by Aprille Hanson
To some uneducated and ignorant listeners out there, Little Big Town’s latest single “Girl Crush” is about lesbians. … Yeah, that’s not even close. No, they’re not adding “G” to LBT. While the group is a tad bit overrated, this latest single is a unique twist, a play on words to the average jealousy song. It’s a song about a woman who wants nothing more than to be the woman that her man loves. And she’s got a girl crush bad … “I want to taste her lips / yeah, cuz they taste like you / I want to drown myself / in a bottle of her perfume.” It’s lyrically creative, tapping into the part of women that makes them compare themselves to others, especially if the other has got the affections of the man she wants. It’s seductively haunting in its slow, pulsing melody, which is why I assume some people are just so caught off guard by that that they don’t stick around to see what the song is really about. It’s a song that can easily fly under the radar – minus the tiny bit of misunderstood controversy – but one that should be remembered from Little Big Town’s repertoire.
by Julian Spivey
Jason Boland & the Stragglers put on one helluva country music show at The Rev Room in Little Rock, Ark. on Friday, Feb. 20.
The group, which is really at the pinnacle of the red dirt country music scene, is one of the most entertaining country acts around and know how to thoroughly capture a crowd with their honky-tonk energy.
Boland has one of the most quintessentially country voices in country music, in my opinion, and the Stragglers are an incredibly talented group of musicians that keep the show moving and grooving throughout the entire set, especially fiddle player Nick Worley. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more talented fiddle player in all of country music than that guy.
Boland & the Stragglers sped through an almost two-hour set of their biggest hits from their discography that harkens back to the late ‘90s pulling tunes from every one of their albums throughout the years. The packed Rev Room crowd was just as thrilled by the slower songs like “Lucky I Guess” and “Dark & Dirty Mile” off of the band’s most recent album The Dark & Dirty Mile, as they were harder rocking tunes from further back in the band’s timeline like “Truckstop Diaries” and “Telephone Romeo.”
One of the real highlights from the concert was hearing Boland perform “False Accuser’s Lament” from his terrific 2011 album Rancho Alto. The song of a man selling the life of an innocent man for plow money to try and save his farm is one of the great country music story songs of the last few decades and really harkens back to another era when such tunes were more prevalent.
More fan favorites from the terrific set were “Electric Bill,” from the group’s most recent album, and old favorites like “Pearl Snaps,” “When I’m Stoned” and the absolutely beautiful “Somewhere Down in Texas.”
The band has always been known as a great live act – and they prove why every single time you see them – and this is shown to great effect on their live album High in the Rockies. That album includes a fantastic cover of the Don Williams’ classic “Tulsa Time,” which the band often performs their rip-roaring performance of in concert.
The band really gets to their absolute rocking best toward the end of their set when they bring out the Tom Russell written cockfighting epic “Gallo Del Cielo” and the tornado barn-burner “Blowing Through the Hills.”
I had seen Boland & the Stragglers in concert once before last year in Morrilton, Ark. and must have focused most of my attention at that time on Boland himself. This time I truly noticed just how entertaining and mesmerizing of a fiddler player Worley is and let me tell you, ladies and gentleman, he is truly worth the price of the admission on his own. I’ve long thought that Kyle Nix of the Turnpike Troubadours, who I saw just the week before at The Rev Room, was the best fiddle player in the business, but Worley can truly give Nix a run for his money.
Boland & the Stragglers finished their set off with a terrific encore that included the ballad “Comal County Blue,” which might be the consensus favorite among the audience if you could poll the entire crowd, and then the finest performance of the entire set came as the ultimate finale when they finished with Bob Childers’ “Outlaw Band,” featuring Worley’s finest fiddle playing of the night.
If you’ve never seen Jason Boland & the Stragglers in concert you must do yourself a favor and find them at a local venue near you ASAP. You’ll have your mind blown.
by Aprille Hanson
Carrie Underwood has done religious songs throughout her career, none bigger than her first single “Jesus Take the Wheel.” However, her latest hit, “Something in the Water” is one that packs a powerful spiritual punch in the content, the melody and her fantastic vocals. The song details a religious journey that people who were not baptized in their youth go through. It starts with a preacher sharing the Gospel of Jesus, explaining that it will all get better and suddenly, she’s following him down to the river and she’s changed. The narrator doesn’t quite understand how yet, but she will. Soon, late one night, she was “all out of hope and all out of fight” and then it hits her – she surrenders to her savior, singing “Couldn’t fight back the tears so I fell on my knees / saying ‘God if you’re there come and rescue me.’” And as she soon determines, “There must be something in the water.” What pulls this song out of sappy territory is the hard-hitting, fast melody, which slows only toward the end and when she sings how she is changed in the chorus. It’s symbolic how people run from God only to find peace and rest in his love. In the hands of a lesser singer, the impact would fall flat. Carrie Underwood has never sounded better on a vocal and that’s saying something. She’s full of “Amazing Grace,” literally, as the lyrics to that famous spiritual makes an appearance in the song, overlapping her vocals “there must be something in the water.” It’s safe to say that in every sense of the word, Carrie Underwood took us to church on this single and the music industry should be singing her praises on the release for years to come.
