Album Review – Paul Cauthen’s ‘My Gospel’

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If you’re a follower of Country Perspective, you’ll notice one of the themes I’ve been harping on lately is distinctiveness. Too many young and new artists suffer from a lack of distinctiveness on their albums. The music just doesn’t do enough to stand out from the rest of the crowd and music that came before it. You’ll see new artist after new artist just recycle a sound we’re all familiar with and you eagerly await someone to come along like Sturgill Simpson in 2013, Karen Jonas in 2014 or Chris Stapleton in 2015 that will deliver something special and completely change the genre. Well I think we’ve found that artist for 2016 and his name is Paul Cauthen. Mark it down folks: this is the next big star in the independent country/Americana scene. The Texan used to front an Americana band called Sons of Fathers, but a few years back realized he was ready to do something else. He’s now struck out on his own to release his debut album My Gospel vis Lightning Rod Records. And it’s probably one of the most refreshing albums I’ve heard this year.

Right away it’s Cauthen’s voice that stands out to me. At times it can be this deep, bellowing voice that engulfs you from the moment you hear it and at other times it has this soaring, soulful sound about it. Cauthen cites country, blues and souls as his influences. It definitely shows in his voice, as it reminds me of a combination of Waylon Jennings, Bill Withers and Neil Young. Cauthen reminds me the most of Waylon on “Let It Burn.” It just sounds like something he would cut on one of his albums, especially when Cauthen’s voice is growling similar to his. But then when Cauthen hits the higher notes it wouldn’t sound out of place on an old soul record. It’s kind of surreal how Cauthen can embody two completely different sounds on one song and sound equally great with both (credit too to producer Beau Bedford). The album’s title track ties the whole album together and serves as Cauthen’s personal creed and anthem. From the lyrics to the emphatic organ and backing choir, it’s an uplifting song that shows him completely in his element. There’s just so much honesty and passion behind every word in this song and this will be reverberated in the listener as they take the song in.

Opening song “Still Drivin’” sounds like something straight out of the outlaw era of country music. It’s one of several moments on the album that has this sort of swagger and coolness about it that you just can’t help getting wrapped up in. It’s probably most evident on “I’ll Be the One.” The spacey steel guitar combined with the percussion really makes for a fun and catchy sound. The song itself is about a guy declaring his love for a woman and vowing to be the one for her. It makes for the most memorable song of the album in my opinion, as you’ll probably be humming this to yourself for the next day after giving it extensive listens. “Hanging out on the Line” sees a man desperate to win over the heart of a woman he deeply loves. Cauthen sounds great on every song, but this might be his best vocal performance on the album as the helplessness and desperation he conveys in his vocals are palpably fantastic.

The themes of love and the super natural meet on “Marfa Lights.” A man likens his love with a woman to the Marfa lights, which runs for miles and miles. Texans like Cauthen are quite familiar with this place, but everyone else probably not so much. Marfa lights refer to lights that have been seen around U.S. Route 67 on Mitchell Flat that’s east of Marfa, Texas. Many people have claimed to witness ghosts and UFOs here, making it a hot spot for people who believe in paranormal activities. Research says though that these lights do not have anything to do with aliens or anything of the sort, but are just lights from cars and campfires. It’s cool to hear about weird local places like this in songs, so kudos to Cauthen for incorporating this interesting place into his music.

Some songs you just want to sit back and bask in their sound as you listen to this album. There’s just such a warm vibrancy and colorfulness about them on songs such as “As Young as You’ll Ever Be” and “Be There Soon.” The twangy pedal steel guitar and the pianos and organs that show up throughout this album all unite to make for a really intriguing sound. Cauthen explores self-realization and discovery on “Once You’re Gone.” He ponders whether him and his partner should head out west and discover new things, but also realizes once they do they can’t go back to the way things were. It’s a realization of how a journey ahead can shape your life into something completely different and new, never to turn back to once was in your life. “Grand Central” and “Saddle” are about the freedom of life on the open road. Specifically “Grand Central” is about a man who is hurting and takes to the open road (well in this case train) to heal his broken heart. It’s one of those songs that won’t immediately grab you, but once it clicks you can really resonate with the lyrics. Meanwhile “Saddle” is one of those songs you put on as you go on a long drive in the night. It just has this naturally adventurous attitude about it, which is something I can say about this entire album.

