The Hodgepodge: My Favorite Hidden and Forgotten Country Gems

Country music is full of great artists and songs that carry out the rich tradition of country music. Most of these artists don’t get their deserved spotlight or recognition for whatever reason. Below I’ve listed some of my favorite artists and songs that we haven’t really covered here on Country Perspective. And I’ve also tossed in a deep cut from a mainstream artist for good measure. As always, the goal of this is just throw out some names and songs you may not be familiar in an effort to introduce you to some good music you may have missed along the way.

Levi Lowrey – “Wherever We Break Down”

Levi Lowrey is a collaborator with the Zac Brown Band, but has three rather good albums of his own. I think Lowrey is a great songwriter and has a wonderful voice. “Wherever We Break Down” is one of my favorite songs from Lowrey. It’s a love song about a couple trying to make ends meet.

Michaela Anne – “Lift Me Up”

I first heard this song while standing in line at Starbucks and it immediately caught my attention. One of the few times I ever used the app Shazam was with this song and thus I discovered Michaela Anne. A great callback country sound and a budding Americana star with an album due out later this year, Michaela Anne is a name you should familiarize yourself with if you haven’t yet.

Chris Young – “The Dashboard”

Back before he was singing bro country or boring heartbreak songs, Chris Young sang true, traditional story country songs. His first two albums are gems themselves. This song revolves around a pickup truck, but the story is nostalgic trip through time between the narrator and his military brother.

Keeley Valentino – “Hosea”

Keeley Valentino’s most recent EP got high praise from me, and I think she is one of the best vocalists I’ve heard. Off her second album, Three Cities, this song deals with the central characters trying to overcome a tough life at home. She wrote this with Randey Foster, and showcases great storytelling and delivery.

The Wood Brothers – “The Muse”

Zac Brown Band covered this song on their Grohl Sessions Vol. 1 EP, but The Wood Brothers’ original recording is one to listen to. Much more stripped back with a sound akin to Mumford & Sons, The Wood Brothers have 10 years worth of music to dive into.

Judson Cole Band – “Poor Widow’s Fate”

This Texas band released their debut album late in 2014, an album which I reviewed. It’s still a rather new song, but I song I wanted to highlight again because the more I listen to it, the better I like it. A slick, rowdy southern rock song dealing with an outlaw cowboy. The chorus is catchy and the song’s writing is sharp.

I’d love to hear some of your favorite lesser known country acts, albums, or deep cuts from more well-known artists.

Upcoming and Recent Country Releases

  • Robbie Fulks Upland Stories will be released Friday, April 1st.
  • Elephant Revival will release Petals on April 1st.
  • Granger Smith’s newest single will be “If The Boot Fits.” We’ll have a review for that song soon.
  • On The ACM’s, Carrie Underwood will sing “Church Bells” her next radio single.
  • Keith Urban’s new single is called “Wasted Time.”

Throwback Thursday Songs

In honor of the newest inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame, I’m going to have two Throwback Thursday Songs, one from Charlie Daniels and one from Randy Travis. Producer Fred Foster was the third inductee this year. Foster’s career highlights include producing some of Ray Orbison’s biggest hits like “Oh, Pretty Woman.” Foster also helped jump-start Dolly Parton’s career as well as Kris Kristofferson, with whom Foster co-wrote “Me and Bobby McGee.”

“Devil Went Down to Georgia” Charlie Daniels Band

 

“Forever And Ever Amen” Randy Travis

 

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

“Only Love Can Break Your Heart” by Neil Young. This song inspired a novel of the same written by Ed Tarkington. I recently finished the novel and went on a little Neil Young kick afterwards, as classic rock shows up quite a bit throughout the novel. This was recorded on Young’s After The Gold Rush in 1970, and became his first top-40 single.

Tweet of the Week

In a rare public appearance since his stroke, Randy Travis made his way to the podium and said “Thank You” in response to learning of his induction to the Country Music HOF.

A Great iTunes Review

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 10.14.35 AM

From Kane Brown’s EP, this review highlights some great points for making good country music by quoting the chorus from David Allan Coe’s “The Ride.”

