Putting the ‘American’ in Americana

Happy Independence Day to my fellow Americans!
And to all non-Americans, happy Wednesday! 

If you were with me last year, you’ll remember that for this holiday I did a post on Celebrating America’s Diversity in Country Music. However, this year, I’m approaching this holiday from a different angle. That angle is a political one and for the occasion I’ve put together a list of songs that tackle some of the important issues facing our country. These songs touch on many things currently taking place in America- police killings of black men, the pay gap, guns, and more. And of course almost all of these songs fall into the Americana category- a genre that isn’t afraid to get political with artists who aren’t afraid to speak out. These men and women put the ‘American’ in Americana!

The Pay Gap

Margo Price– “Pay Gap

How do I love Margo Price? Let me count the ways! One of those ways would be her courage to sing about not-so-sexy topics like the pay gap. Aside from the pay gap, women in Nashville have a hard enough time making it as it is. And with the city’s “shut up and sing” mentality towards female artists, I imagine outspoken women like Margo have an even harder time. With this song she shows that she’ll speak out about what she thinks is important and just because she’s stopped to sing doesn’t mean she’s leaving her opinions behind- she’ll put them into a song. I respect Margo for sticking to her guns (not literal guns though) and singing about what she feels is important.

“We are all the same in the eyes of God
But in the eyes of rich white men
No more than a maid to be owned like a dog
A second-class citizen”

Race Relations and Police Brutality 

Rhiannon Giddens– “Better Get It Right The First Time

Rhiannon Giddens’ voice is so powerful and moving that you almost forget she’s signing about police killing unarmed black men. It’s a topic that needs to be spoken (and sung) about and I admire Rhiannon for having the courage to do it. While this song came out in 2017 it’s still relevant a year later. Unless we see some real changes, I’m afraid this song will still be relevant for many years to come.

“(Young man was a good man)
Did you stand your ground?
(Young man was a good man)
Is that why they took you down?
(Young man was a good man)
Or did you run that day?
(Young man was a good man)
Baby, they shot you anyway”

Priscilla Renea– “Land of the Free

On her recently released album Coloured, whose style she calls “country soul,” Priscilla Renea sings about race relations and police brutality in her song “Land of the Free.” The song concludes with Jimi Hendrix playing the “Star Spangled Banner” and couldn’t be more appropriate for the holiday today. I’m proud to include yet another black female artist on this list (Rhiannon Giddens being the first) and hope that over time we will begin to see more diversity in both Americana and country music. Read more about Priscilla in this NPR interview, “Priscilla Renea Refuses To Be Quiet About Racism In Country Music.” Shout out to my friend who sent this to me!

“There’s enough to go around for everyone to share
But a check from Uncle Sam? What would that repair?
All the broken families, fathers in a cell
Slavery’s abolished, but it’s still alive and well”

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit– “White Man’s World

I know I talk about this song a lot but some things are worth repeating for redundancy’s sake. While this song deals heavily with race, mentioning both Native Americans and blacks, Jason also brings up sex, looking at the struggles his baby girl and wife face simply because they’re females. In spite of it all, Jason still has faith- “maybe it’s the fire in [his] little girl’s eyes.” While I’ve included this song here in this section, I could have also included it in the section below on the 2016 Election since it was written in response to it.

“I’m a white man looking in a black man’s eyes
Wishing I’d never been one of the guys
Who pretended not to hear another white man’s joke
Oh, the times ain’t forgotten”

Shakey Graves– “My Neighbor

Not sure if Shakey (if I may) wrote this song in an attempt to address race relations or not, but the image of a man in a turban living next to a polyester suit wearing (presumably white) man made me think about how none of us really know our neighbors. Not just our figurative neighbor but our literal neighbor, like the person you park your car beside and whose mail sometimes accidentally finds its way into your box. That guy.

“Oh my neighbor, my neighbor
At best we share a fence
We smile at each other
And we make up all the rest
I see you
Six-foot-two
In the polyester suit
Safe behind a cabin now
Wonderin’ if I’m around
‘Cause who am I?
Just some guy
With a turban and a knife
Only here to take away
Only reason you’re afraid
There’s no face
There’s no man behind the name
I’ve started to believe
My neighbor, we’re the same”

Drive-By Truckers– “Surrender Under Protest”

Featured on their 2016 album American Band, this song is “directly inspired by civil rights activists’ successful campaign to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse after white supremacist Dylann Roof allegedly murdered nine African Americans at a Charleston church meeting, [it] casts an unsparing eye on those unable to abandon tradition even when the sin at its root has been fully exposed.”

“Does the color really matter?
On the face you blame for failure
On the shamin’ for a battle’s losing cause”

Gun Control 

Particle Kid– “Gunshow Loophole Blues

According to The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, “The Gun Control Act of 1968 requires anyone engaged in the business of selling guns to have a Federal Firearms License (FFL) and keep a record of their sales. However, this law does not cover all gun sellers. If a supplier is selling from his or her private collection and the principal objective is not to make a profit, the seller is not “engaged in the business” and is not required to have a license. Because they are unlicensed, these sellers are not required to keep records of sales and are not required to perform background checks on potential buyers, even those prohibited from purchasing guns by the Gun Control Act. The gun show loophole refers to the fact that prohibited purchasers can avoid required background checks by seeking out these unlicensed sellers at gun shows.” Yep, that gives me the blues too!

Brandi Carlile– “Hold Out Your Hand”

While you wouldn’t necessarily think “gun control” while listening to this song you will once you watch the video which features the March for Our Lives protest in Seattle. If there’s one thing Brandi Carlile is an expert at it’s knowing how to get me misty-eyed. This happened at her concert in May and also while watching this music video. #enoughisenough

“Well he came to my door to sell me the fear with some cameras and bullets and tension and here is a license for killing your own native son for a careless mistake and a fake plastic gun?

Deliver your brother from violence and greed for the mountains lay down for your faith like a seed. A morning is coming of silver and light there will be color and language and nobody wanting to fight. What a glorious sight”

Dispatch– “Dear Congress: Your Thoughts and Prayers Are Not Enough”

This song from Dispatch is in support of Common Sense Gun Reform. While I could post a powerful lyric from the song below for you, I’d rather you watch the video and read the Tweets that are posted and take in the images on the screen for yourself. I think that would say more than I ever could.

Will Hoge- Thoughts and Prayers

Following this trend is Will Hoge’s “Thoughts and Prayers,” which is also directed at Congress, or as he sings in this song, the people in “that big white dome” a.k.a. the whores to the NRA (his words, not mine. Though I don’t disagree.) You may remember Will from my liberal country music post from last year where I wrote about his song “Still a Southern Man.” Will has a history of writing songs about the not-so-pretty parts of America, from the confederate flag to gun violence.

“There’s a momma cryin’ ’cause the baby won’t come home
You tell a father that you’re sorry that his son is gone
While you sit and do nothin’ in that big white dome
And just hope we all forget to care”

War (What Is It Good For?) 

Mary Gauthier– “Brothers” (see also: the entire Rifles and Rosary Beads album)

Mary’s album Rifles and Rosary Beads was co-written with American veterans and their families, through the nonprofit SongwritingWith:Soldiers, and details the struggles that military men and women face not only overseas but at home too. This song in particular tells the story of a female soldier struggling to be considered an equal among her “brothers.” It’s fitting that we’re talking about this song on July 4th as one of the lines from the song reads, “I thought RPGs were fireworks, that’s how green I was at first.” You can read more about this project from Mary Gauthier’s NPR interview here. ALSO, I just want to add that I was at the gym this morning and saw Mary on CBS talking about this album! Glad others are getting to hear about her work on this holiday.

If anything, this album should serve as a wake-up call to the horrors of war. And not only the stuff that happens on the battlefield but after the war too. This country doesn’t do enough for its veterans and despite your views on war we should still take care of our military men and women. You can donate to the Wounded Warrior Project here.

“You broke my heart on veterans day
Don’t you understand the words you say
You raised a flag for the men you serve
What about the women, what do we deserve?”

Bob Wayne– “80 Miles from Baghdad

This song is from Bob’s album Bob Hombre (think of that title what you will.) He co-wrote this song with a veteran soldier who was stationed in Iraq, which makes its depiction of war all that more real. You can watch a video on the song-writing process behind this song here.

“80 miles from Baghdad, I killed my first man
3000 miles from nowhere, away from my homeland
I didn’t go there seeking weapons or some foreign policy”

Sturgill Simpson– “Call to Arms

I’ve already written about this song in my post “Sturgill Simpson: A Metamodern Country Philosopher,” if you want to read what I had to say about it there.

“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”

John Prine– “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore

An oldie but a goodie! As John said at this concert just last month, he wrote this song in 1968 as a political song and it’s still a political song today. And he’s gonna keep playing it until they get it right!

