestions for future featuring in this space. This week we take a look at…

josh-turner-wygwm

Artist: Josh Turner

Song: “Would You Go with Me”

Released: April 24, 2006

Written by: Shawn Camp & John Scott Sherrill

Producer: Frank Rogers

Background: This was the second single from his second studio album Your Man. This single went on to reach #1 on the country chart and remained there for two weeks (one of Turner’s four #1 hits). It peaked at #43 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was certified platinum in September 2012. This song also earned Turner a nomination at the 2007 Grammys for Male Country Vocal Performance of the Year (Vince Gill’s “The Reason Why” won).

See you in the comments with my own thoughts and grade!

 

Community Grade:

 

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Radio [February 21]

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Each week we take a look the Billboard Country Airplay chart and grade the top 30 songs. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive one of the following scores: +5, +4, +3, +2, +1, 0, -1, -2, -3, -4, -5. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the current top thirty country songs, with the highest possible score being a +150 and the lowest possible score being a -150. How do I determine the score for the song? The review grade it received on the site or myself will determine this. If it hasn’t been reviewed yet, then I will make the call. The grade it has received or I would give it determines its Pulse score. The grading key: 10 [+5], 9 [+4], 8 [+3], 7 [+2], 6 [+1], 5 [0], 4 [-1], 3 [-2], 2 [-3], 1 [-4], 0 [-5].

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the current state of mainstream country music and determine if it’s improving or getting worse. Let’s take a look at this week’s top thirty…

  1. Little Big Town – “Better Man” +2 (Up 1)
  2. Chris Young (feat. Vince Gill) – “Sober Saturday Night” +1 (Up 1)
  3. Michael Ray – “Douchey Pickup Song” -5 (Up 4)
  4. Brad Paisley – “Today” +2 (Up 2)
  5. Jon Pardi – “Dirt on My Boots” +1 (Up 3)
  6. Dustin Lynch – “Seein’ Red” -5 (Down 5)
  7. Blake Shelton – “A Guy With A Girl” -1 (Down 2) 
  8. Eric Church (feat. Rhiannon Giddens) – “Kill A Word” +4 (Up 1) [Best Song]
  9. Luke Bryan – “Fast” -1 (Up 1)
  10. Jason Aldean – “Any Ol’ Barstool” (Up 2)
  11. Lauren Alaina – “Road Less Traveled” -2 
  12. Brantley Gilbert – “The Weekend” -5 (Up 1)
  13. Kelsea Ballerini – “Yeah Boy” -5 (Up 1)
  14. Kenny Chesney – “Bar at the End of the World” -3 (Up 3)
  15. Josh Turner – “Hometown Girl” (Up 1)
  16. Garth Brooks – “Baby, Let’s Lay Down and Dance” (Down 1)
  17. High Valley – “Make You Mine” -2 (Up 1)
  18. Sam Hunt – “Body Like a Back Road” -5 (Up 3) [Worst Song]
  19. Dierks Bentley – “Black” -2 
  20. Luke Combs – “Hurricane” -1 (Up 4)
  21. Trent Harmon – “There’s A Girl” +1 (Down 1)
  22. Chris Janson – “Holdin’ Her” +4 
  23. Dan + Shay – “How Not To” +1
  24. Darius Rucker – “If I Told You” (Up 1)
  25. Rascal Flatts – “Yours If You Want It” -2 (Up 2)
  26. Craig Campbell – “Outskirts of Heaven” +3 
  27. Lady Antebellum – “You Look Good” -4 (Up 2)
  28. Miranda Lambert – “We Should Be Friends” +2
  29. Brett Young – “In Case You Didn’t Know” -2 (New to Top 30)
  30. Runaway June – “Lipstick” +3

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Radio: -25

The pulse improves one spot this week.

Songs That Dropped Out of the Top 30 This Week:

  • Thomas Rhett – “Star of the Show” -3

Songs That Entered The Top 30 This Week:

  • Brett Young – “In Case You Didn’t Know”

Biggest Gainers This Week:

  • Michael Ray – “Douchey Pickup Song” – Up 4 from #7 to #3
  • Luke Combs – “Hurricane” – Up 4 from #24 to #20
  • Jon Pardi – “Dirt on My Boots” – Up 3 from #8 to #5

Biggest Losers This Week:

  • Thomas Rhett – “Star of the Show” – Out of the Top 30 & Done
  • Dustin Lynch – “Seein’ Red” – Down 5 from #1 to #6
  • Blake Shelton – “A Guy With A Girl” – Down 2 from #5 to #7

Songs I See Going Recurrent & Leaving The Top 30 Soon:

  • Dustin Lynch – “Seein’ Red”
  • Blake Shelton – “A Guy With A Girl”
  • Chris Janson – “Holdin’ Her”
  • High Valley – “Make You Mine” (Fun fact: The music video for this song was released on January 29, 2015)
  • Runaway June – “Lipstick”

On The Hot Seat:

