The Soundtrack to My Safari: The Tracks I Played in Kenya

I have this thing where I pretty much have to be listening to music (or Netflix, etc.) at all times. With the exception of being at work, I rarely sit in silence. So of course when I travel, as there is often a lot of time spent waiting for planes, waiting in lines, riding in cars/buses, etc., I spend a lot of time with my headphones in listening to music. In preparation for my trip to Kenya, where I traveled earlier this month, I made sure my Spotify account was loaded up. Let me just say that one does not truly appreciate the download option on Spotify until they’re forced to go days without (or with very limited) Wi-Fi or data. Thankfully, being the planner that I am, I had downloaded plenty of songs beforehand, which was especially useful during my four day safari to Maasai Mara National Reserve and Lake Nakuru. I made sure to include both new music along with old favorites (like Waylon, Merle, and George.) In this post, I will focus on the newer stuff, all of which will forever remain on my playlists. I’m sure I’ll be calling these songs “old favorites” one day!

The Soundtrack to My Safari

Kurt Vile- Pretty Pimpin.” This is probably the song I played the most. I mean you try listening to it without it getting stuck in your head (spoiler: you can’t). It’s the perfect song to play during almost any kind of activity- riding around in a safari van, getting ready in the morning, walking to work, you name it. You can guarantee that anything you do while listening to this song will be pretty pimpin!

Margo Price- How the Mighty Have Fallen” and other songs from her album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter including “Tennessee Song” and “Hands of Time.” What’s cool is that Margo’s commentary on this album is also on Spotify. It’s always nice to get a little background info on a song before you listen to it, especially when the songs are autobiographical and personal, like “Hands of Time.” In the period of time that has passed since I’ve come back from Kenya and writing this post, Margo has released a new EP titled, Weakness, which I’m excited to start exploring.

John Mayer- Never on the Day You Leave.” If there’s one person who understands breakups, it’s John Mayer. And of course he understands that you can still miss lots of things about someone even after you leave them- even their crazy family. Anyone who has ever missed someone after breaking up with them can relate to this song. I’m still not sure if this song is considered “country” but if John Mayer can write a post-breakup song this good, I think there’s a place for him in country music.

“No, it’s never on the day you leave
That you remember Christmas Eve
And all the things you miss about her crazy family
You’ll know how lonely it is to see 
A little drug store Christmas tree
But never, never on the day you leave”

Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit-Last of My Kind.” This song about a country boy feeling misplaced in the city and wondering if he’s the last of his kind completely won me over. It also made me kinda sad because I realized that Jason Isbell is indeed the last of his kind. Sigh.

William Clark Green- Old Fashioned.” While I was listening to Jason Isbell singing about being the last of his kind, William Clark Green was also letting me know that “them good old boys are few and far between.” I’m afraid that the Jason Isbells and the “good old boys” are both dying breeds. If we could get a conservation group going for this endangered species that would be great. Just send me your donation for this great cause!

(In all seriousness, there are many actual endangered animals out there. In Kenya, two of the endangered animals are the Grevy’s Zebra and the Black Rhino, both of which I got to see on my trip. For more information and to donate to African Wildlife Foundation, click here.)

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats- S.O.B.” I looked Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats up when I saw that they were performing at the Outlaw Music Festival with Willie Nelson, Eric Church, Sheryl Crow, and the Avett Brothers in September. I figured if they were in such good company that they too must be good. Finding this fun, toe-tapping song was the result of that search.

Cody Jinks- Loud and Heavy.” I like songs that get straight to the point and this song does just that. Cody doesn’t waste any time once this song starts, jumping straight into that “loud thunder heavy rain” line in the first second. Cody makes great company for long car rides!

Sturgill Simpson- I know this is the first time I’ve mentioned “The Sturge” on this blog (better late than never, right?) but it’s mainly because I was holding out as I felt he deserved his own post. However, as I’ve yet to write that post, I didn’t want to leave Sturgill out too much longer. Some of his songs that I listened to were “Welcome to Earth (Polywog),” “Sea Stories,” and “All Around You.” All of these songs are from his latest Grammy Award Winning album A Sailor’s Guide To Earth. At other points on this trip when I did have Internet, I also listened to stuff from his older albums Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and High Top Mountain which made for a very Sturgill holiday. Trust me when I tell you that a post dedicated to “The Sturge” is coming. Also, how are y’all feeling about the nickname “The Sturge?” I’m kinda digging it.

When I listen to any one of these songs now, I’m reminded of a specific time during my trip when that song was playing in my headphones. I bet Jason Isbell never thought one of his songs would bring to mind a memory of driving around Maasai Mara looking for giraffes and elephants (although one of his best songs is titled, “Elephant,” so maybe? But probably not.)

I did listen to plenty of other songs not listed above, however, most of those songs have already been written about in my past “The Tracks I’m Playing” posts. This includes people like Lori McKenna, Ruston Kelly, and Ashley Monroe.

