Album Review – Ashley Monroe’s ‘The Blade’

Ashley Monroe The Blade

Back in 2013 I came across a lot of great new music, specifically a lot of great country music. The most notable artists I came across were Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, Kacey Musgraves, The Mavericks and Ashley Monroe. The most under the radar artist of the group was undoubtedly Monroe. To this point she was most well-known for being one-third of the Pistol Annies. That year she released her debut solo album Like A Rose and captured the attention of traditional country music critics and fans everywhere. It was certainly a favorite listen of mine’s from that year, so I was definitely anticipating her sophomore album. This time around her label Warner Brothers Nashville has been a lot more involved and it shows, something I’ll elaborate on later in the review. One good sign to see for this album coming in was Vince Gill and Justin Niebank producing it, as both produced Monroe’s first album. So this gave me high hopes, despite the lackluster lead single. So does The Blade live up to expectations? Well in some ways it does and others it does not.

Speaking of the aforementioned lackluster single, “On To Something Good” starts the album off, which I reviewed when it was first released. And my thoughts really haven’t changed on it. From my original review: “On To Something Good” is a song about….I’m not sure. It’s so bland and uninteresting that I find it hard to listen to. It doesn’t hold my attention and is the equivalent of elevator music. It’s just something to fill the void. So for as what the song is about, you can choose. I know I don’t feel like figuring it out because this song is just so boring and we all have better music we could be listening to. 

The sound of drums plays in “I Buried Your Love Alive,” a southern gothic inspired song from the theme to the instrumentation. The song has this vibe hanging over it throughout it. It’s a heartbreak song where the woman can’t get over her lost love and does everything she can to get rid of the memory. While the theme and southern gothic inspiration is good, I have a couple of problems with this song. First it’s overproduced, as the instrumentation is too busy and the occasional echoing of Monroe’s voice is annoying. Another problem with this song is Monroe doesn’t show enough emotion to make the song connect. Not to mention I feel she didn’t go deep enough lyrically. This is a decent song that could have been great. There are some similar problems on the next song, “Bombshell.” The premise of the song is intriguing, as it’s about a woman waiting and figuring out the perfect time to drop a bombshell on her boyfriend. That bombshell is she no longer loves him. The song kept building and building to this moment and when it came I felt underwhelmed. I was expecting an explosion of emotion, but didn’t get it. The storytelling was here, but not the emotion.

Monroe relies on Kacey Musgraves’ like platitudes on “Weight of The Load.” It’s a song about helping a significant other shoulder the weight of the load in a loving relationship. It’s a little too bland and polished for my tastes. What’s even more disappointing is that Monroe and Vince Gill wrote this song. I expect more when these two write a song. Also once again where is the emotional connection? This is starting to become a running theme on this album. The album’s title track follows this and finally we get a glimpse of the Ashley Monroe I enjoyed on her debut album Like A Rose. It’s a heartbreak song where the man has left his woman and the hook of the song describes the breakup perfectly. The end of the relationship is described as the swinging of a blade. As Monroe sings from the female perspective, “You got it by the handle and I caught it by the blade.” This creates the perfect imagery in the listeners’ head and credit to the songwriters Marc Beeson, Jamie Floyd and Allen Shamblin.

The piano and acoustic guitar driven “Winning Streak” is a fast-paced song about being stuck in a losing game. As Monroe sings, “If losing’s game I’m on a winning streak.” This is just a fun and simple country song. It should be noted that Monroe wrote this song with Jessi Alexander (co-writer of the Lee Brice song “I Drive Your Truck”) and Chris Stapleton and is one of two songs this trio wrote on the album. “From Time To Time” reminds me of something you would hear on 90s country radio. I want to say it’s the production that makes me think this, as I immediately got this vibe when I heard the song. It’s very easy to listen to upon the surface, but when you listen closer I’m just not sure what this song is going for. It’s vague and not sure what it wants to be. Monroe is once again joined by two notable songwriters on a song, this time Justin Davis and Sarah Zimmermann. You know them as Striking Matches. This trio also writes two songs together on The Blade.