by Aprille Hanson
Just when I thought Florida Georgia Line couldn’t get any worse … I will say this – they actually outdid themselves on “Sun Daze.” If Sodom and Gomorrah had a theme song, this one would be it and God would have had no choice but to eradicate it from the earth. The upbeat melody can’t make up for the lyrics that are so unimaginative that it’s embarrassing to realize just how popular the duo of Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley has become in pop-country music. It’s a song about relaxing and living it up, partying with friends while playing some flip cup and cornhole in your flip flops. OK, well, no harm just yet. Then they drop the line, “Rock a little bit of hip-hop and Haggard and Jagger.” If Merle Haggard or Mick Jagger listened to FGL, they might be offended, but likely they’ll never hear it anyway. But the absolute worst part of the song is the cheesy and therefore gross innuendos in the lines: “If you want you can pet on my Harley / I’ll sit you up on the kitchen sink / And stick the pink umbrella in your drink / that way that we’re feelin’ we gone by this evening.” I do not have a dirty mind, but you don’t have to tread too far into dirty water to get to the real meaning of those lines. It’s just not country music and not even good pop music. FGL better enjoy the spotlight now, because when they’re older singing about sticking a “pink umbrella” in a girl’s “drink,” no female in her right mind will want to pet their Harley.
by Julian Spivey
Red dirt country band the Turnpike Troubadours returned to The Rev Room in Little Rock, Ark. for the first time in a year and a half on Friday, Feb. 13 for a fantastic show featuring both fan favorites and some new music that will appear on a future album.
The show began around 9 p.m. with an extremely energetic performance from opening act Paul Cauthen, who certainly got the sold out Rev Room crowd raring to go for the main act with his terrific country music and Dwight Yoakam-esque dance moves.
The Turnpike Troubadours, probably the best act currently going in the red dirt country music subgenre popular in the Texas-Oklahoma-Arkansas area, took the stage around 10:30 p.m. with a rip-roaring performance of one of their many fan-favorites “Every Girl” from their 2010 album Diamonds & Gasoline. The group would follow their opener with two more performances from that terrific album that put them on the red dirt map: “7&7,” a personal favorite of mine, and “Shreveport.”
The group took some time out of their set early on during their show to debut some new music that they’ve been working on while on the road. Lead singer Evan Felker said that the group has about half of a new album recorded, which is truly fantastic news for fans of the Turnpike Troubadours longing for brand new music. The band hasn’t released a new album since 2012’s Goodbye Normal Street. The new music all sounded like vintage Troubadours and should definitely excite fans whenever it’s finished and released, which hopefully won’t take too long.
Two things really set the Turnpike Troubadours out from most acts currently in both country music and the red dirt subgenre: the incredible songwriting, mostly done by Felker, and the intensity with which they perform live. If you’ve never had the opportunity to see the Turnpike Troubadours perform live you are truly missing out and must find them at a venue near you. Felker is simply a man possessed at the microphone and Kyle Nix is among the very best fiddle players I have ever seen perform live. The rest of the band: R.C. Edwards on bass, Ryan Engelman on lead guitar and Gabe Pearson on drums is spot on, as well.
The group absolutely tore through great song after great song from their two biggest albums Diamonds & Gasoline and Goodbye Normal Street throughout the night as the jam-packed crowd sang along to every single song with delight. Among the best performances were “Gin, Smoke, and Lies,” “Before the Devil Knows We’re Dead,” “Wrecked” and “Morgan Street.”
Quite possibly my favorite performance of the evening was “Good Lord Lorrie,” from Goodbye Normal Street, which seemed to be the crowd favorite, as well, with its references to Arkansas scattered throughout the song. Felker let the crowd take care of many of the choruses.
Other performances I really enjoyed were “Whole Damn Town” and “Kansas City Southern,” both from Diamonds & Gasoline, which are among the best in the Troubadours’ discography. Felker is truly an underrated songwriter who specializes in really what comes down to Southern storytelling and these songs are fine representations of that.
