Review – LANCO’s “Born To Love You”

LANCO is a relatively new band that has broken onto the country scene. The name is short for Lancaster and Company if you’re wondering, as the name is quite different. It’s five-piece band, led by lead vocalist Brandon Lancaster. In 2017 they had their first hit in “Greatest Love Story,” a catchy love ballad with classic rock sensibilities. It was a true hit, as it had great sales to match it’s heavy airplay. Now they have released their follow-up single, “Born to Love You.” Just like “Greatest Love Story,” this song also has a classic rock feel about it. It’s a love anthem with an instantly catchy hook (“Wherever I go and whatever I do, I was born to love you”). The song’s real secret sauce is the bouncy synth that drives the song and gives it a danceability that will put it on a lot of summer playlists. Melody is a missing element from so much music nowadays and this song has it in spades. The combination of new wave tinges and upbeat country rock with easily connectable lyrics make “Born to Love You” a great example of how to make something that’s both fun and full of heart.

Grade: 8/10

Songwriters: Brandon Lancaster, Josh Osborne, Ashley Gorley & Ross Copperman 

Essential Review – Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives’ ‘Way Out West’

You can’t truly appreciate the sheer talent of a band until you see them live. I’ve had this proven to me time and time again, most recently with Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives. I can definitively say they put on one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen. Marty, guitarist Kenny Vaughan, drummer Harry Stinson and bassist Chris Scruggs are each outstanding, whether they’re playing an instrument or stepping behind the mic to sing. I couldn’t have been more impressed by a band in a live setting. Last year they also impressed with their newest album Way Out West, an album I’ve seen many appropriately describe as cinematic. It was one of the best of 2017 and without a doubt deserves a spot in Fusion Country Classics & Essentials.

Way Out West is a true album, as each song is directly connected with each other. The opening songs “Desert Prayer, Pt. I” and “Mojave” set the scene for listeners and prepares us on a trippy exploration through the desert and the American west. On the latter we get our first tastes of surf-rock tinged guitar licks from Vaughan. The mood is perfectly set as we hear the first vocals from Stuart on “Lost on the Desert.” It’s the story of a man arrested for stealing a lot of money, which he hides out in the desert. Once he’s able to escape the hands of the law, he heads for the spot he hid the money. But the heat starts playing tricks on him and he can’t find the money or any water, as “the devil” had tricked him and left him to die in the desert. This song is such a prime example of vivid storytelling, from the descriptive lyrics to the mood set by the instruments.

The album’s title track takes us on a different kind of trip, a drug-induced one. It tells the tales of different instances a man take drugs and the experiences he feels. At the end Stuart tells us of the beauty of the American west, but if you ever go on a trip, don’t do drugs to take that trip. The psychedelic feel of the song sucks you right in and the beautiful harmonies make for a perfect close to the song. “El Fantasma del Toro” is probably my favorite instrumental on the album, in large part thanks to the great guitar work and the Mexican-flavored influences. The song puts me in mind of standing in the middle of a desert, the air dry, as I watch the steam rise in the distance while the sun beats down overhead. It’s the ideal atmospheric song for the American west.

“Old Mexico” is another gem that clicks upon first listen. It tells another tale of a criminal on the run, this time trying to make his way to Mexico to a beautiful señorita and more importantly freedom from a life in jail in the United States. The band’s harmonizing to close out this song is incredible and really adds an explanation point (it was even better live). “Time Don’t Wait” is really catchy, as the hook is instantly memorable. The band delivers another great instrumental in “Quicksand” that takes you right into their cover of Benny Goodman’s “Air Mail Special.” The song fits great into the band’s wheelhouse of foot-tapping, honky-tonk tunes and fits well within this album. “Torpedo” is another song that has some cool 60s, surf-rock influence that would have fit in nicely next to the Beach Boys music in their heyday. Not many bands could get away with the amount of instrumentals as there are on this album, but most bands aren’t as talented as Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives. Plus all of the instrumentals are just fantastic, a credit to how the tight this band is and producer Mike Campbell.

The somber-toned “Please Don’t Say Goodbye” is a heartbreak tune that sees a man lamenting to his woman to not walk out the door. The backing vocals from the band on this are the real secret sauce behind this song, as it adds levity and almost a haunting feel to the song. “Whole Lotta Highway” is the most traditional moment on the album, as it’s your classic truck-driving country song. It makes you want to hit the road and have an adventure. “Desert Prayer, Pt. II” features some soulful crooning from the band that segues right into “Wait for the Morning” and “Way Out West (Reprise).” The former has a reflective tone, as it’s a bring it on home moment after seeing the world and taking in the lessons you’ve learned along the way. Meanwhile the latter puts a fitting cap on the end of an album that feels more like an immersive movie experience.

