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 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 the album won the Grammy for Best Americana Album just a couple of weeks before the concert. He performed just about every song from this album that night-  “Cumberland Gap,” “Hope the High Road,” “Last of My Kind” (I’m not crying, there’s something in my eye), “Chaos and Clothes,” “White Man’s World,” (the politically charged song we need now more than ever) “Molotov,” “Tupelo,” and a song that I relate to all too well, “Anxiety.” During the encore, he sang a Drive-By Truckers song and “If We Were Vampires,” for which he had also just won the Grammy for Best American Roots Song. The only song from The Nashville Sound that he didn’t sing that night was “Something to Love.” As someone who absolutely loved The Nashville Sound, it was great getting to watch the band perform these songs live.

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.” 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!

A Honky Tonk Holiday

Hey y’all! I’m back from my blogging hiatus (at least for now)! With work being busy these past few weeks, along with the madness of the holidays, plus a trip to NYC, there wasn’t a whole lot of time to sit down and write. But with Christmas coming up (in like 7 days!), I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to talk about some of my favorite country Christmas songs. While I’m not a HUGE fan of Christmas music like some people are (especially the more religious stuff), I realize the season wouldn’t be complete without it, especially these next songs I’m about to discuss.

Dolly Parton- “Hard Candy Christmas.” Deck the halls with boughs of Dolly! Like most of the songs on this list, I’ll listen to this one year round. Like if it comes up on my Spotify shuffle in June, chances are I’m not gonna press skip. This song is so relateable because we’ve all had a hard candy Christmas at some point in our lives. Hey, they can’t all be Reese’s-peanut-butter-cups-in-the-gold-and-green-and-red-wrappers-Christmases! This song comes from Dolly’s movie “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” which if you haven’t seen, you should! I know I’m long overdue for a re-watch!

Alan Jackson- the entire Honky Tonk Christmas album. I should probably just do an entire album review for this one. This album has been the soundtrack of many a Christmas for me. It’s not only Christmas-y, it’s quintessential 90s country, so you better believe it’s gonna be great! I can remember my mom owning this one on cassette tape in the early days of my youth. With guest appearances from Alison Krauss and Alvin and the Chipmunks, this album has got it all. There’a also a cover of Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It Through December” (Merle’s version gets its own spot below). One of my favorite Christmas songs also comes from this album- “Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas).” As I mentioned before, I found this song hilarious as a child but later came to learn that for many people with alcoholics in their family, it may not be so funny. Another favorite off this album is “I Only Want you for Christmas” (watch the video below). But honestly, I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the songs off this album!

Merle Haggard- “If We Make It Through December.” If there’s one thing country music is good at it’s serving you up a big dose of reality. One thing about reality is that it ain’t always pretty, or rather, at Christmas time, it ain’t all ribbons and bows and a tree overflowing with gifts. For some, getting through the month of December can be a struggle financially, as Merle details in this song from 1974. The heartbreaking story about a dad who’s been laid off from his factory job and can’t afford to buy his little girl some Christmas cheer should serve as a reminder to all of us to be grateful for the things we do have because there are many who do without. Leave it to The Hag to keep it real and remind us of this!

“I got laid off down at the factory
And their timings not the greatest in the world
Heaven knows I been workin’ hard
I wanted Christmas to be right for daddy’s girl
Now I don’t mean to hate December
It’s meant to be the happy time of year
And why my little girl don’t understand
Why daddy can’t afford no Christmas here”

Kacey Musgraves- A Very Kacey Christmas album! Forget red and green, it’s all about pink and green this year! (#pinkisthenewred) Seriously- the album cover is pink and the vinyl itself is GREEN! I just love it! Top tracks from this album include a “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” “Ribbons and Bows,” and a duet with Willie Nelson appropriately titled, “A Willie Nice Christmas.” I don’t know about y’all but I’ll be having me a very Kacey Christmas (and a Willie Nice Christmas) this year and for many years to come!

You can catch Kacey performing tomorrow (12/19) on “A Home for the Holidays” Christmas Adoption Special on CBS.

