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

Top 10 Current Country Artists

Since I am currently all caught up with the albums that I want to cover this week (next week is another story) I was thinking about different lists that I could make. I think lists can be fun to make and can be useful for the readers. So, I decided to make the least objective list that I could possibly come up with and do a top 10 list of current country artists. Now, I don’t want this to just be a list of all time greats like George Strait and Dolly Parton. I understand that they are still making music however, I wanted this to be a list of more current artists. For the purposes of the list, whether or not the artist is mainstream or independent is irrelevant. The only qualification is that they are a country artist who is semi current. This is just my personal top 10 artists at the moment so there was plenty of artists who could have been swapped. Feel free to comment, agree/disagree. Enjoy!

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10. Josh Turner: One of my all time favorite artists. The mainstream has certainly chased it’s share of trends over Josh Turner’s career however he has stayed true to his neo-traditional sound through it all.

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9. Miranda Lambert: Before The Weight of These Wings was released I would not have had Lambert on this list. However, when you combine her past work with the Weight of These Wings, it’s hard to argue that there are many better artists in the mainstream.

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8. Eric Church: Is there an artist in the mainstream that releases as many quality singles as Eric Church? Sure he’s not a traditional artist but, he makes great, modern country music and he actually has something to say!

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7. Aaron Watson: Perhaps the biggest country artist in Texas and for good reason. Watson does a fantastic job of combining radio sensible songs and powerful songs with a message in his albums. Even in his more modern sounding songs you can still hear tons of country instrumentation.

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6. Kacey Musgraves: Radio doesn’t deserve Kacey Musgraves. A fantastic neo traditional artist who refuses to compromise her art for the radio machine.

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5. Flatland Cavalry: The closest comparison to Flatland Cavalry would be the Turnpike Troubadours and boy is that a hell of a compliment. After only releasing about an album and a half’s worth of songs, they have already established themselves as one of country’s best groups.

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4. Sunny Sweeney: It’s hard to argue Sunny Sweeney isn’t one of country music’s best after her most recent masterpiece Trophy. The neo traditionalist is extremely honest and relateable in her music with loads of traditional instrumentation.

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3. Chris Stapleton: The biggest, most important moment in country music in recent memory was Chris Stapleton performing alongside Justin Timberlake at the 2015 CMA Awards. Stapleton has since become the biggest selling star in country music with perhaps the greatest voice in the genre. He has helped to prove the irrelevance of radio and the fact that people will pay for good music.

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2. Cody Johnson: Cody Johnson is country music. It’s rare that I go a day without listening to a Cody Johnson song. A true cowboy who mixes heartbreak and uptempo tracks with an undeniable country sound.

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1.  The Turnpike Troubadours: The Turnpike Troubadours are the greatest group/artist in country music. Their songs are written so brilliantly it makes you wonder how anyone could have written such brilliant songs. Musically lets just say if you don’t love the fiddle you may want to stay away from this Oklahoma based group.

A Rebuke of This Whiskey Riff Nonsense

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I don’t do this. I don’t write rebuttals to other blogs articles/think pieces but I think something should be said about the idiocy that is the Whiskey Riff Article Here’s The Real Reason You Hate Mainstream Country. The condescending article from the click bate, faux news site Whiskey Riff (written by Wes Langeler) attempts to paint people who are displeased with the direction of mainstream country as nose picking losers who are just jealous of how good looking and successful mainstream country artists are. The article does nothing of course to delve into actual criticisms that non mainstream fans have of the genre. Instead, the article starts off by comparing the mega stars in the mainstream to the jocks on the football team in high school. “Luke Bryan, Sam Hunt and Florida Georgia Line are like those jocks that you loves to hate. The good looking, popular guys that seem to get an unworthy and unjustified amount of attention (and girls). You hated them for it.” So essentially if an artist is good looking and popular then they are off limits to critique. Forget the fact that Luke Bryan has not recorded one above average song during his 11 year career and stop being a hater, obviously Sam Hunt is country. Next in the click bait article Langeler attempts to say that this bro country life style of underage drinking, hunting and fishing is what real people do. If you can’t identify with every song on the radio singing about those things then obviously you never did any of those things. You were just a little geek and you were jealous of the kids that did do those things.

Well Wes Langeler, the truth is we don’t give a rats ass whether the music is mainstream or not, popular or not. The reason that so many fans are fed up with mainstream country is because it lacks any substance, lacks any country instrumentation and is just a cheap rip off of other genres of music and other artists. Your honestly saying that you can’t understand why people would dare say that Sam Hunt isn’t a real country artist? An R&B singer being pedaled to country radio because he would disappear if he went pop? You can’t understand why people would be ticked off at Luke Bryan for putting out songs like “Home Alone Tonight” where he sings about sending drunk revenge selfies to his ex girlfriend? Or how about Thomas Rhett who rips off a different artist with every single?

