The Tracks I’ve Been Playing So Far in 2018 (First Quarter)

2018 Beginnings 

Discovering new music can sometimes be hard, especially when you find yourself wanting to listen to the same records over and over again (*cough* Jason Isbell *cough* Sturgill Simpson *cough*). Despite keeping Jason and Sturgill on a heavy rotation, I’ve still been able to find some great music, both old and new stuff, over these last few months.

The Tracks I’m Playing (January-March)

The first song on this list goes to the very deserving Shane Smith and the Saints, all the way from Austin, Texas and their song “All I See Is You.” Last week (3/15) I had the pleasure of seeing Shane Smith & the Saints in concert at Gypsy Sally’s in DC. This song, which is probably their most popular song, is what first turned me onto these guys. They were great in concert- all of the guys (The Saints?) harmonized together perfectly. The fiddle player also wore overalls with no shirt on underneath, which I found to be a very stylish move. And it was my first time at Gypsy Sally’s so I got to cross another DC concert venue off of my bucket list this year. You can catch the acoustic version of this song below. The emotions that Shane Smith pours into this song come through in this video, just like they did at his show.

Flatland Calvary- “Stompin’ Grounds.” It only seems appropriate that Flatland Calvary should be mentioned next as they were the opening act for Shane Smith & the Saints. They’re a great Texas-based band with a heavy dose of fiddle and boot-stompin’ tunes, if you’re into that kinda thing (who isn’t?). This particular song starts off with the line, “tired of breathing in all this office air” and after a Thursday at the office, I was happy to get out and see Flatland Calvary do their thing.

Randy Newman- “Putin.” If there’s not a musical already in the works based on this song, there should be. I mean, I guess we do have the real Vladimir Putin, but a musical with the Putin Girls and a fictionalized Putin would be fun distraction from reality. And you gotta love Randy Newman, from everything he did for Toy Story (“You’ve Got a Friend In Me“) and his denunciation against short people, this guy is an American treasure. And he does it again in this song, invoking the Greeks, the Turks, and the Kurds in a great play on words about Kurds getting the way, which turns into “curds and whey” (Little Miss Muffet reference for ya there!) He also says that “sometimes a people is greater than their leader” giving Germany, Kentucky, and France as examples (wait, is that a Mitch McConnell reference? Please explain!) This song goes to show you that Randy Newman can make any topic fun, including Vladimir Putin.

The Band of Heathens- “Hurricane.” I had already planned on including this song (honestly!) even before Shane Smith & the Saints decided to cover it at their show. I instantly liked this song the first time I heard it. And while I’ve never been to New Orleans, though hopefully one day that’ll change, I can only imagine that this song fully embodies the spirit of a city that can’t be washed away with a hurricane. Also, as a fellow heathen myself, I greatly appreciate this band’s name!

“I was born in the rain on the Pontchartrain
Underneath the Louisiana moon
I don’t mind the strain of a hurricane
They come around every June

High black water, a devil’s daughter
She’s hard, she’s cold and she’s mean
But nobody taught her it takes a lot of water
To wash away New Orleans”

The Wild Feathers- “Lonely Is A Lifetime.” Just put this song on, shut up, and listen.

Amanda Shires- “When You Need a Train It Never Comes.” I’ll be honest and say that I’m still not 100% sure what this song is about. But does that stop me from liking it? Nope. Maybe the true meaning will come to me on the 100th listen, which I’m fast approaching. I’ve got some other songs from Amanda on the playlist for this quarter in case the train that is this song still isn’t coming- “My Love (The Storm)” and “Wasted and Rollin’.” I’ll also take this opportunity to talk about her cover of Madonna’s “Borderline” with Tommy Emmanuel, which if you haven’t seen it yet, you should. And you have no excuse because here is the link and all you have to do is click on it.

Chris Stapleton- “Midnight Train to Memphis.” Am I only including this song here so I have an excuse to talk about Sturgill Simpson joining Chris on stage for this SNL performance of this song earlier this year? I’ll leave that for you to decide. BUT SERIOUSLY, CAN WE TALK ABOUT THAT PERFORMANCE?? I mean, Sturgill and Chris- I must’ve died and gone to Kentucky heaven! Oh! And producer Dave Cobb is also up there playing with them- say what?! I just have three words- A, Ma, Zing! The version of this song off his album From A Room: Volume 2 (sans Sturgill) is great as well so also be sure to check that out.