Maasai Mara National Reserve (July 2017)

Thanks Kurt, Margo, John, Jason, William, Nathaniel, Cody, and “The Sturge” for coming with me to Kenya! I hope y’all enjoyed the trip!

Currently listening to: Chris Stapleton- “Traveller

“I’m just a traveler on this earth
Sure as my heart’s behind the pocket of my shirt
I’ll just keep rolling till I’m in the dirt
‘Cause I’m a traveler, oh, I’m a traveler”


Sinners Like Me Go To Church on Sundays

I finally got myself back to Church on a Sunday! I’m sorry for the not-so-great church attendance these past few Sundays- I’ll be sure to drop an extra $20 in the offering plate today to make up for it!

This month, two of Eric’s albums celebrated anniversaries. Eric’s freshman album Sinners Like Me celebrated its eleventh anniversary and Chief, his third album, celebrated its sixth anniversary. This Sunday, especially since I’m feeling like quite the sinner with my poor Church attendance, I’m gonna focus on the album that started it all, Sinners Like Me. 

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A Good First Impression 

They say you only get one chance to make a first impression and boy did Eric make an unforgettable one with Sinners Like Me. With his first album, Eric made sure to include songs that show his range as an artist- from concert favorites like “Pledge Allegiance to the Hag” and “These Boots” to serious songs like “The Hard Way;” from great storytelling songs like “Lightning” to songs that make you grin like “Two Pink Lines.” This is also the album that contains my all-time favorite Church hymn- “Can’t Take It With You” (which I discuss in detail here.) As you make your way through the twelve tracks on this album you really get a sense of who Eric is not only as a songwriter and an artist, but as a person. For many of us, this album was the reason we started going to Church.

The singles that came from this album were “How ‘Bout You,” “Two Pink Lines,” “Guys Like Me,” and “Sinners Like Me,” the title track. The first single, “How ‘Bout You” was the first Eric Church song I remember hearing on the radio. In this song, Eric let us know right off the bat exactly who he was. In regards to his style, he sang, “I don’t need baggy clothes, or rings in my nose to be cool” and when it came to his blue collar work ethic he let us know that he “ain’t got no blue-blood trust fund [he] can dip into.” He was confident in knowing who he was and made sure everyone else knew it too. He also made you think about the kind of person that you are by repeatedly asking, “how ’bout you?” Well, Eric, my nose ain’t pierced and I don’t have a trust fund either so I guess that makes us both a part of the chosen few! I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that this song was my first introduction to Eric Church and for that reason it holds a special place in my heart.

I know where I come from
How ’bout you?
I don’t need baggy clothes,
Or rings in my nose to be cool.
The scars on my knuckles,
Match these scuffs on these cowboy boots.
An’ there’s a whole lot more like me
How ’bout you?

It wouldn’t be Church if we didn’t talk about sinning now would it? In the album’s title track, “Sinners Like Me,” Eric sings about coming from a long of sinners just like himself. However, being a sinner isn’t just a trait that runs in the Church family because, as he sings in this song, when he dies he’ll find himself standing in a long line of sinners just like him. Thank goodness there’s Church for all those sinners to go to on Sundays!

The pinnacle song on this album is “Lightning,” the album’s only song written solely by Eric. This song is so important because it was this song that earned Eric his publishing deal, which should come as no surprise as you listen to its lyrics. “Lightning” is everything that a storytelling country song should be and it serves as a testament to Eric’s talent as a songwriter. It takes someone truly talented to put into song the final thoughts of a man awaiting his death while sitting in an electric chair. Eric manages to do just that in about five minutes time. In fact, Eric manages to capture this death row inmate’s life in song form so well that it was featured on Rolling Stone’s list of 17 Country Songs That Would Make Great Movies. RS lists Bryan Cranston as the suggested actor who should play the death row inmate in that movie. Now that’s a movie that I would definitely pay to see! Until that movie gets made, I’ll just keep watching the music video (check out Eric with his long hair!!)

Other songs featured on this album include “What I Almost Was,” “Livin’ Part of Life,” and “Before She Does.” Eric still plays some of these songs from time to time at his concerts, showing that the impression this album left on his fans is one long enough to last eleven years (and I’m sure many more to come!)

I Pledge Allegiance to “The Hag”

The most impressive thing about this album, in my opinion, is that Merle Haggard sings on the song that was written about him- “Pledge Allegiance To The Hag.” The fact that the greatest country artist of all time (this is a fact, not an opinion) sang on Eric Church’s very first album says a great deal about what The Hag must’ve thought about Eric and his music. If there’s one artist that deserves a song about having allegiance pledged to them, it’s Merle. And if any artist should get the honor of singing that song, it’s Eric Church!

Sins and Blasphemy 

I’ve heard that an artist’s first album is usually their best because they have their whole life to write it, whereas the albums that come after that are usually written in a much shorter time frame, meaning they’re often not as good. Although Sinners Like Me is a great album, I don’t think that’s true for Eric. Each of his five albums (so far) are so different from one another and they are all great in their own individual way. His albums aren’t just a collection of singles, they’re albums, meant to be listened to as such. To say that one of his albums is better than another would be blasphemy, something we definitely don’t wanna do at Church!

