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.
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 the 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.
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.” 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!
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.
While some bloggers have been making their top albums/songs lists for 2017, I didn’t want to do that. Since so much of the music I found this year has been around for a while, only focusing on the stuff from 2017 would be silly. Instead, I’m gonna focus on all of the great artists who came into my life this year.
Have you ever met someone and felt like you’ve known them your entire life? You wonder how you two went so long without meeting and now that you’ve met, you know you’ll be friends for life. Well that’s how I feel about some of the musical artists I discovered this year. I think about how much better my life would’ve been with their songs to guide me through years ago. But instead of dwelling on the past and missed years, I’ll vow to keep playing their music for the rest of my life. This includes artists like Margo Price. She has been one of my greatest finds of 2017. I’ll do an essay on her later (inspired by the bookWoman Walk the Line: How the Women in Country Music Changed Our Lives), where I’ll dive deeper into how much of an inspiration she has been to me. Just as I had fallen in love with her first album, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, she released her sophomore album, All American Made in October of this year. What I love about Margo, and her most recent album in particular, is that she sings about political issues like the pay gap and the Iran-Contra Scandal (throwback to the Reagan years!). She’s outspoken about her political views and doesn’t care about losing fans because of it. The world could use more Margos and country music needs more Margos!
Even though I already knew Sturgill Simpson before this year, I didn’t really know him. One day I felt compelled to listen to A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. The rest was history. In just six short months, I managed to fall in love with and immerse myself in Sturgill’s music, see him in concert, and purchase all of his albums on vinyl. In fact, he was my top played artist of 2017, according to Spotify. If you’ve talked to me at all these past few months, I’ve probably manged to name drop him at least once. Hopefully you all were listening to me and then decided to check out “The Sturge” for yourself! What I love about him is that he makes a record when he has something to say, not just to stay relevant. He wants to make records that people will still be playing 30 years from now. You don’t make records that stand the test of time by putting out album after album with nothing of substance on them. And if I have to wait ten years for another Sturgill Simpson record, I’m happy to do it. It’ll probably be the best damn album of all time!
“I’m just trying to constantly improve and become a better artist and then hopefully make records that people—I mean it’s great if they buy them today—but I’m more interested in making records that maybe people will still talk about in 30 years. That’s the goal for me. You can go crazy if you let yourself think, “How do I remain relevant?” or you can just go and try to make great music and the fans will react to it and it takes care of itself.” -“The Final Interview with Sturgill Simspon, According to Sturgill Simpson,” Noisey, November 30, 2017
I don’t remember what the first Jason Isbell song was that I listened to (maybe “Elephant?” or “Speed Trap Town?”) but I’m eternally grateful that the universe pointed me in his direction and had me press play. In a “Walking the Floor with Chris Shiflett” podcast interview with Jason, Chris brought up the fact that Jason is considered by some to be the “go to reference guy for songwriters in Nashville.” Just listen to one of his songs and it’s easy to see why. Though I’m glad it’s a part of my life now, I think about how useful a song like “Traveling Alone” could have been to me years ago. While Jason’s songs may not have had the opportunity to have been part of my past, they’re very much a part of my present, and I’m already making plans for them to be a part of my future. IF (please note this is both in bold and italics) I ever get married, I already know that “If We Were Vampires” will be on the playlist.
Something that the three artists mentioned above have in common is their politics. If you follow Margo Price and Jason Isbell on Twitter, you know how they feel about current events. And just last month, Sturgill Simpson decided to busk (verb; meaning to play music or otherwise perform for voluntary donations in the street or in subways) outside of the CMA Awards and talked crap about Donald Trump.
Another artist that I discovered this year is Cody Jinks. According to Spotify’s calculations, Cody’s song “Loud and Heavy” was my most played song this year (Sturgill’s “Sea Stories” was second). Unlike the artists mentioned above, Cody Jinks is less Americana and more 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 Tasjan, Sam Outlaw, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, and Paul Cauthen.
A New Appreciation for the Old Stuff
It wasn’t just finding new artists that made this past year so exciting but it was also rediscovering artists from my past, learning more about country music legends, and gaining a deeper appreciation for the trailblazers who made all of this possible. One of those people is Jerry Reed. The man is a national treasure we should all be thankful that Jerry Reed songs exist. His songs are a surefire way to put a smile on my face. The Oak Ridge Boys are another example of feel good country music that I got into this year. And don’t forget Bobby Bare too! 2017 is also the year that I fell in love with Emmylou Harris. Her Pieces of the Sky album is the first brand new (not used from a record store) record I ever bought, which also took 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!”
