It's been an interminable twelve years since we last heard from Loretta Lynn. Her most recent release, 2004's Van Lear Rose, was a collaboration with alternative rocker Jack White that was beloved by music critics at large but panned by many country purists for its heavy "garage punk" production. Personally, I'm firmly in the "love it" camp, but I can understand how such an adventurous, genre-bending album wasn't everyone's cup of tea. Thankfully, no such caveats are necessary for 2016's Full Circle, on which Lynn returns to her Kentucky roots and delivers a fine album that stands up to the great records she put out throughout the '60s and '70s. And if you're wondering how Lynn's voice is holding up at age eighty-three, you needn't worry - it's barely aged a day.
While Full Circle isn't a concept album in the strict sense that it contains a continuing story, there's undoubtedly a thematic undercurrent throughout the album of Lynn looking back at her life and contemplating her mortality. The album begins with Lynn reprising "Whispering Sea", the first song she ever wrote when she signed her record deal, and ends with "Lay Me Down", a stunning duet with Willie Nelson that has the two legends pondering the inevitable day on which they have to leave this world. In-between, Lynn revisits traditional folk tunes she grew up on, covers a few songs she loves that other artists had hits with, and even rerecords a few of her old hits just for the heck of it. The entire album feels like a encapsulation of Lynn's entire life journey and of everything coming full circle, as the title suggests. This is not to suggest the album is an entirely somber affair as there are plenty of lighthearted moments, but it's clear that Lynn probably expects this to be one of her last albums (if not the last).
Author: Leon Blair
The wait for new music from artists, especially artists we love can be some of the longest time periods ever for music fans. The clock speeds up any other time during one's life, but when waiting for new music, it seems like forever. Some are able to push two albums out within one year of each other while others have to wait a bit longer.
It's been six long years since we received a new album from Elizabeth Cook, and much like the wait for new Hayes Carll music, it's been a long wait. A lot has happened to Elizabeth over these past six years. Her conflict with getting new music out didn't come from label problems or a lack of a creative direction. It seemed like every time Elizabeth did want to record new music, something awful in her life happened. Over the past six years Elizabeth has suffered through six deaths of loved ones as well as a divorce and a stint in rehab. It sounds like the plotline to a good country song but it's the harsh reality Elizabeth faced.
Author: Leon Blair
I don’t think there’s a worse crime in music than being predictable. You never want to walk into any artist’s discography knowing what you’re going to get because that takes the fun out of it. Music enlightens the soul and stems beautiful things such as creativity and positivity. There is no room for predictability.
California native Cheryl Desere’e is anything except predictable. With a voice that is clearly jazz influenced with a sound that embodies the best of the traditional country sound, Cheryl Desere’e is an artist all her own. The closest comparison I could make would be someone like Lindi Ortega who also embodies a bluesy soulful country sound. Cheryl Desere’e proves on her self-titled debut album that she’s here to stay.
Author: Leon Blair
There comes a time in every artists musical career where they begin to realize that they want to record music THEY want to record rather than what their label wants. This is mostly a result of artists eventually being cast aside by radio as has beens or "old geezers". It's often got nothing to do with talent, just an unfortunate cycle that has existed in country music, hell, every genre of music since the beginning.
It's usually a slow turn as well. Most artists go from scoring consistent hits to realizing those hits have been coming in less and less. That usually transpires into that said artist releasing a song that not only panders to radio but is also embarrassing for that artist's legacy. For some artists, it could stop right there, but for some artists there's a chance at redemption.
Craig Morgan is an artist that fits the above description pretty well. Morgan has been around in country music for more than fifteen years now (he debuted in 2000 with his self-titled album). While he’s never been the biggest hit-maker, he’s made some pretty consistent appearances on the charts, bring attention to himself due to his more neo-traditional leanings. Of course, the tides of mainstream country music are always changing as labels look for the next trend, and in 2012 Craig Morgan decided to release a song called “Corn Star” which well……oh look at the title. Do I really have to explain this one? Anyway, the song bombed on the charts and obviously made Craig realize that trendy game wasn’t a game he could play anymore.
Author: Zackary Kephart
Every genre of music has elements that help differentiate these genres from each other. When discussing country music, the biggest element that defines it is that it's raw, and real. That's something we've lost on the radio but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist somewhere out there. Once you reach out you'll be sure to find plenty of musicians making music from the heart.
Nick Dittmeier and the Sawdusters don't define themselves as “country” necessarily, nor does their sound really scream country first and foremost. The Kentucky based band defines themselves as Americana, which as you may know is pretty much the refuge for real country music as well as other genres of music.
This isn't “real country music”, and I don't think I'm going to bellyache because of it. Nick Dittmeier and the Sawdusters most certainly have the “real” factor to them, more so than any other band I've covered so far this year.
Author: Zackary Kephart
Hello everyone! Welcome to a new feature on Country Music Minds! As you all may know, we do our best to cover all the current best music out there in Country and Americana. In addition, Andy also writes reviews for past Country/Americana albums which are always great reads.
