Top Ten Country Songs – July 2014

(Note: Only songs released in July 2014 are eligible)

In June I predicted July would be a great month for country music. Did it live up to expectations? Not only did it live up to expectations, but it exceeded them. There were so many great country songs released in July that I could have probably made a top 25 list. So at the end of this I will list some honorable mentions that deserve recognition. Now let’s break down Country Perspective’s Top Ten Country Songs of July 2014.

Coming in at #1 is a song from the very first album I looked at in July. Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Sweet Amarillo” is not only the #1 song of July, but one of the front-runners for Country Perspective’s Best Song of 2014 award. This song is in the same vein as “Wagon Wheel,” a country song that is fun to listen to and has meaning behind it. OCMS once again took a Bob Dylan penned song and created magic. The band not only took my top spot, but also the #2 spot with “Mean Enough World.” It’s refreshing to hear a song that calls out all the hatred in today’s world. This song was only a tick below “Sweet Amarillo.” Coming in at #3 is the Mary Sarah and Vince Gill duet of “Go Rest High on That Mountain.” While Sarah couldn’t match the original version of this iconic song, she shined right alongside the always great Vince Gill. Old Crow Medicine Show once again comes in at #4 on the countdown with “Dearly Departed Friend,” a touching song about losing a close friend. If you haven’t figured it out by now, Old Crow Medicine Show’s new album Remedy is fantastic and if you haven’t done so yet, go check it out. Rounding out the top five is BlackHawk’s “Baby, The Rain Must Fall,” the standout song from their solid comeback album.

Sixth on the countdown is Dwight Yoakam’s “Who’ll Stop The Rain,” his cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s #1 hit. Based on this song, I’m anxious to hear Yoakam’s new album later this year. At #7 is Dean Miller’s “‘Til You Stop Getting Up.” It’s a great song about bouncing back from failure and keeping your head up. This is followed by Mary Sarah & Dolly Parton’s duet of “Jolene.” Their voices mesh together so well in this song and I wouldn’t mind hearing another duet from these two. Coming in at #9 is another appearance by BlackHawk with “Heart with a View.” It’s a tender, heartbreak song where the band’s signature harmonies shine. Rounding out the top ten list is the feel good pop country song, Kristian Bush’s “Trailer Hitch.” The song has a great message and I’m looking forward to hearing more from Bush.

What will August be like for country music? It’s a wildcard month based on what’s set to be released. Sunny Sweeney’s new album is being released in the first week (I’m expecting good things), but later in the month is Chase Rice’s new album (I’m dreading this review). There’s also Brad Paisley’s new album, which is a giant question mark. Just enjoy this July playlist for now because August might be rough for new country music.

Honorable Mentions:

Maddie & Tae – “Girl In A Country Song” – This is the big omission everyone notices when first looking at this list. It was the first song to miss the cut and it came down to this song and “Trailer Hitch.” The latter won out because it was simply a better overall song. “Girl In A Country Song” has a great message behind it and is a song I can enjoy. But what hurts it from being great is the questionable instrumentation used in the song. It’s a little too corporate produced for my taste.

Florida Georgia Line – “Dirt” – This is the other big omission. While it was still by far the duo’s best song they’ve ever released, it was also hurt by being too corporate produced. There’s also a few questionable lines that I don’t agree with. Still it’s a solid song that deserves numerous plays on the radio and galaxies better than “This is How We Roll.”

Old Crow Medicine Show – “The Warden” & “Shit Creek” – The three song limit per artist rule prevented these songs from having a crack at the top ten.

Mary Sarah & Merle Haggard – “The Fightin’ Side of Me” – The most underrated and ballsy song from Sarah’s album.

Dean Miller – “River Across My Heart” – Stiff competition prevented this song from making the list.

Corb Lund – “Truth Comes Out” – See reason above.

Review – Kristian Bush’s “Trailer Hitch”

Everyone is familiar with the pop country duo of Sugarland. They’ve had numerous top songs and have won multiple CMA Awards. But many people think of Jennifer Nettles when they think of Sugarland because she sings in most of their songs while the other half of the duo Kristian Bush does more on the instrumentation side. For now though they’re pursuing solo careers and today I’m going to look at the beginning of Kristian Bush’s solo career. Bush is quite the experienced song writer, as he, Nettles and Kevin Griffin have written every Sugarland song. Busch though has taken it a step further with his new album, Southern Gravity, set to release soon (no date announced yet), as he said he has written over 300 songs for it. The first single from this album is “Trailer Hitch.”

