What I Learned & What I Loved in Music in 2021

I’m sitting down to write this post and I’m not quite sure what I want it to be. I have a lot of thoughts looking back on 2021. Usually this is also the time all of us are compelled to put out a list of our favorite music for the year. And every year for the last several years I just can’t decide what I think of end of year lists. But it kind of goes hand in hand with some of my observations of 2021, so I guess let’s start with the concept of lists.

On one hand, it’s enjoyable to see what others liked for the year and it’s a nice reference to see if you maybe missed out on some releases you want to check out. On the other hand, most don’t actually “read” them. What I mean is they just want to see the list, they don’t read the explanation or thoughts on them. They just want to celebrate when their list is validated and jeer when it’s not. Never mind the fact as individual listeners we’ve become more unique in our listening habits than ever before (which is ultimately great).

And of course there’s so much music to listen to, which means there’s more to enjoy and a bigger overall list. So it’s always hard to narrow the list and then ordering them. It can be slightly easier when doing it by genre, as opposed to all genres where it feels like you’re measuring apples, oranges, bananas and watermelons against each other. But even within a genre, how can one measure a “fun” album versus a “serious” album? Each have a different aim, so why measure them against each other, as each accomplish what they set out to do. So I stopped doing my own personal rankings even this year because I realized it was just causing unnecessary anxiety. It’s a personal music list, no need to make it rocket science!

I still have a list though, but I simply divide it by genre and in no particular order within each genre. But even without the rankings, I still know that I don’t feel the same about each album listed. There’s definitely some I enjoy more than others. That leads me to another realization I came to and that’s separating respect from enjoyment more (not to be confused with fun versus serious as I mentioned above). What does this mean? Well I’ve alluded to this before on social media and comments, but I’m not completely sure if I’ve ever bluntly spelled it out in a post. I think the best way I could explain it is through example and looking back at the way I constructed year-end lists at Country Perspective. Two artists that immediately come to mind that would always get high praise and be put on those lists was Jason Isbell and Rhiannon Giddens. They’re brilliant artists and the high level of thoughtfulness they put behind their music is loud and clear.

But here’s something I’ve never shared: I never went back to listen to Giddens’ music after putting her music on these lists. A lot of artists I realized years later I never went back and listened to their music after heaping them with praise. Was my praise of them not genuine? Yes, but also no. At the time I truly thought I enjoyed that music. But I really didn’t. I was lying to myself. I realized I told myself that I should enjoy this music and didn’t ask the real question, do I actually enjoy this music? This music may be good for some overall discourse or agenda, but is this music good for me?

That leads me to my music listening in 2021 and that was realizing how I figured out if I enjoy the music versus respecting it or forcing myself to listen to it. And realizing if you enjoy the music is actually quite simple, but difficult to let happen. Do you naturally gravitate towards it? Do you find yourself wanting to replay it over and over? Do you find yourself still wanting to naturally listen to it months/years after it’s been released? I hated that I got stuck in the mentality for years of forcing myself to listen to new releases constantly right when they dropped to keep up with the Joneses. And it’s a funny thing because I used to be a completely different music listener.

Before I discovered the realm of independent music and the greater music world, my music tastes were dictated by radio, what I found in the aisles of Walmart, my parents’ CD collection and what my friends were listening to (which was usually the same stuff from the same sources as mine). I was rarely an album listener. I would buy singles I enjoyed on iTunes and listened to them for months. I was pretty content with this! And a part of me wished for a while that I could go back to this mentality. The big appeal of this style that made me yearn to go back to this was that I feel like I appreciated the music I had a lot more. I wasn’t greedy and constantly looking for more. I had enough. And most importantly I operated on my own listening schedule, not the anxiety-inducing avalanche of new releases schedule that I did for the last several years.

But as much I wanted to go back to this, I realized I could never. Pandora’s box has been opened for me and it’s not going to shut again. I can’t just ignore new music because a) I’m depriving myself of the joy of discoverability and b) I’m hell bent on not becoming one of those people who stops listening to new music when they hit their 30s and insist there’s no good new music anymore. But at the same time, I can’t keep operating on the new releases schedule time because I’m not enjoying the music as much. I realized rather than stick with what I know, I needed to adapt and embrace a new way. And most importantly acknowledge that my music listening habits and my personality have changed and it’s always going to be changing with age. Not all artists are going to forever hold the same amount of enjoyment in my mind.

That leads me to circle back around to Jason Isbell, who I mentioned earlier. Southeastern and Something More Than Free still hold up for me. They’re great albums and they regularly make it into my rotation. Yet The Nashville Sound fell off steeply for me. How much did it fall off for me? I just sold the vinyl record. Hell I’m selling off a lot of vinyl records I thought I never would. And I know materialism shouldn’t be associated with the listening experience, but I realized even my music listening habits have screwed up this hobby for me too, causing me to readjust my focus here also. But that’s for another post on another day…

Back to Isbell, his last album never stuck with me. Now to dismiss the stupid reactionary thought to this: Well you just don’t like his politics. Nope. In fact our voting records and beliefs are much more closely aligned than different. Isbell can spout off all he wants about his politics and beliefs. It’s not my style, but it’s his right and choice. Any artist can and it doesn’t have a major effect on my enjoyment of the music. I think Travis Tritt acts like a complete loon nowadays, but I’ll still go back and enjoy his old albums (His new album however is dryer than rice cakes; I don’t care what he believes, it isn’t a good album, regardless).