Drive-By Truckers- “Goddamn Lonely Love.” When I refer to this song, I’m mostly referring to the Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit live version of it on his Live from Alabama album, though the song was originally from Jason’s time with the Drive-By Truckers. As if the man needed any more, here’s another testament to Jason’s songwriting ability. In fact, I’m still finding more songs from Isbell that further drive this point home including songs like “We’ve Met” from his Here We Rest album with the 400 Unit. While it’s not a real disease or medical condition, “Goddamn Lonely Love” is something we’ve all suffered from and have been in search of a cure for. It’s comforting to know that not only has Jason felt the same, but if the cheers from the crowd in the live version of this song are any indication, then hundreds, maybe thousands, of others have also felt this way. If misery loves company, then this song should provide you with a good dose of companionship.

John Prine- “Some Humans Ain’t Human.” This song came to me from the “American Folk” movie, which is a feel good movie about two strangers connecting after 9/11 through folk music. Songs like this are the reason John Prine will forever be included in my holy trinity of songwriters (along with Leonard Cohen and Jason Isbell). John’s new album The Tree of Forgiveness will be released on my birthday (that’s April 13th for all y’all not up to speed on all things Brittany). And it’s a Friday the 13th- a lucky day for me and hopefully for John Prine too! You can watch his performance on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series here and hear him play a song off this album, “Summer’s End.”

“Have you ever noticed
When you’re feeling really good
There’s always a pigeon
That’ll come shit on your hood
Or you’re feeling your freedom
And the world’s off your back
Some cowboy from Texas
Starts his own war in Iraq”

Margo Price- “Most Likely You Go Your Way.” Margo Price covering Bob Dylan? Thank you, sir, may I have another? Recorded as a Spotify Single, along with a special version of “A Little Pain,” Margo covered this song from Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde album with her own unique style. I can’t seem to find a video for this online, so I guess you’ll just have to click on my Spotify playlist and check it out there (along with the other songs mentioned in this post.)

Lee Ann Womack- “The Lonely, The Lonesome, & The Gone.” This song is the title track from her latest album, which also features bangers like “All the Trouble.” Lots of people know Lee Ann, but many only associate her with that one big hit she had back in 2000. You know the one I’m talking about- “I Hope You Dance.” People making this connection isn’t a problem, it’s a lovely song. It was also the song that was played at my fifth grade graduation so it’s sentimental in a way for me. But that was almost 18 years ago and Lee Ann Womack has come a long way since then, musically speaking. If you’re thinking she was just a one hit wonder, you couldn’t be more wrong! She not only had hits back in the day with songs like “A Little Past Little Rock” and “I’ll Think Of A Reason Later” but she’s put out other albums since that embrace a more neotraditional sound, including her latest, which came out last year. I had the pleasure of seeing her perform Friday night (3/23) at The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia. She put on a great show and did not disappoint- playing two of my favorite songs- “Don’t Listen to the Wind” and “Does My Ring Burn Your Finger?” (the former written by Julie Miller and the latter written by Julie and her husband, Buddy Miller).

I also didn’t realize until Friday night after the concert that Lee Ann Womack’s daughter is Aubrie Sellers. It was then that I put two and two together and figured out that Aubrie Sellers is the oldest daughter featured in the music video for “I Hope You Dance.” MIND BLOWN! And since we’re on the topic of Aubrie Sellers, I’ll take this opportunity to talk about how great of an artist she is too. She calls her music “garage country,” which I think describes her sound perfectly. Some songs worth checking out are “Sit Here and Cry,” “Just to Be with You,” and “Liar, Liar,” which I highly recommend. The cute little girl from that music video has come a long way!

Ruby Boots- “It’s So Cruel.” If you’re listening to this song and thinking it’s from the 80’s, you’re wrong. Though you wouldn’t be crazy for thinking that as the song does have a sound reminiscent of the 1980’s. Her look also kinda reminds me of Tiffany. I’ll be seeing this lady in concert next month at Songbyrd Music House and Record Cafe in DC (crossing another venue off my bucket list again!)