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

Willie Nelson- “Pretty Paper.” Since Kacey and Willie inspired me to have a “Willie Nice Christmas,” I’m doing just that! And it wouldn’t be a “Willie Nice Christmas” without some pretty paper and some pretty ribbons of blue. Every occasion could use a little Willie and Christmas is no exception. This song comes from his first Christmas album released in 1979. Other songs on that album include “Frosty the Snowman,” “Jingle Bells,” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

John Prine- “Christmas in Prison.” While I’m sure that being in prison is awful every day of the year, I imagine Christmas is the worst of those days. If you find yourself behind bars on Christmas Day (I hope you don’t!), perhaps hearing this song can provide you with some sort of comfort. I was lucky enough to see John in concert last month at DAR Constitution Hall in DC where he played this song. The best part about that show? The FREE front row seats! Just kidding- it was the crush I developed on Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys) who opened for John.

I hope these songs help to add a little holiday cheer to your Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Shab-e Yalda, New Years, or maybe just to your December. Have a honky tonk holiday, ya’ll!

And now, just to piss off the Christian Conservatives, Happy Holidays everyone!

As always, you can find a Spotify playlist on the beltwayboots account for all of my posts, including this one! Find my “A Honky Tonk Holiday” playlist here.

Currently listening to: A country song about Hanukkah. Just kidding, there isn’t one! But someone should get on that. Kinky Friedman- I’m looking at you!

The Tracks I’m Falling For (Week of October 9, 2017)

Happy Fall to All Y’all! 

Since we’re now in the second week of October, and pumpkins and Halloween candy are everywhere, I think it’s safe to say that are definitely in the fall season, even if the weather in Washington, DC hasn’t received the memo yet. Seeing as this is my first “The Tracks I’m Playing” post this season, it makes sense to write about the songs I’m fall-ing for. Here they are!

The Tracks I’m Fall-ing For 

Paul Cauthen- “Saddle.” When I first saw Paul Cauthen (on the picture on his album cover) I thought he was Amish, or a mobster, or an Amish mobster (which is totally a thing- Amish Mafia was an actual show on the Discovery Channel which means it must be a real thing.) Come to find out he’s actually from Texas and as far as I know there are no Amish there (though there may be mobsters.) Not that any of this matters, so I’ll quit my mindless rambling. In an article from last September on “10 New Country Artists You Need to Know,” Rolling Stone recommended Paul Cauthen to people who are fans of Waylon Jennings and seeing as how Waylon is one of my faves, it makes sense that I’m also now a fan of his. In fact, Paul and Cody Jinks (another one of my recent favorites) cover Waylon’s classic “Luckenbach, Texas” here, if you want to take a listen and decide for yourself how Waylon-esque he is.

Chips off the Old Blocks

Shooter Jennings- “Outlaw You.” Aside from having the greatest Fourth of July song of all time, titled, well, “Fourth of July,” I hadn’t really listened to much (or any) Shooter Jennings. Why? Well I’m not really sure, especially considering that his dad, Waylon Jennings, is one of my all-time favorite artists (you may remember me saying this in the paragraph above.) And together with Jessi Colter, his parents are my favorite country couple of all time. It would only make sense that I would also love their son’s music and well, from what I’ve heard so far, I do. “Outlaw You” addresses the current state of country music and how many of these so-called country singers should be outlawed. They wear baseball hats but they couldn’t hit country with a baseball bat and they wear boots but they’re only from their record label’s image group. He ends the song by talking about his dad and his struggles to make it Nashville, referencing two of his records, This Time (1974) and the Wanted! The Outlaws (1976), which I very much appreciated as this is my favorite album. Like if I were stranded on a deserted island and could only have one album to listen to for eternity, it would be this one.

“Hey pretty boy in the baseball hat
You couldn’t hit country with a baseball bat
Country ain’t just about where you’re at
It’s about bein’ true to what’s inside
You say you’re an outlaw with your perfect boots
That you got from your record label’s image group
Sing another man’s song with a big drum loop
Listen, son, you ain’t got a clue
You can’t buy true, tell you what they should do
They should outlaw you”

There is one line in this song that I’m a little confused by: “Those old boys with long hair and braids (Waylon, Willie, and Tompall Glaser, obviously) stayed true to their sound and freed the slaves.” What slaves exactly, Shooter? Maybe I’m missing something here.

