In an ideal world, Jason Isbell would somehow be able to switch the titles of his two most recent albums. While his previous effort, Southeastern, chronicled his struggle toward sobriety and found liberation in the powers of redemption and self-worth, Isbell’s latest, Something More Than Free digs deep into the foundations of the contemporary South. In terms of tone and theme for each of these exceptional records, the titles would be more fitting were they swapped, and it’s simply remarkable that slight misnomers are as close as Isbell comes on either album to striking a false note.
Articles by Jonathan Keefe
“Dime Store Cowgirl” Kacey Musgraves Written by Luke Laird, Shane McAnally, and Kacey Musgraves Despite a slew of industry awards and sales figures that dwarf those of male artists who receive ten times the airplay, Kacey Musgraves has yet to connect with country radio. Plenty of thinkpieces have been logged about #SaladGate, Musgraves’ social mores, and the disconnections between critical favor, sales, and radio’s callout research, but there are increasing murmurs that it is Musgraves’ refusal to play politics with the powers-that-be at radio that has kept all but one of her singles (“Merry Go Round,” her debut single and lone top 10 hit) from missing the top 20. This is hardly a new phenomenon, and it is, unfortunately, indicative of contemporary gender politics both within and beyond country music that Musgraves might be penalized for not behaving in the ways that a woman is expected to behave. That context Read More
We’ve been beefing up our activity on Twitter of late– for those of you not following us yet, you’ll never in a million years believe that our name is @CountryUniverse— and have been enjoying the opportunity to engage with our readers– and, on occasion, with the artists we’ve written about– using that platform. So, for this Daily Top Five, we’ve listed some of our most essential, “Must Follow” Twitter accounts! Country Music News, Culture, & Humor: 1). Windmills Country (@WindmillsMusic) You want opinions that are driven by real data and thoughtful, incisive analysis? No one does it better. 2). Grady Smith (@gradywsmith) The in-house country music columnist for The Guardian has truly stepped up in a post-Chris Neal, post-Chet Flippo world. 3). Americana Music Association (@AmericanaFest) Essential coverage of the artists we love who reside on the fringes of the country universe. 4). Jessica Northey (@JessicaNorthey) No one works harder Read More
“My Bed” Sunny Sweeney with Will Hoge Written By Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley, and Sunny Sweeney Both Sunny Sweeney and Will Hoge have flirted briefly with mainstream success: Sweeney cracked the top 10 at radio with “From a Table Away,” while Eli Young Band scored a major hit with their cover of Hoge’s “Even If It Breaks Your Heart.” A slow-burning ballad that chronicles the dissolution of a relationship between actual adults, “My Bed” is, unfortunately, too far out-of-step with the culture at country radio for the pair of singer-songwriters to make any new inroads there. But it’s a measured, mature single that deserves a wider audience.
“Hot Corn, Cold Corn” Robert Earl Keen Written By Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs Robert Earl Keen has spent the past three decades as one of the most venerated singer-songwriters in country music, particularly within the Texas Country community. His latest album, Happy Prisoner, is a departure from Keen not because of his decision to dabble in Bluegrass music— his material has always skewed in a folk-leaning, acoustic direction— but because it’s an entire album of cover songs, and he’s known for his sharply-observed originals. Fortunately, there’s no faulting Keen’s taste in material, and the album’s first single is a cover of “Hot Corn, Cold Corn,” a Flatt & Scruggs tune that has become a Bluegrass standard.
Aaron Watson The Underdog The narrative surrounding Aaron Watson’s The Underdog makes it an album that is easy to root for: Buoyed by more than a decade of goodwill and fan support and a deft pre-release promotional push, the album surprised many with its #1 bow atop Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart, surreptitiously around the same time that erstwhile Sony Nashville CEO Gary Overton made his controversial remark about how artists who don’t get played on country radio “don’t exist.” The Underdog, the twelfth album from a traditional-leaning Texas singer-songwriter known as much for his humility as for his music, provided a perfectly timed counterexample to Overton’s short-sighted arrogance.
The Mavericks Mono For all of their commercial successes and industry recognition, The Mavericks were never a band that bowed to popular trends in country music. On Mono, the second album of their full-fledged revival, they play even faster and looser with genre conventions than ever before. The result is an album that, if not necessarily their best—What a Crying Shame and 2013’s In Time set particularly high standards— may be the most purely fun album of The Mavericks’ career.
Gretchen Peters Blackbirds More so than her artfully-turned phrases and her novel, evocative imagery, perhaps Gretchen Peters’ greatest gift as a songwriter is her mastery of perspective. Peters’ ability to shift her narrative voice to create fully realized, authentic characters whose emotions and experiences drive her songs has very few peers, and that particular skill serves her well on Blackbirds. A meditation on mortality, Blackbirds highlights a variety of experiences and points-of-view on matters of death and loss, and it’s that multifaceted perspective that gives the album such remarkable depth.
“Send It On Down” Lee Ann Womack Written by Chris Knight and David Leone The centerpiece of the excellent The Way I’m Livin’, Lee Ann Womack’s “Send It On Down” is an understated but brilliantly drawn character sketch that is a testament both to Chris Knight’s masterful songwriting and to Womack’s interpretive skill. It’s perhaps the finest single of Womack’s career.