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I’m still playing Sinners Like Me eleven years after it was released and I’m sure I’ll still be playing it for years to come. It’s probably because I like my country rockin’. How ’bout you?

Happy Anniversary Sinners Like Me and Chief! 

Currently listening to: Merle Haggard (a.k.a. The Hag)- “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink.” Gotta pledge my allegiance to the Hag, as Eric would say!

Getting Out of My Southern Comfort Zone

When I’m not writing about country music, I’m either traveling or planning my next trip. I recently returned from a trip to Kenya (hence the major delay in posts) and am already thinking about where I want to travel next (Uzbekistan? Georgia (the country not the state)? Armenia?) It should come as no surprise that there aren’t too many country songs (or any really) about the places I travel to or about traveling in general. However, there is one song that stands out to me and resonates well with us wanderlusting, country music fans (I can’t be the only one, right?) That song is Brad Paisley’s “Southern Comfort Zone,” in which he sings, “I can’t see this world unless I go outside my Southern Comfort Zone.” The music video, which I’ve included below, even includes scenes that were shot in Kenya!

Dallas Pub, Maasai Mara, Kenya (July 2017)

What I love about this song (besides the obvious play on words of “southern comfort” and “comfort zone”) is that it discusses getting out of your comfort zone when you travel. I’ve always said that traveling (I’m talking cheap hostels, taking public transportation in foreign countries, trying new (and sometimes questionable) foods) makes you grow because you’re forced to get out of your comfort zone. Brad touches on this in his song with lines like “I know what it’s like to talk and have nobody understand” and “I know what it’s like to be the only one like me, to take a good hard look around and be in the minority.” Although Brad mentions traveling to Rome and Paris in his song, where they most likely will also speak English (though maybe not with a southern accent), it’s likely that he has found himself in situations where people did not understand him when he spoke. Finding yourself in situations like this serve as a good reminder that the whole world is not like you. As Brad points out in the beginning of the song, not everybody drives trucks, drinks sweet tea, owns guns (I’ll hold my tongue on this one), and wears a ball cap, boots, and jeans. When you’re around people who are just like you (people who talk like you, think like you, live like you), it’s good to be reminded that your way of life is not the only way of life. This is probably the most important lesson that one learns when they get out of their “southern comfort zone.”

“I have walked the streets of Rome, I have been to foreign lands
I know what it’s like to talk and have nobody understand
I have seen the Eiffel Tower lit up on a Paris night
I have kissed a West Coast girl underneath the Northern Lights”

When traveling, you also begin to miss some of the comforts of home and in return you develop a newfound appreciation for these things. For Brad, it was “biscuits and gravy, fireflies dancing in the night.” For me, especially during the year that I lived in London, it was sweet tea and Chick-fil-A (a number one with a sweet tea, thank you and please!) As Brad travels he realizes how much he misses his Tennessee home, for me it’s my Virginia home.

I’ve been lucky enough to have traveled to 20 countries so far (if we’re including that one time I had to stay in Dubai for a night due to a missed flight, which I am.) While traveling, one thing that never fails to surprise me is when I hear country music in the most unexpected places. In Chiang Mai, Thailand I not only heard someone playing Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee” but the live band performing in a local town square performed Old Crow Medicine Show’s (not Darius Rucker’s!) “Wagon Wheel” and John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” These were Thai men in cowboy hats singing American country music and I loved everything about it. Just this month in Kenya, I heard Randy Travis’ “Three Wooden Crosses” playing in a boat rental office (on what was probably a Christian gospel radio station) at Lake Naivasha. And at the airport in Nairobi while waiting to head back home, I heard what must’ve been a collection of country love song duets as Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood’s “In Another’s Eyes,” Clint Black and Lisa Hartman Black’s “When I Said I Do,” and Vince Gill and Reba McEntire’s “The Heart Won’t Lie” played over the speakers. Brantley Gilbert sings that “Country Must Be Country Wide,” but perhaps it’s also worldwide.

While many people are often scared to travel for fear of getting out of their comfort zone, I’ve learned that once you step out and meet new people, you realize that humans are not all that different from one another. If the songs of John Denver and Merle Haggard can resonate with people from Chiang Mai, Thailand then we really can’t be all that different now can we?

The music video for “Southern Comfort Zone” (below) contains scenes from 8 different countries (which he covered in 8 days!) including Ireland, France, Norway, and KENYA! Major kudos to Brad for not only including the animals of Kenya in this video (giraffes, elephants, zebras, etc.) but also the people. Scenes of the Masai people, who I spent some time with on my trip, can be found this video. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see any country music videos being filmed while I was in Kenya.

I’d like to end this post with the same message that Brad ends this music video with: “See This World.”


Currently listening to: Thomas Rhett- “Die A Happy Man.” Here Thomas also makes a reference to seeing the Eiffel Tower at night, which seems to be quite a big deal in the country community.

