While I’ve been too busy to write a real post these past few weeks, I haven’t been too busy to put together a bangin’ playlist for Hurricane Florence. If you’re looking for the perfect playlist for riding out the storm, then look no further! You’ll notice that not all of the songs relate to hurricanes so feel free to refer to this playlist for other inclement weather related events as well.
Brad Paisley– “Perfect Storm” – this song is about a girl and not about an actual storm but since lots of storms are named after ladies, you can make of this what you will Amanda Shires– “My Love (The Storm)” – with lyrics like those below, it’s almost as though this song was written for a September hurricane
“I am the storm at summer’s end Watch the willows mourn Watch the branches bend”
Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter– “Storms Never Last” – a hopeful reminder that storms, whether they’re weather, or a stormy patch in a relationship, will soon pass. #relationshipgoals John Prine and Lee Ann Womack also did a cover of this song, which you can find here. Brandi Carlile- “The Eye” – as Brandi sings, “you can dance in a hurricane but only if you’re standing in the eye.” Though I would recommend evacuating if you’re near a real hurricane. Maybe don’t stick around and dance? Sturgill Simpson- “The Storm” – songs about storms and love go together like thunder and lightning!
“There’s a lull and the wind is dying down Don’t let it fool you the storm ain’t done Flood waters rolling in and my heart’s gonna drown Our love wilted like a flower that ain’t got enough sun”
“Here I am, rock you like a hurricane!” – Florence
It only makes sense that the Scorpions‘ song “Rock You Like A Hurricane” tops this section. The Band of Heathens’ song “Hurricane” is also a great song for this time of year. While specific to New Orleans, I think it can apply to places like Charleston as well.
This is also a chance for me to highlight two of my favorite Bob Dylan songs: “A Hard Rains A-Gonna Fall” (an obvious choice) and “Hurricane” (and even more obvious choice though it has nothing to do with an actual hurricane). Would also including “Blowin’ In the Wind” here be too much of a stretch??
“Thunderbolt and Lighting, Very, Very Frightening Me”
Cody Jinks wrote the perfect song for a torrential downpour with “Loud and Heavy.” Crank this song up if you want to drown out the actual loud thunder and heavy rain happening outside. The Steel Woods– “Let the Rain Come Down” – let the rain come down? Oh it will! Zac Brown Band and Dave Grohl– “Let It Rain” – once again, it will! Garth Brooks- “The Thunder Rolls” – the thunder may roll and the lightning may strike but hopefully no loves are growing cold on sleepless nights like they are in this song (friendly reminder: the wife shoots her cheating husband in this song!) Live– “Lightning Crashes” – while it may be about reincarnation, I’m still including it Stevie Ray Vaughn– “Texas Flood” – this song might have been more relevant to Hurricane Harvey last year but as I said, this playlist is not specific to any one storm Clint Black– “Like the Rain” – if you like the rain, then you’ll like this song about liking the rain Guns N’ Roses– “November Rain” – there’s no song about September rain, so this one will just have to do Gary Allan– “Songs About Rain” and “Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain)” – Gary Allan gets it! As you’ll see in the former song, there is no shortage of songs about rain in country music. Here he references “Kentucky Rain,” “Rainy Night in Georgia,” and “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” If he ever wants to do a sequel to this song, I think this playlist would be a great place for him to pull from. In the latter, the theme of storms of eventually ending returns. This song is a reminder that all bad parts of life will soon pass much like all storms will run out of rain. Eddie Rabbit– “I Love A Rainy Night” – if you’re in the storm’s path right now you must likely will be getting some rainy nights. If you love them as much as Eddie Rabbit does, you’re in for a treat! James Taylor– “Fire and Rain” – while you may be seeing rain, I hope nobody is seeing fire! Vance Joy– “Fire and the Flood” – once again, there may be flooding, but “God willing and the creek don’t rise” there aren’t any fires! Though I don’t know if a fire would really stand a chance in this weather.
Turnpike Troubadours– “A Tornado Warning” – while not about hurricanes and not really relevant to Miss Florence, this Turnpike Troubadours’ song offers another glimpse of hope by reminding us that storms, in this case a tornado, won’t last long.
“Yeah in the broken morning light That simple shade of blue The kind that always follow you”
In case you lose your power, you’re gonna want to have these songs downloaded! The link to the Spotify playlist for these songs (without Garth Brooks, of course) can be found here.
I hope this post didn’t come across as insensitive and trying to make light of the current situation with Hurricane Florence. Hurricanes are a serious matter and even though, as these songs remind us, they eventually end, the damage they leave behind can last for much longer. Everyone in the storm’s path, please stay safe!!
“You got Bellaire class and Dallas style, Austin soul and a Luckenbach smile”
-Slaid Cleaves- “Texas Love Song”
If you’re a fan of country music, especially old school country, then you know that Texas is a big deal. With artists like George Strait dominating the airwaves from the 1980s through the 2010s, songs about Texas were commonly heard on the radio. And thanks to “All My Ex’s Live in Texas,” most country music fans from the past few decades can probably rattle off the names of a handful of Texas cities with ease. I’m pretty sure King George can also be credited with putting “Amarillo” on the map! Texas is also home to numerous country (and non-country) musicians including some of the most influential in the genre like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. Texas itself is a musical state, it’s capital, Austin, is the “Live Music Capital of the World” and it’s home to bars and honky tonks made famous because of their musical connection, like Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth. It can be credited with birthing the Outlaw Country movement of the 1970’s and today, with the help of Oklahoma, it’s given us “Red Dirt” music. It’s the location of movies like Urban Cowboy and it’s the host of Austin City Limits. It’s because of its rich country music history that I chose Texas as my summer vacation destination. Texas also has a lot to offer outside of music- you can find rodeos, cattle drives, and BBQ there. You can float the river in New Braunfels and you can pick up a kolach from the Czech bakery in West. It’s where you go to get back to the basics of love.
Country music was definitely a central theme of my trip. Prior to heading out to the Lone Star State, I made a Spotify playlist titled, “Texas Love Songs,” the title of which can be credited to Slaid Cleaves‘ song “Texas Love Song.” As the trip planning got underway and even while I was in Texas, I was continually adding songs to this list. Even now after I’m home I’m still adding to this extensive list. On it you’ll find songs about Texas, songs that reference Texas, and songs by Texans. Even stuff that doesn’t fit this criteria has made its way onto this playlist such as songs by the Turnpike Troubadours who I thought were worth including because of their “Red Dirt” classification. While the Texas connection of some songs on this playlist may be obvious, like “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind?” others may be less so like “One Night Taco Stand,” which made me think of Austin and the numerous food trucks and taco joints in the city. And while you’re not likely to ever find me including a Blake Shelton song on a playlist, this may be the one exception, as this playlist wouldn’t be complete without “Austin.” I’ve compiled all of the top Texas songs in a Spotify playlist that you can find here.
This playlist came to life on several occasions throughout this trip. While in Dallas I played two of my favorite songs about The Big D as I walked around- Mark Chesnutt‘s “Goin’ Through the Big D” and George Strait’s “Run.” And while in Luckenbach, Texas, singing this song together with other visitors, I wasn’t feeling no pain.
The Prophets of Country Music
If the biblical holy land produced prophets known for the messages that they delivered to the masses then the same can be said of Texas producing country music prophets. Whether you credit it to divine intervention or something in the water, there’s bound to be a reason why so many musical greats hail from this state (the sheer size of it doesn’t hurt in this regard). I’m talking about people like Willie Nelson, Townes Van Zandt, Waylon Jennings, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Kris Kristofferson, Billy Joe Shaver, Robert Earl Keen, Lee Ann Womack, George Strait, Rodney Crowell, Guy Clark, Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett,Rhett Miller, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. There are modern day prophets coming out of this state as well like Cody Jinks, Kacey Musgraves, Josh Abbott, Amanda Shires, Shane Smith, Miranda Lambert, Hayes Carll, Flatland Calvary, Shakey Graves, Ryan Bingham, and Sunny Sweeney. And it’s not just country artists that are coming out of Texas as it’s also the home of musicians like Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, and Don Henley as well. That’s a whole lot of messengers all coming from one place! As Little Texas sings, “God Blessed Texas.”