Based on the title, you’ll probably speculate that this could be a bro country song before even listening to it. But that isn’t the case at all. It’s quite the opposite. The song is about how everyone in the world is obsessed with money and material possessions (spot on). And yet as Busch points out you can’t take any of this with you when you die. As he says, you’ve never seen a hearse with a trailer hitch. It’s a great message in a corrupt and greedy world. He then sings about how he gave away his baseball cards and his car. In the music video you’ll see at the end of this post, he actually spent a day in Chicago giving money back to the people as he played on the streets. It makes for a cool music video because it feels organic and not scripted.

“Trailer Hitch” has a reggae/soulful/pop feel to it. It’s carefree and easy. As some might put it, it’s a hippy song. There isn’t much instrumentation involved with the song as there’s only a guitar used. It’s stripped down and quiet, which is quite the contrast from a lot of modern country songs. I appreciate this because so many songs I review on here are hurt by loud production. Lyrically it’s a pretty solid song. It spreads the message of the song loud and clear. It’s easy to get stuck in your head after a few listens too because the chorus and beat are catchy.

I think this is the kind of song Kenny Chesney was aiming for with “American Kids,” but the production value of it hurt the sound of the song badly. It also wasn’t written that well, as it contained many laundry list lyrics. But Kristian Bush essentially made a much better version of it with “Trailer Hitch” in every single way, from the instrumentation to the lyrics to the vocals. The message of this song is great and is family friendly. If you’re going to make pop country, this kind of pop country I want to hear on the radio. It’s not deep nor is it traditional. But isn’t trying to be those things. “Trailer Hitch” is like a friendly dog that walks up to you in the park and wants a nice pat on the head. It’s harmless and fun. I’m eager to hear what else Bush has to offer on Southern Gravity.

Grade: 8/10

What Are You Thinking Brad Paisley?

Brad Paisley
Wikimedia Commons

As a country music fan, everyone remembers the artists they grew up listening to that made them fall in love with the genre. Many older fans grew up with big names like Cash, Waylon, Jones, Haggard, Willie, Loretta, etc. But I’m little younger. I grew up with 90s and 2000s country, which many of these traditional fans from previous eras shunned for its pop sound. Nevertheless there was still a lot of great country music being made in this era. There were three artists I could always listen to on the radio and enjoy their music. These three are the reason why I got into country music and became a fan for life. Those three artists were George Strait, Alan Jackson and Brad Paisley.

Strait just retired from touring, but is still making great country music. Jackson is sadly no longer featured on the radio, but he’s still making great country music too. He even made a pretty good bluegrass album recently. These two have stuck to their roots regardless of the current trends plaguing the genre. And then there’s Brad Paisley. I remember last year at this time I was still a fervent defender of Paisley, even though I found Wheelhouse to be sub par compared to his previous albums. There were still a few quality songs on it though and he was still regarded by myself and many others to be one of the few “good ones” left in mainstream country music.

Then in the spring of 2014, Paisley announced he was releasing a new album and released the first single from it titled “River Bank.” I was hoping for the best. Then I listened to the single and became disgusted and enraged. My first thought was he sold out to the latest trend in country music. It prompted to me to write what I believe to be my first ever negative review of Paisley. But I then convinced myself to hold out hope that “River Bank” was the anomaly of his new album and that the rest of it would be much better. That hope was squashed when I read this in an interview he had with Billboard:

Produced with longtime collaborator Luke Wooten (Dierks Bentley, “Nashville”), “Moonshine” sees Paisley adapting the modern technology of EDM and dubstep to the classic country formula. “When you hear a banjo through stutter edit, it’s the coolest thing you ever heard,” Paisley said. “I have a song that’s a basic love song, it’s got a great groove, and I cut this guitar part that gets distorted when I turn the nob up. I would say to Luke, ‘Oh, that should’ve been done 20 years ago, but they couldn’t.’ The rulebook’s gone, or was there ever one? They try, but I don’t play by it.”