Yes, I’ll admit I find Isbell to be too sanctimonious and corny about his beliefs at times and that obviously has some small effect on my willingness to listen to the music. But mostly it’s the lyrics aren’t connecting with me. And that’s not an Isbell has dropped off in quality thing, it’s more I’ve realized I’m in a different place in life/have a different mentality now thing. Isbell is still a great songwriter and one of the best of this generation in my opinion. I’ve changed. And it’s not even because I don’t want to listen to sad songs so much. I still listen to sad songs. I just don’t have the same connection and feeling I used to with Isbell’s music. And I finally realized it’s okay to feel this way after struggling with this for a bit. Neither Isbell nor myself have done anything wrong. Things just change and it can be hard to accept this. But not all of it is bad or hard. Some of it is quite good and some things don’t change at all.

I realized too there’s still a lot of music and artists that hold up for me years later. First Aid Kit’s Stay Gold has stayed golden in my mind. I still love all of Sturgill Simpson’s music. Luke Bell’s self-titled album is still an underrated gem and I can’t wait for a new album from him. I still love music I grew up on like AC/DC and Alan Jackson. Run the Jewels’ first three albums still hold up. Blackberry Smoke, Freddie Gibbs, Carly Rae Jepsen, Eric Church, The War on Drugs, Daft Punk, Leon Bridges, Kendrick Lamar and countless other artists’ current and old music still shines bright in my mind.

Then you have artists and albums I used to never like or appreciate enough. I’ve really got into John Coltrane this year as I’ve dived into jazz. I appreciate and really enjoy bluegrass music now. I’m digging into Prince’s catalog. I used to not like Mike & the Moonpies after not liking Steak Night at the Prairie Rose, but I’ve loved all their music since Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold and they’re now one of my current favorite bands. I hated Eric Church’s The Outsiders at one point and now I own it on vinyl. Zac Brown Band have gotten back into my good graces after their new album.

The points I’m trying to make are 1.) Music listening and your impressions of it are never static and 2.) Music is more enjoyable when you operate on your own schedule. And, 3.), perhaps most importantly, growth is a beautiful thing and you shouldn’t be afraid of it. That goes for anything in life.

I know these aren’t some great revelations. But it’s three points that have helped shaped my music listening this year for the ultimate good. I’m enjoying music even more now. I’m not holding myself to the new music release schedule. In fact here’s the current list on my phone at this moment of all the artists who have released new albums in 2021 I still haven’t listened to yet:

  • The War on Drugs
  • Margo Cilker
  • ABBA
  • Parcels
  • Matt Ward
  • Curtis Harding
  • Zelooperz
  • Cody Jinks
  • Caned By Nod
  • Kylie Minogue
  • Jade Eagleson
  • Adele
  • Wade Bowen
  • Carly Pearce

And the list could still grow. In the recent years past this would have freaked me out seeing this long of a list, as I would have forced myself to listen to all these projects by year’s end because for some reason I thought it was so important to listen to it all by year’s end for some arbitrary reason. And for some of you, you have no problem keeping up with the release grind. That’s great. If it’s works for you, you do you! For me though I realized I needed to slow it down and take my time. I need to be me. Spend more time with new releases. Spend more time revisiting old stuff. It’s better for me to listen to a couple new albums and if I enjoy them, spend a couple weeks or more with them before I move on to the next thing.

Of course this has also forced me to write less posts and less often, but this has been for the better too. I’ve loved everything I’ve written on this blog so far and I want to keep it that way. Nothing has been forced; it’s all been natural. That’s the way it should always be, but there’s so many distractions and pressures today it can be hard to stay on your own path. Because when you find yourself walking that line for someone else, the music just doesn’t sound as good.

And oh yeah I can’t end this without a list. I didn’t know if I would have one for you when I started this post, but I thought of a way to do it that works for me. I’m going to put albums in three different categories. Starting at the top is Albums I’ve Went Back to Often and Love (and inexplicably worked out to be a top ten, which I did not plan on). Then Albums I’ve Listened to a Few Times and I Know I Enjoy. And finally, Albums I Like, But I Haven’t Revisited Much Yet Since Initial Listens. Of course, as I laid out above, this is simply what my list for 2021 is at the moment. Maybe halfway through 2022 I’ll come back and revisit this. If I do, I guarantee it will change.

But for now here is my 2021 Best of Albums List!