“But your flag decal won’t get you into Heaven anymore
They’re already overcrowded from your dirty little war
Now Jesus don’t like killin’, no matter what the reason’s for
And your flag decal won’t get you into Heaven anymore”

John Prine- Sam Stone

Here’s another John Prine song for you! Featured on Rolling Stone’s “Reader’s Poll: The 10 Saddest Songs of All Time,” it’s “Sam Stone,” a song about a war veteran returning home and turning to heroin. Sam Stone dies at the end of this song “when he popped his last balloon.” If Sam Stone’s story doesn’t convince you that soldiers need better access to mental health programs when they return from combat, nothing will. If you want to help, you can donate to The Soldiers Project here.

“Sam Stone came home,
To the wife and family
After serving in the conflict overseas.
And the time that he served,
Had shattered all his nerves,
And left a little shrapnel in his knees.”

The 2016 Election 

Brandi Carlile– “The Joke

Feeling defeated after the 2016 election? Yeah, I know it’s been over a year and half but some of us are still dealing with this. Brandi Carlile’s “The Joke” looks at others who are also feeling this way. According to Brandi, “There are so many people feeling misrepresented [today],” she said. “So many people feeling unloved. Boys feeling marginalized and forced into these kind of awkward shapes of masculinity that they do or don’t belong in… so many men and boys are trans or disabled or shy. Little girls who got so excited for the last election, and are dealing with the fallout. The song is just for people that feel under-represented, unloved or illegal.”

Despite the content of this song, Brandi still manages to provide a glimmer of hope. As she sings, she’s been to the movies, she’s seen how this ends, and the joke is on them. Gee, I sure hope she’s right!

“They come to kick dirt in your face
To call you weak and then displace you
After carrying your baby on your back across the desert
I saw your eyes behind your hair
And you’re looking tired, but you don’t look scared”

American Aquarium– “The World Is On Fire

How many of us can relate to waking up on November 9, 2016 and thinking that the world was on fire? (Probably a majority of us but I won’t get into that here. Stupid electoral college.) This song provides a sense of comfort in knowing that you weren’t the only person feeling this way that Wednesday morning. I always get emotional when I hear BJ Barham, American Aquarium frontman, sing the words below. Thanks for raising your daughter right, BJ!

“I got a baby girl comin’ in the spring
I worry ’bout the world she’s comin’ into
But she’ll have my fight, she’ll have her mama’s fire
If anyone builds a wall in her journey
Baby, bust right through it”

American Aquarium- Tough Folks

Another American Aquarium song? You bet! And this time they’re serving up a big heapin’ portion of hope by reminding you that “tough times don’t last, tough folks do.” Stay strong, folks!

“And last November I saw firsthand
What desperation makes good people do”

Willie Nelson– “Delete and Fast Forward” 

Delete and fast forward? If only it were that easy, Willie! I keep hitting the fast forward button but it seems like these four years are passing by at a snail’s pace. I guess if Willie can make it until 2020 then so can the rest of us!

“Delete and fast-forward, my son
The elections are over and nobody won
You think it’s all endin’ but it’s just settin’ in
So delete and fast-forward, my friend”

The Environment 

Andrew Combs– “Dirty Rain

A song about the environment? Andrew Combs is a man after my own heart (I write this as I sit drinking out of my reusable Starbucks cup). While I go back and forth on the whole “wanting to have kids someday thing,” one reason for my not wanting to is the fact that the environment only seems to be getting worse. Why would I want to have kids just so they can play in the “dirty rain,” as Andrew sings?

“Flattened static, paved in progress’s name
But what will all our little children say
When the only place to play
Is in the dirty rain” 

Father John Misty– “Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution

If you don’t care about the “bright blue marble” that we all live on, maybe watching the music video for this song can convince you otherwise. Perhaps iPhones turned into artifacts in a post-apocalyptic world will speak to you. The puppets from this video, which was directed by Chris Hopewell, were auctioned off and the proceeds were given to the Environmental Defense Fund. If you care about the environment, like I assume Father John Misty a.k.a. Josh Tillman does, then consider donating to this fund as well. Or, better yet, start recycling, reducing your waste, and eating less meat. You can also take part in Plastic Free July and join the challenge to refuse single-use plastic this month. And why stop there? Keep it going all twelve months!

Aaaannndddd…if you purchase anything from FJM’s web store between July 2nd – 6th, he’ll be donating all merchandise profits to the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES). You’ve still got two more days!

“It got too hot and so we overthrew the system
‘Cause there’s no place for human existence like right here
On this bright blue marble orbited by trash
Man, there’s no beating that
It was no big thing to give up the way of life we had, oh”

Hurray for the Riff Raff- Rican Beach

I’ll let Alynda Lee Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff tell you about this song in her own words, “‘Rican Beach’ is a fictional place and the song is a cautionary tale.” “It tells the story of a city progressing rapidly into militarized and segregated areas. There’s a lot of symbolism in the song that reflects our times, of course. I felt the water protectors at Standing Rock and the people of Peñuelas were important to reflect on while listening to the lyrics. The point of view is one of resistance, people of color claiming their space and their right to exist. It is about claiming ancestry and recognizing a history of facing systemic oppression while protecting and connecting with the land. Even though it was written about an urban space, I think it speaks to the actions of these activists who are connected with the earth.”

American Politics in General

Particle Kid– “Everything is Bullshit

He’s not wrong. Everything kind of is bullshit. The song’s title was inspired by Particle Kid’s (a.k.a. Micah Nelson who happens to be the son of Willie Nelson) girlfriend who said the phrase one day while watching the news. As Micah says, “To me it’s a healing song about facing the reality of how weird and out of control reality is, and finding some humor in there.”

“Post a picture for your Facebook 
Make a profile on your Snapchat
Murder people from a distance
Laugh at videos of cats”

Margo Price– “All American Made

One of my favorite things about Margo Price is that she sings about the ugly things that America is guilty of like the pay gap and the Iran-Contra Affair. Yep, the Iran-Contra Affair. Bet you never thought that would come up in an Americana song much less one that was released thirty years after the scandal took place. If you don’t remember the Iran-Contra Affair (I wasn’t even born yet), a condensed version of what happened is the following: “It consisted of three interconnected parts: The Reagan administration sold arms to Iran, a country desperate for materiel during its lengthy war with Iraq; in exchange for the arms, Iran was to use its influence to help gain the release of Americans held hostage in Lebanon; and the arms were purchased at high prices, with the excess profits diverted to fund the Reagan-favored “contras” fighting the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.” Hey, what can I say? It was “All American Made.”

“1987 and I didn’t know it then
Reagan was selling weapons to the leaders of Iran
And it won’t be the first time and, baby, it won’t be the end
They were all American made”

Todd Snider– “Conservative Christian, Right-Wing Republican, Straight, White, American Males

Yeah, just hearing that title makes me scoff. Remember when Jason Isbell said it was a “white man’s world”? Well, it’s actually a conservative Christian, right-wing Republican, straight, white, American man’s world. However, this isn’t a new thing, it was this way in 2004 when this song was released, and it was that way long before. If you aren’t familiar with the creature of the “conservative Christian, right-wing Republican, straight, white, American male,” allow Todd Snider to fill you in.

“Conservative Christian, right wing Republican
Straight, white, American males
Gay bashin’, black fearin’
Poor fightin’, tree killin’
Regional leaders of sales
Frat housin’, keg tappin’
Shirt tuckin’, back slappin’
Haters of hippies like me
Tree huggin’, peace lovin’
Pot smokin’, porn watchin’
Lazy-ass hippies like me”


Childish Gambino– “This is America”

This song is not Americana but I would be remiss not to include it here. I’m also not going to include any lyrics here as a way to encourage you to watch the video instead. Take the next four minutes and four seconds to really watch this video. But really, is there anybody out there who HASN’T seen this yet? And do they live under a rock?

Paul Cauthen– “Everybody Walkin’ This Land

While this may be a song encouraging people “to get right with God,” I hear it as a call to people to just get right. Period. Especially the racists, fascists, and bigots Paul Cauthen references in this song. This song is political to me, and earns a spot on this list, because of the very fact that he calls out fascists. Y’all need to get right!

“You racists and fascists and nihilists and bigots, I’m callin’ you out my friend”

Peter Dawson– “Willie Nelson For President” 

He’d make a better president than the one we’ve got that’s for sure, though I feel like he may be a single-issue politician. You already know the issue. Also, if this ever happens, I’ve already got the bumper sticker for it! I wonder who he would choose as his VP?

My turntable

“If I could I’d vote for Willie to run our government
“Good mornin’ America, how are you?” He’d say with his pigtails and a grin
He would unite the whole nation with his guitar and his song
It’s the only thing that makes perfect sense
Willie Nelson for President”

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real– “High Times

Including this as a political song might be a bit of a stretch but if his dad can run for president (see above), surely Lukas Nelson can as well, as he sings in this song, “I’m gonna run for president, vote for me, I’m heaven sent.” I’m not opposed to a Nelson family dynasty in the least. Perhaps his campaign slogan could be, “It’s High Time You Vote for Lukas Nelson”?