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real- “Find Yourself.” The first time I ever heard a Lukas Nelson song was also the first time I ever saw Lukas Nelson perform. That performance was at the Outlaw Music Festival, which I wrote about here, this past September. Lukas and his band, Promise of the Real, played several songs from their self-titled album which just dropped in August. This song stood out to me from that performance because Lukas had the crowd join him in singing the chorus- “I hope you find yourself before I find somebody else to be my love.” I also just learned that Lady Gaga is the woman singing the backup vocals on this song! I’m a big fan of Lady Gaga (or Mother Monster, if you prefer) so I was stoked to learn that was her in the background. There are several other songs on the album that I really enjoy- “Forget About Georgia,” “Four Letter Word,” and “High Times.” Don’t be fooled by the fact that Lukas Nelson is Willie Nelson’s son because he’s got a sound that’s all his own! The hair is pretty much the same though, just needs some braids!

I’ll be seeing them in Baltimore next month and am excited to actually know the songs that they’ll be singing this time around!

Rodney Crowell, Roseanne Cash, John Paul White- “It Ain’t Over Yet.” I’ve included this song under “Chips Off the Old Blocks” because Roseanne Cash if of course the daughter of Johnny Cash. Chips off the old blocks aren’t always sons, sometimes they’re daughters! Looks like we’ve got the kids of three quarters of the Highwaymen represented this week.

On this award-winning song, Rodney Crowell is joined by his ex-wife Roseanne Cash and one half of The Civil Wars, John Paul White. I found out about this song last month after it won “Song of the Year” at the Americana Music Association Honors and Awards. Everything about this song is beautiful- from the way Rodney sings with so much truth in his voice, to Roseanne Cash and John Paul White adding their voices; from the lyrics, to the melody of Rodney’s guitar and the harmonica that comes in at the end of the song. You don’t win “Song of the Year” by not having these things!


I Keep on Fall-ing…

Ray Wylie Hubbard- “Lucifer and the Fallen Angels.” I can’t find a video for this song but if you go on Spotify (you can find the Beltway Boots Spotify playlist here), you can have a listen to Ray Wylie Hubbard singing about one of his favorite topics- The Devil. I wrote about Ray’s song, “Conversation with the Devil” a few months back in this post. Much like that song, which takes you through a conversation he has with the devil in a dream, in this song he is also conversing with the Lucifer, or Lou, as he’s given permission to call him, and his fallen angels after picking them up on the side of the road. Ray Wylie is heading to Nashville to get a publishing deal and Lou and the fallen angels are heading to Mobile. Along their drive, Lou tells Ray Wylie that nobody is going to want to publish his songs- he might be cool but he’s old. They also stop to pick up some Seagram’s Seven and Lou winds up robbing Nervous Charlie’s Fireworks and All-Night Liquor Store, after which he asks, “how do you think that clerk likes take your sons to work day now?” (This is why I never pick up hitchhikers!) He also tells Ray Wylie about getting thrown out of heaven and delivers the best line in the song, “it’s better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.” You got that right, Lou (if I may)!

This song is off Ray Wylie Hubbard’s latest album, Tell The Devil I’m Getting There As Fast As I Can. As I already said, this man loves singing about the devil.

Aaron Lee Tasjan- “Little Movies.” Just looking at Aaron Lee Tasjan, you might think he’s a bit eccentric with his big sunglasses and sparkly suit (as he wears in this video). This look would not fly in mainstream country but seems to work just right for him in Americana. It’s because of artists like Aaron Lee Tasjan that I now listen to Americana and have really stopped listening to mainstream country. In fact, Rolling Stone featured a story on how he’s breaking the mold in this genre. This same story also discusses how some of the material from his album Silver Tears, which features this song, was compiled while he was micro-dosing LSD. Far be it from me to judge how an artist gets their inspiration, I mean, after all, some great music has been made through the help of drugs- have you ever heard of The Beatles or Fleetwood Mac? I thought so.

Nikki Lane- “Right Time.” I’m hesitant to write that this song has gotten stuck in my head because I don’t think that’s necessarily a sign of a good song. Just because a song is catchy doesn’t mean it’s got substance. In fact, the problem with so many “hit” songs today is that they are only hits because they’re catchy and tend to get stuck in your head, not because the song actually has an important message. Thankfully, while this next lady may get stuck in my head, she’s also got something to say, so I’ve got no qualms about including her here. For example, in this song, she’s saying that “it’s always the right time to do the wrong thing.” Here’s to hoping that Nikki Lane gets stuck in my head again this week…even if she is a bad influence! 