  • Garth Brooks – “Baby, Let’s Lay Down and Dance” (Appears to finally be losing momentum. But I still want to see it somehow reach top ten)
  • Trent Harmon – “There’s A Girl”
  • Craig Campbell – “Outskirts of Heaven”
  • Darius Rucker – “If I Told You”

Next Four Songs I See Entering Top 30:

  • Zac Brown Band – “My Old Man”
  • Keith Urban (feat. Carrie Underwood) – “The Fighter”
  • Cole Swindell – “Flatliner”
  • Florida Georgia Line (feat. Backstreet Boys) – “God, Your Mama, and Me”

 

Notes: RaeLynn’s “Love Triangle” has went recurrent and is done. Parmalee’s “Roots” and Jake Owen’s “If He Ain’t Gonna Love You” both appear to be finished. Chris Lane’s “For Her” appears destined to be stuck in the mid 30s muck (but this is a good thing). LoCash’s “Ring on Every Finger” is struggling to build momentum like its previous singles. I bring all of this up because these are most of the songs directly behind the next four songs I see entering the top 30. Essentially there’s a vacuum there ready for someone to take advantage and it’ll be interesting to see who fills it. Blake Shelton’s “Every Time I Hear That Song” will of course be a hit. But then you have Justin Moore’s “Somebody Else Will” and Dylan Scott’s “My Girl.” They’re the closet in airplay, but radio doesn’t seem that keen on either. Scott has yet to have a hit and Moore’s last single took forever to climb the charts (never forget it went recurrent one week after going #1). Brothers Osborne’s “It Ain’t My Fault” is off to a good start, much better than their last single. They should reach the top 30 no problem. Billy Currington’s “Do I Make You Wanna” could make it by sheer process of elimination. Easton Corbin’s “A Girl Like You” seems like the next logical choice and something radio would get behind. Finally you have Drake White’s “Makin’ Me Look Good Again” quietly marching up the chart and looking like a possible sleeper hit.

 

As always be sure to weigh-in with your thoughts in the comments below. 

Old Crow Medicine Show Signs With Sony Music Nashville

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Talk about a pleasant surprise! Today Sony Music Nashville officially they’ve signed the popular, Grammy-winning Old Crow Medicine Show to their label. They’ve been assigned to the Columbia Records Nashville imprint and have announced the release of a new album of Bob Dylan covers, 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde. It will be released on April 28 and it celebrates the 50th anniversary of Bob Dylan’s release of his album Blonde on Blonde. The group recorded this album live at the CMA Theatre in May 2016. It is already available for pre-order on their site and will be available everywhere for pre-order this coming Friday. They’ve also announced a tour supporting the album, Old Crow Medicine Show Performing Blonde on Blonde. You can see the full tour dates schedule below.

It makes perfect sense that this iconic roots group would be honoring Dylan, as the band has crafted two great songs out of Dylan chorus, the most famous being “Wagon Wheel.” The band really came onto people’s radars after Darius Rucker covered it of course. The bigger news here is a major country label signing Old Crow Medicine Show. Certainly not for a lack of a talent because they’re one of the best groups in country/folk today. Certainly not for a lack of achievements: members of the Grand Ole Opry, certified platinum status, multiple Grammys and a very popular touring band.

It’s that a major country label would actually sign them. Or perhaps not. We’re now seeing the effects of the rise of acts like Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton. It’s forced major labels to pay more attention to acts outside the mainstream sound who sell and cultivate a major following. They’re still never going to get played on country radio. But they’re more relevant and sell better (both touring and music) than many on the radio. Remember Sony Music just recently also revived Monument Records inking Caitlyn Smith, an artist in a similar position. This very well could signal a shift in the way major country labels do business. We’ll have to wait and see.

 

MAY 2017
4          Santa Barbara, CA @ The Granada Theatre
5          Los Angeles, CA @ The Wiltern
6          Oakland, CA @ Fox Theater
8          Portland, OR @ Revolution Hall
10        Seattle, WA @ The Moore Theatre
12        Salt Lake City, UT @ Delta Hall at Eccles Theater
13        Aspen, CO @ Belly Up Aspen
14        Denver, CO @ Paramount Theatre
20        Knoxville, TN @ Tennessee Theatre
22        Washington, DC @ Lincoln Theatre
24        New York, NY @ The Town Hall
25        Boston, MA @ Orpheum Theatre
28        Cooperstown, NY @ Brewery Ommegang
30        Pittsburgh, PA @ Stage AE
31        Columbus, OH @ EXPRESS LIVE!

JUNE 2017
1          Cincinnati, OH @ Taft Theatre
2          Louisville, KY @ Iroquois Amphitheater
8          Chicago, IL @ The Vic Theatre
9          Milwaukee, WI @ Pabst Theater
10        St. Paul, MN @ The Palace Theatre
11        Kansas City, MO @ Uptown Theater
12        St. Louis, MO @ The Pageant

UK/Netherlands
JUNE 2017
24        Manchester, UK @ O2 Ritz
25        Glasgow, UK @ O2ABC
28        London, UK @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire
30        Amsterdam, NL @ Paradiso