“I’m gonna die for CNN
Believing in the dream I’m in
I’m gonna die for Fox News
For skewed views
And twisted spews”

Bryan Lewis– “I Think My Dog’s a Democrat

I wanna be friends with this dog. Besides the obvious reason that dogs are awesome this particular dog appears to have good taste in politics. Perhaps he might be interested in the same Donald Trump chew toy I bought for my dog? You can find this toy (also available for cats) for sale here and on Amazon.

titan
Titan and Trump (Christmas 2017)

“I pay for all his healthcare and I buy everything he eats
I provide him with a place to live just to keep him off the streets.
Well, he just acts like he’s entitled,
Even tried to unionize the cat,
Yeah, I think my dog’s a Democrat.”

Neil Young and Promise of the Real– “Already Great

Leave it to a Canadian (Neil Young) to tell us that our country is already great! For all those wanting to make America great again, Neil Young is here to tell you that it’s already great! And he’s brought along his American friends, Promise of the Real, to help him relay his message. The song’s bridge is “no wall, no ban, no fascist USA.” While there are some nasty people calling for walls and bans, there are also Americans marching in the streets calling for “no wall, no ban.” It’s the latter of these two that make America “already great.”

I do have a question for Neil Young though- if he thinks America is already great, what does he think of our lovely neighbor to the north, his home country, dear old Canada?? I’ll go drool over pictures of Justin Trudeau while I wait for his response.

16425753_10207419474836148_112399123984105874_n.jpg
Takin’ it to the streets! (January 2017)

If you like this song, you’ll also like “When Bad Got Good,” also from The Visitor album. Throughout the song the words “lock him up” are chanted and the phrase “liar in chief” comes up.

“No wall
No ban…

Not my words
That’s just you the other day out on that street
(My American friend)
You’re looking at one of the lucky ones
Came here from there to be free”

Aaron Lee Tasjan– “If Not Now When

Invoking Hillel the Elder, though maybe not purposefully, this song is a “call to action” of sorts. If the things above bother you- gun violence, global warming, the pay gap- do something about it. Vote for politicians who care about the environment, who want common sense gun laws, who value women. Call your representatives, donate money, even if you only have a little, to organizations like the ACLU, Texas Civil Rights Project, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), and if you can’t donate your money, donate your time. Educate yourself and those around you. Speak out when you see injustice. Do what you can NOW. Because, as Aaron Lee Tasjan sings, “if not now, when?”

“Over and over again
You try and try to pretend
That it’s never gonna be the end
If not now, when?
If not now, when?”

America the Beautiful, despite her flaws

While I could have gone in another direction for this 4th of July post and posted about the most patriotic country songs out there, I wanted to instead highlight the artists out there singing about real problems facing this country. Rather than just singing about how much they love America and ignoring her flaws, they’re bringing attention to her flaws. You can still love your country and be critical of it. Wanting your country to be better because you care about her and her people is the best kind of patriotism.

You’ll also notice that with a few exceptions most of these songs fall under the “Americana” category. I’m not sure if mainstream country artists are singing about these issues because honestly I haven’t listened to country radio in quite some time. My guess is that they’re not. In fact, I just scrolled through the list of top country songs and if the song titles are any indication, they definitely aren’t (though maybe Luke Bryan’s “Most People Are Good” could be an exception to the rule.) Singing about politics and real issues would put them at risk of not being played on the radio and it’s all about that airplay, right? (Sarcasm!) It’s the courage displayed by the artists above to sing about these topics and about what they believe in that has steered me away from mainstream country and into the world of Americana.

If you like the songs above and the subjects they address, you should also check out my “That Good Ole Liberal Country Music (Yep, you read that right!)” post, which deals with topics like the confederate flag and the LGBT community and features Steve Earle and Kacey Musgraves.

So while some of you may be cranking up the Toby Keith and Lee Greenwood today, I’ll be listening to these guys and gals! All of the songs mentioned above can be found on a Spotify playlist I’ve created for this post. I’ve also included the liberal country music songs found in my other post on this playlist. Of course, this list isn’t comprehensive so if you’ve got any other political songs (from any genre) that I may have missed from the past few years, let me know!

Happy 4th, everyone! 

Currently listening to: Turnpike Troubadours- “The Bird Hunters.” While this song doesn’t fit in with the other songs listed above, it does mention the 4th of July. I had the privilege of seeing them perform this song on Saturday night at the 9:30 club.

Turnpike Troubadours at the 9:30 Club (June 30, 2018)

“And a flutter of feathers
Then a shotgun to shoulder
I thought of the Fourth of July
She’ll be home on the Fourth of July
I bet we’ll dance on the Fourth of July”

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

What I’m Listening To

This past quarter (April-June), I’ve been getting deep into certain artists/groups. Groups like the Turnpike Troubadours and Arctic Monkeys and artists like Cody Jinks and Nikki Lane. One group that’s made a big impression on me are the Turnpike Troubadours. I’ve fallen hard for this sexy sextet. While their latest album (mentioned below), is first-rate, their old stuff is just as amazing. With songs like “Time of Day,” “Long Hot Summer Day,” and “Gin, Smoke, Lies” these guys are definitely gonna go down as one of my favorite bands and Evan Felker‘s name will forever have a place on my list of favorite songwriters. AND I’ll be seeing these guys tonight in concert at the 9:30 Club along with Charley Crockett.

Albums I’m Loving  

Before getting into the singles, I’ll start off with albums that I’m loving. While most of these albums were released in 2018 there are a few from 2017 listed below as well.

2018
Brandi Carlile
By the Way, I Forgive You (Top songs: “Every Time I Hear That Song,” “Sugartooth,” “Hold Out Your Hand,” “The Joke“- basically the entire album) (You can read about me seeing Brandi perform all of the songs off her new album in concert here)
John PrineThe Tree of Forgiveness (Top songs: “Egg & Daughter Nite, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1967,” “Summer’s End“)
Kacey MusgravesGolden Hour (Top songs: “Oh, What a World,” “High Horse,” “Happy & Sad” (Read my album review of Golden Hour here)
American Aquarium– Things Change (Top songs: “The World Is On Fire,” “Crooked+Straight“)
Dierks Bentley– The Mountain (Top songs: “The Mountain“, “Woman, Amen,” “My Religion“) (Brandi Carlile also makes an appearance on the album in the song “Travelin’ Light.”)
Sarah Shook & The Disarmers– Years (Top songs: “Good as Gold,” “Parting Words”) (I saw Sarah and her band back in April and I’ve already got tickets to see them again in October when they roll back through DC!)
Mary GauthierRifles and Rosary Beads (Top songs: “Brothers” and “Bullet Holes in the Sky“)
2017
Turnpike Troubadours– A Long Way from Your Heart (Top songs: “The Housefire,” “Something to Hold On To“)
Lilly HiattTrinity Lane (Top songs: “The Night David Bowie Died,” “So Much You Don’t Know“) (I got to see Lilly Hiatt in concet in May- read about it here!)
Nikki Lane– Highway Queen (Top songs: “Foolish Heart,” “Lay You Down“)
Dan Auerbach– Waiting on a Song (Top songs: “Never In My Wildest Dreams,” “Stand by My Girl“)
Sarah Shook & The Disarmers- Sidelong (Top songs: “Dwight Yoakam,” “Fuck Up“) (Yeah, I know she’s got two albums listed here but she released two great albums in back to back years, what can I say?)

The Tracks I’ve Been Playing (from 2018)

*in alphabetical order  

And now, for the singles. As you’ll notice, I’ve stayed true to my pattern of including both brand new songs and songs that are several years (or more) old.  I’ve put all of the songs from 2018 together and then broken up the older stuff below. I’ve also decided to just list these out without my usual commentary on each song (with a few exceptions) because 1) I figure most of you don’t care and 2) this list is pretty long and ain’t nobody got time for that!

Blackberry Smoke- “I’ll Keep Rambin‘”
Leon Bridges- “
Beyond
Brothers Osborne- “
Pushing Up Daisies (Love Alive),” “I Don’t Remember Me (Before You),” “Slow Your Roll (all from their new album Port Saint Joe)
The Brummies (feat. Kacey Musgraves)- “
Drive Away
Paul Cauthen-
Everybody Walkin’ This Land,” “Resignation” (both from his new EP Have Mercy)
Childish Gambino– “This Is America” (watch the video!)
Charley Crockett– “Ain’t Gotta Worry Child
Brent Cobb– “King of Alabama
Dawes- Living in the Future
Jade Bird– “Lottery
Jeff Hyde– “Old Hat
Jewel– “Body On Body” (from Johnny Cash: Forever Words, an album based off of the poetry of Johnny Cash.)
Ruston Kelly– “Asshole
Ruston Kelly (feat. Kacey Musgraves)- “To June This Morning” (also from Johnny Cash: Forever Words, an album based off of the poetry of Johnny Cash. You can learn more about this song from husband and wife Ruston and Kacey here.) 
Shooter Jennings- “
Rhinestone Eyes
Cody Jinks
– “Must be The Whiskey” (from his upcoming album Lifers, which will be released July 27th)
Ashley Monroe– “Hands on You,” “Rita,” “Paying Attention” (Her new album Sparrow is pretty great- and it was produced by none other than Dave Cobb!)
Kacey Musgraves– “Roy Rogers” (Elton John cover from Restoration: The Songs Of Elton John and Bernie Taupin)
Willie Nelson– “Last Man Standing
Old Crow Medicine Show– “Look Away
Lindi Ortega– “The Comeback Kid” (read about the Lindi Ortega concert I attended in April here)
Erin Rae– “Putting on Airs
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats– “You Worry Me
Amanda Shires– “Leave It Alone
Caitlyn Smith– “St. Paul,” “Do You Think About Me” (both from her album Starfire)
Justin Timberlake feat. Chris Stapleton– “Say Something
Sadler Vaden– “Monster” (can’t seem to find this on YouTube but it’s on my Spotify playlist)
Shakey Graves– “My Neighbor
Western Centuries– “Own Private Honky Tonk,” “Wild You Run
The Wild Feathers– “Big Sky