The reason that independent artists and artists of substance are having greater success than ever and the reason radio is dying is because people are sick of it. Chris Stapleton is the biggest star in country music by a mile according to sales and he can’t even get radio play. Aaron Watson an independent Texas artist has had 2 consecutive number 1 albums despite not getting a lick of airplay on the radio while Chris Lane sold a paltry 6000 albums in his debuts first week. The only place that mainstream country stars are still relevant is the bankrupt, failed radio enterprises who will be lucky to survive beyond the next couple of years.

And as I said, it has nothing to do with mainstream or not mainstream for us it has to do with good music versus bad music. There are certainly artists in the mainstream putting out great music. Eric Church, William Michael Morgan, Miranda Lambert and Chris Stapleton just to name a few. And isn’t it ironic that a mainstream fan would mock independent fans for just being losers. Have you not seen the destruction and chaos that has ensued at some of your hero’s concerts including your boy Luke Bryan punching a concert goer? I could go into more graphic acts of debauchery that have ensued at these concerts but i’ll save you the details.

People are sick and tired of mainstream country because it sucks not because they are/were losers. I sincerely hope you don’t truly believe this incredibly close minded, vacuous idea. This failure to see what is really happening in country music is what is destroying the mainstream and the institutions that support it. When Cumulus and IHeart media’s collapses are complete I hope you have a “safe space” as you so brilliantly called it. TRIGGERED.

 

Sunny Sweeney Trophy Album Review

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My first introduction to Sunny Sweeney was back in 2010 when she released her single “From a Table Away” to Country radio. Back then, Sweeney was signed to Republic Nashville as the first artist on the new label which was part of Big Machine. “From a Table Away” was the lead single to Concrete which produced 3 top 40 singles including the top 10 hit “From a Table Away.” After a couple disappointing single performances Sweeney was let go from her label and after which time she signed with the independent label Thirty Tigers with whom she has released her last two albums with. Sweeney’s last album Provoked was a really good album from the Texas singer which gave me high hopes for her newest album Trophy.

Highlights: This album for me is full of highlights so let me start with what I think is the best song on the album which also happens to be the final song. “Unsaid” is about someone that you love dying suddenly and you regretting all of the things that you didn’t get to say to them. The person in this song didn’t get to say she was sorry for whatever she did to the deceased and didn’t get the opportunity to say goodbye. What adds to a well written song is the instrumentation on this song. It starts off with a very subdued acoustic guitar before the chorus transitions to an orchestra sound with drums in the background. Another powerful song on this album is “Bottle By My Bed” which feels extremely personal to Sweeney. As she gets older all of her friends are having families and children and they all are jealous of the life that their friend gets to live. What they don’t know is she would trade all of it to have a bottle by her bed. More than anything in the world, she wishes to have a child of her own. It reminds me a little bit of “Pushing Time” from Miranda Lambert’s new album. The music on the cover “I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight” is incredible. It starts off with a harmonica and then the heavy peddle steel comes in and steals my heart before a fiddle comes in. The story is told from a male point of view and tells the story of the woman calling up the man on the phone and telling him that it’s over. The narrator describes how they play different music depending on what type of mood they are in and tonight, they feel like listening to Hank Williams. “Pass the Pain” starts off with some more heavy pedal steel and details the interaction between the woman and the bartender. The bartender is concerned with the amount of alcohol the woman is drinking but, she knows exactly what she is doing. She has been at the bar all day and knows the alcohol isn’t getting rid of her pain yet, she continues to order more alcohol. She tells the barkeep that if her money is still good to just do your job and pass her the pain.

Other Notable Songs: The albums lead single is a fun song called “Better Bad Idea.” She doesn’t want to play it safe she wants to get loaded and follow her bad idea. The opening fiddle play on “Nothing Wrong With Texas” made me love the song after about two seconds. It feels like another autobiographical song that describes what Sunny and other Texas artists go through after they try to make it in Nashville before heading back to Texas. “Spent so much time running around in that big old Pontiac. Time to go back to where I learned what respect is, there’s nothing wrong with Texas.” In the albums title track the narrator describes the situation between her man, his ex and her. The ex never treated him right and now blames the other woman for taking her boyfriend. The truth is however that the ex is just a jealous fool and now her ex has a trophy (her) for putting up with the ex’s nonsense. “Why People Change” is another song that reminds me of Miranda Lambert’s album The Weight of These Wings. In the beginning of the song Sunny is giving the guitarist instructions on when to come in in the song which adds to the organic, old school feel. The song begs the question of why people change so drastically. She was once in a relationship that she thought would last forever before the relationship unraveled.

