Throughout 2015 Country Perspective came across a lot of young and promising country artists. It’s always exciting to come across an unknown artist who is making a name for themselves and shows a lot of potential. I expect 2016 to be no different, as already rising country artists are making their presence known. One of them is Andrew Pope. Out of Geraldine, Alabama, he signed to MillTown Records in 2012 and released his debut album later that year. And you know it’s pretty eye-catching when a country icon like Bobby Bare calls you “the future of country music.” When you see this kind of endorsement, it’s certainly intriguing. So I gave a listen to Pope’s brand new single “Stormchaser.” While I won’t go as far to call Pope the future of country music, I could tell within the first 30 seconds of this song that Pope is one talented artist.
“Stormchaser” opens with some soft, pedal steel guitar before Pope begins to sing. The song is about a man who caught his woman in bed with another man. The pain from this is coming on for him and compares it to a storm rolling in. He sees the clouds rolling in and expects to be struck by lightning. But instead of being down about it, he’s embracing it with open arms, as he says he’s addicted “to the sound” of the storm coming in. He’s used to it, as he aptly describes himself as a stormchaser. The pain of heartbreak has become such a normal thing to him. The songwriting is really simple, yet really effective. By comparing heartbreak to a thunderstorm, it gives the listener a pretty clear idea and allows them to easily connect with it. That soft pedal steel guitar that begins the song lingers throughout and flows well with the theme of the song.
This song and Pope’s voice is very much in the same vein of Chris Stapleton and even a little bit like fellow Alabama country artist Jamey Johnson. Pope’s voice is just naturally made to sing about country music. It’s warm, inviting and feels so familiar even upon your very first listen. “Stormchaser” is the type of song you would hear on country radio right now if country music had “evolved” properly. Of course with the success of Stapleton, maybe we’ll be hearing more songs like this on it. This would certainly be great news for Andrew Pope, who shows a lot of promise with this song. It definitely makes me want to hear more from this promising young artist and someone who you need to hear for yourself. “Stormchaser” is a solid, traditionally based heartbreak ballad that any true country fan can listen to and enjoy.
Anticipation. That would be the best word to describe the lead up to the release of Aubrie Sellers’ debut album New City Blues. How could you not be anticipating it? After all Sellers is the daughter of Lee Ann Womack and Jason Sellers. Everyone in country music is familiar with Womack, as she’s one of the most talented female country artists of the last two decades. You know Sellers better than you think too, as after making music as an artist has made a name for himself as a songwriter. He’s helped pen songs such as Jason Aldean’s “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” Montgomery Gentry’s “Some People Change,” Keith Anderson’s “I Still Miss You” and Joe Nichols’ “Sunny and 75.” As you can see, Sellers has been around music all of her life and having two talented parents will certainly draw people’s attention.
This isn’t about her parents though, as Sellers clearly wants to make a name for herself. But growing up around two musician parents has taught her one thing, as she told The Tennesseean in an interview: “Growing up in the business has given me an extra-sensitive bulls**t detector.” This is certainly good to hear, as she seems to be well aware of how the industry works, something many new artists don’t have the benefit of knowing when breaking into it. As for her music style, she says she draws from Americana, bluegrass and rock. When asked to label her music, she calls it “garage country.” So with all of this in mind I dove into New City Blues eager to hear what garage country sounds like and to see if the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. And after listening to it several times, I have to say that garage country sounds pretty damn good and Sellers is just as talented as her mother.
Spacey guitar licks kick off the opening song “Light of Day.” It’s a song that seamlessly blends country and rock that goes well with Sellers’ twangy and powerful vocals. The song is also a nice precursor for the rest of the album, as Sellers isn’t afraid to experiment with the sound. Sellers tackles dealing with heartbreak in “Sit Here And Cry.” It’s a fast-paced song with plenty of guitars and some slick harmonica play. The “garage country” really shines through. “Paper Doll” shows off Sellers’ edgy side, both lyrically and instrumentation wise. She sings about all of the paper dolls she sees around her with their fake smiles and looks, all to stand out. It has a very aggressive and gritty tone, which shows up in the instrumentation too. The guitar play is frenetic and in your face, making for one of the loudest songs on the album. A lot of people I think will be surprised by this song, but will end up enjoying it as one of the best on the album.
