The Mile High Country Music Club

I tend to do my best movie watching when I’m on an airplane. There’s nothing else going on and I usually can’t sleep anyway so why not put on a movie? Not only do airplanes have great movies, including some the newer releases, but they also tend to have pretty decent music too. I was quite impressed with the music selection that I found on Emirates airline on my recent trip to Kenya, especially their country stuff. (Major shoutout to Emirates for having Eric Church’s The Outsiders!) I decided to use the idle time I had on the plane to listen some of the stuff they had on there. Though I tend to stick with the stuff I already know, I decided to try out some new (new to me at least) stuff this time. Below are a few of the songs I found on my flight that are now forever a part of my playlist.

Dolly Parton- “Joshua.” I always prided myself on being a Dolly Parton fan but how did I not know about Joshua? Thankfully, Emirates had a whole Dolly playlist and whoever created it made sure that Joshua was included. While Joshua isn’t the type of man I’d go for, I can see his appeal. And if he makes Dolly happy, well then that makes me happy!

“Joshua Joshua
What you are doing living here all alone
Joshua Joshua
Have you got nobody to call your own
No no no no”

Willie Nelson- “Wives and Girlfriends.” I think we can all agree with Willie that wives and girlfriends (and husbands and boyfriends) should never meet. This song about what appears to possibly be a polygamous man (or just a player?) also makes a reference to being Mormon- proving that Willie Nelson really can get away with singing about anything, even the Mormons.

“Well, I love my wives and I love my girlfriends
May they never meet
May they never know each other when they pass on the street
Well, I might be a Mormon or I might be a heathen or a gambler
I just don’t know
But I love my wives and I love my girlfriends
Turn ’em all out and let ’em all go

Finding this song led me to explore some more songs from his 2014 Band of Brothers album and that’s how I found Hard to Be an Outlaw” and “The Songwriters.” The former song reminds me a great deal of the song that Willie sang with Steve Earle on his latest album, “So You Wannabe An Outlaw.” No matter how many times these guys try to warn people about the outlaw way of life, people just won’t listen! And if you think that outlaws are bad just wait until you meet the songwriters! As Willie sings, they’re heroes but also schemers, they’re drunks and they’re also dreamers. They might be lovers but sometimes they’re also fighters. Note to self: stay away from outlaws and songwriters!

“Our mama’s don’t know what we’re doing
Why we stay out all night long
I told mine I was a drug dealer
She said thank god you ain’t writin songs”

Johnny Cash- “Baby Ride Easy.” Who doesn’t love a good Johnny and June duet? I know I sure do! These two sing about needing the simple things out of a partner: June wants someone who’s loving is good and Johnny wants someone who’s cooking ain’t greasy. What more could you ask for? The long and loving relationship that these two shared makes me think that they each got what they wanted.

“(Johnny) If I drove a truck
(June) And I were a waitress
(Johnny) And I ordered coffee
(June) And I poured you some
(Johnny & June) Then you’d stop by on your way sometimes later

(June) And if we arm-wrestled, I’d see that you won”

I’m not sure who would’ve won in an arm-wrestling competition between these two but I sure wish I could’ve seen it happen!

This song comes from Johnny’s posthumous album Out Among the Stars, which was released in 2014. The songs on this album are from the lost 1980s sessions of Johnny Cash with producer Billy Sherrill. The songs were discovered in 2012 by Johnny’s son, John Carter Cash, after being shelved by Columbia Records.

Currently listening to: John Denver- “Leaving On A Jet Plane

The Soundtrack to My Safari: The Tracks I Played in Kenya

I have this thing where I pretty much have to be listening to music (or Netflix, etc.) at all times. With the exception of being at work, I rarely sit in silence. So of course when I travel, as there is often a lot of time spent waiting for planes, waiting in lines, riding in cars/buses, etc., I spend a lot of time with my headphones in listening to music. In preparation for my trip to Kenya, where I traveled earlier this month, I made sure my Spotify account was loaded up. Let me just say that one does not truly appreciate the download option on Spotify until they’re forced to go days without (or with very limited) Wi-Fi or data. Thankfully, being the planner that I am, I had downloaded plenty of songs beforehand, which was especially useful during my four day safari to Maasai Mara National Reserve and Lake Nakuru. I made sure to include both new music along with old favorites (like Waylon, Merle, and George.) In this post, I will focus on the newer stuff, all of which will forever remain on my playlists. I’m sure I’ll be calling these songs “old favorites” one day!

