Shining a Spotlight on Ol’ Wheeler

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Warning: Foul language

You won’t find a song on Wheeler Walker Jr’s sophomore album Ol’ Wheeler that doesn’t have an explicit content warning. Wheeler Walker Jr/Ben Hoffman burst onto the scene just a year ago with his debut album Redneck Shit. His brand of anti mainstream and traditional country music has been great to watch and he clearly fills a void in the explicit country music department. At a time in country music when artists are going more vanilla and less country Wheeler Walker Jr is giving the industry the finger and doing his own thing.

Of course with Wheeler Walker Jr there is plenty of comedy in his songs and that’s fantastic. However, what I love about Walker Jr the most are the songs that aren’t meant to be humorous. That’s not to say I didn’t chuckle a bit the first time I heard “Summers in Kentucky” but it wasn’t because the song was even meant to be funny. The shock  of some of the words used on this song will make you laugh at first. It’s an honest song without the bullshit. Two people that were in love when they were young drifting apart and lived separate lives. The woman had a couple kids and is settled down with a husband but her former lover still misses her and wants her back. He’s heard that she hasn’t aged well but then again neither has he. It’s not only the best song on the album but one of the best songs you will hear all year.

I like all the songs on the album for different reasons but again the songs that I love the most are the ones that aren’t meant to be humorous. “Fuckin’ Around” is another great example and I love Kacey Walker (Nikki Lane) for this track as well. The husband decides to come clean to his wife about his cheating while out on the road only to find out she’s been cheating on him also. This track was originally supposed to feature Maren Morris but I actually think Nikki Lane is better anyway. “If My Dick is up, Why am I down” has Wheeler singing about all the women throwing themselves at him now that he’s a country singer. Even though they are all over him and part of him likes that he can’t help but still feel down. It’s a song that may make you laugh at first again however when you peel it back and get passed the vulgarity it’s a very emotional track.

The lead single on the album was “Pussy King” and I think you can infer what the song is about. It was cool to hear the harmonica and New Orleans sound on this song which is also pretty damn hilarious. The funniest track on the album for me has to be “Finger in my Butt.” This one definitely gets the funniest reactions from people in my car who have never heard Wheeler before. The song is 1 minute in 26 seconds of hilarity.

Wheeler Walker Jr without a doubt followed up Redneck Shit with another great album. If you can’t get passed the foul language, you are missing the point. It’s meant to be funny while also including some stellar traditional country tracks that put modern mainstream country to shame. Great album.

Best Songs: Summers In Kentucky, Fuckin’ Around

Scotty Mccreery Five More Minutes Single Review

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Scotty Mccreery has always been someone I rooted for. Ever since I heard him sing “Your Man” on American Idol I have loved his voice. But voice is not enough for me to like someone’s music and with Scotty I have always been left wanting more. With his first couple albums I felt they were very juvenile and boring. When the lead single to his third album was released it was clear Mccreery was unhappy with the direction his label was making him go in. “Southern Belle” was a bad bro country type song and in interviews he had given about the song it was clear he wasn’t comfortable with it. After that single bombed at radio he was released from his record label Mercury and it was unclear what would be next for the now 23 year old. Well now with the new record label Scotty has released a new lead single to his third album and it’s exactly what I had hoped to hear from him since the beginning. “Five More Minutes” is a song about wanting just a little more time to do things and be with the people who you loved before it’s gone. Things like your first love, your last football game and seeing your grandfather one more time. It’s an idea that was actually done by Granger Smith on his most recent album and it goes by the same name. I consider both to be great songs and I don’t want to criticize anyone for stealing the idea because I really don’t have a clue. What I do know is that Scotty is back on the right track with “Five More Minutes” and hopefully it can have enough success at radio to warrant his third studio albums release.