“If I never get to see the Northern lights
Or if I never get to see the Eiffel Tower at night
Oh, if all I got is your hand in my hand
Baby, I could die a happy man”

The Eiffel Tower lit up on a Paris night” (March 2016)


Celebrating America’s Diversity in Country Music

Happy Fourth of July, y’all!

For Independence Day, I wanted to do something other than just listing out all of the best flag-waving, red white and blue, freedom loving country songs. Mainly because that’s already been done and also because that list would be far too long. Instead, I’m choosing to write about the country songs that focus on my favorite things about America like its diversity and acceptance of those differences. 

First up is Dierks Bentley- “Home

Though this song was released in 2011, I think it’s more relevant now in 2017. No, America isn’t perfect, as Dierks sings, “shes’s got her scars.” But trying to make America better and healing those scars should be something that we are constantly working towards. We shouldn’t try to bring America back to the past by making it “great” again but rather we should try to make it greater than it’s ever been. That means moving forwards, not backwards. Because for a lot of people, America wasn’t great to them in the past. Perhaps these are the scars that Dierks references in the beginning of the song. As Dierks repeats in the chorus, “it’s been a long hard ride, got a ways to go, but this is still the place that we all call home.”

“Free, nothing feels like free
Though it sometimes means we don’t get along
Cause same, no we’re not the same
But that’s what makes us strong”

This verse is my favorite because it serves as a reminder of the rich diversity we have in this country. No, we are not all the same, we are many different races, religions, cultures, etc. “But that’s what makes us strong,” as Dierks correctly points out. I think that now, more than ever, we need to stop seeing these differences as barriers that prevent us from coming together and instead to look at them as an expression of what makes America great.

Waylon Jennings- “America

Next on the list is my man Waylon Jennings. Though he may have been an outlaw, this man was still a patriot. “America” is truly a song of acceptance. Though Waylon wasn’t the first to record it, that was the song’s writer Sammy Johns, his version is the one I’m familiar with. In “America,” Waylon sings about his acceptance of all types of Americans. Although he may be from Tennessee (at least for the sake of this song) he sings that the people in California are nice to him. Proving that no matter where you roam in this country, Americans are good people. He also mentions the men who went off to war and “lived through hardship and pain” while also recognizing those who chose not to fight in a war that they did not support- showing his acceptance of people in each of these camps.

“The men who could not fight, In a war that didn’t seem right, You let them come home, America”

This song includes a message of racial acceptance as Waylon refers to those from other races as his brothers. He also acknowledges that America must make good on its promises to the Native Americans. We could use more country songs like this!

“And my brothers are all black and white, yellow too
And the red man is right, to expect a little from you
Promise and then follow through, America”

I also love the way Waylon adds an extra syllable to the word “America,” just like Sammy Johns did. It’s not A-mer-i-ca, it’s A-mer-rer-i-ca.

Aaron Tippin- “Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly” 

It’s not so much the song as it is the music video that earns this 2002 hit from Aaron Tippin a spot on this list. Although this song was used by Ted Cruz during the Iowa Caucuses in 2016, Tippin came out and said, “I’m not endorsing anyone, but I hope that my song will help get folks out there and do their patriotic duty…vote!” Regardless of what Aaron Tippin’s politics may be, this video left such a lasting impression on me that I would regret not including it.

This video was filmed in New York in September 2001 right after 9/11 and includes scenes of the rubble, members of the NYPD and FDNY, and images of cards with messages like “God Bless America” written on them. It also includes close-up shots of American citizens from a wide range of diverse backgrounds, including Hasidic Jews, a Buddhist monk, a Sikh, among others. I remember watching this video as a kid and having my curiosity peaked as these images of diversity flashed across the TV screen. At the time, I lived in a town that had very little diversity- I can say with certainty that I had never seen a Hasidic Jew, a Buddhist monk, or a Sikh before. I’m sure this was the case for a lot of people in rural America at the time. I’d like to think that the message that Aaron had in mind when filming this video was one of inclusion and of putting aside our differences to come together as a nation, especially after September 11th. This was the message that I received at least. This video resonated with my eleven-year-old self so much that I can still remember watching it to this day. I’m also pretty sure that this video is what led me to become interested in world religions- something that would go on to shape the rest of my life.


As Aaron Tippin sings in this song, “there’s a lady that stands in a harbor for what we believe.” As you celebrate today, please remember the words of Emma Lazarus from her poem “The New Colossus” that are written on a plaque at the Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Currently listening to: Shooter Jennings- “4th of July.” To be honest, this is my all-time favorite 4th of July jam! He’s also Waylon Jennings’ son which is pretty dang cool! I’ll be listening to this all day today…and other days that aren’t July 4th as well!

“You were pretty as can be, sitting in the front seat
Looking at me, telling me you love me
And your happy to be with me on the 4th of July
We sang ‘Stranglehold’ to the stereo
Couldn’t take no more of that rock ‘n’ roll
So we put on a little George Jones and just sang along”

Happy Independence Day, A-mer-rer-i-ca!

