Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Best* Songs of 2013

There were so many good songs in 2013, and so many I didn't get a chance to listen to. Here are a few of the best (*my favorite).

39) Daft Punk feat. Pharrell - "Get Lucky" - Their whole schtick/persona can get mighty dumb (appearing on shows but not performing, etc.), but there's no denying their talent for crafting a catchy melody. I defy you to sit still while listening to this.

38) Steep Canyon Rangers - "Camelia" (Philip Barker / Charles Humphrey III) - The Rangers' own upright bassist Charles Humphrey III teams up with mandolin player Philip Barker of Town Mountain to come up with one of this Asheville, NC five-piece's best hooks yet: "Sweet Camelia, I'd like to steal ya/ away from all the troubles in your life." Proficient in both traditional and progressive strains of bluegrass, the Steeps color "Camelia" with sweet solos, tight harmonies, and (to some) the blasphemous beat of drums.

37) W.B. Givens - "Back to Church" (Givens) - Brilliant, personal song about how church just doesn't do it for some people. But there's always the chance they could go back one day. "Muddy water, it tastes so good/ Preacher man, he knew it would."

36) Doc Feldman & the LD50 - "Bless This Mess" (Feldman) - Southern Gothic folk-blues out of Lexington, Kentucky. Great, evocative song, with killer lead and background vocals. 

35) Jason Boland & The Stragglers - "Lucky I Guess" (Boland) - Bandleader and songwriter Boland pens a clever and heartfelt tune about how he's done every superstitious thing imaginable to bring bad luck down upon his head, yet he keeps on defying it and has somehow wound up with the woman of his dreams. And hot damn, can Boland sing the hell out of a country song.

34) Alan Jackson - "Tie Me Down" (Jackson) - Jackson brought in some of the best bluegrass pickers out there for his Bluegrass Album. One of the eight Jackson wrote by himself, "Tie Me Down" contains the lyrical gem, "Lookin' back I realize that happy's not what I was/ When you run across a woman that's your true love/ It's stronger than a moonshine buzz," a line that could find no better home than a bluegrass song.

33) Jars of Clay - "Love In Hard Times" (Jars of Clay) - One of the most underrated indie-rock bands out there (due mostly to its inability to get out from under the label of "Christian rock" and all of its cheap and cheesy connotations) came out with one of the most creative albums of their twenty year career in 2013. Dan Haseltine's already unique vocals are especially strong here, replete with some haunting "ooh-oohs," while the rest of the band creates a lush, melancholy soundscape behind him.

32) Zane Williams - "Damned" (Williams) - Upbeat, clever song about temptation and marriage that has some sweet steel guitar licks and will have you tapping your feet all over the place. "I'll be damned if you don't make a man think Hell looks pretty good."

31) Pilots & Errors - "Von Aly" (Travis Wilburn) - With cautiously hopeful lyrics and an insanely nostalgic melody, this might be the best track on the home-recorded album Annex. More great stuff out of Lexington, Kentucky.

30) The Proctors - "Ember Days" (Maraget Calleja / Gavin Priest) - Hopeful and melancholy, bright and dark all at the same time, "Ember Days" is exquisitely played guitar pop that is representative of the entire album from which it comes.

29) Steve Martin & Edie Brickell - "Love Has Come For You" (Brickell / Martin) - A lovely song buoyed by Martin's excellent banjo picking and Brickell's ethereal vocals. I'd never of Brickell before, but her and Martin should definitely continue making music together.

28) Water Liars - "Wyoming" (Justin Kinkel-Schuster) - Really great down tempo song with subtle guitar work and unique and emotive vocals. And the (possibly NSFW, nothing graphic) video, which contains nothing but a stripper pole-dancing, is surprisingly fitting, adding a whole new dimension to the song. And, okay, there's the thong too.

27) Dailey & Vincent - "Steel Drivin' Man" (Jamie Dailey) - This is ferocious, barn-burning bluegrass right here. It's truly amazing how fast these guys can play. They also put on one of the most entertaining live shows I've ever seen, bluegrass or otherwise.

26) Dawes - "Something In Common" (Taylor Goldsmith) - I think 2011's Nothing Is Wrong has stronger songs than 2013's Stories Don't End, but "Something In Common" is Dawes in a nutshell. Poetic, unabashedly earnest, building up to an emotional catharsis, and honest about the heart's affections and darkness in equal measure, it is a surefire classic. "The man who stands in front of you/ is not the sum of all his dreams/ but I'm hoping they've got something in common."

25) George Strait - "You Don't Know What You're Missing" (Al Anderson / Chris Stapleton) - This deep cut from his Love Is Everything album is classic George Strait. Thematically and production-wise, it sounds like something you might've heard on country radio in the early to mid-nineties. That he's still recording songs this good is reason enough to celebrate the fact that he will continue to release studio albums after he hangs his touring hat up next year.

24) Kacey Musgraves - "Silver Lining" (Shane McAnally / Musgraves / Josh Osborne) - It's no secret that in terms of quality songs, the ladies are absolutely crushing the "gentleman" at country radio, and Musgraves is one of the ones leading the charge. First single "Merry Go 'Round" introduced most folks to her, but lead track "Silver Lining" is the perfect introduction to her major label debut Same Trailer Different Park. It lets you know that Musgraves is going to be a talent to watch for years to come, if you didn't already.

23) Della Mae - "Ain't No Ash Will Burn" (James Aldridge) - These female bluegrassers can pick with the best of 'em, but this song shows they also have a damn good ear for a great song and know when to get out of the way and let it say everything that needs to be said. "Love is a precious thing I'm told/ It burns just like West Virginia coal/ But when the fire dies down, it's cold/ Oh, their ain't no ash will burn."

22) Guy Clark - "Cornmeal Waltz" (Shawn Camp / Clark) - I haven't listened to as much Guy Clark as I should have in my life. That will change in 2014. The 72 year old seems to having a blast here. It makes you want to live life in three-quarter time.

21) Over the Rhine - "Called Home" (Karen Berquist / Linford Detweiler) - Over the Rhine are masters of understated elegance. In the same way, even into a 20+ year career, it seems they often fly under the musical radar, even of the Americana music community which should be embracing them whole-heartedly. Look no further than the stunning "Called Home" for reasons why. "Clouds adrift across the sky, like Heaven's laundry come to dry/ You slowly feel it all will be revealed."

20) Phosphorescent - "The Quotidian Beasts" (Matthew Houck) - With a chord progression reminiscent of Chris Issac's "Wicked Game," Phosphorescent delivers a haunting song that draws inspiration from all over the place. Houck's voice sounds purposefully strained yet it gives a deeply emotional heft to lyrics that are the definition of abstract and open to interpretation

19) Holly Williams - "Gone Away From Me" (Williams) - She has musical royalty in her blood, but if there was any question as to whether or not she could hang on her own, this song (and her album The Highway) answers it. "They always made us kneel by Grandpa's grave/ Mama was a-wailin' asking God if he was saved/ I never liked to see my daddy cry/ I guess I'll never know how Grandpa died." That might be one of my favorite lines of the year. This is resonant, rich storytelling, and the background vocals from Jackson Browne are a nice touch

18) The Black Lillies - "Gold and Roses" (Cruz Contreras) - This song has three of my favorite things: Superbly played pedal steel (by former Everybodyfields member Tom Pryor), sweet banjo pickin', and great singing. Oh, and it also tells one hell of a story. See 'em live if you get a chance.

17) The Avett Brothers - "Morning Song" (The Avett Brothers) - I debated between this or "Part From Me" from their new album, but gave the nod to "Morning Song" for the performance in the linked video above. Drawing on the biblical idea that "joy comes in the morning," the brothers sing "Even though I know there's hope in every morning song/ I have to find that melody alone." I love the message of the song. Ultimately, it's up to us as individuals to find what gives us hope, to choose the things we let save us everyday. It's a very personal thing that can't be forced upon someone from the outside, and we have to realize that it's going to be different for everyone. The album version is worth checking out for the choir of Avett family members at the end, but you just can't beat this version (Joe Kwon sings harmony on it too).