Albums I’ve Went Back to Often and Love

  • Eric Church – Heart & Soul (A country/Heartland rock triple album with dashes of soul, a rock opera song and synth country; Church lets his inner music nerd out and I’m here for it)
  • Charlie Marie – Ramble On (60s-70s inspired/Patsy Cline country that actually does the throwback style justice for once; also one of my favorite debut records in recent memory)
  • Mike & The Moonpies – One to Grow On (Guitar-driven country that makes you want to be in a rowdy barroom with your buddies listening to it while drinking a cold one)
  • Sam Outlaw – Popular Mechanics (80s pop production meets smooth country; a combination that shouldn’t work yet does)
  • JPEGMAFIA – LP! (Offline Version) [Alternative, weird hip-hop with the sample of the year on “END CREDITS” and the interpolation of the year on “THOTS PRAYER!”]
  • Pearl Charles – Magic Mirror (Laurel Canyon soft rock with a dash of country & ABBA all while being a great concept album on self-love)
  • Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee (Indie pop/rock with a mix of 80s pop production and chamber pop influences; also has a cool music video about hunting for aliens)
  • Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend (Alternative rock concept album centered around a toxic relationship, yet it’s also really fun to sing along with, especially on “Play the Greatest Hits”)
  • Magdalena Bay – Mercurial World (A futuristic synth pop album with heavy influences from glitch pop and hyper pop; dangerously addictive and feels like the perfect soundtrack for when we’re driving hovercrafts through space one day)
  • Béla Fleck – My Bluegrass Heart (Fast, progressive bluegrass with an all-star cast of pickers and players; feels almost illegal to have this much talent on one album)

(Fun fact: Only three of these artists previously appeared in one of my previous year end lists, which shocks me because I feel like I listened to less new music this year.)

Albums I’ve Listened to a Few Times and I Know I Enjoy

  • Conway the Machine – La Maquina (With this release and his steady consistency lately, not only the top lyricist in Griselda, but now the top artist)
  • J. Cole – The Off-Season (Cole finally drops the contrived themes and just raps his off, which is exactly what I’ve been wanting from him)
  • Sturgill Simpson – The Ballad of Dood & Juanita (A great country cowboy tale concept album, but it’s simplicity is a double-edged sword; easy to listen to and enjoy, but also easy to forget about)
  • Floating Points, Pharaoh Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra – Promises (This album is brilliant jazz fusion, but due to it’s structure and content it’s not something you can throw on any time, which hurts it’s replayability, yet does not diminish the outstanding quality)
  • Midland – The Last Resort EP (Another quality slice of smooth, 70s inspired country from this group, but…I want the full album!)
  • Zac Brown Band – The Comeback (Finally, they’re back to the experimental country that they can make work! Now don’t pull that bad experimental shit again…)
  • Aly & AJ – a touch of the beat gets you up on your feet gets you out and then into the sun (Don’t let the most ridiculous and obnoxious album title of the year deter you from this sunny and infectious, 70s inspired pop rock)
  • Blackberry Smoke – You Hear Georgia (Southern rock that is just like a plate of warm, buttery waffles; consistently good and never disappointing)
  • Leon Bridges – Gold Diggers Sound (This time he tries a funkier side of R&B and just like his last two albums it just works)
  • Durand Jones & the Indications – Private Space (The even funkier cousin of the above album; may increase your urge to want to buy a disco club, especially “Witchoo”)
  • Silk Sonic – An Evening with Silk Sonic (We all knew this would be great. Also the pregnancy rate will single-handedly increase due to this album, as it’s certified baby-making music)
  • Billy Strings – Renewal (I was hoping it would be just as experimental and bold as Home, but this is still great bluegrass music)
  • Benny the Butcher – Pyrex Picasso (The Plugs I Met 2 was one of my top disappointments of the year, but this Butcher On Steroids production-inspired EP is a really nice rebound at least)
  • Black Midi – Cavalcade (Chaotic, bizarre, disorienting; I hated their first album; but this prog rock jazz album is a ton of fun and it can best be summed up by this clip)

Albums I Like, But I Haven’t Revisited Much Yet Since Initial Listens

  • Tyler, The Creator – CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST
  • Miranda Lambert, Jack Ingram & Jon Randall – The Marfa Tapes
  • Cole Chaney – Mercy
  • Brian Kelley – Sunshine State of Mind
  • Tracy Lawrence – Hindsight 2020, Vol. 1 & Vol. 1
  • Jim Jones & Harry Fraud – The Fraud Department
  • Madlib – Sound Ancestors
  • Kishi Bashi – Emigrant EP
  • The Georgia Thunderbolts – Can We Get a Witness
  • Justin Moses – Fall Like Rain
  • Shang Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings soundtrack

As always, thank you for reading! I hope you have a safe and happy holiday!


Hail to the Chief! The Night Eric Church Made it Rain

Everybody who loves live music has a bucket list of artists they want to see. The list can be in your head or even a physical list. And usually many of those artists can sit on a list for years. We all know the reasons that can come up: not enough time, money, artist never coming to your city, scheduling conflicts, etc. So every time you miss out and wait just a little longer, the anticipation just builds even more towards the day you finally cross that artist off that list. Eric Church is one of those artists who sat near the very top of my list for years.

