Tuesday, December 11, 2018

That Nashville Sound's Best Albums Of 2018- A Year-End Best Of List

The amount of great music that has been released into 2018 has been nothing short of remarkable. We live in an incredible time. The internet, YouTube and a variety of digital platforms give independent artists a more playing field to get their music heard than ever before- and as a result, we have more options at receiving that music than at any time in our history. From all parts of the world, artists are contributing to this incredible umbrella of music we call country music.  True, a few stakeholders have a clear stranglehold on what's being heard on country radio, but clearly the tide has shifted and we are seeing time and time again, the ability of cream to rise to the top and artists become wildly successful without the support of the radio dial.

Albums still matter. Patrick McGuire wrote this in ReverbNation and I've read it several times and wanted to share: "Albums still matter because they tell the unique story of who a band is at a specific moment of time that one or two singles just don’t have the ability to do. Imagine if the songs from ... The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band were released one at a time over the course of a year. Yes, the songs would still be incredible, but the meaning of these hugely important albums would be far less impactful. Whether it’s a concept album or not, good albums feature some sort of story or larger narrative whether it’s in the lyrics or instrumentation. Singles can’t tell the stories albums can." The platform of the album continues to be a tapestry that unites songs into a thematic quilt.

A handful of those 2018 country music releases stand out above all others. That's where this list comes in.

Here's a list of our favorite albums over the last few years for comparison:

2005 - Gary Allan - Tough All Over (tie)
            Lee Ann Womack - There’s More Where That Came From
2006 - Johnny Cash - American V: A Hundred Highways
2007 - Alison Krauss & Robert Plant - Raising Sand
2008 - Lee Ann Womack - Call Me Crazy
2009 - Eric Church - Carolina
2010 - Zac Brown Band - You Get What You Give
2011 - Pistol Annies - Hell on Heels
2012 - Marty Stuart - Nashville Volume 1- Tear The Woodpile Down
2013 - Brandy Clark - 12 Stories
2014 - Don Williams - Reflections
2015 - Chris Stapleton - Traveler
2016 - Ryan Beaver - RX
2017 - Jason Eady - Jason Eady

These are the albums that struck an emotional chord and moved this listener to fall in love with their projects over and over again.

1. Ashley McBryde - Girl Goin' Nowhere - This album is the epitome of refreshing honesty and authenticity. It brings beautiful vocals and thoughtful lyrics which reflect on timeless and contemporary issues. The record is country with an undeniable rock 'n' roll streak and has gotten her equal radio airplay and critical admiration. The songwriting is smart and manages to provide substance at nearly every turn. But nothing is as strong as the title song. That particular song is about proving wrong all those people who said you'd never amount to much, who told you to give up on your dream of making music for a living. It's a song of well-earned defiance and steely confidence that can make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. It's like the Rudy of country songs.

2. Lori McKenna - The Tree - The persistently consistent and fantastic artist and Massachusetts songwriter returns with 10 country songs with ocean-trench depth about the knotty complications of family.  It deals with getting older, disease, family conflict and deserves an Oscar as much as it deserves a Grammy. Just one listen to "The Fixer," a track of how a repairman husband can fix everything with the exception of his cancer-stricken wife, will make your heart ache. More than any other songwriter in Nashville, McKenna knows that the truth hurts. Good music is designed to make you feel- and not just feel good. McKenna can wield the emotional knife as well as anyone in music. And every cut feels just as good as the last.

3. Jason Eady - I Travel On- If Eady's last album was his singer/songwriter project, I Travel On is his jam-band one. Recorded live with his touring band, the troubadour kicks full-tilt into barroom burners and backporch pickers. The resulting sound is his fullest, most rounded-out sonic effort yet.  Remarkably, however, the polish doesn't remove any of the grittiness or emotional impact that's become the hallmark of this Texas artist. Eady's consistency of quality project after quality project should have him mentioned alongside the legendary Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt at some point here soon. They're that good and timeless.

4. Jeff Hyde - Norman Rockwell World - Over the past dozen years, Hyde has written many country hits for other artists, including Eric Church’s chart-topping singles “Springsteen” and “Record Year.” He's penned songs for the likes of Alan Jackson, George Strait, Bobby Bare, Luke Bryan, Charlie Worsham and Nikki Lane. That, my friends, is Nashville credibility. Norman Rockwell World roots itself in Hyde’s songwriting profound ability. The music itself is a self-professed nod to his longtime influences — including 1980s trailblazers like Williams, Whitley, and Vern Gosdin.  It's a profound debut solo album and one we're hopeful that will be the start of many to come. It's brilliant.