16) Hog Bucket - "Indigo" (John Glouchevitch) - One wouldn't think you could hear someone sing the words "You're beautiful in sequin booty shorts/ and flashing lights of red a green" and it actually be moving, but "Indigo" proves that it is indeed possible. Then there's the line, "I feel like a fool in my Tuesday suit and tie/ and you're naked on the table, room empty as your eyes," in all its sadness and honesty. And, you know, I just had the thought that this song could be about falling in love with a stripper or escort. The repetition of the line "I don't need to know your name" is also evidence this could be the case. And then "You've got a romanticized idea of this relationship/ Buddy, who do you think you are?" Okay, that sounds like the woman talking to the man falling in love with her, saying "hold up." It literally all just came together for me. Possibly the most moving song ever written about falling in love with a stripper/escort. Seriously, the piano arrangement is gorgeous. Soulja Boy, eat your heart out.

15) Widower - "Grasp" (Kevin Large) - One of those songs that knocks you out with a wave of nostalgia and heartbreak as soon as its laid back and sturdy classic rock groove begins. And it has some of the most creative alliterative lyrics of the year: "You took my grief with a grain of salt"; "They say the safest place is a basement in a storm/ Well darlin during downpours, you were my cellar door"; "Time will tell if the hand you're dealt is worth a damn." Damn.

14) Jason Isbell - "Live Oak" (Isbell) - "Elephant" seems to be majority pick for the best song from the album Southeastern, but mine is "Live Oak" simply for the line, "I carved her cross from live oak and her box from short leaf pine/ And buried her so deep she touched the water table line." Such evocative imagery that brings another level of meaning to the song. Isbell's voice has never sounded better.

13) City and Colour - "Two Coins" (Dallas Green) - Green's ethereal vocals bring this tale of a man wandering through his days to life. It has one of those very emotional chord progressions and colorful instrumentation. "I've always been dark, with light somewhere in the distance.

12) John Moreland - "Your Spell" (Moreland) - John Moreland is man who's been head over heels in the throes of love in the twilight of his youth and he's neither afraid nor ashamed to tell you about it, as well as how losing it did a bit of a number on him. There's a sort of silver lining, however, when he sees the popular couples from high school, now in their late twenties, in the Wal-Mart checkout line with babies in tow. They don't look like prom queens and kings anymore. "You were the queen of my condition, I was the king of the ignored/ Talked just like east Texas, looked like an angel from the Lord."

11) Mandolin Orange - "The Doorman" (Andrew Marlin) - Not sure how I stumbled upon it, but this is the first song I ever heard from this folk duo, and it instantly hooked me. Understated and beautifully played instrumentation combined with Marlin and the stunning Emily Frantz's vocal harmonies makes for traditional music that couldn't be more timely.

10) Rhye - "The Fall" (Mike Milosh / Robin Hannibal) - I don't know how else to describe Rhye's music other than just plain fucking sexy. The grooves and melodies of "The Fall" have a way of digging themselves into your bones until they almost start twitching, especially that piano line. Also, it's super impressive that a dude (Mike Milosh) can sing like this.

9) Mando Saenz - "Breakaway Speed" (Saenz / Kim Richey) - Both Saenz and Richey released versions of this song on their 2013 albums, and though Richey's has Jason Isbell and Trisha Yearwood singing stunning harmony with her, I think I prefer Saenz's simply because he's got such a unique voice and his is a little more rocking (Richey also sings harmony on his version). Whichever you prefer, it's an excellent song that has one of those choruses you will be singing at the top of you lungs at stoplights. It's just got a great hook.

8) Red Tail Ring - "Katy Came Breezing" (Michael Beauchamp / Laurel Premo) - Another brilliant Appalachian folk duo. Premo's fiddle playing, as well as the chorus, will haunt you late at night. The video linked above is amazing and criminally under-viewed. Just beautiful.

7) The Steeldrivers - "Lonesome Goodbye" (Mike Henderson / Chris Stapleton) - This rambunctious group is known for its hard-driving progressive bluegrass, with wry lyrics and characters who often wind up buried under six feet of soil, but they also know when to dial it back a bit and let the song do the work. Penned by former founding members of the band, "Lonesome Goodbye" allows the group, with newly acquired bluesy-throated vocalist Gary Nichols, to lay the lonesomeness on heavy, with a "twist ending" that's just as heartbreaking as it is liberating for the narrator.

6) The National - "Sea of Love" (Matt Berninger / Carin Besser / The National) - The first single from their 2013 album Trouble Will Find Me was a huge turning point for me and The National, because, you see, I used to absolutely loathe them. When I heard their song "About Today" at the end of the fantastic movie Warrior, I figured I probably needed to go back and give them another shot, and then when I heard "Sea of Love," I did. It was one of those moments where it all just clicked for me, and I'm now a huge fan. Plus, they made without a doubt one of the best music videos of the year (linked above).

5) Justin Timberlake - "Mirrors" (James Fauntleroy / Jerome Harmon / Tim Mosley / Timberlake) - Simply put, this is the best mainstream pop song of the year. The last three minutes of this seven-plus minute long epic is just pure ear candy. The dude can hit a falsetto. It is supposedly a love song written for his grandparents, and it also has great music video (linked above).

4) Ashley Monroe - "The Morning After" (Lori McKenna / Monroe / Liz Rose) - My God do I love a weeping steel guitar, as played to perfection in this song. I'm not sure there's anything Monroe can't do with that voice, but one of the best things she does with it is honey-throated heartbreak. Here also is a terrific sepia-toned solo acoustic video.

3) Daniel Romano - "He Lets Her Memory Go (Wild)" (Romano) - A absolute behemoth of a country music song. Expertly produced with old school instrumentation, stellar background vocals, killer guitar work, and tweaked with a touch of reverb, this perfectly written song would have a dishonest title with out the parenthetical. That parenthetical is everything on this song. I wouldn't call Romano's voice an acquired taste so much as I would say that he dares to do things with it that nobody else does, and it makes the kind of music he creates that much better.

2) The Tillers - "Willy Dear" (Mike Oberst) - What can I say, I love a story song that includes explosions and nooses and ghosts. It's based on something that, as legend has it, occurred at former Newport, Kentucky music venue The Southgate House. As always, this three-piece string band proficiently go to town on their instruments, while Mike Oberst's lead vocal lends to the song the emotional heft it deserves.

1) Futurebirds - "Heavy Weights" (Futurebirds) - Truthfully, any number of songs from the Futurebirds' 2013 release Baba Yaga could claim this number one spot. But "Heavy Weights" was the first song the really stuck out to me on it, and the rest of the album just sort of formed this cohesive whole around it before my very ears. I think it's about living life to the fullest and all that good and inspiring stuff, and somebody has never made me feel so good singing "when you die!!!" at the top of their lungs to me. For my money, this song is the eargasm of 2013.


Here are some other songs I highly enjoyed but did not include on the "countdown" because that would make a really long list of best songs of the year for one person to make. Suffice it to say, you should check all of them out, and the respective albums they come from, because you're bound to find something you really, really like. I'm not including links to videos or places where you can purchase or listen to the album because you have the internet. But please, do go discovering when you get a chance. I plan on doing that too, because there's still so much I didn't get to check out this year. Enjoy!

John Mayer - "Waitin' on the Day"

Chris King - "Better Answer" - Love the melody and all around sound of this one.

Amos Lee - "Stranger" - Sweet banjo line.

Son Volt - "Angel of the Blues"

Alan Jackson - "Precious Memories"

The Mavericks - "Lies" - I don't know what style of guitar is played on this, but it's awesome.

Jimmy Eat World - "I Will Steal You Back"

Leagues - "Spotlight"

Underhill Rose - "Drives Me to Drinking"

Houndmouth - "Come On, Illinois"

The Hawk In Paris - "Beg for Love"

Ryan Bingham - "Until I'm One With You" - Theme song for new television show The Bridge which takes place along the Texas/Mexico border. Perfect fit.

