January's releases were exceptionally strong. Certainly everything listed below will be seen again at the end of the year when That Nashville Sound provides a master list of what tickled our critical fancy. Without further ado, this is what you should make sure that you have in your music collection that was unveiled to the world from this past month.
1. Chris Stapleton- "Go'N Down"
Chris Stapleton quietly released a powerful new song that virtually went unnoticed this past month and that is a shame. The former Steeldrivers lead singer sings a song written by Kix Brooks and is features in the straight-to-DVD (surprisingly good) movie, Ambush at Dark Canyon. Available only through Wal-Mart, the movie and subsequently, the soundtrack that is packaged along with it, sunk with nary a blip on the social consciousness radar. The entire soundtrack is exceptional, especially when paired with the storyline of the movie, but this track by Stapleton is fantastic. He brings his unique vocal delivery to a modern western tale that doubles up on an analogy for living in modern society today. The lyrics are magic, describing "looking for redemption down the barrel of a gun. Go'n down where no mercy can be found and you pay for what you done with your soul, Go'N down to where the darkest angels can be found." Kix gets bonus points for being the pen behind the poetry.
2. Jason Eady- Daylight and Dark
This new album by Texas transplant Jason Eady still moves with new lyrical discoveries even after many listens. Eady finds inspiration- and passes it along in his storytelling- in 11 songs about the ups (and mostly) downs of love and life. Themes like guilt and shame aren’t just spoken, they’re painted on a lyrical canvas. The pain caused by that darkness aren’t just lyrics, they bleed their way throughout the album like an emotional blanket. Temptations are unveiled as poisons that are just so obviously damaging that you can’t possibly escape them. The genius of the album is the reconciliation of the two sides of life. Each song creates the scene of light versus dark and good versus evil. It’s storytelling depth with an eye for detail hardly seen across any genres in modern music.
3. Cody Johnson Band- Cowboy Like Me
Johnson, an East Texas native, delivers everything that is terrific about what is the country basics, releasing a powerful 13-song album of genuine country music in which every song has its place and nothing is a throwaway. The album is full of emotive love songs, story-songs, slow dance ballads, rockin’ honky tonk rebellious fun drinking songs that are reminiscent of the country classics from the 90's. The production is modern enough to make it relevant in 2014 but tips its hat to the great honkytonk sound that got so many of us into country music in the first place. It's a truly GREAT album full of too many GREAT songs to mention. Haven't heard it? Then check out the modern day farming Robin Hood tale of "Never Go Home Again" below.
4. Ray Benson and Willie Nelson- "It Ain't You"
When two old country legends get together and sing about the toll that the years that have flown by have had on the body and soul, you must take notice. Benson, the lead singer and face of the western swing band, Asleep at the Wheel, combines this piano ballad with Nelson's pensive and distinctive guitar playing over lyrics of how "freedom of the youth is wasted on the young." Part advice, part life story, the duo have lived the road life to be experts on lines like, "You wake up with the changes (of time), but inside you're the still the same."