5. Will Hoge - My American Dream - Will Hoge is ticked-off at the current political situation and has channeled that frustration into a passionate set of songs lyrically linked to what he believes is deception and a circus-like atmosphere at the White House. If you're supposed to write what moves you, then that means what both inspires and what moves us negatively as well. And despite this reviewer sitting on the opposite side of the political aisle, I admire the passion and discourse through song without it becoming vitriol. Music has long championed social advocacy and Hoge can add his name to a long list of well-known artists that have gotten behind their causes.

6. Dierks Bentley- The Mountain - No mainstream artist straddles the line of commercial viability and radio friendly fare quite like Dierks. The Mountain was written in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains and the result brought something full of earnestness and confidence.  Bentley sings about the importance of family (“My Religion”), the transformative powers of love and monogamy (“Woman, Amen”), and the hard-won perspective found in his forties (“Travelin’ Light”).

7. Steve Moakler - Born Ready - Moakler used life on the road as inspiration for this outstanding collection of tunes, his 5th solo album. Moakler’s idea of life on the road looks different than most touring artists. For him, it isn’t putting miles on a tour bus or collecting hotel room keys from cities across America. It’s been a mix of touring off the beaten path in a vintage camper with his wife Gracie, and sleeping at truck stops in between shows at rock clubs and honky tonks with his band. “I started writing Born Ready with truck drivers in mind, but quickly realized I was telling my own story too,” explains Moakler. “Whether your job has you behind the steering wheel or not, I think the road is a perfect metaphor for life. It’s about closing the distance between where you are and where you want to be.”

8. Eric Church - Desperate Man - Many artists will namedrop their heroes like Church did with Elvis Costello, Jeff Tweedy and Ray Wylie Hubbard on his last album, Mr. Misunderstood. Few would track down them as Church did with Hubbard, write with him and then release that song as they debut and namesake of his next album. That's part of what makes Church so special in this day in age. There are no rules. There are no boundaries. There is only his muse and his aviator-wearing swagger allows him the permission to do whatever the hell he pleases. Lucky for us listeners, it's a fascinating collection of songs of substance that have unique production values that make nearly every single damn one interesting as hell.

9. Courtney Patton - What It's Like To Fly Alone - Patton has continued to draw on true life day-to-day autobiographical life experiences filled on her third album, What It’s Like To Fly Alone. The album is phenomenal. In an era in which clich├ęs and bravado is mistaken for bold noteworthiness, there’s something far more brave in peeling back highly personal and emotional open-book songs and delivering them with sensitivity and sentiment. Patton has done just that. She is the consummate storyteller on this project. Heartache isn’t just described, it’s tangibly felt.

10. Ashley Monroe - Sparrow - Monroe recorded Sparrow after what she described to NPR as a series of therapy sessions in which she dealt with downs like the death of her father and as ups as high as the birth of her first child. The songs are phenomenally personal and her unique voice slices like a siren through the sonic waves, hypnotic throughout the album. Each track seems to be drawn from real life, perfectly illustrating the emotions and sentiments we might all recognize and share. It's a personal testimony set to song.

11. Josh Grider - Good People - Grider falls somewhere in between the straightforward modern country music of what you might find on Texas radio and the more singer/songwriter approach of his longtime friends and collaborators Walt Wilkins and Drew Kennedy. The album's title track is a feel-good omen for the balance of the album longing to bring some positivity to the world around us.  It's a reminder that dignity and decency will win out. His baritone voice is welcome and strong throughout the project and it's always a smart write, with clever hooks and strong messaging. He paints a full picture by focusing on the details, and that's a welcome listen nearly every time.

12. Willie Nelson - Last Man Standing - At 85-years-old, it's understandable that Nelson has perspective that is definitely learned the hard way.  He has watched nearly all of his generation- many of them close friends and bandmates- cross over to the great beyond. And yet, Nelson, perhaps our generation's greatest songwriter, uses it as inspiration, drawing on it with the same humor, humility and gravitas that has marked his entire career. It's an album of looking back and asking "what ifs" and "what could have beens."  His voice is thinner than ever and his guitar-playing of Trigger might sound a little more deliberate, but there's nary a spec of rust on his storytelling- and for that we're forever grateful.

13. Brent Cobb - Providence Canyon - Recorded at Nashville’s RCA Studio A with Grammy Award-winning Producer Dave Cobb (that would be, yes, Brent’s cousin and longtime collaborator), the 11-song collection sees Cobb cementing his talents as a superb storyteller. His style is funky, swampy and soulful- all in a good way. Cobb weaves together gritty tales that cross fluidly through multiple genres to create a patchwork quilt of Americana that's sure to get your foot stomping and your blood pumping. 