Final Thoughts/Grade: If the year ended today this would be my album of the year. I have waited for an album to blow me away in 2017 and even though there have been plenty of albums that I have liked this year, this is perfection. This album is my favorite not only as a critic but as a fan. I would also say that “Unsaid” is probably my song of the year up to this point as well. The mix of Traditional country, outlaw and Americana makes the album feel shorter than it really is. There is no point during the album where you feel bored or feel that a song doesn’t belong. What a tremendous album by a tremendous woman. My grade for the album is an A+

Re-Charting The Chart

Every week we will take a look at the top 30 Mediabase Country Chart. We will re-rank the songs on the chart based on the quality and overall enjoyment of each song. Next to each song I will provide the ranking that we would give it and the actual ranking on the Mediabase chart in parenthesis (From America’s Music Charts). Songs that are in the color red are songs that are either recurrent or in danger of going recurrent soon, while blue is for songs that I predict will go to number 1 at some point. At the end of each ranking there will be some thoughts about the current chart as well as any news or updates that are deemed important. I hope everyone enjoys this weekly post and feel free to comment/agree/disagree with anything you see.

  1. Zac Brown Band                                                       My Old Man (30) A
  2. Eric Church ft. Rhiannon Giddens                     Kill A Word (8) A-
  3. Craig Campbell                                                         Outskirts of Heaven (26) B+
  4. Runaway June                                                            Lipstick (28) B+
  5. Chris Janson                                                               Holdin’ Her (21) B+
  6. Brad Paisley                                                                Today (4) B+
  7. Miranda Lambert                                                      We Should Be Friends (25) B
  8. Darius Rucker                                                             If I Told You (22) B
  9. Chris Young                                                                Sober Saturday Night (1) B
  10. Dan and Shay                                                              How Not To (19)
  11. Little Big Town                                                           Better Man (5)  B-
  12. Josh Turner                                                                  Hometown Girl (12) C+
  13. Jon Pardi                                                                       Dirt On My Boots (2) C+
  14. Luke Bryan                                                                  Fast (6) C+
  15. Jason Aldean                                                               Any Ol’ Barstool (9) C+
  16. High Valley                                                                 Make You Mine (16) C+
  17. Luke Combs                                                                Hurricane (18) C
  18. Kenny Chesney                                                          Bar At The End of…(14) C
  19. Garth Brooks                                                              Baby, Let’s Lay Down… (13) C
  20. Trent Harmon                                                            There’s a Girl (20) C
  21. Lauren Alaina                                                             Road Less Traveled (7) C
  22. Rascal Flatts                                                                Yours If You Want It (23) C-
  23. Brett Young                                                                 In Case You Didn’t Know (27) C-
  24. Keith Urban                                                                 The Fighter (29) F
  25. Kelsea Ballerini                                                          Yeah Boy (10) F
  26. Dierks Bentley                                                            Black (17) F
  27. Michael Ray                                                                Think a Little Less (3) F
  28. Lady Antebellum                                                       You Look Good (24) F
  29. Brantley Gilbert                                                        The Weekend (11) F
  30. Sam Hunt                                                                    Body Like A Backroad(15) F

New To The Top 30: Zac Brown Band “My Old Man” Such a great song. This is also the first time a song has surpassed “Kill A Word” for the top spot on my Re-Charting The Chart.

Songs That Left The Top 30: “Seein’ Red.” I would love if I never had to see Dustin Lynch on this chart again. His music is garbage and has no place on any station.

Songs I See Leaving Us Soon: “Baby Lets Lay Down and Dance” and “Lipstick” are done. I’m so disappointed to see “Lipstick” go because I love that song and Runaway June in general. No news on a new album or follow up single yet. And yeah Garth Brooks is still a thing I guess. Also “There’s A Girl” is done. 

Quick Thoughts: One of the worst songs on the chart leaves and probably the best song that will chart this year joins the chart so good news on that front. There are still too many songs that just don’t belong on the chart hell “Make You Mine” is on week 54 for pete sake. Also I added “Road Less Traveled” to songs that I predict will go number one eventually. I’m a little surprised but, it shows how powerful On The Verge can be. What helps her is that there are some songs behind her that are running out of gas that will not go number 1.