by Julian Spivey
40. "Way Out West" by Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives
Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives released one of the best albums of the year in Way Out West, a concept album of the American West. One of the highlights of this album is the mostly spoken word story song title track, which is a trippy hallucinogenic exploration of the West after taking a special pill. It’s Marty Robbins’ Gunfighter Ballads meets Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” and there’s maybe nobody in the music business right now better when it comes to a spoken word track than Stuart, who’s voice was simply made for storytelling.
39. "Scarecrow in the Garden" by Chris Stapleton
Chris Stapleton’s music will often get you with its emotion. His damn near perfect country voice has this way of eliciting great feeling. But, “Scarecrow in the Garden” is a chance for him to show off his great narrative storytelling with a story about multiple generations of a West Virginian farm family and the trials and tribulations of living off the land. The song, which is the best off his From A Room, Vol. 2, is chilling to the bone with the great chorus: “There’s a scarecrow in the garden/that looks like Lucifer/I’ve been reading Revelations with my bare feet in the river” and the troubling end where our narrator must decide between the Bible in his left hand and the pistol in his right.
38. "All the Best" by Zac Brown Band
I’ve often said that Zac Brown is better when performing other people’s songs. And, that’s definitely the case with his take on John Prine’s “All the Best,” a sweet heartbreak song that you can instantly tell comes from Prine’s pen with a verse like, “I wish you love/And happiness/I guess I wish/You all the best/I wish you don’t/Do like I do/And go and fall in love with someone like you.” The stripped-down production and sweetly backing vocals by Kacey Musgraves make this one of the best in Zac Brown Band’s discography.
37. "No Glory in Regret" by John Moreland
“Don’t it feel like the truth/Comes at the price of your youth?” in John Moreland’s fantastic “No Glory in Regret” is one of the most brilliant lines in any song in 2017. There definitely comes a time in your life – with me it was around the time I left home for college – that you learn certain truths about the world that really signifies the end of childhood more than turning a certain age does. These quiet stories from Moreland really get into the devastatingly sad beauty of what living in the world can be. It’s honestly hard to write about Moreland’s songs because they seem so personal to him, but once you hear them you simply can’t forget them and inside each will be a line or two that might mean something completely different and yet incredibly important to you.
36. "Outbound Train" by Ryan Adams
Every time I heard Ryan Adams’ “Outbound Train” this year, and according to Spotify it was one of my 10 most played tracks of 2017, I thought to myself, “this is Springsteen-esque.” And, believe me that means something special because Springsteen is the pinnacle of songwriting for me and I typically hate reading reviews that compare others to him. But, “Outbound Train” with not only it’s lyrics of finding someone to love simply out of boredom, but it’s propulsive sound throughout, makes me feel like it could’ve been an outtake from Springsteen’s timeless Born in the USA album. Turns out this feeling was intentional on Adams’ part. He told Rolling Stone: “I wanted to go even further into writing simple lines, like ‘80s Bruce Springsteen. I could hear the radio in that backroom at G-Ma’s house. I could see the sunlight coming through the window, and I could hear ‘Jungleland’ playing. I could feel all those elements. And it felt good to be fragile and a little crushed.” It’s weird, but he’s absolutely right about music that makes you feel fragile and crushed also making you feel good in some ways.
35. "Ballad of the Dying Man" by Father John Misty
This is where genres can be too confining. I know that some people will see Father John Misty on this list and say, “I don’t think he’s Americana. He’s damn sure not country.” He’s labeled on Wikipedia as “indie rock” and “folk rock” and well, for the purposes of “Ballad of the Dying Man” that’s close enough to Americana for me. “Ballad of the Dying Man” is one of the sharpest tongued releases of the year, reminding me of some of Bob Dylan’s work. The scathing track pretty much takes on everybody by placing a Bill O’Reilly or Keith Olbermann type broadcaster on his death bed and wondering if the time spent ranting and raving about things like “homophobes, hipsters and one percenters” was truly worth his time. I must admit that at times I can be the person Father John Misty is pointing his finger at, “what he’d give for one more day to rate and analyze.” It certainly makes the words worth listening to.
34. "17" by Will Hoge
Some writers capture nostalgia perfectly. Will Hoge is able to get into the mindset of just how great a feeling it is to be 17-years old and falling in love with “17.” You can instantly feel the urge to love the girl who works at the local movie theater and listens to Guns ‘N’ Roses. Nothing captures the feeling of “17” better than the lyric, “Lost somewhere between the truth and make believe.” Many of us wish we could go back to that feeling once again.
33. "Mildenhall" by The Shins
Every year on my list there’s probably at least one selection where I know someone out there is likely scratching their head and murmuring, “How is this either country or Americana?” I suspect The Shins appearing on this list could be this year’s moment. The Shins have long been considered indie rock, but listen to this sparse recording of Shins’ singer-songwriter James Mercer recounting his time as a teen in England while his father was stationed at the Mildenhall Air Force Base and tell me you don’t hear Americana. If you don’t, your definition for the genre is likely too exclusive. It’s just a great song about how music can shape, change, save and inspire. And, oftentimes this love of music can come out of chance meetings with a kid in class who passes you a tape or being lonely on rainy days and picking up your dad’s guitar.