Monroe goes back to the platitudes on “If Love Was Fair.” This is your run of the mill love song. Part of the chorus is from 1 Corinthians 13:4. You know the one bible verse that is repeated at every single wedding? I just don’t understand this light and breezy approach that a lot of the songs on this album take. “Has Anybody Ever Told You” though drops this approach and is one of the most serious songs on the album. It’s a love song with some actual punch behind it and something that will create emotion in the listener. Monroe’s vocals are allowed to shine and the instrumentation is brilliant between the piano and pedal steel guitar. This is my favorite song on the album. The second co-write of the album between Monroe and Striking Matches, “Dixie,” is next. Monroe sings about being sick of Dixieland and wanting to get the hell out of there, as her experiences there have driven her away. It’s an intriguing song and kind of bold, as you don’t hear many songs about being sick of the south, especially from mainstream country artists. Just for this alone I’m kind of impressed with the song.

“If The Devil Don’t Want Me” is the second Monroe-Alexander-Stapleton co-written song of the album. Monroe wonders throughout this song of where she’ll be going if the devil doesn’t want her and she can’t find the light. This is very much a traditional country song, from the lyrics to the sound. It’s right in Monroe’s wheelhouse and another highlight of the album. It’s a real big shocker that both Stapleton co-writes are good, huh? The traditionally arranged “Mayflowers” is another song that proves Monroe needs to stick with this sound and stay away from the pop country sound towards the beginning of the album. This is a sweet love song where the woman vows to bring the love back to their relationship and uses the metaphor of “April showers bring May flowers” to convey the point. It’s a song you have to hear for yourself to truly appreciate. The 13-song album comes to a conclusion with “I’m Good At Leavin’,” a song with plenty of fiddle and steel guitar (also co-written with Alexander and Miranda Lambert). Monroe sings about how she’s good at leaving and basically she’s a rambling woman who can’t stay in a relationship for too long. I’ve always wondered why female country artists never take on the rambling man theme that male artists always use and kudos to Monroe for doing it. It’s another solid song from the Pistol Annies singer.

Ashley Monroe’s The Blade is an up and down listen throughout. The album starts out with a lot of pop country songs that are lightweight all-around and make me wonder what happened to Monroe. Luckily, the second half is more in line with what we heard on her debut album and that’s a traditional country arrangement. While there were plenty of songs that caught my attention in a good way, this is a clear step down from Like A Rose. To me what ultimately sunk this album down was there were too many cooks in the kitchen on this album. Warner Nashville stuck their fingers in this album, whereas they let Monroe do her own thing before. I’m pretty sure they were the ones pushing for more pop country, as they’ve pushed her for radio play this time around and didn’t with Like A Rose. Not to mention this album is too long at 13 songs. I would’ve cut four songs from this album (“On To Something Good,” “Weight of the Load,” “From Time To Time” and “If Love Was Fair”) and then added a duet with Vince Gill as the 10th song. Seriously, he’s right there producing and you don’t have a duet with him? This is a missed opportunity. Really that sums up this entire album: it was a missed opportunity. The Blade is just good, but it could have been so much more.

Grade: 7/10

 

Advertisements

Josh’s 2015 Mid-Year Country Music Outlook

Both Derek and myself are taking a look back at what we considered the highs and lows of country music in 2015 so far. You just saw Derek’s outlook and now I’ll give you mine. This will give you a good idea of our overall thoughts on the year. And of course be sure to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments below.

Chris Stapleton Traveller

Favorite Album So Far: There are so many choices for my favorite, but there are two in particular I would consider my favorites: Chris Stapleton’s Traveller and Houndmouth’s Little Neon Limelight. I knew Stapleton was going to have a good debut album, but I never thought it would be this good. At first I thought maybe 14 songs was too many, but after giving it several more listens I really have no complaints about the length. It feels just right actually. From the top-notch songwriting to the brilliant instrumentation to Stapleton’s bluesy, powerful voice this is enjoyable from start to finish. Little Neon Limelight is certainly not one of the most buzzed about albums in country music this year, but it should be. It has everything I want in an album and hooks you from start to finish. It also may be the most fun album of the year, as there are several rollicking tracks and you can tell Houndmouth had fun making it.

