Country Perspective’s Best Music Reviewed in May

The Honeycutters On The Ropes

This is the monthly recap post of all the great music we reviewed on the blog in case you missed it or just came across our humble, little blog. So check this music out if you haven’t already.

10/10

None

 

9/10

Albums:

Darrell Scott – Couchville Sessions

The Honeycutters – On The Ropes

Carter Sampson – Wilder Side

Singles:

Chris Janson – “Holdin’ Her”

Erik Dylan – “Pink Flamingos”

 

8/10

Albums:

Ryan Beaver – Rx

The Lumineers – Cleopatra 

The Hodgepodge: Could Billboard’s Americana Chart Lead to the Radio Split We’ve Been Waiting For?

Last week Americana music fans and journalists were excited to learn that Billboard would add an Americana chart to their publishing. It’s a chart that’ll give home to many of the country artists we’ve seen ignored in Nashville, as well as root/folk rockers like The Lumineers. The chart debuted this week, along with Country Perspective’s first Americana Pulse feature. The chart gives a spotlight to artists popular in Americana, with Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, The Lumineers, Alabama Shakes, and Loretta Lynn finding their way into the top 15.

Take another look at the top artist on the chart and the 15th artist. You have Chris Stapleton, a modern country artist with a traditional sound and Loretta Lynn, a country music legend on the same chart. This is exactly what NASH Icons was supposed to do, right? NASH Icons was coming out of the woodwork in response to the cry for the country sound to return to radio grew to deafening levels. Unfortunately for NASH Icons, the experiment has been slow-moving, and the artists who’ve signed on so far, haven’t made much noise. Reba‘s NASH Icons album was great, but that’s about it for Icons so far.

But with the addition of an Americana chart to Billboard, perhaps we may see a growth in Americana radio stations. Not that radio is a sustainable medium nowadays, even for the immensely popular mainstream country music, but radio still appears to be important to most labels, managers, and fans. There aren’t many available Americana radio stations as it is, but even a double in the number of stations could be beneficial, even adding a station to more major markets. For instance, the KUSH in Cushing, OK is the station I’m able to listen to…if I drive state highways through small towns away from the OKC metro area and interstate on my drive to and from work. Besides that commute being out of my way for a drive, I still only get the AM signal for about 20-30 minutes.

My interest in Americana radio has grown ever since I’ve found that station which one time included a playlist of Corb Lund, Jason Boland, and Hailey Whitters back-to-back-to-back! My first tweet after learning about the new Billboard chart was wondering if Americana radio would grow in light of the official chart. With mainstream artists like Kacey Musgraves, Chris Stapleton, and Sturgill Simpson appearing on Americana charts (AMAs and Billboard), Americana gives a potential home to quality country artists who are ignored on radio while Dustin Lynch gets his third meaningless number one single while simultaneously citing Sugar Ray as an influential musical style.

More and more, it seems like mainstream artists are embracing genres away from country. Little Big Town is working with Pharrell on a side project, Florida Georgia Line (while passing off an R&B AC song as country) are covering the Backstreet Boys, and Sam Hunt and Old Dominion still think they’re making good music (let alone, country music).

In 2016’s first Hodgepodge, I noted that two things I’d like to see this year is a radio split and more spotlight on Americana and independent country music. With Billboard’s new Americana chart, one of those two has become a reality. Adding a chart for Americana is a great step in the effort to give these artists more of the spotlight they deserve. Maybe now Americana wouldn’t be an afterthought. Maybe the Grammys will embrace it as a major category, maybe the Americana Music Awards can find a TV deal. There’s more spotlight on the music, but now we need more avenues to play the music.

Upcoming/Recent Country and Americana Releases

  • Dierks Bentley‘s Black will be released on May 27th.
  • Maren Morris‘ debut album, Hero, will be released on June 3rd.
  • A recent release from the Netherlands to checkout is Maurice van Hoek‘s newest album, Live Forevermore. 
  • Brandy Clark‘s Big Day in a Small Town will be released on June 10th.
  • Jon Pardi‘s California Sunrise will be released on June 17th.
  • Mark Chesnutt will release a new album on July 8th called Tradition Lives.