32. "Irish Whiskey Pretty Girls" by Old 97's
“Irish Whiskey Pretty Girls” by Old 97’s is one of the most fun and rambunctious songs of 2017. It’s infectious right from the start with “Thank God for Irish whiskey/thank the devil for pretty girls/make a mess of all us lucky boys.” Old 97’s have this perfect intensity to their music that seemingly has paved the way for other great bands of their ilk. They’ve always been considered alt-country, but you can see the inspiration they’ve provided to red dirt country bands like Turnpike Troubadours, who covered their “Doreen” on their 2015 self-titled album. It’s essentially country music played with rock & roll intensity. When Rhett Miller screams “turn it up, make a little noise” you want to do just that.
31. "Lost on the Desert" by Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives
As soon as I heard Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives superb American West concept album Way Out West I was in love. I’ve always been a huge fan of Western story songs like the ballads Marty Robbins did in the late ‘50s/early ‘60s like “El Paso” and “Big Iron.” One of my favorites from Stuart’s release is “Lost On the Desert,” the tale of a renegade outlaw who’s stashed some stolen loot in the desert, but gets lost trying to find it after escaping from prison. It’s a song that was first released by Johnny Cash in 1962 (written by Dallas Frazier and Buddy Mize) and has a timeless appeal to it. Lord, there’s something about country boys named Marty and great Western songs.
30. "Tell The Devil I'm Getting There As Fast As I Can" by Ray Wylie Hubbard feat. Eric Church & Lucinda Williams
As someone who’s been writing for most of his life and loves the written word there are times when something unusual hits my ear and I absolutely love it for the sheer language of it. For this reason, I love the specificity of Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Tell the Devil I’m Gettin’ There As Fast As I Can,” particularly at the beginning of the song when he’s singing about his music equipment. It’s potentially a little too insider music for some and I admit I don’t know what half of the things he’s talking about are, but it’s so specific you can’t help but be drawn in by it. Hubbard has become an expert with these talking song stories – his gruff voice making for a great storyteller. The song features one of the best choruses Hubbard has ever written and he’s joined by country superstar Eric Church and Americana legend Lucinda Williams on the choruses. Church kind of gets buried, but Williams and Hubbard sound terrific together, like they were meant to do this.
29. "So You Wannabe An Outlaw" by Steve Earle & Willie Nelson
Steve Earle came out roaring as an outlaw country singer-songwriter in the mid-‘80s and for many it’s the version of Earle we love the best. He’s had great success and songs as a folk/Americana troubadour over the last two decades, but we wanted some of that outlaw to return. Earle gave us what we wanted this year and the title track to his album “So You Wanna Be An Outlaw,” a duet with original country outlaw Willie Nelson is everything we could have dreamt about. Outlawin’ sure ain’t easy is what this one teaches us.
28. "The Sleep of Reason" by Billy Bragg
I’m not sure there has ever been a more political non-election year in the history of this country than 2017 and it’s led to the dumb old saying “stick to music” from those who don’t like to see or hear their favorite musicians speak on politics. However, I think it’s incredibly important that the artists of any musical genre speak their minds and speak the truth. One of the best at that this year was English Americana singer-songwriter Billy Bragg, who has been no stranger to poking at listeners throughout the years. His “The Sleep of Reason,” inspired by the Francisco Goya etching from 1799, is the protest song we need in 2017. He absolutely lambastes things like the alt-right, social media tolls, Confederate flag lovers and, yes, President Donald Trump but most of all the fact that complacency in this country and world is how we get to a point where things are as bad as they are right now.
27. "At the Purchaser's Option" by Rhiannon Giddens
Rhiannon Giddens has one of the greatest voices in any musical genre and she uses it for good trying to spread a message of unity and equality and the hard-fought struggles of those who’ve never had it easy. She did this beautifully this year on Freedom Highway, weaving the traditional sound she loves with the struggle of black folks throughout American history. One of the most heart-wrenching tales on the album is “At the Purchaser’s Option,” which details a young slave woman with child coming to grips with the fact that her owner is going to sell her child into slavery and she has no say in the matter. The song was inspired by an old 19th century newspaper clipping that read: “For sale, a remarkable smart healthy negro wench, about 22 years old; used to both house work and farming. She has a child about nine months old, which will be used at the purchaser’s option.” It’s tragic, but true and Giddens gives the story that needs to be heard all the life and sorrow in her vocals it needs to be told.
26. "Riot in the Streets" by Pokey LaFarge
Pokey LaFarge has been a hit for a while amongst fans who love his retro feel, look and mix of Western swing-influenced country and jazz. His music ventures into more of a soulful Americana sound with “Riot in the Streets,” which not only makes you want to sing and dance along like few others tracks released in 2017, but it also has an important message. “Riot in the Streets” was inspired by what LaFarge saw happening around his hometown of St. Louis during the racial tension that boiled over in Ferguson, Mo. after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in 2014. LaFarge sings: “There’s so much left to learn/as the bullets fly and the buildings burn.” Boy, is he ever right.
25. "Lies I Chose to Believe" by John Moreland
24. "My Old Man" by Zac Brown Band
Apart from 2010’s “As She’s Walking Away” I believe “My Old Man” from Zac Brown Band’s 2017 release Welcome Home is the best song Brown has ever written. It’s the perfect tribute song to the great dads in our lives and how they inspire and truly build us into the people we turn into. The song was inspired by two father figures in Brown’s life: his father Jim and a mentor Rodney Shelton, whom Brown called “Old Man,” who died in 2015. Zac Brown Band turned to producer Dave Cobb, the best in the business, for their latest album that saw them return to their country roots and is possibly their best release to date.