A Country Music Pilgrimage
“Now I love the USA And the other states Ahh, they’re OK Texas is the place I wanna be And I don’t care if I ever go to Delaware anyway ‘Cause we got Stubbs, and Gruene Hall and Antone’s, and John T’s Country Store We’ve got Willie and Jacky Jack, Robert Earl, Pat, Cory, Charlie and me And so many more”
-Ray Wylie Hubbard- “Screw You, We’re From Texas”
While you may not think “holy land” when you think of Texas, the amount of pilgrimage stops available to a country fan there may make you change your mind. There were several places that I put on my itinerary for this trip because of their significance in country music. Those places were John T. Floore Country Store, Gruene Hall, Antone’s, and Stubb’s. If you’re familiar with Ray Wylie Hubbard‘s song “Screw You, We’re From Texas,” then you know that he references all of these places. John T. Floore Country Store is the musical birthplace of Willie Nelson and John T. Floore (the man) is name dropped in Willie Nelson’s song “Shotgun Willie.”
While I didn’t stay for the performance at Stubb’s while I was there (I just ate some tasty food), I did catch a performance at Antone’s. There I had the pleasure of watching a performance by Barbara Lynn, a woman I didn’t know until that night but she’s actually a big deal having written songs recorded by both Freddy Fender and The Rolling Stones. At Gruene Hall, I listened to Bo Porter play a few songs including one about the great state of Texas called “She Likes Livin’ in Texas.”
“Let’s go to Luckenbach, Texas With Waylon and Willie and the boys This successful life we’re livin’ Got us feuding like the Hatfields and McCoys”
-Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings- “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)”
While it was nice to check these places off my Texas bucket list, the most meaningful experience I had in Texas was in Luckenbach. As the song says, “out in Luckenbach, Texas ain’t nobody feeling no pain,” and that was definitely the case for me and everyone in the the post office/general store/bar that afternoon. With all of the singing, drinking, and joking that was taking place it was easy to forget about the real world for a couple of hours. The man performing that afternoon was Jimmy Lee Jones, a songwriter in his own right, who played some of his own songs for us and also took requests. One of his songs that he played was called “Quit Your Bitchin’,” which he got everyone to sing along to. Jimmy Lee Jones has a reputation of his own in the music community, he was honored by the Texas Heritage Music Foundation, he’s opened for Willie’s picnics and shows on numerous occasions, and Willie Nelson has even said that “Jimmy Lee Jones is one of the best kept secrets in Texas.” Well, the secret is out now!
The artists that I requested Jimmy Lee Jones play that afternoon were Townes Van Zandt (he played “Poncho and Lefty“), Billy Joe Shaver (he played “The Devil Made Me Do It the First Time“), Roger Miller (he played “King of the Road“), and Robert Earl Keen (he played “Feeling Good Again” – a song about the Mr. Blues bar in Bandera, TX which I had walked past earlier that same day not knowing its connection to the song!) He was accompanied on all of these songs by Dino, who played both banjo and dobro and at times the bartender Ricky even jumped in on harmonica. Together, Jimmy Lee Jones and Dino make up his band, “Jimmy Lee Jones and A Creep at the Steel.” Some other songs that he played that afternoon included “Highwayman,” “Silver Wings,” and of course, “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love).” When I asked him if he ever covered songs by female artists and he then played a song by The Judds titled “Flies On The Butter (You Can’t Go Home Again).” Turns out he does. And would you believe me if I told you that he also played the theme song to Spongebob Squarepants?! Well, he did! This man kept all of us in stitches with his jokes including the one about how he got his football injury (the punch line: he fell off a cheerleader!) An added touch to that lovely afternoon in the back of the Luckenbach Post Office were the roosters walking around the store and bar.
Here’s a video of Jimmy Lee, Dino, and a rooster singing “Whiskey River.”
Of course, my trip to the Texas did not cover all of the holy cities. Texas is a big state and I didn’t have time to cover it all. While I did see Austin, San Antonio, Fort Worth, Dallas, and some smaller towns like Fredericksburg and Bandera (The Cowboy Capital of the World), I was unable to see places like Lubbock (home of the West Texas Walk of Fame), Amarillo, Houston, La Grange (as in the ZZ Top Song), El Paso, Laredo, Galveston, Corpus Christi, and many others.
“I wish I was in Austin In a chilly parlor bar Drinkin’ Mad Dog Margaritas And not carin’ where you are”
-Guy Clark- “Dublin Blues”
On my first day in Austin, I made my way out to the Texas Chili Parlor bar to have a holy communion of sorts. No, I didn’t have a wafer and wine, I had a Mad Dog Margarita, a place and a drink referenced by Guy Clark in his song “Dublin Blues.” This place is the definition of a “dive bar.” And while the Mad Dog Margarita wasn’t really my style (I’m not really a margarita girl anyway), I still enjoyed the experience of living out the dream Guy Clark once had while in Dublin.
Getting the Jinks Out
“I’ve been standing on the outside for all of my life But I like the view, I’m not gonna lie”
-Cody Jinks- “Hippies and Cowboys”
One of the things I was most looking forward to on my trip was finally getting the chance to see Cody Jinks in concert. Of all the amazing artists I’ve discovered in the past year or so, this man ranks pretty high up there. I also may have planned my trip around getting to see him in concert (I did). The concert was held at Whitewater Amphitheater in New Braunfels, which is a short drive from Austin. The openers were Ward Davis and Colter Wall. I saw Colter Wall in DC back in April at a sold out show at U Street Music Hall and was surprised that the crowd didn’t really seem to be that into him in Texas. Obviously Cody was the main attraction but I consider Colter Wall to be pretty big in the country music world right now too and thought he would have gotten more love. Maybe it was just the area where I was standing and perhaps there were some die hard Colter fans out there that night in New Braunfels after all.
At this show, I managed to work my way all the way down to the front right behind the fence. While I wasn’t front and center, I was still front, which was pretty dang cool. The best part of the night was Cody playing my favorite song of his, “Somewhere in the Middle.” A song that serves as a reminder that if you happen to find yourself in the middle- be it the middle of life, in the middle of a tough situation, or heck, even in the middle of Texas- that’s just fine! He also played his new songs “Must Be the Whiskey,” which kicked off his set, “Lifers,” and “Somewhere Between I Love You and I’m Leavin’,” which are all featured on his upcoming album Lifers, which comes out July 27th. And of course he played his classics like “I’m Not the Devil,” “David,” and “Hippies and Cowboys,” which he ended the night with.
While Cody put on a great show, some of the audience members were annoying. While I won’t go off on a tangent about that here, I do just want to ask- what is with the whistling?! My ears aren’t pierced but after that concert they might be! Geezus!
Having A Willie Good Time
I’ll wrap this post up by saying how much I loved all of the Willie Nelson tributes found throughout Austin. From his statue downtown to the “Willie for President” mural off South Congress Avenue, this city willie loves this Red Headed Stranger. It’s almost as though he’s the patron saint of Austin. He is surely the patron saint of Outlaw Country. One mural that was really cool was outside of a dentist’s office in Austin and featured Willie, Janis Joplin, and Stevie Ray Vaughn all taking care of their teeth in the bathroom mirror. Pictures of these murals can be found below.
I also made this trip a little more Willie-centric by visiting places like Luckenbach and John T. Floore Country Store. And while John T. Floore’s may be his “musical birthplace,” I made a short detour to Abbott, Texas on my drive from Austin to Fort Worth to see his actual birthplace. There wasn’t really that much to see there but it was just a quick stop off of I-35 so I figured I might as well check it out. There doesn’t seem like much to do in Abbott but if this place gave us Willie Nelson then it’s good in my book!
“If I could I’d vote for Willie to run our government “Good mornin’ America, how are you?” He’d say with his pigtails and a grin He would unite the whole nation with his guitar and his song It’s the only thing that makes perfect sense Willie Nelson for President” -Peter Dawson- “Willie Nelson for President”
If you read my last blog post then you already know that I’m not opposed to a Willie Nelson presidency.
Some other cool things that happened on my trip were two-stepping at the Broken Spoke, eating a waffle shaped like Texas, and watching the Cattle Drive in Forth Worth. After all of this, I feel like a real Texan. And as a real Texan I can say, “Screw you, we’re from Texas!” and mean it! So, screw you!
Currently listening to: Eric Church– “Desperate Man.” While Eric is not a Texan and this song is not about Texas, there is a Texas connection found in this song- it was co-written with Ray Wylie Hubbard! Ray Wylie is also found in the music video for this song, which just came out today on Amazon. Eric also released this song and announced his upcoming album of the same name while I was in Austin so this song will forever remind me of my Texas trip. I also want to take this moment to say that I will be seeing Ray Wylie Hubbard in concert on Saturday at City Winery DC and I’ll be crossing my fingers in hopes that he plays “Screw You, We’re From Texas.”
