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!

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Sinners Like Me Go To Church on Sundays

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

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

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A Good First Impression 

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Pledge Allegiance to “The Hag”

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

Sins and Blasphemy 

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

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

Happy Anniversary Sinners Like Me and Chief! 

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