23. "Purgatory" by Tyler Childers
My favorite bluegrass tune of the year doesn’t even come from a bluegrass album, but rather the title track to Tyler Childers’ Purgatory. “Purgatory” really holds something close for me as the mostly non-religious husband of a good Catholic girl. So, when Childers sings the line “Catholic girl, pray for me, you’re my only hope for Heaven” I can’t help but substitute myself in the narrator’s shoes. I obviously really dig the line, “Do you reckon He lets free will boys mope around in Purgatory?” Lord, I hope so. It’s also one of the best foot-stompers of the year
22. "Last Time for Everything" by Brad Paisley
I had begun to feel like Brad Paisley was lost. Like so many others in the mainstream country game he had chased the modern fads of the day (though not to the horrible extent of others of his ilk) and left good music behind. I hadn’t really enjoyed anything from him since 2011’s “Remind Me” with Carrie Underwood, but when I heard “Last Time for Everything” this year I immediately loved it. It’s the perfect idea for a song because there are so many great things in this world that we will experience for a last time and we take those things for granted whether they be playing catch with your first dog (which really tears me up) to seeing Glenn Frey for the last time (which hits home because I saw his second-to-last ever performance in concert). It really makes me mad that such a great country song can barely crack the top 20 on the charts these days.
21. "The Housefire" by Turnpike Troubadours
Turnpike Troubadours’ frontman Evan Felker is so damn good at writing Southern short stories and turning them into fantastic songs. I’ve previously called him the William Faulkner of Red Dirt Country and he honestly seems to get better with each album. “The Housefire” is an interesting track that covers a family of three – husband, wife and baby – who’s house burns down in the middle of the night, the struggle that ensues and the resiliency in never giving up. Felker is always able to insert little things into his song that just give it a weight of realism like his narrator’s wife wrapping their freezing baby in a Carhart coat she found in his car. In an interesting tidbit it appears Felker has written about these characters before as the name Lorrie has appeared in multiple songs as well as the Browning shotgun the narrator rescues from the housefire.
by Julian Spivey
60. "Too Much Is Never Enough" by A.J. Hobbs
“Too Much is Never Enough” by A.J. Hobbs is just a fantastic honky tonk rocker. “One is too much and too much is never enough” goes the chorus about having one too many at the bar, but also doubling for life on the road as a musician. The twangy guitar with the driving piano throughout really makes you feel like you want to get out on the dancefloor. It’s the kind of rousing track you could have expected to hear from somebody the likes of Waylon Jennings or Johnny Paycheck, who Hobbs name drops on the song.
59. "Living in the City" by Hurray for the Riff Raff
Hurray for the Riff Raff’s Alynda Segarra took a major gamble this year when she basically changed the entire sound of her popular Americana group and got back to her Puerto Rican roots on the concept album The Navigator. The gamble paid off and Hurray for the Riff Raff are one of the groups at the forefront of potentially changing what the term Americana music truly means. It’s hard, it’s hard, it’s hard to select a track off a concept album for such a list, but I love the throwback sound of “Living in the City,” which has sort of a girl groups of the ‘60s flavor to it. It’s a sound I love and glad to see someone bring it back if just for one track. Also, I’m not sure there’s a more enchanting line this year than hearing Segarra sing the line: “Mariposa’s singing love songs/All in her dark apartment.” I can’t even explain why I love it so much, it just rolls of her tongue so nicely.
58. "Change My Mind" by Josh Ward
Josh Ward is a man who evidently came up in the wrong era. Had this been a decade or two ago I think he’d be a massive country star with his perfect country voice and traditional country sound on songs like “Change My Mind,” which found itself on the Texas Country chart this year (initially released on his 2015 album Holding Me Together). It’s an old country theme, but Ward makes going to a bar down on one’s luck only to find the woman of his dreams sound as good as it ever has.
57. "The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone" by Lee Ann Womack
“The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone” is a terrific title for a heartbreak country song. Womack sings about how all the old country songs about broken hearts always make it sound somewhat cool, but really the only thing a heartbreak will leave you is “lonely, lonesome and gone.” I love the distinct image of how Hank Williams never sang about watching a Toyota Camry pull out of an apartment complex parking lot. It’s no longer a lonesome whippoorwill or a crying train whistle. It’s a modernized version of heartbreak, but still country as hell. Womack sounds as good as ever too.
56. "Black Jesus" by Jason Eady
“Black Jesus” by Jason Eady is a perfect example of how even though we have our differences depending on what culture we come from or what we look like, deep down we’re all the same human race. It’s not a political song by any means, but in some ways, becomes one of the most important songs of the year with its friendship between an older black man and a young white man bonding on a road construction crew over musical tastes and religion. In the end, it’s just going to be “him and me and Jesus.”
55. "Freight Train" by Robyn Ludwick
There is a lot of pain on Robyn Ludwick’s This Tall to Ride and her raw, raspy voice brings this hurt out perfectly. It’s also a big reason why much of her music reminds me of Lucinda Williams. “Freight Train” is my favorite song on her latest release and it’s a song where the rawness in her vocals shines the best. I particularly like the lyrics about circus freaks being the only ones she can believe, as all her heroes have failed her. The backing music and her soulful vocals give “Freight Train” a nice country-blues vibe.