There have been various reasons why I hadn’t seen him yet. But mainly because he usually only comes to Cleveland when he passes through my home state of Ohio and driving to Cleveland has always been hours away for me. So when I saw he was coming through Columbus finally, I had to snag a ticket. Especially coming off the heels of what I found to be a great triple album in Heart & Soul (an album that’s a lock for my year-end list). With all these years of anticipation combined with a great new album, it prompted to me spend more money than I ever had for a concert ticket. I decided to grab a pit ticket so I could be right up next to the action. After going 95% of 2020 and most of 2021 without live music, I decided I earned this reward.

So the day I finally cross Eric Church off my bucket list arrives and I’m actually a bit nervous as I make my short drive to Nationwide Arena. Usually I’m not nervous going to a concert, but I know why I am for this one. For one, it’s that anticipation I hit on above. The more the anticipation builds, the higher the expectations can get. What if I’m disappointed? What if I feel like I wasted my money spending so much for this ticket? And then the other aspect on my mind: this being an arena show. My rule with them is I only do one per year for a few reasons: 1) The cost and 2) Arena shows lack the energy and vibe I enjoy at concerts that I feel like I almost always get at smaller, more intimate venues. It’s not that I’ve never had a bad experience at an arena show, but it just lacks that certain feeling of passionate exuberance that you can only get at a great concert. An arena show has never came close to being my favorite show from top to bottom.

After finding a spot in a parking garage, I start to make my walk to Nationwide Arena. This was actually my second time I’ve been here, as I had previously saw Willie Nelson here on the Outlaw Country Festival tour a few years earlier. It was a pretty good show, but it was nowhere near full capacity. As I approach the front of the arena, I quickly realize how many more people are going to be at this concert compared to the Nelson one. There were hordes and hordes of people lined up to get into the arena and an almost equally long line to the Church merchandise tent. Seeing this many people floored me! Once I get inside and make my way to the floor, I’m even more awestruck as I look around me and watch the entire place fill to near full capacity. Nationwide Arena can hold up to 20,000 people, so this is the biggest show I’ve ever been to so far in my life.

Of course I would be remiss if I didn’t point out there’s a whole global pandemic happening right now and I’m in an arena full of around 19,000 or so people. I will say the arena did require masks and there’s currently an ongoing indoor mask mandate in Columbus itself. All the staff at Nationwide Arena also wore masks. And then maybe 5% of the audience (if even that), including myself, wore masks. You can’t blame the arena for not being able to properly enforce this rule on several thousand people. This is especially the case when a lot of them are drinking too. Shout out to the guy who spilled his beer right next to me before the show even started. It somehow didn’t splash me though and I’ll give him some credit for actually seeking out a staff member to help mop up the mess. The same can’t be said of another person later who also spilled their beer near me, but I was in the splash zone this time. See the contrasts between crowds I was alluding to in my Japanese Breakfast post? Indie rock crowds and country crowds clearly have some differing opinions on wearing masks and beer consumption at concerts.

And one more thought on drinking beer at concerts. I love a cold beer, granted I don’t like to drink several rounds of them. But I totally understand how much a cold beer can hit the spot, especially when you’re at a concert. However, I don’t understand people who drink them excessively at concerts. For one you have to stand in a long line several times throughout the show every time you get a drink and on top of that you have to make several trips to the bathroom. To me that’s a ton of lost value because you’re missing out on so much music. I guess the point of a concert for me is to see the music, not get plastered. I paid a ticket for a show. I don’t mean to come off as lecturing on a soapbox here, but I just don’t understand why you would pay money for a ticket (a lot of money for the pit area) only to miss half the show due to being in line for beer and the bathroom. It just feels like the whole purpose of going to the concert is defeated, but I digress…

I quickly forget about all these shenanigans. Because the arena lights have gone out and they’ve been replaced by colorful, flashing lights and smoke machines filling the whole place. Eric Church, Joanna Cotten and his band make their grand entrance to the stage. And once in their place, Church begins to play the opening notes to “Through My Ray-Bans.” The light, mystical strings that open the song begin to fill the arena. “Everybody’s got their arms around/Everybody else’s shoulders. Guardin’ against the world outside/Like an army of Friday night soldiers. The battle wages tomorrow/But tonight you don’t give a damn. Wish you could stay the way I see you through my Ray-Bans.” The words ring so strong and they’re so appropriate for a tour dubbed The Gather Again Tour. While there were no arms around shoulders, at least in my section, here we were all together again and taking in music together. In a little moment like this you just take it in and appreciate it for what it is. Church set the tone perfectly by opening with this song. At the end of the song he pumps his fist and he’s fired up. He’s clearly ready to deliver us a kick-ass show.