Just letting y’all know- I’ll be heading out to Kenya in a couple of days and will be gone for about two weeks. I’ll be sure to post once I’m back stateside.

The Tracks I’m Playing (Week of July 3, 2017)

Lorrie Morgan once sang that Monday was never good anyway but when you don’t have to work on Tuesday, I would beg to differ. It also doesn’t hurt to have some good music to listen to on your Monday, like the songs listed below. Turning my attention now to another Lori is Lori McKenna who is starting off this list.

The Lori McKenna Party

Lori McKenna- “The Bird & the Rifle and Old Men Young Women.”  I mentioned last week that I was late to the Lori McKenna party but now I’m afraid that I’ve become that party guest that just won’t leave. And it’s why I’ve got not one but two Lori McKenna songs listed this week. The first is “The Bird & the Rifle.” My favorite thing about this song is its symbolism- a woman (the bird) is trapped in a relationship with a man (the rifle) who’s afraid to let her spread her wings and fly. The rifle possesses all the characteristics that you would expect- “he’s dangerous, stubborn, and strong.” He tries to keep the bird from flying away but one night she does anyway. This song reminds me of so many women who’ve had big dreams that were crushed by the rifles in their own lives. I’m glad the bird in this song finally got away from hers.

“And the bird is always dreaming out the window
Looking at that big wide open sky
And the rifle, he used to be a dreamer
But he wasn’t meant to fly”
-The Bird & the Rifle

There’s something about “Old Men Young Women” that reminds me of a certain president. Maybe it’s the reference to this being “wife number three.” And then there’s also the fact that she wants the lights off and he wants the lights on (Come on! You know Melania wants the lights off! I also just threw up a little bit in my mouth.) But as Lori sings, “it’s nobodies business what you’re willing to trade” for the things that he can buy. Yep, I’m definitely gonna be sick.

“Old men, young women
Only work in the beginning
She’s the past in summer dress
He’s a ride in a red corvette
She’s a prize, he’s winning
She thinks it is what it isn’t
And neither one can change what’s missing
Old men, young women”
-Old Men Young Women

If anyone is capable of writing a beautiful song about gold diggers it’s Lori McKenna (no offense to Jamie Foxx and Kanye West.)

Sunny Sweeney- “Bottle by My Bed.” If you saw Sunny Sweeney’s name and thought that we had left the Lori McKenna party I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. Seeing as how Lori helped Sunny write this song, we are still very much at the Lori McKenna party. However, you shouldn’t let this divert your attention away from Sunny Sweeney and her deeply personal song.

Just seeing the title “Bottle by My Bed” and knowing country music, I immediately assumed this song was about a bottle of alcohol (probably Jack) by Sunny’s bed. Boy was I wrong! Instead, this song is about a baby bottle and Sunny’s longing to have kids of her own. It tackles that age-old proverb, “the grass is always greener on the other side.” She has the bright lights and the glamorous life and wants a family while her friends are home with their kids wishing they had a more glamorous life. This song is incredibly personal as Sunny and her husband have been struggling with infertility. Sunny even had a miscarriage two weeks before putting the final touches on this song, which is reflected in the emotions you hear coming through in Sunny’s voice.

“My only bed time story is a ‘People’ magazine
I’d rather be in a carpool line than this big cold limousine
I’d trade every pair of high heel shoes for a highchair in the dining room
Don’t even know you yet, but I know I love you”

The Cowboy Hat is Back

I have an announcement to make- the cowboy hat is back! I repeat- the cowboy hat is back! And the fellas who are bringing it back are none other than Sam Outlaw and William Michael Morgan. If a man in a ten-gallon hat tickles your fancy then I suggest checking these guys out.

Sam Outlaw- “Bottomless Mimosas.” A California Cowboy singing about bottomless mimosas? Yes and please! “Bottomless Mimosas” if off of Sam’s newly released album Tenderheart. On this album, and on Sam’s first album Angeleno, you’ll find his unique style of SoCal Country. According to Sam, “There is something special about Los Angeles, a special sadness. There is a faded beauty that is here, that kind of strange following of dreams while dreams are being crushed in a regular basic. You can sense that. That’s why there’s a unique type of country music that comes out of L.A.” And could anything be more SoCal than bottomless mimosas? I think not.

There are also very few last names that I would ever be willing to change mine for and Outlaw is one of the names on a very short list that I would change for. Brittany Outlaw- sounds good, don’t ya think?

“You might get low, but you never will run out
You might not know, but nobody’s got it all figured out
The future’s bright in your favorite horoscope
You might get low
You might get low”

William Michael Morgan- “Missing.” He’s been compared to George Strait which is quite an honor because those are some pretty big boots to fill! The first time I remember hearing this song was on the radio as I was driving and I remember thinking “sometimes missing is my favorite place to be” was such a great line. This man has a great voice- smooth, with a southern twang, that harkens back to the way country used to be. Let’s hope this guy doesn’t go missing anytime soon!

