Country Perspective’s Best of Country & Americana Music – February 2016

Best of February 2016

Time to take look at the best of February! I can’t believe how fast that month flew by. If you’re not familiar or just started reading the blog, here’s the drill: Each month all three of us writers will take a look back on the month that was and share our thoughts on the music that was released and some of our favorites. Below that will be a Spotify playlist of all the songs we enjoyed. If you’re a fan of Spotify and use it, we have good news as we have a Country Perspective Spotify page. You can check it out and subscribe here. So let’s talk about the month of February!

Josh 

While February may be the shortest month on the calendar, it was not short on great music from country and Americana. The month kicked off with a bang with the release of the self-titled debut album of Dori Freeman. The Virginia artist absolutely blew me away with her brilliant voice and songwriting. From the very first listen I knew I was hearing something special. It’s really hard to pick favorites on an album like this one, but “Ain’t Nobody” and “Fine Fine Fine” were the standouts. The stripped down approach to “Ain’t Nobody” pays off in spades, as Freeman will enthrall you with her voice. On “Fine Fine Fine” you get a firsthand taste at Freeman’s sharp and witty lyrics. If you haven’t heard this album yet, I suggest you go listen to it.

As for the rest of the month, Charles Kelley and Vince Gill delivered above average albums with some nice moments on each. On Kelley’s The Driver, “Leaving Nashville” is hands down the best on it, as Kelley paints a perfect picture of the struggles of the up and coming artist on Music Row. The legendary Gill shines a few times on his new album Down To My Last Bad Habit, most notably on “I Can’t Do This” and “Sad One Comin’ On.” Another artist who impressed with a self-titled debut album was Addison Johnson, who’s all-around traditional approach makes for an enjoyable listening experience. And finally an album that we have yet to review, but plan on reviewing really soon that caught my eye is Caleb Caudle’s Carolina Ghost. It’s a damn fine album and I urge you to check it out and our review of it too.

Derek

Once again, February brings forth a good collection of country music, with Dori Freeman coming away as the month’s best hidden gem. Her self titled debut album was excellent, and her song “Ain’t Nobody” stands as the month’s best song in my opinion. The acapella delivery with the finger snaps is perfect and unique. The other stand out album to me was Addison Johnson’s I’m Just a Song. The traditional country arrangement of the album sounded great, with top-notch songwriting. “My Last Song” and the album’s title track were my favorites on Johnson’s album.

While a little lack-luster, Vince Gill’s Down to My Last Bad Habit was still an enjoyable listen. Gill’s voice sounds great on the album, but it’s the tribute song to George Jones, “Sad One Comin’ On” that sits on the top-level of that album. The Infamous Stringdusters’ ensemble album, Ladies and Gentlemen, is also an album worth checking out from the last month. The bluegrass band brought in guest vocalist for every track, including Lee Ann Womack for “I Believe.” It’s always a treat to hear Womack sing. Also, Celia Woodsmith’s “Old Whiskey Bottle” with The Infamous Stringdusters is an excellent song from February.

Zack

Much like January, February was a fantastic month for country music. The year is still very young, and yet we already have found a formidable album of the year contender with Dori Freeman. Her self-titled debut album was filled with wonderful songs such as the modern-day “Sixteen Days” with “Ain’t Nobody,” the Dolly Parton-esqué “Tell Me,” and the wonderful “Lullaby.” If the rest of the albums in 2016 are even half as good, then we’re in for a great year of country music. Then we had the excellent country gold collection from Addison Johnson titled “I’m Just A Song.” Honestly my only complaint with this album is the length. It’s that good. And though Charles Kelley didn’t make a great album, The Driver still had some excellent cuts like “Southern Accents” and the brutally honest “Leaving Nashville.”

Although we haven’t reviewed them yet, I also quite enjoyed the latest albums from Wynonna & The Big Noise, as well as the Waco Brothers. Neither are exactly strictly country, but the former has some great blues moments while the latter is a fantastic slice of alt-country. My favorite track from Wynonna’s was “Jesus and A Jukebox,” while my favorite track from the Waco Brothers is “We Know It.”