Toby Keith - "Last Living Cowboy" - He's still capable of writing a fun little gem.

Eminem - "Rap God" - The days when I really enjoyed Eminem (high school and a couple years after) are largely over, but I love this track, and he raps so fast toward the end of it that I had to include it. It's amazing.

The Wild Feathers - "Left My Woman"

Sam Palladio and Chris Carmack - "What If I Was Willing" - The music on the show Nasville is pretty good. The songs written for the characters who are "mainstream" are better than just about anything you'll hear on FM radio.

Sam Palladio - "Just Can't Get It Right"

The Carper Family - "Boxcar Blues (Hello Sunshine)"

Charlie Robison - "Patty McBride"

Treetop Flyers - "Things Will Change"

Javi Garcia - "The Sound"

Carolina Still - "Black Lung, WV" -

Little Chief - "Somewhere Near the River" - "If Heaven sent me an angel, I've gotta find the place where/ I can see her again."

We/Or/Me - "My Father" - Excellent finger picking.

Sturgill Simpson - "You Can Have the Crown" - "They call me King Turd up here on Shit Mountain/ If you want it you can have the crown." Okay, this should have made the "official" list.

Lorde - "Royals"

Possessed by Paul James - "Hurricane" - Great, great sound, like hyper punk-grass.

CHVRCHES - "The Mother We Share" - Am I still cool if I like Scottish synth-pop?

Camera Obscura - "This Is Love (Feels Alright)" - Same question, minus the synths.

Mike Cooley - "Drinking Coke and Eating Ice" - New one from the this member of the Drive-By Truckers' live solo album.

Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison - "9,999,999 Tears"

The Civil Wars - "I Had Me a Girl" 

The Gibson Brothers - "The Darker the Night, The Better I See"

The Wild Ponies - "Trigger"

Claire Lynch - "Dear Sister" - Great Civil War story song.

Audrey Auld - "Sweet Alcohol"

Wild Ponies - "Trigger"

Tired Pony - "The Beginning of the End" - The lead singer of Snow Patrol apparently has a new band with a former member of REM? It's quite good.

Willie Sugarcapps - "Poison" - Grayson Capps covers one of his old songs with his new band and it still kicks ass, just as Mr. Capps does live.

Drew Kennedy - "Good Carpentry"

Jack Johnson - "Home"

Mount Moriah - "Miracle Temple Holiness"

Caitlyn Rose - "Only A Clown"- Great song. Still need to listen to the album.

Kim Richey - "London Town"

Mando Saenz - "They Don't Make 'Em Like You Anymore"

Patty Griffin - "Wild Old Dog" - "God is a wild old dog someone left out on the highway/ I seen him running by me, he don't belong to no one else." If that doesn't make you want to listen, I don't know what will.

Chris Young - "Text Me Texas"

Check out the full playlist on Spotify:

Other year end lists to check out:

Best Country Singles of 2013
Worst Country Singles of 2013
Top Ten Songs of 2012
Top Ten Country Singles of 2012
My Favorite Song of 2011

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Best* Country Singles of 2013

*best = my favorite

15) "Songs About Trucks" - Wade Bowen (Brandy Clark / Shane McAnally) Possibly the best song ever released titled "Songs About Trucks" that is not, in fact, about trucks. Country radio is filled with trite songs about how cool and country trucks and dirt roads are, but sometimes you just want to hear a song about drinking alone. Bowen delivers his statement with mainstream sheen but without managing to come off like a cynical jerk with an axe to grind. The rhyming of all the different kinds of trucks country songs are famous for in the chorus is impressive, and the lyric video is one of the best I've seen.

14) "July in Cheyenne (Song For Lane's Momma)" - Aaron Watson (Watson) Beautiful song and heartbreaking story about a bull rider named Lane Frost who died at the age of 25 doing what he loved in Cheyenne, Wyoming. If you've seen the movie 8 Seconds with Luke Perry (I haven't), it tells Frost's story. The song and music video by Texas country artist Watson is a fitting tribute.

13) "Whiskey" - Jana Kramer (Catt Gravitt / Sam Mizell) Following the number one "Why Ya Wanna," Kramer decided to go with a ballad that draws on a classic country theme and includes audible steel guitar, a gutsy move in today's contemporary country atmosphere. It didn't even crack the top 20.

12) "Give It All We Got Tonight" - George Strait (Mark Bright / Tim James / Phil O'Donnell) Despite some fairly cheesy, digitally distorted background vocals in the chorus, Strait redeems this love song with his confident and passionate vocals. A perfect choice of lead single from his 2013 album Love Is Everything.

11) "Blue Ridge Mountain Song" - Alan Jackson (Jackson) You really can't make a debut bluegrass album without including a song that references the Blue Ridge Mountains. This one has the master of simplicity singing a story about mountain love and loss, and never sounding more at home.

10) "Like A Rose" - Ashley Monroe (Monroe / Guy Clark / Jon Randall) When you write a song with Guy Clark and invite Vince Gill to sing harmony on it, it would be difficult if not damn near impossible for the end result to be a clunker. A pleasant melody and understated production are buoyed by Monroe's always stunning vocals on this track about emerging on the other side of tough times.

9) "Tonight I'm Playin' Possum" - Randy Travis feat. Joe Nichols (Travis / Keith Gattis) A simple, glorious tribute to the late George Jones. Drop the needle, drink up, and listen.

8) "Stripes" - Brandy Clark (Clark / Matt Jenkins / Shane McAnally) This might be the cleverest song written this year. It's somewhat in the vein of the Dixie Chicks' "Goodbye Earl" thematically (not musicallly--"Stripes" is an excellent example of the old school country sound in a modern day song), except the protagonist in "Stripes" doesn't actually go through with it--you know, killing Dennis Farina and all. And all because her sense of fashion is too high-fallutin for prison. "I hate stripes and orange ain't my color/ If I pull that trigger tonight I'll be wearing one or the other."

7) "Follow Your Arrow" - Kacey Musgraves (Musgraves / Brandy Clark / Shane McAnally) Much has been written about this song's content, which includes lines about smoking a joint and girls kissing "lots of girls, if that's what you're into." That's all well and good, but beyond the social statements, this is simply a great song about something our parents try to instill in us from the day we are born, and something we'd do well to remember over the course of our lives: Don't be afraid to be yourself, regardless of what other people think or say about you.

6) "Tin Star" - Lindi Ortega (Ortega) The smoky-voiced Canadian songstress' ode to struggling to "make it" as a country singer. "If the music wasn't runnin' through the blood in my veins, I might just walk away." Thankfully, her star seems to be rising by the year, as it should be, so hopefully she won't be walking away any time soon. Her rich and evocative voice is too much of a gift. And if you care about such things, she is a delightful follow on Twitter.

5) "Bourbon in Kentucky" - Dierks Bentley feat. Kacey Musgraves (Hilary Lindsey / Gordie Sampson / Ryan Tyndell) Proof that if you try something remotely different for modern country radio, modern country radio will say, "No, thank you, please take your artistry elsewhere and write me something that strippers can dance to and will make me millions." This only made it to #45, which seems rather shocking for an established artist like Bentley and a hot newcomer like Musgraves, until you realize it doesn't sound like anything on mainstream radio. But this song has me stoked for Bentley's new album release next year. It was an excellent choice calling up Musgraves for harmonies--their voices sound really good together. And you've got to love a title as straightforward as this and that name drops my home state.

4) "What Are You Listening To?" - Chris Stapleton (Stapleton / Lee Thomas Miller) The debut single from the co-songwriter of several past country hits (Kenny Chesney's "Never Wanted Nothing More" and George Strait's "Love's Gonna Make It Alright") and former lead singer of rockin' honky-tonk bluegrass band The Steeldrivers. As usual, Stapleton's voice is the standout here. He was supposed to release a major label album in 2013, but the single's failure to chart may have impacted whether that's still happening or not.. I hope it does, because the sweet, soulful ballad by this Eastern Kentucky native, talented songwriter, and one of the best voices in all of music only makes me want to hear more.