54. "Arkansas Farmboy" by Glen Campbell
We’ve known for a few years it was a moment that could come any day, but the legendary Glen Campbell lost his battle with Alzheimer’s on August 8. A couple of months prior Campbell’s final album came out aptly titled Adios and featured the heartbreakingly sweet “Arkansas Farmboy,” a biographical song written in the ‘70s by Campbell’s bandmate Carl Jackson about a story Campbell had told him of growing up in The Natural State. The song had been recorded sometime between 2012 and 2013 and Campbell’s voice still sounded great, though he’d already been suffering from Alzheimer’s and had to record the song line by line because he could no longer remember lyrics. One of my favorite aspects of the song is how it incorporates Leadbelly’s “In the Pines,” a song Campbell remembered being taught as a child by his grandfather.
53. "Pontiacs" by John Baumann
John Baumann’s nostalgic reflection of childhood in “Pontiacs” is a song I believe you must be at least around 30, which I turned this year, to truly feel. It’s about how not everything in life works out the way you planned for it to and the times you wish you could go back to the days of playing baseball with the neighborhood kids or losing your virginity in the first car you ever owned. Baumann sings, “I’d give anything for one more day of being young” and it’s a statement I believe a good many of us feel at certain times in our lives.
52. "Sunday Morning Paper"
Angaleena Presley takes the idea of a mother trying to save her child from a life of regret that we were introduced to in Merle Haggard’s classic “Mama Tried” and flips the script. Presley doesn’t seem the least bit regretful of how she turned out, despite claiming to her mama that she tried. “Mama I Tried” is the highlight of Presley’s sophomore release Wrangled with its outlaw sound that incorporates the famous guitar lick from “Mama Tried,” reportedly the first song Presley ever learned to play.
92. "Ern & Zorry's Sneakin' Bitin' Dog" by
91. "Dust" by Trent Tomlinson
90. "Cumberland Gap" by David Rawlings feat. Gillian Welch
89. "The Perilous Night" by Drive-By Truckers
88. "Paper Cowboy" by Margo Price
87. "Ain't Meant to Fly" by Joey McGee
86. "Highway Queen" by Nikki Lane
85. "Bars Ain't Closin'" by Robyn Ludwick
84. "God's Problem Child" by Willie Nelson, Tony Joe White, Leon Russell & Jamey Johnson
83. "Nothin' New Under the Neon" by Midland
82. "Sonny Boy" by Randy Newman
81. "Vandalism Spree" by Hellbound Glory
Chris Stapleton brought his All American Road Show tour featuring Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives and Brent Cobb to Verizon Arena in North Little Rock, Ark. on Thursday, Nov. 16 and absolutely blew the roof off the venue.
Brent Cobb, a young up-and-comer singer-songwriter who’s the cousin of famed record producer Dave Cobb (who’s produced Stapleton), opened the show with a fantastic short set that really seemed to get the crowd, most of whom likely didn’t know his name or face beforehand, into his music with great performances of “Diggin’ Holes” and “Country Bound,” from his impressive debut Shine on Rainy Day released last year. It was when Cobb performed his new single “Ain’t a Road Too Long” that the crowd really seemed to get into the music, because the chorus sounded so damn good live. Unfortunately, the almost spoken word verses were hard to hear in an arena. A big highlight of Cobb’s set was when he asked the crowd if they wanted “to hear something ‘hillbilly’ or something ‘swamp’.” The crowd chose hillbilly and got a fantastic cover of Dwight Yoakam’s “Guitars, Cadillacs.” Looking at some of Cobb’s previous sets it seems the crowds who want swamp music get Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Swamp Music.”
I had seen Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives before at the Bridge Bash in tiny Cotter, Ark., which was a fantastic venue for this group. They sounded just the same in the much larger venue of Verizon Arena, but unfortunately the crowd didn’t seem to give the group the respect they truly deserved. I understand many were there to see the headliner Stapleton, but why not learn to like something new and there’s a reason why Stuart is on Stapleton’s tour – like-minded music.
Stuart and the Superlatives, one of the most talented bands in any form of music, performed some old and new songs during their 45 minute to hour long set including “Hillbilly Rock” and ‘This One’s Gonna Hurt You (For a Long, Long Time)” from the early ‘90s. Being in Arkansas Stuart also performed a song made famous by one of his mentors, Arkansas legend Johnny Cash, who’s band he performed in in the ‘80s. The crowd erupted with applause when he launched into “Ring of Fire.”
The Fabulous Superlatives aren’t just great musicians, but also take turns at the mic throughout the evening with guitarist Kenny Vaughn performing “Country Music Got a Hold On Me,” bassist Chris Scruggs sang “Never Gonna Do It Again” and drummer Harry Stinson performed the Woody Guthrie classic “Pretty Boy Floyd,” my personal favorite of the threesome’s performances.
I had hoped going into the show that Stuart would perform a bunch of stuff from his great new album Way Out West, released earlier this year. I didn’t really get my wish, but the group did perform the excellent instrumental “Mojave” from the album and ended his set with “Time Don’t Wait,” one of the highlights of the album.