Then he and his band blister their way through “Desperate Man” and “Stick That in Your Country Song.” The former song feels like a nice “step up” in energy and it’s also one of my favorites from Church. It’s also a ton of fun to sing along with live, especially the “doo doo doo” part. The latter song was just as energizing in person as I expected it to be, as you could just feel the electricity in the room go to a fever pitch. A few songs in I’m starting to really appreciate the stage set up, as it’s set “in the round.” In other words, the stage is set right in the center of the arena and the band and Church is able to constantly move around the stage and play in front of every part of it. By doing this everybody, no matter where you were seated, got a great glimpse of everyone on stage throughout the night. Even the drummer and piano players were remote controlled from side to side, which I thought was cool! And for “Stick That in Your Country Song” my side got our first up close glimpse of Joanna Cotten, whose voice is even more incredible to hear live. She’s also got fantastic stage presence, as you immediately are drawn in by her performance. I knew this before even going to the show, but it only reaffirmed for me seeing Cotten live: Eric Church’s music wouldn’t be as good without her presence. She is the Bernie Taupin to Church’s Elton John.

“Cold One” is next and the funky, bouncy melody had all of us…well bouncing along with it! It’s just such a fun song and shows off Church’s quirkier songwriting side. Cotten shines again on “Heart on Fire” and both her and Church are absolute charisma volcanoes at this moment. Needless to say I’m pretty much matching their energy at this point. I’m just hooked to every aspect of this concert performance, singing along at the top of my lungs to everything and moving around, screaming at the end of each song. It can’t get better than this! Then Church decides to slow it down and plays “Mr. Misunderstood.” So now I’m just completely mesmerized, as one of my all-time favorite songs from him plays. It’s because I connect so deeply with the lyrics because at one point I was that kid in the back of the class with nerdy tendencies who’s interest weren’t considered cool. And I love the soft, defiant heartfelt nature of the beginning of the song that descends into a frenetic, out of control display of infectious passion at the end. I don’t think there’s a song for me that better displays an overwhelming love and passion towards something, but especially music, like this one.

I think I tried losing my voice when I was singing along with “Break It Kind of Guy,” as I’m sucker for this type of country soul. Cotten of course plays to this song perfectly with her style and Church himself is better than you think when he goes for those big high notes. After singing my heart out I’m glad Church slows it down for the next few songs, as I imagine I’m not the only one needing a breather. Church himself though is outdoing us all, as he would constantly move around throughout the whole show with unceasing end. His stamina and unrelenting drive absolutely blew me away. It reminded me of a moment on his first live album where he says he’s going to give the audience everything he’s got, but we gotta give it back too (I’m pretty sure he says this at one point during this show too). And we’re trying! But it’s hard to keep up with such a spitfire of a performer! You have a lot of fun trying to keep up though.

I have to admit I was really shocked when the crowd lost their shit with “Round Here Buzz,” as I didn’t think this would be such a crowd pleaser. But everybody was singing along to every single word of it. “How ‘bout You” did not surprise me with how much it fired up the crowd though, as pretty much every Church fan knows this one. While I wouldn’t put it among my top ten from him, damn is it catchy. Hearing those pounding drums pulsate throughout, grabbing hold of you and refusing to let go, makes this song so ideal for the live setting. It feels like Church’s band really got to show off on this song, as they’re quite impressive themselves. Their playing is constantly on point, they’re constantly matching the energy of Church and Cotten, interacting frequently with the crowd; you couldn’t ask for more from them.

“Smoke a Little Smoke” follows this and this song always brings a little grin to my face when I hear it. Not because it’s a song about smoking weed, but it’s the song that made me first take notice of Church. It’s funny how some of my absolute favorite artists at first made me feel unsure of what to make of them. Amongst the artists I had this reaction with were Kacey Musgraves, Sturgill Simpson and Eric Church. I remember the first time I heard “Smoke a Little Smoke” on the radio. I really wasn’t sure what to think. I just thought to myself that this was so different than what I’m used to hearing. Then I would hear it more and I slowly would gravitate towards it and hope this song would play when I tuned into a country station. It often filled my Pontiac Grand-Am as I made my trips to and from class in high school. Ain’t it funny how a melody sounds like a memory?

Now “These Boots” I know has been one of the crowd favorites for several years at Church shows. But I don’t think I was prepared for the sight of thousands of people holding a boot in the air. I’m not sure I’ll see this sight again either. Well no actually I will because I know I’m going to another Church show someday. Also during this song Church took the time to sign several of these boots and again I was surprised at the amount of love Church shown the fans. Now I’m not surprised from the perspective of Church himself, since he’s always put the fans first, from giving Mr. Misunderstood to them before anybody else to the wars he’s waged against ticket scalpers. I’m surprised from the perspective of expectations for such a big star and headlining act. Most of them don’t do these types of things at concerts and you don’t expect this from stars. Most star artists make you pay for a meet and greet to get an autograph. But I guess Church is no ordinary star.

The unordinary nature of Church and his live shows is further showcased as he wraps up the first set with “Lynyrd Skynyrd Jones.” The first set. That was just the first set! Most artists would have declared this enough for a headlining act and that would have been the end of the concert. But all of that and it was just the first half. I don’t know of any other artists who do concerts like this, but I wish more had this same attitude as Church. Granted there are no openers for Church of course. It’s been like that now for years at his concerts. Sturgill Simpson and Marty Stuart & his Fabulous Superlatives are the only other acts I’ve seen go without an opener and they put on incredible shows too.