Favorite Song So Far: Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers’ “Standards” has been the standout song to me so far. It’s a song that perfectly sums up the state of country music right now. You’re either an artist with hits or standards. You really can’t have both. This is probably one of the most polite country protest songs ever, but I think this helps get the point across even more. Protest songs have pretty much become cliché themselves, but Bowen and Rogers get it just right here. “Standards” is one of many great songs on their new album Hold My Beer. Honorable mention goes out to The Mavericks’ “What Am I Supposed To Do.”

Thomas Rhett Crash and Burn

Worst Song So Far: Wow! We’ve reviewed a lot of terrible songs this year, but there’s one song in particular that annoys me the most out of all of them and that’s Thomas Rhett’s “Crash and Burn.” Where do you begin with this train wreck? First off it’s not country at all. It’s a blatant pop tune where Rhett tries to imitate Bruno Mars and fails miserably because Rhett doesn’t have near the talent or charisma of Mars to pull this type of song off. Number two he blatantly rips off Sam Cooke. Third it has an annoying ear worm that can haunt you for days. Fourth the smug arrogance of Rhett as he sings this type of song just pisses me off. Really this song epitomizes what mainstream country music is in 2015.

Biggest Surprise: The great amount of awesome country albums that have been released so far. This year the amount of quality music that’s being released is astounding and really a country music fan’s dream. 2015 will far surpass 2014 in terms of the quantity of quality. The race for album of the year will be as tight as possible and as Farce The Music said on Twitter it’s guaranteed there won’t be a consensus on best country album this year. There are too many choices for the top spot as it is and we still have several big releases to come.

Biggest Disappointment: Even though I’ve warmed up on it a little bit, Zac Brown Band’s Jekyll + Hyde album has to be the biggest disappointment of country music in 2015. There was such high hopes for this album and instead we got a hodgepodge of sounds that had absolutely no direction. While there were some good moments, this album was so all over the place it was hard to grasp what the band was going for here. At times it felt like a Zac Brown solo project and the band was completely buried in the background. I believe this wasn’t a sell-out moment though and I think the next album will be a return to their normal sound. I would chalk this up to a huge creative misstep.

Best Male Artist: Chris Stapleton without a doubt is the best male artist so far. He produced one of the best albums of the year in Traveller and continues to be one of the few writers on Music Row who can write creative songs.

Best Female Artist: In 2014 the female artists dominated our end of the year awards and produced some of the best albums of the year. In 2015 it’s been a slower start and we have yet to hear new material from some prominent female artists. But of the few that have released new music, Gretchen Peters has been the standout female artist. Her new album Blackbirds has been quietly one of the best of the year and arguably the darkest album in Americana. It’s full of emotional tracks that will rip your heart out and really make you listen to the music.

Breakout Artist: There have been several artists that have broken out in my eyes, but none more than Whitey Morgan. Coming into 2015 I wasn’t as sold on Whitey as some independent country fans, but he changed that with Sonic Ranch. It’s easily one of the best of the year, with its gritty, honky-tonk style. While there are a good amount of covers, he really makes these songs his own and puts his own spin on them. “Still Drunk, Still Crazy, Still Blue” and “Waitin’ Round To Die” are two of my favorite songs of the year. I hope this album makes Whitey a bigger household name because he deserves to reach higher heights with this album. I also give a special shoutout to Striking Matches, who completely surprised me with their debut album.

Worst Artist: I could choose so many different artists for the worst of the year, but I’m going with Derek here and giving it to RaeLynn. It’s 2015 and she is still a thing. RaeLynn is the only artist to receive multiple 0/10 reviews this year, with her Me EP and her single “For A Boy.” She also has the most 0/10 reviews all time on the site with three total. There are several talented female artists out there in the independent scene who deserve the shot RaeLynn got, but since they aren’t buddies with Blake Shelton they don’t get a deal. RaeLynn is nothing but a product of corporate executives and Blake.