Fresh off winning his third consecutive CMA Award for Male Vocalist of the Year just over a week before Chris Stapleton showed off his award-winning voice that’s like no other currently in the “country” genre (he’s truly an Americana singer because his music has tinges of blues-rock) over his two-hour set of songs from his first two albums, as well as his third one – From A Room: Vol. 2 – coming out on Dec. 1.
Stapleton opened his show with three great rockers in “Might As Well Get Stoned,” “Nobody to Blame” and “Second One to Know,” which is one of the highlights off his recent CMA Album of the Year winner From A Room: Vol. 1.
The country and blues rockers would continue throughout the night with stellar performances of “Parachute” and “Outlaw State of Mind,” from his debut album Traveller, as well as a terrific cover of Rodney Crowell’s “I Ain’t Living Long Like This,” which he brought Stuart back out to join him on. I wouldn’t mind having a copy of this live version.
It’s the slower ballads that allows Stapleton to really show off his powerful vocals and damn are these songs devastating. Performances of “I Was Wrong” and “Fire Away” were easily among the best of the night. The entire end of his set was flawless going from songs like “Death Row” and “Traveller” to “Tennessee Whiskey” and his set ender “Broken Halos” putting the entire crowd in a blissful mood.
I truly feel sorry for concertgoers who leave venues early just to beat the traffic because they always seem to miss encores that often are the best performances of the entire night. Stapleton’s encore is one that anybody who left on Thursday night should be kicking themselves over today. Stapleton performed “Either Way,” which is probably the best track off From A Room: Vol. 1, and “Sometimes I Cry,” which might be his best vocal on Traveller. It was jaw-dropping seeing Stapleton do these two songs as his encore, but by the time “Sometimes I Cry” was half over the arena was about half empty. I’m glad those people got home 10 minutes sooner …
Every award Stapleton has earned over the last few years has been greatly earned. I’ve had the honor of seeing many great performers and vocalists in concert and he’s among the very best. His vocals are stupidly good and he’s also a very underrated guitar player. If you ever get the chance to see him on the road you’d better take it.
Colter Wall is certainly an interesting individual. The 22-year old country/folk troubadour from Saskatchewan, Canada made his first appearance at Stickyz Chicken Shack in Little Rock, Ark. on Friday, Nov. 10 to a packed room.
There are a couple of things that make Wall truly unique. One is the fact that he’s a 22-year old – honestly with a baby face under his thick red beard – and he’s out here playing the kind of music you’d expect to hear from old cowboy singers or folkies who were potentially too Western for Greenwich Village. The other thing that makes him unique is his upbringing. His father Brad Wall has been the premier of Saskatchewan for the last decade. Colter looks more like he should’ve been jumping trains with Jimmie Rodgers’ hobos than the offspring of the leader of a political party.
Maybe that’s just the prairies of Canada for ya?
However Colter Wall came to be the musician and songwriter he is, especially at such a young age, we should be grateful for. His debut self-titled album was released in May and instantly had the independent country music and Americana crowd buzzing about his songwriting and stories, often told with sparse musical accompaniment. Wall’s brand of folk music is the kind you just listen and let overtake you. It’s not the kind of music you’re really going to dance or move around while listening. That’s just not the style of folk or cowboy music. Some would call his songs drab, but those are likely people who prefer upbeat music.
Wall performed many tracks from his debut full-length LP on Friday night including “Codeine Dream” and the run-in-with-the-law story that is “Thirteen Silver Dollars.” He also mixed in some new songs like “Plain to See Plainsman” and “Thinkin’ on a Woman,” which makes me hopeful for a second release. It doesn’t seem like Wall is going to be a one-album wonder.
With a deep, booming voice that's had many compare him to Johnny Cash he performed his first five or so songs by himself on stage, which is how I thought he was going to perform his entire set. He was joined for the rest of his show by a drummer who occasionally played guitar, a bassist and an incredibly talented fiddle player named Anna Blanton, who shined particularly on fiddle-driven covers like Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freight Liner Blues.”
The biggest crowd response during the show came when Wall performed “Kate McCannon” about mid-way through the night. “Kate McCannon” is an old-school murder ballad about falling in love with a woman, catching her cheating on you and then ending her life. It’s probably the best song on his debut and one of 2017’s highlights in general. However, I must say the crowd response at the song’s end was at least a little off-putting considering the song’s narrator murders a woman. It’s one of those moments where whooping and hollering from a crowd can make you think and wonder things about their character.
I didn’t think too highly about the character of many in attendance at Stickyz anyway on Friday night. Wall’s music being kind of soft and slow – as you’d expect from a folk singer – means it can be easier to focus on things going on around you. It seemed many in attendance were more concerned with drinking their beers and conversing with each other about their inane daily lives than listening to the stunning performances of this talented up-and-comer. It’s particularly irritating because there is a sign above the stage at Stickyz that reads: “Love Live Music.” It’s a message that these patrons need to have hammered into their heads.
One of my favorite original performances of the night was “Motorcycle,” which was inspired by and references Arlo Guthrie’s “The Motorcycle Song” from his 1967 classic album Alice’s Restaurant. “Motorcycle” is the most upbeat and lively song of the album and includes one of my favorite verses on any song this year when it takes this shot at modern-day country music: “Well, I figure I’ll walk to the liquor store/Thunderbird, two bottles/Maybe three, maybe four/Follow my feet down to Music Row/Pour it on the pavement like you would a tombstone.”