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Worst Country Artist 2016 Tournament: Vote on the Frightful Four!

Frightful Four Country Perspective's 2016 Worst Country Artist Tournament

Welcome to the semifinal of Country Perspective’s 2016 Worst Country Artist Tournament! We’re now down to the Frightful Four. You know the drill: vote for who you think is the worst country artist in the match-up. Remember you have until Saturday, April 2 at 1 PM ET to vote, so be sure to get your votes in! If you have any questions feel free to ask in the comments below.

 

Country Perspective’s 2016 Worst Country Artist Tournament: The Frightful 4

The voting for the Egregious 8 of Country Perspective’s 2016 Worst Country Artist Tournament is now over and we’re even closer to crowing who’s the worst of all. The voting wasn’t quite as tight as I expected to be, but it was still pretty close for the most part in three of the polls. So who are the Frightful Four?

Frightful Four Country Perspective's 2016 Worst Country Artist Tournament

 

We start in the Pop Artists Region Final where #1 seed Sam Hunt easily beat #9 seed Kane Brown. Hunt netted nearly 66% of the vote, while Brown just got over 34%. It was the only true blowout in this round of voting, as Brown never really got close to toppling Hunt. Brown had a pretty good run in the tournament considering he’s just starting out and hasn’t even fully realized his awfulness yet. I’m sure we’ll see him back next year. As for Hunt, it has been his tournament to lose and he’s living up to the #1 seed he deservedly got. I fully expected him to make it here. Of course his next opponent will be his toughest yet…

That is of course the winner of the match-up in the We’re A Group & We Suck Region Final, where #4 seed Florida Georgia Line took on #5 seed Old Dominion. I expected this one to be the closet and while the early stages lived up to my expectations, the gap widened later in voting. In what I would call a surprise, Florida Georgia Line takes down Old Dominion, with Florida Georgia Line gaining over 58% of the vote and Old Dominion getting just over 41% of the vote. I was fully expecting Old Dominion to just edge out Florida Georgia Line, as their horribleness as been more on display and prevalent lately. But in the end Florida Georgia Line’s impact seemed to be the deciding factor. Personally I would have chosen Old Dominion, but it’s not up to me of course.

In the Good ‘Ol Bros Region Final #2 seed Thomas Rhett won comfortably over the Cinderella of the tournament, #10 seed Chase Rice. Rhett got over 58% of the vote to Rice’s nearly 42% of the vote. Just like Hunt, I expected Rhett to make it all the way here before finally meeting a true challenge. Rice put up a good fight and had the biggest surprise run of the tournament. Ultimately what prevented him from going any further was impact. I thought this would knock him out a round sooner, but it didn’t cost him until now. Rice’s next album will determine his status for next year’s tournament.

Finally in the Georgia Region we had the closest match-up in the Egregious Eight and the lone upset. Frankenstein’s monster took down his creator! #6 seed Cole Swindell upset #3 seed Luke Bryan, with Swindell edging out Bryan 52.94% to 47.06%. That’s a difference of just 12 votes. I’m not real surprised, as I viewed this as a big tossup amongst the voters. I knew it would be a really tough choice. In the end, enough people I believe took Bryan’s early material into consideration and went with Swindell based on the fact that he’s never released a good single. Really he’s never had one good song and is a poor, milquetoast facsimile of Bryan who actually shows charisma when he sings. With Bryan’s loss, he’s the first top seed to exit the tournament and preventing an all top seed semifinal.

We now move on to the Frightful Four of the tournament! The four truly terrible artists as determined by you the fans will square off to determine the championship match. In the first semifinal match-up, we have #1 seed Sam Hunt taking on the #4 seed Florida Georgia Line. Up to this point Hunt has taken down Steven Tyler, RaeLynn and Kane Brown. Meanwhile Florida Georgia Line has beaten The Cadillac Three, LoCash and Old Dominion. I personally predict Hunt will narrowly win this match-up, but then again the hate for Florida Georgia Line is still so strong that they have a fighting chance here. In the second semifinal match-up, we have #2 seed Thomas Rhett taking on the #6 seed Cole Swindell. Rhett has beaten Michael Ray, Justin Moore and Chase Rice. Swindell has had one of the most impressive runs of the tournament, taking down Granger Smith, Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan. Before this tournament began he’s one of the few I could see taking down and with the momentum he has, I can see him pulling off another upset. But Rhett has ripped off multiple artists and continues to rise up the charts, something you’ve all reminded me a lot.