Happy Independence Day to my fellow Americans! And to all non-Americans, happy Wednesday!
If you were with me last year, you’ll remember that for this holiday I did a post on Celebrating America’s Diversity in Country Music. However, this year, I’m approaching this holiday from a different angle. That angle is a political one and for the occasion I’ve put together a list of songs that tackle some of the important issues facing our country. These songs touch on many things currently taking place in America- police killings of black men, the pay gap, guns, and more. And of course almost all of these songs fall into the Americana category- a genre that isn’t afraid to get political with artists who aren’t afraid to speak out. These men and women put the ‘American’ in Americana!
How do I love Margo Price? Let me count the ways! One of those ways would be her courage to sing about not-so-sexy topics like the pay gap. Aside from the pay gap, women in Nashville have a hard enough time making it as it is. And with the city’s “shut up and sing” mentality towards female artists, I imagine outspoken women like Margo have an even harder time. With this song she shows that she’ll speak out about what she thinks is important and just because she’s stopped to sing doesn’t mean she’s leaving her opinions behind- she’ll put them into a song. I respect Margo for sticking to her guns (not literal guns though) and singing about what she feels is important.
“We are all the same in the eyes of God But in the eyes of rich white men No more than a maid to be owned like a dog A second-class citizen”
Rhiannon Giddens’ voice is so powerful and moving that you almost forget she’s signing about police killing unarmed black men. It’s a topic that needs to be spoken (and sung) about and I admire Rhiannon for having the courage to do it. While this song came out in 2017 it’s still relevant a year later. Unless we see some real changes, I’m afraid this song will still be relevant for many years to come.
“(Young man was a good man) Did you stand your ground? (Young man was a good man) Is that why they took you down? (Young man was a good man) Or did you run that day? (Young man was a good man) Baby, they shot you anyway”
On her recently released album Coloured, whose style she calls “country soul,” Priscilla Renea sings about race relations and police brutality in her song “Land of the Free.” The song concludes with Jimi Hendrix playing the “Star Spangled Banner” and couldn’t be more appropriate for the holiday today. I’m proud to include yet another black female artist on this list (Rhiannon Giddens being the first) and hope that over time we will begin to see more diversity in both Americana and country music. Read more about Priscilla in this NPR interview, “Priscilla Renea Refuses To Be Quiet About Racism In Country Music.” Shout out to my friend who sent this to me!
“There’s enough to go around for everyone to share But a check from Uncle Sam? What would that repair? All the broken families, fathers in a cell Slavery’s abolished, but it’s still alive and well”
I know I talk about this song a lot but some things are worth repeating for redundancy’s sake. While this song deals heavily with race, mentioning both Native Americans and blacks, Jason also brings up sex, looking at the struggles his baby girl and wife face simply because they’re females. In spite of it all, Jason still has faith- “maybe it’s the fire in [his] little girl’s eyes.” While I’ve included this song here in this section, I could have also included it in the section below on the 2016 Election since it was written in response to it.
“I’m a white man looking in a black man’s eyes Wishing I’d never been one of the guys Who pretended not to hear another white man’s joke Oh, the times ain’t forgotten”
Not sure if Shakey (if I may) wrote this song in an attempt to address race relations or not, but the image of a man in a turban living next to a polyester suit wearing (presumably white) man made me think about how none of us really know our neighbors. Not just our figurative neighbor but our literal neighbor, like the person you park your car beside and whose mail sometimes accidentally finds its way into your box. That guy.
“Oh my neighbor, my neighbor At best we share a fence We smile at each other And we make up all the rest I see you Six-foot-two In the polyester suit Safe behind a cabin now Wonderin’ if I’m around ‘Cause who am I? Just some guy With a turban and a knife Only here to take away Only reason you’re afraid There’s no face There’s no man behind the name I’ve started to believe My neighbor, we’re the same”
Featured on their 2016 album American Band, this song is “directly inspired by civil rights activists’ successful campaign to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse after white supremacist Dylann Roof allegedly murdered nine African Americans at a Charleston church meeting, [it] casts an unsparing eye on those unable to abandon tradition even when the sin at its root has been fully exposed.”
“Does the color really matter? On the face you blame for failure On the shamin’ for a battle’s losing cause”
According to The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, “The Gun Control Act of 1968 requires anyone engaged in the business of selling guns to have a Federal Firearms License (FFL) and keep a record of their sales. However, this law does not cover all gun sellers. If a supplier is selling from his or her private collection and the principal objective is not to make a profit, the seller is not “engaged in the business” and is not required to have a license. Because they are unlicensed, these sellers are not required to keep records of sales and are not required to perform background checks on potential buyers, even those prohibited from purchasing guns by the Gun Control Act. The gun show loophole refers to the fact that prohibited purchasers can avoid required background checks by seeking out these unlicensed sellers at gun shows.” Yep, that gives me the blues too!
Brandi Carlile– “Hold Out Your Hand”
While you wouldn’t necessarily think “gun control” while listening to this song you will once you watch the video which features the March for Our Lives protest in Seattle. If there’s one thing Brandi Carlile is an expert at it’s knowing how to get me misty-eyed. This happened at her concert in May and also while watching this music video. #enoughisenough
“Well he came to my door to sell me the fear with some cameras and bullets and tension and here is a license for killing your own native son for a careless mistake and a fake plastic gun?
Deliver your brother from violence and greed for the mountains lay down for your faith like a seed. A morning is coming of silver and light there will be color and language and nobody wanting to fight. What a glorious sight”
Dispatch– “Dear Congress: Your Thoughts and Prayers Are Not Enough”
This song from Dispatch is in support of Common Sense Gun Reform. While I could post a powerful lyric from the song below for you, I’d rather you watch the video and read the Tweets that are posted and take in the images on the screen for yourself. I think that would say more than I ever could.
Following this trend is Will Hoge’s “Thoughts and Prayers,” which is also directed at Congress, or as he sings in this song, the people in “that big white dome” a.k.a. the whores to the NRA (his words, not mine. Though I don’t disagree.) You may remember Will from my liberal country music post from last year where I wrote about his song “Still a Southern Man.” Will has a history of writing songs about the not-so-pretty parts of America, from the confederate flag to gun violence.
“There’s a momma cryin’ ’cause the baby won’t come home You tell a father that you’re sorry that his son is gone While you sit and do nothin’ in that big white dome And just hope we all forget to care”
War (What Is It Good For?)
Mary Gauthier– “Brothers” (see also: the entire Rifles and Rosary Beads album)
Mary’s albumRifles and Rosary Beads was co-written with American veterans and their families, through the nonprofit SongwritingWith:Soldiers, and details the struggles that military men and women face not only overseas but at home too. This song in particular tells the story of a female soldier struggling to be considered an equal among her “brothers.” It’s fitting that we’re talking about this song on July 4th as one of the lines from the song reads, “I thought RPGs were fireworks, that’s how green I was at first.” You can read more about this project from Mary Gauthier’s NPR interview here. ALSO, I just want to add that I was at the gym this morning and saw Mary on CBS talking about this album! Glad others are getting to hear about her work on this holiday.
If anything, this album should serve as a wake-up call to the horrors of war. And not only the stuff that happens on the battlefield but after the war too. This country doesn’t do enough for its veterans and despite your views on war we should still take care of our military men and women. You can donate to the Wounded Warrior Project here.
“You broke my heart on veterans day Don’t you understand the words you say You raised a flag for the men you serve What about the women, what do we deserve?”
This song is from Bob’s album Bob Hombre (think of that title what you will.) He co-wrote this song with a veteran soldier who was stationed in Iraq, which makes its depiction of war all that more real. You can watch a video on the song-writing process behind this song here.
“80 miles from Baghdad, I killed my first man 3000 miles from nowhere, away from my homeland I didn’t go there seeking weapons or some foreign policy”
An oldie but a goodie! As John said at this concert just last month, he wrote this song in 1968 as a political song and it’s still a political song today. And he’s gonna keep playing it until they get it right!
