Derek’s Top Ten Country Songs – March 2015

Derek Top 10 March

Another month, another top ten list! Several independent album releases and one fantastic new single make up my list. April’s looking at many releases, several of which I’m personally looking forward to. However, this is March and women or women in a part of groups, make up quite a bit of my list this month! Without further ado….

1. “Let It Shine” by Rick Elliot – A callback to outlaw country, Elliot has a great voice for country music and this song showcases it. And to think he’s only 18! Rick Elliot is bringing back the golden sound from country’s best era.

2. “Mama Let the Wolf In” by Allison Moorer – This is the best song off Down to Believing. “Mama Let The Wolf In” is a response to Moorer’s son’s diagnosis of autism. She sings from a perspective of blame and guilt, and her emotions fly in this song.

3. “Make A Liar Out of Me” by Striking Matches – Justin Davis’ vocals shine on a track where he rediscovers love. However, the best part of this song is the 75 second guitar solo closing the song. “Make A Liar Out of Me” rocks on all levels.

4. “By God” by Houndmouth – Great production? Check. Awesome vocals? Check. Fantastic lyrics? Check. This song has the whole package! The best song off Little Neon Limelight.

5. “The Stranger At My Door” by Brandi Carlile – This rocker is the standout off of The Firewatcher’s Daughter.” The production here is spectacular and Carlile’s vocals shine.

6. “When the Right One Comes Along” by Striking Matches – Beautiful lyrics describing love in a realistic way. A stripped-down production behind Sarah Zimmerman’s vocals are a perfect accent to the song.

7. “Down To Believing” by Allison Moorer – Touching lyrics exploring the aftermath of a heartbreak: Simply, do we or don’t we believe that we’ll be back together. Moorer’s vocal performance here are flawless.

8. “Wilder (We’re Chained)” by Brandi Carlile – I love the subdued, slow tempo of this song of life and love. From the sound effects to the vocal performance, this is one of my favorites off Carlile’s album.

9. “Sedona” by Houndmouth – I love this song tribute to “Little Hollywood.” The groove of the melody combined with the vocals are awesome on this track.

10. “Windfall” by Joe Pug – This Chicago singer-songwriter sings about taking charge in life. You’ll go nowhere if you wait around for handouts. This is my favorite off Pug’s new album of the same name.

 

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Josh’s Top Ten Country Songs – March 2015

March 2015

We started off 2015 with two great months of country music. So it was only natural that March would be a let down. Mainstream country music only produced one pretty good album along with a bunch of garbage. Fortunately independent and alt-country came through with some great releases, including an album of the year candidate. Putting together a top ten this month was a little easier as a few albums dominated the majority of the top ten. Let’s take a look at the best ten country songs of March 2015…