“So don’t cha go missing me
‘Cause sometimes missing is my favorite place to be”

Changing the Nashville Sound

Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit- “If We Were Vampires.” I’m sure you’re probably sick of hearing about Jason Isbell and this song but I don’t care. It’s getting talked about for a reason and that reason is that Jason Isbell has crafted an amazing song. It’s listed last here but if we were ranking these songs, it would be first.

Unless you’re like that couple in The Notebook that died creepily in each other’s arms, you or your partner will most likely have to spend some days (months, years) without the other after one of you dies. That’s what this song, off of Isbell’s latest album The Nashville Sound, addresses. It’s not a light subject but if anyone can capture the emotions that surround this topic in a song, it’s Jason Isbell. What’s impressive is that he is able to sing about death in a way that doesn’t make you depressed (at least I don’t feel that way). What I hear instead is a beautiful love song being sung by Jason and his wife Amanda Shires, their voices perfectly harmonizing as they sing about life and death.

“It’s knowing that this can’t go on forever
Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone
Maybe we’ll get forty years together
But one day I’ll be gone or one day you’ll be gone”

I hope everyone has a safe and fun Independence Day filled with lots of country music!

Currently listening to: Lorrie Morgan- “Except for Monday

Finding the Devil Through Church

Image result for eric church gif july

I hope everyone enjoyed the first July Saturday night of the year last night! l’m impressed to see that you guys made it to Church this Sunday!

Today’s post in the “Sundays Are For Church” series is about me finding the devil through Church. I know y’all are probably thinking that I’ve up and joined the Church of Satan but don’t worry, I still belong to the Church of Eric. Stick with me through this post and everything will all make sense.

Mr. Misunderstood (I Understand)


Although I probably would’ve found Ray Wylie Hubbard eventually, it took one misunderstood guy to first make the introduction. Eric describes “Mr. Misunderstood” as being the “weird kid in his high-top shoes, sitting in the back of the class” who was “always left out, never fit in.” While his friends were listening to the Top 40 radio, Mr. Misunderstood preferred his dad’s vinyl, which included artists like Elvis Costello, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and Jeff Tweedy. I figured if Ray Wylie Hubbard was good enough for Mr. Misunderstood that I too should give him a listen and so I did just that. This is how I wound up finding the devil.

“Now, your buddies get their rocks off on Top 40 radio
But you love your daddy’s vinyl, old-time rock and roll
Elvis Costello, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and think Jeff Tweedy is one bad mother
Mr. Misunderstood, Mr. Misunderstood”

Hubbard Goes to Hell

The first time I listened to Ray Wylie Hubbard’s 1999 song, “Conversation with the Devil,” I was hooked. What caught my attention wasn’t a catchy chorus (because it has no chorus) but rather it was the storytelling aspect of this song. It’s a narrative in which Hubbard walks you through a dream he had about being cast into hell and having a conversation with the devil, as the song title states.

As one would expect, he’s confused as to why he’s there. After all, Hubbard ain’t a bad guy. He tries to convince the devil of this by letting him know that he always pays his union dues and he doesn’t stay in the passing lane (this is unheard of in the D.C. area- this man is a saint!) The devil comes right back at him and asks him about all of the whiskey and the cocaine that he’s used, to which Hubbard replies with what is probably one of the best lines in the song, “Well, yeah, but that’s no reason to throw me in Hell, ‘Cause I didn’t use the cocaine to get high I just liked the way it smelled.”

The devil takes Hubbard on a tour of hell and all of the unlucky people who wound up there. He starts by pointing out the preachers, or “clowns” as he calls them, and expresses his dislike for them, after all, they’re always blaming him for everything wrong and they’re hypocrites.

“Over there’s where we put the preachers, I never liked those clowns
They’re always blaming me for everything wrong under the sun
It ain’t that harder to do what’s right, it’s just maybe not as much fun
Then they walk around thinking they’re better than me and you
And then they get caught in a motel room
Doing what they said not to do”

The next stop is the fiery lake, where all of the murderers and the rapists go, along with “most of the politicians and the cops on the take.” Mothers who wait until they get to K-Mart to spank their kids also wind up here along with dads who abandon their daughters and sons and “anybody who hurts a child’s gonna burn until it’s done” in this lake of fire.

If all of these people are in hell, Hubbard wants to know who’s up in heaven, to which the devil replies:

“Oh, some saints and mystics and students of Metaphysics 101.
People who care and share and love and try to do what’s right.
Beautiful old souls who read little stories to their babies every night.”

The devil also makes it clear that “What you won’t find up in heaven are Christian Coalition right-wing conservatives, country program directors, and Nashville Record executives.” Damn.

After conversing some more with the devil, Hubbard decides it might be best to try and suck up to him. He brings up the time that the devil went down to Georgia and played fiddle against a kid and lost. In his attempt to earn the devil’s favor, Hubbard tells him, “To be honest, I thought your solo was the better of the two.” Even if Hubbard was just sucking up, I completely agree with him on this, which worries me that the devil and I might actually get along quite well…

Hubbard soon wakes up from his dream, which he takes a sign from God. He then decides to change his ways including giving up red meat. As Hubbard proves from his own personal experience of meeting the devil in a dream, “Some get spiritual ’cause they see the light, And some ’cause they feel the heat.” I guess he had to feel the heat.