Sturgill Signs With Atlantic Records

Most Anticipated Release in the Second Half of 2015: I could easily say July 17 is the day I’m looking forward to most (Jason Isbell and Alan Jackson’s new albums). But that would be a lie. The release I’m looking forward to most is Sturgill Simpson’s third album and his first under a major label.  This hasn’t been officially announced yet, but it’s highly speculated and Trigger at Saving Country Music has said multiple times it’s happening. Metamodern Sounds in Country Music was easily the best country album of 2014 and one of the best in country music the last several years. What’s scary is this third album could be even better! Along with Simpson and July 17, I’m also looking forward to Jamey Johnson’s return album. It hasn’t been officially announced yet either, but I’ll be shocked if it isn’t out by the end of the year.

The first half of 2015 has certainly been interesting in country music and can’t wait for the second half, where I’m sure there will be plenty more intriguing stories to come.

Country Perspective’s Best Country Albums of 2015 So Far

We’ve reached the mid-point of 2015, so it’s time to look back at the year so far for country music. Up first we take a look back at the best country albums of 2015 so far. There has certainly been a lot of great albums and the competition for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year award is already tightly contested.

Remember for an album to be considered for Album of the Year, it must receive a 10/10 score. Those won’t be the only ones listed below though, as all the highly rated albums so far will be highlighted. Remember too that it’s impossible for us to keep up with every single release and we do our best to cover the most albums possible. So please don’t be that person in the comments section that says something along the lines of: “This list is irrelevant because (insert album) isn’t on it” or “This list sucks.” Agree or disagree all you want, just be respectful about it. Not everyone has the same opinion, so keep this in mind.

So without further ado, the best country albums of 2015 so far (in no particular order)….

(Click on the album name to see the full review)

Album of the Year Candidates

Chris Stapleton Traveller

Chris Stapleton – Traveller

The hype was high heading into Chris Stapleton’s album. Not only did he meet the hype, he surpassed it with Traveller. I don’t think I could ask anymore from a country album than what I hear on this album. It has everything a country music fan should want in their music. What impressed me the most out of all is Stapleton’s voice. Holy shit I did not expect him to blow me away so much vocally. He’s easily one of the best in country music today. The songwriting is top-notch, but we knew that already. The instrumentation and production is spotless, as once again Dave Cobb is in top form. I have no complaints with this album, as Stapleton is a visionary. Traveller is a must-own and is easily one of the top candidates for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year.

Whitey Morgan – Sonic Ranch

Whitey Morgan Sonic Ranch

What makes this album stand out above a lot of other country albums released so far is how cohesive and tight-knit everything is on this album. The instrumentation and the production is flat-out perfect. The lyrics are emotional and tell brilliant stories throughout it. Morgan’s bellowing voice reminds me of a lot of Waylon Jennings and Sturgill Simpson, yet Whitey is much more gruff and gritty giving it a different texture compared to the likes of Jennings and Simpson. The album is the exact right length of 10 songs. It leaves no room for unnecessary filler that can bring the quality down. It’s straight, no-holds barred, outlaw-style country music that will leave you wanting more. This is the kind of album that will make people take notice of Whitey Morgan and put him on the radar of country music fans everywhere. This is an artist and album everyone needs to hear. Sonic Ranch right now is one of the top candidates for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year. There are very few country albums better than this one.

Houndmouth Little Neon Limelight

Houndmouth – Little Neon Limelight

Little Neon Limelight is flawless in every aspect. Houndmouth’s vocals are dynamic and the harmonies will stick with you for a while. Each song tells a story or conveys some sort of emotion in the listener, which is what great music does. While there are a few somber songs, this album is mostly fun and even mixes in some good humor. This is an album I thinks some people might let slip through the cracks and miss out on. Don’t be one of these people. Anyone who appreciates great music should hear it. If you’re into groups like Shovels & Rope or The Lone Bellow, you’ll enjoy Houndmouth even more. I highly recommend this album. Without a doubt one of the best albums I’ve heard in 2015.