And since we’re on the topic of cool concert experiences this year, I just want to mention that at Ray Wylie Hubbard‘s concert at Hill Country BBQ in DC this past August, he mentioned the name of this blog while on stage. Now that’s pretty damn cool!
Keeping Up and Catching Up
There are some people out there that listen to every new album that comes out in its entirety and can break down each track while talking about the album as a whole. Many of those people get paid to do just that. I, however, do not. Also, that’s not me. I feel like there’s always new music coming out so I’d just stress myself out trying to do that. It also takes a while for me to really get into songs sometimes. So if it’s two months after an album has come out before I really listen to it, so be it. I’m happy being late to some parties.
With that being said, I do try and listen to some of the new stuff as it comes out when I can. Some great stuff that’s just come out is Neil Young and Promise of the Real‘s The Visitor. This album combines Lukas Nelson’s band Promise of the Real with the iconic Neil Young. The 2016 presidential election is a theme that you can hear on this album in songs like “Already Great.” Why are people trying to make America great again when, as Neil Young says, it’s already great? If I were gonna go back and rewrite my post on liberal country music, this song would definitely be on that list.
Lots of other albums came out this year that I haven’t spent as much time with as I should have- Travis Meadows‘s First Cigarette is one of them. Though I will say that “Long Live Cool” is in fact a cool song. I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for this guy because he’s the incredibly talented songwriter behind one of my all-time favorite songs- Dierks Bentley’s “Riser.” (He’s also mentioned twice in my post about Eric Church’s songwriting, “Eric Church: An Outsider, A Songwriter,” since he was a co-writer on both “Dark Side” and “Knives of New Orleans.”)
I also liked Chris Stapleton’s “From a Room: Volume 1” but admittedly haven’t given “From a Room: Volume 2” as much attention as it probably deserves. Sorry folks! The same goes for Lee Ann Womack‘s new album The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone, whose title track I love but I haven’t really ventured too far past that.
Some artists that I want to spend some more time getting to know better in the coming year are Rhiannon Giddens and Turnpike Troubadours.
Photographs and Memories
If I had to sum up 2017 in one picture, it would be this one:
I also just wanted an excuse to post this picture!
Looking Ahead to 2018
It’s hard to say what 2018 will hold. Only time will tell what other great artists I’ll find in the coming year. Perhaps I’ll be talking about a completely different genre of music in 365 days. Here’s to hoping that 2018 leads to many new discoveries- both musical and in general!
Here’s to also hoping that Eric Church releases some brand new music next year- that’s not asking for too much, is it?
You can find all of my favorite songs from the artists mentioned in this post on the beltwayboots Spotify account. My “Best of 2017” playlist can be found here.
Currently listening to: All of the great music that I discovered this year!
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:
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!
I usually try to start off these posts with a joke or by saying something clever about it being Monday. However, since today is the sixteenth anniversary of 9/11, I’ll start instead by taking this opportunity to remember those we lost on this day sixteen years ago.
“Well my buckle makes impressions
On the inside of her thigh
There are little feathered Indians
Where we tussled through the night”
Tyler is a great songwriter and his Kentucky accent makes these songs even more enjoyable to listen to. With that being said, if anyone has an extra ticket to Tyler’s show at Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House in DC on September 29th and would be willing to part with it, I would be forever in your debt! Help a sister out!
Kip Moore- “Blonde.” If you haven’t listened to Kip Moore’s new album SLOWHEART stop what you’re doing right now and go listen! It just came out on Friday so I don’t really expect you to have listened to it yet. I’m still listening to it myself and so far “Blonde” has been my favorite song. I might be a little biased if I say that this is a great album because admittedly I have a huge crush on Kip Moore.
“You ain’t even blonde girl Or even true to your roots”
Ryan Bingham- “Southside Of Heaven.” I don’t believe in heaven but if I did I would want to be on the Southside of it, that’s for sure. I love Ryan’s rough voice and his accompanying rough exterior. If guys that sing like this are on the Southside of heaven, then that’s definitely the side I would want to be on.
Luke Bell- “Loretta.” Is there anything more country then Luke Bell singing a song about a woman named Loretta? I didn’t think so. The next time someone tells you that they aren’t making country music like they used to, play them some Luke Bell and watch them shut up as you prove them wrong. Even the cover of his self-titled album looks like it belongs in a past decade. As long as he keeps making songs like this, I’ll gladly keep him around in this decade!