I elect to stay right where I’m at during this break and stretch my legs and arms. I had found a good spot, so why leave, especially when everybody is out in the concourse? And I had decided I’m waiting until after the show to hit the merch stand, as I didn’t want to hold stuff while in a crowded pit. This also gave me time to chat with the guy next to me (no, not the beer spiller from earlier), as we both discussed how much we loved this show. It was his first time at an Eric Church concert too. We got to talking about music and what we did for a living and it’s always interesting to learn about others. He said his favorite show he had ever seen was Garth Brooks. It’s not a surprising answer, as Garth has been hailed by so many as a fantastic live performer. He asked me what my favorite concert I’ve ever seen and I can never pick one. It’s always like five different ones. I’ve seen a lot of great shows thankfully. Perhaps I’m just overwhelmed by the amount of choices, I guess? As the countdown clock to set two winds down and before we end our conversation, I ask him about the blanket around his neck and he says he hopes to have Church touch it at some point. I wished him luck and hoped he would get his wish. Unfortunately he wouldn’t as I later saw him retreat from towards the front of the guardrails with a disappointed look on his face. Maybe, next time. But I’m focused on the second set, as most of the people have filed back in at this point and the countdown clock has hit zero. Right on cue, Church and his band (clad in new attire) come back out through the crowd to play us some more songs.

Church opens the second set with two songs I absolutely love from Heart: “Heart of the Night” and “Russian Roulette.” The rock opera-like nature of the former always gets my heart pumping. And the latter song is one of Church’s finest heartbreak songs, as it has that same appeal that “Record Year” has of using music as heartbreak medicine. I like how Church emulates the blasts from the radio speakers when he sings, “Gettin’ shot through the speakers both left and right in stereo” too, as that’s my reaction when I hear it. The “money shot” of the song of course is the bridge where it slows down and Church softly croons “I need a melody without a memory, take me where I’ve never been,” followed by the crashing of the drums and guitar and the song thrillingly building to it’s conclusion. I couldn’t ask for more in the melody department. What made this song performance even better was Church was front and center for me during it.

The high energy just continues to ramble along with “Drink in My Hand,” “Talladega” and “Chattanooga Lucy.” The biggest reaction from the crowd all night was to “Talladega,” as they gleefully waved their checkered flags and loudly sang along to it. I enjoy the song too, but I always found it to be a slightly less good version of “Springsteen.” Maybe it’s the NASCAR imagery that further enhances it in several listeners’ minds? I was pleasantly surprised to hear “Chattanooga Lucy,” as I think it’s an absolute blast of a song that’s impossible not to want to move along with. In fact after looking on setlist.fm, I was even more surprised to see Mr. Misunderstood get the most songs on the set list from a single album. Not that I’m complaining of course because it’s his best album. A few songs later he plays a few more off the album in “Mistress Named Music,” “Knives of New Orleans” and “Mixed Drinks About Feelings.” You can’t go wrong with any of these songs. I love the raw, soulfulness of “Mistress Named Music.” Cotten absolutely kills Susan Tedeschi’s part in “Mixed Drinks About Feelings” and appropriately got loud applauses for it. And then you have “Knives of New Orleans,” which is a top five Church song for me. I’m once again thankful for my great luck, as Church plays this song directly in front of me. The passion of the brilliant lyrics shines through just as well live as they do on the record. It just can’t get better than this!

I did not expect to enjoy “Creepin’” so much in a live setting. I’ve always found it to be a fun song, but it’s not one of the first songs I reach for when it comes to Church. But man does it rip in concert and after hearing it in this setting I have another level of appreciation for it. It was yet another moment where Church worked the crowd up into an absolute flurry of excitement. We were then treated to the live debut of “Look Good and You Know It,” which I was thrilled to hear with it being one of my favorites on Soul. I hope Church continues to do more songs in this vein, as I think he has the chops to pull them off quite well with the swaggering charisma he can display. And that was well on display here.

Church next dips into back-to-back songs from The Outsiders in “Give Me Back My Hometown” and “That’s Damn Rock & Roll.” Now if you’ve been really following me for a while, you know I heavily criticized this album when it first released. But then I started to warm up to a few songs, but still for years never went back to give it a fair revisit. Well after hearing these two songs live and seeing this concert, it made me go back and give it a fair revisit. I’ve done a complete 180 on it and I think it’s amongst Church’s best. But I’ll maybe expand upon this more in another post. For now I’ll focus on these two songs. With the first song, I got hung up on the Pizza Hut line being a bit odd and overlooked the song’s important message about gentrification and losing what makes something special. And the latter song I’ve actually really enjoyed for a few years now. Dare I say it’s one of the most overlooked songs in Church’s discography, as I love the spoken word that sets it up and the interplay between Church and Cotten on vocals brings out the absolute best in them. All of us got treated this especially in this performance, as they went toe to toe on the mic, with Cotten of course winning because there are very few in country music with a powerful enough voice to challenge her.