With new releases from Loretta Lynn, Chris King, Margo Price, and Dave Cobb’s super project coming this March, I honestly think the number of album of the year contenders is going to skyrocket. And we’ll certainly be better for it.

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The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music [December 1999]

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This is the past pulse of mainstream country music. Every week, I take a look at the Billboard Country Airplay Chart (or, “Hot Country Songs” as it used to be called) from years ago and grade the top 30 songs. Each week will be a different year. Each song on the chart will receive either a +1, 0, or -1. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the top 30 songs with the highest score being a +30 and the lowest possible score being a -30. Songs rated between a 7 and 10 will receive a +1. Songs rated either 5 or 6 will receive a 0. Songs rated 4 or lower will receive a -1.

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the past state of mainstream country music and determine if it was better or worse compared to now. To see the full list of the top 30 country airplay songs for this week, click here. This week I will take a look at the top 30 songs of the Billboard Hot Country Songs from December 4, 1999.

  1. Clint Black – “When I Said I Do (w/ Lisa Hartman Black)” 0
  2. John Michael Montgomery – “Home To You” +1
  3. Martina McBride – “I Love You” -1 [Worst Song]
  4. Brad Paisley – “He Didn’t Have To Be” +1
  5. Faith Hill – “Breathe” +1
  6. Shania Twain – “Come On Over” -1
  7. Tim McGraw – “Something Like That” +1
  8. Yankee Grey – “All Things Considered” +1
  9. George Strait – “What Do You Say To That” +1
  10. Reba – “What Do You Say” +1
  11. Alan Jackson – “Pop A Top” +1
  12. LeAnn Rimes – “Big Deal” 0
  13. Dixie Chicks – “Cowboy Take Me Away” +1
  14. Andy Griggs – “I’ll Go Crazy” +1
  15. Tim McGraw – “My Best Friend” +1
  16. Steve Wariner – “I’m Already Taken” +1
  17. Kenny Chesney – “She Thinks My Tractors Sexy” -1
  18. Randy Travis – “A Man Ain’t Made Of Stone” +1
  19. Lonestar – “Amazed” 0
  20. Clay Walker – “Live, Laugh, Love” 0
  21. Jo Dee Messina – “Lesson In Leavin’” +1
  22. Lonestar – “Smile” 0
  23. Ty Herndon – “Steam” 0
  24. Tracy Byrd – “Put Your Hand In Mine” +1
  25. Gary Allan – “Smoke Rings In The Dark” +1 [Best Song]
  26. Joe Diffie – “The Quittin’ Kind” +1
  27. Brooks & Dunn – “Beer Thirty” 0
  28. Keith Urban – “It’s A Love Thing” -1
  29. Trace Adkins – “Don’t Lie” +1
  30. SHeDAISY – “This Woman Needs” +1

The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music: +15

Wow, a double-digit positive score, and one that’s halfway to a perfect score! Sure beats 2010 from last week. As you all remember, 2010 didn’t even have a Pulse! As a child of the 2000s, I have to admit I was very unfamiliar with a few of these songs and artists prior to conducting this pulse. That’s why doing this particular Past Pulse was especially fun. I get to discover some great new songs! First of all, I never had once heard of Yankee Gray. “All Things Considered” isn’t exactly something anyone would call “deep”, but it’s fun enough with the catchy melody and bouncy fiddles. This was their only top 10 hit. Elsewhere, while I am familiar with artists such as Clint Black, John Michael Montgomery, Steve Wariner, and Tracy Byrd, I can’t say that I had ever heard any of their respective singles on this chart. I’ve also never heard a single SHeDAISY song despite hearing of them multiple times. “This Woman Needs” is a pretty enjoyable country-pop tune.