Lucinda Williams- “Lake Charles.” It’s funny how some songs find their way into our lives and this song is no exception. I saw a line from this song on the back of a Lucinda Williams t-shirt a few weeks ago. The guy wearing the shirt was standing in front of me in line at the Ray Wylie Hubbard concert at Hill Country BBQ in DC. The line on the back of his shirt read, “we used to drive through Lafayette and Baton Rouge in a yellow Camino.” There might’ve been more but that’s all I remember. And I think there was a yellow Camino on the front of the t-shirt. I figured the song that this line came from must be really good to have its own t-shirt so I looked up the lyrics later and found “Lake Charles.” I’ve listened to it over and over and the more I listen to it the more I wanna go to Lake Charles, Louisiana. I’m grateful to that random man in front of me for choosing to wear that specific shirt on that specific night and peaking my curiosity enough to look this song up. I understand why this song got its own t-shirt now!
“We used to drive Through Lafayette and Baton Rouge In a yellow Camino Listening to Howling Wolf He liked to stop in Lake Charles Cause that’s the place that he loved”
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit- “Chaos and Clothes.” It’s been awhile since I’ve included Jason Isbell so don’t give me that look! After watching his incredible NPR Tiny Desk Concert last night (recorded last month), I thought it would be fitting to have him on today’s post. Not only was Jason cracking jokes during his performance (including one about Abraham Lincoln- very DC of him!) but he even called a random person from the audience up to play guitar during “Last of My Kind,” which is my favorite song off of his latest album. Shout out to Ashwin, wherever you are! He started off the concert with “Chaos and Clothes,” another great song from The Nashville Sound that I’ve come to love since this album came out this summer. If you’ve got 20 minutes to kill (or 20 minutes that you wanna spend wisely) check out Jason’s performance of these two songs along with “Molotov” from the NPR Tiny Desk Concert.
Not only are we remembering those lost on 9/11 today but country music also lost two great artists last Friday- Don Williams a.k.a. the Gentle Giant and Troy Gentry, one half of Montgomery Gentry. In their honor, I’m including some Don Williams and Montgomery Gentry songs in this week’s post.
Don Williams- “Tulsa Time,” “Some Broken Hearts Never Mend,” and “I Believe In You.” Ever since hearing the news about Don, I’ve set my watch back to Tulsa Time in his memory. Don had some great songs during his career including my three favorite songs listed above. Earlier this year, some of my favorite artists (The Pistol Annies, Brandy Clark, Jason Isbell, Dierks Bentley, Garth Brooks) even recorded an album featuring his best songs titled Gentle Giants: The Songs of Don Williams. I’m glad he got to see this come together in his lifetime!
“Some broken hearts never mend, Some memories never end, Some tears will never dry, My love for you will never die”
Montgomery Gentry- “Lonely and Gone” and “She Couldn’t Change Me.” These are probably my two favorite Montgomery Gentry songs. It’s been a long time since I really listened to these guys but now seems like as good a time as any to start playing them again. I can remember thinking how great of a song “Lonely and Gone” was when I was younger. And I loved the whole story behind “She Couldn’t Change Me,” from the hair dying to the change in the woman’s taste in music as she changed her life and her relationship.
“She changed direction, headed back home She changed her tune, it’s all Haggard and Jones Had her dark brown hair pulled back and the bluest eyes you ever seen She changed everything when she couldn’t change me”
R.I.P. Don and Troy!
Beltway Boots on Spotify
Don’t forget that all of the music featured in my posts can be found on my Spotify playlists (beltwayboots)!
Currently listening to: A whole lotta Sturgill Simpson! Not sure if I’ve told y’all (I have) but I’m seeing him in concert on Friday! I’ve been listening to so much of him in preparation for the big night and still haven’t gotten sick of him. A true testament of a great artist! Be on the lookout for a post on Friday where I’ll write about my favorite songs from The Sturge!
As Steve Azar (a country artist of Syrian and Lebanese descent!! Say what?!) sings, “I don’t have to be me ’til Monday.” Well, it’s Monday so that means it’s back to the weekly routine. Thankfully, I’ve got the tracks below to keep me going this week.