Throwback Thursday Song

Kellie Pickler’s “I Wonder”One of my favorite Kellie Pickler songs. The second single from Pickler’s debut, Small Town Girl, “I Wonder” is written about a girl who wonders what life is like for her estranged parents. While Pickler didn’t write the song, it’s personal to her as her mother left the family when Kellie was just two, and her father was in and out of jail while she grew up.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week


Alessia Cara’s Know-It-All. The university I work for is already starting Freshman Orientation, and I’ve been working many of the sessions which include pop music playlists. I’ve grown to like Alessia Cara’s “Here” and don’t mine “Wild Things.” I’ve ventured to explore her debut album from last year, and I enjoyed listening to it. She had a hand in writing all 10 songs on the album, and the production on several of the tracks are well done.

Tweet of the Week

Sometimes, people need to be told where to find the good music. I needed to be told, and sometimes still do. If Simmons’ tweet is true, why did we get so many “Who is Chris Stapleton?” tweets?

Two iTunes Reviews for Blake Shelton

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 7.40.26 PM

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 7.40.40 PM

Both these reviews make the point of how bland and boring Shelton’s vocals are on If I’m Honest. These are not the first two people I’ve heard say this, hence why I’m not going to listen to the album.

And that second review started off so wonderfully, and then crashed at the mention of Luke Bryan.

The Current Pulse of Americana Music [June 4]

Chris Stapleton Traveller

It’s here! Each week I will take a look at the Billboard Americana/Folk Albums chart and grade the top 15 albums. The grading format I use each week is every album 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 fifteen Americana albums, with the highest possible score being a +15 and the lowest possible score being a -15. How do I determine if an album 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. Albums rated between 7 and 10 receive a +1. Albums rated a 5 or 6 receive a 0. Albums rated 4 or lower receive a -1.

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

  1. Chris Stapleton – Traveller +1
  2. Sawyer Fredericks – A Good Storm -1
  3. The Lumineers – Cleopatra +1
  4. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth +1
  5. Hard Working Americans – Rest in Chaos
  6. James Bay – Chaos And The Calm +1
  7. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – Self-Titled +1
  8. Bonnie Raitt – Dig In Deep +1
  9. Ruth B – The Intro (EP) 0
  10. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color +1
  11. Mary Chapin Carpenter – The Things That We Are Made Of -1
  12. Foy Vance – The Wild Swan 
  13. The Jayhawks – Paging Mr. Proust
  14. The Strumbellas – Hope
  15. Loretta Lynn – Full Circle +1

The Current Pulse of Americana Music: +6

The pulse debuts this week!

Albums That Dropped Out of the Top 15 This Week

  • N/A

Albums That Entered The Top 15 This Week

  • Chris Stapleton – Traveller
  • Sawyer Fredericks – A Good Storm
  • Hard Working Americans – Rest in Chaos
  • Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
  • Foy Vance – The Wild Swan

Album I Predict Will Be #1 Next Week

  • Chris Stapleton – Traveller

Biggest Gainer This Week

  • N/A

Biggest Loser This Week

  • Mary Chapin Carpenter – The Things That We Are Made Of – Down 8 from #3 to #11

Thoughts

Not a bad start at all for the Americana/Folk Albums chart this week. As I expected Stapleton takes the top spot with Traveller and will chart on both country and Americana chart. Same for Sturgill Simpson and his new album A Sailor’s Guide To Earth. There are a couple bigger names I didn’t expect to see, which are Sawyer Fredericks and James Bay. Both are more along the lines of singer-songwriter/acoustic-based artists, however it is entirely fair to put them on this chart because they do fit the Americana definition. Alabama Shakes and The Lumineers are two acts that really define the chart and why we needed it. The inclusion of Ruth B is the only one that caught me off guard. Then again I’ve only heard one song from her, so maybe she fits the chart well.

As you can see I have not heard all of the albums on this chart, but that won’t be a problem moving forward and only be the case on this first one as the chart begins to define itself. Some of you probably thought I would never give a -1 on an Americana pulse and I prove you wrong on the very first one. I couldn’t even get through the Carpenter album because as I remarked on Twitter last week, it was just too dry throughout and had no variety sonically. It’s a shame because I was expecting big things from it, especially with Dave Cobb as producer.