With songs like this, it’s easy to see why Mr. Misunderstood preferred listening to his dad’s vinyl over the Top 40 radio.

Getting to the Devil as Fast as I Can

This isn’t the only time that Eric and Mr. Hubbard have led me to the devil. In fact, they’re currently leading me there now with the help of Lucinda Williams. Due out in August is Hubbard’s next album, “Tell the Devil I’m Getting There as Fast as I Can.” The title track from this album features both Eric Church and Lucinda Williams who help Hubbard sing the chorus.

If you feel like indulging your inner Mr. Misunderstood, some other Hubbard songs that I would recommend are “Snake Farm” and “Drunken Poet’s Dream.”

If you’re gonna be in Washington, D.C. on August 17th and 18th, Ray Wylie Hubbard will be at Hill Country BBQ. Get your tickets here!

Ms. Misunderstood 

Unfortunately, I didn’t find Ray Wylie Hubbard when I was in high school like Mr. Misunderstood did. Instead, I had my own sort of “Ms. Misunderstood” discovery in high school when I began listening to Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and AC/DC. Perhaps I had already started heading towards the devil during these years through songs like “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Highway to Hell,” and “Hells Bells.”

Locking Horns With the Devil

I’m not really sure what my affection for songs about the devil says about me but songs about this pitchfork-wielding guy with horns always seem to catch my attention. Church has helped me find the devil on other occasions too including through his song, “Devil, Devil (Prelude: Princess of Darkness)” from The Outsiders album. The song starts off with a spoken monologue (Princess of Darkness) that leads into “Devil, Devil,” which describes a man who has just been left by his woman and now finds the devil preying on his mind as he contemplates suicide with “one foot on the platform and the other on a train.” At the end of the song he asks an angel with a “heavenly body in holy jeans” to wrap him in her wings and love the devil out of him. The words “devil, devil” are repeated up until the song comes to an end and no matter what your relationship to the devil may be, you’re sure to find yourself singing along and calling out the devil’s name.

“Devil, devil, I feel you preying on my mind
I got nine things going wrong right now
And her leaving makes a dime
I’m mad as hell, and drunk, and well
Tonight, I guess we’ll see
If devil, devil, you’re bad enough to lock horns with me”

When Church Beat the Devil

One of the most important songs in Eric Church’s life deals with the devil- that song is Kris Kristofferson’s “To Beat The Devil,” which Eric credits for saving his life many years ago. He talks about the impact that this song had on him right before playing this song at The Life & Times of Kris Kristoffersona filmed concert held in tribute to Kris Kristofferson in March 2016. Eric also discusses the impact that this song had on his life and career in a 2015 Rolling Stone article, saying,

“This song saved my life, pretty much. Kept me in Nashville when I wanted to quit. I was broke. I’d been in town more than a year, working at the Home Shopping Network. I remember putting in the Kristofferson CD I had, and that’s what “To Beat the Devil” talks about: being in town and having a rough patch and being a songwriter. The next day, I got a call that ended up leading to a record deal. That one more day meant this world.”

I know that I speak for a lot of people when I say that I’m glad Kris Kristofferson taught Eric how to beat the devil!

In “To Beat the Devil,” Kristofferson sings about being down and out in Music City. This song reminds me of “Prelude: Princess of Darkness” where Eric sings about the people who didn’t make it in Nashville. What these two songs share is that they show you the ugly side of Nashville- the struggling people who are trying to make it and the ones who never do.

“The devil walks among us folks and Nashville is his bride”
-Eric Church, “Devil, Devil (Prelude: Princess of Darkness)”

I think it’s safe to say that Church and Kristofferson will agree with the devil in Hubbard’s “Conversation with the Devil” when he said that what you wont find in heaven are “country program directors and Nashville record executives.” As Eric sings in “Devil, Devil (Prelude: Princess of Darkness),” – “devil, you can go screw yourself, and then go straight to hell.”


Currently listening to: Ray Wylie Hubbard and Eric Church- “Screw You We’re From Texas” (from Eric’s show in Dallas on the Holdin’ My Own Tour where he called Hubbard on stage to sing with him)

When Cairo Went Country

Two-Step Like An Egyptian 

Okay, so Cairo was never actually country. My apologies if you clicked on this post after reading the title expecting to see images of Hosni Mubarak in a cowboy hat and boots or Gamal Abdel Nasser learning how to two-step. However, if these pictures do exist, someone please send them to me ASAP!

Instead, this post is about a country song and a music video by two female artists from the 90s: Pam Tillis’ “Cleopatra, Queen of Denial” and Shania Twain’s “The Woman In Me (Needs The Man In You),” for which the music video was filmed in Cairo and Saqqara, Egypt.

“Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt” 

Just call Pam Tillis “Cleopatra” because she is the “Queen of Denial” in this 1993 hit. No, this is not Pam’s country accent causing her to mispronounce the river’s name – this woman is really in denial! Her man is obviously a good-for-nothing liar yet she keeps buying his alibis. Pam honestly believes that he couldn’t buy her a ring because he didn’t have any money yet he was able to go out and buy himself a new brand new pick-up truck. Come on girl! Read the hieroglyphic writing on the wall!

As Pam sings in this song, she is “floatin’ down a river of lies” from all the stories this guy has told her. And if he really does lie as much as she says, his “river of lies” sounds comparable to the that of the Nile, measuring in at 4,258 miles long.

“I caught him dancin’ last night with a girl in leopard skin pants” 

In this song, Pam Tillis catches her man dancing with a girl in leopard skin pants, which I swear wasn’t me! Honestly y’all, I didn’t even own these pants back in 1993 (see below)! But can Pam really blame him? Leopard skin pants are pretty hot (see below again)!

The Sphinx, Giza, Egypt (July 2014)

I would be remiss to not take this chance to say that the actual Cleopatra, the Queen of the Nile, is nothing like the woman in this song. She was extremely intelligent and a strong monarch, reigning as the last active ruler of Ptolemaic Egypt. She is well-known for her romantic affairs- one of her most famous lovers was Julius Caesar who was also her political ally. In Rome, she was regarded as his mistress since their Egyptian marriage was not recognized by Roman Law. Caesar did not try to conceal the fact she was his mistress, in fact, he even erected a statue of her in the temple of Venus Genetrix, which scandalized many Romans. He also openly claimed their son, Caesarion. These were bold statements, especially as she was unpopular with the Romans because she was outspoken and powerful. While she was married to Caesar, she had been forced to also marry her brother Ptolemy XIV in order to keep in line with Egyptian custom. After Caesar’s assassination, in order to prevent any challenges to Caesarion’s succession, she had her brother Ptolemy XIV killed. Another of her lovers was the Roman general Mark Antony with whom she allied herself with after Caesar’s death in order to help prevent Egypt from becoming a vassal to Rome. Although she did play hard to get at first by refusing Antony’s first two requests to meet and discuss their political alliance she eventually met with him and won him over with her charm. Though sources prove that Cleopatra and Antony truly did love one another, even having three children together, their relationship also proved beneficial to Cleopatra in her goal of expanding and protecting her empire. When it came to relationships, unlike Pam Tillis, Cleopatra wore the (leopard skin) pants!

There is, however, one thing that Pam Tillis and Cleopatra have in common and that’s heavy eye makeup- eyeshadow for the former and kohl for the latter.


From the Sticks to the Sahara 

I’m sure the days of country artists filming music videos in Egypt are long over but in 1995 this was a completely normal thing to do. In Shania Twain’s music video for “The Woman In Me (Needs The Man In You),” she can be found riding horseback through the pyramids, dancing at the oldest mosque in Cairo (The Mosque of Ibn Tulun), and hanging off a felucca boat over the Nile. It should come as no surprise that this is one of my favorite music videos- it’s Shania Twain….in Egypt!! Masha’Allah! 

You may be wondering why she was riding a horse and not a camel at the pyramids. Well, let me tell you, as someone who had ridden many a camel, nobody looks good riding one. Although if anyone could’ve pulled it off, it would’ve been Shania!

The most surprising thing about this video is the fact that none of the men in it seem to notice Shania. Yeah okay, you expect me to believe that Shania Twain, one of the most beautiful women in the world, went to Egypt and wasn’t bombarded with Egyptian men constantly hitting on her? Not buying it!

In Robin Eggar’s Shania Twain: The Biography (2001), this video is discussed briefly. It was filmed over the course of three days with Shania waking up at 3 a.m. so that she could be ready when dawn broke at 5:30 a.m. This video was filmed in the month of July and having been to Egypt myself in July (back in 2014) I know firsthand how hot it can get. I’m mostly impressed by the fact that she didn’t sweat out all of her makeup in this video!

Here’s a short snippet from her biography where she discusses making this video:

“All these women were around me. They were in black, I was in white. In Western culture, white is always the sign of innocence. In Egypt, white is considered a flamboyant color, whereas black is a humble color. We did some magnificent scenes with the women. They were wonderful. If my shawl was to come off, or if I took it off for a second, the women would run up to me like mothers and cover my shoulders for me… The mystery of the place just got to me. I got choked up for a bit while we were doing a take.” (Page 236)

Mosque of Ibn Tulun, Cairo, Egypt (July 2014)

I too visited the Mosque of Ibn Tulun when I was in Cairo (pictured above). Though the rules must’ve changed since Shania was there as I don’t think they allow dancing anymore.

Yalla, y’all! 

Both of these music videos are posted above so if you haven’t watched them yet go on ahead and do it! Yalla, y’all!

Currently listening to: The Brother Brothers- “Cairo, IL” and Natalie Hemby- “Cairo, IL” (not the same song though it is about the same place- the abandoned City of Cairo, Illinois)