Review – Old Dominion’s “Make It Sweet”

When Old Dominion broke onto the country scene, I could not stand them. Their debut hit “Break Up With Him” still annoys me to this day. Needless to say I got off to a rocky start with them. But on their sophomore album the band matured a lot and I found myself liking multiple songs off it (“No Such Thing as a Broken Heart” and “Hotel Key” most notably). So I guess I’m not too surprised that I immediately enjoyed their new single “Make It Sweet.” It’s a happy song that hits the spot and puts a smile on your face. But at the same time the song roots itself in reality before pouring on the happy. The song establishes in the beginning that yeah life can suck, there’s a constant chase to keep up with the Joneses and your dollar doesn’t go as far now. But you need to take the lemons your dealt and make lemonade. Embrace the good in life and enjoy your loved ones. Yes, it’s cliché and not breaking new ground. But these type of pick-me-up songs are something everyone can use. The hook is just spot-on and something you’ll remember (“Life is short, make it sweet”). Not to mention it’s pretty danceable and the guitar solo in the bridge gives that jam-y punch to bring it on home. “Make It Sweet” lives up to its name.

Grade: 7/10


Songwriters: Trevor Rosen, Geoff Sprung, Matthew Ramsey, Whit Sellers, Brad Tursi, Shane McAnally 

Album Review – Kenny Chesney’s ‘Songs For The Saints’

I have to be honest. I did not see myself chomping at the bit to discuss new Kenny Chesney music in the year 2018. Take it back two years ago when Chesney released Cosmic Hallelujah, an album I absolutely ripped to shreds for its lazy and uninspiring content. I remember declaring that Chesney would have to make one hell of a turn around to get me to ever take him seriously again. And well here we are, as Chesney delivers one of the most surprising albums I’ve heard this year in Songs For The Saints.

It’s important to know this album is inspired by and revolves around the Virgin Islands and the destruction caused by Hurricane Irma on the islands in 2017. Chesney has a home on one of the islands, Saint John, and felt compelled to give back to a place that’s meant a lot to him. Not only is this album about the islands, but all proceeds for the albums are being donated to relief funds that help rebuild the islands. It’s an incredibly classy and heartfelt move by Chesney and his label. While Chesney’s legacy is defined by beach and island songs at this point, I don’t think I’ve heard this much passion and drive from Chesney in his music in years. His beach music is usually on the casual/party side, but this is the most mature take he’s ever done on this sub-genre of country music.

The album’s opening and title track is a direct ode to the islands. The saints in this song refer to each island, as they were each named after a saint. It’s the perfect opener, as it establishes what this album is all about and that’s the people of the islands, who clearly mean a lot to Chesney. “Every Heart” is a soft and sentimental song about the general struggle everyone shares in life. It’s a little sweet, but a nice message. I really enjoy the little touches in instrumentation in this song, particularly the bouzouki and organ. The lead single of the album, “Get Along”, is my least favorite track of the album. While I can appreciate the message of peace and happiness, I still don’t like the “buy a boat” line in the song. It’s just so consumeristic, although it doesn’t sound as bad I guess in the context of the rest of the album and can be interpreted as more of a throwaway line rather than some subliminal message.

Chesney has recorded several pirate-themed songs over the years, but “Pirate Song” is his best take on the theme yet. I particularly enjoy the details Chesney goes into as he fantasizes the life of a pirate sailing the open seas. By setting the scene well, you as the listener can really picture the life being painted in the song. This is what makes atmospheric songs work. Chesney collaborates with Ziggy Marley on the reggae-influenced “Love for Love City.” Love City is the nickname for St. John, Chesney’s home in the islands. Chesney and Marley sing of the people coming together in good times and need, highlighting the tight-knit nature of the communities on the islands no matter the situation. It’s a peaceful and easy-going song that makes you feel good in many ways.

I thought Carrie Underwood and Ludacris would be the most unlikely collaboration of the year, but Kenny Chesney and Lord Huron top it. Chesney covers the indie rock group’s “Ends of the Earth” and it’s one of my favorite tracks on the album. The song is about the endless thirst for adventure and exploring the unknown. The soaring, spacey production of the song is immediately infectious and memorable. This has my vote for a future single. “Gulf Moon” is another standout on Songs For The Saints. The John Baumann-penned song gives you a look inside a little town along the gulf coast and the lives of the people who inhabit it. The storytelling in this song is absolutely great, as the little details of the surroundings and the people put you right there in the town with them. It’s great to see Chesney give an artist like Baumann a spot on this album and for Chesney it’s a legacy-type song.