“But your flag decal won’t get you into Heaven anymore They’re already overcrowded from your dirty little war Now Jesus don’t like killin’, no matter what the reason’s for And your flag decal won’t get you into Heaven anymore”
Here’s another John Prine song for you! Featured on Rolling Stone’s “Reader’s Poll: The 10 Saddest Songs of All Time,” it’s “Sam Stone,” a song about a war veteran returning home and turning to heroin. Sam Stone dies at the end of this song “when he popped his last balloon.” If Sam Stone’s story doesn’t convince you that soldiers need better access to mental health programs when they return from combat, nothing will. If you want to help, you can donate to The Soldiers Project here.
“Sam Stone came home, To the wife and family After serving in the conflict overseas. And the time that he served, Had shattered all his nerves, And left a little shrapnel in his knees.”
Feeling defeated after the 2016 election? Yeah, I know it’s been over a year and half but some of us are still dealing with this. Brandi Carlile’s “The Joke” looks at others who are also feeling this way. According to Brandi, “There are so many people feeling misrepresented [today],” she said. “So many people feeling unloved. Boys feeling marginalized and forced into these kind of awkward shapes of masculinity that they do or don’t belong in… so many men and boys are trans or disabled or shy. Little girls who got so excited for the last election, and are dealing with the fallout. The song is just for people that feel under-represented, unloved or illegal.”
Despite the content of this song, Brandi still manages to provide a glimmer of hope. As she sings, she’s been to the movies, she’s seen how this ends, and the joke is on them. Gee, I sure hope she’s right!
“They come to kick dirt in your face To call you weak and then displace you After carrying your baby on your back across the desert I saw your eyes behind your hair And you’re looking tired, but you don’t look scared”
How many of us can relate to waking up on November 9, 2016 and thinking that the world was on fire? (Probably a majority of us but I won’t get into that here. Stupid electoral college.) This song provides a sense of comfort in knowing that you weren’t the only person feeling this way that Wednesday morning. I always get emotional when I hear BJ Barham, American Aquarium frontman, sing the words below. Thanks for raising your daughter right, BJ!
“I got a baby girl comin’ in the spring I worry ’bout the world she’s comin’ into But she’ll have my fight, she’ll have her mama’s fire If anyone builds a wall in her journey Baby, bust right through it”
Delete and fast forward? If only it were that easy, Willie! I keep hitting the fast forward button but it seems like these four years are passing by at a snail’s pace. I guess if Willie can make it until 2020 then so can the rest of us!
“Delete and fast-forward, my son The elections are over and nobody won You think it’s all endin’ but it’s just settin’ in So delete and fast-forward, my friend”
A song about the environment? Andrew Combs is a man after my own heart (I write this as I sit drinking out of my reusable Starbucks cup). While I go back and forth on the whole “wanting to have kids someday thing,” one reason for my not wanting to is the fact that the environment only seems to be getting worse. Why would I want to have kids just so they can play in the “dirty rain,” as Andrew sings?
“Flattened static, paved in progress’s name But what will all our little children say When the only place to play Is in the dirty rain”
If you don’t care about the “bright blue marble” that we all live on, maybe watching the music video for this song can convince you otherwise. Perhaps iPhones turned into artifacts in a post-apocalyptic world will speak to you. The puppets from this video, which was directed by Chris Hopewell, were auctioned off and the proceeds were given to the Environmental Defense Fund. If you care about the environment, like I assume Father John Misty a.k.a. Josh Tillman does, then consider donating to this fund as well. Or, better yet, start recycling, reducing your waste, and eating less meat. You can also take part in Plastic Free July and join the challenge to refuse single-use plastic this month. And why stop there? Keep it going all twelve months!
Aaaannndddd…if you purchase anything from FJM’s web store between July 2nd – 6th, he’ll be donating all merchandise profits to the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES). You’ve still got two more days!
“It got too hot and so we overthrew the system ‘Cause there’s no place for human existence like right here On this bright blue marble orbited by trash Man, there’s no beating that It was no big thing to give up the way of life we had, oh”
I’ll let Alynda Lee Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff tell you about this song in her own words, “‘Rican Beach’ is a fictional place and the song is a cautionary tale.” “It tells the story of a city progressing rapidly into militarized and segregated areas. There’s a lot of symbolism in the song that reflects our times, of course. I felt the water protectors at Standing Rock and the people of Peñuelas were important to reflect on while listening to the lyrics. The point of view is one of resistance, people of color claiming their space and their right to exist. It is about claiming ancestry and recognizing a history of facing systemic oppression while protecting and connecting with the land. Even though it was written about an urban space, I think it speaks to the actions of these activists who are connected with the earth.”
He’s not wrong. Everything kind of is bullshit. The song’s title was inspired by Particle Kid’s (a.k.a. Micah Nelson who happens to be the son of Willie Nelson) girlfriend who said the phrase one day while watching the news. As Micah says, “To me it’s a healing song about facing the reality of how weird and out of control reality is, and finding some humor in there.”
“Post a picture for your Facebook Make a profile on your Snapchat Murder people from a distance Laugh at videos of cats”
One of my favorite things about Margo Price is that she sings about the ugly things that America is guilty of like the pay gap and the Iran-Contra Affair. Yep, the Iran-Contra Affair. Bet you never thought that would come up in an Americana song much less one that was released thirty years after the scandal took place. If you don’t remember the Iran-Contra Affair (I wasn’t even born yet), a condensed version of what happened is the following: “It consisted of three interconnected parts: The Reagan administration sold arms to Iran, a country desperate for materiel during its lengthy war with Iraq; in exchange for the arms, Iran was to use its influence to help gain the release of Americans held hostage in Lebanon; and the arms were purchased at high prices, with the excess profits diverted to fund the Reagan-favored “contras” fighting the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.” Hey, what can I say? It was “All American Made.”
“1987 and I didn’t know it then Reagan was selling weapons to the leaders of Iran And it won’t be the first time and, baby, it won’t be the end They were all American made”
Yeah, just hearing that title makes me scoff. Remember when Jason Isbell said it was a “white man’s world”? Well, it’s actually a conservative Christian, right-wing Republican, straight, white, American man’s world. However, this isn’t a new thing, it was this way in 2004 when this song was released, and it was that way long before. If you aren’t familiar with the creature of the “conservative Christian, right-wing Republican, straight, white, American male,” allow Todd Snider to fill you in.
“Conservative Christian, right wing Republican Straight, white, American males Gay bashin’, black fearin’ Poor fightin’, tree killin’ Regional leaders of sales Frat housin’, keg tappin’ Shirt tuckin’, back slappin’ Haters of hippies like me Tree huggin’, peace lovin’ Pot smokin’, porn watchin’ Lazy-ass hippies like me”
Childish Gambino– “This is America”
This song is not Americana but I would be remiss not to include it here. I’m also not going to include any lyrics here as a way to encourage you to watch the video instead. Take the next four minutes and four seconds to really watch this video. But really, is there anybody out there who HASN’T seen this yet? And do they live under a rock?
While this may be a song encouraging people “to get right with God,” I hear it as a call to people to just get right. Period. Especially the racists, fascists, and bigots Paul Cauthen references in this song. This song is political to me, and earns a spot on this list, because of the very fact that he calls out fascists. Y’all need to get right!
“You racists and fascists and nihilists and bigots, I’m callin’ you out my friend”
He’d make a better president than the one we’ve got that’s for sure, though I feel like he may be a single-issue politician. You already know the issue. Also, if this ever happens, I’ve already got the bumper sticker for it! I wonder who he would choose as his VP?
“If I could I’d vote for Willie to run our government “Good mornin’ America, how are you?” He’d say with his pigtails and a grin He would unite the whole nation with his guitar and his song It’s the only thing that makes perfect sense Willie Nelson for President”
Including this as a political song might be a bit of a stretch but if his dad can run for president (see above), surely Lukas Nelson can as well, as he sings in this song, “I’m gonna run for president, vote for me, I’m heaven sent.” I’m not opposed to a Nelson family dynasty in the least. Perhaps his campaign slogan could be, “It’s High Time You Vote for Lukas Nelson”?
“I’m gonna die for CNN Believing in the dream I’m in I’m gonna die for Fox News For skewed views And twisted spews”
I wanna be friends with this dog. Besides the obvious reason that dogs are awesome this particular dog appears to have good taste in politics. Perhaps he might be interested in the same Donald Trump chew toy I bought for my dog? You can find this toy (also available for cats) for sale here and on Amazon.
“I pay for all his healthcare and I buy everything he eats I provide him with a place to live just to keep him off the streets. Well, he just acts like he’s entitled, Even tried to unionize the cat, Yeah, I think my dog’s a Democrat.”