The band’s encore included a passionate cover of The Beatles’ classic “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” with Felker belting out the lyrics mightily with Nix playing beautiful fiddle beside him, Edwards taking a vocal opportunity on a cover of Hayes Carll’s “Beaumont” and the group finished up with yet another fan-favorite in “Long Hot Summer Day.”
The Turnpike Troubadours truly are a revelation that shall not be missed. I highly recommend checking out this band’s music first and then finding them near you as soon as possible.
by Julian Spivey
Songwriting icon Bob Dylan showed the world exactly how not to give a “Person of the Year” speech on Friday, Feb. 6 when he accepted the 2015 MusicCares Person of the Year honor when he took time out of his lengthy speech to blast some fellow legendary songwriters for absolutely no reason at all, other than sheer malice.
Dylan thanked many artists during his speech for help during his career like Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Cash, but things quickly turned weird when he turned his ire to country music songwriting legends Merle Haggard and Tom T. Hall.
Dylan criticized Haggard by claiming Merle didn’t like his music, as if that would be some sort of crime, and took a swipe at the Bakersfield legend by claiming his Bakersfield counterpart Buck Owens to be a better talent.
“Merle Haggard didn’t even think much of my songs. I know he didn’t. He didn’t say that to me, but I know way back when he didn’t,” Dylan said. “Buck Owens did, and he recorded some of my early songs. ‘Together Again,’ that’s Buck Owens. And that trumps anything else out of Bakersfield. Buck Owens or Merle Haggard? If you had to have somebody’s blessing, you can figure it out”
Haggard took the high road on Twitter the next day by saying: “Bob Dylan I’ve admired your songs since 1964. ‘Don’t Think Twice’ Bob, Willie [Nelson] and I just recorded it on our new album.”
Haggard was a curious swipe for Dylan to make as the singer-songwriter actually opened for Dylan on Dylan’s tour in 2005. It’s also interesting that Dylan claims to know that Haggard never thought much of his music, because Haggard called Dylan “our greatest living songwriter” in an interview with CMT just last November. This particularly makes Dylan look like a completely and utter fool.
Dylan’s words for Tom T. Hall were even more despicable. He seemed to doubt Hall’s songwriting expertise on the basis of one entire song: his 1973 country number one “I Love.”
Dylan said: “Now some might say Tom was a great songwriter, and I’m not going to doubt that. At the time, during his interview, I was actually listening to a song of his on the radio in the recording studio. It was called “I Love.” And it was talking about all the things he loves. An everyman song. Trying to connect with people. Trying to make you think he’s just like you and you’re just like him. We all love the same things. We’re all in this together. Tom loves little baby ducks. Slow-moving trains and rain. He loves big pickup trucks and little country streams. Sleep without dreams. Bourbon in a glass. Coffee in a cup. Tomatoes on a vine and onions. Now listen, I’m not every going to disparage another songwriter. I’m not gonna do that. I’m not saying that’s a bad song, I’m just saying it might be a little over-cooked.”
In one sentence Dylan says he’s not going to disparage another songwriter and then does exactly that in the very next sentence.
He would later take another swipe at Hall while praising fellow country songwriter Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down” saying, “That one song blew Tom T. Hall’s world apart. It might have sent him to the crazy house. God forbid he ever heard one of my songs. If ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’ rattled Tom’s cage and sent him into the looney bin, my songs surely would have made him blow his brains out.”
This quote not only makes Dylan seem like an asshole, but also an arrogant prick. Maybe he is. That doesn’t change the fact that he’s one of the greatest songwriters that has ever lived. But, I’d like to see something a little more humble from someone being honored as a “Person of the Year.”
Unfortunately few in the music journalism business are calling out Dylan for his ignorant and disrespectful words toward these legends because of who he is, but as fellow legends Haggard and Hall deserve to be defended.
Dylan’s comments about Haggard and Hall made him seem like anything but a person who should be honored as “Person of the Year.” His comments were frankly completely beneath him and made him out to look like a disgruntled, senile fool. It’s truly a shame to see a songwriting legend go after other songwriting legends in the manner in which Dylan did on Friday night and I highly doubt there are many, if any, other legends in the music industry who would do the same. MusicCares should probably vet their honorees a little better from now on before they thoroughly embarrass everybody involved with such disappointing and ignorant rantings and ravings.
by Julian Spivey
The Grammy Awards typically get things right when it comes to honoring country music, because unlike other award shows they don’t seem to necessarily care what’s popular on the radio (and why should they?). This is how you’ll occasionally see something like Glen Campbell’s “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from the soundtrack of the documentary “Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me” nominated for Best Country Song. It’s also why you won’t see utter tripe recorded by the likes of Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line in this category. Radio airplay and popularity don’t count or matter. Sure, the other four songs nominated in this category: Kenny Chesney’s “American Kids,” Miranda Lambert’s “Automatic,” Eric Church’s “Give Me Back My Hometown” and Tim McGraw’s “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s” were all popular radio hits, but they are also of higher caliber than most of what you’re hearing on country radio today and it doesn’t take an expert of any kind to point that out.