3) "Electric Bill" - Jason Boland and the Stragglers (Boland) An humorous ode to true love that can withstand tough times during a bad economy. This couple even tell federal spies to spy on them if they want to see what real love is all about. I admit to not knowing what "kill" was, though I did have an idea (I'm not a complete idiot), until I looked it up in the urban dictionary. The result is an excellent song with one of the best hooks of the year: "If they take away everything, they won't take us apart/ We'll roll some kill in the electric bill, and smoke it in the dark." Boland is an effortless country singer, and the fiddle and pedal steel laid on by The Stragglers makes for one of the best sounding songs of the year.

2) "It Ain't the Whiskey" - Gary Allan (Greg Barnhill / Jim Daddario / Cole Degges) The standout track from his Set You Free album. I was pretty shocked they released it as a single, because it would be a minor miracle if it made any kind of dent in today's charts. In it, the narrator claims that it's something far more lethal than his love of drink that's killing him. At the risk of hyperbole, Allan gives a powerhouse of a vocal performance on this song. He also killed it when he performed on Leno too.

1) "Sober" - Little Big Town (Hillary Lindsey / Lori McKenna / Liz Rose) One of the finest singles ever released by the best group on country radio. Included on their 2012 album Tornado, it was also one of my favorite songs of that year. Karen Fairchild hands lead vocal reins over to Kimberly Schlapman, whose buoyant and delightful personality absolutely shines through on the track. Where Fairchild sings with a throaty confidence, Schlapman sings with an assured vulnerability, as if even on the happiest of songs she could become overcome with emotion at any moment. It really brings this sweet take on the concept of being "drunk on love" to life. If Schlapman's vocals are the festive and colorful wrapping paper on this Christmas gift, the group's always immaculate harmonies in the chorus are the neatly tied bow on top. After the relative floundering of "Your Side of the Bed" at radio, here's hoping that after the holidays "Sober" can gain the momentum of previous hit singles "Pontoon" and "Tornado." A song this good deserves it. "I love being in love, it's the best kind of drug/ Drunk on the high, leanin' on your shoulder/ Sweet like wine as it gets older/ When I die I don't wanna go sober."

Other Singles I Enjoyed:

"Fuzzy" - Randy Rogers Band (Shane McAnally / Josh Osborne / Trevor Rosen) This is how write a fun, accessible party song. An example of the ensuing hilarity: "Who the hell is Heather? And when were we together?/ 'Cause I've got every letter of her name on my chest."

"All Over the Road" - Easton Corbin (Carson Chamberlain / Ashley Gorley / Wade Kirby) As far as the men go, he might be the audible steel guitar on the radio's last great hope. Hopefully he doesn't have an "Aw Naw" somewhere up his sleeve.

 "Another Song Nobody Will Hear" - Will Hoge feat. Wade Bowen (Hoge) The co-writer of Eli Young Band's hit "Even If It Breaks Your Heart" wrote a song about how honest songs aren't popular anymore. Nobody wants to hear them. We want nothing but an unhealthy spoon-feeding of escapism. "I came here to Nashville with a million tales to tell/ The first thing that I found out is that the truth don't always sell/ They want songs about the backroads, tractors, trucks, and beers, while I write another song, another song nobody will hear."

 "All Kinds of Kinds" - Miranda Lambert (Philip Coleman / Don Henry) "At some point the finger let ignorance linger/ if they'd look in a mirror they'd find/ That ever since the beginning, to keep the world spinning/ It takes all kinds of kinds." Amen, sister.

"Someone Somewhere Tonight" - Kellie Pickler (Davis Raines / Walt Wilkins) Back when she won American Idol, who would have thought Pickler would be one of the good ones? Integrity, in tact.

"Pieces" - Gary Allan (Allan / Odie Blackmon / Sarah Buxton) The kind of rock song country radio should embrace. Great chorus and, as always, great vocal from Allan.

"The Last Goodbye" - Reckless Kelly (Willy Braun) The Red Dirt veterans are understated in bidding a final farewell to a fool-makin' woman in this ballad penned by lead singer Willy Braun. But you know, the last goodbye is a lot like the last one.

"Helluva Life" - Frankie Ballard (Rodney Clawson / Chris Tompkins / Josh Kear) Lyrical cliches aside, something about this chorus just does it for me. Gives me a good feeling.

"Wild & Lonesome" - Shooter Jennings feat. Patty Griffin (Jennings) If you want your song to stand out, ask Patty Griffin to sing harmony and throw a heavy dose of steel guitar into the mix.

"The Rose Queen" - William Clark Green (Green) I'm not very familiar with Green, but if this song is any indication of his vocal and songwriting talent, I've been missing out. Great country rock.

"Little Too Late" - Zane Williams (Williams) With vocals reminiscent of Radney Foster, Williams maintains his integrity while aiming for mainstream success.

"Days of Gold" - Jake Owen (Jaren Johnston / Neil Mason) Contains a list of country cliches a mile long but is redeemed by its ragged and rugged instrumentation, including banjo and harmonica turned up in the mix and not relegated to the background.

"Drinks After Work" - Toby Keith (Barry Dean / Natalie Hemby / Luke Laird) Not country at all country and a bit corn-pop in the production department, but highly enjoyable if it strikes you in the right mood.

"Hush Hush" - Pistol Annies (Miranda Lambert / Ashley Monroe / Angaleena Presley) Fun tongue in cheek tale about family secrets nobody wants to talk about. Ashley Monroe's verse, per usual, stands out.

"Speak of the Devil" - Randy Rogers Band (Sarah Burton / Ashley Gorley / Jedd Hughes) A song about exes that everybody can relate to.

"Wagon Wheel" - Darius Rucker (Bob Dylan / Ketch Secor) OCMS's version is superior in every way, and I feel like it'd already been worn out by the time Rucker released it, but it's such a classic, well-written song. Nice to hear fiddle on country radio again too. And they didn't edit out "toke."

"You Can't Make Old Friends" - Kenny Rogers feat. Dolly Parton (Ryan Hanna King / Don Schlitz / Caitlyn Smith) Grab your tissues, these two still got it. Once you hear it you can't imagine any other two people singing it.

"Back In Your Arms Again" - The Mavericks (Raul Malo / Gary Nicholson / Seth Walker) Nobody makes me want to get up and dance like The Mavericks. Nobody sings like Raul Malo. No other band uses brass instruments so well.

"Brand New Me" - Charlie Robison (Bruce Robison) This country rock jam has Robison slyly ruminating on the man now with his former flame. Great chorus on this one.

"How Could I Want More" - Jamie Lynn Spears (Spears / Rivers Rutherford) Yes, this is Britney Spears' sister. Just listen. Then get back to me.

Listen to the Spotify playlist:

Other 2013 lists:

Worst Country Singles

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Worst Country Singles of 2013

Momma always said, "Treat others the way you want to be treated." For the purposes of this post, forget that noise.

The notion that mainstream country radio lacks in quality, especially compared to country or Americana music that doesn't receive mainstream play, is not a new one. Simply put, when an artist (put quotes around that term for some of these jokers) takes a chance and releases something that's actually really good, radio doesn't play it (more on that in the soon to come best country singles of 2013 post). Write a song with the phrase "hey girl" or "beer chillin' in the cooler" or "she did a sexy dance on the bed of my truck and it turned me on so hard" and the chances are likely that you've written yourself a number one hit. And 2013 has proven to be the testiest year yet when it comes to this topic: You can read all about it here: How country music went crazy: A comprehensive timeline of the genre's identity crisis (Entertainment Weekly).