Song Grade: 8.5/10 B+

Welcome Home Zac Brown Band Album Review

 

Before the Zac Brown Band released their last album Jekyll and Hyde in 2015, I had had a great deal of respect for them even though they were never one of my favorite bands. Like most mainstream acts I had liked their early work but began to like their more commercial music less with time. What I really disliked about their music the most were the beach songs which seem to be released as a single on every one of their albums. I just don’t really feel anything when I listen to the radio made beach songs and the Zac Brown Band is obviously capable of much more interesting and thoughtful music. When Welcome Home was announced as their follow up album to the mess that was Jekyll and Hyde, they had promised to get back to their roots “Foundation Style” (first album). Honestly when I heard them go out of their way to talk about getting back to their roots I believed them and when “My Old Man” was released as the lead single I had very high hopes for this album.

 

So, with that all being said did the Zac Brown Band actually make good on their promise and get back to “Foundation Style” music? After many listens to Welcome Home I can’t say anything really except yes. Now the album isn’t perfect and has moments that feel a little too safe and boring but as far as getting back to their roots musically they are there. The lead single “My Old Man” is a really great song that is a tribute to Zac’s father. The production is very dialed back and the music is mostly acoustic with a light fiddle in the background. It’s a song that is one of the few songs that I would classify as great on country radio.

 

The album opens with the song “Roots” that really shows the band trying to move past the EDM nonsense even if Zac is still pursing that on the side. No matter where this life takes him his roots always keep him grounded and remind him of where he belongs. Where I have my most criticism of this album is the fact that it is too safe and too generic. Songs like “Real Thing” and “Family Table” are other songs on the album that are far from unique and frankly bore me. And I am pretty sure we don’t need to hear another beach song from the Zac Brown Band so can you just make “Start Over” go away? The idea for the song is actually not bad with two married people trying to save their marriage by going on a vacation to a tropical paradise. But, the song is weirdly happy and upbeat for a song about a failing marriage and it’s pretty obvious a few days on a vacation won’t save this marriage.

 

I think I have done enough criticizing at this point so let me say what I love about this album. I already mentioned the fact that “My Old Man” is a fantastic song but so are the final three tracks on Welcome Home. “Your Majesty” is a beautiful love song with tremendous fiddle play. It’s honestly a song that I would love to listen to on the beach as opposed to “Start Over” because it’s a song that is easy going and relaxing but actually has something to say which is important to keeping my attention. “Trying to Drive” is another great love song featuring pop singer Aslyn. I’m usually not a fan of pop singers on country songs but she really doesn’t sound out of place on this song and the two sound good together.

 

Finally, the album concludes with what is probably my favorite song on the album “All The Best.” This song supposedly features Kacey Musgraves but I can hardly hear her! I would like this song even more if Kacey had more of a prominent role. The song is about wishing your former lover love and happiness even if it can’t be with you. The narrator loves her too much to wish her anything but the best. He even hopes that she doesn’t make the mistake that he makes by falling in love with someone that will break her heart. Zac sounds terrific on this track and bravo on the dialed back production again, less really is more here. It’s a shame these last three songs were buried at the end because along with “My Old Man” they are the real highlights.

 

Overall I have to admit I am a little bit disappointed in this album. After I heard “My Old Man” and “All The Best” I was convinced this would be one of my album’s of the year. It’s not that this is a bad album though and good for the Zac Brown Band for getting back to their roots with this album. I find this to be a solid album overall and surely one of the best mainstream albums that will be released all year. Not an album of the year contender but a damn solid album.

 

Grade: 7.5/10 B-

 

Best Songs: All the Best, My Old Man, Your Majesty                                                                     

 

Chris Young Doesn’t Give a Shit… Neither Will I

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Remember the days when Chris Young actually gave a crap about the music he released? He was a neo traditionalist with a cowboy hat and a killer voice. Back in the days of Neon, I actually considered Chris Young to be one of my favorite artists. When his last album I’m Comin’ Over came out I was left wanting a hell of a lot more than what I got. It was essentially adult contemporary/pop/a little country and it was boring, generic and safe as could be. There wasn’t one song on the entire album that stood out as a great song. The last single from the album “Sober Saturday Night” wasn’t the greatest but at least if someone was listening to it they could tell it was actually a country song.

With the lead single for Young’s 7th album we get the worst garbage that has ever come out of Chris Young’s mouth. “Losing Sleep” is a ripoff of Justin Bieber of all people and in no way resembles anything to do with country music. You want to know what this song is about? Guess. It’s about having lots of sex. You know it’s good if it’s causing you to stay up all night losing sleep. I guess the sex wouldn’t be as good if one or both parties were asleep during. The alternative ending to this song is getting turnt while listening to Justin Bieber and Drake.