It’ll be interesting to see what names will pop up each week on this chart and how long it will take before we hit a perfect score or a negative score. As always be sure to weigh-in below with your thoughts and let me know what you think of the format. I’m still tinkering with it and wouldn’t say it’s set in stone. This feature might also be on Tuesdays moving forward and only came out today because I’ve been debating myself on how to approach this. Anyway let me know your thoughts.

Update 1

I’m starting to slowly listen to each album without grades and I’m going to update as I go along.

Ruth B – The Intro (EP): The four song set has some nice piano arrangements, but all of the songs sound too similar. “Lost Boy” is a good song though. It’s a shame the other three don’t do more to stand out.

Sawyer Fredericks – A Good Storm: I couldn’t even make it all the way through with this album. It’s the definition of generic and fits the “white guy with a guitar” stereotype to a T. Also another reminder of why I stopped watching The Voice years ago because it churns out cookie cutter artists.

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music [May 23]

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…

  1. Dustin Lynch – “Mind Reader” -1 (Up 2)
  2. Old Dominion – “Snapback” -1 (Up 1)
  3. Dierks Bentley – “Somewhere On A Beach” -1 (Down 2)
  4. Blake Shelton – “Came Here To Forget” -1 (Up 1)
  5. Thomas Rhett – “T-Shirt” -1 (Up 1)
  6. Luke Bryan – “Huntin’, Fishin’ & Lovin’ Every Day” -1 (Up 2)
  7. Tim McGraw – “Humble and Kind” +1 
  8. Chris Young & Cassadee Pope – “Think of You” (Down 4)
  9. Keith Urban – “Wasted Time” -1 (Up 1)
  10. Maren Morris – “My Church” +1 (Down 1)
  11. Kenny Chesney – “Noise” 0
  12. Jason Aldean – “Lights Come On” -1
  13. Jon Pardi – “Head Over Boots” +1 
  14. Carrie Underwood – “Church Bells” +1
  15. Eric Church – “Record Year” +1 [Best Song]
  16. Florida Georgia Line – “H.O.L.Y.” -1 (Up 3)
  17. Chris Lane – “Fix” -1 (Down 1) [Worst Song]
  18. Jake Owen – “American Generic Country Love Song” -1 (Down 1)
  19. David Nail – “Night’s On Fire” -1 (Down 1)
  20. Frankie Ballard – “It All Started With a Beer” +1 
  21. Justin Moore – “You Look Like I Need A Drink” +1
  22. Dan + Shay – “From The Ground Up”
  23. Sam Hunt – “Make You Miss Me” -1 (Up 1)
  24. Kip Moore – “Running For You” +1 (Up 1)
  25. Canaan Smith – “Meh” -1 (Down 2)
  26. Tucker Beathard – “Rock On” -1 
  27. Kelsea Ballerini – “Peter Pan” -1 (Up 3)
  28. William Michael Morgan – “I Met A Girl” +1 (Up 1)
  29. Zac Brown Band – “Castaway” 0 (Re-Entered Top 30 This Week)
  30. Big & Rich (feat. Tim McGraw) – “Lovin’ Lately” +1 (Down 2)

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: -6

The pulse dropped one spot this week.

Songs That Dropped Out of the Top 30 This Week:

  • Brad Paisley & Demi Lovato – “Without A Fight”

Songs That Entered The Top 30 This Week:

  • Zac Brown Band – “Castaway”

Song I Predict Will Be #1 Next Week:

  • Blake Shelton – “Came Here To Forget”

Biggest Gainers This Week:

  • Florida Georgia Line – “H.O.L.Y.” – Up 3 from #19 to #16
  • Kelsea Ballerini – “Peter Pan” – Up 3 from #30 to #27

Biggest Losers This Week:

  • Brad Paisley & Demi Lovato – “Without A Fight” – Out of the Top 30 (Down to #33)
  • Chris Young & Cassadee Pope – “Think of You” – Down 4 from #4 to #8

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

  • Chris Young & Cassadee Pope – “Think of You”
  • Kenny Chesney – “Noise”
  • Tucker Beathard – “Rock On”
  • Big & Rich (feat. Tim McGraw) – “Lovin’ Lately”