The Ozark Mountain Daredevils- “If You Wanna Get to Heaven.” Apparently this song actually is from 1980! (Not like the song above). What the what?! It sounds like it could have come out within the past few years as part of the Americana/alt-country genre. Could’ve fooled me!

Some other great songs that I’ll just mention by name below without any wordy descriptions for the sake of space and not keeping you guys too long (are you even still reading this?) include:

John Moreland- “Sallisaw Blue.” 

JD McPhearson- “CRYING’S JUST A THING YOU DO.” (Why are we yelling?)

Lilly Hiatt- “Trinity Lane.” 

Father John Misty- “Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution.” 

Kacey Musgraves- “High Horse,” “Space Cowboy,” andButterflies.” AKA the three songs she’s released from her new Golden Hour album that will officially be out on Friday (3/30). I. CAN’T. WAIT.

Like I mentioned above, be sure to check out my Spotify playlist to listen to all of these songs, along with some others not mentioned in this post. If you’ve got any music suggestions for me, don’t be shy, send ’em on my way! I’ll be on the hunt for some more good tunes this next quarter.

Currently listening to: Particle Kid- “Gunshow Loophole Blues.” This song only seems appropriate with all of the Marches for Our Lives that took place this weekend. Shout out to all the amazing people who took it to the streets yesterday, especially the students of this country- y’all are an inspiration! As always, the signs at this march were on point, including this one quoting the late, great David Bowie.

Some ch-ch-ch-ch-changes are gonna come! From March for Our Lives Washington, DC (March 24, 2018)
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Celebrating Sobriety and Song: A Concert Review of Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Better Late Than Never

How long do you have after a concert to write a decent concert review? Hopefully it’s about one month because that’s how long it’s been since I saw Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. The concert took place on February 6th at the Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric in Baltimore. Despite the amount of time that’s passed since then, I think I can still write a post that will do the performance justice.

jason
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (Photo courtesy of nodepression.com)

In my holy trinity of songwriters, Jason Isbell sits beside Leonard Cohen and John Prine. As a songwriter, few people are able to tap into such a wide range of emotions like Jason Isbell. With songs like “Last of My Kind” and “Cover Me Up,” Jason knows how to articulate the feelings of loneliness, love, and vulnerability perfectly.  I’m not the only person who feels this way- his latest album, The Nashville Sound, was featured on numerous “best albums of 2017” lists (both official and unofficial lists).  Oh! And this album won the Grammy for Best Americana Album just a couple of weeks before the concert. He performed just about every song from this album that night-  “Cumberland Gap,” “Hope the High Road,” “Last of My Kind” (I’m not crying, there’s something in my eye), “Chaos and Clothes,” “White Man’s World,” (the politically charged song we need now more than ever) “Molotov,” “Tupelo,” and a song that I relate to all too well, “Anxiety.” During the encore, he sang a Drive-By Truckers song and “If We Were Vampires,” for which he had also just won the Grammy for Best American Roots Song. The only song from The Nashville Sound that he didn’t sing that night was “Something to Love.” As someone who absolutely loved The Nashville Sound, it was great getting to watch the band perform these songs live.

In addition to his songs with the 400 Unit, Jason also played some songs from his solo albums Southeastern and Something More Than Free. Songs like “24 Frames,” “Stockholm,” and “Something More Than Free.”

A Song of Love and Sobriety 

While his wife, Amanda Shires, who is the fiddler for the 400 Unit, isn’t always at the shows with the rest of the band (she has her own solo career- check her out!), I had the good fortune of seeing her perform that night. One of the highlights of that show was watching Jason sing the love song that he wrote for her, “Cover Me Up,” to her. The rest of the band left the stage for the occasion leaving Jason and Amanda on stage for an intimate performance. I realize how lucky all of us at the show in Baltimore were that night to have Amanda there and to be able to witness this expression of love.

Before the show, my friend that went with me brought up the fact that Tuesday was Jason’s six year anniversary of being sober. Amanda also pointed this out before he sang “Cover Me Up.” I needn’t tell you how moving it was to hear Jason sing the line “but I sobered up and I swore off that stuff, forever this time during “Cover Me Up” that night. After that line, the whole place applauded in support of Jason’s accomplishment. Thank you Jason for letting all of us at the Modell Lyric join you in celebrating six years of sobriety!