Leave it to a Canadian (Neil Young) to tell us that our country is already great! For all those wanting to make America great again, Neil Young is here to tell you that it’s already great! And he’s brought along his American friends, Promise of the Real, to help him relay his message. The song’s bridge is “no wall, no ban, no fascist USA.” While there are some nasty people calling for walls and bans, there are also Americans marching in the streets calling for “no wall, no ban.” It’s the latter of these two that make America “already great.”
I do have a question for Neil Young though- if he thinks America is already great, what does he think of our lovely neighbor to the north, his home country, dear old Canada?? I’ll go drool over pictures of Justin Trudeau while I wait for his response.
If you like this song, you’ll also like “When Bad Got Good,” also from The Visitor album. Throughout the song the words “lock him up” are chanted and the phrase “liar in chief” comes up.
“No wall No ban…
Not my words That’s just you the other day out on that street (My American friend) You’re looking at one of the lucky ones Came here from there to be free”
Invoking Hillel the Elder, though maybe not purposefully, this song is a “call to action” of sorts. If the things above bother you- gun violence, global warming, the pay gap- do something about it. Vote for politicians who care about the environment, who want common sense gun laws, who value women. Call your representatives, donate money, even if you only have a little, to organizations like the ACLU, Texas Civil Rights Project, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), and if you can’t donate your money, donate your time. Educate yourself and those around you. Speak out when you see injustice. Do what you can NOW. Because, as Aaron Lee Tasjan sings, “if not now, when?”
“Over and over again
You try and try to pretend
That it’s never gonna be the end
If not now, when?
If not now, when?”
America the Beautiful, despite her flaws
While I could have gone in another direction for this 4th of July post and posted about the most patriotic country songs out there, I wanted to instead highlight the artists out there singing about real problems facing this country. Rather than just singing about how much they love America and ignoring her flaws, they’re bringing attention to her flaws. You can still love your country and be critical of it. Wanting your country to be better because you care about her and her people is the best kind of patriotism.
You’ll also notice that with a few exceptions most of these songs fall under the “Americana” category. I’m not sure if mainstream country artists are singing about these issues because honestly I haven’t listened to country radio in quite some time. My guess is that they’re not. In fact, I just scrolled through the list of top country songs and if the song titles are any indication, they definitely aren’t (though maybe Luke Bryan’s “Most People Are Good” could be an exception to the rule.) Singing about politics and real issues would put them at risk of not being played on the radio and it’s all about that airplay, right? (Sarcasm!) It’s the courage displayed by the artists above to sing about these topics and about what they believe in that has steered me away from mainstream country and into the world of Americana.
So while some of you may be cranking up the Toby Keith and Lee Greenwood today, I’ll be listening to these guys and gals! All of the songs mentioned above can be found on a Spotify playlist I’ve created for this post. I’ve also included the liberal country music songs found in my other post on this playlist. Of course, this list isn’t comprehensive so if you’ve got any other political songs (from any genre) that I may have missed from the past few years, let me know!
Happy 4th, everyone!
Currently listening to: Turnpike Troubadours- “The Bird Hunters.” While this song doesn’t fit in with the other songs listed above, it does mention the 4th of July. I had the privilege of seeing them perform this song on Saturday night at the 9:30 club.
“And a flutter of feathers Then a shotgun to shoulder I thought of the Fourth of July She’ll be home on the Fourth of July I bet we’ll dance on the Fourth of July”
Happy Almost 2018, y’all! This post is coming to ya from Nashville where I’ll be celebrating New Year’s Eve! Be sure to grab your popcorn, hot cocoa, or whiskey (no judgement), and get ready for a long post! Enjoy!
The Good, The Bad, and the 2017
It’s no secret that 2017 sucked in a lot of ways- Donald Trump was inaugurated and allowed to make decisions that affect our lives, we lost Tom Petty, Don Williams, and Troy Gentry, Donald J. Trump became president, hurricanes devastated Puerto Rico and American cities like Houston, and Donald Trump moved into the White House. BUUTTTTT, this year hasn’t been all bad, especially since this is the year that I really found myself, musically speaking.
When I think about my taste in music and (lack of) country music knowledge at the beginning of 2017 compared to the end of 2017, it’s like comparing night and day. In the latter half of this year, I really found my musical niche and refined my musical interests. I have this blog to thank for that. Had I not started writing this blog back in June, I’m not sure that I would’ve ever found some of my now favorite artists. I also never knew that I was a fan of Americana music and find myself identifying with the music from this genre more than any other these days. When I finally learned about Americana and all of the artists that are a part of the Americana family, everything clicked into place- this was the musical home I had been searching for. This is where I belonged.
While some bloggers have been making their top albums/songs lists for 2017, I didn’t want to do that. Since so much of the music I found this year has been around for a while, only focusing on the stuff from 2017 would be silly. Instead, I’m gonna focus on all of the great artists who came into my life this year.
Have you ever met someone and felt like you’ve known them your entire life? You wonder how you two went so long without meeting and now that you’ve met, you know you’ll be friends for life. Well that’s how I feel about some of the musical artists I discovered this year. I think about how much better my life would’ve been with their songs to guide me through years ago. But instead of dwelling on the past and missed years, I’ll vow to keep playing their music for the rest of my life. This includes artists like Margo Price. She has been one of my greatest finds of 2017. I’ll do an essay on her later (inspired by the bookWoman Walk the Line: How the Women in Country Music Changed Our Lives), where I’ll dive deeper into how much of an inspiration she has been to me. Just as I had fallen in love with her first album, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, she released her sophomore album, All American Made in October of this year. What I love about Margo, and her most recent album in particular, is that she sings about political issues like the pay gap and the Iran-Contra Scandal (throwback to the Reagan years!). She’s outspoken about her political views and doesn’t care about losing fans because of it. The world could use more Margos and country music needs more Margos!
Even though I already knew Sturgill Simpson before this year, I didn’t really know him. One day I felt compelled to listen to A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. The rest was history. In just six short months, I managed to fall in love with and immerse myself in Sturgill’s music, see him in concert, and purchase all of his albums on vinyl. In fact, he was my top played artist of 2017, according to Spotify. If you’ve talked to me at all these past few months, I’ve probably manged to name drop him at least once. Hopefully you all were listening to me and then decided to check out “The Sturge” for yourself! What I love about him is that he makes a record when he has something to say, not just to stay relevant. He wants to make records that people will still be playing 30 years from now. You don’t make records that stand the test of time by putting out album after album with nothing of substance on them. And if I have to wait ten years for another Sturgill Simpson record, I’m happy to do it. It’ll probably be the best damn album of all time!
“I’m just trying to constantly improve and become a better artist and then hopefully make records that people—I mean it’s great if they buy them today—but I’m more interested in making records that maybe people will still talk about in 30 years. That’s the goal for me. You can go crazy if you let yourself think, “How do I remain relevant?” or you can just go and try to make great music and the fans will react to it and it takes care of itself.” -“The Final Interview with Sturgill Simspon, According to Sturgill Simpson,” Noisey, November 30, 2017
I don’t remember what the first Jason Isbell song was that I listened to (maybe “Elephant?” or “Speed Trap Town?”) but I’m eternally grateful that the universe pointed me in his direction and had me press play. In a “Walking the Floor with Chris Shiflett” podcast interview with Jason, Chris brought up the fact that Jason is considered by some to be the “go to reference guy for songwriters in Nashville.” Just listen to one of his songs and it’s easy to see why. Though I’m glad it’s a part of my life now, I think about how useful a song like “Traveling Alone” could have been to me years ago. While Jason’s songs may not have had the opportunity to have been part of my past, they’re very much a part of my present, and I’m already making plans for them to be a part of my future. IF (please note this is both in bold and italics) I ever get married, I already know that “If We Were Vampires” will be on the playlist.
Something that the three artists mentioned above have in common is their politics. If you follow Margo Price and Jason Isbell on Twitter, you know how they feel about current events. And just last month, Sturgill Simpson decided to busk (verb; meaning to play music or otherwise perform for voluntary donations in the street or in subways) outside of the CMA Awards and talked crap about Donald Trump.