Nikki will also be performing with Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real next month and I can’t wait to see her perform!

Amanda Shires- “You Are My Home.” Amanda won “Emerging Artist of the Year” at this year’s Americana Music Association Honors and Awards. And with songs like this, there’s no doubt that she deserved this achievement. When collecting her award, Amanda said, “Thank you to the Americana fans, because, without you, there might be no other place for me.” I’m also thankful for the Americana fans for providing a home to so many wonderful artists like Amanda Shires and her husband, Jason Isbell. These two are becoming one of my favorite couples in music right now though I doubt they’ll ever reach Waylon and Jessi status. Sorry but those are tough boots to fill!

“Your six-one frame
My address is your name
High ceilings, grand halls
Walls are just walls
You are my home”

I hope everyone enjoys listening to these songs and fall-ing in love with them like I have.

Currently listening to: John Prine- “Picture Show” featuring Tom Petty. Since many of us are still mourning the loss of Tom Petty, I thought this song made sense for this week. It’s featured on John Prine’s The Missing Years album which was released on Friday as a double LP 180 gram vinyl and features Bruce Springsteen and Bonnie Raitt in addition to Tom Petty.

New to Me: The Tracks I’m Playing (Week of August 7, 2017)

In the two months since I started writing this blog, I’ve learned so much about country music. The fact that I called myself a country music fan just a few short months ago is laughable. As the saying goes, “the more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know” and that is exactly how I feel about country music. For example, I knew about some of the greatest country singers like Willie, Waylon, and Johnny but I never knew about John Prine or Gram Parsons. I’m now in love with John Prine and think he’s one of the greatest songwriters of all time- I just wish I’d known about him sooner.

There have been some other changes besides just the new music I’m discovering. For example, I no longer listen to the radio. Like practically never. I used to sometimes listen to Bobby Bones on my morning commute but after realizing how many great new artists are out there that he’s not playing, I figured why should I? I also never liked that he didn’t give Eric Church’s songs a lot of play. I’m not sure how much of this is actually Bobby or the higher-ups making the calls but either way, I’m no longer wasting my time listening to the same Jason Aldean and FGL songs continuously playing on a loop. And it’s not just Bobby Bones. You’d be hard pressed, especially in the Washington, DC area, to find a radio station that plays some of today’s best artists- I’m talking Sturgill Simpson, Brandy Clark, Jason Isbell, Margo Price, Cody Jinks, and many others. I used to at least hear Kacey Musgraves on the radio when “Merry Go ‘Round” first came out but now you never hear her. What happened? I am, however, thankful to the few stations that still play the old stuff (Thunder 104.5 in Fredericksburg, VA WHADDUP!) like Waylon and The Oak Ridge Boys so to those stations who are still spinning those old records, I just wanna say thank ya!

Not only am I learning more about country music and discovering new artists and songs in this genre, but in other genres too. I’ve added a bunch of new rock, oldies, hip-hop, etc. to my music collection over these past few months as well.

The fact that I’m constantly learning about new artists and finding new songs that I love means that I’m achieving one of the goals that I set out to accomplish when I started this blog. My love of country music has only grown stronger and I have developed a deeper appreciation for it. Since I typically write about new music in my “The Tracks I’m Playing” posts, I wanted to change it up this week and write about some of the old stuff that I’ve discovered since starting this blog, or rather, the songs that are “new to me.” Here they are!

New Artists 

John Prine- “In Spite of Ourselves.” John Prine knew that the world needed more songs about sniffing someone’s undies and so he gave us this gem. He also knew that people needed to know what Jesus was up to in his missing years so he gave us, “Jesus, The Missing Years.” He also wanted us all to blow up our TV and throw away our paper so he gave us, “Spanish Pipedream.” Finding these songs has truly bettered my life. Now I just need to go blow up my TV and I’ll be all set!

Gram Parsons- “Love Hurts.” So while this song may not be “new to me,” this version of it certainly is. I’ve known the Nazareth cover of this song for years and was a fan after hearing it for the first time in high school during my classic rock discovery phase. Not that these two versions are competing against each other or anything but any version of a song that contains the angelic voice of Emmylou Harris automatically wins out in my book. Gram Parsons also did so much for music, not just country music, that you’d be hard pressed to find a list of most influential country singers that didn’t include him.

