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)

Album Review: Kacey Musgraves- “Golden Hour”

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(Photo courtesy of Stereogum)

It’s finally starting to feel like spring in Washington, DC and Kacey Musgraves’ new album is out today- it really is Good Friday! I’ve been anxiously awaiting Kacey Musgraves’ new album Golden Hour from the moment she announced that it was on its way. With all of the built up anticipation and excitement for this album, I thought this would make the perfect album for my first ever album review. I’ve been trying not to read too much about the new album as I didn’t want other people’s ideas to influence my own. I’ll read some of the other album reviews once this one is posted (like Grady Smith‘s, for example) as I’m curious to know what others thought of the record. 

I’ve been a fan of Kacey Musgraves for several years. The major force that propelled me into full-fledged Kacey fandom was seeing her perform live at “C2C: Country To Country” in London two years ago. The day after that concert, I bought both of her albums on iTunes and they served as the soundtrack to my spring break in England. While I already had a few songs from Same Trailer Different Park in my iTunes catalog, I finished buying up the rest of the album that day along with Pageant Material. 

In the weeks leading up to Golden Hour‘s release, Kacey put out three songs- “Space Cowboy,” “Butterflies,” and “High Horse.” Of these three, “High Horse” was definitely my favorite with its cheeky lyrics and funky disco beat à la the 1970’s. These songs were tasters as they prepared our appetites for the rest of what Kacey would be serving up on this album. 

Oh, What An Album! 

Earlier this week, NPR Music put up the full album for people to stream as a “First Listen“. It was nice not having to wait until today to finally hear this baby in its entirety. My initial reaction to the album was a positive one. And the more I continue to listen to it, the more I fall in love with it. I had heard her sing a little bit of “Oh, What A World” on her Instagram story and was desperately hoping this song would be on the album so that I could hear the full version of it. It was delighted that it was included and I was not disappointed with it. In fact, it’s probably my favorite song on the album (audio video below). The upbeat message of embracing the beautiful things in life (because there is so much ugly out there too) along with the song’s trippy sound really hooked me. Coming in a tie for second place would have to be “Slow Burn” and “Happy & Sad.” “Slow Burn” is the first song on the album and the most autobiographical (watch her performance of this song from last night’s The Late Show with Stephen Colbert). And the more I listen to “Happy & Sad” the more I find myself enjoying it and relating to it. These two are just gonna have to share second place! As much as I enjoy the emotional, introspective, and “all up in your feelings” kinda songs, this album wouldn’t be complete without a dance floor anthem and Kacey’s got that base covered with “High Horse.” Other songs on the album include “Wonder Woman” (no, it’s not about Gal Gadot) and “Rainbow.” Fans who have had the good fortune of hearing her sing “Rainbow” in her live performances will be happy to find this song included. A full track listing is below. 

In typical Kacey fashion, the songwriting on this album is superb- it’s simple yet eloquent. She has a certain way of describing the emotions we all feel in our own unique way in a style that’s universal. “Happy & Sad” is a great example of this as it’s so relatable. Kacey asks, “is there a word for the way that I’m feeling tonight? Happy and Sad at the same time.” Maybe the answer to that question is “human” as I think we all feel this way sometimes. Another great example of her songwriting is seen in “Butterflies.”  While the common expression of “you give me butterflies” is included in the lyrics, the meaning behind the butterfly is much more complex. Someone has finally untangled the strings around her wings so that she can fly, much like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. Although I find it hard to believe that Kacey was ever a caterpillar, I’m glad she’s now a butterfly! In “Space Cowboy” we see Kacey engaging in wordplay. This song isn’t about an astronaut John Wayne but rather it’s about giving a cowboy his space. Clever, Kacey! 

A central theme weaving its way throughout this album is love, not just romantic love, but also love of the world (“Oh, What A World“) and love for one’s mother (“Mother“). Kacey finding love and her recent marriage to fellow musician Ruston Kelly may have something to do with the abundance of love flowing through this record. We can hear this in songs like “Love is a Wild Thing,” “Butterflies,” and in the album’s title track, “Golden Hour.” I reckon Ruston Kelly is also her “Velvet Elvis” (she must be his “Velvet Priscilla”).  