Wall pours a few out for his homies during his shows with such great covers as the previously mentioned Townes Van Zandt classic, Roy Acuff’s “Wabash Cannonball,” Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel No. 6 (Midnight Turning Day Blues)” and Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother.”
Wall finished his great seat with “Sleeping on the Pavement,” which appeared on his 2015 EP Imaginary Appalachia, and got him noticed by many when his music appeared in the 2016 critically-acclaimed film “Hell or High Water.” Wall would return to the stage for an encore of “The Devil Wears a Suit and Tie” after the crowd, suddenly seeming to give a damn, asked for a return.
Fellow Canadian Blake Berglund opened for Wall on Friday night and showed off his great personality that truly made him one of the best unknown (to me) concert openers I've seen. I’ll have to check out more of his music and he certainly had me laughing more than once during his set, especially with a tune called “Get off the Table, Mabel.”
One of my favorite Sturgill Simpson’s lyrics is: “The most outlaw thing that I’ve ever done is give a good woman a ring” from “Life Ain’t Fair and the World is Mean” off his debut album High Top Mountain. But, there are multiple ways to be an outlaw and I believe Simpson knows this well.
Trolling the country music establishment is one way, especially in this day and age. Sure, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings grew their hair out and moved from Nashville to Texas, but had they been equipped with a cell phone that shoots video and a social media page they may have done something like what Simpson did on Wednesday night (Nov. 8) during the CMA Awards in Nashville.
The CMAs bills itself as “Country Music’s Biggest Night,” but the man who won the coveted Grammy Award for Best Country Album earlier this year for his third release A Sailor’s Guide to Earth has never been nominated for a CMA, nor invited to appear on its stage. Not all that surprising because Nashville tends to act as if artists like Simpson don’t exist despite top selling albums, waves of sold out venues, performances on “Saturday Night Live” (have you ever seen Luke Bryan on that show?) and a Grammy.
This is why Simpson’s brilliant and frankly hilarious decision to busk outside of Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, the venue of the CMAs, during the CMA telecast while taking questions from fans was such a badass outlaw move.
Simpson performed on Facebook Live for 48 minutes until his phone battery died. He was accompanied by an open guitar case, his Grammy award (which is my favorite part of the whole thing) and a couple of signs that read: “I don’t take requests, but I take questions about anything you want to talk about … because fascism sucks.” and “Struggling country singer … Anything helps (all donations go to the ACLU). God Bless America.”
The questions were being asked by fans via comments on his Facebook Live video and were read to him by someone off camera. He wasn’t joking when he said he would answer anything his fans wanted to talk about. When someone asked him about President Donald Trump, Simpson responded by saying: “He’s a fascist fucking pig and I’m not afraid to say that.” Simpson also answered questions about what he’s been listening too lately – answers included Electric Light Orchestra and Run the Jewels.
One of my favorite responses was when someone asked him if being discovered ruined him to which he responded, “I probably will never let that happen … I’m a weird musician, my music’s weird.” He also said he’d likely never make an album that goes mainstream, which is impressive considering he was just nominated for Album of the Year at the Grammys alongside mainstream darlings like Adele, Beyoncé, Rihanna and Drake. Speaking of Drake, Simpson said he preferred Kanye West when offered the decision “Drake or Kanye.”
Most of the Facebook Live video turned out to be Simpson answering these random questions, but he did please fans tuning in to hear him sing (and by the time his phone died more than 79,000 had seen at least a bit of his act) with performances of “Turtles All the Way Down” and “Water in a Well.” Also, right before his phone died he announced that he’d made $13 for the ACLU from tips thrown into his open guitar case. “So, it was all worth it,” he said.
It’s nice to know that Sturgill Simpson is always going to remain weird. On a night were country music showcased it’s supposed best of the genre it turns out the real stuff was fucking around in the common area outside the venue.
The 51st annual Country Music Association (CMA) Awards air tonight at 7 p.m. on ABC hosted by Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood for remarkably the 10th consecutive year. I usually do a piece where I predict who will win the awards and then say who I believe should win the awards, but this year I’m just going to basically give you my ballot if I had a CMA vote.
Entertainer of the Year: Garth Brooks, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Chris Stapleton & Keith Urban
Last year was the milestone 50th anniversary for the CMA Awards and there was a lot of nostalgia involved on the night, culminating with Garth Brooks winning his first Entertainer of the Year award in almost two decades. Luke Bryan had taken home the award the two years prior (unfortunately). It’s hard for me to believe that anybody can see an Eric Church concert and not vote for him for Entertainer of the Year. His shows are always incredible and he’s hardcore about his passion. I’ve seen Church live five times (the most of any artist I’ve seen) and I hope that he can finally take this honor home tonight. Though, I won’t be holding my breath.
Male Vocalist of the Year: Dierks Bentley, Eric Church, Thomas Rhett, Chris Stapleton & Keith Urban
Eric Church has been nominated for Male Vocalist of the Year quite a few times, but has never taken home the honor – which is quite unfortunate. He’s incredibly deserving, and I’d love to see him win it one of these years. But, I find it hard to vote for him when Chris Stapleton is also nominated. Simply put, nobody in the genre of country music has a voice as good as Stapleton’s, who’s won this award the last two years. Is a trifecta in the cards? It should be.