Grade: F 1/10 His voice elevates this song to a 1.

Chris Stapleton From A Room Volume 1 Album Review

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Thus far I have seen mixed reactions for Chris Stapleton’s new album From A Room. Perhaps the coolness factor of Stapleton has worn off for some or maybe their expectations were unrealistic and incapable of being met. In 2015 Chris Stapleton released his debut album Traveler and it was met with critical praise across the board. However, it wasn’t until Chris Stapleton performed at the CMA awards that November with Justin Timberlake that transformed him into the biggest selling star in country music by a mile. Without significant radio play and with a record label label that is completely inept Stapleton has shown no signs of slowing down. This record which is one of two expected to be released this year received little to no promotion from Mercury and didn’t even have a lead single released to radio until after the album was released. Thankfully Chris did get hourly play from IHeart radio stations once the single was released (not that he needs radio anyway) but it makes you wonder how Mercury could be doing this to their biggest star. It’s as though this was rushed out to the public with no thought behind how to market it at all.

With that all being said though, this is a fantastic album. My complaints about the album are mostly all about how this was released and the fact that it’s only a 9 song album with little new material. I actually think it’s a good idea for Chris to release 2 albums this year because there is an appetite from the fans but also because he is probably sitting on mountains of great songs that have yet to be released. But if the whole idea of this was to get a bunch of songs out to the public why would your first album in 2 years only have 9 songs?

Getting to the content of the album I am amazed that the praise for this album hasn’t been universal. Vocally we all understand how incredible Stapleton is and that is showcased on the lead single “Either Way.” I’m a little bit surprised that they picked a sad/slower tempo song as the first single but this is the best song on the album. The power of Stapleton’s voice in the chorus of this song is breathtaking. The two people in this track are in a marriage that is on it’s last legs. They fake the perfect life when they are out but in reality they are no longer in love with each other. The husband doesn’t care if his wife leaves him or stays because he won’t love her either way.

The album mostly follows these themes of sadness and despair but the tempo and subject matter change on songs like “Second One To Know” and “Them Stems.” The former is a rocking guitar driven love song whereas the latter is a song about you guessed it, pot. I dismissed this song a little bit at first even though it’s not a bad song. I just don’t really connect with these songs about drugs and drug references. It’s so overdone in country music and I’m sure Chris has better songs to get out there.

Stapleton does a remarkable job of covering Willie Nelson on “Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning.” For those of you that don’t know the song, a man describes the day that his wife walked out on him. Everything that morning went wrong including his alarm going off late and spilling his coffee but, the last thing that he needed to happen was his wife leaving him. It’s another song with a simple production and it’s great to hear the harmonica in this song.

Another song on this album that I love is “Up To No Good.” Whether it be the steel guitar or the vocals, it’s great. As a married man Chris sings a lot of songs about relationships and marriage and this is one of them. The wife doesn’t trust her husband even though he has never given her a reason not to trust him. In his past he did some bad things and broke the law but when he met her he got his act together. It’s deeply upsetting to him that she doesn’t trust him after all this time.

“I Was Wrong” and “Without Your Love” are songs that show the importance of a particular love and what what would happen to him without it. The former is just an honest song about mistakes made and the man begging to take back the words he said. He regrets telling her that he didn’t love her and that he would be better off with someone else. He still loves her and he feels alone without her and he was wrong.

The album concludes with “Death Row” which feels like a detour from the rest of the album thematically. A man is waiting on death row to be murdered by the state for a crime that it’s unclear whether he committed or not. The song takes you into the mind and prison cell of this man in the final hours of his life. This song really lets Stapleon’s voice stand out maybe more than any other song and again the dialed back production helps.

This might not be the best album of the year by years end but it will damn sure be close. At the very least I can be sure that nobody will match the vocal performance that Stapleton puts on on this album. I definitely look forward volume 2 and it will be interesting to see if he sticks with the same type of songs or if he goes into other themes/sounds. As a follow up to Traveller this did not disappoint, my only wish was that there were more than 9 songs and that it was rolled out better.