“Island Rain” is about the relief and therapeutic attribute of an island rain. It goes on to relate it to general relief from an uncomfortable situation in everyday life. It’s yet another song on this album that does such a great job of relating to the everyday person. This track is a breath of fresh air to a person having a rough day. The touches of steel drum and organ throughout add even more to this peaceful nature. Beach country’s most recognizable face Jimmy Buffett joins Chesney on a cover of Buffett’s “Trying to Reason With Hurricane Season.” The song is about the stress and anxieties of anticipating the impending hurricane season, a regular preparation for those who live in the islands and coasts. While they tire of this yearly happening, they continue to live and deal with hurricane season. It’s another good cover pick from Chesney, as it fits the theme of the album well.

The sing-a-long “We’re All Here” is about finding escapism from the troubles of everyday life, something Chesney has perfected many times in songs and does so again here. These are the kinds of simple songs that may not offer much variety, but it’s a comforting familiarity to many. The album’s closing track “Better Boat” is perhaps one of the best songs Chesney has ever recorded. Written by Travis Meadows and Liz Rose, the song is about getting better at coping with the everyday struggles and stress of life. This is likened to learning how to build a better boat, which is such an apt and fitting metaphor. Chesney is joined on the song by a wonderful vocalist in Mindy Smith, who adds another layer with her harmonies with Chesney. There’s so much heart and truth in the lyrics that you would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t connect with this song. It’s a small reminder of what country music is all about.

Songs For The Saints will go down as one of Kenny Chesney’s best albums at the end of his career. On this album he casts away the lazy tropes and paper-thin depth that has plagued his career at times and delivers an album full of songs about love, happiness and finding peace after destruction. This album’s biggest strength is its songwriting, as it’s rooted in a place of reality of real people and places, highlighting the ups and downs of life. The production of this album is pretty good too, as it’s varied and does a wonderful job of weaving reggae, island and pop influences throughout. Kenny Chesney should be quite proud of this album, as he delivers a real gem in Songs For The Saints.

Grade: 8/10

Album’s Top Highlights: Better Boat, Gulf Moon, Ends of the Earth, Island Rain, Love for Love City, Trying to Reason With Hurricane Season


Producers: Kenny Chesney & Buddy Cannon

Songwriters: Kenny Chesney, Tom Douglas, Scooter Carusoe, Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne, Ross Copperman, Jon Randall, Ben Schneider, John Baumann, Mac McAnally, Jimmy Buffett, Casey Beathard, David Lee Murphy, Travis Meadows, Liz Rose

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: 7/10

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

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

Review – Kassi Ashton’s “California, Missouri”

Every once in while you come across a new artist that intrigues from the first listen. Kassi Ashton was one of those artists for me with her lead single “California, Missouri.” Jointly released through MCA Nashville and Interscope Records (you don’t see this too often), Ashton is a new artist just breaking onto the scene. One of her inspirations for her music is Chris Stapleton, who proved to her that she didn’t need to follow the set formula. It’s pretty clear in “California, Missouri,” a song with obvious soul, rock and pop influences. It’s a downtrodden song, but also has a tinge of light. The song is about Ashton’s hometown of California, Missouri, your average small town where dreaming big and standing out from the crowd is frowned upon. She expresses her disdain for growing up here, but at the same time can’t shake that small town pride as she pursues her dreams. It’s a conflicting of emotions that people from small towns all know too well. I enjoy the word play Ashton makes with the hook of the song, as it’s showcasing the duality of emotions and where she wants to be versus where she comes from. Ashton also brings a more pop-like delivery with her vocals, more soulful and powerful than your average country artist. It’s this juxtaposition of small town themes and variety of genres that makes “California, Missouri” and Kassi Ashton one of the most interesting new artists to keep an eye on in 2018.

Grade: 7/10

Songwriters: Kassi Ashton, Shane McAnally, Luke Laird