From beginning to end Paul Cauthen blows me away with My Gospel. It’s hands down the best debut album I’ve heard this year and perfectly exemplifies the distinctiveness that every new artist should strive for in their music. Not to mention you can tell this comes straight from the heart and soul of Cauthen, as it shines through on every aspect of the album. This is the type of music the world needs more of today. With My Gospel Cauthen immediately establishes himself as one of the best in the genre. The sky is the limit for him and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Grade: 9/10

 

Recommend ? – YES

Album Highlights: I’ll Be The One, My Gospel, Still Drivin’, Saddle, Grand Central, Let It Burn, Hanging out on the Line

Bad Songs: Nope

Wallpaper: Nope


Stream The Entire Album Below:

The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music [November 1991]

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This is the Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music. Each week, I take a look at the Billboard Country  Airplay Chart from years ago and grade the top 30 songs. Each week will be a different year. 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 past top 30 songs, with the highest possible score being a +150 and the lowest possible score being a -150. The grade 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 past pulse of mainstream country music and determine if it was better or worse compared to now. To see the full list of the top 30 country airplay songs for this week, click here. This week I will take a look at the top 30 songs of the Billboard Country Airplay Chart from November 9th, 1991.

  1. Alan Jackson – “Someday” +4
  2. Travis Tritt – “Anymore” +3
  3. Keith Whitley & Earl Thomas Conley – “Brotherly Love” +4
  4. Garth Brooks – “Shameless” -2 [Worst Song]
  5. Trisha Yearwood – “Like We Never Had A Broken Heart” +3
  6. Patty Loveless – “Hurt Me Bad (In A Real Good Way)” +3
  7. Marty Stuart – “Tempted” +1 (Love Marty, and the production was cool and different for 90’s country, but the lyrics aren’t great)
  8. Alabama – “Then Again” +2 (I like the restrained production here)
  9. Lorrie Morgan – “A Picture Of Me (Without You)” +3 (Solid George Jones cover)
  10. Joe Diffie – “New Way (To Light Up An Old Flame)” +2
  11. Randy Travis – “Forever Together” +2 (Not his best but still good)
  12. Ricky Van Shelton – “Keep It Between The Lines” +4
  13. Billy Dean – “You Don’t Count The Cost” +3
  14. George Strait – “The Chill Of An Early Fall” +4 [Best Song] (One of my favorites of his)
  15. Pam Tillis – “Put Yourself In My Place” +3 (Interesting production. I like the dobro)
  16. Reba McEntire – “For My Broken Heart” +4
  17. Little Texas – “Some Guys Have All The Love” +1 (Hook is a little corny for my tastes)
  18. Dwight Yoakam – “Nothing’s Changed Here” +3 (Dwight always delivers)
  19. Davis Daniel – ‘For Crying Out Loud” +2 (Don’t care for his voice that much)
  20. Clint Black – “Where Are You Now” +3
  21. Suzy Bogguss – “Someday Soon” +4
  22. Diamond Rio – “Mirror Mirror” +3
  23. Vince Gill – “Look At Us” +3
  24. Conway Twitty – “She’s Got A  Man On Her Mind” +3
  25. Lionel Cartwright – “Leap Of Faith”+1
  26. Brooks & Dunn – “My Next Broken Heart” +2
  27. Restless Heart – “You Can Depend On Me” -1 (Too cheesy for me and that falsetto is just….oof)
  28. Sawyer Brown – “The Walk” +3
  29. Steve Wariner – “Leave Him Out Of This” +3
  30. Doug Stone – “I Thought It Was You” +3 (It’s cheesy, but I like the sound enough to bump it up)

The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music: +76

We usually have good weeks, but honestly there was a lot of true quality on this chart. There were A LOT of ballads which makes sense given the time of year. All in all I’m very happy with this chart.

As always, if you have any questions as to why I gave a song a certain grade feel free to ask me. Also, let me know what you guys think of the chart in the comments!