Grade:  A- 9/10

Best Songs:  Either Way, Second One To Know, Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning

Angaleena Presley Wrangled Album Review

 

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Yesterday I published a fake news type piece where I poked fun at Kelsea Ballerini’s immature pop music. Angaleena Presley however is the antithesis of everything that Kelsea Ballerini is. Angaleena Presley does not get radio play. She doesn’t have 3 number 1 hits, or even 1. Her music is mature and honest and damn sure isn’t Disney glitter pop. Her music is smart, it’s vulnerable and at times it can get pretty gritty. As a member of the group the Pistol Annies, Presely is not alone in making really good country music. The two other members of that group Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe have in the last couple of years released some of the best albums in country music despite limited radio play in the case of Miranda and practically no radio play in the case of Ashley Monroe. I had always planned to review this album when I had learned that it would be released in April but what really peaked me interest was the collaboration that had everyone talking with Yeowolf who is a country rapper.

The song is called “Country” and it is one of the many songs in the last few years that has criticized the direction of mainstream country music. Her and Yeowolf aren’t really even talking about the sound of the music but the substance. The music that is generic and dishonest. In Yeowolf’s part of the song he raps about how corporate radio has become and how there’s no more Hank or Johnny Cash on the radio. It’s all just country posers on the radio. He even drops Sturgill Simpson’s name saying “Thank God for Sturgill Simpson.” Although I like the idea for the country criticism song, the delivery is frankly unpleasant. It’s not a song that I would honestly want to hear again because it is too grungy and loud. It’s almost a mixture of punk rock and garage country which isn’t something I enjoy.

Where the album really shines are on songs that are personal to Presley like “Dreams Don’t Come True” and “Wrangled.” The former is about what Presley had expected when she moved to Nashville to chase her dream of being a country artist. She had expected to get a record deal and drive a fancy car. She would make hit records and eventually get hooked on drugs. In reality however she got pregnant and never became a big star. The message that she tries to get across is that not only do dreams not come true but in the process they break your heart and hurt you. The title track is about Presley feeling like she is physically constrained and trapped being a housewife. She needs to get back to being herself where she can be free.

The theme of personal introspective songs continues with “Outlaw” and “Mama I Tried.” On “Outlaw” she describes how she wants to fit in and be like everyone else but she can’t. People assume that she is simply brave and tough but everything she has ever done has been for desperation. “Mama I Tried” is a rock song that talks about how her mother wanted her to make it big so that she could buy her fancy jewelry and clothes. She tried to make it big and came close but she fell short and will never make it now that age has passed her by.

A track like “High School” does a really good job of delving into the stresses and problems that both girls and boys face. The first part of the song talks about a girl who gets pregnant in high school and is ostracized for it. She tries to hide the pregnancy but she is already starting to show. She is afraid girls will tease her and boys won’t want to date the mother to be. The story then changes perspectives to talk about the boy whose life is all about throwing a ball and trying to be like his father. When he gets upset (being a boy) he’s not supposed to cry or show emotion so he takes pills in order to feel better.

Even though I like the album more than I dislike it I find it hard to get past the production on too many songs. Earlier I had mentioned my problems with “Country” and they are also present and songs like “Good Girl Down” and “Motel Bible.” There is simply to much being done to Presley’s voice and it makes it difficult for me to enjoy even if I find the lyrics to be strong. I can appreciate the honesty and quality of the lyrics of this album but it can’t be one of the best albums of the year for me if half the album is difficult to listen to.

Grade: B- 7/10

Best Songs: Wrangled, Dreams Don’t Come True

Charlie Worsham Beginning of Things Album Review

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Count myself among the people who like Charlie Worsham. Besides the fact that he comes across as an extremely likable guy, he makes great music. He’s not afraid to be different from the crowd and release music that although still country, is innovative and unique. Charlie’s debut album Rubberband was released in 2013 at the height of the bro country era when quality music did not fit in well on country radio (it still doesn’t). Prior to releasing his first album since 2013, Worsham released a few songs from the upcoming album basically an ep’s worth of material. I have to say I was very intrigued by the sounds that I was hearing and even wrote a review for the title track  The Beginning of Things.