The show closes on a quite powerful three song run, starting with Church’s biggest hit, “Springsteen.” There’s a reason this song is on a lot of the best modern country songs lists. Nostalgia is a theme well covered in country music, but most of the songs in this vein fail to give it the proper depth it can convey. But “Springsteen” is able to capture this magical feeling through a perfect combination of first descriptive lyrics, the kind one thinks of when indulging in nostalgia, but not too specific to where people aren’t able to connect. Its breezy and accessible, yet can connect on a deeper level. And then there’s the other half of the combo, which is the sweet yet melancholy melody largely invoked by the soft keys of the piano that mainly flutter in the chorus. Hearing such a special song like this live, it’s impossible to describe the butterflies that come up in your stomach. Church also took time in bridge of the song to spend some time talking to the crowd, which I realized afterwards was quite similar to the speech he gave during “Springsteen” on his first live record. But that doesn’t mean this rehearsed speech didn’t still resonate with us in the crowd. Melodies do get connected with memories and we did make a memory with the melodies we heard that night.

“Record Year” was next and I remember hoping like crazy when this song was released that it would somehow be a hit. It deserved to be a hit, yet I was so skeptical it would ever take off. And then it became Church’s second biggest hit. I was never happier to be proven wrong. I’ve mentioned most of my top five Church songs throughout this post and they all take turns being my favorite, depending on when you ask me. But this is most often my #1. The overcoming heartbreak arch, indulging in spinning vinyl records, the jaunty melody, the easy to sing along with lyrics, references to great albums and artists; this song checks off every box of things I enjoy in a song from Eric Church or really any song. But I have a new memory I’ll think of when I hear this song thanks to seeing Church perform it live. During the bridge, Church takes to the audience to sign and point out the record art people are holding up throughout the audience. And he stops at one point to spend a bit more time with a fan who happens to be holding up Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life. That’s when you see the inner music nerd in Church pop right out, as a smile breaks across his face and he starts reading the notes on the back of it. For a brief second it seemed like he was going to stand there and read all of the stuff on the back of the album, only to immediately realize, “Oh yeah I’m in the middle of performing in front of 19,000 people. I better sign this and move along.” From one music nerd to another, I would have totally been cool if Church decided to just spend some time reading the rest of it. But it’s a little moment that will always stick with me.

The closing song is surprisingly “Holdin’ My Own.” I suppose it was an appropriate goodbye song to the audience, as it allowed me to reflect on the show I had just seen. Although there was also a part of me that thought this show might keep going somehow, even though it was well beyond the length I thought it would be. This though was the final song, as Church played himself and his band out to conclude the night.

I’ve never been so exhausted in every way after seeing a concert. But in the best way possible, if that makes sense! And I never saw the scene I did leaving a show either. As we were making our way up the stairs from the floor, water is pouring down from the ceiling. What the hell is going on? We make our way up further and there’s even more water pouring down from the ceiling upstairs. It’s as if a rainstorm had invaded the arena. In reality, so many drunks had hit the bathrooms that they overloaded the pipes. But my story is Eric Church rocked Nationwide Arena so hard that night that he made it rain. One thing that is quite certain: after seeing Eric Church live, I can say with the utmost confidence that he is one of the greatest artists and live performers of the modern generation in not just country music, but across all music.

I was still exhausted when I woke up the next day. A concert had never kicked my ass like this one did. Over the next few days I excitedly told my friends and family about the experience. And it made me reflect even more on the experience. When one of my friends asked me about it again, I casually said it was the best concert I had ever seen. I couldn’t believe it at first, but I knew it was true. I now have an all-time favorite concert I can point to. The best concert I’ve ever seen was Eric Church on September 18, 2021 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.

Oh it’s a Rush! My Night at a Japanese Breakfast Concert

February 13, 2020. That night I went to what I thought would be the first of several concerts I had lined up in 2020. Instead it would be one and only concert I would go to in 2020, as a global pandemic froze the world and all of live music with it. September 14, 2021. The night live music finally came back for me and I didn’t realize until I set foot into The Athenauem Theatre in Columbus, Ohio how much I truly missed it. But let’s back up a bit first. Let’s talk about the artist I would be seeing that night, Japanese Breakfast.

Before 2021, I had never listened to Japanese Breakfast before. I had heard of this indie rock band based out of Philadelphia in passing, but I had never stopped to listen. But then I listened to their new single released early in 2021, “Be Sweet.” And man was I hooked! Then I listened to the follow-up single “Posing in Bondage” released in the spring and now I needed to hear more of them. So I listened to their previous albums and I liked what I heard with this too. Granted it’s certainly a bit different from the two singles, but quite enjoyable nonetheless. The main contrast of course is their previous albums are much darker since they focus on lead singer Michelle Zauner’s mother’s battle with cancer and the grief and pain surrounding it. Zauner promised the new album Jubilee would focus on happiness and joy. It would be a clear departure in sound and style. With that being said, I knew I was taking a risk buying a ticket to a concert in April that wouldn’t be until September and before the album released in June. What if I don’t enjoy the album? What if the music doesn’t hold up? And what if COVID would rear its ugly head to derail live music once again? But in the spring when concerts were popping back up for the first time in what felt like forever, the thrill and excitement of buying a concert ticket outweighed these concerns. And the concerns of not enjoying the album were quickly erased after listening to it thoroughly. It’s hands down one of my favorites of 2021! So my faith paid off. Now I just had to wait and see what the answer would be to the last question…

