Fusion Country’s Favorite Albums & Songs of 2018 So Far

We’ve reached the mid-point of the year, which means it’s time you read yet another mid-year music list. Isn’t it exciting? Look if you keep up with this blog, I don’t blame you for skipping out on this. These lists get tiring after you’ve read like 50 of them. But if you’re up for another list, just found Fusion Country, or need a refresher read on. Here are Fusion Country’s favorite albums and songs of 2018 so far…

(click on the album’s titles for the full review)

Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour

Golden Hour is an excellent journey through the ups and downs of the spectrum of human emotions. Happiness, sadness, love, confusion, fun, loneliness, togetherness, cockiness, hope and more are all on display. To be human is to feel and this album makes you feel so many things. This a defining moment for Kacey Musgraves, as a songwriter and an artist. Not only showcasing her top-level songwriting, but fearlessly taking the kind of risks that so many artists are outright scared or incapable of taking with their music. Most music released today sounds timid and lacks creativity. This album is full of confidence and charges ahead without letting the unwritten rules of music hold it back. When you cast away life’s preconceptions, you’re truly free as Kacey Musgraves demonstrates with Golden Hour.

Jeff Hyde – Norman Rockwell World

Norman Rockwell World is a promising debut album from Jeff Hyde. It demonstrates that he’s an artist that is willing to get creative and adapt in a music world where many are afraid to change. But it’s this embracing of modern flourishes that will put him on many radars, while earning respect for his ability to keep the soul of country in his songs. Norman Rockwell World manages to feel both familiar and strikingly different, ensuring you won’t forget it in a world of forgettable music.

Blackberry Smoke – Find a Light

Find a Light is an album that lives up to its name, centering around finding balance and calm in a world filled with chaos and anger. Perhaps this explains what I felt like was a lighter approach production-wise to the songs in comparison to their previous two albums. This is probably the quietest album from Blackberry Smoke, a band who I think shines brightest at their hardest sounding. But despite a lighter sound, there’s still plenty of rollicking, gritty loud guitars throughout that entertain and impress. Led by the underrated songwriting of Starr, the songwriting is pretty rock solid throughout as always. There’s plenty of catchy hooks and a fair share of songs with some real meat behind the messages. Blackberry Smoke had a tough task following up the fantastic Like An Arrow, but they ultimately come through with a pretty damn good follow-up in Find a Light.

Caitlyn Smith – Starfire 

Caitlyn Smith’s Starfire is fantastic in every way. The songwriting is sharp, smart and relatable to the everyday listener. The production is smooth, flawless and really helps bring the words of the songs to life. Smith without a doubt has one of the best voices you’ll hear in music today. You’re doing yourself a disservice if you haven’t listened to this album. It’s one of the best you’ll hear in all of 2018. **

**Editor’s Note: I wrote this review at Farce The Music, who was gracious enough to give me a platform for my voice while I didn’t have a blog and before I ultimately decided to start Fusion Country. This album very much falls under the fusion country label and I would be remiss not to include. Be sure to click on the album title to read the full review. 


Be sure to check out Fusion Country’s favorite songs and singles of 2018 so far in our regularly updated playlist by clicking here. You can also check out our classic and essential reviews by clicking here.

Review – Little Big Town’s “Summer Fever”

Little Big Town has been the top superstar group in country music for years now. Yet I feel like this group doesn’t get the credit they deserve. Too often I feel they get dismissed as another pop country group, but really this is a group that puts out a lot of good music. If you’ve seen them in concert, you would know that their knowledge and appreciation of music is deep. Their last album The Breaker was one of their best and now they’re back with the lead single of their next album, “Summer Fever.” If you couldn’t tell from the title, it’s a summer song and it’s an instant jam. Just like Kacey Musgraves’ “High Horse,” this song encompasses the disco country sound (I would love to see this sound become the next trend in the genre). It’s infectious, groovy and fun, kind of reminding me of something the Bee Gees would cut. Throw in the lyrics that evoke imagery of the beach and the sounds of a “mix-tape” playing and you have a song that’s a perfect fit on a summer playlist. It’s very much the type of song that works best at a certain time of the year. I will say this song isn’t nearly as catchy as their most recent singles, but it’s the groove that wins you over immediately and the lyrics catch on with more repeated listens. Small quibble aside, Little Big Town delivers a great summer anthem in “Summer Fever.”