Remember you can only vote once, as much as you want to vote for both. I can’t wait to see how the Frightful Four plays out! Thank you all to everyone who has voted and participated so far. We’re getting down to the truly worst and hope all of you will continue to participate. The polls for this round will open…tonight at 6:30 PM ET! Spread the word to all you know and be sure to vote! May the worst win!

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music [March 28]

Cole Swindell You Should Be Here

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. Cole Swindell – “You Should Be Here” -1 (Up 1)
  2. Brett Eldredge – “Drunk on Your Love” -1 (Up 1)
  3. Rascal Flatts – “I Like The Sound of That” -1 (Up 1)
  4. Florida Georgia Line – “Confession” (Up 1)
  5. Chase Bryant – “Irrelevant Song A Label is Pushing That Nobody Cares About”-1 (Up 2)
  6. Zac Brown Band – “Beautiful Drug” -1 (Down 5)
  7. Old Dominion – “Snapback” -1 (Up 1)
  8. Chris Young & Cassadee Pope – “Think of You” (Up 1)
  9. Carrie Underwood – “Heartbeat” (Down 3) 
  10. Dierks Bentley – “Somewhere On A Beach” -1 (Up 3)
  11. Dustin Lynch – “Mind Reader” -1 (Up 1)
  12. Chris Stapleton – “Nobody To Blame” +1 (Down 2)
  13. Maren Morris – “My Church” +1 (Down 2)
  14. Tim McGraw – “Humble and Kind” +1 
  15. Lee Brice – “That Don’t Sound Like You” -1 
  16. Blake Shelton – “Came Here To Forget” -1
  17. Thomas Rhett – “T-Shirt” -1
  18. Luke Bryan – “Huntin’, Fishin’ & Lovin’ Ever Day” -1 (Up 3)
  19. Jon Pardi – “Head Over Boots” +1 
  20. Brantley Gilbert – “Stone Cold Sober” -1 
  21. Kenny Chesney – “Noise” 0 (New to Top 30)
  22. Chris Lane – “Fix” -1 [Worst Song]
  23. Eric Church – “Record Year” +1 (Up 1) [Best Song]
  24. Frankie Ballard – “It All Started With a Beer” +1 (Up 1)
  25. David Nail – “Night’s On Fire” -1 (Up 1)
  26. Justin Moore – “You Look Like I Need A Drink” +1 (Up 1)
  27. Jake Owen – “American Generic Country Love Song” -1 (Up 3)
  28. Canaan Smith – “Irrelevant Song A Label is Pushing That Nobody Cares About”-1
  29. Dan + Shay – “From The Ground Up” 0
  30. Kip Moore – “Running For You” +1 (New to Top 30)

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: -9

The pulse improved by one this week. 

Songs That Dropped Out of the Top 30 This Week:

  • Michael Ray – “Real Men Love Jesus” (And good riddance!)
  • Maddie & Tae – “Shut Up & Fish” (This is a pretty big disappointment, but Maddie & Tae do not need radio. Artists who actually have talent don’t need radio. But I’ll expand on this at another time)

Songs That Entered The Top 30 This Week:

  • Kenny Chesney – “Noise”
  • Kip Moore – “Running For You”

Song I Predict Will Be #1 Next Week:

  • Brett Eldredge – “Drunk on Your Love”

Biggest Gainers This Week:

  • Dierks Bentley – “Somewhere On A Beach” – Up 3 from #13 to #10
  • Luke Bryan – “Huntin’, Fishin’ & Lovin’ Every Day” – Up 3 from #21 to #18
  • Jake Owen – “American Generic Country Love Song” – Up 3 from #30 to #27

