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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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?

The Tracks I’m Playing (Week of June 26, 2017)

Happy Monday, everyone! To quote Mark Chesnutt, “Well it sure is Monday, isn’t it now? Gotta get myself through the week somehow.” Hopefully the songs below will help get you through your Monday and the rest of your week!

New Tracks

Miranda Lambert– Smoking Jacket.” I was unaware that I wanted this kind of man until Miranda made it clear with this song (thanks, girl!) I’ve been listening to her album The Weight of These Wings like crazy and “Smoking Jacket” is one of the many songs that I just can’t get enough of, which is probably because I have a huge crush on whoever this man is. He’s velvet and refined? Sign me up!

“I want a man with a smoking jacket and
A deeper pocket with money to burn
I want a man who knows his status
And he makes a habit of loving me till it hurts”

Other songs from The Weight of These Wings that I’ve been playing on repeat are “Highway Vagabond” and “Six Degrees of Separation.”

Steve Earle and The Dukes– “So You Wanna Be An Outlaw.” If I ever thought I was cut out to be an outlaw Steve Earle and Willie Nelson made sure to set me straight with this song. Living a life where you can never go home and you can’t trust anybody (not even your own momma) ain’t no life for me. This song is the title track from Earle’s latest album, which also features a duet with Earle and Miranda Lambert titled, “This Is How It Ends” that I highly recommend. (Not sure if y’all can tell but I love me some Miranda!)

“So you wanna be outlaw, better listen up kid
Steal a million dollars and you have to keep it hid
Ain’t no place to spend it in the desert if you did
And you can’t take it with you when you go”

Chris Stapleton– “Them Stems.” Let’s just get one thing straight- I’ve never smoked “them stems.” But I can totally sympathize with being in a bad, bad way, as Chris Stapleton describes it in this song, where it seems like nothing’s going right. I guess you could say that metaphorically I’ve smoked “them stems.” In any case, this song has a beat that’s sure to make you groove no matter how relatable you find its content.

“This morning I smoked them stems
Yeah, that’s the kinda shape I’m in
I’m in a bad, bad way again
‘Cause this morning I smoked them stems”

New to Me

Lori McKenna– “Salt.” It’s no surprise that the lyrics in a Lori McKenna song caught my attention. After all, this is the same lady who wrote “Humble and Kind,” which was a big hit for Tim McGraw and a song that I think will go down in country music history as one of the greatest songs of all time. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking this as this song won Song of the Year at the 2016 Country Music Awards, Best Country Song at the Grammy’s in 2017, and Favorite Country Song at the 2016 American Music Awards. I realize that I’m late to the Lori McKenna party as “Salt” came out in 2013 but better late than never! “Salt” is about leaving a man who ain’t worth a whole lot, as Lori lists out in this song, not even her weight in salt.

“But you ain’t worth the time
You ain’t worth the pain
You ain’t worth the spit in my mouth when I scream out your name
You ain’t worth the cost to repair the hole in the kitchen drywall
You ain’t worth the good advice written on a dirty bathroom stall
Or my weight in salt”

Whitey Morgan and the 78’s- I’m on Fire.” I’m a big fan of Bruce Springsteen so I was interested to see how Whitey Morgan and the 78’s chose to cover “I’m on Fire,” which was featured on their 2008 album Honky Tonks and Cheap Motels. While I do enjoy the country feel that his cover has, nothing beats the original Springsteen (sorry Whitey!) This isn’t the only time that Whitey Morgan has covered The Boss- his 2014 album Grandpa’s Guitar also features a version of “Highway Patrolman.”

For all you D.C. peeps- Whitey Morgan will be performing at the Fillmore in Silver Spring on July 19th. I’m afraid I’ll probably be too jetlagged to attend but y’all should go check him out!

“At night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet
And a freight train running through the
Middle of my head
Only you can cool my desire
I’m on fire”

Currently listening to: Mark Chesnutt- “It Sure Is Monday.” You ain’t lying, Mark!