Many artists in the latter stages of their career rest on their laurels and become complacent. But that’s certainly not the case for Marty Stuart. He’s as vibrant and energetic as any young artists today. More importantly he’s still pushing the creative boundaries to create new and exciting music for new and old generations alike. Way Out West is a shining landmark in his illustrious career and the careers of his Fabulous Superlatives. Stuart and his band revive an old sound and theme and breathe brand new life into it. If only more artists could innovate and follow the lead of this talented group. Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives and Way Out West are absolutely essential listening.

Album’s Top Highlights: Old Mexico, El Fantasma del Toro, Lost on the Desert, Time Don’t Wait, Torpedo, Way Out West


Producer: Mike Campbell 

Songwriters: Marty Stuart, Kenny Vaughan, Harry Stinson, Chris Scruggs, Benny Goodman, Brian Glenn Nolf

Classic Review – Sturgill Simpson’s ‘Metamodern Sounds in Country Music’

As more time passes, the impact of this album continues to grow. Who would have thought a sophomore release from a relatively unknown independent artist from Kentucky in 2014 would change the country music landscape? The release of Metamodern Sounds in Country Music would not only launch the career of Sturgill Simpson, but also launched the career of Chris Stapleton. It was one of the main inspirations behind his debut album Traveller and now Stapleton is one of the biggest artists in all of music. These two artists rise to the top helped many other artists rise to the top and what I dub fusion country music has taken on a life of its own. This blog wouldn’t be here without Sturgill Simpson, so it’s only appropriate that the very first induction into Fusion Country Classics & Essentials is Metamodern Sounds in Country Music.

The voice of Sturgill’s late grandfather introduces you into the album’s leading track “Turtles All The Way Down.” It’s the perfect song to lead off the album because it tells you right away you’re listening to a very different, but special country album. The psychedelic production tinges and drug-fueled lyrics are what hook you in and what many love to focus on. But it’s the message of enduring love that the song drives across that lasts with you. That’s the central theme of the album and what people who actually listen to it will take from the album. “Life of Sin” is a rambunctious song about Simpson’s past life of drugs and sin that drove his life. It wasn’t a great life, but it was his life and he owns it. Then you have “Living The Dream,” which has become a crowd favorite at live shows and one of Simpson’s best songs. The song revolves around balancing the pursuit of your dreams, but also needing to find work. A job doesn’t get you out of bed in the morning, but a dream sure does. The problem is life not wanting to work as you planned, as Sturgill likens it to “making a big old pot of coffee when you ain’t got no cream.”

“Voices” is about being driven crazy by all of the different voices you hear in your life. From a family member who knows best to the perfect life that gets sold to you on television by media and celebrities, everybody is trying to tell you how to run your life. It’s a never-ending bullshit loop. Sturgill takes a classic country approach on his cover of Buford Abner’s “Long White Line,” as it’s about hitting the road to clear your mind of the fresh heartbreak just dropped on your lap. The song’s common refrain, “tell ’em I’m somewhere looking for the end of that long white line,” implies more than just chasing the white lines of the highway, at least in the context of this album. I feel like a lot of people miss this possible double entendre, which adds even more to the song.

The album’s biggest curveball might be Simpson’s cover of When In Rome’s “The Promise,” a late 80s, new wave song that Sturgill turns into a heartfelt love ballad. Many thought this was a strange choice, but after you get to know Simpson you figure out this is par for the course for him. It’s such a perfect fit for this album though and will go down as one of the hidden gems of Simpson’s career. The album’s shortest track “A Little Light” sees Simpson walking towards the light of love and seeing the errors of his past life of sin and debauchery. This theme continues on “Just Let Go,” where Simpson lets all of the demons of drugs, society’s voices and even his own ego fade from his mind. He’s learned he can just it all go and embrace what he’s hammered on throughout the album and that is the love in his life.

This leads to reminiscing on one last trip through his days of drugs on “It Ain’t All Flowers.” It’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music at it’s most trippy, psychedelic and perhaps standout moment. The whole album builds to this climax of emotions and sounds, as Simpson howls his way through the song. It’s also Simpson’s most experimental and exploratory moment of his career, bringing sounds that you never hear in country songs. It should have been the indicator for listeners that Simpson would not be sticking to their script they had in mind for him. Some got that memo, while others didn’t. The true end of the album is the bonus track, “Panbowl.” It’s a reflecting, traditional song where Simpson wishes he could go back to the days of his youth when life wasn’t so complicated. At the same time it serves as a thank you to his family and the great moments they gave him, while going back to where this album begins with his grandfather introducing us to the record.