This album although country definitely pushes boundaries and includes something that is becoming more common on country songs and that is horns. We hear the horns loud and clear on one of my favorite tracks on this album “Call You Up” which tells the story of a man who plans to call up his ex one day if he ever gets over her. He wants to call her to find out how she’s doing, if she ever met anyone and to laugh about the way that she broke his heart. He thinks about her all the time no matter what is going on. It’s a very smooth, catchy song which is the case with a number of songs on this album.

Worsham also displays a great sense of humor with songs like “Take Me Drunk” and “Lawn Chair Don’t Care.” The latter is a song I have seen that a lot of people don’t really care for and see it as label meddling however, I have to admit I kind of like it. It’s a catchy, relaxing song about all the stresses and problems in life. Despite all this he is going to just sit back in his lawn chair for awhile and not think about it. Is it a great song or one of the best tracks on the album? No, but it’s harmless.

One of the songs on the album that I agree with the consensus is “Birthday Suit.” What the hell is that?! I know that he was trying to be different with the album and Worsham has a sense of humor but what in tarnation? This is in stark contrast to “Beginning of Things” which displays excellent storytelling. This is the story of a man named Bill, his wife Samantha and their daughter. Bill only likes the beginning of things in life and shortly after marrying Samantha and having a daughter, Bill leaves them. Eventually, Sam’s mother gets dementia and has days where she doesn’t even remember who her daughter is. When she passes away the daughter and Bill show up to the funeral where she confronts her father about what he did to her mother. She tells him that Samantha never blamed you for what he did to them but she (his daughter) always did. To avoid the confrontation Bill grabs his things and leaves. He only likes the beginning of things and a funeral is of course the end.

The lead single “Cut Your Groove” is a great example of a fun, uptempo song that actually has something to say. This argues that if you have something to say, or a melody to get it out there. Make other people hear it even if you have to shout it out there. There’s a little bit of the idea of chasing your dreams as an artist which we get more clearly on “Only Way to Fly.” Chase your dreams and leave all your baggage behind, it’s the only way to live your life.

The most traditional track on this album is “Old Time Sake” which has some steel guitar and light acoustic guitar. The setting is a bar where the man meets a woman. He likes her and asks her to sit with him and talk for awhile. He is getting over a broken heart and is looking to start something new for old time sake. When a song comes on that they both like he asks her to dance. At the end of the night, instead of hooking up with her he simply walks her to her car because he doesn’t want to move too fast since this could be something special. It’s a refreshing take on the idea of two people meeting in a bar. With all the bar hookup songs circulating the last few years it’s nice to hear something like this. “Southern By the Grace of God” isn’t traditional sounding but is pretty standard country in theme with references to unlocked doors, crickets and a slow southern drawl. He even makes the joke that you can’t out country him.

“Please People Please” feels like a realization for Worsham in the mainstream country business. You can never please people no matter what you do and he’s not going to chase after trends and try and be something that he is not. He’s going to write and sing songs about what he’s feeling and if your music is going to just be a targeted, formulaic thing than what is the point?

“I Ain’t Going Nowhere” is a song that feels like one of the weaker tracks on the album even if it’s not a bad song. Two people in a relationship are having an argument but regardless of how bad it gets the man tells the woman he’s not going anywhere. The ah, ah’s in this song are incredibly annoying to me.

A really strong track “I-55” is one of the last songs on the album and one of the best. This is the story about returning to your hometown after being gone for a long time. The man in this song makes the long drive home any time he feels his life is getting to be to much or when he wants to catch up with old friends.

I like this album and I like that Charlie Worsham is doing something different while still remaining country. You will actually hear real music (not computerized) being played on this album and clever, non generic songwriting. This album was not perfect and there were a few songs I could have done without but overall this is an enjoyable album and a nice return for Charlie Worsham. Unfortunately, Charlie’s current single is struggling at radio but, the good news is radio is about to implode!

Grade: B- 7/10

Best Songs: The Beginning of Things, Call You Up, I-55