The Tracks I’ve Been Playing (not from 2018)

*in alphabetical order

American Aquarium- Wolves” (2015)
Ryan Bingham-
Bread & Water,” “Sunrise” (2007)
The Black Keys– “Little Black Submarine,” “Gold on the Ceiling” (2011) (Yeah, I know I’m late to The Black Keys party. Sorry, my invitation got lost in the mail!)
Leon Bridges– “Twistin’ & Groovin’” (2015)
Tyler Childers– “Play Me a Hank Song,” “Bottles And Bibles” (2011)
Slaid Cleaves-
God’s Own Yodeler,” “Texas Love Song” (2013)
Charley Crockett-
Jamestown Ferry” (2017)
Ward Davis
(feat. Jamey Johnson and Willie Nelson)Old Wore out Cowboys,” “I Got You” (reminds me of a modern day version of Waylon and Willie’s “I Can Get off on You“) (2015)
Dave Rawlings Machine– “The Weekend” (2015)
Dawes– “A Little Bit Of Everything” (2011) (this song get me misty-eyed!) 
The Dead South- “
In Hell I’ll Be In Good Company(watch the video!) (2014)
The Devil Makes Three– “All Hail” (2009)
Dispatch– “Curse + Crush,” “Midnight Lorry” (2017)
Justin Townes Earle– “Harlem River Blues,” “One More Night In Brooklyn” (2010) (Read about me seeing him in concert in May here)
Dom Flemons– “Too Long I’ve Been Gone” (2014)
Shakey Graves– “Dearly Departed (with Esmé Patterson),” “Roll the Bones” (I’ve included live versions of these songs since this is the way they were introduced to me and it’s the only version of “Roll the Bones” that I listen to)
William Clark Green– “Ringling Road” (2015)
Patty Griffin– “Making Pies” (2002)
Cris Jacobs– “Jack the Whistle and the Hammer,” “Hallelujah Hustler” (2016)
Jamestown Revival- Midnight Hour” (2016)
Shooter Jennings
– “I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone” (2016)
Reckless Kelly– “Wicked Twisted Road” (2005)
The Head and the Heart– “Shake” (2013)
Natalie Hemby– “Cairo, IL” (2017) (I kinda wanna go here now)
Zephaniah OHora– “High Class City Girl from the Country” (2017)
Hurray For the Riff Raff– “Rican Beach” (2017)
Lucero– “Went Looking for Warren Zevon’s Los Angeles” (2015)
Lillie Mae- Honest and True” (2017)
James McMurty
– “Long Island Sound,” “You Got to Me” (2015) (He was the opening act for Jason Isbell when I saw him back in February. Apparently he’s Jason’s favorite songwriter. And Jason is one of my favorite songwriters. So I guess this guy is partially to thank for that.)
Nikki Lane– “Gone, Gone, Gone” (2011), “All or Nothin’” (2014)
Parker Milsap– “Wherever You Are” (2016)
John Moreland– “Hang Me in the Tulsa County Stars” (2015) “Love Is Not an Answer” (2017)
Esmé Patterson– “No River,” (2016) “Tumbleweed” (2014) (from her album Woman to Woman, which is a concept album written as a response to famous songs about women. This one is about Townes Van Zandt’s “Loretta.” Other songs include “Never Chase A Man” about Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and “Bluebird” about The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.”)
Chris Stapleton– “Scarecrow in the Garden,” “Hard Livin’” (2017) (I prefer the version of “Hard Livin'” with Sturgill Simpson from SNL, but hey, that might just be me!)
The Steel Woods– “Let the Rain Come Down,” “Better in the Fall,” “If We Never Go” (2017) (So I will add some quick commentary on this band because I saw them in concert earlier in June. These guys have a great Southern rock sound and I enjoyed hearing them play their own stuff along with some covers including “Yesterday’s Wine,” “Whipping Post,” and “Lonesome, On’ry, and Mean” at Jammin’ Java in Vienna, VA.)
Twin Forks– “Can’t Be Broken” (the Audiotree Live Version) , “Cross My Mind,” “Back to You” (2014) (Late to the game in finding this group but after seeing Dashboard Confessional in concert back in March it was brought to my attention that Chris Carrabba (swoon!) has a folk band and they’re pretty good!)
Uncle Lucius– “Keep the Wolves Away” (2013)
Colter Wall– “Sleeping on the Blacktop,” “The Devil Wears a Suit and Tie,” (2015) “Thirteen Silver Dollars” (2017) (Read about my experience seeing Colter Wall in concert here)
Willie Watson– “Gallows Pole” (2017)
Whiskey Myers– “Stone” (2016)
The Wild Feathers– “The Ceiling” (2013)
Jack White– “Honey, We Can’t Afford to Look This Cheap” (2007)
Wrinkle Neck Mules– “Whistlers & Sparklers” (2015)
Yellow Feather– “If You Ain’t Cheatin’” (2017)

The Tracks I’ve Been Playing (from WAY before 2018)

*in alphabetical order

The Allman Brothers Band- Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More” (1972)
Guy Clark-
Anyhow, I Love You” (1976), “Dublin Blues” (1995)
Dramarama- Anything, Anything [I’ll Give You]” (1990)
Tom T. Hall- Faster Horses” (1976) (this song makes a great addition to any Kentucky Derby playlist!) 
Elton John-
Honky Cat” (1972) “The Bitch Is Back” (1974) (I’ve always loved Elton John but with the recent release of Restoration: The Songs Of Elton John and Bernie Taupin, which features artists like Kacey Musgraves (see above), Lee Ann Womack, and Miley Cyrus, I was reminded of how many songs this man has gifted to us.) 
Robert Earl Keen-
Feeling Good Again” (1998)
Kris Kristofferson– “The Taker” (1971)
Lyle Lovett– “If I Had A Boat” (1987) (Lovett or leave it, you gotta admire this man. I mainly just wanted an excuse to say “Lovett or Leave It”)
James McMurty– “Every Little Bit Counts” (1998)
Old 97’s– “Barrier Reef” (1997), “Champaign, Illinois” (2010)
John Prine– “Ain’t Hurtin’ Nobody” (1995), “Please Don’t Bury Me” (1973)
Willis Alan Ramsey– “Northeast Texas Women,” “Geraldine And the Honeybee” (1972) (These songs are from the only album that Willis Alan Ramsey ever released, a self-titled album. Ramsey is a cult legend among fans of Americana and Texas country. Apparently he will be releasing his second album (46 years later!) at some point in the near future.)
Billy Joe Shaver– “Live Forever” (1993)
Townes Van Zandt– “I’ll Be Here in the Morning” (1968), “If I Needed You” (1972- that’s the fourth song from 1972 in this itty bitty section- must’ve been a good year for music!)
Whiskeytown– “16 Days” (1997)
Lucinda Williams– “Joy” (1998) (her album Car Wheels On A Gravel Road just celebrated its 20th Anniversary. I’ve enjoyed listening to this album and can see why it’s been so influential in Americana/country music.)

You can find all of the songs referenced above (unless they’re not on Spotify) on my second quarter of 2018 Spotify playlist here. Hopefully I managed to get all of these on there. If you missed my first quarter roundup, you can find that post here.

It Ain’t All Country, All of the Time

As I mentioned above, I’ve gotten into Arctic Monkeys here lately. I first learned about them when I was living in London in 2014 when “Do I Wanna Know?” was a big hit. I hadn’t really listened to them much since that chapter in my life but have recently gotten back into them and found so many more songs I like. Songs like the following:

One For The Road
From the Ritz To The Rubble
Piledriver Waltz
Fluorescent Adolescent
I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor
Arabella
Stop The World I Wanna Get Off With You
Bigger Boys and Stolen Sweethearts
Four Out of Five
Old Yellow Bricks

You can find all of the Arctic Monkeys songs referenced above along with some others on my “Arctic Monkeying Around” Spotify playlist here.

Albums I’m Waiting For

Some albums that will be coming out soon that I’m looking forward to are Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit‘s Live from the Ryman, Cody Jinks‘ Lifers, Amanda Shires’ To the Sunset, and King of the Road, a Roger Miller tribute album featuring Eric Church, Kacey Musgraves, Dolly Parton, and more- well, dang me!