“A heart on the run keeps a hand on the gun
You can’t trust anyone
I was so sure what I needed was more
Tried to shoot out the sun
Days when we raged, we flew off the page
Such damage was done
But I made it through, ’cause somebody knew
I was meant for someone”

Not to criticize Jason, because I would never, but I was upset that he didn’t sing “Elephant“- I was prepared for a good, cathartic cry. I had checked out the set lists of his shows beforehand and saw that he had been including “Elephant” some nights so I thought maybe I’d get to see him perform it. Oh well! From my research, I knew that he wasn’t performing my favorite song of his, “Traveling Alone,” on this tour. That was probably for the best as I most likely would have been inconsolable if he had and nobody, I mean NOBODY, wants to see that!

Concerts on Concerts on Concerts

Since we’re on the topic, I’ll take the time now to talk about some upcoming shows that I’m going to (*) or are interested in seeing:

*3/15– Shane Smith and the Saints (song to check out: “All I See Is You“)
3/16– Nefesh Mountain- a Jewish bluegrass group (yep, you read that right)
*3/23– Lee Ann Womack (song to check out: “All The Trouble“)
*4/7– Colter Wall (that voice though)
*5/23– Margo Price at the Ryman Auditorium-I impulsively bought tickets to see Margo at the Mother Church of Country Music (with Colter Wall opening) and am still debating actually going (it would also be two days before the opening of the new Outlaws & Armadillos exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum so I’m thinking about making a couple days out of it and sticking around to see the exhibit. And I can always use an excuse to go to Nashville!)
6/1– Margo Price and John Prine
10/13– Chris Stapleton, Marty Stuart, and Brent Cobb

If you’re gonna be at any of these shows or are interested in attending any of these, holler!

The Life I’m Choosing 

Are you living the life you chose? Are you living the life that chose you?” asked Jason Isbell as his concert that night. If my life consists of seeing incredible musicians in concert like Jason Isbell and the others mentioned above, then yes, I am living the life I chose, and it’s a great one!

Currently listening to: Bobby Bare- “Streets of Baltimore.” Because it’s the greatest song about Baltimore I know!

Burnin’ My Barn in Tyler Childers’ Honky Tonk Flame

Hello everyone- long time, no see! While I should take this time to apologize for my two month hiatus, I won’t simply because of the fact that I was spending that time well and doing things that make me happy. Since my last post, I’ve been lucky enough to see two of my favorite new artists in concert- Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit and Tyler Childers. After this past Thursday night’s Tyler Childers concert, I thought the blog could use another concert review. I actually started writing this yesterday with a pen and a notebook (old school, right?) since my power was out because of the crazy wind we’ve been having. I’ll try my best to make out my chicken scratch writing for the post below.

Tyler Childers at the Rock and Roll Hotel (March 1, 2018)

Before Thursday (3/1) night’s concert , I said that “Tyler Childers could sing the phone book and I’d pay to listen.” I realize how outdated a saying like that is nowadays because who still uses a phone book? Seriously, we had one delivered to our house not too long ago and I stared at it like “what the hell am I supposed to do with this?” I reckon it might have made a good doorstop. Perhaps I should update the saying to be more 2018 appropriate- “Tyler Childers could sing the names of my Instagram followers and I’d pay to listen.” Does that work? If you have any better suggestions, send ’em my way.

No matter what I would listen to Tyler Childers sing, this post is about what he did in fact sing. The concert Thursday night was at the Rock and Roll Hotel in DC and it was my first time there. The show was sold out and needless to say the place was packed! I also waited too long to get my ticket and wound up paying about five times the original ticket price. But was it worth it? Yep!

Tyler sang some of my favorite songs from his latest album Purgatory, which Sturgill Simpson helped produce along with David Ferguson. Songs like “Feathered Indians,” “Honky Tonk Flame,” “Universal Sound,” “White House Road,” “I Swear (to God),” and the song he introduced by calling it a redneck interpretation of reincarnation (or something like that), “Born Again.” He also sang the love song for his wife off of that album, “Lady May.” After the song finished I heard the guy next to me tell the lady that he was with that she was his “Lady May.” I don’t think there’s anything sweeter a man could ever say to a woman. Who says rednecks aren’t romantic?