This past week, Kacey has been posting sound clips of her songs on Instagram along with short descriptions to go along with the songs. For the song’s first track, “Slow Burn,” she provides some background on the song for her listeners, saying “I was born 6 weeks early. Under 5 lbs. I came on the day of my baby shower. [I always have loved a party] It was the last time I was ever early for anything. SLOW BURN is one of my most auto-biographical songs. And one of my favorites. It was the last one @tronian [Ian Fitchuk] + @thesilverseas [Daniel Tashian] and I wrote and it’s the first song on the new record. Arriving 3/30” And for my favorite, “Oh, What A World,” she says, “I refuse to let the ugliness of the modern world make me forget about the mystery and beauty that surrounds us on a daily basis. OH, WHAT A WORLD was the first song we wrote for the album and it set the sonic pathway I decided to chase. Futurism: meet traditionalism. Vocoder: meet pedal steel and banjo. Full album: meet everyone on 3/30.

On a sonic level, this album is easy on the ears. “Lonely Weekend” sounds like the song you’d want to listen to on a lonely weekend. And “Happy & Sad” has a sound that’s almost familiar, like you’ve maybe heard it before but can’t remember where. I already commented on the “trippy” sound of “Oh, What A World” above and as Kacey says, this song set the “sonic pathway” for the album. Golden Hour’s sound is different from what we heard on her first two albums and that’s not a bad thing AT ALL. Kudos to Kacey for taking a creative leap with these sounds as it paid off in a major way- this is an excellent album- it’s lyrically, sonically, and creatively beautiful! 

If you’re thinking that this album isn’t “country,” you’re right. It’s not a country album, it’s a Kacey album. Even before songs were released from this album, we were told that it would be influenced by the Bee Gees, Sade, and Neil Young.  If the trippy, disco-infused sounds and the clever songwriting found on this album don’t appeal to you then you can hop on your “High Horse” and “giddy up, giddy up and ride straight out of this town!” 

Track Listing:

1. Slow Burn
2. Lonely Weekend
3. Butterflies
4. Oh, What A World
5. Mother
6. Love Is A Wild Thing
7. Space Cowboy
8. Happy & Sad

9. Velvet Elvis
10. Wonder Woman
11. High Horse

12. Golden Hour
13. Rainbow 

Happy Album Release Day, Kacey! Thank you for this beautiful album! I hope your album is getting all of the love it deserves. Don’t forget to check out the new album, along with all of Kacey’s great songs, on my “A Very Kacey Playlist.” 

Currently listening to: This album obviously. Though I should be brushing up on some Dashboard Confessional since I’m seeing them in concert tomorrow night at the Fillmore in Silver Spring. It’s pretty coincidental because Chris Carrabba, the band’s lead singer, was credited as being one of Kacey’s songwriting heroes at an exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum not too long ago. Other songwriters on that list included John Prine (duh!), Loretta Lynn, Roger Miller, Neil Young, Buddy and Julie Miller, and Jim Croce.

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Kacey in front of her songwriting heroes (Photo courtesy of Dashboard Confessional’s Facebook page)

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 Playing (Week of August 21, 2017)

As y’all know, there’s a solar eclipse happening today. I guess this is the universe’s way of trying to make a Monday exciting. I’m honestly scared of going blind so will probably not be going outside to watch it and will stick to watching it online. Lame, I know.

The Tracks I’m Playing

Townes Van Zandt- “Waiting Around to Die.” I know what you’re thinking and it’s probably something along the lines of, “come on, Brittany, this old song from 1968!?” Well, let me explain myself. I actually first heard this song thanks to Whitey Morgan and the 78’s who covered it on their 2015 album Sonic Ranch. However, as these things usually go, I found the original Townes Van Zandt version soon after and realized how amazing it is. So while this song may be old as dirt, it’s a classic and deserves recognition for being so. It also came in at number 31 on Rolling Stone‘s list of “40 Saddest Country Songs of All Time.” Even if the song might make you blue, I would still suggest that you go ahead and give it a listen, I mean, it’s easier than just waiting around to die!