The Soundtrack to My Safari

Kurt Vile- Pretty Pimpin.” This is probably the song I played the most. I mean you try listening to it without it getting stuck in your head (spoiler: you can’t). It’s the perfect song to play during almost any kind of activity- riding around in a safari van, getting ready in the morning, walking to work, you name it. You can guarantee that anything you do while listening to this song will be pretty pimpin!

Margo Price- How the Mighty Have Fallen” and other songs from her album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter including “Tennessee Song” and “Hands of Time.” What’s cool is that Margo’s commentary on this album is also on Spotify. It’s always nice to get a little background info on a song before you listen to it, especially when the songs are autobiographical and personal, like “Hands of Time.” In the period of time that has passed since I’ve come back from Kenya and writing this post, Margo has released a new EP titled, Weakness, which I’m excited to start exploring.

John Mayer- Never on the Day You Leave.” If there’s one person who understands breakups, it’s John Mayer. And of course he understands that you can still miss lots of things about someone even after you leave them- even their crazy family. Anyone who has ever missed someone after breaking up with them can relate to this song. I’m still not sure if this song is considered “country” but if John Mayer can write a post-breakup song this good, I think there’s a place for him in country music.

“No, it’s never on the day you leave
That you remember Christmas Eve
And all the things you miss about her crazy family
You’ll know how lonely it is to see 
A little drug store Christmas tree
But never, never on the day you leave”

Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit-Last of My Kind.” This song about a country boy feeling misplaced in the city and wondering if he’s the last of his kind completely won me over. It also made me kinda sad because I realized that Jason Isbell is indeed the last of his kind. Sigh.

William Clark Green- Old Fashioned.” While I was listening to Jason Isbell singing about being the last of his kind, William Clark Green was also letting me know that “them good old boys are few and far between.” I’m afraid that the Jason Isbells and the “good old boys” are both dying breeds. If we could get a conservation group going for this endangered species that would be great. Just send me your donation for this great cause!

(In all seriousness, there are many actual endangered animals out there. In Kenya, two of the endangered animals are the Grevy’s Zebra and the Black Rhino, both of which I got to see on my trip. For more information and to donate to African Wildlife Foundation, click here.)

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats- S.O.B.” I looked Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats up when I saw that they were performing at the Outlaw Music Festival with Willie Nelson, Eric Church, Sheryl Crow, and the Avett Brothers in September. I figured if they were in such good company that they too must be good. Finding this fun, toe-tapping song was the result of that search.

Cody Jinks- Loud and Heavy.” I like songs that get straight to the point and this song does just that. Cody doesn’t waste any time once this song starts, jumping straight into that “loud thunder heavy rain” line in the first second. Cody makes great company for long car rides!

Sturgill Simpson- I know this is the first time I’ve mentioned “The Sturge” on this blog (better late than never, right?) but it’s mainly because I was holding out as I felt he deserved his own post. However, as I’ve yet to write that post, I didn’t want to leave Sturgill out too much longer. Some of his songs that I listened to were “Welcome to Earth (Polywog),” “Sea Stories,” and “All Around You.” All of these songs are from his latest Grammy Award Winning album A Sailor’s Guide To Earth. At other points on this trip when I did have Internet, I also listened to stuff from his older albums Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and High Top Mountain which made for a very Sturgill holiday. Trust me when I tell you that a post dedicated to “The Sturge” is coming. Also, how are y’all feeling about the nickname “The Sturge?” I’m kinda digging it.

When I listen to any one of these songs now, I’m reminded of a specific time during my trip when that song was playing in my headphones. I bet Jason Isbell never thought one of his songs would bring to mind a memory of driving around Maasai Mara looking for giraffes and elephants (although one of his best songs is titled, “Elephant,” so maybe? But probably not.)

I did listen to plenty of other songs not listed above, however, most of those songs have already been written about in my past “The Tracks I’m Playing” posts. This includes people like Lori McKenna, Ruston Kelly, and Ashley Monroe.

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Maasai Mara National Reserve (July 2017)

Thanks Kurt, Margo, John, Jason, William, Nathaniel, Cody, and “The Sturge” for coming with me to Kenya! I hope y’all enjoyed the trip!