So here's a list of the worst of the worst from what I've heard. It's worth noting that it's comprised of all dudes. Some I forced myself to listen to based on the title alone, knowing I was in for the equivalent of an ear stabbing. Just so you know I don't take myself or this list too seriously, I should tell you there are two songs you may think you'll find on this list that aren't there: Blake Shelton's "Boys 'Round Here" and Florida Georgia Line's "Get Your Shine On." Reason being is that they were the "theme songs" for my family reunion in May and every time I hear them I can only think of fun times drunkenly singing them at the top of my lungs. So when it comes down to it, it's all relative really. (Don't worry, I also introduced them to Randy Rogers Band's "Fuzzy.")

If you like any of these songs, I don't hold it against you. If you like it, you like it; if it makes you happy, it makes you happy. But seriously, though, the songs listed below are terrible, lazy, and borderline offensive. For some unexplainable reason many folks who don't really listen to country radio anymore still care about what gets played there. We hold out hope that one day the tide will turn. Call it torture. Call it nostalgia. Whatever it is, it's fun to call bullshit on songs that continually contribute to the dumbing-down of the mainstream, giving the good stuff a bad name in the process because of the mistaken notion that the two are closely connected.

But I do it for you, the people.

"That's My Kind of Night" - Luke Bryan (Dallas Davidson / Christ DeStefano / Ashley Gorley) - I'm not sure what the worst line of this travesty is: I got that real good feel good stuff/ Up under the seat of my big black jacked up truck or All them other boys wanna wind you up and take you downtown (what is this chick, some kind of wind-up toy?) or A little Conway, a little T-Pain, might just make it rain. Okay, holy shit, the worst line is DEFINITELY that last one. Yes, he just named dropped classic country crooner Conway Twitty and often parodied auto-tune lover T-Pain in the same line. Based on that alone, this song is indeed--as Zac Brown famously said--one of the worst songs ever. In conclusion, I can't decide whether the cheesy faux hip-hop beat makes me want to drown myself in the rain Luke is going to make it do or shoot myself in the face.

"Chillin' It" - Cole Swindell (Shane Minor / Cole Swindell) - Don't let this catchy little ditty fool you, for it totally sucks the big one. Let me tell you why: Pour it on easy now, don't spill a bit/ Nothin' tonight but time, let's get to killin' it/ Long as I'm rockin' with you girl/ You know I'm cool with just chillin' it. I am stupider just for typing that. Did you see that? He rhymed "chillin'" with "killin'" and "chillin'" is a play on "cool" cuz they both mean COLD! Does anybody even know what "chillin' it" means? Do people actually say that? I thought that when I was just hanging out, I was "chillin'." Give credit where credit is due though: The phrase "chillin' like a villain" does not get a shout out, which is a genuine shocker.

"Redneck Crazy" - Tyler Farr (Mark Irwin / Josh Kear / Chris Tompkins) - I mean, you really start to wonder if anyone even cares about lyrics anymore. Please, young people, do not handle a break up the way this douchey narrator does: by drunkenly stalking your ex in the middle of the night and throwing beer cans at her house. Thing is, this concept could perhaps be made into a decent song if there was even the slightest hint of irony or humor. But it's played dead straight, even lines as cringe-worthy as I'm about to get my pissed off on and Nah, he can't amount to much by the look of that little truck. So if driving a little truck means you're a pussy, what does it mean if you drive a Camry (me)? Check that. I don't give a shit. Brantley Gilbert, you have met your match.

"Get Me Some Of That" - Thomas Rhett (Rhett Akins / Michael Carter / Cole Swindell) - I'm not shocked to discover that one Cole Swindell had a hand in writing this turd. If you look at the title again, you already know what this song's about. Shockingly, the production here isn't faux fratboy cock rock or something Luke Bryan could shake his glitter covered ass to, but rather it goes for a softer, more sensual vibe, something I would perhaps call "rapey mid-tempo adult contemporary." The chorus does not, I repeat, does not help: You're shakin' that moneymaker, like a heartbreaker, like your college major was/ Twistin' and tearin' up Friday nights/ Love the way your wearin' those jeans so tight/ I bet your kiss is a soul saver, my favorite flavor, want it now and later/ I never seen nothin' that I wanted so bad/ Girl, I gotta get me, gotta get me some of that. Ladies, if that does it for you, please, for the love of yourself and your future daughters, do a little self-reflection and realize that if any man every truly said that to you at a bar, you would kick him square in the gonads.

"Makin' This Boy Go Crazy" - Dylan Scott (Dylan Scott / Glenn Whitehead) - This song almost isn't worth writing about. I've never heard of this dude, and I'm not sure where I even heard about the song. But it might be the most derivative and boring one on this list. Here are some words that people actually wrote down and thought sounded good together: Never seen a tan look so good ... The way your hair blows in the wind, takes me to heaven and back again ... Oh girl, you make me feel like whoa (I'm not even kidding) ... I can catch a buzz without a drink, that's what your body does to me/ Every kiss is like a sip, I wanna taste, over and over. It's official: rapey is the new trendy down at the Music Row machine.

"Aw Naw" - Chris Young (Chris DeStefano / Ashley Gorley / Chris Young) - Well, it was bound to happen I suppose. One of the last great hopes of country radio gave in to industry pressure. Though I've liked some more than others, I've at least partially enjoyed every single Young has released, but "Aw Naw" leaves such a bad taste in my mouth that I'm not sure I'll ever give him another shot. I barely was able to get through his new album even once (there are maybe one or two decent songs on there, I can't remember and haven't gone back to listen). The story goes, or so I remember reading (you'll forgive me if I do not care enough to do a quick Google search), that Young and his co-writers were sitting around, someone said "Aw Naw," and someone else said, "Hey, that'd make a cool song." Well, two things: one group already wrote that song, and the song Young and Co. ended up writing is one of the dumbest, most pandering, most clumsily produced pieces of music you will ever lay ears on. And it being Chris Young, it kind of pains me to say that. The chorus, for your amusement: Aw naw, somebody just bought a shot of that Patron/ Hang on, I just might have to stay (YOU KNOW, CUZ PATRON!)/ Aw naw, look at the time y'all/ What happened to coats on, long gone/ I should be halfway home, but aw naw. Farewell, Chris Young.

Other 2013 Lists:

Best Country Singles

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Few (101) Songs For Fall

(image via fineartamerica.com, by Sylvia Hart)

Fall is my favorite season of the year. It inspires feelings and yearnings of a sort that I'm not exactly sure how to describe: joy-tinged melancholy, sweet nostalgia, desperate hope, and other pretentious sounding shite like that. Plus, it just feels so damn good outside, day and night--there's something in the air. Thus, it's one of the best times of year for the music listener. Here are 101 songs that beautifully capture those feelings. If you have Spotify, go directly to the playlist here, hit shuffle, roll down or open your windows for God's sake, and enjoy.

Phosphorescent - "Wolves"

Lord Huron - "She Lit A Fire"

Red June - "Foolish Me"

Tyler Ramsey - "The Valley Wind"

The Honey Dewdrops - "Together Tied"

The National - "Heavenfaced"

Iron and Wine - "Communion Cups and Someone's Coat"

Futurebirds - "American Cowboy"

My Morning Jacket - "Knot Comes Loose," "Touch Me I'm Going To Scream, Pt. 1"

Band of Horses - "Detlef Schrempf," "Older"

Alela Diana - "Lady Divine"

Jars of Clay - "River Constantine"

Sufjan Stevens - "Romulus"

Daniel Martin Moore & Joan Shelley - "Sweetly By"

Chris Knight - "Rural Route," "The Band Is Playing Too Slow"

Randy Rogers Band - "In My Arms Instead"

Turpike Troubadours - "Leaving & Lonely," "Evangeline"

Neil Young - "Harvest Moon"

John Mayer - "Waitin' On The Day"

Jamie Wislon - "The River"

Over the Rhine - "Cruel and Pretty"

The Avett Brothers - "St. Joseph's," "Ten Thousand Words," "The Fall," "Hand-Me-Down Tune"

the everybodyfields - "Silver Garden"