Tyler also sang a couple of songs that I was newly familiar with like “Charleston Girl.” I had only discovered the song the morning before the concert and instantly took a liking to it. There were a bunch of songs I had never heard before and I reckon many of these came from his time with his old band, The Food Stamps. This was the case at least for two of the songs I remember liking and later looked up-  “Messed Up Kid” and “I Got Stoned and I Missed It.” While the guy in front of me was giving everyone in the room a contact high, I’m glad I wasn’t stoned and missed this concert.

Kelsey Waldon, another Kentuckian, opened for him and it was my first time seeing her in concert as well. I had listened to her just a little bit before Thursday night but hearing her perform live was a much better way to get introduced to her and her music. Not only does she have a beautiful voice but she’s super sweet in person. I made a new friend at the concert on Thursday (one I had known from Twitter and finally met IRL) and we hung around after the show and talked with Kelsey. He’s known Kelsey for a while- they’re from the same part of Kentucky and he’s somewhat related to her. The three of us had a nice chat that included talking about Margo Price and Buffalo Clover.

All around, Thursday night was a great time and I’m so glad that I made the last minute decision to go. You can bet that next time either of these two comes through the DMV that I’ll be there. I’ll also make sure to buy my ticket early next time so that I don’t wind up paying an arm and a leg to see them!

I’ll conclude this post with one final thought- KENTUCKY! This state just keeps on cranking them out- Chris Stapleton, Angaleena Presley, Sturgill Simpson, Tyler Childers, Kelsey Waldon plus the classics like Keith Whitley, the Judds (so many redheads!), and Loretta Lynn. The latest Oxford American magazine was even dedicated to Kentucky and featured some fantastic articles, especially the one on Sturgill Simpson by Leesa Cross-Smith titled, “Ain’t Half Bad,” which is a reference to Sturgill’s song “You Can Have the Crown.” I found myself agreeing so strongly with a lot of her article and it felt good to know that someone shared my opinions on Sturgill.

To celebrate, I created a Spotify playlist, “Kentucky Got Lucky.” This playlist features all of the great Kentuckians listed above along with songs that just remind me of Kentucky. Also, it has NAPPY ROOTS! (Throwback to my youth!) I only wish Sunday Valley (Sturgill’s old band) and the Food Stamps (Tyler’s old band) were available to stream so that I could add them to this playlist. You can find that playlist here.

Currently listening to: All of the wonderful sounds of Kentucky!

New Year, New Music, New Me

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) knowledge of country music 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.

2017 Finds 

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 book Woman 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.

Sturgill Simpson busking outside of the CMA Awards on November 7, 2017. All donations went to the ACLU. (Picture from Rolling Stone)

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 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’s 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 TasjanSam 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 place 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!” 

John Prine and Dan Auerbach at DAR Constitution Hall on November 10, 2017. (Photo from my crappy iPhone camera)

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:

(Photo from Vinyl Ranch’s Instagram)

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!

A Honky Tonk Holiday

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.

My own A Very Kacey Christmas record along with my other pink Christmas decorations! And yes, that is a John Prine sticker on my turntable!
Did I mention that the album is GREEN? So festive!

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!

The Spooky, Scary Tracks I’m Playing

Happy All Hallows Eve and first day of Day of the Dead a.k.a. Dia de los Muertos to all y’all! On the occasion of these two celebrations, I wanted to shine a spotlight on a couple of songs that I think are appropriate for these two holidays.

Zac Brown Band and Dave Grohl- “Day For the Dead” (from The Grohl Sessions, Vol. 1)

So Zac Brown Band made an album with David Grohl. That’s right- Dave mother f**king Grohl! “Day For the Dead” is one of four songs from that joining of forces, released in 2013. I have a ton of respect for Dave Grohl, as a musician and as a fellow Virginian (though he was technically born in Ohio his formative years were spent in V to the izz-A). Everything this guy touches turns to gold- from Nirvana to Foo Fighters, so naturally when he teamed up with ZBB, they made some pretty darn good songs, including this one about the “day for the dead to dance among the living.” You can watch their performance of this song from the 2013 CMA Awards here.