Currently listening to:  Tyler Childers- Live On Red Barn Radio I & II. This vinyl was waiting for me when I got home last night! “Charleston Girl” and “Dead Man’s Curve” are two Tyler classics and are both featured on this album. Here’s to hoping the that the album gets put back up on Spotify so that I can add these songs to my playlists.

My copy of Tyler Childers’ Live On Red Barn Radio I & II  (released June 29, 2018)

May/Early June Concert Roundup

Another month (and some change) have passed which means it’s time for another concert roundup. While I’m always happy that my favorite artists come through DC, my wallet is not. This year I’ve definitely traded in travel (especially international travel) for music. Though I am traveling to Texas this summer, that trip is highly centered around country music. In fact, I’ll be going to a concert while I’m there- Cody Jinks at Whitewater Amphitheater in New Braunfels, Texas. Cody hasn’t come through DC since I’ve had the great fortune of discovering him so if Cody won’t come to me, I’ll go to him! You can find a full list of upcoming shows that I’ll be attending at the end of this post.

Brandi Carlile- The Anthem (May 20th) 

Brandi Carlile‘s concert on May 20th at The Anthem is one I’ll always remember. It was the last night of her tour (and second night in a row at The Anthem) and she went out with a bang! Her new album By the Way, I Forgive You came out earlier this year and is truly a masterpiece. There are certain songs on this album, like the featured song below, that really resonated with me. This album was co-produced by Shooter Jennings and Dave Cobb so you know it’s good. Seriously, Dave Cobb is the King Midas of music- everything this guy touches turns to gold! Seeing her perform these songs live was an emotional experience to say the least. She started the night with the song on the album that hit me the hardest, “Every Time I Hear That Song,” which really choked me up. The struggle to hold back my waterworks also happened during “The Mother” and “The Joke,” both of which are off her latest album (the line in “The Joke” about carrying your baby on your back through the desert got me good!) And of course she played her most famous song, “The Story,” which would make even a statue get a little emotional. She performed every song from By the Way, I Forgive You and that was just fine by me because it meant I got to hear all of my favorite songs off the album like “Sugartooth” and “Hold Out Your Hand.” And as a new Brandi Carlile fan, this album helped launch me into full throttle fandom!

Some highlights from the night included Pete Souza (former Chief Official White House photographer for Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama) joining her and Darlingside, the opening act, on stage to perform during the encore. Together, they ended the night with “Hold Out Your Hand.” Pete is a big fan, which I already knew from following him on Instagram. Before calling him up on stage, Brandi called Pete “the shadiest mother fucker in DC.” That he is. Also, while singing “Hold Out Your Hand,” the lights came on and you could see everyone in the audience clapping their hands and singing along. One of my favorite things about concerts is when the artists talk with the audience in between songs- I feel like it really gives you a glimpse into their personality. Brandi talked a lot at her show, which I loved. She’s funny and smart and talked about the things that matter most to her like being a mother and her family’s right to exist in this country. She also provided the stories behind some of the songs, like “Fulton County Jane Doe” (that’s an interesting story so look it up if you’ve got the time/inclination). Getting to know Brandi a little better in between her songs was a major highlight of the night!

This past month, the nominees for the Americana Music Honors and Awards were announced and of course Brandi was included in several categories. When the nominees first came out and I saw that Margo Price, Jason Isbell, John Prine, and Brandi Carlile were all nominated for “Artist of the Year,” my first thought was “can there be a four way tie??” Her album is also up for “Album of the Year” and despite being up against The Nashville Sound and All American Made, I can say that Brandi (and this album) deserves this. That’s saying a lot because if you know me you know that Margo Price is my idol and that I absolutely adore Jason Isbell. But guys, her album was THAT good! You can find the full list of nominees here.

Featured song: Brandi Carlisle- “Every Time I Hear That Song”

Willie Nelson and Sturgill Simpson with Cris Jacobs- The Anthem (May 27th) 

I was a little apprehensive going into Sunday night’s show. Willie Nelson was supposed to have performed the night before in Charlotte, NC but instead, after two attempts, he tossed his hat out into the audience, never actually performing. This was apparently due to a stomach bug. Thankfully, Willie had recovered enough by the next night to make it out on stage and play a full set. While I do love me some Willie, the main attraction that night was Sturgill Simpson. It was my second time seeing both Willie and Sturgill as I saw both of them back in September (though they weren’t together, I saw them within two days of each other). Unlike the last time I saw Sturgill, the audience was standing during this show, which I thought made the overall experience a lot better. Who can sit still and listen to Sturgill?! I was also five rows back from the stage (shout out to me for always being early and getting to take advantage of that GA seating!) which meant that I really got to see what was happening on stage (well, aside from the annoying couple in front of me who insisted on holding onto each other the entire set and forming one big person instead of two separate people. Y’all suck!) I also got several compliments on my “Who the Fuck is Sturgill Simpson?” t-shirt! I’m thinking that most people there knew who the fuck he was!

I will say that I was a little disappointed that Sturgill and Willie didn’t play a song together. That would have been such a cool performance to witness. Especially since Sturgill covers a song made famous by Willie on his first album- “I’d Have to Be Crazy.” I’m just happy that Willie, at the ripe old age of 85,  is still willing and able to keep performing. As he sings on his latest album Last Man Standing, “I don’t wanna be the last man standin‘, or wait a minute maybe I do.” We’re happy to have you as the last man, Willie!

The opening act that night, Cris Jacobs, was from Baltimore (though two members of the group were from Richmond, VA). I had listened to them a little bit in preparation for that night and really like their sound. A couple songs of theirs worth checking out are “Jack the Whistle and the Hammer” and “The Devil or Jesse James.”

Now that I’ve attended two shows at The Anthem (within a week of each other), I want to say a quick word about this venue because it’s pretty dang cool! I like that the concession stands are in the same room as the performance so you don’t have to worry about missing your favorite song if you get up to grab a drink. I only stayed on the first level though so next time I’m there I’ll be sure to check out the upper levels and give you all a full report.

Featured song: Sturgill Simpson- “Brace For Impact (Live A Little)”

Justin Townes Earle with Lilly Hiatt- The Birchmere (May 29th) 

When I first bought tickets to this show I must not have realized that Lilly Hiatt was also performing. After realizing it much later, I was pleasantly surprised to see her name on the lineup. With the release of her latest album Trinity Lane, I had gotten into Lilly’s music and really taken a liken to her. Getting to see both her and Justin Townes Earle made for a really special night!

Since this was a solo show, both of them played with just their guitar and microphone alone on stage. There were no bands and no big production, which made for an intimate show. And it was at The Birchmere in Alexandria- a cool venue with posters of past performers, like Waylon Jennings and Steve Earle (Justin’s dad!), decorating the hallway. You can also sit down and eat during the show. Warning: if you get the fish tacos, they are messy!

If we’re being honest, I liked Justin’s stories and commentary more than the music portion of the night. What’s great about small venues like The Birchmere is that artists feel more comfortable talking with the audience. The fact that this was a solo show also helped in that regard. I’m glad Justin felt comfortable enough to talk with us because he shared some crazy stories about his past (and also provided BBQ recommendations if you’re ever in Memphis). Sitting close to the stage at a solo show is also pretty neat because you get to really see the artist as they’re singing their songs. Justin does this thing where he makes little noises between verses sometimes. While I’m not sure why he does that, I like it. He’s also an incredible guitar player- being able to watch his hands on his guitar as he played each song was something to see! In between stories, Justin did manage to play some songs including his own stuff like “One More Night In Brooklyn” in addition to some blues songs.

What’s cool about both Justin and Lilly is that they’re the children of famous musicians- Justin Townes Earle being the son of Steve Earle and Lilly Hiatt being the daughter of John Hiatt. Justin’s namesake is also the late great Townes Van Zandt. But don’t think these two are just riding on their daddys’ names- they’re talented singers, songwriters, and musicians in their own right.

You can’t be the son of Steve Earle without getting political (check out my post on liberal country music featuring Steve Earle here). And that’s not a bad thing, in fact, we need more Steves and Justins in music now more than ever. Justin brought up the opiate crisis on stage and asked why something is only a crisis when white kids start dying from it. He elaborated on this topic and encouraged us to ask the right questions to people who are dealing with addiction. Instead of asking something insensitive like “what’s wrong with you?” or questions like that why not ask “why do you hurt?” Asking the right questions is a step in the right direction to understanding addiction and the crises that come from it. I’m sure someone in the audience needed to hear Justin’s words that night.

A highlight of the night was meeting Lilly. She was very personable and I loved that she came out after her set and after Justin’s set to greet fans and sign merchandise. I told her that I was going to Margo Price’s show on Friday and she told me to say hi to Margo and that Margo would like me. Though, as expected, I didn’t get the chance to meet Margo at her show a couple of nights later. I also think Margo is way too cool for me! I should also take this opportunity to mention that Lilly is a nominee for “Emerging Artist of the Year” for the Americana Music Honors and Awards. If you haven’t checked out her new album Trinity Lane yet, you need to get on that!