While it’s only been four years since the release of Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, we can already point to this album as one of the most important country albums of the 2010’s. This album proved country music could evolve without sacrificing its soul. It also proved to artists that you should take risks and inspired them to pursue their sound. You don’t need a major label to make a cultural impact, which is a message that is continuing to spread throughout all genres of music. If the music is truly great enough, people will eventually find it. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the stellar production work of Dave Cobb throughout this album, as he too would rise to a greater level of prominence after the release of this album. He’s the most hotly demanded producer in Nashville today, as he racks up numerous awards for his impressive body of work. This album has accomplished so much and will probably prove to be even more influential with the passage of time. I could not think of a more slam dunk choice to be the first induction into Fusion Country Classics & Essentials. 

Album’s Top Highlights: Turtles All The Way Down, It Ain’t All Flowers, Living The Dream, The Promise, Long White Line


Producer: Dave Cobb

Songwriters: Sturgill Simpson, Buford Abner, Clive Farrington, Michael Floreale, Andrew Mann

Review – Kelly Willis’ “Back Being Blue”

Never underestimate the power of a great lead single. The power of the song beats any kind of marketing you do for an album. That is the certainly the case with Kelly Willis’ lead single “Back Being Blue.” The album with the same name is set for release next month. And if it’s as good as this song, we’re in for one great album. This will be her first album in over ten years, as in recent years she’s released duet albums with her husband and fellow country artist Bruce Robison. The song hooked me from the very first listen. With tinges of R&B and blues complimenting a classic country sound, Willis sings about the heartbreak of hearing about her now ex being back in the arms of another woman. The ex tries breaking things off amicably, but the heartache is still palpable from the woman as she watches love walk away from her. The whole song is a classically fresh approach to the heartbreak song, conveying both heartbreaking emotion and an easily relatable story. Kelly Willis delivers a real knockout here.

Grade: 8/10

Songwriter: Kelly Willis 

Review – Chris Stapleton’s “Millionaire”

Chris Stapleton is the biggest star in country music right now. I still can’t believe it. I can still remember being one of the few people who was pumped when he released his debut album Traveller. Of course later that year Stapleton performed with Justin Timberlake at the CMA Awards and the rest is history. Last year Stapleton released two albums that were critically acclaimed. He’s coming off his first #1 single at radio with “Broken Halos” and the no-brainer follow-up would without a doubt be “Millionaire.” It’s one of those songs you can instantly click with, as it’s a sentimental love song that avoids becoming saccharine. It’s meaningful and has real heart behind the lyrics, but is also catchy and easily resonates with the listener. This song doesn’t have quite as much influences from blues and soul as Stapleton’s other songs, but it’s still clearly present. What many in country don’t like to admit is that this is part of his widespread appeal. His ability to seamlessly blend country with other genres is what helps makes him so special. While there are several other Stapleton songs I prefer more, I’ll never complain about the ever-growing popularity of Stapleton and the potential for him to gain another hit. Not to mention Kevin Welch will get some well-deserved shine. “Millionaire” will continue the hot streak for Stapleton into 2018.

Grade: 8/10

Songwriter: Kevin Welch 

Review – Tami Neilson’s “Stay Outta My Business”

Tami Neilson is a throwback artist in every way. I first came across Neilson and her music when I listened to her fantastic album Dynamite! in 2014. Combing country with soul and rockabilly, Neilson makes both fun and meaningful music. Her voice recalls legends of the genre like Patsy Cline while still sounding fresh and new. Neilson returns this year with her first new music since her 2015 album Don’t Be Afraid. The New Zealand-based artist’s newest album Sassafrass! is set for release on June 1 and lead single “Stay Outta My Business” has just been released. Neilson brings her trademark throwback sound as usual, featuring colorful horns and a lively backing chorus. The song is an anthem to remind nosey people mind themselves and stay out of other’s business. Specifically Neilson goes after people who believe women need a man’s help to succeed in the music industry and the double standards used to attack mothers. Neilson rightly delivers this all with power and gusto. This anthem is not only catchy, but clearly get’s its great message across.