I would like to know when The Grohl Sessions, Vol. 2 is planning to come out. Seriously, I’m waiting!

“I see them rise
From beneath the ground
Life was lost but now it’s found
The ghosts want somethin’
To take their turn
To dance around the stone
Work the fingers to the bone
Hold on to nothin'”

 

Ruston Kelly- “Black Magic” (from Halloween)

I wrote about this song back in June on my first “The Tracks I’m Playing” post but it’s perfect for Halloween so I’m posting it again. Do I need any more proof that this is an ideal Halloween song besides the fact that it’s from an album titled Halloween?? No, I don’t. But I’ll give you another reason anyway- the first line in this song goes like this, “Halloween is here with me you left it in this home, stitches on my body, closets full of bones.” Pretty spooky, huh? While the song isn’t actually about Halloween, it’s about black magic (kinda) and love, which seems fitting enough for me for today.

I also want to take this opportunity to say congratulations to Ruston Kelly and Kacey Musgraves on their wedding, which took place earlier this month! The pictures are gorg! See for yourself here. Congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Kacey Musgraves!

“Halloween is here with me you left in this home
Stitches on my body, closets full of bones
Blood that won’t stop running ‘cause this wound won’t ever clot
Like the ringing in my ears that don’t ever seem to stop”

 

Other great Halloween and Day of the Dead songs include:

Eagles- “Witchy Woman
Jason Isbell- “If We Were Vampires
Willie Nelson- “Gravedigger
Michael Jackson- “Thriller
Creedence Clearwater Revival- “I Put a Spell on You
Ruston Kelly- “Halloween (Downstairs)”

You can find all of these on my “All Hallows Eve” Spotify playlist here. While these songs may not hold a candle to Monster Mash in the category of Halloween anthems, I think they’ll make a perfect addition to your Halloween playlist. Also, does anybody really know how to do the Monster Mash??

I hope everyone has a great Halloween and Dia de los Muertos! And if you don’t celebrate either, Happy October 31st!

Currently listening to: Werewolf Bar Mitzvah. Because I can’t think of something being spooky, scary without this song coming to mind! If you watch 30 Rock, you get the reference!

Erica Church: Finding Your Inner Chieftess (A Halloween Post)

Halloween is for Erica Church 

If Sundays are for (Eric) Church, then Halloween is for Erica Church. Who is Erica Church, you ask? Well, she’s the female version of Eric Church and my finest creation to date. She made her debut on Halloween in 2015 and has only come out a few times since then. Much like her male counterpart, Erica enjoys wearing black leather jackets and American flag scarves and keeping her sunglasses on inside. On occasion, you can find her recreating one of his album covers (see below).

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Halloween 2016. Erica Church recreating the Sinners Like Me album cover. (Shout out to the bartender at Right Proper Brewing Company in DC who took his photo!)

 

Erica Church’s Debut (Halloween 2015). Recreating the Chief album.

 

Erica Church 101

With just two days left until Halloween, you might still be trying to decide what you’re going to be. Or, if you’re like most people, you probably went out last night, in which case, you can use these costume tips for next Halloween. Well, might I suggest Erica Church for the ladies? (Sorry fellas, this post is mostly for the ladies.) If you’re not sure how to compose your own Erica Church costume, don’t worry, I’ve got you covered! It’s a pretty simple costume and you probably already own some of the pieces.

First things first, you’ll need a pair of sunglasses. Try not to go with heart-shaped lenses or any funky colors. A simple pair of aviator glasses will do the trick. Be sure to wear these all of the time. Yes, even when you’re inside. Yes, even if it’s not bright where you are. No, I don’t care if you can’t see. Keep them on (or at least try to!)

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A rare sighting of Erica Church in Pittsburgh (April 2017).

This next piece might cost you but I promise it’s a worthwhile investment. It’s a black leather jacket and it’s a great addition to any wardrobe. Not only is it perfect for crafting your Erica Church look but can be worn on many different occasions- a night out on the town, a biker rally, a wedding, you name it. You can pretty much wear it anywhere. If you prefer a different color leather jacket, like burgundy, that will also work as Eric has been known to rock this look himself.  Underneath the jacket, I would go with a black t-shirt. In past years, I’ve worn a Johnny Cash t-shirt but I think a plain black t-shirt will work well.