Whitey Morgan and the 78’s- “Bad News.” Since I talked about Whitey above, it only seems fair to give him his own mention here…even if he is bad news everywhere he goes and always gettin’ in trouble and leaving them girls that hate to see him go. Slow your roll, Whitey!

Anderson East- “All On My Mind.” Though not “country” per se, this American rhythm and blues artist dates Miranda Lambert and is featured on the Southern Family album that I wrote about last week, so I see no issue with including him here. The rhythm and blues world that he’s a part of is not one that I had really tapped into before and shame on me because this guy is great and everything I’ve heard so far I really like. Take “Satisfy Me” and “Find ‘Em, Fool ‘Em and Forget ‘Em,” for example. Both are excellent songs!

Margo Price- “Four Years of Chances.” Whether it’s been four days, four weeks, four months, or in Margo’s case, four years, there’s a good chance that at some point you gave someone way too many chances. Hopefully you realized it before 1,461 days had passed by! My favorite thing about this song? When Margo sings the word, “chances.” She realizes she gave you several years too many of these and it can’t help but come through when she sings.

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats- “I Need Never Get Old.” Like with Anderson East, I’ve been exploring artists that I typically wouldn’t have since starting this blog and Nathaniel Rateliff is one of those. His sound is influenced by folk, Americana, and vintage rhythm and blues so I guess this places him somewhere in the middle. Whatever category you choose to place him in, I’m a fan. I particularly like the saxophone and trumpet that are found in this song. If you’re a fan and haven’t seen his performance of this song on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts series, I would suggest checking it out.

Sturgill Simpson- “It Ain’t All Flowers.” This song is from The Sturge’s album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and it’s one of his many songs that I’m currently digging. I’m not 100% sure what a metamodern sound is, especially in regards to country music, but I feel like this song comes pretty close to being the epitome of what that sound might be. I’m slowly counting down the days until I see him in concert (25 days!) and making sure I’m prepared by listening to as much of him as I can. Needless to say, it’s been great!

“But it ain’t all flowers
Sometimes you gotta feel the thorns”

Thanks for the Shout Out, Mr. Hubbard!

Ray Wylie Hubbard- “Tell the Devil I’m Getting There as Fast as I Can.” Since I saw him in concert on Friday night and since his new album by the same name came out on Friday, it only makes since that Ray Wylie Hubbard is on this list. And Eric Church sings on this song, along with Lucinda Williams, so yeah, I’m including it!

Also, on Friday, August 18th at approximately 11:30 p.m., Ray Wylie Hubbard mentioned Beltway Boots while on stage at Hill Country BBQ in Washington, DC!!! I kid you not he actually mentioned “Beltway Boots” while on stage and said, “she’s supposed to be here tonight.” Well, I was definitely there and I definitely heard you mention Beltway Boots! That was pretty freakin’ awesome so thanks, Ray Wylie! I’ve finally achieved my 5 seconds of fame, y’all!

Apparently there’s no video up for this song on YouTube but if you wanna listen to it, I’ve added it to my Spotify playlist “The Tracks I’m Playing” where you can find all of the songs that I write about each week.

The Dime Store Cowgirl Birthday Girl 

And since today is this Dime Store Cowgirl’s birthday, Kacey Musgraves- “Good Ol’ Boys Club is also a track I’m playing. This is one of my favorite song of hers because it further affirms my longheld belief that trying to be a part of the good ol’ boys club just ain’t worth it! Cigars and handshakes? I appreciate ya but no thanks! Happy Birthday, Kacey!