Album Review – Blackberry Smoke’s ‘Like An Arrow’

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A fool once said in 2016, “There are no cool rock bands anymore.” This makes sense to someone like Jason Aldean, who puts out bad pop music parading to be country. It also makes sense to anyone who just follows mainstream music because rock has been dead in the mainstream for a while. But bands like Blackberry Smoke can assure that rock is not only alive, but it’s still kicking ass. It’s just not on the radio. It’s out there in the independent scene and at concerts across the world, its natural environment far away from corporations and suits who wouldn’t know rock if it bit them in the ass. Blackberry Smoke is one of those bands that occupies a unique space, somewhere between country and rock, or put more simply southern rock. They probably don’t get the respect they deserve from either genre because they have a foot in each. But they should because they’re one of the best bands in music today.

Their last album Holding All The Roses was one of the best of 2015 and served as my personal introduction to the band. I’ve since dug deep into their library and from beginning to present they’ve consistently put out some of the best southern rock in the modern era. They started out with Zac Brown’s label Southern Ground before moving onto being independent and partnering with Thirty Tigers, which suits the band just fine. Their music and attitude has a very independent spirit about it. They also have one of the most passionate and dedicated fan bases in both country and rock. Their new album Like an Arrow debuts at Billboard at #1 on the country chart (second in a row), #1 on the Americana chart and #3 on the rock chart. Needless to say this is an album I was anxiously ready to dive into and give a listen. I can confidently say that once again Blackberry Smoke delivers excellence.

This album kicks ass from the moment you hit play on “Waiting for the Thunder.” The impressive roaring guitars hit you in the face like a ton of bricks. The lyrics scathingly take down powerful institutions that put down the men and women who bust their ass to get by. It’s a tornado of a song that just sort of leaves you in awe after hearing it. This may be one of the band’s best songs ever. “Let It Burn” can be interpreted as a dig at Music Row and it’s bullshit (something the band addressed on their last album) or any old small town across the country where people are fed up with the way things are run. Either way the lyrics hit hard and the guitars hit harder.

One of the more sentimental moments on the album is “The Good Life.” It’s about a father passing onto his son the advice his own father gave him when he was young. It’s a song that promotes the values of family, hard work and tradition. The heart behind the lyrics could bring a tear to your eyes. This is probably one of the most well written songs I’ve ever heard from Blackberry Smoke. “Running Through Time” is one of those songs that band makes look and sound so easy. I love the soulful touches added in throughout the song, with an organ sneakily playing in the background. That soulful influence shows up again on “Believe You Me,” a song about you controlling your own destiny. Again the guitar work blows me away and combined with the soulful touches it just makes the band’s sound even better.

There are some songs on this album where you just have to sit back and admire the instrumentation work, like on “What Comes Naturally” and “Ought to Know.” The latter especially has a memorable riff in the bridge. The album’s title track is about life and how sometimes we go high and sometimes we go low, just like an arrow. The guitar work on this song is extremely impressive and you’ll find yourself jamming along to this song with ease. Both the lyrics and instrumentation are so damn infectious and catchy. The same can be said about “Workin’ for a Workin’ Man.” Starr and the band sing about the grievances and pains of the workingman under the man. It’s a battle cry for everyone who feels short-changed at their jobs and at life. I mean look at lyrics like, “This bait and switch is a son of a bitch, it ain’t workin’ for a workin’ man, I got to shuck and jive just to even survive.” I find it impossible not to be hooked by lyrics like this because it’s not only catchy, but it can have real anger and power behind it.

One song that sort of sneaks up on you is “Sunrise in Texas.” On the first listen it may not stand out as much as other songs on the album do, but with more listens it just gets better and better. Charlie Starr delivers one of his best vocal performances here, just belting the lyrics with conviction and fire. Then you have the crunchy guitars in the bridge and you just have to marvel at this song. “Ain’t Gonna Wait” leans more country than rock and shows this band could go straight country if they wanted to and sound just as great. But why choose one genre when you can nail two at once? Gregg Allman of the iconic Allman Brothers joins Blackberry Smoke on the album’s final song, “Free On The Wing.” This song is about finding your way in life and saying goodbye to old stories to say hello to new ones. It’s appropriate to see Allman do a song with the band because Blackberry Smoke is the modern-day successor to the Allman Brothers.