Another artist that I discovered this year is Cody Jinks. According to Spotify’s calculations, Cody’s song “Loud and Heavy” was my most played song this year (Sturgill’s “Sea Stories” was second). Unlike the artists mentioned above, Cody Jinks is less Americana and more what you would consider to be actual country. To me, he’s what real country music should sound like. Instead of calling country that ventures from the mainstream terms like “alt-country,” I think we should be calling the mainstream stuff a different name. After all, they’re the ones who have done more to change the music from its original sound, not guys like Cody Jinks who have a more authentic country sound. Some people might call Cody “Texas county” or “Red Dirt” country. While “Loud and Heavy” may have been my most played song this past year, it was “Somewhere in the Middle” and its simple message that being “somewhere in the middle is just fine” that resonated most with me. And if Cody finds himself somewhere in the middle of Texas “Red Dirt” country and alt-country, well, that’s just fine!
“John Prine is pretty good!” At least that’s what one of the stickers I purchased at this concert back in November says. But if you ask me, I think John Prine is really good! If writing songs is a craft like woodworking then John makes songs like the best cedar chest you’ve ever laid your eyes on. When I listen to his songs, I’m always impressed at how clever he is. In fact, one of my favorite lyrics of any song ever comes from a John Prine song. The song is “Spanish Pipedream” and the line is “I knew that topless lady had something up her sleeve.” I’ll say that line is pretty good!
While the five artists featured above really won me over this year, there were plenty more that also found their way into my heart. This year’s honorable mentions (who are not all country, not all Americana, but all pretty dang good) include: Dan Auerbach, Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett (wait! Am I also now a fan of Indie music? Who am I even?), Lori McKenna, Tyler Childers, Ray Wylie Hubbard,Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley, Nikki Lane,Aaron Lee Tasjan, Sam Outlaw, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, and Paul Cauthen.
A New Appreciation for the Old Stuff
It wasn’t just finding new artists that made this past year so exciting but it was also rediscovering artists from my past, learning more about country music legends, and gaining a deeper appreciation for the trailblazers who made all of this possible. One of those people is Jerry Reed. The man is a national treasure we should all be thankful that Jerry Reed songs exist. His songs are a surefire way to put a smile on my face. The Oak Ridge Boys are another example of feel good country music that I got into this year. And don’t forget Bobby Bare too! 2017 is also the year that I fell in love with Emmylou Harris. Her Pieces of the Sky album is the first brand new (not used from a record store) record I ever bought, which also took happened this year. Fun fact about this lady is that she was discovered in DC by Gram Parsons- at Clyde’s in Georgetown.
This year also saw my love of Waylon Jennings grow deeper as I explored more of his music. Some other classic artists that I spent time getting to know better this year include Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and Dolly Parton.
I’ve always loved her but this year I seemed to love Kacey Musgraves even more! Maybe it was because I realized how little credit she gets. She sings backup vocals for some of the bigger stars (Zac Brown Band’s “All the Best” and Dierks Bentley’s “Bourbon in Kentucky“) and does duets (Josh Abbot Band’s “Oh Tonight“), which is fine, but I really wish she got more credit for her solo stuff. To celebrate her, I’ve created a “A Very Kacey Playlist” on Spotify for her. She also has an album coming out early next year, Golden Hour, which I am stoked for! My appreciation and respect for Miranda Lambert also grew this year, which can be credited to her album The Weight of These Wings from 2016. There’s also been talk about a new Pistol Annies album, which can’t get here fast enough!
A Year of Concerts
This year my list of concerts attended grew substantially. Some of these concerts were for artists whose names I didn’t even know at the start of this year. People (who I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know sooner) like Ray Wylie Hubbard, John Prine, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, and Nikki Lane. I even attended my first all-day music festival in Camden, NJ this year when I drove up for the Outlaw Music Festival. It was there that I got to see Willie Nelson for the first time and Eric Church for the seventh time. Other concerts that I attended this year included Sturgill Simpson, two different nights on Eric Church’s “Holdin’ My Own” tour (Pittsburgh and Washington, DC), and Mashrou’ Leila (a Lebanese band that has nothing to do with the rest of this post but they’re amazing and I love them!)
One really cool thing that happened to me this year was that I won free front row seats to a John Prine and Dan Auerbach concert at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, DC. I remember entering the contest for the tickets but I never win anything so I didn’t hold my breath on getting them. Funny thing is that the week leading up to the show I almost bit the bullet and bought a ticket for a nosebleed seat just so I could go. Well, good thing I didn’t, because a couple of days before the show, I got a call letting me know that I had won two tickets for front row seats along with a $50 merchandise voucher. Thanks to that voucher I am now the proud owner of a John Prine poster (painted to look like Ben’s Chili Bowl- a DC landmark) and The Missing Years on vinyl. I didn’t really know Dan Auberbach before that, aside from the fact that he is one half of The Black Keys, but after hearing him perform his solo stuff live, I became a fan. And how was that concert, you ask? “Pretty good, not bad, I can’t complain!”
And since we’re on the topic of cool concert experiences this year, I just want to mention that at Ray Wylie Hubbard‘s concert at Hill Country BBQ in DC this past August, he mentioned the name of this blog while on stage. Now that’s pretty damn cool!
Keeping Up and Catching Up
There are some people out there that listen to every new album that comes out in its entirety and can break down each track while talking about the album as a whole. Many of those people get paid to do just that. I, however, do not. Also, that’s not me. I feel like there’s always new music coming out so I’d just stress myself out trying to do that. It also takes a while for me to really get into songs sometimes. So if it’s two months after an album has come out before I really listen to it, so be it. I’m happy being late to some parties.
With that being said, I do try and listen to some of the new stuff as it comes out when I can. Some great stuff that’s just come out is Neil Young and Promise of the Real‘s The Visitor. This album combines Lukas Nelson’s band Promise of the Real with the iconic Neil Young. The 2016 presidential election is a theme that you can hear on this album in songs like “Already Great.” Why are people trying to make America great again when, as Neil Young says, it’s already great? If I were gonna go back and rewrite my post on liberal country music, this song would definitely be on that list.
Lots of other albums came out this year that I haven’t spent as much time with as I should have- Travis Meadows‘s First Cigarette is one of them. Though I will say that “Long Live Cool” is in fact a cool song. I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for this guy because he’s the incredibly talented songwriter behind one of my all-time favorite songs- Dierks Bentley’s “Riser.” (He’s also mentioned twice in my post about Eric Church’s songwriting, “Eric Church: An Outsider, A Songwriter,” since he was a co-writer on both “Dark Side” and “Knives of New Orleans.”)
I also liked Chris Stapleton’s “From a Room: Volume 1” but admittedly haven’t given “From a Room: Volume 2” as much attention as it probably deserves. Sorry folks! The same goes for Lee Ann Womack‘s new album The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone, whose title track I love but I haven’t really ventured too far past that.
Some artists that I want to spend some more time getting to know better in the coming year are Rhiannon Giddens and Turnpike Troubadours.
Photographs and Memories
If I had to sum up 2017 in one picture, it would be this one:
I also just wanted an excuse to post this picture!
Looking Ahead to 2018
It’s hard to say what 2018 will hold. Only time will tell what other great artists I’ll find in the coming year. Perhaps I’ll be talking about a completely different genre of music in 365 days. Here’s to hoping that 2018 leads to many new discoveries- both musical and in general!
Here’s to also hoping that Eric Church releases some brand new music next year- that’s not asking for too much, is it?
You can find all of my favorite songs from the artists mentioned in this post on the beltwayboots Spotify account. My “Best of 2017” playlist can be found here.
Currently listening to: All of the great music that I discovered this year!
Hey y’all! I’m back from my blogging hiatus (at least for now)! With work being busy these past few weeks, along with the madness of the holidays, plus a trip to NYC, there wasn’t a whole lot of time to sit down and write. But with Christmas coming up (in like 7 days!), I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to talk about some of my favorite country Christmas songs. While I’m not a HUGE fan of Christmas music like some people are (especially the more religious stuff), I realize the season wouldn’t be complete without it, especially these next songs I’m about to discuss.
Dolly Parton- “Hard Candy Christmas.” Deck the halls with boughs of Dolly! Like most of the songs on this list, I’ll listen to this one year round. Like if it comes up on my Spotify shuffle in June, chances are I’m not gonna press skip. This song is so relateable because we’ve all had a hard candy Christmas at some point in our lives. Hey, they can’t all be Reese’s-peanut-butter-cups-in-the-gold-and-green-and-red-wrappers-Christmases! This song comes from Dolly’s movie “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” which if you haven’t seen, you should! I know I’m long overdue for a re-watch!