So, which of these songs should take home the honor on Sunday night?
1. “Give Me Back My Hometown” by Eric Church
This list is the order in which I think these songs deserve to be ranked, not necessarily a prediction. I actually do not believe that Eric Church will win this award and if I had to give an honest prediction I’d say he has the fourth best chance of winning out of the five nominees. But, I believe this song co-written by Church and Luke Laird was the best country song on mainstream country radio in 2014. It’s the perfect song about what exactly heartbreak can do to a person – not only tear out their heart, but also their memories and just make life a complete hell. The vocal by Church is damn near perfect and definitely one of the best of his career – you can hear the hurt and longing in every single word. “Give Me Back My Hometown” is pretty much a perfect country song.
2. “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” by Glen Campbell
I believe Glen Campbell’s “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from the documentary “Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me” to be the dark horse pick to win this award – and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if it did. The song, which has also been nominated for an Academy Award later this month, is the perfect send off for Campbell who finally had to hang up his music career after a multi-year farewell tour due to Alzheimer’s. It’s a truly heart-wrenching and poignant performance that deserves to be acknowledged and included in this group, even though I’m sure some view it as a token or lifetime achievement nomination. Unfortunately, if “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” does go on to win it’ll no doubt be a controversial victory for those very same reasons. That’s too bad, because it’s honestly a deserving choice.
3. “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s” by Tim McGraw feat. Faith Hill
“Meanwhile Back at Mama’s” was the perfect song for this point in Tim McGraw’s career because he’d frankly lost his way a little bit doing stupid stuff like “Truck Yeah” and other songs pandering to what’s popular on country radio at the moment, but didn’t sound right coming from a man who’d recorded terrific hit after hit from the mid-90s throughout the mid-00s. I’m not saying that “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s” is going to get McGraw back on the right track, after all I suspect he’ll still record crap that panders to public opinion and popularity, but this was the sound he needed at the moment and it was music to my ears. The song co-written by Tom Douglas, Jaren Johnston and Jeffrey Steele, which features sweet backing vocals by Tim’s wife Faith Hill is a nice little story about a fast-paced life and needing to settle back down and live a country style life – not just a good story, but honestly a good euphemism for McGraw’s career at the time.
4. “American Kids” by Kenny Chesney
I know people have always been pretty mixed on Kenny Chesney, but I’ve always enjoyed the guy’s music and I think he’s always remained true to himself and in an era where few in the genre seem to be actually doing that his music has stood out as some of the best in the genre over the last decade or so. I really do enjoy “American Kids,” co-written by Rodney Clawson, Luke Laird and Shane McAnally, but there are some things about it that are a little annoying and one thing that’s greatly annoying. These things keep it from becoming a great Chesney song – and believe me he’s got a “greatest hits” worth of them. The slightly annoying thing is the song is a little too listy, even though I can give it a pass because the things being listed aren't the same ones listed over-and-over again in stereotypical country songs. The really annoying thing is the too effeminate “heys” that come too often in the song, especially after the line “born in the USA.” It’s a fun song. Not much more. But I do find the more I’ve heard it the less I’ve enjoyed it.
5. “Automatic” by Miranda Lambert
I’ve got to admit that even though I have Miranda Lambert’s “Automatic,” co-written by her, Natalie Hemby and Nicolle Galyon, listed as the least worthy of winning Best Country Song at this weekend’s Grammy Awards it is the song that I am predicting will win the award. Lambert seems untouchable right now and I can’t really blame people for giving her award after award because she’s easily one of the best artists in the country genre at the moment. Except … she’s actually regressed from her last albums and “Automatic” is a perfect example of this. Lambert is one of the best singer-songwriters in country music at the moment who’s given the genre many of its best and biggest songs of the last six to eight years, including the Grammy winning “The House That Built Me.” When you know what Lambert is capable of doing a song like “Automatic” frankly seems a little too easy and by the numbers for me. A little too automatic, if you will. The vocal is fine, it’s just missing some in the writing.