Female Vocalist of the Year: Kelsea Ballerini, Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire, Maren Morris & Carrie Underwood
This one is a no-brainer for me: Miranda Lambert. I realize she has won this honor six of the last seven years (Carrie Underwood won last year), but she’s the most deserving so it’s hard to argue against it. This is one of the awards that kind of irritates me because I’d love for the CMAs to have shown some guts and kicked Kelsea Ballerini out and replaced her with Brandy Clark. I understand the “lifetime achievement” honor basically of nominating Reba McEntire, who released a gospel album this year, but I would’ve preferred Lori McKenna to have taken that slot, as well.
Vocal Group of the Year: Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Old Dominion, Rascal Flatts & Zac Brown Band
Little Big Town has won this award the last five years in a row and they’re going to win it again tonight. I have little doubt about that. The CMA voters love themselves some Little Big Town, even though I find them to be overrated. The only deserving winner in this category, in my opinion, would be Zac Brown Band (who somewhat shockingly has never won the award). I’ve been critical of ZBB off and on for most of their career, but Welcome Home released this year has some of mainstream country music’s best songs of the year. By the way, is Rascal Flatts still a thing?
Vocal Duo of the Year: Brothers Osborne, Dan + Shay, Florida Georgia Line, LOCASH & Maddie & Tae
Jesus Christ this is a rough category. What the hell is a LOCASH anyway? Brothers Osborne won this award last year in a major surprise (likely the biggest of the night) breaking a three-year winning streak of Florida Georgia Line (the STD capital of the world). I’ve never really gotten into Brothers Osborne yet, but I do really dig their song “It Ain’t My Fault.” On that song alone, I’d vote for them and I honestly believe they will go back-to-back this year.
Album of the Year: The Breaker by Little Big Town, From A Room: Vol. 1 by Chris Stapleton, Heart Break by Lady Antebellum, The Nashville Sound by Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit & The Weight of These Wings by Miranda Lambert
This is the category I love the most every year and I think the real artists out there would much rather take home the CMA for Album of the Year than Entertainer of the Year. It’s also the honor that the CMAs seem to get right the most often. I don’t think they’re going to get it 100 percent right this year because I just don’t see Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit’s The Nashville Sound winning, but you can’t really go wrong with Miranda Lambert’s The Weight of These Wings or Chris Stapleton’s From A Room: Vol. 1 either. I believe The Weight of These Wings will ultimately win and Isbell being nominated is truly a win in itself (if you believe in such things). How did Lady A get nominated for this, by the way?
Song of the Year: “Better Man” by Little Big Town, “Blue Ain’t Your Color” by Keith Urban, “Body Like a Back Road” by Sam Hunt, “Dirt on My Boots” by Jon Pardi & “Tin Man” by Miranda Lambert
You’re usually going to see most of the same nominees for Song of the Year and Single of the Year, but I can’t ever remember a year where all the nominees for each of those awards were the same. I don’t like it either. Based on its success alone Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Back Road” makes a ton of sense being nominated for Single of the Year, but a nomination for Song of the Year is vomit inducing. I like two of these songs, which for mainstream country music is about to be expected for me. “Tin Man,” written by Miranda Lambert, Jack Ingram and Jon Randall, should be the winner and I believe it will be. The other song among the nominees that I like is, believe it or not, Keith Urban’s “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” written by Clint Lagerberg, Hillary Lindsey and Steven Lee Olsen, despite the fact many country music bloggers like me didn’t care for it. I honestly haven’t gotten on the Jon Pardi bandwagon much, which makes me a bit of an outlier among those country bloggers I mentioned.
Single of the Year: “Better Man” by Little Big Town, “Blue Ain’t Your Color” by Keith Urban, “Body Like a Back Road” by Sam Hunt, “Dirt on My Boots” by Jon Pardi & “Tin Man” by Miranda Lambert
If Sam Hunt was ever going to be deserving of winning an award (I can’t believe I just typed that) it would be for Single of the Year for “Body Like a Back Road.” That’s simply based on the fact it was a record setting single. It’s complete shit, but it was a record setting single. It’ll probably win the award tonight. But, this is my ballot dammit and I refuse to vote for it. I’m going with “Tin Man” here again. “Tin Man” has no business being nominated for this honor, because it bombed majorly as a single. It topped out at No. 24 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart, which makes it one of Lambert’s worst performing singles. But, because it’s nominated I may as well say I’d vote for it.
New Artist of the Year: Brett Young, Jon Pardi, Old Dominion, Lauren Alaina & Luke Combs
This is, without a doubt, the weakest bunch of nominees for any award on the night. I don’t even know who Brett Young is, but based on his photo he seems like possibly a Sam Hunt protégé. Hasn’t Lauren Alaina been around quite a while? I just looked it up – her debut album was released six freakin’ years ago. She shouldn’t be eligible. I’m voting for Jon Pardi. As I previously mentioned I haven’t really jumped on his bandwagon, but his lead single “Head Over Boots” wasn’t all that bad, so if somebody must win this award and somebody does I’ll take him.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame legend John Fogerty put on one helluva show at the WinStar Casino in Thackerville, Okla. on Saturday, Oct. 28.
Fogerty, the songwriter, vocalist and lead guitarist for the iconic late ‘60s rock group Creedence Clearwater Revival, performed a set of CCR’s greatest hits along with some of his finest solo work. It was truly the perfect set list you’d want to see from a man of Fogerty’s legendary status.