Grade: Great Summer Anthem

Songwriters: Cary Barlowe, Karen Fairchild, Jesse Frasure, Sam Romans

Review – Florida Georgia Line’s “Simple”

Florida Georgia Line is a duo that I’ve had mixed thoughts about up to this point. They exploded onto the scene with their mega-hit “Cruise,” specifically the remix with Nelly. They were one of the prominent figures of the bro country era. But they’ve also proven they can bring depth and well-written messages with songs like “Dirt” and “May We All.” The duo is now back with two new songs, “Simple” and “Colorado,” with the former being the lead single. “Simple” seems like a combination of their biggest hits, as it’s both catchy and has a nice message behind it. The song greets you with some upbeat whistling, which I could do without. But they’re not too bad, as they aren’t prominent throughout the song. Overall the production of the song is quite reminiscent of the Lumineers or earlier Mumford & Sons: plucky and bright banjos accentuated by pop stylings. It has a nice summer feel to it. The song is about focusing on the simple things in life and the love you’re surrounded by. I particularly enjoy the part: “We used to live on Instagram/Worry ’bout who all gives a damn/’Bout where we’ve been and where we ended up.” The song then goes on about how finding love shows how meaningless all of this is and what truly matters. It fits the times and this time of the year. “Simple” stays true to its name and is a solid single from Florida Georgia Line.

Grade: Solid Summer Tune

Songwriters: Tyler Hubbard, Brian Kelley, Michael Hardy & Mark Holman

P.S. “Colorado” is pretty good too, as it reminds me of a lot of the singalong drinking songs from the 90s and early 2000s.

Album Review – Blackberry Smoke’s ‘Find a Light’

I like to focus on the great music and keep things positive. But I also like to be honest. So I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that initially I surprisingly was not a fan of Blackberry Smoke’s newest album Find a Light. This is coming from someone who’s followed the band for years now and enjoyed a lot of their work. Their previous album Like An Arrow is in my mind their best album they’ve released so far. The catch-22 of course is the next album will inevitably be compared to it and will most likely sound worse. Basically it took me months after this album’s release to view this as its own work and give it some truly fair listens. Just like their previous albums, Find a Light has much to enjoy. It’s pretty hard for frontman Charlie Starr and his band to disappoint you when they consistently deliver some of the most infectious licks in southern and country rock today.

The album greets you with the roaring “Flesh and Bone.” The song revolves around the chaos in today’s world, both the good and bad happening. But you can only watch it all unfold, as at the end of the day you’re just human. Layers of infectious guitar licks fill the song wall-to-wall, firing you up for the rest of this album. “Run Away from it All” is about getting away from it all and finding solace from discourse. It’s a solid tune, although I think it could have used a little more punch in the production like in the next song “The Crooked Kind.” It’s your classic Blackberry Smoke track: an instantly catchy hook driven by their jam-y, southern rock/country fusion sound. It’s definitely one of the most memorable and fun tracks on Find a Light.

“Medicate My Mind” is about chilling out, perhaps with a herbal remedy that can be used legally in certain states and beloved by the great Willie Nelson. The breezy feel of the song makes it perfect for a lazy summer afternoon. One of the lighter moments on the album is “I’ve Got This Song,” which is about the importance of a good song and the pride taken in the craft of music. You can feel like you have nothing, but that one song makes you feel like you have it all. The fiddle play perfectly accentuates the lyrics, giving it weight, but letting the lyrics lead the way. The pedal steel guitar that creeps in during the bridge is the cherry on top. “Best Seat in the House” is another song that seems addressed towards current mood of society: impatience, frustration, jealousy and the need for instant gratification. But there’s also that hope for better days ahead and the day when you finally reach the position in life you desire. It’s excellent songwriting from Starr and Keith Nelson.

The first of three features on the album is pedal steel guitar virtuoso Robert Randolph on “I Keep Ramblin’.” Randolph meshes his funky, gospel influences with the rollicking, gritty sounds of Blackberry Smoke to create something that is an absolute blast. This is one that is guaranteed to get you up and moving. I wouldn’t blame you for wanting to hit the repeat button on this one, as it’s just so much fun. “Seems so Far” is a reflective song about the passage of time, how our experiences shape us and the unpredictability of what’s ahead. It reminds me a lot of “The Good Life” on their last album, which I thought did a better job of tackling the existential issue of living, as the lyrics were a little more fleshed out and detailed. The band brings the fire back on “Lord Strike Me Dead.” It’s a commentary on the divisiveness of today’s society and the cutthroat, selfish attitudes pervading it, leading to Starr pleading to God for help. It’s a pretty relatable and timely in this environment. It’s the ideal blow off song when you’ve had enough bullshit.

Amanda Shires joins the band on “Let Me Down Easy.” It’s a light song about letting go of a relationship peacefully, even though one side is clearly crushed. I enjoy the duality of emotions displayed through the lyrics, although I would’ve liked to have heard some solo lines from Shires to add another layer to it. “Nobody Gives a Damn” is another foot-stomping, fist-pumping song full of passion and anger. This feels like a song directed towards the insanity of social media and the over-inflated self-importance it creates. The guitars punch you right in the face (in a good way of course) and this is another one that sticks with you long after listening.