“I don’t need a membership to validate
The hard work I put in and the dues I paid
Never been to good at just goin’ along
I guess I’ve always kind of been for the underdog”

Currently listening to: Bonnie Tyler- “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Isn’t this what everyone is listening to today? Be sure to protect your eyes today people! I don’t want you to be singing “Blinded by the Light” when it’s all said and done.

That Good Ole Liberal Country Music (Yep, you read that right!)

It’s hard being a liberal country music fan sometimes, especially when you’ve got artists like Toby Keith and Alabama performing for Donald Trump. Toby Keith even took things a step further by performing for Trump on his trip to Saudi Arabia in May. Was he finally going to put a boot in their ass for 9/11?? Nope. Instead he went to kiss some ass (who goes by the name of Donald Trump) by performing a free concert, which was for men only. This might’ve been the first time in Saudi history that women had the advantage over men by not having to sit through that. Though it has been said that Toby Keith is not a supporter of Donald Trump, actions speak louder than words, and his actions are saying otherwise. And Alabama, really!? The same band that sings, “Daddy was a veteran, a southern democrat, They oughta get a rich man to vote like that” in “Song of the South!” Where did these guys go?

Not only do you have country artists cozying up to Trump but the lyrics of some country songs are pretty dang awful. I practically had to pick my jaw up off the ground when I was listening to David Allan Coe’s “If That Ain’t Country” not too long ago and heard the n-word. I even Googled the lyrics just to be sure I didn’t mishear him. I didn’t. He actually said it. As I looked more into Coe’s music, I found that in the ’80s, he released an underground album with a song that has a title too offensive to post here because it contains, you guessed it, the n-word again. If you’re curious about this song, there’s a whole world wide web where you can look this up for yourself. It might just be the liberal snowflake (sarcasm) in me getting offended by things but I think these songs should offend most people, not just us beautiful snowflakes.

Thankfully, for liberal country music fans like myself, there are people like Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Kacey Musgraves, and Will Hoge out there who have restored my faith that there are other like-minded people in this genre.

Not Your Typical Country Song (And Thank Goodness!)

On Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit‘s new album, The Nashville Sound, there’s a song called “White Man’s World.” In addition to discussing race, looking at both African Americans and Native Americans in this country, this song also takes a swing at the patriarchy.

Isbell appeared on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah where he discussed this song along with the emotions that he was feeling the day after Trump won the election, especially in regards to his daughter. In this interview, Isbell said, “The thing that popped into my mind first was ‘Thank God she’s an infant, because I don’t have to explain any of this to her. She’ll figure it out as she grows up, but if she was a couple of years older I would have to be like, ‘OK, honey here’s what happened today and this is why your father doesn’t really know anything about human people in this country anymore.'”

In “White Man’s World,” Isbell brings up the emotions that he was feeling in regards to his daughter after the election by singing about how he once thought this world could be hers, but her momma knew better (her momma being Jason’s wife, singer/songwriter Amanda Shires Isbell). He also talks about looking into a black man’s eyes and “wishing [he’d] never been one of the guys who pretended not to hear another white man’s joke.” These are all topics you’re not likely to find in many country songs, making this song, and Jason’s outspokenness about politics, all that more important and necessary in these troubling times.

Love Trumps Hate


Not only are country songs dealing with the political issues of the day but so too are their music videos. In his video (see below) for “All Around You,” Sturgill Simpson shows a young boy draped in a cape with a superhero mask across his eyes who goes on to battle an enemy who has an uncanny resemblance to Donald Trump (take a look at minute 2:34, which is also pictured above.) He manages to defeat this Trumpian enemy with his heart-shaped shield, which he uses to make a hole in this guy’s wall (sound familiar?) for people to walk through. Hearts appear in other parts of the video from the ring on the young superhero’s finger to the shape of the stars that illuminate the sky after his defeat. This song comes from Sturgill’s Grammy Award winning album A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, which he wrote as a letter to his son and wife. I can only imagine that Sturgill sees his sons (he now has two) reflected in the little boy in this video. The fact that he’s probably teaching them to use love to combat the hateful things taking place in this world makes me love Sturgill even more than I already did (and that was a lot!)