On The Hot Seat:

  • Maren Morris – “My Church”
  • Chris Lane – “Fix”
  • Canaan Smith – “Meh” (I would put this under recurrent soon, but I see the label trying to keep it alive)

Next Four Songs I See Entering Top 30:

  • Brad Paisley & Demi Lovato – “Without A Fight”
  • Billy Currington – “It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To”
  • Jennifer Nettles – “Unlove You”
  • Drake White – “Livin’ The Dream”

 

As always be sure to weigh in on this week’s Pulse in the comments below. 

Looking Back at The Top 20 Albums of 2015

Country Perspective's 2015 Most Essential Albums

Lately I decided to go back and take a look at all of the album grades I handed out last year. When it comes to grading albums, it can be very polarizing to say the very least and I know there are times when you flat out disagree with me. Other times we’re in complete agreement. One of the toughest aspects of grading is deciding what album is worthy of a 10/10. What constitutes a 10/10 can vary amongst people and I’ve found context is one of the biggest determining factors. Some view a 10/10 in a historical context, some view it in a yearly context, some in a genre context, etc. When it comes to a 10/10 to me, at its core it all comes to a feel for me. I can usually sense a 10/10 from my first listen and I know it’s the mark of a truly great album.

Another important thing I keep in mind when grading is not putting too much weight on the artist’s past material. It should be considered for in terms of comparison for their average sound and whether they deviate from it or not. But in my mind you shouldn’t knock a current album’s grade just because it isn’t as good as the last one in your mind. For example, it baffled me how so many people knocked their grade for Jason Isbell’s 2015 album Something More Than Free because it wasn’t as good in their mind as his previous album Southeastern, so therefore it can’t be a 10/10 if they gave Southeastern a 10/10 in their mind. I also consider it unfair to hold an album in a historical light right upon its release. In my opinion it takes years to determine how well it holds up historically, all-time. Finally I believe there’s no such thing as a perfect album. Every album has its little flaws and has areas where it could be a little better. So I think giving a 10/10 only in the case of it being “perfect” is a little absurd. But as they say it’s all subjective and I just wanted to clarify how I look at albums.

Without further ado I wanted to give you my thoughts on what I would grade albums I gave a 10/10 last year at this current time after having more time to digest and listen to them. Some have held up and some have not. Like I said at the beginning of the year when I announced we were approaching 10/10 grades differently this year, I gave way too many last year. So now I give you what I believe the true 10/10 grades, as well as what I believe didn’t hold up as 10/10. There probably won’t be another post like this next year because I’m being more focused on the grading this year and don’t have any regrets like last year. So here you go:

10/10

Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free

Whitey Morgan – Sonic Ranch 

Chris Stapleton – Traveller 

Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen – Hold My Beer 

Don Henley – Cass County

Turnpike Troubadours – Self-Titled

Houndmouth – Little Neon Limelight

Whitney Rose – Heartbreaker of the Year

Thoughts: Of course our album of the year choice is still a 10/10. I also still stand by my point that Something More Than Free is a better album than Southeastern, even though I’m aware this is unpopular. The key word here is album. If you asked me to pick the best three songs amongst the two albums, I’m probably picking them from Southeastern. But looking at both as whole albums, Something More Than Free is better because it flows better as a whole, thematically and sonically. I know people will disagree.

Of the others that hold up to a 10/10, I know there’s only three of them that some people would disagree. While Traveller being at 14 songs is not ideal and detracted from it in people’s minds, it ultimately doesn’t hurt the album’s overall quality in my opinion. Houndmouth may never put out a better album than Little Neon Limelight again, especially in light of the news of Katie Toupin departing from the band earlier this year. Her vocals were a big reason why I loved that album. As for Whitney Rose’s Heartbreaker of the Year, it just does such a great job of standing out and taking risks while remaining rooted in country. It’s why she won our Female Artist of the Year award.