The anthemic “Till The Wheels Fall Off” is an ode to never giving up and going until you can’t anymore. The instrumentation is at it’s best on the entire album and reminder of how Blackberry Smoke it at it’s best when there’s some piss and vinegar behind the lyrics. The Wood Brothers join in on the final track of the album “Mother Mountain.” It’s a folky, trip-y track about finding peace in nature. This feels like a page out of the 70s rock scene from bands like Led Zeppelin, who would have plenty of loud, electric guitar heavy songs like “Black Dog” and then sprinkle in acoustic-driven songs like “Misty Mountain Hop.” It’s tranquility that is a fitting moment of clarity, bringing a lighter feel to give levity to balance out the more raucous moments of the album.

Find a Light is an album that lives up to its name, centering around finding balance and calm in a world filled with chaos and anger. Perhaps this explains what I felt like was a lighter approach production-wise to the songs in comparison to their previous two albums. This is probably the quietest album from Blackberry Smoke, a band who I think shines brightest at their hardest sounding. But despite a lighter sound, there’s still plenty of rollicking, gritty loud guitars throughout that entertain and impress. Led by the underrated songwriting of Starr, the songwriting is pretty rock solid throughout as always. There’s plenty of catchy hooks and a fair share of songs with some real meat behind the messages. Blackberry Smoke had a tough task following up the fantastic Like An Arrow, but they ultimately come through with a pretty damn good follow-up in Find a Light.

Grade: Pretty Damn Good

Album’s Top Highlights: Best Seat in the House, Nobody Gives a Damn, I’ll Keep Ramblin’, Till The Wheels Fall Off, Mother Mountain, The Crooked Kind


Producer: Blackberry Smoke

Songwriters: Charlie Starr, Keith Nelson, Travis Meadows, Robert Randolph

Album Review – Jeff Hyde’s ‘Norman Rockwell World’

Sometimes when you listen to an album, you know right away you’re listening to something different. As I’ve said, change is hard to accept. But I think Jeff Hyde has stumbled onto a pretty good change on his debut album Norman Rockwell World. Hyde is no newcomer to country music, as he’s spent the last 12 years in Eric Church’s touring band. In addition he’s helped write songs for multiple top artists in Nashville. Now he’s stepping into the spotlight with Norman Rockwell World, an album that perfectly demonstrates how you can sound both traditional and modern.

The opener “Old Hat” greets you with some swanky licks that show up throughout the song, as Hyde sings of old-fashioned ways in a new world. Despite an ever-changing world, Hyde insists there’s still a lot of people left who like to do things the old way. The hook is particularly good, as it sticks with you immediately. This segues right into “Fiction,” which tackles lies and deception in a world filled with them. Hyde slyly suggests he “can’t write enough fiction, to keep up with the truth.” This feels like something Church would cut on one of his albums by replying to a troubling situation with a witty response. “Baby by Tonight” is without a doubt one of the highlights of the album, as it wins you over with its smooth, So-Cal influences. The song revolves around a man trying to reach his baby by the end of the night and I think Hyde does a great job of conveying the urgency of the lyrics. Not to mention it’s another solid hook.

“Cold” is your classic breakup country song, where the fires all gone in the relationship and both are left feeling cold. I think the production really does it’s job on this song, as the combination of crashing drums and piano help convey the feelings of the lyrics. The drum play shines again on “The Filter,” which is another standout of the album. This is really the song where I feel Hyde is able to meld traditional and modern the best. It’s got a decidedly country feel, but it’s also soaring and infectious. The lyrics are equally great, as the song is about the mix of emotions when someone breaks up with you. There’s leftover love, a new and resentful hate, and a regret over how it all went down. This is one of those songs that just gets everything right.

Hyde takes a funky turn with the album on “Cabin Fever.” It’s a sex jam about your baby wanting to spend all day in bed. I have to say it’s refreshing to hear a country song tackle sex, as nowadays most artists seem too scared to touch the subject so bluntly in fear of offending. The album’s title track gets historical, as the subject is about the picturesque worlds depicted in the paintings of Norman Rockwell. During Rockwell’s time he was often derided for his paintings to be too commercial and now they’re heralded as classics (particularly his commentary on race). Ironically now there are people like Hyde who pine to live in a world like in the paintings where families were happy and people lived in harmony, a stark contrast to the feeling in today’s world. In a fair music world, I think this would be a hit.