 

This isn’t the first time (and I’m sure it won’t be the last) that Sturgill Simpson has gotten political in his music. Take the lyrics from his song “Call to Arms” for example.

“I done Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran
North Korea tell me where does it end
Well the bodies keep piling up with every day
How many more of em they gonna send

Well they send their sons and daughters off to die
For some oil
To control the heroin
Well son I hope you don’t grow up
Believing that you’ve got to be a puppet to be a man”

Country music needs more artists like Sturgill Simpson who aren’t afraid to get political in their songs and music videos!

[Side note: if you aren’t familiar with the genius that is Sturgill Simpson, please take some time to familiarize yourself. This man is one of the best things to happen to country music in a looong time!]

Love Whomever You Damn Well Please

I couldn’t write this post without including my girl Kacey Musgraves. In 2014, she won Song of the Year at the CMA Awards for her song, “Follow Your Arrow.” Despite this achievement, Kacey got some crap for this song. With lines like “Make lots of noise, kiss lots of boys, or kiss lots of girls if that’s something you’re into” and encouraging people to roll up a joint (or don’t), people’s panties definitely got in a bunch over this song. According to Fox News, some people saw the song as an “attack on Christians” (insert picture of me rolling my eyes here.) With Trump’s announcement last week that transgender people will no longer be allowed to serve in the military, more friends of the LGBTQ community need to speak up and speak out. Kacey not only did this with her music but she also tweeted her support of pride month back in June and even wrote a love letter to the LGBTQ community featured on Billboard.

To all the members of the LGBTQ community- keep following your arrow!

That Damn Confederate Flag

Country music is synonymous with the south, which unfortunately often brings to mind images of Confederate flags. Thankfully, there are country artists speaking out against this ugly flag in their music. When it comes to the stars and bars, Will Hoge ain’t having it. In his song, “Still a Southern Man,” he makes it clear that you can be a southerner and not support the Confederate flag. However, he hasn’t always felt this way. Growing up in South Carolina, Hoge “used to proudly wave the Confederate flat at high school football games.” After all, his school’s mascot was the rebel soldier. It wasn’t until he graduated and began traveling and meeting people from different walks of life that he finally saw the flag for what it really is: a symbol of “slavery, oppression and secession.” He discusses this realization in his song where he calls the flag “a hammer driving nails in the coffin of a long dead land.”

“There’s a flag flying overhead
And I used to think it meant one thing
But now I’ve grown up and seen the world
And I know what it really means
I wanted it to be the symbol of a boy
Who wasn’t scared to take a stand
But now I know it’s just a hammer driving nails
In the coffin of a long dead land”

The artists that have been mentioned in this post are all newer artists, but as Steve Earle shows, the older guys are also getting in on this. Earle sang about his disdain for the Confederate flag in his 2015 song, “Mississippi It’s Time.” In this song, he tries to reason with Mississippi that it’s time for the flag to come down. As the song states, “we can’t move ahead if we’re lookin’ behind.” Another major kudos goes to the “Copperhead Road” singer for giving all of the proceeds from this song to the Civil Rights organization Southern Poverty Law Center.

Look away, Mississippi
Mississippi, you’re on my mind
All the crosses burned and the lessons unlearned
Left a scar across my heart and it’s ten miles wide
Sick of sloggin’ through the history of this wounded land of mine
Still payin’ the cost cause the war was lost
Mississippi, don’t you reckon it’s time

I wish I was in a land that never held a soul in bondage ever
Wouldn’t have to drag these chains behind 
Mississippi, it’s time

Us liberals know the true meaning of this flag (it’s slavery- anyone who says differently needs to quit kidding themselves) and appreciate artists like Will Hoge and Steve Earle for speaking up about this.

Final Thoughts

Although Johnny Cash never lived to see a Trump presidency (or evan a candidacy- that lucky son of a gun!), I’d like to think that if he were alive today, that he would be opposed to this administration. Because if not, what was wearing all that black really for?