John Prine - "Blue Umbrella," "Daddy's Little Pumpkin"

Guy Clark - "Cornmeal Waltz"

Lifehouse - "Sick Cycle Carousel"

Terry Reid - "Brave Awakening"

Eddie Vedder - "Rise"

Ray Lamontagne - "A Falling Through"

Chatham County Line - "Chip Of A Star"

The Steeldrivers - "Heaven Sent"

Amos Lee - "Violin"

Water Liars - "Wyoming"

Red Tail Ring - "Katy Came Breezing"

Ryan Bingham - "Never Ending Show," "Don't Wait For Me"

Drive-By Truckers - "A Ghost To Most," "Tornadoes"

Daniel Romano - "He Lets Her Memory Go"

Dawes - "So Well"

The Band - "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down"

Merle Haggard - "The Way I Am"

Willie Nelson - "The Scientist"

Townes Van Zant - "To Live Is To Fly"

The Salty Dogs - "Another Day In A Small Town"

Great Lake Swimmers - "The Great Exhale," "Various Stages"

Without Gravity - "Waterfall"

Jakob Dylan - "Everybody's Hurting"

The Wallflowers - "I've Been Delivered"

Coaltown - "Better Off Blind"

Open Rail - "Tina At the Teardrop Inn"

Balsam Range - "Better Days"

Jamey Johnson - "That Lonesome Song"

Easton Corbin - "Leavin' A Lonely Town"

Chris Young (with Willie Nelson) - "Rose In Paradise"

Josh Turner - "Long Black Train"

Good Old War - "Amazing Eyes"

Trampled By Turtles - "Victory"

Real Estate - "Out Of Tune"

Modest Mouse - "Autumn Beds"

Trespassers William - "And We Lean In"

Jimmy Eat World - "Polaris"

Ryan Adams - "Anybody Wanna Take Me Home"

Mando Saenz - "They Don't Make 'Em Like You Anymore"

Nick Drake - "Northern Sky"

Johnny Cash - "I See A Darkness"

Hank Williams - "Cold Cold Heart"

Levon Helm - "The Mountain"

Emmylou Harris - "Shores of White Sand"

The Vines - "Autumn Shade II"

Small Faces - "The Autumn Stone"

The Last Bison - "Autumn Snow"

Fleet Foxes - "Blue Ridge Mountains," "Sun It Rises"

George Strait - "The Chill Of An Early Fall"

Cal Smith - "Country Bumpkin"

Doc & Merle Watson - "When the Work's All Done This Fall"

Punch Brothers - "Clara"

The Tillers - "The Unpainted Picture"

Iris Dement - "Our Town"

Nathan Reich - "Sweet Isolation"

Lucero - "Slow Dancing"

Horse Feathers - "Last Waltz"

Father John Misty - "Hollywood Cemetery Forever Sings"

Sons Of Bill - "Broken Bottles"

Truckstop Darlin' - "Sad Sweet Songs"

Corb Lund - "September"

Damien Rice - "Amie"

Beach House - "Myth"

Sleeping At Last - "A Skeleton Of Something More"

Mazzy Star - "Fade Into You"

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Very First Impressions: "Magpie and the Dandelion" - The Avett Brothers

NPR began streaming the new Avett Brothers album Magpie and the Dandelion last night. So, of course, I listened to it and decided to jot down some first impressions. Some...ahem....ramblings, if you will. (Warning: The Avetts are one of those bands I have been emotionally attached to/connected with for quite some time. They are one of my favorite bands; I'm talking about all times. Therefore, I am biased. It is sometimes hard for me to be critical of them, especially regarding a new album that I am expecting to be awesome [as I anticipate all of their new material to be]. I just wanted to make that clear up front.) Enjoy the ramblings.

Open Ended Life
Album starts much differently than the acoustic stylings of The Carpenter's first track. Uptempo. Banjo, piano, even a little harmonica. And yes, DRUMS, for all the haters (OMG a folk rock band added DRUMS! Blasphemy!) Central lyric: "I was taught to keep an open ended life, and never trap myself in nothin'." Nice little hoedown about midway through. I am completely digging this. Sounded like a fiddle solo at the end there. What a fantastic way to start things off.

Morning Song
Very warm vocal here from Scott. The damn harmonies on this song are beautiful, as are the lyrics. I don't particularly like the absence of banjo, but I am also a mature adult and will get over it. I dig the understated gospel-choir-esque vocals at the end. Do I like the YouTube version they did with Esquire more? Sure. But this song is still one of the best they've written.

Never Been Alive
I'm getting a Pink Floyd vibe at the start. Back in the days when I smoked weed I definitely would have been listening to this song and getting all existential.

Another Is Waiting
Quick transition into the album's lead single. I completely dig this song and wish it would blow up. I read where someone compared it to Green Day with a banjo, as if that was supposed to be a disparaging comment. I don't necessarily agree, but I wonder if that person realizes Green Day has some amazingly hooky and good pop-punk songs in their catalog. If you think that the Avetts crafty catchy pop hooks is them selling out, you, sir, need to go back and listen to "At the Beach," "Will You Return," "Jenny and the Summer Day," "Matrimony," etc etc etc.

Bring Your Love To Me
"Bring your love to me, I will hold it like a newborn child." Seth takes lead. Old-schoolers will be happy to hear some sweet banjo flourishes. Excellent acoustic guitar work as well. Totally chill and laid back tune. "Bring your love to me, I will hold it like a dandelion, one I want to save, one I want to keep from the breeze that follows me and no one else." This might be an early favorite.

Good To You
Piano introduction, Scott takes lead. Very simple song; mostly just piano and Joe Kwon's cello. AWESOME: Bob Crawford takes a verse, quite powerful in light of his daughter's recent battle with cancer. (Bob sings one of my favorite Avett songs, "40 East," from Four Thieves Gone.)

Apart From Me
"I was scared but couldn't admit it." Somewhat cold and resigned yet intimate vocal from Scott. Very personal song it sounds like (aren't they all?). Certainly would not feel out of place on a Gleam album. Contains some excellent acoustic picking, from Seth I assume. "The banker lived, the artist died." Believe this might be another early favorite.

Skin and Bones
I've purposefully avoided the versions of this song that have been circulating on the interwebs for a few years. I knew it'd hit an album at some point. Midtempo, heavy dosage of banjo. Scott and Seth trade off vocals. "I built the fence, I hung the sign, blood red letters sayin' 'Keep in mind where we've been, so don't come in.' But how long can we live in shame, and drop a life long curse on our own last name." Well. Shit.

Souls Like the Wheels
I've been wondering whether this would be the same version from The Second Gleam. It is not. It is a live version. It is still an amazing song. Seth sounds young as hell here. Interested to find out what year this was recorded. Also the crowd sounds very sparse. Would bet that this was quite a few years ago. I am, however, most definitely probably wrong...and the large, loud applause at the end corroborates that.. I don't have a problem with its inclusion, but I wonder what the reasoning was behind putting it on Magpie. Maybe Seth's not younger here and it was just an emotional night/performance, because there's certainly an element of frailty to his singing on this.

Awesome almost-scream from Seth on "I've got love pouring out of my veins." Some major dissonance about midway through that leads into some distorted electric guitar soloing. Pretty badass. If you saw their performance of this on Fallon (with Chris Cornell), you know they will go insane on this one live.

The Clearness Is Gone
I've heard this song exactly one time. I believe it was included as a bonus vinyl single or b-side with the pre-order packages for The Carpenter. So glad they included because it's great. Sweet, sweet bass line running through. "I will seek the approval of no one but you." Has sort of a 70s classic rock vibe to it. Ends abruptly without much "resolution," thus ending the album the same. Great way to end what for the most part is a very somber and low key album.