The quiet and humble “Losing Ground” follows this. And Sellers shines just as bright on a softer song, as she does on loud ones. Folky in nature, the song is about a woman dealing with the ups and downs of everyday life. But she feels helpless as she continues to deal with more downs and doesn’t know what to do next. The songwriting is really solid on this one. Sellers once again challenges female images with “Magazine.” She sings about how magazines feed everyone, especially women, a line of bullshit all the time and how the fixes in them are purported to work like magic. This song feels very Kacey Musgraves-like and that’s not a bad thing (with Brandy Clark being a co-writer, this isn’t a big surprise). It’s quite good because more female country artists need to speak out about the image women are expected to maintain in not just country music, but in general.
Another highlight of New City Blues is “Dreaming In The Day.” Drenched in 70s rock influences from the heavy reverb to folk rock beat, the song is about a woman who is on cloud nine for days from a passionate night she shared with her man. She was clearly touched by him and now she can’t shake the thought of him, even when sitting in traffic. This is one of those songs where the lyrics and instrumentation go together perfectly together. “Liar Liar” is about a woman calling out a man for being a liar and being quite good at it. Once again I have to applaud the instrumentation and production, as it immediately draws me in and keeps me hooked throughout the song with the dreamy, almost mysterious sound it creates.
The most pleasing to the ears songs on this album is “Humming Song.” It has a wistful and calming tone about it, thanks to the light, acoustic sound the song is based around. But the song itself is far from it, as it’s about a woman realizing her man is falling for another woman. When you realize this, the song takes on a more somber and dark tone. The adventurous “Just To Be With You” is next. It tells the story of a woman quitting her terrible job and going through hell and high water just to be with her man who lives far away. She’s even wiling to steal and hot wire a car just to get to him, showing how dedicated she is to getting to him. It’s crazy and desperate, but hey love makes you do crazy things as this song insinuates.
“People Talking” is about how people will only seem to speak their true thoughts about you when you’re not around. “My ears only burn when they’re not around,” sings Sellers. It goes deeper than this though, as Sellers sings about feeling alone, left out and never fitting in. When you go below the surface of this song, it goes from a Pistol Annies-like song about judgmental people and more about social anxiety and depression. Again it shows how wise beyond her years Aubrie Sellers is in her songwriting. The acoustic-driven “Something Special” is about appreciating the little things in life with the person you love most. Upon the first few listens, it doesn’t stand out much. But the more you listen to it the better it gets. It has a twinkling quality about it that I can’t put my finger on what exactly.
“Loveless Rolling Stone” is about a person always traveling on the road alone and not really have any love in their life, as they’ve dedicated their life to always being on the run. And the person realizes that one day this life has to end and wonder what they will have to show for it. It’s a self-realization song where a person looks deep inside themselves and comes to terms with a harsh reality of what they’ve been doing with their life. The songwriting is not only stellar, but the production is equally good. You get a nice peek into all of the different influences that Sellers cites as the inspiration behind the sound of the entire album. This is followed by “Like The Rain,” which does an even better job than “Something Special” of elevating the standard love ballad. Sellers’ vocals really shine and the lyrics are more engaging and vivid to the listeners.
New City Blues comes to a close with “Living Is Killing Me Stone.” At first I thought this was an odd choice for the final song, but after further listens it fits with the overall theme of the album well and that’s of the young and reckless adult experiencing all kinds of changes in their life as they struggle to find exactly what they want out of it. Plus this song decidedly has the garage country sound that Sellers describes it as in interviews, which is both intriguing and fun for the listeners to sift through.
The debut album New City Blues from Aubrie Sellers proves that she is a very talented artist who is poised to make a lot of great music for years to come. Never before have I heard a debut album from an artist take so many creative risks. Sellers mixes country, bluegrass, Americana and rock like she’s been doing this for decades. There’s nothing safe about this album, from the lyrics to the production. While Sellers may sound just like her mother Lee Ann Womack, she proves to have her own style and more than enough talent to step out of this shadow and make her own name. New City Blues can feel like a bit of a slog to get through at 14 songs and many songs will take multiple listens to fully grasp. But I assure you it’s well worth your time to sit down and listen to this album over and over.