Alan Jackson- the entire Honky Tonk Christmas album. I should probably just do an entire album review for this one. This album has been the soundtrack of many a Christmas for me. It’s not only Christmas-y, it’s quintessential 90s country, so you better believe it’s gonna be great! I can remember my mom owning this one on cassette tape in the early days of my youth. With guest appearances from Alison Krauss and Alvin and the Chipmunks, this album has got it all. There’a also a cover of Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It Through December” (Merle’s version gets its own spot below). One of my favorite Christmas songs also comes from this album- “Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas).” As I mentioned before, I found this song hilarious as a child but later came to learn that for many people with alcoholics in their family, it may not be so funny. Another favorite off this album is “I Only Want you for Christmas” (watch the video below). But honestly, I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the songs off this album!
Merle Haggard- “If We Make It Through December.” If there’s one thing country music is good at it’s serving you up a big dose of reality. One thing about reality is that it ain’t always pretty, or rather, at Christmas time, it ain’t all ribbons and bows and a tree overflowing with gifts. For some, getting through the month of December can be a struggle financially, as Merle details in this song from 1974. The heartbreaking story about a dad who’s been laid off from his factory job and can’t afford to buy his little girl some Christmas cheer should serve as a reminder to all of us to be grateful for the things we do have because there are many who do without. Leave it to The Hag to keep it real and remind us of this!
“I got laid off down at the factory And their timings not the greatest in the world Heaven knows I been workin’ hard I wanted Christmas to be right for daddy’s girl Now I don’t mean to hate December It’s meant to be the happy time of year And why my little girl don’t understand Why daddy can’t afford no Christmas here”
Kacey Musgraves- A Very Kacey Christmas album! Forget red and green, it’s all about pink and green this year! (#pinkisthenewred) Seriously- the album cover is pink and the vinyl itself is GREEN! I just love it! Top tracks from this album include a “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” “Ribbons and Bows,” and a duet with Willie Nelson appropriately titled, “A Willie Nice Christmas.” I don’t know about y’all but I’ll be having me a very Kacey Christmas (and a Willie Nice Christmas) this year and for many years to come!
You can catch Kacey performing tomorrow (12/19) on “A Home for the Holidays” Christmas Adoption Special on CBS.
Willie Nelson- “Pretty Paper.” Since Kacey and Willie inspired me to have a “Willie Nice Christmas,” I’m doing just that! And it wouldn’t be a “Willie Nice Christmas” without some pretty paper and some pretty ribbons of blue. Every occasion could use a little Willie and Christmas is no exception. This song comes from his first Christmas album released in 1979. Other songs on that album include “Frosty the Snowman,” “Jingle Bells,” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
John Prine- “Christmas in Prison.” While I’m sure that being in prison is awful every day of the year, I imagine Christmas is the worst of those days. If you find yourself behind bars on Christmas Day (I hope you don’t!), perhaps hearing this song can provide you with some sort of comfort. I was lucky enough to see John in concert last month at DAR Constitution Hall in DC where he played this song. The best part about that show? The FREE front row seats! Just kidding- it was the crush I developed on Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys) who opened for John.
I hope these songs help to add a little holiday cheer to your Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Shab-e Yalda, New Years, or maybe just to your December. Have a honky tonk holiday, ya’ll!
And now, just to piss off the Christian Conservatives, Happy Holidays everyone!
As always, you can find a Spotify playlist on the beltwayboots account for all of my posts, including this one! Find my “A Honky Tonk Holiday” playlist here.
Currently listening to: A country song about Hanukkah. Just kidding, there isn’t one! But someone should get on that. Kinky Friedman- I’m looking at you!
Apparently going to bed the night before a Sturgill Simpson concert is more exciting than going to bed on Christmas Eve. After counting down the days until I get to see him in concert for what seems like forever, the day has finally arrived! I’ll be seeing “The Sturge” in concert tonight at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland and wanted to do a post on the man himself for the occasion. I’m not sure if there’s anything I can say about him that hasn’t already been said. As Jason Isbell said (in an article that accurately called Sturgill a Country Philosopher), “Sturgill writes and sings songs exactly as a man named Sturgill should. He’s the genuine article, and his work reminds me of the country music I fell in love with as a kid: ornery, smart, and soulful.” And according to some commenters on YouTube, “Sturgill Simpson might be the greatest thing that ever happened to country music” and “goddamned philosopher ole Sturg is.” (Well said!) These comments pretty much describe what I think about “ole Sturg” so I won’t spend too much time talking about him as I would rather talk about his songs and let the music speak for itself. I’ve compiled a list of my top 10 favorite Sturgill Simpson songs below so that you can see for yourself what a great songwriter and singer this man is. But before I begin, I want to congratulate “The Sturge” on winning Album of the Year for A Sailor’s Guide to Earth at the Americana Honors and Awards this week. This is in addition to his Grammy win from earlier this year for “Best Country Album.”
The Sturge’s Top Ten
9 and 10. In his song “Life Ain’t Fair and the World is Mean,” from his first album High Top Mountain, Sturgill sang about hitting the road and finding the end of that long white line. Well, on his next album, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, he followed through, releasing a song about doing just that in “Long White Line.” I enjoy the consistency found in Sturgill’s music and how certain themes flow from one album to the next, this being an example of that.
The former song also contains some great life advice because life AIN’T fair and the world IS mean!
“You ain’t gotta read between the lines you just gotta turn the page”
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again- I’m not sure what a metamodern sound in country music is. Whatever that sound may be though, I’m totally into it, as it’s probably the sound that describes “Voices” and all of the other songs on Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. How many of us can relate to wanting the voices inside our head to go away? After all, as Sturgill says, “they ain’t got much to say.” As will be evident in the songs mentioned below, Sturgill is an incredible lyricist and “Voices” is a great example of where this talent shines through.
“I hear voices all around me in society’s depression Over and over they recite their first impression The rivers are all crying but the ocean cannot speak Until her waters crash into uncharted shores so dark and bleak”
This might be Sturgill’s best known song as it’s his only song I’ve ever heard playing in public. To fully understand this song you might actually need to be strung out on drugs since this is what the song is about (he said so himself!) With that being said, I don’t fully understand what he’s singing about, but the Religion Major in me loves all of the religious references found in this song- from Jesus playing with flames in a lake of fire to Buddha showing him a glowing light within. Learning about the infinite regress problem of “turtles all the way down” in cosmology might also help you understand this song but I still say you need to be on drugs.
If you need a good laugh, watch minute 3:04 of his NPR Tiny Desk Concert as he winks after performing this song. I’m hoping he does that same wink at the concert tonight!
“So don’t waste your mind on nursery rhymes Or fairy tales of blood and wine It’s turtles all the way down the line”
Are y’all ready for a political song? Well Sturgill has got ya covered! He starts off the song by listing the countries of Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea and asking how many more people are we going to send. He talks about sending our sons and daughters off to die for oil and to control heroin. His criticism doesn’t stop with the government though as the whole of society is also targeted in this song. He criticizes the average citizen saying, “nobody’s looking up to care about a drone, all too busy looking down at our phone.” I love that Sturgill isn’t afraid to sing about controversial topics like the ones found in this song. If there was ever an artist who was going to bring about a country music revolution, it would be this man and it would be because of songs like this.
This is the first song that really stood out to me on A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. Not only did the lyrics grab my attention but so too did the wide variety of instruments found in this song like trumpets, trombones, and even bagpipes!
A hint of fatherly advice also comes through in this song as he sings, “well son I hope you don’t grow up believing that you’ve got to be a puppet to be a man.” Well said, Sturgill! (More about the fatherly advice found in this album below.)
“Wearing that Kim Jong-il hat While your grandma’s selling pills stat Meanwhile, I’m wearing my ‘can’t pay my fucking bills’ hat”
If you’ve ever wondered what life in the Navy would be like, just listen to this song. Sturgill’s speaking from experience in this song as he spent some time in the Navy himself after high school, getting some salt in his veins. He describes his military years as “thrilling and monotonous.” The more thrilling aspects included partying in Tokyo, which he describes as “out of control with women, drinking and fighting.” His time as a sailor is not only seen in this song but rather throughout the entire album (hence the title A Sailor’s Guide to Earth), which was written “from the perspective of a sailor going to sea and not knowing if he’s ever coming home.” This is a theme found in Sturgill’s family as his grandfather served in the Army and was in the South Pacific during World War II. He had written a goodbye letter to Sturgill’s grandmother and his newborn son while overseas as he thought he was going to die (he did wind up making it back home- five years later!)