However, I’m not totally out of tune with what was going on in 1999. Alan Jackson’s “Pop A Top” was (and still is) a damn catchy tune that hardly feels like a cover song at all. And of course there’s the monster hit by the Dixie Chicks with “Cowboy Take Me Away.” I can understand why they are a very polarizing band to many, but when you look at them from a pure musical standpoint, they were a very talented group who made some fine country music. With Gary Allan, they share the honor of being tied for the best song on this chart. I’ve always loved “Smoke Rings In The Dark” for its dark, ominous atmosphere and sharp lyrics combined with Gary’s vocal delivery. In fact, it’s probably my favorite Gary song ever. Oh, can we also talk about how awesome Trace Adkins is when he’s trying to be a serious country singer? The man has always had a set of pipes, and when he’s not doing the whole “Swing” or “Honkytonk Badonkadonk” crap, he’s excellent.

But of course, at any given moment there’s always some type of bad in country music, even in 1999. Hell, I’m sure at one point somebody somewhere declared Kenny Chesney’s “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” the worst country song in history. Nowadays it wouldn’t come anywhere close. Elsewhere, we had Martina McBride’s annoying “I Love You” which easily is the worst song here. To put it bluntly, this song sounds extremely immature and annoying. And then of course we have “Come On Over.” Now, I actually like Shania Twain for the most part, but this song is just terrible and definitely didn’t belong on country radio, especially not in 1999. Keith Urban’s first song also wasn’t great either. But that’s it folks. FOUR negative scores on the pulse. Nowadays that’s about as many positive scores you’ll find on the pulse. Evolution my ass.

If you have any questions as to why I gave a certain song the score I did, or perhaps just want to make your own Pulse, sound off in the comments!

The Hodgepodge: A Historical Snapshot of Kris Kristofferson

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From left to right: Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson & Waylon Jennings

“Renaissance Man” may be the perfect way to describe Kris Kristofferson. Kris attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. He was a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army. He was an athlete in high school running distance, playing rugby, football, and was a Golden Gloves boxer. After leaving the Army in 1965, Kristofferson was offered a teaching position at West Point. After the offer came through, Kristofferson says, “I was in Nashville for two weeks on leave between assignments. I just fell in love with the music community that was going on there.” With all those accomplishments and a wealth of high-end opportunities on the horizon, Kris decided to take a different path and remain in Nashville. Call him crazy, but he took a job as a janitor at Columbia Records, intent on finding success as a singer and songwriter in country music.

It took a few years, but Kris Kristofferson eventually found success in Nashville with his songwriting. Roger Miller gave him his first break when he recorded one of Kristofferson’s most well-known songs, “Me and Bobby McGee.” The song was written upon request by Monument Records’ Fred Foster who gave Kris the title “Me and Bobby McKee.” (Bobby McKee was a secretary in the building). But Kris misheard Foster and thought he said “McGee.” Kris found inspiration from the film La Strada and composed the lyrics to one of music’s best songs (in this writer’s opinion).

After Miller recorded “Me and Bobby McGee,” it was Johnny Cash’s recording of “Sunday Morning Coming Down” that thrusted Kris Kristofferson into spotlight. “Sunday Morning Coming Down” was awarded song of the year at the 1970 CMAs. Recognition continued for Kris with his second album Silver Tounged Devil and I being released in 1971, along with some more songwriting nominations for “Help me Make It Through The Night”, “Me and Bobby McGee” and “For the Good Times.”

Kris’ more poetic style of writing didn’t fit in with the Nashville Sound and style that was popular in the 1960s and 70s. He was proud of his writing style and story telling and didn’t waver for anyone, an attitude which rightfully positioned him with the Outlaws alongside Waylon and Willie. And along with Cash, those Outlaws formed the supergroup The Highwaymen and recorded Highwayman, an album whose title track remains one of country’s more famous songs.

When it came to writing, Kris says, “I’ve always felt that it was my was my job to tell the truth as I saw it, just the same as Hank Williams did and the way Bob Dylan did. It was important to me and I think I probably antagonised [sic] some audiences.” Kristofferson had stories to tell and love for music. His devotion to that mindset and attitude trumped everything else. “I was so in love with the thing I was doing, I wasn’t conscious of really not being very successful like the rest of my family was.”