Last Saturday I was able to get down to the Diamond Ballroom in Oklahoma City to see Kacey Musgraves live in concert. The tickets were a Christmas gift for my wife and I, so we’ve been eagerly awaiting the show for about a month. We arrived at the venue right as doors were supposed to open, but ended up spending about 15 minutes waiting in line out in the cold due to an unknown delay. Kudos to the people at the front of the line who clearly braved the cold for hours, but all worth it for being near the stage in a general admission, standing room only venue!
Opening act Andrew Combs took the stage at 7:30 for his half hour set. Combs is a Nashville based singer-songwriter who grew up in Dallas, Texas. I hadn’t heard Combs’ music before tonight, but right from the first song, I was impressed with his sound and musical stylings. Country combined with rock and some bluesy influence in the melodies, and he’s a soulful singer with a great voice. I definitely recommend looking him up if you haven’t heard him before. As an opening act, however, Combs wasn’t able to captivate most of the audience. I’d bet that most of the attendees also hadn’t heard of him before, so they simply talked and ignored the music while waiting for Kacey’s time to come. Combs’ five song set was also full of slower, ballad songs which seemed to suck the crowd energy out of the room. But with only two albums under his belt, Andrew Combs is still early in his musical career. I imagine he and his band will be great to catch in a smaller, more intimate venue.
Bring out the stagehands to decorate the stage with Kacey’s LED speckled stars and get the gear in place, including Kacey’s silver bedazzled mic stand. The background was pink streamers which I can only assume is the same background from the Pageant Material album cover. At about 8:40, Kacey’s five-piece backing band took the stage dressed to the nines in matching pink suits with LEDs lining the lapels and the outer seams of the pants. The band jammed for about a minute getting the crowd excited with anticipation. Then, in sticking with the theme of an old-school country and western show, the bass player welcomed the crowd to The Country & Western Rhinestone Revue, and then welcomed the star of the revue, Kacey Musgraves.
You wouldn’t expect Kacey Musgraves to have push back on the radio like she has, because last Saturday at the sold out Diamond Ballroom, Kacey Musgraves was an absolute superstar. She walked onto the stage to deafening cheers and to a crowd that sang along with her during every song of the show. She kicked off her set with “Pageant Material” which transitioned seamlessly into “Biscuits” where she stepped away from the mic and allowed the crowd to sing the song’s bridge back to her. Kacey effortlessly captivated the crowd with her music and crowd banter. I could still hear some disrespectful people talking toward the back during her slower songs, but Kacey had full command of the front half of the crowd for the whole night.
Kacey’s set included most of her radio singles, many album cuts from Pageant Material and Same Trailer, Different Park, and several covers including Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart” (a song which Musgraves co-wrote), and a surprising yet impressive country rendition of Gnarls’ Barkley’s “Crazy.” The setlist was stacked nicely with ballads spread out among her more upbeat tunes. Kacey also provided a few background stories to how some of her songs were born. For instance, the phrase “Dime Store Cowgirl” has been with her since she was 11. While getting ready to sing at local country show, young Kacey Musgraves donning a cowboy hat, was told by another singer’s mom, “oh, honey, you’re going to look like a dime store cowgirl wearing that hat.” Clearly, Kacey embraced the notion, proud of her small town roots.
During the middle of show, Kacey introduced her backing band during the “talent portion of the pageant” and let the boys show off some of their non-musical talents. The crowd was treated to the juggling guitarist, the balloon animal creating steel guitarist, and a drummer who does an eerily accurate impersonation of a small, high-pitched dog bark. I enjoyed this part of the show simply because it was different and showed a different side of a tight-knit group of musicians, and it didn’t take away from the concert at all.
My favorite part of the whole show was when the backing band took a break leaving Kacey alone on stage. The result was a beautiful, intimate rendition of her debut single, “Merry Go Round.” Again, Kacey stepped away from the microphone while the crowd sang the last chorus while she strummed along on her acoustic guitar. This is one of those great moments with a singer and audience connecting in a way you only can at a concert. Right before singing the song, she also gave a most sincere thank you to the crowd and the fans who have continued to support her from the beginning.