The Tracks I’m Playing
Tyler Childers- “Whitehouse Road.” Holy Kentucky Smokes this guy is some kinda good! And when you’ve got Sturgill Simpson producing your record, how could you not be? I’ve included the link above to Tyler’s OurVinyl Session version of his song “Whitehouse Road” but it’s also featured on his newly released album Purgatory. I’m excited to see what the future holds for Tyler- maybe an album with him AND Sturgill?! A girl can dream!
Miranda Lambert- “Sweet By and By“ and Morgane and Chris Stapleton- “You Are My Sunshine.” If you don’t have a southern family of your own, don’t worry, Miranda Lambert, Morgane and Chris Stapleton, Brent Cobb, Jamey Johnson, and Shooter Jennings will let you be a part of theirs with their compilation album, Southern Family, which features the two songs listed above. Other artists that are a part of this Southern Family include Brandy Clark, Anderson East, and Jason Isbell. Everyone could use a southern family to call their own and I couldn’t think of a better one than this!
Since we’re on the topic of Chris Stapleton, it’d be appropriate now to mention The Steeldrivers and their song “If It Hadn’t Been For Love.” The Steeldrivers was Stapleton’s band from 2005-2010. If you’re a big fan of Stapleton, I would recommend checking these guys out, especially the stuff they recorded when he was part of the group.
Cody Jinks- “I’m Not the Devil.” Apparently long bearded men is the theme of today because here comes another one by the name of Cody Jinks. Cody is the real deal and one of the artists out there doing justice for country music with songs like “Loud and Heavy,” “Hippies and Cowboys,” and “I’m Not the Devil.” And for the record Cody, I don’t think you’re the devil!
“I’m not the devil you think that I am It ain’t no excuse, but I’m just a man I slipped and I fell, it got outta hand But I’m not the devil you think that I am”
Jon Pardi- “Heartache On The Dance Floor.” Let’s get this Pardi started! I’ve been head over boots for this California cowboy for quite some time. Not only am I digging the boots and cowboy hat look but I’m also digging the music this guy is putting out. See also: “Head Over Boots” and “Dirt On My Boots.”
Brandy Clark- “Daughter.” The ultimate revenge is karma- you get to sit back and let the universe work its magic and that’s just what Brandy Clark plans on doing in this song. She’s just waiting for all the men who have done her wrong to one day have daughters who date guys just like they used to be. Karma is one hell of a b**tch, ain’t she?
“So I hope you have a daughter and I hope that she’s a fox Daddy’s little girl – just as sweet as she is hot She can’t help but love them boys Who love to love and leave them girls just like her father Yeah, karma’s a bitch – so I hope you have a daughter”
Hayes Carll- “She Left Me For Jesus.” If this song doesn’t make you giggle or at least grin, you should go to the doctor and have your sense of humor examined. Another funny Hayes Carll song to check out is “Another Like You“ featuring Cary Ann Hearst. These songs aren’t new at all but I’m including them anyway, especially since they’ve brought me nothing but joy since discovering them. And since it’s Monday and the start of another work week for many of us, we could all use some laughs!
“She left me for Jesus and that just ain’t fair She says that he’s perfect, how could I compare She says I should find him and I’ll know peace at last If I ever find Jesus, I’m kickin’ his ass”
Watch out, Jesus! Hayes is coming for ya!
Mo Pitney- “Everywhere.” That voice tho! This song comes from his 2016 album, Behind This Guitar. If you wanna hear some mo’ music (pun attempt) from this guy, check out his cover of Merle Haggard’s “Farmer’s Daughter.” No doubt The Hag would be proud of Mo!
Miranda Lambert- “To Learn Her.” Y’all really thought I was only gonna put one Miranda song on this list? lol yeah ok. I’m convinced that there are no bad songs on her The Weight of These Wings album. The more I listen to it the stronger I become in this conviction, and with songs like “To Learn Her,” it’s easy to see why.
“Oh, to love her is to learn her Some things you just can’t learn”
Jason Isbell- “Cumberland Gap.” By now you guys should know that I’m gonna include Jason on pretty much every list I make (along with Miranda). I can’t get enough of this album (The Nashville Sound) or this man. If Jason is out there making music, you can pretty much expect that I’m gonna write about him.