Hands down Like an Arrow is one of the best albums of 2016. Blackberry Smoke continue to demonstrate why they’re amongst the best in both country and rock. What’s amazing is how flawless they make it look. But I probably shouldn’t be surprised. Blackberry Smoke isn’t your ordinary band that goes through slumps and bad albums. They consistently churn out some of the best music you’ll hear today. You can chalk up Like an Arrow as another fantastic album from Blackberry Smoke.

Grade: 9/10

 

Recommend? – YES

Album Highlights: Waiting for the Thunder, The Good Life, Running Through Time, Like an Arrow, Sunrise in Texas, Workin’ For A Workin’ Man, Let It Burn

Bad Songs: Nope!

Wallpaper: Nope!


The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Radio [October 24]

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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. Kenny Chesney & Pink – “Setting The World On Fire” -2 (Up 2)
  2. Luke Bryan – “Move” -4
  3. Cole Swindell – “Middle of a Memory” -2 (Up 2)
  4. Jason Aldean – “A Little More Summertime” (Up 3)
  5. LoCash – “I Know Somebody” -5 (Down 4) [Worst Song]
  6. Billy Currington – “It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To” +2 (Down 2)
  7. Brett Young – “Sleep Without You” -2 (Up 1)
  8. Florida Georgia Line (feat. Tim McGraw) – “May We All” +1 (Up 1)
  9. Old Dominion – “Song For Another Time” -3 (Up 1)
  10. Tim McGraw – “How I’ll Always Be” +3 (Up 1)
  11. Keith Urban – “Blue Ain’t Your Color” -4 (Up 1)
  12. Miranda Lambert – “Vice” +3 (Up 1) 
  13. Brett Eldredge – “Wanna Be That Song” (Up 1)
  14. Carrie Underwood – “Dirty Laundry” 0 (Up 3)
  15. Drake White – “Livin’ The Dream” +1 
  16. Maren Morris – “80s Mercedes” -1 
  17. Granger Dibbles Jr. – “If The Boots Fits” -4 (Up 1)
  18. Thomas Rhett – “Star of the Show” -3 (Up 4)
  19. Blake Shelton – “A Guy With A Girl” -1 (Up 8)
  20. Eric Church (feat. Rhiannon Giddens) – “Kill A Word” +4 (Up 1) [Best Song]
  21. Lauren Alaina – “Road Less Traveled” -2 (Down 1)
  22. Chris Stapleton – “Parachute” +3 (Up 1)
  23. Chris Young (feat. Vince Gill) – “Sober Saturday Night” +1 (Up 2)
  24. Brothers Osborne – “21 Summer” +2
  25. Dustin Lynch – “Seein’ Red” -5 (Up 5)
  26. High Valley – “Make You Mine” -2
  27. Chris Janson – “Holdin’ Her” +4 (Up 1)
  28. Garth Brooks – “Baby, Let’s Lay Down and Dance” 0 (Down 9)
  29. Michael Ray – “Think A Little Less” -5 (Re-Enters Top 30)
  30. Jerrod Niemann & Lee Brice – “A Little More Love” -3 (Down 1)

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Radio: -28

The pulse drops two spots this week. 

Songs That Dropped Out of the Top 30 This Week:

  • Tucker Beathard – “Rock On” -3

Songs That Entered The Top 30 This Week:

  • Michael Ray – “Think A Little Less”

Biggest Gainers This Week:

  • Blake Shelton – “A Guy With A Girl” – Up 8 from #27 to #19
  • Thomas Rhett – “Star of the Show” – Up 4 from #22 to #18
  • Carrie Underwood – “Dirty Laundry” – Up 3 from #17 to #14
  • Jason Aldean – “A Little More Summertime” – Up 3 from #7 to #4

Biggest Losers This Week:

  • Tucker Beathard – “Rock On” – Out of the Top 30 & Done
  • Garth Brooks – “Baby, Let’s Lay Down and Dance” – Down 9 from #19 to #28
  • LoCash – “I Know Somebody” – Down 4 from #1 to #5

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

  • LoCash – “I Know Somebody”
  • Billy Currington – “It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To”
  • Brothers Osborne – “21 Summer”
  • High Valley – “Make You Mine”

On The Hot Seat:

  • Jerrod Niemann & Lee Brice – “A Little More Love”