One cool piece of merchandise that I picked up at the show was a cassette tape of Justin’s Kids in the Street album. Problem is I don’t have a cassette player. Even still, it makes for a cool addition to my music collection. While vinyl has been back in style for a while now, I don’t actually see cassettes making a return.

Featured songs: Justin Townes Earle- “Harlem River Blues” and Lilly Hiatt “The Night David Bowie Died”


Margo Price and John Prine- Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts (June 1st)

Because this show was so early in June, I decided to include it in this post. What a night- I got to see Margo Price, who I’ve been a big fan of for quite some time, open up for John Prine, one of my songwriting idols. It was also my first time at Wolf Trap, which is a really beautiful venue.

I’ve been wanting to see Miss Margo Price in concert for quite some time and on Friday night that dream finally game true. When she’s not warning you about the “cocaine cowboys” she’s getting real about politics singing about issues like the pay gap and the Iran-Contra Scandal. (Though she didn’t sing any of those songs on Friday night). She also knows how to kick back and have fun as evidenced in songs like “Hurtin’ (On The Bottle).” I was happy that she performed stuff from her first album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter in addition to her new stuff. Her first album really helped make me a fan of Americana music. She was one of the first artists in that genre that really stood out to me and songs like “Hands of Time” and “How the Mighty Have Fallen” really made an impression on me. Getting to hear her perform “Hands of Time” and “Tennessee Song” that night was something special.

Friday night was my second time seeing the incredible (and one of my favorite singer/songwriters) John Prine live and oh boy was he great! His new album, The Tree of Forgiveness, came out on April 13th. Fun fact: I share a birthday with this album! I feel honored to share this day with such a great album. On The Tree of Forgiveness, Prine proves that he’s still got it (as if there was ever any doubt)! There are so many great songs on this album, adding themselves to the catalog of wonderful songs he has amassed in his lifetime. Songs like the summertime anthem, “Knockin’ On Your Screen Door” and a happy perspective on the afterlife, “When I Get To Heaven.”

The brightest highlight of the night included John and Margo singing “In Spite of Ourselves” together. I had hoped that Prine would seize upon the opportunity of having Margo there and decide to do this duet! Another highlight was Prine talking to the audience. This man is hilarious! A memorable quote of his from the night came right before he played “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore.” He said that he wrote that song in 1968 as a political song and it’s still a political song today. But he’ll keep playing it until they get it right! Here’s to hoping that one day John Prine doesn’t have to play this song!

This post is chock full of Americana Music Honors and Awards nominees including both Margo and John. Both are nominated for “Artist of the Year” (along with Brandi Carlile and Jason Isbell). John won last year so I’m not sure what the chances are that he’ll win again, but hey, it’s possible! Margo is also nominated for “Album of the Year” for All American Made and for “Song of the Year” for “A Little Pain.”

Featured songs: John Prine- “Egg and Daughter Nite, Lincoln Nebraska, 1967” and Margo Price- “Hands of Time”

Upcoming Concerts (* means tickets are already purchased)

*6/8- The Steel Woods at Jammin’ Java
*6/29- Turnpike Troubadours and Charley Crockett at Friday Cheers (Richmond, VA)
*6/30– Turnpike Troubadours and Charley Crockett at 9:30 Club (yeah, I’ve got it on here twice. I may skip the Richmond show and go to the DC one but still TBD.)
*7/6- Cody Jinks, Colter Wall, and Ward Davis at Whitewater Amphitheater (New Braunfels, TX)
*7/21– Ray Wylie Hubbard at City Winery DC
7/22– Lori McKenna at City Winery DC
7/24- Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit at Wolf Trap
*7/25- Nikki Lane at Rock & Roll Hotel
7/28– Arctic Monkeys at The Anthem (this show is already sold out but I’m hoping that some cheap ones appear on StubHub)
8/2– Amanda Shires and Sean Rowe at The Birchmere
8/22– Shooter Jennings at City Winery
*9/12– Sarah Shook and the Disarmers at Pearl Street Warehouse
9/28– Jade Bird at Rock & Roll Hotel
10/5– Turnpike Troubadours at Spring Pavilion (Charlottesville, VA)
10/13- Chris Stapleton’s All-American Road Show at Jiffy Lube Live
10/15- Tyler Childers at 9:30 Club

Currently listening to: Dolly Parton- “The Story.” From Cover Stories: Brandi Carlile Celebrates 10 Years of The Story (An Album to Benefit War Child). This album is a charity tribute album featuring various artists like Margo Price, Kris Kristofferson, and of course, Dolly Parton.

April Concert Roundup

A Month of Firsts

April has been a crazy month- from my 28th birthday, to work events, to spending time with friends, it’s been a busy month. And in the midst of all the craziness of a wedding (not mine), a baby shower (also not mine), and birthday celebrations (those were mine), I also attended five concerts in April. This month was a month of many firsts- all five of the concerts were for artists that I’d never seen before and four of the venues were places I’d never been before. April also saw my first mechanical bull ride, first Jewish wedding, and first time taking part in Record Store Day (shout out to me for scoring the Eric Church RSD release!) With the constant busyness of life, I need to remind myself that being busy is a blessing- it means I’ve got a job, I’ve got friends, and I’ve got interests that I’m able to pursue. Interests like the many live music events that I get to attend, like the ones below!

Dom Flemons Duo- Pearl Street Warehouse (April 4th) 

April 4th, 2018 marked several firsts for me: my first time at the Wharf, my first time at Pearl Street Warehouse, my first time seeing Dom Flemons, and my first time seeing someone play the bones. Yes, the bones. It’s an actual musical instrument and Dom played them for us that night. There were also some for sale at the merchandise table. You might know Dom from his former band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, which he was in with Rhiannon Giddens. For his CD release that night, Dom performed some tunes from his new album Black Cowboys. He also did an interview on stage for the Smithsonian (Smithsonian Folkways, maybe? I don’t remember) where he discussed some of the songs and the history behind them. This man knows his stuff and is an exceptionally talented musician and singer too!

Featured song: Caroline Chocolate Drops- “Hit ‘Em Up Style” (no, Dom didn’t play this for us that night but who doesn’t love a Blu Cantrell cover??)

Colter Wall- U Street Music Hall (April 7th) 

The devil might wear a suit and tie but Colter Wall wears deeply unbuttoned shirts. Well, at least he was at his show at U Street Music Hall on April 7th. Since I reference this song, I’ll get my complaining out of the way- Colter Wall didn’t play “The Devil Wears a Suit and Tie.” When my friend asked him why after the show he said they were rushing him off. That’s understandable, especially since there was a 10:30 p.m. show after his. But still. How do you not perform one of your top songs? I won’t dwell on this too much especially since he did play some of his other hits including “Sleeping on the Blacktop” and “Motorcycle.” He was also hanging around after the show by his van and agreed to take pictures with his fans (see mine below), which was cool!

Just a few quick words on Colter Wall that have nothing to do with his performance. For me, Colter’s music brings to mind the artists and songs of country past- his song “Thirteen Silver Dollars” could be inspired by Emmylou Harris, the “Queen of the Silver Dollar,” as he makes a reference to having a “belly full of baby’s bluebird wine” (if you don’t get the reference, she has a song called “Bluebird Wine.”) He also makes a “Blue Yodel No. 9” reference in this song. Then there’s “Sleeping on the Blacktop,” which, in my opinion, sounds similar to Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.” His song “Fraulein” is also a cover song, which was written in 1957 by Lawton Williams and first sung by Bobby Helms. Townes Van Zandt also did a cover of this song. It gives me hope that there are country artists out there who are able to pull from the sounds of the past and bring them into the present. Colter Wall is definitely one of those artists.

After the show, it was brought up by one of the people that I attended the show with that his murder ballad “Kate McCannon,” one of his most famous songs, promotes violence against women. That really got me thinking. Where do we draw the line between what we support in real life and what we’re willing to accept in our music? Late last month I participated in the March for Our Lives and yet a few weeks later I’m listening to Colter Wall singing about putting three rounds into a cheating Kate McCannon. Listening to, and even liking, songs that go against my own personal beliefs is an issue I struggle with. This is especially the case with country music- a genre that often glorifies things that I do not support in my personal life. The killing of one’s spouse is not a theme reserved solely for the men though as women also kill their husbands in country songs. This led to a discussion about the songs in country music where women are the the ones killing their spouses. Songs like Garth Brooks’ “The Thunder Rolls” and the Dixie Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl” being two of the first examples that came to mind. Is a woman killing her abusive husband more acceptable than a man killing his cheating wife? I won’t get into that here since this is just a concert write-up but I think a post dedicated to this topic is worth writing at some point. I’ll hopefully get around to writing that at some point.

wall
Colter Wall and I (April 7, 2018)

Featured song: Colter Wall- “The Devil Wears a Suit and Tie” (because he didn’t play it that night!)