EDM and dubstep? Are you kidding me? What the hell are you smoking? I had a bad feeling that after his previous album Wheelhouse didn’t perform great on radio or the charts that he could sell out (or the insane thought he could go back to this roots). And it looks to me he’s desperate to remain relevant in mainstream country. While I shun him for his desperation, I do understand the other side of the coin. As I said in my Ronnie Dunn post, it’s hard for artists to accept they’re no longer one of the most popular names in their genre. But they fail to realize that there are a lot of fans that still support them. Many of them have been supporting them for years. I still recall Paisley’s earliest material, songs such as “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” and “We Danced.” Paisley sang with two all-time country greats George Jones and Bill Anderson on “Too Country.” Remember this Paisley?

 

That collaboration happened 13 years ago. Now who’s he collaborating with? The latest monstrosity for him to release (actually leaked by Bobby Bones) is a rap remix of “River Bank” with Colt Ford. Yes, ladies and gentlemen this is not a joke. Paisley has now teamed up with Colt Ford of all people on a “country” song. He went from singing with the likes of country royalty to the bottom of the barrel in his desperate attempt to remain relevant. I’m not going to put the video of that remix in this article because unlike Paisley I appreciate my readers. If you insist on hearing it, just click the link above.

I know critics of my sentiments will counter with statements such as: “He’s evolving country music. Nobody listens to old country anymore.” “The music he’s making now is appealing to the fans.” “Have an open mind.” I’ll address each one of these statements. First, he isn’t evolving country music. EDM and rap collaborations are not evolving the genre, but rather mainstream country’s desperate attempt at popularity. Country may be the most popular genre right now, but it’s only temporary. It’s a passing fad. The bubble is going to burst eventually, so this is really hurting country long-term. You know who’s evolving country music? Sturgill Simpson on his latest album. His music on Metamodern Sounds in Country Music is steeped in the roots and traditions of country music, yet have a modern sound too. Zac Brown Band collaborated with Dave Grohl on their latest EP. The single from that EP, “All Alright,” is doing good on radio. The marriage of Brown’s sound and Grohl’s sound make great music that feels fresh, yet still country. And Old Crow Medicine Show is proof you don’t even have to evolve your sound to make great country music.

The music he’s making now is not appealing to the actual country music fans. What fans is he appealing to with his latest single and album? The fad fans. These are the fans that simply hop from one fad to the next. Five years ago these people never even bothered with country music. They’re only interested now because it’s the most popular music to listen to right now. They listen to this music for the social status (or they want to f*ck the artist singing the song), not because they truly love it. How else do you explain the popularity of such shitty music? These are the types of people who couldn’t name you one George Jones song, but could recite every song on the latest Luke Bryan album. In a few years these people won’t give a shit about country music and yet these are the people Paisley is appealing to with his latest music. I’ll still be listening to country music though. And as far as having an open mind? Look at Country Perspective’s Top Songs of 2014 so far. There’s plenty of variety. I assure you my mind is open to all forms of country music.

What’s the point of this long rant? Paisley cares more about the almighty dollar and fame than he does his loyal fans and making quality music. Once he saw his stature slipping he ran towards the open arms of Nashville executives and their dirty trends. Why does he even wear a cowboy hat still? He should just throw those in the garbage and borrow some of Luke Bryan’s ball caps. Then put it on backwards, get some dark sunglasses and start shaking his moneymaker at all of his concerts. He clearly doesn’t care about his legacy or reputation anymore. I’m not even that angry at Paisley. I’m just disappointed. He once made great country music and now he’s lowering himself to everyone else’s standards. Enjoy your temporary fans, Brad. This longtime fan is turning your music off.

Album Review – Jon Pardi’s “Write You A Song”

When it comes to judging country music and country artists, I like to think I’m right more than wrong most of the time. But there are times when I’m dead wrong. One artist that I was completely unfair to in my initial judgment upon hearing him sing was Jon Pardi. When I heard “Up All Night” on the radio I chalked him up as just another bro country artist cashing in on a hot trend. Then he released his second single to radio, “What I Can’t Put Down.” I heard this and I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed listening to it and I was shocked to find Pardi was the artist behind the song.This is what led me to listening to his new album Write You A Song. It’s one of the biggest surprises in mainstream country music in 2014.