As the show came to an end, the crowd was treated to the sweet, loving “Late to the Party” which was a crowd pleaser for sure. The group rocked the crowd with an extended musical outro in “Die Fun” with heavy bass lines off-setting the steel guitar solos and guitar licks before closing the first set with her biggest single, “Follow Your Arrow.” A short break with constant “Kacey! Kacey!” chants from the crowd before she took the stage again for an encore. It was a quick, but entertaining encore with a cover of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin.'” Kacey worked the stage with a microphone in one hand and a tambourine in the other during the show stopping number.
Overall, The Country & Western Rhinestone Revue was excellent! Kacey Musgraves puts on an awesome show, and the chemistry she has with her band is great. Kacey was also deliberate to remind the crowd several times that she was keeping it country. Not that we needed reminders, with the ever-present ring of the steel guitar in every song, but I can only imagine they were subtle digs at the not so country music made by her mainstream counterparts. There was a curious omission of “Blowin’ Smoke” from the setlist, but that’s only a minor complaint as the setlist was fantastic just as it was. As I said earlier, Kacey Musgraves is a superstar in the eyes of her fans. She may not get the success she deserves on radio, but she certainly has an audience and fan base eager to see her on the road. The Diamond Ballroom is not a small venue, and Kacey performed to a sold out crowd! Go see her in concert if you’re able to. You will not be disappointed. If anything, the concert proved to me that Kacey Musgraves is poised for the long haul, and could very well be the next generation’s own Dolly Parton or Loretta Lynn.
Setlist: (I recalled this from memory, so I may have the order mixed up a bit)
Mama’s Broken Heart (Miranda Lambert cover)
Dime Store Cowgirl
Family Is Family
Crazy (Gnarls Barkley cover)
Spoonful of Sugar (from Mary Poppins)
It Is What It Is
Good Ol’ Boy’s Club
Merry Go Round
Late to the Party
Follow Your Arrow
These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ (Nancy Sinatra cover)
Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases
Aubrie Sellers will release her debut album New City Blues tomorrow.
Bluegrass and Americana artist Sierra Hull will release her new album, Weighted Mindtomorrow also.
Cam has officially announced “Mayday” will be her next radio single.
Brandy Clark has released her newest single “Girl Next Door.” We will have a review for the song soon.
Mark Wills says his upcoming album will be a traditional sounding country album. No word on name details or release information, but Wills has been in the studio and will release the album independently.
Green River Ordinance has released their newest album, Fifteen.
Will Hoge wrote and recorded two songs based on Ed Tarkington’s new novel, Only Love Can Break Your Heart. Both songs, “Through Missing You” and “Some Things You Just Can’t Throw Away,” will be released tomorrow.
Throwback Thursday Song
“Jolene” by Dolly Parton. This song came on the radio one day while driving home from work this past week, and Dolly recently celebrated her birthday, so we celebrate her here with this 1974 hit!
Non-Country Suggestion of the Week
Hinds Leave Me Alone – Hinds is a female indie garage rock/pop quartet hailing from Spain. Leave Me Alone is a unique album with layered vocals, abrupt tempo changes, and some great instrumentation. I’ve recently started exploring more punk and garage rock music, so I’ve found this album to be enjoyable.
Tweet of the Week
A few music snob critics defend bro-country (which doesn’t exist, right?) but loathe Nickelback. Explain the difference.
The very best of country radio right here in a nice playlist. In order for a song to be added to the list, it must currently be in the top 60 of the Billboard Country Airplay chart, so this will be updated weekly. Normally this feature is part of The Hodgepodge, but I’ve decided to make this a weekly standalone post. Here’s where all the songs currently stand on the chart:
Each week I 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 either a +1, -1 or a 0. 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 +30 and the lowest possible score being a -30. How do I determine if a song is rated a +1, -1 or 0? The rating it received on the site or myself will determine this. If it hasn’t been rated yet, then I will make the call. Songs rated between 7 and 10 receive a +1. Songs rated a 5 or 6 receive a 0. Songs rated 4 or lower receive a -1.
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…