Grade: 8/10

Songwriters: Tami Neilson & Jay Neilson

Album Review – Kacey Musgraves’ ‘Golden Hour’

The trajectory and journey of the career of Kacey Musgraves has been an interesting one. Her major label debut album Same Trailer, Different Park captured heaps of critical acclaim and attention, most notably for her open-minded anthem “Follow Your Arrow.” She then followed it up with Pageant Material, which I found to be a great album that was seemingly ignored by many in the music industry. It was disappointing, but predictable considering it didn’t have any “eye-catching headline” songs and the majority of the music journalism industry only care about their hits and not the music. So before many people who ignored Musgraves since Trailer got on her bandwagon recently, I was already highly anticipating her newest album Golden Hour. Musgraves has consistently improved as a songwriter throughout her career and I felt this could be a moment for her to really step up into the spotlight if she hit a home run. After thorough listens to Golden Hour, this album impressed me from start to finish with its bold risk taking and its deep dive into various emotions.

The album begins with the autobiographical “Slow Burn.” It appropriately has a dreamy, hazy feel as Musgraves croons about taking your time and doing it your own way. The song serves a signal for the rest of the album, which goes places many don’t dare to go in country music. “Lonely Weekend” is an anthem that assures you it’s okay to be alone at times in life. The song has a bubbly tropical feel despite the song tapping into the dark fears of missing out and social pressure. It’s the perfect song for the social media generation, describing the loneliness felt by many despite being more “connected” with each other than ever before in history. “Butterflies” goes against the sarcastic, sly personality Musgraves has largely personified in her songs up to this point. It’s cute, vulnerable and the production of the song even has the feel of butterflies fluttering through a bright blue sky. It also serves as a metaphor of how Musgraves’ outlook on love has went from the unloved caterpillar to blossoming into the pretty and appreciated butterfly.

The spacey sounds of a vocoder greet you on “Oh, What a World.” I absolutely love the utilization of the vocoder throughout this song because it helps sonically frame the lyrics. As the listener it makes you feel like you’re floating in space looking down upon the planet and admiring the mystery and vastness of it all. Then there’s the world of love between a couple, which feels just as deep and magical. This is a song where everything clicks perfectly together to create something beautiful and memorable that will stick with you. “Mother” is a more of an interlude than a song, as Musgraves soberly reflects upon the relationship with her mother after an acid trip. It’s a short and tasteful piano ballad. Musgraves expounds more upon her excitement of falling in love on “Love Is a Wild Thing.” She likens it to an exploration in the wilderness and stumbling upon it, rather than finding it. The instrumentation stays close enough to traditional, until the bridge where there’s a slick beat change that really adds a great spark to the song (credit to the producers Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashian).

There are several standout moments throughout this album and one of them without a doubt is “Space Cowboy.” With a title like this you expect something much different from what it is: your classic break-up country ballad. Except it’s set in modern-day, where the cowboy rides off in his Silverado instead of his horse. Then we get to the bridge of the song, which goes into a trippy, steel guitar-laced instrumental that adds more gravitas to the setting of the song (another smart production choice). It’s such a refreshing take all-around in the one of the most oft-treaded spaces in the genre. Heavy drum loops introduce “Happy & Sad,” which might be one of Kacey’s best written songs ever. The song expertly explores the complicated feelings of being happy and sad at the same time, in other words anxiety. It’s the anxiety of losing your happiness and everything crashing down when it’s all going great. I don’t think my words can properly describe how well the lyrics get to the root of this emotion and something you have to feel yourself.

“Velvet Elvis” is a fun and funky jam that will probably make a lot of summer playlists. It’s the kind of the song you want to blare loudly as you drive down the highway with the windows down. I got a strong classic country feel from the very first listen of “Wonder Woman.” It feels like something Dolly Parton would record. As Musgraves sings, she freely admits she isn’t always strong, reliable and is only a human who makes mistakes. It’s starkly honest, showing strength through an expression of fear. I previously did a whole other post dedicated to “High Horse,” a fantastic disco country jam. I will add that it’s ironic country radio casted aside Kacey and then she delivered a song that screams hit.

The album’s title track is probably the most underrated on the whole album. It’s not as flashy, catchy or fun as a lot of the other tracks. But it’s one of those songs that’s instantly comforting, like a ray of sunshine. It’s a new song, but it feels like an old favorite. The album finishes with a fantastic closer in “Rainbow.” The song captures that moment when the storm has finally passed and the light casts upon you again. It’s liberation from anguish and an embrace of capturing a sense of happiness that’s felt elusive for so long.

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.

Grade: 10/10

Album’s Top Highlights: Happy & Sad, Space Cowboy, High Horse, Oh What a World, Wonder Woman, Golden Hour


Producers: Daniel Tashian, Ian Fitchuk, Kacey Musgraves

Songwriters: Musgraves, Fitchuk, Tashian, Natalie Hemby, Luke Laird, Shane McAnally, Luke Dick, Jesse Frasure, Hillary Lindsey, Amy Wadge, Trent Dabbs, Tommy English