  1. Houndmouth – “15 Years” – The aforementioned album of the year candidate was Houndmouth’s new album Little Neon Limelight and it’s littered with great songs. If you haven’t checked this album out yet, you need to asap. While there were a lot of great songs, the song stood out for me the most was “15 Years.” It essentially captures the feeling of the entire album. It’s fun, well-written, contains good harmonies and the instrumentation is spot-on. Ironically once the song is finished playing, you can hear one of the members say, “Yeah I totally botched that.” If that’s what botched sounds like, give me botched music.
  2. Striking Matches – “Hanging On A Lie” – Mainstream country music wasn’t good at all in the month of March, except for one group. If you want to call them mainstream that is. That group is Striking Matches and their debut album Nothing But The Silence, which is surprisingly pretty good. Derek rightly praised this album for its brilliant harmonies and engaging ballads. I didn’t expect to like it as much, but I enjoyed listening to this album thoroughly. Country music is struggling to find new music on radio, yet this song is right under their noses. Put “Hanging On A Lie” on the radio please.
  3. Allison Moorer – “If I Were Stronger” – Moorer’s first new album in several years, Down To Believing, had a lot of good music throughout. There’s one particular three song stretch on the album though that just blows me away. One of those songs and the third of those three songs is “If I Were Stronger.” This sounds like a stirring ballad you would hear from Martina McBride in the 90s and that isn’t a bad thing. Moorer’s voice soars in this song and the piano gives it the perfect tone.
  4. Lindi Ortega – “Tell It Like It Is” – Can Ortega’s new album come out already? “Tell It Like It Is” is the first song off of it and if it’s any indication of what we’re in for with the album, it may be a candidate for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year award. The Canadians’ sultry voice and the bluesy instrumentation combine to produce an alluring and enjoyable song. Again I can’t wait to hear the album.
  5. Houndmouth – “By God” – The second appearance from Houndmouth and the song that rounds out the top five is “By God.” Here’s what I had to say about this song in my album review of Little Neon Limelight: “By God” is a rock country song with a rocking beat and a subtle, sinister undertone. It’s about a man who has things going wrong around him and insisting for them to “turn out the lights,” but to leave his “candle burning.” The harmonies are spot-on throughout. Everything in this song simply works to make for one of the best songs on the album. 
  6. Brandi Carlile – “The Stranger At My Door” – Carlile makes her first appearance in the March top ten with “The Stranger At My Door.” It’s from her fiery and damn good album The Firewatcher’s Daughter. This song in particular is quite dark while brilliantly blending country, folk, blues and rock. At the end of the song though it crashes into a rock ‘n roll frenzy and really adds an exclamation point it. This is another album you definitely need to hear.
  7. Allison Moorer – “Down To Believing” – The second Moorer song to make the top ten is also part of the great stretch of three songs on the album. It’s the album’s title track, “Down To Believing,” which is a song that grapples with a difficult relationship and whether it’s worth holding onto. Moorer drew from her past relationship with fellow alt-country artist Steve Earle, so the feelings being expressed by Moorer in this song are real and genuine. It’s makes for emotional and touching music.
  8. Striking Matches – “Make A Liar Out of Me” – The other standout song to me on Striking Matches’ debut album is “Make A Liar Out of Me.” What makes this song so great is you can sense the chemistry between Davis and Zimmerman is completely in-sync. It makes the song feel more believable and emotional. Kudos to producer T Bone Burnett for getting the production just right on this song too.
  9. Rick Elliot – “Let It Shine” – The California, old school country artist makes his first appearance on a Country Perspective top ten list with his second single, “Let It Shine.” And that’s only because I reviewed his first single after that month’s top ten list was published. “Let It Shine” is a brilliant throwback to the Bakersfield sound, while also sounding modern. Elliot’s voice is flawlessly brilliant. The best is yet to come for this young country artist.
  10. Brandi Carlile – “The Eye” – The top ten list for March is rounded out by another Brandi Carlile song, “The Eye.” From my review of the album: “Carlile’s powerful voice punctuates through on “The Eye.” Her powerful voice combined with the backing vocals of the twins, it makes for great harmony.”  

Honorable Mentions:

  • Brandi Carlile – “Beginning To Feel The Years”
  • Houndmouth – “Gasoline” & “Darlin'” 
  • Allison Moorer – “Tear Me Apart”
  • Ronnie Reno – “All That’s Worth Remembering” 

 

Album Review – Striking Matches’ Nothing But The Silence is an Energetic, Entertaining Debut

Watch out Florida Georgia Line. Why don’t you boys take a step aside and watch a brand new mainstream country duo do what you guys have never done, which is making worthy, entertaining music. Now, I know Striking Matches aren’t quite brand new; their self-titled EP back in 2012 was praised by outlets like NPR and the BBC. Not to mention the number of songs they’ve had recorded on the hit TV show Nashville. But their first full-length album, Nothing But the Silence, has now been released to the masses, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. With a radio market unwilling to play well written slow songs because they’re “tempo killers,” Nothing But the Silence offers 11 great, well-written tracks, many of which won’t kill the tempo of country radio’s constant party atmosphere. The duo, Sarah Zimmerman and Justin Davis, also act like a real musical duo. They trade the lead vocals on songs, verses, even lines within verses, and harmonize together at almost every moment. Together, their voices shine and deliver on this album.

Nothing But the Silence kicks off the rocking duet “Trouble Is As Trouble Does.” It’s a new relationship for the two of them, but he’s the bad seed that influences her to rebel a bit out of her well-behaved lifestyle. Yet, she can’t stay away from trouble. This up-tempo rocker is led by both Zimmerman and Davis’ acoustic guitar licks. Yes, acoustic guitars on this rocking, fast paced song. It’s a great track that shows what Striking Matches are capable of in both vocals and musicianship. Davis leads the way on “Make A Liar Out Of Me.” He’s been burned by love and vowed to never love again. Her love however is tempting enough where he encourages her to make him a liar; he wants her love. With a bluesy guitar in the forefront creating an infectious rhythm and a fantastic guitar solo on the song’s outro, “Make A Liar Out Of Me” stands out as one of the better tracks here.