In a nutshell:
Simply more of the good, heartfelt stuff folks have come to expect from The Avett Brothers. If there's one consistent theme woven within the Avetts catalog lyrically, it's: the want, the need, the hope to be a better man. They always express that desire honestly, though, never shying away from the darkness, failure, even self-detestation that can accompany that striving. The same can be said for Magpie, perhaps even more so than some previous albums; it contains some dark truths. But, of course, there are those glimmers, sometimes rays, of idealistic hope. The album has some truly outstanding tracks, and I can't wait to listen again with lyrics in front of me (will also be interesting to hear the demos of a few songs that are included on the special edition). Musically, the brothers really seem to have come into their own with Rubin as producer. It contains a bit more musical understatement. Do I wish there was more banjo? Sure. (Still, there's banjo on at least half these tracks.) As stated before, I don't mind the drums at all (hell, I used to be a drummer myself), but do I wish their drummer would do something a little more creative than simply keep the basic beat in the background? Sure. To me, these are minor quibbles; to others, they are dealbreakers. At this point it doesn't matter, for those arguments are outdated. In an interview a couple months ago, Scott alluded to the fact that the band might be getting bored. I'm not sure what to make of that in light of Magpie, because they certainly do not sound bored on this album (however, these songs were recorded during The Carpenter sessions, while the interview was just this past summer, so something could have transpired; who knows?). Do I hope they work with a different producer than Rick Rubin for their next album? Yes. Let the bearded musical Buddha live the rest of his years high on his couch while Kanye and Jay-Z make albums in his studio. If this is indeed the Avetts' last go 'round with Rubin, Magpie and the Dandelion is a hell of an album to go out on.

To close, enjoy Scott Avett singing the classic folk tune "Froggy Went A-Courtin'"

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Venerable Video: the everybodyfields - "Can't Have It"

How awesome is this picture? I cannot find who to credit it to. I remember it from their website back in the day.

Before The Civil Wars there was the everybodyfields. Before The Civil Wars broke up (or whatever is going on with them) the everybodyfields broke up. And it seemed to occur right when they were on the verge of very big things. Their slow but steady rise in roots music seemed to follow a similar but softer trajectory as then label mates The Avett Brothers (Ramseur Records). I am not saying they were destined to be as big as the Avetts, but the potential and talent was certainly there. Even Jill Andrews' solo project The Mirror seemed to be marketed in a manner such that she would find a home perhaps on VH1 among rising female pop stars like Sara Bareilles.

The musical and songwriting chemistry between Sam Quinn and Jill Andrews was always undeniable, even as behind the scenes turmoil was apparently brewing. Earlier this year the group performed at the Rhythm 'n Blooms festival in Knoxville, TN and filmed a few excellent live videos with the team at Live and Breathing. I don't want to venture into hyperbole and say that it's almost too difficult to watch these videos, yet watching one can't help but feel like some great magic was lost when they decided to go separate ways. Watching them it is obvious they've still got that nameless thing many other bands (even good ones) lack, and I can't help but think that one day they will record and tour together again. We can only hope. If not, I guess that's what albums and performance videos on the internet are for. They last forever.

"Can't Have It" is the eighth track on the group's second LP Plague of Dreams. In the video they are backed by a great band that includes frequent collaborator (with both Quinn and Andrews) Josh Oliver on electric guitar. Jill Andrews is as stunning vocally and visually as ever and Sam Quinn's strangeness is as apparent as ever (well, there are some other videos on the internet that might take that cake, but still, check out those socks). And nobody does harmony quite like the everybodyfields. The Civil Wars comprises a couple of vocal powerhouses, to be sure, bending notes around impossible corners--and I enjoy some of their songs--but give me these two (Sam Quinn and Jill Andrews, if you aren't paying attention) any day of the week. Or of the year. Or of my lifetime. Just get back together already (respectfully). I'm confident that after you watch them perform this great song you will see why I'm so keen on a band that has been broken up for years.

Walk walk white sock to sock, I wonder why these people all deceive me again

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Some Favorite Songs From 2013 So Far (Part Two)

Holly Williams - "Gone Away From Me"
From The Highway
The most beautiful song on The Highway, Williams' anguished voice here is a force to be reckoned with, observant and detached one moment and emotionally wrought the next; she also employs her falsetto to nuanced and powerful effect. This is a terrifically sad story song about family, death, and the passing of time, sung by a woman who comes from a family who knows a thing or two about singing a good story (and death for that matter; Hank Jr.'s her father, Hank Sr.'s her grandfather). Little vignettes like this really push the song into the realm of great and timeless: "They always made us kneel by Grandpa's grave/ Mama was wailing asking God if he was saved/ I never liked to see my daddy cry/ I guess I'll never know how Grandpa died." (Jackson Browne contributes on vocals, too.)

City and Colour - "Two Coins"
From The Hurry and the Harm
I love everything about this song. The melody, the voice, the lyrics--especially the refrain: "I've always been dark/ with light somewhere in the distance." Dallas Green, the man behind the moniker, can damn well sing. If you've ever heard of every church youth group's former favorite Christian rock-pop-rap band DC Talk, his voice reminds me of Kevin Max. (The guitar sounds fantastic on the solo acoustic version below.)

Steve Martin & Edie Brickell - "Love Has Come For You"
From Love Has Come For You
I honestly didn't expect to enjoy this song (and the album) as much as I do. Steve Martin's banjo picking compliments rather than calls attention to itself. I'd never heard of Edie Brickell before but she has a great and unique voice. Nothing showy or flashy here, just beautiful, simple music. More albums please, you two.

Camera Obscura - "This Love (Feels Alright)"
The Scottish band creates a kind of pop that is ethereal and alive. The opening hook on this song instantly piqued my interest and pulled me in. I mean, it's cool to like Scottish pop, right?

Phosphorescent - "The Quotidian Beasts"
From Muchacho
I only discovered Phosphorescent and its sole member Matthew Houck's blending of atmospheric indie rock, country, and americana this year. Anyone who has the taste and appreciation to do a Willie Nelson covers album, as Houck did with 2009's To Willie, is worth considering by more than a select few "indie-only" music fans. Even those who may find some of the songs on this year's Muchacho too experimental, it's hard not get down with the melodies and Houck's downtrodden yet passionate voice on "Quotidian." And in general, it's hard not to get down with a song this catchy that uses the word "quotidian" in its title.

The Mavericks - "Lies"
From In Time
This jam just doesn't let up. "Let's do one more," says lead singer Raul Malo. Malo still has that soothing croon and The Mavericks can still hit those sweet harmonies and their songs still have that quality that almost makes you want to get up and do the twist. Just in case you were wondering. One more, indeed.

John Moreland - "Your Spell"
From In The Throes
Moreland's entire album is chock full of soul-baring, heart-on-sleeve, heartbroken, ruthless authenticity such as this. This lyric gets me: "You were the queen of my condition, I was the king of the ignored/ Talked just like east Texas, looked like an angel from the Lord." That about says it all.

Listen on Spotify HERE.

George Strait - "You Don't Know What You're Missing"

From Love Is Everything
George Strait outclasses and outshines every male who's popular in mainstream country music, so much so that it's weird even to think of Strait as "mainstream" anymore. He is still the king and standard-bearer, cutting songs because he thinks they are good and have something to say and not because they cater to radio's annoying party-all-the-time culture. This song tells the story of two guys sitting in a bar. One guy won't stop complaining about his life and the other guy kind of wishes he (still) had that life. I'm glad Strait is still going to continue recording after he retires from touring; I don't want to miss out on gems like this. (The song was co-written by Chris Stapleton, unsurprisingly.)

Jimmy Eat World - "I Will Steal You Back"
From Damage
Sure, it's more of the same from Jimmy Eat World. But they do what they do so well and I know of no other bands still making this kind of music. "I Will Steal You Back" sounds like one of their songs you might have heard on modern rock radio in the late 90s or early 2000s, and I don't see a damn thing wrong with that.