Ruby Boots- Songbyrd Music House and Record Cafe (April 10th) 

The show at Songbyrd on April 10th was super intimate. For the most part it was just Ruby Boots and her friend on stage playing guitar and electric guitar then later in the night it was just a solo Ruby Boots. No drummer, no fiddler, just Ruby and her mate (she’s Australian so I said mate). While I wish more people had come out to support her, having a small group there was nice. Ruby Boots was cracking jokes and telling stories, including one about Bill Murray. She also mentioned that she’s friends with Nikki Lane, who I love. I bet hanging out with these two would be so much fun! It was a real treat getting to hear about Ruby Boots’ personal life and the stories behind some of the songs. I’m not sure if she would have been as engaged with the crowd had there been a large group there. I also love her Australian accent! Aussies rule, mate!

One joke she made was about her new album. She told us that the album is titled Don’t Talk About It, “so don’t tell anybody!” Well, I am telling people- sorry! In addition to singing songs from Don’t Talk About It as well as some of her older songs, she also sang a Tom Petty song and even came off the stage out into the audience with her friend, leaving the guitars behind, to sing an acoustic version of Lucinda Williams’ “Jackson.”

I hope Ruby Boots had fun at Madam’s Organ after the show!

Featured song: Ruby Boots- “It’s So Cruel”

Lindi Ortega and Hugh Masterson- Union Stage (April 24th) 

There’s a great press quote that describes how Lindi Ortega should be onstage- “fun and frightening.” Though I wasn’t really scared at her show, I can understand how she earned this description as some of her songs carry dark themes. Lindi told a story about wanting to sing her song about dying and her guitar player responded with, “Which one? You’ve got six.” I think this anecdote sheds light on the “frightening” side of Lindi. However, it’s the “fun” part (and her shiny red boots) that the fans show up for. Her latest album Liberty is a spaghetti western-esque concept album which follows a character from a dark place in their life to a more happy place at the album’s end. Lindi made sure to play some of the songs from the end of the album (the happy part) to balance out her “frightening” persona. This included songs like “Lovers in Love,” “In the Clear,” and the Spanish song from the album, “Gracias a La Vida.” She also played my favorite song of hers, “Ashes.”

Lindi Ortega and I (April 24, 2018)

Her opening act was someone I had maybe heard of before but had never really listened to. Well, shame on me! Hugh Masterson was really good- not only did I enjoy hearing him sing his songs but his stories in between the songs were funny and helped to counteract the seriousness of his songs’ content. It’s all about that balance!

Featured song: Lindi Ortega- “Afraid of the Dark.” I’ll include this song here because I do like the dark stuff. As Lindi sings, “Don’t get any closer to my heart if you’re afraid of the dark.” Yeah, same.

Sarah Shook & the Disarmers and Zephaniah O’Hora- Pearl Street Warehouse (April 26th) 

Sarah Shook has me all shook up, y’all! I’ll admit that before the show I was so intimidated by this chick. But seeing her on stage and hearing her talk with the audience in between every song, I’m no longer intimidated, as she seems to be really chill and friendly. Actually, the whole band seems to be. Except Kevin- he’s a prima donna (that’s an inside joke only people at the show will get. Sorry, Kevin!) Sarah and her band, the Disarmers, rocked Pearl Street Warehouse on April 26th, which happened to be the first night of their tour. Their songs have an upbeat sound that make lyrics like “I can’t cry myself to sleep so I drink myself to death/I got cocaine in my bloodstream and whiskey on my breath/Ain’t a thing that I can change to get my luck up/I guess I’m just too much of a fuck up” make you wanna get up out your seat and sing along! Her lyrics are raw with lines like “the bottle never lets me down the way you do” and “there’s a hole in my heart ain’t nothin’ here can fill/ But I just keep thinkin’ surely the whiskey will.” Though these lyrics might pack a punch, they’re also served up with a heavy dose of reality thanks to their honesty and Sarah’s delivery. She almost makes you think that you can make it up to mama by getting that “mother-heart tattoo.”

Her opener, Zephaniah O’Hora (yes, his actual name) wasn’t half bad either! I especially liked his song “High Class City Girl from the Country.” He’s from Brooklyn, which I find to be really interesting. This guy goes to show that country really is country wide!

Sarah Shook and the Disarmers (April 26, 2018)

Featured song: Sarah Shook and the Disarmers- “Dwight Yoakam” (is Dwight Yoakam really that anxious??)

Upcoming Concerts (* means tickets are already purchased) 

5/18- The Weight Band feat. members of The Band, Levon Helm Band, & Rick Danko Group at The Hamilton
*5/20- Brandi Carlile at The Anthem
*5/29- Justin Townes Earle- Solo Tour at The Birchmere
*6/1
– Margo Price and John Prine at Wolf Trap
*6/8- The Steel Woods at Jammin’ Java
*6/29- Turnpike Troubadours and Charley Crockett at Friday Cheers (Richmond, VA)
*7/21
– Ray Wylie Hubbard at City Winery
7/24- Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit at Wolf Trap
8/2– Amanda Shires and Sean Rowe at The Birchmere
10/13- Chris Stapleton’s All-American Road Show at Jiffy Lube Live

Currently listening to: Jade Bird- “Lottery.” I felt so bad for missing her set when she opened for Colter Wall so I felt it would only be right to mention her here!

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

2018 Beginnings 

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

The Tracks I’m Playing (January-March)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Moreland- “Sallisaw Blue.” 

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

Lilly Hiatt- “Trinity Lane.” 

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

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

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

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

Some ch-ch-ch-ch-changes are gonna come! From March for Our Lives Washington, DC (March 24, 2018)

Celebrating Sobriety and Song: A Concert Review of Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Better Late Than Never

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

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

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

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

A Song of Love and Sobriety 

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

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

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

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

Concerts on Concerts on Concerts

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

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

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

The Life I’m Choosing 

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

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

New Year, New Music, New Me

Happy Almost 2018, y’all! This post is coming to ya from Nashville where I’ll be celebrating New Year’s Eve!

Be sure to grab your popcorn, hot cocoa, or whiskey (no judgement), and get ready for a long post! Enjoy! 

The Good, The Bad, and the 2017

It’s no secret that 2017 sucked in a lot of ways- Donald Trump was inaugurated and allowed to make decisions that affect our lives, we lost Tom Petty, Don Williams, and Troy Gentry, Donald J. Trump became president, hurricanes devastated Puerto Rico and American cities like Houston, and Donald Trump moved into the White House. BUUTTTTT, this year hasn’t been all bad, especially since this is the year that I really found myself, musically speaking.

When I think about my taste in music and (lack of) knowledge of country music at the beginning of 2017 compared to the end of 2017, it’s like comparing night and day. In the latter half of this year, I really found my musical niche and refined my musical interests. I have this blog to thank for that. Had I not started writing this blog back in June, I’m not sure that I would’ve ever found some of my now favorite artists. I also never knew that I was a fan of Americana music and find myself identifying with the music from this genre more than any other these days. When I finally learned about Americana and all of the artists that are a part of the Americana family, everything clicked into place- this was the musical home I had been searching for. This is where I belonged.

2017 Finds 

While some bloggers have been making their top albums/songs lists for 2017, I didn’t want to do that. Since so much of the music I found this year has been around for a while, only focusing on the stuff from 2017 would be silly. Instead, I’m gonna focus on all of the great artists who came into my life this year.

Have you ever met someone and felt like you’ve known them your entire life? You wonder how you two went so long without meeting and now that you’ve met, you know you’ll be friends for life. Well that’s how I feel about some of the musical artists I discovered this year. I think about how much better my life would’ve been with their songs to guide me through years ago. But instead of dwelling on the past and missed years, I’ll vow to keep playing their music for the rest of my life. This includes artists like Margo Price. She has been one of my greatest finds of 2017. I’ll do an essay on her later (inspired by the book Woman Walk the Line: How the Women in Country Music Changed Our Lives), where I’ll dive deeper into how much of an inspiration she has been to me. Just as I had fallen in love with her first album, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, she released her sophomore album, All American Made in October of this year. What I love about Margo, and her most recent album in particular, is that she sings about political issues like the pay gap and the Iran-Contra Scandal (throwback to the Reagan years!). She’s outspoken about her political views and doesn’t care about losing fans because of it. The world could use more Margos and country music needs more Margos!

Even though I already knew Sturgill Simpson before this year, I didn’t really know him. One day I felt compelled to listen to A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. The rest was history. In just six short months, I managed to fall in love with and immerse myself in Sturgill’s music, see him in concert, and purchase all of his albums on vinyl. In fact, he was my top played artist of 2017, according to Spotify. If you’ve talked to me at all these past few months, I’ve probably manged to name drop him at least once. Hopefully you all were listening to me and then decided to check out “The Sturge” for yourself! What I love about him is that he makes a record when he has something to say, not just to stay relevant. He wants to make records that people will still be playing 30 years from now. You don’t make records that stand the test of time by putting out album after album with nothing of substance on them. And if I have to wait ten years for another Sturgill Simpson record, I’m happy to do it. It’ll probably be the best damn album of all time!