The pair slow it down for the title track. Their relationship has fallen to a point where they aren’t speaking to one another. Davis leads the vocals here again, and pleads for communication to happen. “There’s nothing but the silence in between us that hasn’t already been broken…can we break it tonight?” Sarah Zimmerman’s harmonies on this track are a perfect fit behind Davis. Though the lyrics can get repetitive here, “Nothing But The Silence” still tells a great story. “Hanging On A Lie” is another one of the top tracks on this album. Zimmerman takes the lead on this song about calling out her man on his lies. She knows it’s over; she knows he’s a liar, and she simply wants him to spit out the truth before she leaves. The production on this song is fantastic: a grooving beat behind Zimmerman’s wonderful vocals creates a beautiful melody on this country rock tune.

“Never Gonna Love Again” is a solid mid-tempo track. A noteworthy percussion beat drives this song where Zimmerman sings of catching her man cheating on her. This breaks her spirit to the point where she believes she’ll never love again. Again, this a song that features a bit of repetition with the lyrics, but Zimmerman’s vocals are nearly flawless here. She sells the pain and anger of the situation presented on this song. And after an intense heartbreak song, Striking Matches brings forth one the best love songs I’ve heard in a while. “When The Right One Comes Along” was a tune featured on Nashville, but reproduced a bit on this album. A soft electric guitar and a simple drum beat behind Sarah’s beautiful vocals. The song discusses how you’ll know in your heart when you meet the one. “There’s no music, no confetti. Crowds don’t cheer and bells won’t ring. But you’ll know it, I can guarantee, when the right one comes along.” It’s a love song that tells a beautiful story without tired, clichéd bits from almost every other love song in existence.

“What A Broken Heart Feels Like” bring back the duets of Sarah and Justin. The two trade lines and harmonize well and talk about the aftermath of a breakup. Reminders from photographs and support from friends can’t change the immediate pain one feels after a relationship ends. On “Miss Me More” the relationship ends on a bit of bitter note. He ends it and tries to move on, and she calls him out on how much he’ll miss her afterwards. She doesn’t want him to crawl back to her though. This song features a great harmonies (have I mentioned that already?) on top of a simple, rocking upbeat production. Yet, the relationship on “Like Lovers,” while still ending, wishes to end of strong note. It’s a slow tempo ballad where the couple wants to walk away like lovers.

Up next is “Missing You Tonight.” As Josh wrote in his review of the song, “it’s a tad repetitive and I was really waiting for the climax of this song to blow me away. Instead it was kind of whimper. I could say the same of the instrumentation. They simply didn’t reach the full potential of this song.” There’s not a bad song on this album, but I’d say “Missing You Tonight” is the weakest of the bunch. The song, in it’s production and vocal performances, seems much more subdued than the rest of the album, especially compared to the first two tracks. The album ends on a slow note with “God And You.” It’s another love song, this time led by Justin Davis. He sings how he carries a hard heart and stubborn personality. Yet the only two who have been able to successfully challenge his personality and bring out his venerable side are God and his love. It’s another unique love song with great lyrics.

Overall, Nothing But The Silence shines as a great debut album. Producer T Bone Burnett brings out his signature style for Striking Matches. At times, the songs can find themselves to be repetitive. Lyrics are repeated over and over again, and the similar themes can find themselves a bit tiring. However, there’s a unique production among the songs; and the music is truly unlike what you hear on country radio. There’s an energy and life within this album, especially on the mid tempo and upbeat tracks. Striking Matches have a reputation for energetic performances, and it’s easy to see why after hearing this album. If country radio latches onto Striking Matches, than we’re in for a treat. They are one of the best country duos out there; miles better than the aforementioned Florida Georgia Line, Dan + Shay, and Thompson Square. Nothing But The Silence comes highly recommended: well-written songs and stories with a fresh, entertaining production.

Grade: 8/10

 

Review – Laura Joy’s “Takes A While”

Laura Joy

The Chicago music scene is certainly an interesting one and over the years has produced a variety of different artists from nearly every genre. One artist you might find playing at a local bar cheering up local bar patrons is singer-songwriter Laura Joy. Her approach to music would be described as a minimalist, as she writes her own songs and simply needs her own acoustic guitar to make music. Joy has played at music festivals across the midwest over the past few years and plays a minimum of 50 shows per year. On March 5 she came out with a new EP titled Between Our Words. The lead single from that EP is “Takes A While” and today I’m going to take a look at it.