Dailey & Vincent - "Steel Drivin' Man"
From Brothers of the Highway
This bluegrass jam is what you call a barn burner. You have top-notch tenor singing from John Dailey (who also wrote the song), and it's a wonder how he keeps up with the speed and ferocious picking of the rest of the band. It's the kind of talent you can find only in a bluegrass group comprised of musicians and singers at the top of their game. I highly recommend seeing them live if you get the chance. (The music video below captures their stage energy and sense of humor quite well.)

Jason Isbell - "Live Oak"
Isbell is one of America's greatest living songwriters. If you follow him on Twitter you are aware that he's an avid reader of fiction which may help explain why many of his songs have the feeling of being (really) short stories in and of themselves. If you like "Live Oak" and its anxious, verging on paranoid narrator, you'll love Southeastern. Great line: "Well I carved her cross from live oak and her box from short leaf pine/ buried her so deep she touched the water table line."

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Avett Brothers Set To Release New Album (Already) This Fall, Confess To Boredom

If you do a Google search for "the avett brothers new album," many hits are popular music and entertainment websites discussing their album released in September of last year, The Carpenter, will pop up. Except for one. The brothers did an interview (read it here in full) with radio.com where they discuss, among other things, Kanye West, Rage Against The Machine, the festival scene, boredom, and a new album--a new album to be released this Fall. I am a little surprised no (or not many) other websites have picked up on this seemingly large tidbit of information. (And I know some of you folks frequent--and I mean frequent--Abundant Ramblings for the truly hard hitting and breaking news in the world of music.) Maybe the fact that Scott mentions that it will indeed include a few songs from the Carpenter sessions doesn't quite fit the "big new release only a year after previous album coming from popular americana act" headline that many may have been hoping for. But it seems this isn't exactly a collection of b-sides and rarities. I don't know exactly what kind of album it's going to be. Perhaps neither does Scott Avett:

We should be releasing an album in September, maybe October. The Carpenter was the first installment and this is the other part. We initially thought of this as part two…but we realize it’s its own thing. It’s a very interesting occurrence we didn’t intend. It’s a nice surprise.

So originally the album was thought of as The Carpenter Part II, but it turned into something a little different. There are still unanswered questions: Was a Carpenter Part II always in the plans and, amazingly and with excellent tact, kept on the down low? What in the heck does "it's its own thing" and "interesting occurrence" mean? Were all of these songs written during the Carpenter sessions? Wait. Nevermind. He answers that:

Some of them are in the works for years — seven, eight years. Others, a year ago. It was all very different. We have a lot of places where songs are hiding within our homes, in our bus, in our bags, in our pockets they just end up here [points to his head]. They’re everywhere and we never know when they’ll come out of the shadows.

Folks familiar with the ingenuity that is The Avett Brothers Songwriting Process On Some Of Their Songs Which They Take Forever To Record But Have Been Playing Live Slash Tweaking For Ages will be unsurprised that some songs have been festering for years. So we know that, we know that some songs were recorded (written?) during the Carpenter sessions, and we know that some songs were written a year ago, which would be June of 2012, at which time I would have to assume most if not all of the songs included on The Carpenter had been chosen (they released lead single "Live and Die" to stream on NPR almost exactly one year ago), and it was in the twilight stages of mastering, mixing, engineering, and finalizing. Therefore, I will assume that a few of the songs for the new album were recorded after the Carpenter sessions. ("He sure is assuming a lot. I want nothing but the cold hard facts. This dude SUCKS.")

By now it should be obvious that the band has been working with Rick Rubin again, producer (some would say destroyer of bands; just ask a small legion of original Avett fans or The Band Perry) of The Carpenter and its predecessor I and Love and You. They obviously enjoy working with him and appreciate what he has brought out of them and their music. Take it away again, Mr. Avett (Scott that is. He wouldn't let Seth talk):

After we worked with him we were inventorying our songs much differently, much quicker. When we brought them to him this time, there was a lot less to go through. A lot less. The songs weren’t distracted. They weren’t as jumbled up, if that makes sense. So the editing process was different. But we recorded more songs and took a lot longer to record because we decided to take them to the end with the mixing and mastering. Hopefully it will be different when we work with him again.

Is the "this time" while they were recording The Carpenter but still bringing in songs for The Carpenter Part II, which may or may not have been the plan at the time? Or is the "this time" some time between when The Carpenter came out and the present moment? "More songs" and "took a lot longer" is always a good thing in a fan's mind. But does "we decided to take them to the end" mean that they were Carpenter demos that didn't fit on the album proper or other new songs that they decided to go ahead and "take to the end" because The Carpenter Part II was becoming its own little animal? Does "when we work with him again" mean when they work with him again on finishing up this album, or are they already set on having him record the follow-up to The Carpenter's follow-up as well? I know that I haven't made it obvious, but I do indeed have a few unanswered questions about this new album.

To me, the last part of radio.com's interview is the most interesting (read: leaves me with ALL of the questions). Take it away, Seth. Just kidding. Scott again:

I think when we were first at this, we thought of changes as atomic bombs. Like we needed to change everything from song to song, from set to set, show to show, day to day. I think we look at changes now — real changes, honest changes — as something subtle. So I think that the changes will be understood and natural from what we’ve done or how we’ve changed in the past two or three recordings that we put out. We’re trying to make plans to record again soon, within the next year, so there’s no telling what it will be like. I think we all know, and we haven’t actually said this, but I think that we may be bored in some ways. And I think it may be of interest to us to shake that boredom off because as creators and as musicians we need that. The fans need what they need and sometimes that’s different. But we need that. We’re all inspired by many things, but we don’t get the opportunity to let that be reflected in what we make. But we can’t stay bored for long. (emphasis mine)

Well crap, Avett. Thanks for the clarification! Sooo...this album will be subtly different. Is that your way of saying it is pretty much going to be in the exact same vein as The Carpenter, or are you purposely trying to throw us off track and this will actually be an album full of angrily sweet emotional rage a la "Paul Newman vs. The Demons"? Are you truly hoping to get into the studio again within the next year to work on the super hush-hushed Carpenter Part III? (I'm only even thinking of The Carpenter follow-up's follow-up because you bring it up in the interview. I think.) If so, that would be fantastic. Are you going to work with Rubin again, as you maybe also kind of hinted at earlier in the interview? That's cool too. But wait, you're bored? Bored with Rubin? Or merely bored artistically? If the latter is the case, a change in producer might not hurt. Producers kind of have a fairly large influence on the music an artist makes. I'm not saying that because I disliked your last two albums; I like them both and appreciate how Rubin has helped you all grow as a band, both artistically and in popularity. Changes can be good without necessarily being "atomic bombs." But after the follow-up to The Carpenter even I, one of your biggest fans, am going to become bored with another Avett/Rubin collaboration. Sure, "the fans need what they need" and it's wonderful and possible to give it to them and maintain being true to yourself. But don't be afraid to venture off the beaten path. Change it up if you have to. Don't be bored. Don't bore your fans. Make music that inspires you because it's based off music that has inspired you. I'm not saying you don't already do this. I'm just saying don't be afraid to really change it up. Atomic bomb that shit if you need to. Your legions of new fans will follow. And if not all of them do? Well, then I guess they love you for the band that you were not the band you're becoming.

Thanks for reading, folks. I'm not, like, an Avett Brothers fan or anything (read: I most definitely am).

And my one and only piece of layman's advice to assist in boredom prevention (well, other than what I've already written above, I guess): more banjo.

(Note: I wrote this a few days ago but only just now got around to editing and publishing it. Since then I've seen another interview or two where the Avetts discuss their new album, and a few major publications like American Songwriter have picked up on it. I didn't incorporate any of that into this piece, however, as I simply thought it was fun to comment on the confusing vagueness and the veering into "musician-speak", regarding how and when the new album was recorded, in the radio.com interview. Plus, I think the fact that they admit [or at least Scott admits on behalf of the band] that they're bored is significant, and also raises more questions than it answers. Surely that means changes in some form or fashion are to come; I guess we'll just have to wait and see what they are. [Seriously though, more banjo.])

*image via coverlaydown.com