Review – Eric Church’s “Desperate Man”

Eric Church is one of a few artists in the major country music scene who possesses something quite precious: freedom. Church is free to create whatever music is on his mind, thanks to years of great music that made genuine connections with listeners and made them lifelong fans. His packed concerts and fervent fan support is proof. His last album Mr. Misunderstood was one of his best albums yet, but that surprise record came out way back in 2015. Needless to say fans have been impatiently waiting and now he’s back with new single “Desperate Man.”

Once again Church reinvents himself with the infectiously funky sound of this song. It has a decidedly 70s flavor in a multitude of ways: it has the soulful influence of Al Green, but also the bluesy rock influences of The Rolling Stones. This meshing of sounds is so perfectly blended and clearly comes from a true student of music history. The song itself is about a desperate man living recklessly after his woman left him, leading to him be dismissed as hopeless. But he owns the chaos that has come over him in an almost trance-like way. It’s a subtle story, but one Church and co-writer Ray Wylie Hubbard get across well. Church playfully sings “boo boo boo boo boo boo boo” throughout the song, which I dare you to not be able to sing along with. It’s one of the catchiest songs Church has ever recorded and undoubtedly has me excited for what’s in-store on his new album this fall.

Grade: 9/10

Songwriters: Eric Church & Ray Wylie Hubbard

Review – Dan + Shay’s “Speechless”

Dan + Shay don’t deserve the flack and criticism they’ve received. When this duo entered the scene a few years ago, perhaps some of it was earned, as their debut album was quite a rocky listen and they seemed to lack an identity. Their sophomore album was better, but still had some noticeable issues in finding an identity. The duo has admitted this themselves in interviews. But on their new self-titled album, Dan + Shay have clearly found themselves and it’s their best effort yet. One of the highlights of the album is their new upcoming single “Speechless.” It’s a uplifting, soulful love ballad with a ton of heart. The chorus of this is instantly infectious, with the soaring harmonies creating a sense of warmth and connection with the listener. It’s perhaps one of Dan + Shay’s best vocal performances so far in their career. The electric guitar solo in the bridge adds even more texture to the song. I also like how the song gets straight to the point and doesn’t try to get too cute to turn the song into another saccharine country love song. Dan + Shay have come a long way and “Speechless” is fine proof of their growth as artists.

Grade: 8/10

Songwriters: Dan Smyers, Shay Mooney, Laura Veltz & Jordan Reynolds 

Album Review – The Wild Feathers’ ‘Greetings from the Neon Frontier’

This sounds a lot like the Eagles. That’s what I imagine The Wild Feathers hear a lot when someone first comes upon their music. While this is a tiring and obvious observation, it’s hard not to compare this country rock band to bands like the Eagles, Poco, Gram Parsons and Pure Prairie League who rose to prominence during the early 1970s. But don’t get hung up on the past, as these guys bring a modern take to a classic sound. The Wild Feathers are Taylor Burns, Ricky Young, Joel King and Ben Dumas and together they make the kind of melodic, guitar-driven music that quite frankly is missing a lot in today’s music. On their new album Greetings From The Neon Frontier, they deliver a warm and breezy sound that takes you away and makes you wish would come back.

The album greets you with the anthemic “Quittin’ Time.” It’s a thumping and head-banging rocker that perfectly sets the tone for the album and has you singing along by the end of the first listen. “Wildfire” is a song that immediately stands out on the album. It’s an easy-going, mellow song that you want to play when driving down a seaside highway. Its carefree tone immediately endears you. The harmonies from The Wild Feathers are fantastically infectious and appropriately the centerpiece of the song. “Stand By You” is a song about togetherness and standing alongside the one you love through thick and thin. It’s a simple love song that avoids the pitfalls of being too saccharine or paint-by-the-numbers, but at the same time it’s missing something to make it emotionally stand out better.

One of the clear strengths of The Wild Feathers is their sound, as they clearly know who they are and what their strength is as a band. I think “No Man’s Land” is a great demonstration of it. It’s about wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and getting away to the peace and quiet of the countryside. Now this theme is nothing new, but it’s the instrumentation that gives this song a liveliness that sticks with you. Particularly the jam-y outro of the song with the extended guitar solos really gives it a punch. The fiddle-driven “Two Broken Hearts” is the quietest moment on the album. The song is about the heartbreak of a failed relationship and the regret of letting a special love slip, as the line “And I’ll always regret never buying you that ring” alludes. The production of this song does a great job conveying the heartache, as the slow and tender fiddles paints the picture of a man drinking in the dark over lost love. It’s a pretty good song, although sonically it doesn’t fit the rest of the album.

The B-side of this album might be one of the strongest I’ve heard all year. While this album is great throughout, it’s the second half of this album that really show The Wild Feathers at their best. Nostalgia and reflection are the topic of “Golden Days.” It’s about not truly enjoying and appreciating what you have in front of you until it’s gone. The song puts you in mind of the end of a long summer full of memories, but realizing you’ll never get them back. It’s a happy and sad feeling all at once.

“Big Sky” has the same quality of breeziness about it as “Wildfire.” It’s the perfect summer driving music with its hazy, atmospheric guitars playing throughout. “Wide open spaces/Cool mountain breezes/Reaching down to save my soul/Take these city blues away” really do take you away to that very scene in your mind. It’s really important on atmosphere-based songs (and albums) to establish that scene in the listener’s head; otherwise the words don’t connect with you. And as The Wild Feathers demonstrate throughout this album, they are quite good at this. The harmonies really shine again on “Hold Onto Love.” It’s about a long and loving relationship that has plenty of rocky moments, but it’s the resolve and strength of love that carries them through the hardships. Sometimes you’re just holding onto each other for dear life and it’s these moments where you realize how important it is to have each other. This is a song that relies on heart to reach you and I think everything in this song works together well to accomplish it.