14. Various Artists - Restoration- Reimagining the Songs of Elton John and Bernie Taupin - Taupin is one of music's most-famous poets and few artists have cultivated the songwriting chops of John. Here, country music's brightest from Little Big Town to Vince Gill to Chris Stapleton put their stamp on their songs, creating new takes on something that already has a warm familiarity.

15. Wade Bowen - Solid Ground
16. Cody Jinks - Lifers
17. Whitey Morgan and the 78’s  – Hard Times and White Lines
18. Kimberly Kelly - Don't Blame It on Me
19. Jimmy Rankin - Moving East
20. Jamie Lin Wilson - Jumping Over Rocks
21. Lindi Ortega - Liberty
22. Kenny Chesney - Songs for the Saints
23. Maggie Rose- Change the Whole Thing
24. Pistol Annies - Interstate Gospel
25. Scotty McCreery - Season's Change
26. Eric Church - 61 Days of Church
27. Charlie Daniels Band - Beau Weavils - Songs in the Key of E
28. Mike and the Moonpies Steak Night at the Prairie Rose

Monday, December 10, 2018

Rascal Flatts Covers Kenny Loggins, Foreigner, Huey Lewis & More On Jukebox EP

Artist: Rascal Flatts
EP: Jukebox
Label: Big Machine
Release date: 12/7/19

Superstar vocal group Rascal Flatts is sharing their eclectic JUKEBOX (Big Machine Records) with fans today. The group of tracks is a surprise release for fans, and a project inspired by a highlight during the group’s live set, where they perform a medley of their most-loved songs. JUXEBOX features special spins on Foreigner’s iconic 1977 rock anthem “Feels Like The First Time,” the soulful 1980 hit “You Make My Dreams” by Hall & Oates as well as Kenny Loggins’ classic “Heart To Heart.” Each track is given new life with Rascal Flatts' signature harmonies.

A fourth song, “Do You Believe In Love” by Huey Lewis and the News, will be available exclusively to Amazon Music Unlimited subscribers.

“We always enjoy songs that resonate with each of us individually, ones that we can all connect to,” said Gary LeVox. “These four tracks are just that, the handpicked, personal favorites and the ones we love collectively with our own fingerprint on them.”

JUKEBOX Official Track List:

1. Feels Like The First Time
2. Do You Believe In Love**
3. You Make My Dreams
4. Heart To Heart

**Amazon Music Exclusive Track

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

New Music Video From Wade Hayes - "Who Saved Who"

John Berry Releases New Thomas Road Project

Artist: John Berry
Album: Thomas Road
Label: JB Music
Release date: November 28, 2018

Grammy-winning singer/songwriter, John Berry, has released his latest project. The EP, Thomas Road, is named after the street he grew up on in Decatur, GA and where his passion and love for music took a hold of his desire to become a recording artist.

“I was fortunate to grow up in a home where music was always celebrated. The sounds of gospel, classical, country or pop were always present, but it was the latter years of elementary school into high school that were a significant time for me. Carole King wove "Tapestry," John Denver came down a "Country Road," Cat Stevens rode in on a " Peace Train" and I began playing the guitar,” stated John Berry in the liner notes. “Listening to a white AM radio on the shop table in my dad's garage helped me to dream bigger than who I was. The music drew me in and I had to be a part of it... it was a part of me. With my dad's encouragement and help, we built a little studio in the basement of our house and I recorded my first four albums there. The fire inside me grew. I am beyond grateful for the inspiration I found in family, friends and music on Thomas Road. All those memories keep calling me back home to Thomas Road.”

"As exciting as it was to go into the studio to record new music, to be able to it with my friend Chuck Howard, after so many years, was just amazing. Chuck hears me like no one else and knows how to take me musically where I’ve never thought possible and then, add in the incredible talent of Barry Weeks who co-produced my new project,’ shares Berry. “I am so excited to share this new music with you and I hope these songs will take you to new places that feel familiar." 

Song List:
“Thomas Road” – John Berry / Barry Weeks
“Richest Man” John Berry / Liz Hengber / Will Robinson
“Heavin’ Comin’ Down” – John Wiggins / Bob Moffatt / Clint Moffatt
“Why Didn’t I” – Michael Boggs / Barry Weeks
“Beautifully Broken” – Tiffany Arbuckle Lee / Jenny Slate Lee
“Don’t Think I Ain’t Country” –  Bill Anderson / John Berry