Blackberry Smoke Holding All The Roses

Blackberry Smoke – Holding All The Roses

Overall, Holding All The Roses is what southern rock is all about. Each song is unique and adds quality to the album. The lyrics are fresh and just damn fun to listen to; it’s really hard to find a song on here that’s bad. The album is paced well and even when Blackberry Smoke venture down a country alley for a song or two, those country songs are better than pretty much everything that radio offers. Holding All The Roseshas a throwback feel to a golden era of rock and country music, delivering on every track. Their previous album, The Whippoorwill, was fantastic in its own right, but Blackberry Smoke followed it up with an equally outstanding record. Holding All The Roses will be a tough act to follow.

Bowen & Rogers Hold My Beer

Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen – Hold My Beer, Vol. 1

Hold My Beer is simply put a fantastic album. There are no down moments in this album and it holds the listeners’ attentions the whole way through it. The rich and traditional instrumentation makes you want to listen to every song over and over again. I don’t think you can find too many pairs that would gel better than Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers either. This is a perfect example of why I want to see more collaborations in country music. On this album this two great artists in their own right came together and produced something amazing. I like how the full album name is Hold My Beer, Vol. 1. because that means this is the first of hopefully many more collaboration albums from these two. I definitely recommend buying this album. It’s a must-own for fans of country music.

The Malpass Brothers

The Malpass Brothers – The Malpass Brothers

Very rarely am I left speechless and a loss for words when listening to a great album, but this is the case with The Malpass Brothers’ new self-titled album. This is just pure, classic country that words can’t do justice. I’ve listened to this album over and over. I can’t get over how great it is and how two young artists like Chris and Taylor Malpass get country music so damn well. These guys were born to make country music. If you’re a fan of pop country music, don’t listen to this album. It’s simply too country for you. For those who love traditional and classic country, buy this album, press play and prepare to be amazed. You can’t get anymore country than this album. This is one of my favorites of 2015 and I can’t wait to hear more music from The Malpass Brothers for years to come.

Dwight Yoakam Second Hand Heart

Dwight Yoakam – Second Hand Heart

There’s no other way to say it: Second Hand Heart is awesome. You aren’t going to hear many country albums as good as this one for the rest of the year. It has touching ballads, rocking honky-tonk and some of the best instrumentation I’ve heard on an album in recent memory. Yoakam’s voice is as brilliant as ever. I think I speak for Yoakam fans everywhere when I say this: don’t ever leave music again. While I enjoyed Yoakam as Pastor Phil in Four Christmases, I would much rather listen to him produce amazing albums like this one. I give Second Hand Heart my highest recommendation, as it’s definitely a top candidate for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year. Just like he did back in the 80s, Yoakam brings us traditional country in a world that badly needs it.

The Mavericks Mono

The Mavericks – Mono

Mono from start to finish seduces you with its sultry songs. The deeper you go into this album, the more you will love it. I thought In Time was the best this group could do, but they proved me wrong. Mono is even better than In Time, which I did not think could be possible. They have just set the bar pretty high for everyone else in country music in 2015. There’s a lot of heavy hitters yet to release their albums in 2015, but they better bring their all if they want to top this album. Without a doubt, a top contender for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year. Go buy this album and listen to it over and over. The Mavericks’ Mono is a shining example of not only how country music should be done, but really how all music should be done.

Gretchen Peters – Blackbirds

Overall, Blackbirds is dark and heartbreaking, but there’s an ironic beauty to the darkness. Gretchen Peters is a seasoned, award-winning songwriter. Her writing onBlackbirds is top-notch; with scenes and feelings described perfectly within each song while still driving the story forward. And as I mentioned before, the production on each track adds even more to the mood of the songs. Regardless of how dark the album may be, the consistency and focus put into making every aspect work in conjunction pays off. Blackbirds is a fantastic album.

The Lone Bellow

The Lone Bellow – Then Came The Morning

The Lone Bellow’s Then Came The Morning simply blows me away. The year is still new, but this album will hold up as one of the best in country music all year. I don’t think it would be a stretch to call this trio one of the most dynamic in music. If you’re looking for a comparison, I would say the closest is Shovels & Rope, except more bluesy and not quite as dark. So if you love Shovels & Rope, you’ll love this group. Some may say this isn’t a country album, but I don’t care what genre you put it under. This is just great music that everyone should hear. This is without a doubt a strong contender for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year.