Biggest Losers This Week:

  • Michael Ray – “Real Men Love Jesus” – Out of the Top 30
  • Maddie & Tae – “Shut Up & Fish” – Out of the Top 30
  • Zac Brown Band – “Beautiful Drug” – Down 5 from #1 to #6

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

  • Florida Georgia Line – “Confession” (It just lost a lot of spins today and rumors are swirling on a new single dropping soon)
  • Carrie Underwood – “Heartbeat”
  • Zac Brown Band – “Beautiful Drug”
  • Chase Bryant – “Irrelevant Song A Label is Pushing”
  • Lee Brice – “That Don’t Sound Like You”
  • Brantley Gilbert – “Stone Cold Sober”
  • David Nail – “Night’s On Fire”

On The Hot Seat:

  • Chris Lane – “Fix”

Next Four Songs I See Entering Top 30:

  • Sam Hunt – “Make You Miss Me”
  • William Michael Morgan – “I Met A Girl”
  • Big & Rich (feat. Tim McGraw) – “Lovin’ Lately”
  • Keith Urban – “Wasted Time”

 

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

Review – Kenny Chesney’s “Noise”

Kenny Chesney Noise

When you see the title of a song is “Noise,” there’s one thing that immediately comes to mind: if this is bad, at least its titled properly. In fact if I saw this was a Sam Hunt song, I would think, “Finally, he’s appropriately labeled his music.” But instead it’s Kenny Chesney and you unenthusiastically hit play. You won’t find a better definition of a mediocre to middle of the road artist than Chesney. After a decade or so of ripping off Jimmy Buffett, Chesney said he was getting more serious with his last album in 2014, The Big Revival. And….it was just the same old stuff from Chesney. Of course that didn’t prevent everyone from tooting its lead single “American Kids” as some deep and thoughtful commentary on the everyday person. I lost track of how many Song of the Year award nominations it netted. I can’t believe how much credit Chesney gets from fans and awards shows and how they blow his importance out of proportion. It isn’t too tough to make breezy, radio-friendly music. I think though the main reason he gets a pass from everybody is because he never makes outright terrible music, which has always been the secret allure that makes people like his music (along with Chesney being a pretty nice guy himself). He’s safe, clean and just enough fun for the average, casual listener. None of what I said above changes with his new single “Noise.”

Upon first listen you think this song is kind of good. Then you listen to it more and you realize this is “American Kids” 2.0. Once again Chesney has crafted the absolute perfect song to get people to fall over heels about. When they finished recording “Noise” (written by Ross Copperman, Shane McAnally and Jon Nite), I can imagine the dollar signs appeared in Chesney and his label’s eyes because this has hit written all over it. The song is about how in the world today we’re surrounded by so much noise from the media, to people actually shouting at each other to social media. Yet no mention of country radio? I feel like they contribute a lot of noise… Anyway the message of the song is people are so enamored by these distractions that they can’t focus on what really matters in life. This message is nice enough, but the song really doesn’t expand upon this. It explores the topic in a shallow manner, when you could delve into this a lot more and create an interesting song. It’s perfect timing too with the presidential coverage at full steam, something Chesney admitted was the reason he wanted to release this song now. It’s a shrewd move on his part.

“Noise” isn’t a bad song at all, but I certainly wouldn’t call it good either. Like most Kenny Chesney songs, it had a chance to be good and really explore an interesting topic. Instead it settles for good enough and I’m just left wanting more from Chesney again. As I said above, a lot of people are going to love this song and I’m going to catch flack for not giving it a lot of praise. Sorry I see Kenny Chesney’s music for what it is and why it’s made. If you enjoy Chesney’s music good for you. I can enjoy it too when I’m sitting on a warm, sunny beach and I’ve had a few to drink (you can say this about most music). When I’m sober though all I hear is another just above average song that I’ll easily forget about. “Noise” makes for perfect background noise when you’re sitting in your car in traffic bored.

Grade: 6/10