“I’m just trying to constantly improve and become a better artist and then hopefully make records that people—I mean it’s great if they buy them today—but I’m more interested in making records that maybe people will still talk about in 30 years. That’s the goal for me. You can go crazy if you let yourself think, “How do I remain relevant?” or you can just go and try to make great music and the fans will react to it and it takes care of itself.”
-“The Final Interview with Sturgill Simspon, According to Sturgill Simpson,” Noisey, November 30, 2017

I don’t remember what the first Jason Isbell song was that I listened to (maybe “Elephant?” or “Speed Trap Town?”) but I’m eternally grateful that the universe pointed me in his direction and had me press play. In a “Walking the Floor with Chris Shiflett” podcast interview with Jason, Chris brought up the fact that Jason is considered by some to be the “go to reference guy for songwriters in Nashville.” Just listen to one of his songs and it’s easy to see why. Though I’m glad it’s a part of my life now, I think about how useful a song like “Traveling Alone” could have been to me years ago. While Jason’s songs may not have had the opportunity to have been part of my past, they’re very much a part of my present, and I’m already making plans for them to be a part of my future. IF (please note this is both in bold and italics) I ever get married, I already know that “If We Were Vampires” will be on the playlist.

Something that the three artists mentioned above have in common is their politics. If you follow Margo Price and Jason Isbell on Twitter, you know how they feel about current events. And just last month, Sturgill Simpson decided to busk (verb; meaning to play music or otherwise perform for voluntary donations in the street or in subways) outside of the CMA Awards and talked crap about Donald Trump.

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

Another artist that I discovered this year is Cody Jinks. According to Spotify’s calculations, Cody’s song “Loud and Heavy” was my most played song this year (Sturgill’s “Sea Stories” was second). Unlike the artists mentioned above, Cody Jinks is less Americana and more actual country. To me, he’s what real country music should sound like. Instead of calling country that ventures from the mainstream terms like “alt-country,” I think we should be calling the mainstream stuff a different name. After all, they’re the ones who have done more to change the music from its original sound, not guys like Cody Jinks who have a more authentic country sound. Some people might call Cody’s Texas county or “Red Dirt” country. While “Loud and Heavy” may have been my most played song this past year, it was “Somewhere in the Middle” and its simple message that being “somewhere in the middle is just fine” that resonated most with me. And if Cody finds himself somewhere in the middle of Texas “Red Dirt” country and alt-country, well, that’s just fine!

John Prine is pretty good!” At least that’s what one of the stickers I purchased at this concert back in November says. But if you ask me, I think John Prine is really good! If writing songs is a craft like woodworking then John makes songs like the best cedar chest you’ve ever laid your eyes on. When I listen to his songs, I’m always impressed at how clever he is. In fact, one of my favorite lyrics of any song ever comes from a John Prine song. The song is “Spanish Pipedream” and the line is “I knew that topless lady had something up her sleeve.” I’ll say that line is pretty good!

While the five artists featured above really won me over this year, there were plenty more that also found their way into my heart. This year’s honorable mentions (who are not all country, not all Americana, but all pretty dang good) include: Dan Auerbach, Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett (wait! Am I also now a fan of Indie music? Who am I even?), Lori McKenna, Tyler Childers, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley, Nikki Lane, Aaron Lee TasjanSam Outlaw, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, and Paul Cauthen.

A New Appreciation for the Old Stuff

It wasn’t just finding new artists that made this past year so exciting but it was also rediscovering artists from my past, learning more about country music legends, and gaining a deeper appreciation for the trailblazers who made all of this possible. One of those people is Jerry Reed. The man is a national treasure we should all be thankful that Jerry Reed songs exist. His songs are a surefire way to put a smile on my face. The Oak Ridge Boys are another example of feel good country music that I got into this year. And don’t forget Bobby Bare too! 2017 is also the year that I fell in love with Emmylou Harris. Her Pieces of the Sky album is the first brand new (not used from a record store) record I ever bought, which also took place this year. Fun fact about this lady is that she was discovered in DC by Gram Parsons- at Clyde’s in Georgetown.

This year also saw my love of Waylon Jennings grow deeper as I explored more of his music. Some other classic artists that I spent time getting to know better this year include Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and Dolly Parton. 

I’ve always loved her but this year I seemed to love Kacey Musgraves even more! Maybe it was because I realized how little credit she gets. She sings backup vocals for some of the bigger stars (Zac Brown Band’s “All the Best” and Dierks Bentley’s “Bourbon in Kentucky“) and does duets (Josh Abbot Band’s “Oh Tonight“), which is fine, but I really wish she got more credit for her solo stuff. To celebrate her, I’ve created a “A Very Kacey Playlist” on Spotify for her. She also has an album coming out early next year, Golden Hour, which I am stoked for! My appreciation and respect for Miranda Lambert also grew this year, which can be credited to her album The Weight of These Wings from 2016. There’s also been talk about a new Pistol Annies album, which can’t get here fast enough!

A Year of Concerts

This year my list of concerts attended grew substantially. Some of these concerts were for artists whose names I didn’t even know at the start of this year. People (who I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know sooner) like Ray Wylie Hubbard, John Prine, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, and Nikki Lane. I even attended my first all-day music festival in Camden, NJ this year when I drove up for the Outlaw Music Festival. It was there that I got to see Willie Nelson for the first time and Eric Church for the seventh time. Other concerts that I attended this year included Sturgill Simpson, two different nights on Eric Church’s “Holdin’ My Own” tour (Pittsburgh and Washington, DC), and Mashrou’ Leila (a Lebanese band that has nothing to do with the rest of this post but they’re amazing and I love them!)

One really cool thing that happened to me this year was that I won free front row seats to a John Prine and Dan Auerbach concert at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, DC. I remember entering the contest for the tickets but I never win anything so I didn’t hold my breath on getting them. Funny thing is that the week leading up to the show I almost bit the bullet and bought a ticket for a nosebleed seat just so I could go. Well, good thing I didn’t, because a couple of days before the show, I got a call letting me know that I had won two tickets for front row seats along with a $50 merchandise voucher. Thanks to that voucher I am now the proud owner of a John Prine poster (painted to look like Ben’s Chili Bowl- a DC landmark) and The Missing Years on vinyl. I didn’t really know Dan Auberbach before that, aside from the fact that he is one half of The Black Keys, but after hearing him perform his solo stuff live, I became a fan. And how was that concert, you ask? “Pretty good, not bad, I can’t complain!” 

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

And since we’re on the topic of cool concert experiences this year, I just want to mention that at Ray Wylie Hubbard‘s concert at Hill Country BBQ in DC this past August, he mentioned the name of this blog while on stage. Now that’s pretty damn cool!

Keeping Up and Catching Up

There are some people out there that listen to every new album that comes out in its entirety and can break down each track while talking about the album as a whole. Many of those people get paid to do just that. I, however, do not. Also, that’s not me. I feel like there’s always new music coming out so I’d just stress myself out trying to do that. It also takes a while for me to really get into songs sometimes. So if it’s two months after an album has come out before I really listen to it, so be it. I’m happy being late to some parties.

With that being said, I do try and listen to some of the new stuff as it comes out when I can. Some great stuff that’s just come out is Neil Young and Promise of the Real‘s The Visitor. This album combines Lukas Nelson’s band Promise of the Real with the iconic Neil Young. The 2016 presidential election is a theme that you can hear on this album in songs like “Already Great.” Why are people trying to make America great again when, as Neil Young says, it’s already great? If I were gonna go back and rewrite my post on liberal country music, this song would definitely be on that list.

Lots of other albums came out this year that I haven’t spent as much time with as I should have- Travis Meadows‘s First Cigarette is one of them. Though I will say that “Long Live Cool” is in fact a cool song. I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for this guy because he’s the incredibly talented songwriter behind one of my all-time favorite songs- Dierks Bentley’s “Riser.” (He’s also mentioned twice in my post about Eric Church’s songwriting, “Eric Church: An Outsider, A Songwriter,” since he was a co-writer on both “Dark Side” and “Knives of New Orleans.”)

I also liked Chris Stapleton’s “From a Room: Volume 1” but admittedly haven’t given “From a Room: Volume 2” as much attention as it probably deserves. Sorry folks! The same goes for Lee Ann Womack‘s new album The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone, whose title track I love but I haven’t really ventured too far past that.

Some artists that I want to spend some more time getting to know better in the coming year are Rhiannon Giddens and Turnpike Troubadours.

Photographs and Memories

If I had to sum up 2017 in one picture, it would be this one:

(Photo from Vinyl Ranch’s Instagram)

I also just wanted an excuse to post this picture!

Looking Ahead to 2018

It’s hard to say what 2018 will hold. Only time will tell what other great artists I’ll find in the coming year. Perhaps I’ll be talking about a completely different genre of music in 365 days. Here’s to hoping that 2018 leads to many new discoveries- both musical and in general!

Here’s to also hoping that Eric Church releases some brand new music next year- that’s not asking for too much, is it?

You can find all of my favorite songs from the artists mentioned in this post on the beltwayboots Spotify account. My “Best of 2017” playlist can be found here.

Currently listening to: All of the great music that I discovered this year!