It’s the last line in this song that’s my favorite and the cherry on top of a song that’s already great throughout- “but flying high beats dying for lies in a politician’s war.” Once again, ladies and gentlemen, here’s Sturgill singing about things that not a lot of other country artists will. I salute you, Sailor Sturgill!
This song will also give you a great Asian geography lesson!
“When I hit the ground running in Tokyo From Kawasaki to Ebisu Yokosuka, Yokohama, and Shinjuku Shibuya, Ropongi, and Harajuku Aw, from Pusan and Ko Chang, Pattaya to Phuket From Singapore to Kuala Lumpur Seen damn near the whole damn world From the inside of a bar”
Many a country song has been written about being a dad. Take “There Goes My Life” by Kenny Chesney and “He Didn’t Have to Be,” a song about stepdads by Brad Paisley (which I wrote about for Father’s Day), for example. While there may be a plethora of great dad songs already out there, I think this song takes the cake. After all, the whole album A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is about Sturgill becoming a father, being described as a “musical letter to his wife and kid.” Sturgill says, “I also wanted him [his son] to know that it’s very important to me that he doesn’t have to grow up and be this numb, callous person to feel like he’s a man.” This hope for this son comes through in this song, especially in lines like “I’ve been told you measure a man by how much he loves.” If Sturgill’s sons (since writing this album, he’s had another one) take the lessons from this album and apply them to their lives I’m sure they’ll grow up to be upstanding men.
The strings and horns in this song are also on point! Country music does not use enough horns, in my opinion. Thank you Sturgill for giving us horns (and great music!)
“I’ve been told you measure a man By how much he loves When I hold you I treasure each moment I spend On this earth, under heaven above”
Some people use music as a form of therapy and with songs like this it’s easy to see why. If there’s ever been anything you needed to let go of, this song will speak to you. It’s another one of Sturgill’s metamodern songs and contains references to Buddhism like transmigration and the bardo or “intermediate state.” This article can explain the concept of “bardo” a lot better than I can but to put it simply, “bardo refers to that state in which we have lost our old reality and it is no longer available to us.” The idea of letting go is important in the bardo, and as the same article also states, “when we have to let go, at times of great loss or when we depart from this body, then something else becomes possible. This is what emerges in the bardo—presence as the ground of being.” My background is not in Buddhism so the concept of the bardo is brand new to me, however, hearing Sturgill sing about this has made me want to learn more about it. A great songwriter will introduce you to new ideas and ways of thinking and that’s exactly what Sturgill does in this song.
Religion major nerd alert on full effect again!
“Am I dreaming? Am I dying? Either way I don’t mind at all Oh, it feels so good you just can’t help but crying
Oh, you have to let go so the soul may fall”
“They call me King Turd up here on Shit Mountain but if you want it you can have the crown”
Despite all the great lyrics discussed above, I still say that this is the best line in any of his songs. In “You Can Have the Crown,” he sings about the struggles of being a songwriter, and “trying to write a song that’ll pay the bills.” If only he could just get himself a record deal he wouldn’t have to rob a bank (kinda extreme, right?) This song is off his first album High Top Mountain and I think that now, with three stellar albums under his belt, it’s safe to say that he’s gotten over his struggle and written a good song or twenty.
I wonder if he ever figured out what rhymes with Bronco….
“Well, I been spending all my money on weed n’ pills Trying to write a song that’ll pay the bills But it ain’t came yet so I guess I’ll have to rob a bank
I guess it could be worse it ain’t that bad At least I ain’t sitting in old Baghdad in the middle of the hot damn desert sitting in a tank”
Coming in at number one is “Water in a Well” off of High Top Mountain. Before performing this song on the NPR Tiny Desk Concert, he said that this one was for the ladies, then he later corrected himself and said they’re all for the ladies. On behalf of us ladies, we say thank you!
“Water in a Well” is a song about moving on after a love has ended but articulated and sung about in a way that only Sturgill can. When you find your love drying up like water in a well just put this song on and let Sturgill’s voice wash over you. I could write more about why I love this song or you could just listen to it for yourself and try to figure out why. Seeing as how I’ve included the video below, I think I’m gonna leave this one up to you!
“Lord knows I’ve tried to move on And get you out of my mind You find your way in to all of my songs Every memory I manage to find Someday if I’m standing on some big old stage And you’re down in the crowd Trying to tell your friends I used to know him when But in your heart you’ll know it ain’t true somehow Trying like hell but it’s too soon to tell If our love has all dried up like water in a well”
Here’s to hoping Sturgill plays all these songs in concert tonight! Who knows? Maybe I’ll find some new favorite songs after the night is over. Also, if you’re at the concert, look for me! I’ll be the girl wearing the “Who the Fuck is Sturgill Simpson” t-shirt!
Currently listening to: Willie Nelson- “I’d Have to Be Crazy.” Sturgill covers a version of this song on High Top Mountain and does a damn good job!
I tend to do my best movie watching when I’m on an airplane. There’s nothing else going on and I usually can’t sleep anyway so why not put on a movie? Not only do airplanes have great movies, including some the newer releases, but they also tend to have pretty decent music too. I was quite impressed with the music selection that I found on Emirates airline on my recent trip to Kenya, especially their country stuff. (Major shoutout to Emirates for having Eric Church’s The Outsiders!) I decided to use the idle time I had on the plane to listen some of the stuff they had on there. Though I tend to stick with the stuff I already know, I decided to try out some new (new to me at least) stuff this time. Below are a few of the songs I found on my flight that are now forever a part of my playlist.
Dolly Parton- “Joshua.” I always prided myself on being a Dolly Parton fan but how did I not know about Joshua? Thankfully, Emirates had a whole Dolly playlist and whoever created it made sure that Joshua was included. While Joshua isn’t the type of man I’d go for, I can see his appeal. And if he makes Dolly happy, well then that makes me happy!
“Joshua Joshua What you are doing living here all alone Joshua Joshua Have you got nobody to call your own No no no no”
Willie Nelson- “Wives and Girlfriends.” I think we can all agree with Willie that wives and girlfriends (and husbands and boyfriends) should never meet. This song about what appears to possibly be a polygamous man (or just a player?) also makes a reference to being Mormon- proving that Willie Nelson really can get away with singing about anything, even the Mormons.
“Well, I love my wives and I love my girlfriends May they never meet May they never know each other when they pass on the street
Well, I might be a Mormon or I might be a heathen or a gambler
I just don’t know
But I love my wives and I love my girlfriends
Turn ’em all out and let ’em all go“
Finding this song led me to explore some more songs from his 2014 Band of Brothers album and that’s how I found“Hard to Be an Outlaw” and “The Songwriters.” The former song reminds me a great deal of the song that Willie sang with Steve Earle on his latest album, “So You Wannabe An Outlaw.” No matter how many times these guys try to warn people about the outlaw way of life, people just won’t listen! And if you think that outlaws are bad just wait until you meet the songwriters! As Willie sings, they’re heroes but also schemers, they’re drunks and they’re also dreamers. They might be lovers but sometimes they’re also fighters. Note to self: stay away from outlaws and songwriters!
“Our mama’s don’t know what we’re doing Why we stay out all night long I told mine I was a drug dealer She said thank god you ain’t writin songs”
Johnny Cash- “Baby Ride Easy.” Who doesn’t love a good Johnny and June duet? I know I sure do! These two sing about needing the simple things out of a partner: June wants someone who’s loving is good and Johnny wants someone who’s cooking ain’t greasy. What more could you ask for? The long and loving relationship that these two shared makes me think that they each got what they wanted from each other. You can’t really ask for more than that now can ya?
“(Johnny) If I drove a truck (June) And I were a waitress (Johnny) And I ordered coffee (June) And I poured you some
(Johnny & June) Then you’d stop by on your way sometimes later
(June) And if we arm-wrestled, I’d see that you won”
I’m not sure who would’ve won in an arm-wrestling competition between these two but I sure wish I could’ve seen it happen! My money would’ve probably been on June!
This song comes from Johnny’s posthumous album Out Among the Stars, which was released in 2014. The songs on this album are from the lost 1980s sessions of Johnny Cash with producer Billy Sherrill. The songs were discovered in 2012 by Johnny’s son, John Carter Cash, after being shelved by Columbia Records. How many other great songs have been recorded by these artists that have never been released? It makes me sad just thinking about it!