“I ain’t cut out for war, unless I know what I’m fighting for And there’s nothing here but churches, bars, and grocery stores Ain’t much money in the old-time mandolin So I cash my check and I drink ’til I’m on my ass again”
Talking Crap About the Radio (Again)
I’m gonna take this opportunity to talk some crap about radio again. With the exception of Jon Pardi, Miranda Lambert (though not nearly enough), and sometimes Chris Stapleton, you’ll probably never hear any of these artists on the radio. There’s plenty of airtime for Kelsea Ballerini but none for Brandy Clark? Give me a break! And radios can play the same Jason Aldean song fifty times a day but can’t throw in a Cody Jinks song every once in awhile? Please. This is why I no longer listen to radio and wish I had stopped a long time ago. Mainstream country music needs a revival, however, I don’t see that happening anytime soon. At least that’s not keeping the guys and gals above from doing their thing! And as long as they’re around and putting out music, you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll be listening!
Last week I created a Spotify account (beltwayboots) where all of the music that I write about can be found. Be sure to check it out!
Currently listening to: Tyler Childers- “Universal Sound.” Told y’all this was some good stuff!
It’s hard being a liberal country music fan sometimes, especially when you’ve got artists like Toby Keith and Alabama performing for Donald Trump. Toby Keith even took things a step further by performing for Trump on his trip to Saudi Arabia in May. Was he finally going to put a boot in their ass for 9/11?? Nope. Instead he went to kiss some ass (who goes by the name of Donald Trump) by performing a free concert, which was for men only. This might’ve been the first time in Saudi history that women had the advantage over men by not having to sit through that. Though it has been said that Toby Keith is not a supporter of Donald Trump, actions speak louder than words, and his actions are saying otherwise. And Alabama, really!? The same band that sings, “Daddy was a veteran, a southern democrat, They oughta get a rich man to vote like that” in “Song of the South!” Where did these guys go?
Not only do you have country artists cozying up to Trump but the lyrics of some country songs are pretty dang awful. I practically had to pick my jaw up off the ground when I was listening to David Allan Coe’s “If That Ain’t Country” not too long ago and heard the n-word. I even Googled the lyrics just to be sure I didn’t mishear him. I didn’t. He actually said it. As I looked more into Coe’s music, I found that in the ’80s, he released an underground album with a song that has a title too offensive to post here because it contains, you guessed it, the n-word again. If you’re curious about this song, there’s a whole world wide web where you can look this up for yourself. It might just be the liberal snowflake (sarcasm) in me getting offended by things but I think these songs should offend most people, not just us beautiful snowflakes.
Thankfully, for liberal country music fans like myself, there are people like Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Kacey Musgraves, and Will Hoge out there who have restored my faith that there are other like-minded people in this genre.
Not Your Typical Country Song (And Thank Goodness!)
On Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit‘s new album, The Nashville Sound, there’s a song called “White Man’s World.” In addition to discussing race, looking at both African Americans and Native Americans in this country, this song also takes a swing at the patriarchy.
Isbell appeared on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah where he discussed this song along with the emotions that he was feeling the day after Trump won the election, especially in regards to his daughter. In this interview, Isbell said, “The thing that popped into my mind first was ‘Thank God she’s an infant, because I don’t have to explain any of this to her. She’ll figure it out as she grows up, but if she was a couple of years older I would have to be like, ‘OK, honey here’s what happened today and this is why your father doesn’t really know anything about human people in this country anymore.'”
In “White Man’s World,” Isbell brings up the emotions that he was feeling in regards to his daughter after the election by singing about how he once thought this world could be hers, but her momma knew better (her momma being Jason’s wife, singer/songwriter Amanda Shires Isbell). He also talks about looking into a black man’s eyes and “wishing [he’d] never been one of the guys who pretended not to hear another white man’s joke.” These are all topics you’re not likely to find in many country songs, making this song, and Jason’s outspokenness about politics, all that more important and necessary in these troubling times.
Love Trumps Hate
Not only are country songs dealing with the political issues of the day but so too are their music videos. In his video (see below) for “All Around You,” Sturgill Simpson shows a young boy draped in a cape with a superhero mask across his eyes who goes on to battle an enemy who has an uncanny resemblance to Donald Trump (take a look at minute 2:34, which is also pictured above.) He manages to defeat this Trumpian enemy with his heart-shaped shield, which he uses to make a hole in this guy’s wall (sound familiar?) for people to walk through. Hearts appear in other parts of the video from the ring on the young superhero’s finger to the shape of the stars that illuminate the sky after his defeat. This song comes from Sturgill’s Grammy Award winning album A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, which he wrote as a letter to his son and wife. I can only imagine that Sturgill sees his sons (he now has two) reflected in the little boy in this video. The fact that he’s probably teaching them to use love to combat the hateful things taking place in this world makes me love Sturgill even more than I already did (and that was a lot!)
