Review – David Nail and The Well Ravens’ “Heavy”

When you’re on a major label, you live and die by the hits. It’s something every artist knows when they’re on one. In the early 2010s, Nail was delivering the hits to satisfy his label with #1 smashes like “Let It Rain” and “Whatever She’s Got.” By 2016, Nail wasn’t delivering the hits anymore despite his last album Fighter being pretty good. So like many artists he was chewed up and spit out by his major label. But the beauty in being forced into independence is great artistic freedom and making the music you want to make again. Nail is now back with a new name, attaching his band The Well Ravens to him, and a more rock driven sound on his new song “Heavy.” It’s an unexpected, but welcome change that fits Nail well. The song revolves around a man desperate to not lose his woman. He knows he has issues and wants to do whatever it takes to make it work again. The crashing guitars and the rhythmic drums perfectly accentuate the stormy, urgent nature of the song’s theme. It really gives the song a nice bite. The hook does it’s job well, as I found the song to be instantly catchy. I’m looking forward to what else Nail and The Well Ravens deliver, as “Heavy” is a great a start to this project.

Grade: 8/10

Songwriters: David Nail, Jason Hall & Andrew Petroff

Review – Randy Houser’s “What Whiskey Does”

Let’s keep it real: Randy Houser hasn’t exactly been lighting up the charts or getting the critics talking lately. His last album was a bloated mess and it failed to produce a meaningful hit. It would be pretty easy to throw the towel in on an artist who hasn’t shown his true potential in years. Yet just when you thought he was done, Randy Houser bounces back in a big way with his new single “What Whiskey Does.” This is some swampy blues country goodness that hooks you in from the first listen. It’s smooth as molasses with its thick layers of steel guitar and organs. It perfectly fits this drinking heartache song about the man at the end of his wits and trying to find the answers at the bottom of a bottle. Now drinking songs are beaten to death in country music, especially nowadays. But Houser does a great job making it feel relatable and fresh. It’s also a fantastic touch by having co-writer Hillary Lindsey on backing vocals, giving the song another layer. “What Whiskey Does” is simply great. Welcome back, Randy Houser.

Grade: 8/10

Songwriters: Randy Houser, Hillary Lindsey & Keith Gattis

Review – Kelleigh Bannen’s ‘The Joneses’

In country music it’s easy to point to country pop as the most divisive sub-genre under the genre’s big tent of sounds. Not to be confused with pop country, which simply refers to what gets played on the radio. But people tend to forget country pop has contributed a ton of great music over the years (Dolly and Garth come to mind). In today’s country scene I’ve found Kelleigh Bannen to be one of the best at pulling this style off along with Cam and Little Big Town. I particularly enjoyed her Cheap Sunglasses EP from a few years ago and a recommended starting point for fans new to her music. She’s now back though with some more new music, a small set of three new songs, and the centerpiece being “The Joneses.”

The song immediately greets you with some catchy guitar riffing, hooking you right in. We then get to the song, which is about the never-ending rat race to keep up with “the Joneses” of the world. But instead of being like everybody else trying to keep up with the supposed haves of the world, Bannen and company choose to instead just live in the moment and stay in their own lane. The message is be yourself and mind your own. It’s a timely song with a great message needed in a time when too many are obsessed with the vanity of celebrity and social media. Not to mention the hook of this song is an absolute ear-worm.

The three-song set opener “John Who” is a song full of swagger and tinges of R&B and pop. The song explores a woman going through a break-up with a guy she thought was a gem, but turned out to be not who he portrayed himself to be. Now she’s looking for a new guy that makes her forget the ex so much she doesn’t even know his last name. It’s a breakup anthem that’s simultaneously full of confidence and self-doubt that has a great sing-a-long quality about it. The third song is “Happy Birthday,” which is about a woman using a birthday as an excuse to call up an old ex and remind him of her. It’s a soulful ballad centered on regret in more ways than one from the phone call to why the relationship ultimately ended. The woman eventually comes to realize, too late, “I can’t have my cake and love you too.”

Kelleigh Bannen once again delivers with this great set of singles. She continues to prove why she’s one of the best today at pulling off the country pop sound, crafting catchy hooks with meaningful lyricism.

Grade: 7/10


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: 7/10

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: 7/10

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