Kristofferson exemplified an Outlaw not because he put up an over-masculine facade or sang songs about being a tough bad-ass, but because he blazed his own path to stardom and success. Kris Kirstofferson didn’t go down the Chet Atkins’ trail of corporate regurgitated country music. He did it his own way, and that’s why he was considered a country outlaw. Kris Kristofferson’s influence on country music holds steady even today. Next month, there will be an all-star tribute show in Kris’ honor. Taking place on March 16 at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, The Life & Songs of Kris Kristofferson will feature Willie Nelson, Eric Church, Rosanne Cash, Ryan Bingham, Jamey Johnson, and several others performing Kristofferson songs in honor of Kris’ musical achievements and legacy for country music.

There’s much more to Kris Kristofferson’s legacy. He has a rich history and story about the work he put in and the people he met along the way. For instance, Kristofferson famously landed a helicopter on Johnny Cash’s lawn in his early efforts of getting songs recorded. While Cash wasn’t home at the time of the landing, it nonetheless shows the lengths he went to get his music noticed. His resiliency to make his dream come true is inspiring. Kris Kristofferson put his blood, sweat, and tears into his music and took the long road to find success. The work paid off and he will forever stand as one of country music’s most influential trailblazer.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Tomorrow, Waco Brothers’ Going Down in History will be released.
  • Carolina Ghost from Caleb Caudle will be released tomorrow as well.
  • Granger Smith’s album Remington will hit the shelves March 4.
  • An album I am very much looking forward to: Margo Price’s Midwest Farmer’s Daughter will be released on March 26.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Sunday Morning Coming Down” Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson: Both Cash and Kristofferson have recorded the song, but does it get any better than these two singing the song together? Also, you can tell how proud Kristofferson is to sing his own song alongside Johnny Cash.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Janis Joplin. Sticking with the Kris Kristofferson take over, I suggest you all go listen to Janis Joplin, a singer I could endlessly listen to on shuffle. She and Kristofferson dated for a while up until Joplin’s untimely death. Janis Joplin also recorded “Me and Bobby McGee” for her excellent album, Pearl, which was released posthumously. Janis Joplin also recorded “Piece of My Heart” as lead singer of Big Brother and the Holding Company. That song was later recorded by Faith Hill in 1994.

Tweet of the Week

That’s enticing, but I probably still wouldn’t join Tidal for that either.

A LoCash iTunes Review

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I’ve only heard “I Love This Life” from the radio, but this review tells me everything I need to know about LoCash, and what I know is I don’t want to listen to them if they’re taking notes from Florida Georgia Line and Sam Hunt.

Great Music Currently at Country Radio [February 24]

The very best of country radio right here in a nice playlist. In order for a song to be added to the list, it must currently be in the top 60 of the Billboard Country Airplay chart, so this will be updated weekly. Here’s where all the songs currently stand on the chart:

14. Chris Stapleton – “Nobody To Blame”

16. Maren Morris – “My Church”

22. Tim McGraw – “Humble and Kind”

24. Jon Pardi – “Head Over Boots”

26. Maddie & Tae – “Shut Up and Fish” 

30. Frankie Ballard – “It All Started With A Beer”

31. Justin Moore – “You Look Like I Need A Drink”

33. Kip Moore – “Running For You”

34. Jennifer Nettles – “Unlove You” 

35. Big & Rich (feat. Tim McGraw) – “Lovin’ Lately”

40. Eric Church – “Record Year”

41. William Michael Morgan – “I Met A Girl”

45. Charles Kelley (feat. Dierks Bentley & Eric Paslay) – “The Driver”

48. Cam – “Mayday” 

49. Billy Currington – “It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To”

52. Toby Keith – “Beautiful Stranger”

57. Brothers Osborne – “21 Summer” [New]

60. Vince Gill (feat. Little Big Town) – “Take Me Down” 

 

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music [February 22]

Each week I take a look the Billboard Country Airplay chart and grade the top 30 songs. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive either a +1, -1 or a 0. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the current top thirty country songs, with the highest possible score being a +30 and the lowest possible score being a -30. How do I determine if a song is rated a +1, -1 or 0? The rating it received on the site or myself will determine this. If it hasn’t been rated yet, then I will make the call. Songs rated between 7 and 10 receive a +1. Songs rated a 5 or 6 receive a 0. Songs rated 4 or lower receive a -1.