Currently listening to: Chris Stapleton- “Traveller

“I’m just a traveler on this earth
Sure as my heart’s behind the pocket of my shirt
I’ll just keep rolling till I’m in the dirt
‘Cause I’m a traveler, oh, I’m a traveler”

Getting Out of My Southern Comfort Zone

When I’m not writing about country music, I’m either traveling or planning my next trip. I recently returned from a trip to Kenya (hence the major delay in posts) and am already thinking about where I want to travel next (Uzbekistan? Georgia (the country not the state)? Armenia?) It should come as no surprise that there aren’t too many country songs (or any really) about the places I travel to or about traveling in general. However, there is one song that stands out to me and resonates well with us wanderlusting, country music fans (I can’t be the only one, right?) That song is Brad Paisley’s “Southern Comfort Zone,” in which he sings, “I can’t see this world unless I go outside my Southern Comfort Zone.” The music video, which I’ve included below, even includes scenes that were shot in Kenya!

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Dallas Pub, Maasai Mara, Kenya (July 2017)

What I love about this song (besides the obvious play on words of “southern comfort” and “comfort zone”) is that it discusses getting out of your comfort zone when you travel. I’ve always said that traveling (I’m talking cheap hostels, taking public transportation in foreign countries, trying new (and sometimes questionable) foods) makes you grow because you’re forced to get out of your comfort zone. Brad touches on this in his song with lines like “I know what it’s like to talk and have nobody understand” and “I know what it’s like to be the only one like me, to take a good hard look around and be in the minority.” Although Brad mentions traveling to Rome and Paris in his song, where they most likely will also speak English (though maybe not with a southern accent), it’s likely that he has found himself in situations where people did not understand him when he spoke. Finding yourself in situations like this serve as a good reminder that the whole world is not like you. As Brad points out in the beginning of the song, not everybody drives trucks, drinks sweet tea, owns guns (I’ll hold my tongue on this one), and wears a ball cap, boots, and jeans. When you’re around people who are just like you (people who talk like you, think like you, live like you), it’s good to be reminded that your way of life is not the only way of life. This is probably the most important lesson that one learns when they get out of their “southern comfort zone.”

“I have walked the streets of Rome, I have been to foreign lands
I know what it’s like to talk and have nobody understand
I have seen the Eiffel Tower lit up on a Paris night
I have kissed a West Coast girl underneath the Northern Lights”

When traveling, you also begin to miss some of the comforts of home and in return you develop a newfound appreciation for these things. For Brad, it was “biscuits and gravy, fireflies dancing in the night.” For me, especially during the year that I lived in London, it was sweet tea and Chick-fil-A (a number one with a sweet tea, thank you and please!) As Brad travels he realizes how much he misses his Tennessee home, for me it’s my Virginia home.

I’ve been lucky enough to have traveled to 20 countries so far (if we’re including that one time I had to stay in Dubai for a night due to a missed flight, which I am.) While traveling, one thing that never fails to surprise me is when I hear country music in the most unexpected places. In Chiang Mai, Thailand I not only heard someone playing Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee” but the live band performing in a local town square performed Old Crow Medicine Show’s (not Darius Rucker’s!) “Wagon Wheel” and John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” These were Thai men in cowboy hats singing American country music and I loved everything about it. Just this month in Kenya, I heard Randy Travis’ “Three Wooden Crosses” playing in a boat rental office (on what was probably a Christian gospel radio station) at Lake Naivasha. And at the airport in Nairobi while waiting to head back home, I heard what must’ve been a collection of country love song duets as Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood’s “In Another’s Eyes,” Clint Black and Lisa Hartman Black’s “When I Said I Do,” and Vince Gill and Reba McEntire’s “The Heart Won’t Lie” played over the speakers. Brantley Gilbert sings that “Country Must Be Country Wide,” but perhaps it’s also worldwide.

While many people are often scared to travel for fear of getting out of their comfort zone, I’ve learned that once you step out and meet new people, you realize that humans are not all that different from one another. If the songs of John Denver and Merle Haggard can resonate with people from Chiang Mai, Thailand then we really can’t be all that different now can we?

The music video for “Southern Comfort Zone” (below) contains scenes from different 8 different countries (which he covered in 8 days!) including Ireland, France, Norway, and KENYA! Major kudos to Brad for not only including the animals of Kenya in this video (giraffes, elephants, zebras, etc.) but also the people. Scenes of the Masai people, who I spent some time with on my trip, can be found this video. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see any country music videos being filmed while I was in Kenya.

I’d like to end this post with the same message that Brad ends this music video with: “See This World.”

 

Currently listening to: Thomas Rhett- “Die A Happy Man.” Here Thomas also makes a reference to seeing the Eiffel Tower at night, which seems to be quite a big deal in the country community.

“If I never get to see the Northern lights
Or if I never get to see the Eiffel Tower at night
Oh, if all I got is your hand in my hand
Baby, I could die a happy man”

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The Eiffel Tower lit up on a Paris night” (March 2016)