New Songs

Merle Haggard- “Sidewalks of Chicago.” I could listen to Merle Haggard sing the phonebook. And I’d probably download that song and listen to it everyday. Merle’s voice has the power to make you feel the emotions behind the song that he is singing. What I love most about this song in particular is the way he goes back and forth between singing and talking. I also love the way he says certain words in this song like “wine” when he talks about how if he buys bread, he can’t afford the wine. By the end of this song, you actually feel sorry for this guy and the fact that he can’t afford both bread and wine.

Willie Nelson- “Shotgun Willie.” Why is Shotgun Willie sitting in his underwear? Why is Shotgun Willie biting on a bullet and pulling out all of his hair? I don’t know and I also really don’t care. This song is great just the way it is- no explanations are needed. Shotgun Willie- you keep doing you!

Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter- “Honky Tonk Angels.” My all-time favorite country music couple right here, ladies and gentlemen! Any song these two sing together is perfection so of course their version of “Honky Tonk Angels” is gonna be a good one. Even though the original singer of this song was Kitty Wells, Waylon and Jessi made it their own in this performance. Waylon also jokes that Jessi hurt his feelings in this song. Toughen up, Waylon!

Steve Earle- “Guitar Town.” I’m still waiting for a man to tell me that one of these days he’s gonna settle down and take me back with him to the Guitar Town. Just know that when that day comes, I’ll be ready! Whenever I hear this song I just wanna get up and dance though I’m probably not dancing like the folks back in the Guitar Town.

Jerry Reed- “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot.” One of the greatest life lessons can be found in this song- “when you’re hot, you’re hot and when you’re not, you’re not.” Where would be today as a society if Jerry Reed hadn’t come along to teach us this valuable lesson? I don’t even wanna know!

See also: “Amos Moses.” This poor boy’s daddy used to use him as alligator bait! Bless his heart!

Both of these songs serve as examples of Jerry Reed’s ability to have fun with his songs. This man didn’t take himself too seriously and because of that we’ve been gifted with songs like the ones listed above.

Emmylou Harris- “Queen of the Silver Dollar,” “Bluebird Wine,” “Hank and Lefty,” and Boulder to Birmingham.” If you can’t tell, I’m a big fan of the Pieces of the Sky album. And if I could be the queen of anything, it would be the Silver Dollar, as she sings about on this album. As I mentioned above, Emmylou Harris has the voice of an angel. No, really. That’s probably why Gram Parsons included her on his Grievous Angel album that he did with his band “The Fallen Angels.” The man liked to surround himself with angels and Emmylou Harris was no exception. No voice has yet to come along in country music that can rival hers.

The Oak Ridge Boys- “Y’all Come Back SaloonandLeaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight.” Me and The Oak Ridge Boys go way back, after all, these are the guys who taught another one of life’s most important lessons in country music- “trying to love two women is like a ball a chain.” I’m just gonna have to take their word on that! When they’re not teaching you about the struggles that come with loving multiple women, these guys are singing other great songs like the ones listed above. And of course, let’s not forget about “Elvira.Giddy up oom poppa omm poppa mow mow. 

[9/9/17 update] “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight” is one of the greatest finds on this list. After finding it about a month ago, I’ve been obsessed! Whenever I need a song to pick me up, I’ll put this on. Or if I’m already feeling good, I’ll put this song on to keep my good mood going strong. Thank you to The Oak Ridge Boys for giving us one hell of a song!

I hope none of y’all are judging me for not knowing these songs and even some of these artists until recently. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and maybe I wasn’t meant to find these songs until now. Perhaps if I had known about them years ago they wouldn’t have meant as much to me. The important thing is that I know them now!

Currently listening to: John Prine – “Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian.” A language I’m now really regretting never taking the time to learn! I’ve always said that you haven’t really mastered a language until you can talk dirty in it. Actually, this is the first time I’ve ever said that, but I’m gonna start saying it. If you don’t believe me that talking dirty in Hawaiian is an impressive skill, maybe you’ll believe John Prine. Go ahead and give it a listen!