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the current state of mainstream country music and determine if it’s improving or getting worse. Let’s take a look at this week’s top thirty…

  1. Kelsea Ballerini – “Dibs” -1 (Up 2)
  2. Granger Smith – “Backroad Song” -1 (Down 1)
  3. Carrie Underwood – “Heartbeat” (Up 1)
  4. Luke Bryan & Karen Fairchild – “Home Alone Tonight” -1 (Down 2)
  5. Randy Houser – “We Went” -1 (Up 2)
  6. Keith Urban – “Break On Me” -1 (Down 1)
  7. Zac Brown Band – “Beautiful Drug” -1 (Up 1)
  8. Thomas Rhett – “Die A Happy Man” -1 (Down 2)
  9. Brett Eldredge – “Drunk on Your Love” -1 (Up 3)
  10. Cole Swindell – “You Should Be Here” -1 
  11. Florida Georgia Line – “Confession” 
  12. Chase Bryant – “Little Bit of You” -1 (Up 1)
  13. Rascal Flatts – “I Like The Sound of That” -1 (Up 1)
  14. Chris Stapleton – “Nobody To Blame” +1 (Up 1)
  15. Old Dominion – “Snapback” -1 (Up 1)
  16. Maren Morris – “My Church” +1 (Up 1)
  17. Dustin Lynch – “Mind Reader” -1 (Up 2)
  18. Lee Brice – “That Don’t Sound Like You” -1 
  19. Chris Young & Cassadee Pope – “Think of You” (Up 2)
  20. Dierks Bentley – “Somewhere On A Beach” -1 (Up 2)
  21. Michael Ray – “Real Men Love Jesus” -1 (Down 1)
  22. Tim McGraw – “Humble and Kind” +1 (Up 2)
  23. Brantley Gilbert – “Stone Cold Sober” -1 
  24. Jon Pardi – “Head Over Boots” +1 (Up 2)
  25. Chris Lane – “Fix” -1 [Worst Song]
  26. Maddie & Tae – “Shut Up and Fish” +1 (Up 1) [Best Song]
  27. Tyler Farr – “Better in Boots” -1 (Up 1)
  28. Thomas Rhett – “T-Shirt” -1 (New to Top 30)
  29. David Nail – “Night’s On Fire” -1
  30. Frankie Ballard – “It All Started With a Beer” +1

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: -15

The pulse stayed the same this week. 

Songs That Dropped Out of the Top 30 This Week:

  • Sam Hunt – “Break Up in a Small Town” (Finally Country Perspective’s 2015 Worst Song of the Year is gone!)

Songs That Entered The Top 30 This Week:

  • Thomas Rhett – “T-Shirt”

Song I Predict Will Be #1 Next Week:

  • Carrie Underwood – “Heartbeat”

Biggest Gainers This Week:

  • Thomas Rhett – “T-Shirt” – Up 5 from #33 to #28
  • Brett Eldredge – “Drunk on Your Love” – Up 3 from #12 to #9
  • Multiple songs moved up two spots on the chart

Biggest Losers This Week:

  • Sam Hunt – “Break Up In A Small Town” – Out of the Top 30
  • Luke Bryan & Karen Fairchild – “Home Alone Tonight” – Down 2 from #2 to #4
  • Thomas Rhett – “Die A Happy Man” – Down 2 from #6 to #8

Songs I See Going Recurrent & Leaving The Top 30 Soon:

  • Thomas Rhett – “Die A Happy Man”
  • Brantley Gilbert – “Stone Cold Sober”
  • Tyler Farr – “Better in Boots”

On The Hot Seat:

  • David Nail – “Night’s On Fire”
  • Rascal Flatts – “I Like The Sound of That” (With Dan + Shay entering the top 30, we can’t have two Rascal Flatts in the top 30 at the same time…. I’m kidding. Maybe)

Next Four Songs I See Entering Top 30:

  • Justin Moore – “You Look Like I Need A Drink”
  • Dan + Shay – “From The Ground Up”
  • Jennifer Nettles – “Unlove You”
  • Eric Church – “Record Year”

 

As always be sure to weigh in on this week’s chart in the comments below.