9/9

Tami Neilson – Don’t Be Afraid 

Sam Outlaw – Angeleno 

The Malpass Brothers – Self-Titled

The Lone Bellow – Then Came The Morning 

Thoughts: So now we get to the albums where they didn’t hold up. Don’t Be Afraid ultimately doesn’t hold up for me because it just doesn’t follow the emotional punch of its title song all the way through the album. Angeleno was a big favorite in a lot of circles, but I just don’t get the same feeling as I did when I first listened to it. It just doesn’t sound as good hearing it back now, but it’s still a great album. The Malpass Brothers are an act I really enjoy, but giving 10/10 to an album mostly full of cover songs wasn’t the right choice. Then we have one of the big surprises for me of 2015 and that’s The Lone Bellow’s Then Came The Morning. A lot of people missed this one because it was a January release. It’s still a really really good album, but it just doesn’t make the cut in my mind for a 10/10, although it’s close.

8/8

Maddie & Tae – Start Here

Jonathan Tyler – Holy Smokes

Dwight Yoakam – Second Hand Heart

The Mavericks – Mono

Banditos – Self-Titled

Thoughts: This is where I know I’m ruffling feathers and people won’t like my downgrading. But I remind you this is just my opinion and not the end all be all. We’ll start with the elephant in the room: Maddie & Tae’s Start Here. I’m a big fan of this duo and that’s one of the things that ultimately clouded my final grade. There’s arguably no other act in mainstream country I want to see succeed more than these two. So I gave Start Here a grade it shouldn’t have received. There’s a lot of really good moments on the album, but it doesn’t follow that through on all of it’s songs. “Your Side of Town” is one song that brings it down, as well as “Right Here, Right Now” and “No Place Like You” for just not being memorable songs. I still say their best album will come when they finally get fed up of the games you have to play on a major label and leave to make their own records on Thirty Tigers.

My fandom also clouded my judgement on Second Hand Heart and Mono. Dwight Yoakam is a living legend and The Mavericks are perhaps one of the most underrated acts in music. Both delivered really good albums with some fun songs, but they’re just not 10/10 albums. Both needed more serious songs on the album to merit it. I enjoy Jonathan Tyler’s Holy Smokes and even bought it on vinyl, but I don’t know what I was thinking giving it 10/10. Maybe it was the summer heat? Ditto for Banditos’ self-titled album. Just a case of me going overboard.

Oh and one last thing. I wanted to give you what I considered a ranking of the top 20 albums of 2015. I think this will also serve useful to those who have just found the site and are looking for great music. These are albums you can’t go wrong with and you can’t go wrong with any of the ones I mentioned above too. My top 20 ranking is all albums reviewed, not just what I reviewed. If you have any questions about this, feel free to ask below.

  1. Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free
  2. Whitey Morgan – Sonic Ranch
  3. Chris Stapleton – Traveller 
  4. Turnpike Troubadours – Self-Titled (This one has gotten even better for me upon more listens)
  5. Wade Bowen & Randy Rogers – Hold My Beer
  6. Don Henley – Cass County (Still can’t believe the drummer for the Eagles made a top ten country album of the year)
  7. John Moreland – High on Tulsa Heat (This one has really grown on me)
  8. Blackberry Smoke – Holding All The Roses
  9. Houndmouth – Little Neon Limelight 
  10. Whitney Rose – Heartbreaker of the Year
  11. Eric Church – Mr. Misunderstood (Still not giving this a 10/10, Church fans. So don’t ask)
  12. The Lone Bellow – Then Came The Morning
  13. Sam Outlaw – Angeleno (This placing will get more complaints than you realize)
  14. Brandi Carlile – The Firewatcher’s Daughter (I hate myself for giving out 9.5/10 grades at one point)
  15. Cody Jinks – Adobe Sessions (Most under-the-radar debut of 2015)
  16. Gretchen Peters – Blackbirds
  17. Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material (Deserves a lot more credit than it received)
  18. Corb Lund – Things That Can’t Be Undone (Also deserved more credit)
  19. Tami Neilson – Don’t Be Afraid
  20. Will Hoge – Small Town Dreams (I always forget about this one, which is dumb)

Just missed the cut: James McMurtry’s Complicated Game, Tony Furtado’s The Bell, Justin Townes Earle’s Absent Fathers and Jami Lin Wilson’s Holidays and Wedding Rings.