That's why I want to personally do something to help cover music from the past. We may have established this blog this year but that doesn't mean the great music from the past can be totally ignored. That's why with this feature, I'm hoping to offer up two tracks every day, one fairly recent and one not so fairly recent.
These tracks will be more than simple "tracks of the day" kind of things that we do just for fun. They will serve as additional ways for you guys to discover even more (what I consider to be) great Country/Americana artists as well as reminisce on a song from the past (which you may not know either). I haven't decided yet if these will replace song reviews or not. To be honest, I don't feel as comfortable talking about an individual song as I do talking about a complete album. While this is meant to showcase music from past years I wouldn't be uncomfortable with showcasing new music here either. This will be decided later on down the road however.
Before we move on I just want to state that this piece will only be posted throughout the week. I unfortunately never access to a desktop computer throughout the weekend so I don't have the ability to post videos and such then.
Without further ado....
Author: Leon Blair
The fight to save country music in the mainstream is a fight that has been going on for several years by now. A lot of our soldiers have been seen conflicts with their major labels, some have been cast aside by radio, and some have gone all Benedict Arnold on us. They say you can’t be country if you want to succeed in mainstream country music, and if that’s not the most convoluted statement you’ve ever heard then I don’t know what is.
If there’s been any instances of retaliation, it’s come from our younger artists. William Michael Morgan, Kacey Musgraves, and Maddie and Tae have all shown tremendous promise through their debut albums and a guy like Mo Pitney has shown that he’s the real deal in the few songs he’s released thus far. The problem is that none of these artists have exactly been treated too kindly by radio lately. However there’s one artist who has seemed to find the magical formula of scoring a hit with a song that actually sounds like country music – Jon Pardi.
Author: Zackary Kephart
It's rare that you see an independent country band gain popularity through a single song. Usually that said band has a breakthrough album that, even if unnoticed at first is eventually found by at least one critic as if they discovered a slew of buried treasure. Either way, whether through a song or an album, the discovery of a band leads to discussion amongst music fans, something this critic loves.
This brings us to Evan Webb and the Rural Route Ramblers. In January of this year when the Mississippi, Meramec, and Missouri (and many others) rivers flooded their respective states, the band released a video for the title track of their album, Dry Up Or Drown that accurately and disturbingly portrayed the flooded towns and the effects it had on them through real footage. Needless to say it's an excellent video and if you haven't seen it, check it out below. This isn't something that should be passed up.
I'm not just here to talk about the song though, because while the song itself is one of the best you'll hear this year, the album it stems from is of a high caliber of quality.
When a veteran mainstream artist is inevitably cast aside from radio and their time in the spotlight is finished, they generally respond in one of two different ways. Some become dramatically less active in recording new music and release new albums only sporadically. A few even retire altogether. On the flip side, others record with newfound vigor, enlivened by the freedom to record without the need to kowtow to commercial pressures. '70s honky-tonker Gene Watson undoubtedly falls within the latter category. Despite not having anything even resembling a hit since the late '80s, he has quietly released a string of highly worthwhile albums over the past two decades to a small but dedicated fanbase. His 2016 release, the fittingly titled Real. Country. Music., continues that trend, and will almost certainly be among the better traditional country records released this year.
While never a household name, Gene Watson has a reputation among erudite country fans as being among the most talented and underrated vocalists in the genre's history. While evaluating the likability of a singer's voice is always an exercise in extreme subjectivity, I think this reputation is well-deserved. Watson's multi-octave tenor and well-honed interpretive skills compel me to describe him as one of traditional country's finest practitioners. And Watson's voice has held up amazingly well for a man in his early 70s. Indeed, he sounds virtually identical to the way he did on classic tracks from his prime like "Farewell Party" and "Love in the Hot Afternoon."
Author: Zackary Kephart
We’re always so concerned with the concept of “saving” country music. I’m not just talking about saving it in the mainstream. If you don’t think that the independent side of country music has its fair share of trends then you’re wrong. While a lot of artists have chosen to incorporate horns in their music simply for the sake of being popular, some artists have chosen to stick to their guns and release what they want to.
The self-titled album from Luke Bell is of the latter description. It’s very rare that I review something from an artist that the readers of this blog already know a lot about. Indeed, Luke Bell has been heralded as the next big thing in country music, and deservingly so. After signing with Thirty Tigers earlier this year Luke Bell decided to revamp his 2014 album, Don’t Mind If I Do by pulling it from all outlets and starting over. The result is five tracks that have carried over to his new self-titled album as well as new songs. The hype surrounding Luke Bell isn’t just for show, nor are there are sneaky marketing gimmicks. This guy is just plain and simply the real deal.
It’s really hard to articulate what makes the self-titled album from Luke work so damn well. It’s like a painting at a museum. You lose yourself in it and it’s just hard to describe the beauty of what pulls you in. Make no mistake, not only is this one of the best country albums you’ll hear this year, it’s one 2016’s best, period.