Hyde continues to satiate the inner history buff in me on “Henry Ford.” In another clever bit of songwriting, this song is about Hyde giving an interview to a media member. He explains to the interviewer that you don’t have to know Henry Ford, to drive one just like you don’t have to know the artist to understand the song. Creations are a part of a creator and will tell you more than you need to know about them. “One Light Town” features more creative production, as drops of a piano and clangs of a drum dot the song throughout. It’s the kind of interesting production you wish you would hear more from pop country. The lyrics do a great job of painting a picture, as love is likened to one light in a city full of hustle and bustle. It’s the love that shines through all of the noise. Appropriately the album ends with “How the Story Ends,” which has a euphoric and echo-y feel. It’s about seeking forgiveness from God when you sin and guidance when fear and doubt get you down. But despite this Hyde knows how it will all go down in the end through faith. It’s a nice moment of calm to put a cap on the album

Norman Rockwell World is a promising debut album from Jeff Hyde. It demonstrates that he’s an artist that is willing to get creative and adapt in a music world where many are afraid to change. But it’s this embracing of modern flourishes that will put him on many radars, while earning respect for his ability to keep the soul of country in his songs. Norman Rockwell World manages to feel both familiar and strikingly different, ensuring you won’t forget it in a world of forgettable music.

Grade: Eclectically Great Album

Album’s Top Highlights: The Filter, Norman Rockwell World, Baby by Tonight, One Light Town, Henry Ford


Producer: Ryan Tyndell

Songwriters: Jeff Hyde, Ryan Tyndell, Matt Jenkins, Luke Dick, Casey Beathard, Oscar Charles, Jacob Powell, Clint Daniels, Michael Heeney, Jon Randall

Review – Amanda Shires’ “Leave It Alone”

Amanda Shires promised a brand new direction for her new upcoming album To The Sunset. Up until this point her music has fallen under the singer-songwriter/folk sound. So how much different is this new sound? Well based on the first single “Leave It Alone,” it’s a lot different. And it’s really damn good. The production is decidedly upbeat, hazy and jam-y. It’s got a bit of a dance flavor to it, but you can still hear her husband’s guitar play throughout. The song is about exploring the feelings of love and being drawn in by the allure of your significant other. Many will focus on the new production change, but they would be overlooking the as always great songwriting from Shires. There’s so many brilliant descriptive lines throughout such as “your eyes glitter like an eagle’s cage” and “with the words we can’t find like bees inside us swarming.” Love songs are a dime-a-dozen, but the great songwriters continue to find ways to make them sound fresh and exciting and that’s exactly what Shires does with her songwriting. Shires said she wants to change the Nashville sound and this certainly changes it for the better. “Leave It Alone” is simply great and I can’t wait to hear more on her new album on August 3.

Grade: Brilliant Love Song

Songwriter: Amanda Shires

Review – Sam Hunt’s “Downtown’s Dead”

Change is hard for everyone to accept. In country music there are two artists right now who can claim superstar status (transcend beyond the genre): Chris Stapleton and Sam Hunt. They’re both fusion country artists. Now I’ve been on record as a Stapleton fan for a while, but it’s kind of been the opposite with Hunt. It’s what happens when you’re blinded by traditionalist hate, even though Stapleton certainly doesn’t fall into the category of tradition. Yet Hunt gets all of the hate. All the while he’s proving to everyone that change in country music can be accepted by a lot of people. He isn’t your standard pop country artist.

This came to me when he released “Body Like a Backroad” last year. It was the only song he released last year, but it was one of the biggest hits of the year in all genres. Most artists would have gladly capitalized on this and released an album. But not Hunt. He’s not interested in fame and fortune, contrary to the image traditionalists and pop country fans want to portray. He doesn’t really use social media much and it’s been four years since his debut album. Hunt is taking the exact opposite approach of today’s average artist. He’s actually taking his time releasing music and it’s quite a refreshing approach.

That leads us to his brand new single “Downtown’s Dead.” The echoes of a dobro guitar introduce the song before feeding into a blend of country, R&B and pop influences. The song is about the loneliness of a crowded bar. Much like Maren Morris’ “I Could Use a Love Song,” this single centers around the millennial angst of dating and socializing in today’s world. It’s the realization of chasing after the highs of the bar and clubs scenes only leads to emptiness and unhappiness. True satisfaction can’t be found at the bottom of a glass or end of a bar. Hunt perfectly frames this message around the scenes of a club on Tuesday and Friday nights. At the end of it all, he realizes he needs to go back to the woman he loves. It’s a short and effective story that conveys its message well. While I don’t expect Hunt’s new album anytime soon, he delivered another song that is bound to be played all summer in “Downtown’s Dead.”

Grade: Really Good Lamentation of Modern Socialization

Songwriters: Sam Hunt, Josh Osborne, Shane McAnally & Zach Crowell