Right away you’ll notice the playing of her acoustic guitar drives the rhythm of this song, along with the drums. It’s kept quite simple and to me that’s just fine. Too many songs nowadays are drowned out by terrible, overproduced instrumentation. Less is more, as I always say. Joy’s vocals are precise, crisp and smooth. I can see why her voice and approach have been compared to the likes of Joni Mitchell and Alison Krauss. I can definitely sense the similarities. Joy pulls off spoken word well in this song too.

“Takes A While” is a song about life. In the opening lyrics it talks about how life can feel so slow and it seems hard to see the big picture. But as we all learn throughout life you simply learn more with each step and it takes a while to see life for what it is. In the middle of the song Joy sings about babies, jobs and lovers, subjects we all deal with. She seems exasperated taking it all in, but reminds herself once again life is long:

“take a break take a break take a break / take in the view / everything you give comes back to you / and are these actual miles? / step by step it takes a while”

So by the end of the song the lesson learned is that you just need to enjoy life to the fullest every day and that all you give will eventually come back to you. It’s a great and true message.

Joy’s brand of indie folk music on display in “Takes A While” is intriguing and exploratory. The lyrics really make the listener think about the message being said and even reflect on their own life. The instrumentation is upbeat and pleasing to the ears, which makes it easy for listeners to consume. Of course you can’t forget Joy’s vocals, which to me are her biggest asset. I think she knows this too, as her voice is front and center on the song. If you’re into singer-songwriter, indie folk type music I would definitely recommend checking “Takes A While” out.

Grade: 7.5/10

 

Photo Courtesy: laurajoymusic.com

Billboard Top 25 Country Albums This Week [April 4]

Luke-Bryan-Spring-Break-Checkin-Out

  1. Luke Bryan – Spring Break…Checkin’ Out (Grade: 2.5/10)
  2. Sam Hunt – Montevallo  (Grade: 1/10)
  3. Jason Aldean – Old Boots, New Dirt (Grade: 3/10)
  4. Florida Georgia Line – Anything Goes (Grade: 0/10)
  5. Chase Rice – Ignite the Night (Grade: 2/10)
  6. Eric Church – The Outsiders
  7. Carrie Underwood – Greatest Hits: Decade #1
  8. Miranda Lambert – Platinum
  9. Luke Bryan – Crash My Party
  10. Shania Twain – Shania: Still The One: Live From Las Vegas
  11. Asleep At The Wheel – Still The King: Celebrating The Music of Bob Wills And His Texas Playboys 
  12. Luke Bryan – Spring Break…The Set List: The Complete Spring Break Collection ZinePak
  13. Zac Brown Band – Greatest Hits So Far…
  14. Cole Swindell – Cole Swindell
  15. Little Big Town – Pain Killer (Grade: 3/10)
  16. Garth Brooks – Man Against Machine (Grade: 7.5/10)
  17. Brantley Gilbert – Just As I Am (Grade: 5/10)
  18. Blake Shelton – Bringing Back The Sunshine (Grade: 4/10)
  19. Kenny Chesney – The Big Revival (Grade: 4.5/10)
  20. Lee Brice – I Don’t Dance (Grade: 5/10)
  21. Aaron Watson – The Underdog (Grade: 8/10)
  22. Tim McGraw – Sundown Heaven Town (Grade: 7.5/10)
  23. George Strait – The Cowboy Rides Away: Live From AT&T Stadium
  24. Dierks Bentley – Riser
  25. Thomas Rhett – It Goes Like This

Notes:

  • Luke Bryan and Sam Hunt stay at #1 and #2 respectively this week.
  • Shania Twain’s Shania: Still The One: Live From Vegas album was this week’s biggest loser, which fell seven spots from #3 to #10.
  • Luke Bryan’s complete spring break albums collection was also this week’s biggest losers, falling seven spots to #12.
  • This week’s biggest gainer is the Bob Wills tribute album, Still The King: Celebrating The Music of Bob Wills And His Texas Playboys, which moved up 19 spots from #30 to #11.
  • Sturgill Simpson fell out of the top 25 this week with his 2014 album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music album. While it fell out this week, it could re-emerge in the top 25 next week thanks to an endorsement on national television this past week. American Idol judge and fellow country artist Keith Urban, a noted big fan of Sturgill, wore a Simpson shirt on the show this past week:

Source: Billboard