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.
It’s gotten to the point that I can’t listen to more than two country singles in a row without wanting to hurt somebody. So here’s the daily top five. What are some songs that are your palate cleansers, that you can always go back to when you need to wipe out the aftertaste of some really bad music? Here’s my list: Alison Krauss & Union Station, “The Lucky One” Rosanne Cash with Johnny Cash, “September When it Comes” Kathy Mattea, “Where’ve You Been” Jason Isbell, “Elephant” Carrie Underwood with Vince Gill, “How Great Thou Art”
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
Actively writing single reviews again has me also looking at the radio charts again. What a bleak landscape of interchangeable singers and songs! I can’t remember things ever being this generic and bland. We flirted with it back in the Kellie Coffey days, but the bottom didn’t fall out. Today, is there even a bottom? An old friend of mine listened to country radio for the first time in presumably years and asked, “Am I crazy, or is everyone getting drunk on country radio?” He’s not crazy. What can we do to fix this? Today’s Top Five asks: What five songs would you immediately put in heavy rotation on country radio? They can already be singles, or could be unreleased songs that you think should be singles, but they should be current enough to be featured on an artist’s most recent album. Here’s my top five: Old Crow Medicine Show, Read More
Today’s a fairly big release day for long time country music fans, as two legends release sets today: Reba McEntire, who returns after five years with Love Somebody, and Dwight Yoakam, who is back with Second Hand Heart, which is only his second album of new material in the last ten years. We’ve already review the lead Reba single and lead Dwight single. We’ll have reviews up of both albums at a later date, but they influenced today’s Daily Top Five: What are your most recent purchases? I’m still an albums guy, so I’m going to list my most recent five albums purchased, but feel free to list tracks instead, if you’re more the a la carte type. My five most recent (country) album purchases are: Shelby Lynne, Temptation Shania Twain, Still the One: Live From Vegas Rhiannon Giddens, Tomorrow is My Turn Punch Brothers, The Phosphorescent Blues Jason Isbell, Read More
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.
“One Hell of an Amen” Brantley Gilbert Written by Brian Davis, Mike Dekle, and Brantley Gilbert I actually feel kind of bad for Brantley Gilbert. His heart is totally in the right place. But the execution is absolutely horrendous. Attempting to tackle two different tragedies in one song – a fallen soldier and death by cancer – and fails to stumble upon any truth in either individual situation, let alone a compelling connection between the two.
In early February, Zac Brown Band kicked off a brief cycle of Twitter Outrage when they performed a cover of Jason Isbell’s “Dress Blues,” which they are rumored to have cut for their upcoming album, during a high-profile ESPN gig. Some of Isbell’s devoted fans were livid that a mainstream country performer had covered Isbell’s song, insisting that it should be Isbell with the multi-platinum stats and sold-out arena tours. There’s something to that line of thinking, of course: Were commercial music a strict meritocracy, then Isbell would be an international superstar on the strengths of his one-of-a-kind songwriting and intuitive, soulful singing. Isbell, to his credit, responded to the uproar with a level-headed and fundamentally correct statement about how people who clamor for more substance in mainstream country shouldn’t be attacking artists who are interested in cutting songs like “Dress Blues.”