This isn’t the first time (and I’m sure it won’t be the last) that Sturgill Simpson has gotten political in his music. Take the lyrics from his song “Call to Arms” for example.
“I done Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran North Korea tell me where does it end Well the bodies keep piling up with every day How many more of em they gonna send
Well they send their sons and daughters off to die For some oil To control the heroin Well son I hope you don’t grow up Believing that you’ve got to be a puppet to be a man”
Country music needs more artists like Sturgill Simpson who aren’t afraid to get political in their songs and music videos!
[Side note: if you aren’t familiar with the genius that is Sturgill Simpson, please take some time to familiarize yourself. This man is one of the best things to happen to country music in a looong time!]
Love Whomever You Damn Well Please
I couldn’t write this post without including my girl Kacey Musgraves. In 2014, she won Song of the Year at the CMA Awards for her song, “Follow Your Arrow.” Despite this achievement, Kacey got some crap for this song. With lines like “Make lots of noise, kiss lots of boys, or kiss lots of girls if that’s something you’re into” and encouraging people to roll up a joint (or don’t), people’s panties definitely got in a bunch over this song. According to Fox News, some people saw the song as an “attack on Christians” (insert picture of me rolling my eyes here.) With Trump’s announcement last week that transgender people will no longer be allowed to serve in the military, more friends of the LGBTQ community need to speak up and speak out. Kacey not only did this with her music but she also tweeted her support of pride month back in June and even wrote a love letter to the LGBTQ community featured on Billboard.
To all the members of the LGBTQ community- keep following your arrow!
That Damn Confederate Flag
Country music is synonymous with the south, which unfortunately often brings to mind images of Confederate flags. Thankfully, there are country artists speaking out against this ugly flag in their music. When it comes to the stars and bars, Will Hoge ain’t having it. In his song, “Still a Southern Man,” he makes it clear that you can be a southerner and not support the Confederate flag. However, he hasn’t always felt this way. Growing up in South Carolina, Hoge “used to proudly wave the Confederate flat at high school football games.” After all, his school’s mascot was the rebel soldier. It wasn’t until he graduated and began traveling and meeting people from different walks of life that he finally saw the flag for what it really is: a symbol of “slavery, oppression and secession.” He discusses this realization in his song where he calls the flag “a hammer driving nails in the coffin of a long dead land.”
“There’s a flag flying overhead And I used to think it meant one thing But now I’ve grown up and seen the world And I know what it really means I wanted it to be the symbol of a boy Who wasn’t scared to take a stand But now I know it’s just a hammer driving nails In the coffin of a long dead land”
The artists that have been mentioned in this post are all newer artists, but as Steve Earle shows, the older guys are also getting in on this. Earle sang about his disdain for the Confederate flag in his 2015 song, “Mississippi It’s Time.” In this song, he tries to reason with Mississippi that it’s time for the flag to come down. As the song states, “we can’t move ahead if we’re lookin’ behind.” Another major kudos goes to the “Copperhead Road” singer for giving all of the proceeds from this song to the Civil Rights organization Southern Poverty Law Center.
“Look away, Mississippi Mississippi, you’re on my mind All the crosses burned and the lessons unlearned Left a scar across my heart and it’s ten miles wide Sick of sloggin’ through the history of this wounded land of mine Still payin’ the cost cause the war was lost Mississippi, don’t you reckon it’s time
I wish I was in a land that never held a soul in bondage ever Wouldn’t have to drag these chains behind Mississippi, it’s time“
Us liberals know the true meaning of this flag (it’s slavery- anyone who says differently needs to quit kidding themselves) and appreciate artists like Will Hoge and Steve Earle for speaking up about this.
Although Johnny Cash never lived to see a Trump presidency (or evan a candidacy- that lucky son of a gun!), I’d like to think that if he were alive today, that he would be opposed to this administration. Because if not, what was wearing all that black really for?
“I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down, Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town, I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime, But is there because he’s a victim of the times”
I hope these artists and the messages that they convey give hope to all the liberals out there who have been turned off from country music because they’ve seen it as a close-minded, pro-Trump genre. As the current administration continues to go after minorities and the most vulnerable of our society, I hope that more country artists will use their voice in their music, social media, interviews, etc. to speak out.
I’m also still wondering what the audience in Riyadh thought about Toby Keith’s performance….
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.
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”