Best Songs on the Album

“What I Can’t Put Down” is the obvious standout. It’s about picking up and becoming addicted to dangerous vices, from cigarettes to alcohol. The song has infectious steel guitar licks and a catchy beat that appeals to a lot of country music fans. It’s currently a single on the radio, but it’s not having the best numbers. If you don’t check out his entire album, I recommend at least checking this song out.

 

I assure you that Pardi isn’t a one trick pony though. “Love You From Here” and “Missin’ You Crazy” are two great love songs, with the first being about a long distance relationship and the second being a heartbreak song. Both feature great use of the steel guitars and fiddles. Yes, you read that correctly. Fiddles are present on these two songs and others on this album. I don’t know about you, but I’ve missed hearing fiddles in country songs. Another instrument I’ve missed in country songs is the piano and Pardi features the piano heavily in “Chasin’ Them Better Days.” It’s an upbeat song about striving for a better life. I should note the steel guitar play is quite good in this song too. The song I feel should be his next single and the other standout song of the album is “Empty Beer Cans.” It’s a contemporary breakup song that is country enough for traditional fans and has a beat that is catchy enough for mainstream country fans. Based on the song title you wouldn’t expect this song to have some feeling, but it does. There’s a great comparison in the song where the man who just broke up with his wife says he feels as empty as the beer cans around him. That creates a great visualization in the listener’s head, while also creating the right feeling. The album closes out with a solid drinking song that features strong string instrumentation in “When I’ve Been Drinking.”

Worst Songs on the Album

The obvious dud is “Up All Night” for being a blatant bro country song. But it’s the only bro country song on the album. This leads me to speculate that Pardi and his label purposely did this to draw more attention to Pardi and the rest of the album. Many artists make “radio friendly” songs to build a fan base and this allows them to make their own music later on in their career. Zac Brown Band did a similar thing with “Toes.” Another song that stands out to me at the bottom of this album is “That Man.” It’s an above average love song that feels like a filler song.

The Rest of the Album

The album’s title track “Write You A Song” is a self-referring song by Pardi about traveling on the road and promising each girl he falls in love with that he’ll write a song about them. “Happens All The Time” is a solid modern country song about a man contemplating falling in love with a girl who has caught his eye. “Trash a Hotel Room” is what you think it’s about. Despite the immature premise of the song, it’s actually well-put together. There’s a noticeable rock influence mixed in with the country sound that is present (instrumentation and theme wise). I’m surprised how catchy it is, despite the questionable theme of the song.

Overall Thoughts

Jon Pardi’s vocals are undeniably good on Write You A Song. His voice reminds me of a cross between Dierks Bentley (who he coincidentally opened up for before landing a record deal) and Dwight Yoakam. The Yoakam comparison is quite apt because Pardi definitely has a Bakersfield country sound to his music. It’s appropriate considering Pardi is from California, where the Bakersfield sound originated. Another thing I appreciate about Pardi and this album is he had a hand in writing every song on this album, except “Trash a Hotel Room.” And none of the songs are written by Dallas Davidson! Pardi is quite talented and he’s certainly one of the best in mainstream country right now. What Pardi chooses on his follow-up album will be key to watch because if he continues to struggle on country radio with his current singles then he could turn to “dark side” of mainstream country music. He could stick to making great country music that will either cause him to get more attention or not get any recognition and be another victim of Music Row politics like Sunny Sweeney and Jamey Johnson. Nevertheless, Write You A Song is easily one of the best country albums to come out of mainstream country in 2014. If you like Dierks Bentley, I think you’ll like Jon Pardi. Give this guy a chance and I think you’ll be impressed.

Grade: 8.5/10

Weekly Review Roundup: July 21 – July 26

In case you missed any of Country Perspective’s review from the past week, you can catch up right here. Take a look at the music we looked at this past week:

Single Review – Dwight Yoakam’s “Who’ll Stop The Rain” Grade: 8.5/10

Single Review – Jason Aldean’s “Burnin’ It Down”Grade: 0/10

Single Review – Haley & Michaels’ “Just Another Love Song”Grade: 7/10

If you have any suggestions on what I should review next or any suggestions for the site, let me know in the comments section below. You can also follow me on Twitter @realcountryview  and send suggestions to me on there too.

Have a great Sunday!