“Every Morning I Quit Drinkin’” is about not being able to give up the sins of drinking and partying. While the party is fun at night, the regret in the morning is even worse (I imagine the hangover is too). It’s a broken solution to a never-ending heartache. The ominous outro of the song adds to the emotions of the song, with the hazy instrumentation putting you in mind of someone lying on the floor after a night of drinking. The album closes with the upbeat and fun “Daybreaker (Into The Great Unknown).” It’s a mantra to life on the road, living life to the fullest and always chasing your passion. The rocking energy of this song makes it a great closer that not only ends the album with a bang, but also makes you want to revisit it all over again.

The Wild Feathers impress me with their brand of country rock on Greetings From The Neon Frontier. This band has a tight, cohesive sound that borrows from the late 70s era of country rock while also sounding fresh and modern-day. What this band absolutely excels at is their ability to paint a picture in your head with their music. Their lyrics are descriptive, engaging and cleverly composed while the instrumentation compliments the words well and add to the scene of the song. Their others strength is their soaring harmonies, which they shouldn’t be afraid to let shine more. Greetings From The Neon Frontier is a memorably fun album of country-flavored rock and roll that can be enjoyed both quietly and at full volume.

Grade: 8/10

Album’s Top Highlights: Wildfire, Big Sky, Hold Onto Love, Every Morning I Quit Drinkin’, Daybreaker (Into The Great Unknown), No Man’s Land

Producer: Jay Joyce

Songwriters: Ricky Young, Taylor Burns, Joel King, Jeffrey Steele, Kevin Douglas, Bill McCorvey, Allen Sostrin

Review – Maren Morris’ “Rich”

In recent years country music has clearly had issues attracting younger listeners. Once the bro country era ended, the genre has been searching for answers. But there are answers right in front of their faces, as there are clearly a handful of artists in the genre who interest younger listeners. One of those is undoubtedly Maren Morris, who burst onto the scene with her debut album HERO in 2016. It brought lots of praise from critics and a few jeers from the traditionalists in the peanut gallery. She’s just released what will probably be the final single from the album, “Rich.” It’s an instantly catchy ear-worm that plays on the phrase, “If I had a dollar every time…” In this case it’s every time she’s sworn her man off, every time he’s lied to her and how many promises he broke, she would be pretty damn rich. It’s the timeless country heartbreak theme with a modern coat of paint. I’m glad it was chosen for a single because it’s not only too catchy to be left to an album cut, but it’s the direction modern country should be taking. It’s still country, but bringing a fresh approach that will resonate with the new generation of country fans. “Rich” has a wealth of qualities and deserves to be a summer hit.

Grade: 8/10

Songwriters: Maren Morris, Laura Veltz & Jessie Jo Dillon 

Review – Ward Thomas’ “Lie Like Me”

Across the pond is a country pop duo that too many American country listeners are sleeping on. That duo is Ward Thomas, a duo composed of Catherine and Lizzy Ward Thomas. Hailing from Hampshire, England, this duo has been delivering great country pop since their 2014 debut album From Where We Stand and have quickly established themselves as one of the best in the UK country scene. They’re now back with the lead single of their new upcoming album in the fall, “Lie Like Me.” It’s an instantly catchy tune that tackles the fakery of social media culture. It poignantly exposes the fake lives people love to portray on social media to prop themselves up and make others feel envious. Now I’ve already covered multiple songs that deal with this theme, but none of them touch the starkness of the lyrics in this song. Lines like “Every story testifies I’m terrified to be myself,” “God forbid you see the things I don’t want you to see” and “I don’t even wanna buy what I’m selling” just smack the point of the song right across your face. This is the song you want to play for that friend who just can’t stop tweeting or posting pictures on Instagram. Everything about this song is so refreshing and timely. “Lie Like Me” may just be one of the best songs Ward Thomas has delivered so far in their young career.

Grade: 9/10

Songwriters: Catherine Ward Thomas, Lizzy Ward Thomas, Jessica Sharman & Rebekah Powell

Listen: Kacey Musgraves Releases Two Remixes of “High Horse”

Kacey Musgraves just surprise released two remixes of her disco country jam “High Horse.” While the original is quite great itself, these remixes are pretty damn good too. As Kacey said on social media, one is for the club and the other is chill. With the deluge of music always flowing out, I thought I would pass these along and bring them to your attention. Give them a listen below:

Review – Ryan Hurd’s “Diamonds or Twine”

Ryan Hurd is probably best known as the now-husband of pop country star Maren Morris. But Hurd is a pretty good singer-songwriter himself. Hurd has been helping write hits for some of the biggest names in Nashville for years and even helped pen Luke Bryan’s current single. Up until this year Hurd has only released a small EP, but right before he got hitched with Morris earlier this year he released his newest single “Diamonds or Twine.” As you could tell from the title, it’s a love song that’s dedicated to his wife. He vows to be by her side and be hers no matter if it’s diamonds or twine around her finger. It’s a simple, but heartfelt song. The soulful, waltzing sound gives it the perfect romantic feel that will be relatable to other loving couples. With Hurd’s experience as a songwriter in Nashville, I’m surprised that he hasn’t caught on more. He clearly has a knack for writing and can pen songs that resonate with listeners. Regardless, Hurd is someone you should have on your radar and “Diamonds or Twine” is just another example of why.

Grade: 7/10

Songwriters: Ryan Hurd, Laura Veltz & Mark Trussell