Next Four Songs I See Entering Top 30:

  • Brad Paisley – “Today”
  • Kelsea Ballerini – “Yeah Boy” (Oh joy to the world, I’m so excited about this)
  • Jon Pardi – “Dirt on My Boots” (This is well on it’s way to being a big hit for Pardi, as it’s having great sales)
  • Josh Turner – “Hometown Girl”

 

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

Album Review – Mack McKenzie’s ‘A Million Miles’

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Mack McKenzie came across the radar of Country Perspective in 2014. He released debut album One Last, One More late in year and it really impressed me. The Dayton, Ohio area based artist’s vocal style and approach evokes thoughts of Texas-based country artist Jason Eady. A lot of the songs on the album delved into darker matters such as depression and heartbreak, perfectly fitting of his gravel-y toned voice. I think what I enjoyed the most about his debut album was how confident and sure he was in his sound. You could just tell he knows what type of music he wants to make when he goes into a studio and thought behind it. So I was eager to hear how he would follow-up this solid debut with his new sophomore album A Million Miles. One thing that stands out about it immediately is it has a more cohesive theme throughout it. But it doesn’t necessarily always work on each song.

One of the standouts of this album is definitely “Drunk Over Your.” It’s your classic drink your sorrows away country song. This is the kind of song that fits McKenzie really well and can knock out with ease. The amount of sorrow and darkness in his voice really sets the perfect tone for the song. “Tell Me” sees a man pleading and hoping that his ex is missing him as much as he misses her everyday. He wonders if she wakes up from dreams in the middle of the night and if that she wants him back again. It’s a desperate, clinging hope for something that probably still isn’t there. “I Wonder” is very much along the same lines, but I think “Tell Me” gets this desperate hoping across better.

The desperation comes across great too on “M – 3.” The man just refuses to stop giving a damn about the woman he lost and he’s willing to wait a while for her to come back. This could mean him or her changing, but he refuses to give up on something that he feels so strongly about. It’s a really strong song and shows off McKenzie’s ultimate strength: expressing pain and heartbreak in his words and vocals. This theme is kind of reversed on “Where Do You Get Off.” Here the man calls bullshit on his ex saying she still loves him. But then realizes he still loves her too. In other words things are pretty complicated between the two. Neither can really come out and say what they want.

The biggest problem I seem to find with this album is that I find some of the songs over stay their welcome. That’s most exemplified on “Reasons.” It’s a perfectly fine song about a couple giving up on love while still together. But there’s no reason why it should be nearly eight minutes in length. If you’re going to make a song this long, it better be justified. It reminds me of what one of my old English teachers used to tell me: if you can say something in fewer words than what you’ve written, you need to do it. Otherwise you’re just filling space. McKenzie tackles romance and passion in “Give It To Me.” And as much as I want to like it, I just don’t. It comes off too schmaltzy for my taste. It’s not bad, but I just don’t think it fits him and his style. He’s at his best when he’s singing about grittier themes and this just seems a little too polished for him.

For the most part I think a majority of the songs on A Million Miles work well and I can see the idea McKenzie is going for with the whole album. But unfortunately he just doesn’t fully execute it to its full potential. The album kind of gets off to a slow start with its two opening songs, which I find are too broad and similar. Not to mention it doesn’t really hook you into the album like opening songs should do. It wasn’t until the third song that I really started to get into the album. The middle part of this album is where it shines brightest and found myself enjoying the most. McKenzie undoubtedly likes to dig deep with his songwriting, but I think he digs too deep on this album at times to the point where you lose the listener (I had a similar criticism with Jack Ingram’s latest album). What this album also lacked was taking risks and doing more with the sound. Despite my criticisms though, I still find A Million Miles to be a good album with some nice moments that make it worth checking out.

Grade: 7/10

 

Recommend? – Yes, if you like artists such as Jason Eady, Ryan Bingham and Corb Lund

Album Highlights: Drunk Over You, M – 3, Tell Me, Where Do You Get Off

Bad Songs: None

Wallpaper: A Million Miles, Anywhere But Here

Also the album artwork is fantastic! Kudos to the artist who made it.


You can preview and purchase Mack McKenzie’s A Million Miles at Amazon, Google Play and iTunes.