Diamondwolf – Your Time Has Come

Overall, Your Time Has Come, is a fantastic album. Many times, it’s the Indie music artists who are the most talented in both writing and instrumentation, and Diamondwolf is no exception to that thought. In fact, they’re a great example of that thought. The deep metaphors and meaning found in the writing of these songs are a lost art in mainstream music. Alicia Dara and Glen Cooper sing these deep lyrics beautifully on every track. Even though you may have to listen to some of these songs a few times to fully grasp the meaning, it’s worth it. The reality and honesty grounded in each track only makes Your Time Has Come that much better. I highly recommend this album.

Other Highly Recommended Albums

Brandi Carlile – The Firewatcher’s Daughter

Allison Moorer – Down To Believing 

Will Hoge – Small Town Dreams

Jon Pardi – The B-Sides, 2011-2014 EP 

Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard – Django and Jimmie 

Jamie Lin Wilson – Holidays and Wedding Rings 

Justin Townes Earle – Absent Fathers 

Cody Jinks – Adobe Sessions

James McMurtry – Complicated Game

John Moreland – High On Tulsa Heat 

Reba – Love Somebody

Ryan Bingham – Fear and Saturday Night

Cody Canada and the Departed – HippieLovePunk 

The Western Swing Authority – Now Playing 

Judson Cole Band – Eastern Skies 

Striking Matches – Nothing But The Silence

Aaron Watson – The Underdog 

William Clark Green – Ringling Road

American Aquarium – Wolves 

Billboard Top 25 Country Albums This Week [April 11]

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. Various Artists – Nashville: On The Record, Volume 2
  4. Various Artists – 2015 Academy of Country Music Awards ZinePak
  5. Jason Aldean – Old Boots, New Dirt (Grade: 3/10)
  6. Florida Georgia Line – Anything Goes (Grade: 0/10)
  7. Little Big Town – Pain Killer (Grade: 3/10)
  8. Eric Church – The Outsiders
  9. Chase Rice – Ignite the Night (Grade: 2/10)
  10. Carrie Underwood – Greatest Hits: Decade #1
  11. Luke Bryan – Crash My Party
  12. Miranda Lambert – Platinum
  13. Cole Swindell – Cole Swindell
  14. Garth Brooks – Man Against Machine (Grade: 7.5/10)
  15. Zac Brown Band – Greatest Hits So Far…
  16. Canaan Smith – Canaan Smith EP
  17. Kenny Chesney – The Big Revival (Grade: 4.5/10)
  18. Brantley Gilbert – Just As I Am (Grade: 5/10)
  19. Blake Shelton – Bringing Back The Sunshine (Grade: 4/10)
  20. Shania Twain – Shania: Still The One: Live From Las Vegas
  21. Lee Brice – I Don’t Dance (Grade: 5/10)
  22. Asleep At The Wheel – Still The King: Celebrating The Music of Bob Wills And His Texas Playboys 
  23. Luke Bryan – Spring Break…The Set List: The Complete Spring Break Collection ZinePak
  24. Dierks Bentley – Riser
  25. Striking Matches – Nothing But The Silence (Grade: 8/10)

Notes:

  • Luke Bryan and Sam Hunt stay at #1 and #2 respectively again this week.
  • Four new albums break into the chart. Two of them are just collaboration albums of several songs. One is for the television show Nashville and the other is songs nominated for the 2015 ACM Awards.
  • Canaan Smith’s self-titled EP debuts at #16.
  • Striking Matches round out the top 25 with their debut album Nothing But The Silence.
  • Little Big Town’s Pain Killer was the biggest gainer this week, moving up eight spots from #15 to #7. I think you know why.
  • The biggest losers this week were Still The King: Celebrating The Music of Bob Wills And His Texas Playboys and Luke Bryan’s Spring Break…The Set List: The Complete Spring Break Collection ZinePak, which each fell 11 spots on the chart.
  • Shania Twain and her album Shania: Still The One: Live From Las Vegas fell ten spots to #20 on the chart.

 

Source: Billboard

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.