The great thing about seeing Fogerty in concert is that even at the age of 72 he sounds and performs just as great as ever. He truly sounds like he did 50 years ago when he recorded many of his classics. Not only that, but his energy on stage is quite ridiculous for his age with him bouncing around while performing exceptional guitar solos that remind you just how great (and underrated) of a guitarist he is. The crazy thing is that at times during his show on Saturday night Fogerty seemed like he was going to tire his college aged son Shane who plays guitar in his band out instead of the other way around.
Fogerty began his nearly perfect set on Saturday night with the rockin’ “Travelin’ Band,” from CCR’s 1970 album Cosmo’s Factory. The performance instantaneously got the jam-packed WinStar Casino crowd up on their feet and rocking. The nostalgia of the evening kept right on going from that point with performances of CCR classics like “Green River,” “Susie Q” and “Born on the Bayou.”
Before performing 1970’s No. 2 hit “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” Fogerty told a great story about CCR’s unfortunate Woodstock performance where the famed festival lineup was pushed back so badly that his band didn’t go on until about two in the morning when most in attendance were sleeping, except for one guy out in the crowd who yelled, “We’re with you John!” Fogerty wrote “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” about the experience.
One of the remarkable things about seeing Fogerty perform these classic CCR songs live is it reminds you just how legendary the band was despite only being an act for essentially three or four years and Fogerty’s output as a songwriter in those short years rivals anybody in the history of the rock genre.
“Have You Ever Seen the Rain?,” “Down on the Corner,” “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” and so forth were all on display on Saturday night one after another much to the happiness of the audience. There were some surprises along the way too like a spirited cover of Gary U.S. Bonds’ “New Orleans” and the Leadbelly classic “Midnight Special,” which CCR famously covered, and Fogerty said he was taught as a child upon meeting folk legend Pete Seeger.
One of my favorite CCR songs has always been the down-trodden “Lodi,” about a performer essentially trapped in a down spiraling career and going nowhere. A few years ago, for the collaborative album Wrote a Song for Everyone Fogerty re-tuned the song with his son Shane and turned it into more of a rocker than the country-ish song it originally was. This was the performance Fogerty and his son performed on Saturday night. I probably would’ve liked to have heard the original, but it was fantastic to see how much fun Fogerty and his son were having together on stage.
While the main focus of the evening was on Fogerty’s timeless hits with CCR, and rightfully so, he did have the opportunity to showcase some of his solo classics like “Centerfield,” equipped with his baseball bat designed guitar that’s become a favorite during the performance, “Hot Rod Heart” and “The Old Man Down the Road.”
Fogerty would finish his set with a rocking performance of “Fortunate Son,” the anti-war hit from 1969 that showed the hypocrisy of the military draft during the height of the Vietnam War.
Fogerty would leave the stage briefly before returning for an epic two-song encore that featured what many would likely consider to be CCR’s two most famous songs: “Bad Moon Rising” (a great performance just days before Halloween) and “Proud Mary,” which had the entire audience singing along in unison.
Seeing Fogerty in concert is something I’ve wanted to do for many years. He was incredibly high on my concert bucket list and it’s a show I know I will never forget. It honestly surpassed any expectations that I had for it.
The sheer number of musicians who performed tributes on television and in concert this week since the news of his death last Monday is a testament to the greatness, importance and all-around legacy of the Tom Petty.
The most important of these tributes took place on “Saturday Night Live” this weekend when country music superstar Jason Aldean, who was on the stage in Las Vegas last Sunday (Oct. 1) when a gunman opened fire on a festival crowd killing 58 in the biggest mass shooting in modern American history, made an important statement about not backing down to hate by performing one of Petty’s most well-known hits “I Won’t Back Down.” The decision to open ‘SNL’ with such a statement, presumably made by show producer Lorne Michaels, was a genius decision that will end up being one of TV’s most memorable and touching moments of the year.
Artists who performed tributes to Petty this week ranged in genre from country and pop to alternative rock and classic rock. It’s really a terrific sight to see as it lets us know instantly that Petty’s music and his all-around contribution to the American songbook will never fade away.
Here are many of the great tributes to Petty performed in the past week:
Jason Aldean - "I Won't Back Down"
Miley Cyrus - "Wildflowers"
Old Crow Medicine Show - "American Girl"
Kesha - "Into the Great Wide Open"
Coldplay with James Corden - "Free Fallin'"
Dave Matthews, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle & Patti Griffin - "Refugee"
Kip Moore - "Learning to Fly"
Gov't Mule - "Breakdown"
Father John Misty - "To Find a Friend"
Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul - "Even the Losers"
Fleet Foxes - "Don't Come Around Here No More"
John Fogerty - "I Won't Back Down"
Wilco - "The Waiting"
Dawes - "Free Fallin'"
Avett Brothers - "You Don't Know How It Feels"
Lady Antebellum - "Learning to Fly"
Against Me! - "Runnin' Down a Dream"
Bob Weir - "Breakdown"
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real - "American Girl"
Imagine Dragons - "I Won't Back Down"
Conor Oberst - "Walls (Circus)"
Jack Johnson - "You Don't Know How It Feels"
The Lone Bellow - "Wildflowers"
Chris Stapleton - "Learning to Fly"
Matchbox Twenty - "I Won't Back Down"
Amos Lee - "Wildflowers"
Florida Gators Football Fans - "I Won't Back Down"