Pledge allegiance to the American flag scarf! Though not absolutely necessary for this look to work, you’re gonna want it. Trust me. It really completes the look and gives it a little more Church-y feel à la “Springsteen.” It can also double as a blanket on those cold late-October nights.

Tip your ballcap! Again, not totally necessary. Since Eric himself can be seen both with or without his hat, you can feel free to do the same. Especially if you wanna avoid hat hair! BUT if you own a Von Dutch hat then you MUST wear this. Those are the rules! See picture below for the explanation as to why.

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Eric Church in a Von Dutch Hat (picture from Rawhide and Velvet)

If hats aren’t your thing, or you don’t feel like buying one, you can also feel free to wear a black snow cap like the one he wore in the “Springsteen” video. But again- hat hair! Or I guess cap hair in this case.

These Boots! No other footwear will do. It’s gotta be boots! And if the soles are worn out on ’em, even better! This is probably a pretty easy one for most of us ladies. Good thing Halloween takes places in the fall so it’s already boot-wearing season! If you don’t already have a pair (really ladies- who doesn’t own a pair of boots?!), you can order some from Eric’s boot line, These Boots (online store here.) But I’m gonna warn ya, these will cost you a pretty penny!

Mad Props! The best way to give your costume a little something extra is to add some props. If you want to carry around a bottle of Jack, that would be totally acceptable, though probably not allowed by a lot of establishments. It might be a good idea to empty out some of the mini plastic bottles of Jack and carry these around. Either way, if you really want to be in character, you must drink some Jack, otherwise how else will Jack Daniels kick your ass?

A chief badge necklace would also be a nice finishing touch on an Erica Church costume (you can find one on Eric’s website for $20 here.) I don’t own one of these but have considered making the investment.

Have a record year! Another great prop, especially if you’re having a record year, would be some of the records he sings about in his song “Record Year.” A few weeks ago I found a used copy of Songs in the Key of Life at my local record store and picked it up as I thought it would be perfect for this occasion. It’s also a classic Stevie Wonder album that I now own so a win-win for me! Bonus points if you’ve got Red Headed Stranger or are getting down with old James Brown and finding New Grass Revival (and their albums!)  Another great Erica Church prop is a guitar. Though my reservation with this is carrying it around it public. Not only would you get tired of toting it around but you would probably keep hitting people with it and you don’t wanna be that person!

 

Erica Church 2015. The guitar did not come out with me. Neither did the bottle of Jack Daniels. 

If you wanna switch up this look and add a few extra things to customize it to tailor to your inner-Erica Church, by all means, go on right ahead! Just remember to always keep “WWECD?” in mind. What Would Eric Church Do? If it doesn’t scream “Chief!” then leave it!

 

I know some of you ladies might be thinking that this doesn’t sound like the most feminine costume. So if you wanna make this costume a little female (more Erica, less Eric), I suggest wearing a black mini-skirt, maybe with some tights if it’s cold. The skirt will also look great with the boots!

The most important part of this costume is not a piece of clothing like a leather jacket or a prop like a record, but it’s your personality. If there’s a specific Eric Church song or album that you’re trying to channel, be it Chief or Mr. Misunderstood, go with it! Embrace your inner Chief! Or rather, your inner Chieftess! Be Mrs. Misunderstood! Have a record year! Catch yourself a round here buzz! Put a drink in your hand! You get what I’m saying!

I realize this costume is for women but men can also try this look out if they want to be Eric Church. But gentlemen, I’ve got to warn you, if you’re trying to be Eric Church, you’ve got a lotta boot left to fill!

Other Church-inspired Halloween costumes include:
Chattanooga Lucy – another one for the ladies
Hungover and Hard Up” – this one does not require an actual costume, just simply wake up the morning following your Halloween celebrations
Country Music Jesus” – for all you long-haired, prophetic types

My own Erica Church hasn’t come out for this year’s Halloween but we’ve still got a few days left. Even though Halloween is on a Tuesday, she’s got nothing against having the club going up on a Tuesday!

Happy Halloween, y’all! No matter what you dress up as, have fun and be safe!

Currently listening to: Eric Church- “Lotta Boot Left to Fill