COVID did rear its ugly head again, but not enough to derail live music. But it would be enough to show live music would not be the same as it once was before upon my return that September night at The Athenauem Theatre. As us ticket holders were told weeks ahead of time, at the request of the band, you would have to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test. In addition, masks would also be required to wear at all times in the venue (except when eating and drinking of course). The former would be no problem, as I gladly got my vaccine months earlier. The latter admittedly troubled me a bit a few weeks before the show. I of course understood the why and the need for the masks. But would it make for an uncomfortable show? Would it make for a less than enjoyable experience? After all this was something none of us had to do before at a concert. Despite my worries, I chose to not get a refund when offered the opportunity, made sure to get a comfortable mask and eagerly anticipated my first show back in over a year and a half.

So I arrive at the front doors of The Athenaum Theatre, both nervous due to not knowing what to expect and excited to be back in the throes of live music. Before even entering the venue, you had to provide your proof of vaccination or negative test along with an ID. This also doubled as checking for your age to see if you’re 21 or not. I gotta say this is actually quite smart, killing two birds with one stone! And not only that, it was quite a smooth process too. It was smooth also upon getting inside and checking in digitally. Well done to the staff of the venue! After this I realized it was just like how I remembered live music to be. You’re filing in, peeping where the merch stand is at and observing the sights and sounds of the venue. This last part is definitely important when going to a venue for the first time, which it was for me with The Athenauem.

I then entered the theatre itself: a somewhat long ballroom, standing room only floor that stretched from the entrance up to the stage and surrounded on each side as bleacher-like seating. While I’m sure the seating is nice for some, I want to be where the energy is at and that’s on the floor close to the stage. The opener for the show and entire tour, Luna Li, had already begun playing. I had actually made sure to check her music out before the show months in advance and I found her music to be enjoyable too, which only made me anticipate this show more. And I picked a great moment, as I recognized she had just started playing “Trying.” As I stood there and listened, I took a look around me and basked in the moment. A big grin broke out across my face under my mask. This moment I had been waiting for, this moment I had anticipated for so many months, it had finally arrived. Live music is back!

Luna Li ended up putting on a really good set, especially considering her and her band are so new. They haven’t even put out a whole album yet, just a few EPs. But I think Luna Li has a lot of potential, as their dreamy, chamber pop is certainly intriguing. Luna Li herself told the audience how grateful she was to be opening for Japanese Breakfast, as she said seeing one of their shows five years earlier in Toronto had made a big impact on her. She specifically mentioned seeing an artist like Michelle Zauner on stage was a big deal for her and the importance of seeing representation firsthand were quite inspiring. I also enjoyed Li’s fun play through of her jams EP, breaking out the violin and a tiny guitar she had just bought. 

After Luna Li’s set had finished, I exited the theater to of course go get a better look at the merch stand. As is usually the case, I end up getting more than I anticipate. Damn you Japanese Breakfast for designing a cool poster and T-shirt. I also ended up having a nice conversation with the dude running the merch stand. I wore my favorite Sturgill Simpson shirt to the show, as it’s customary for me to wear a T-shirt of an artist similar to the headlining artist of the show I’m seeing. Yes, I know Sturgill and Japanese Breakfast aren’t real similar, but this was the closest I had. Chalk it up to years of mostly country shows and very little indie shows. But also this shirt I consider lucky, as it’s never failed to help me strike up a conversation up with at least one person at the show. So the streak continued, as we discussed how much we enjoyed Sturgill’s Sound & Fury album, which hey upon further thinking isn’t very different from Japanese Breakfast’s music. I was pleasantly surprised to hear him mention this album, as we both agreed it was underrated and under-appreciated. It’s a shame the music was never fully toured. We said our goodbyes and I then set off for a place to sit and catch my breath and rest before Japanese Breakfast would come on stage.

After this break I make my way back into the theater and take my spot before Japanese Breakfast make their entrance. And they start it off with an absolute bang, opening with “Paprika.” First off I’m a bit shocked they open with this, but at the same time I’m not because this song is just incredible. It also opens Jubilee and I was absolutely floored the very first time I heard it. It’s one of three songs on this album I would put on my favorite songs of 2021 list. “Paprika” may just be the best of the three though. Between the striking lyrics and the brilliant buildup to the end of the chorus where the saxophone comes crashing in and Zauner’s goosebump-inducing deliver of “Oh it’s a rush,” this song is just beautifully perfect. The two words that immediately come to mind for it are eloquence and joy. And hearing it live in-person, the cascading rush is even more incredible. The energy between both the band and the crowd, it’s an indescribable high that you can only get from live music.

Then it’s followed up with another amazing high in “Be Sweet” (which is also the second of my three favorite songs on Jubilee). I’m such a sucker for 80s pop and this song wears that influence proudly on it’s sleeve. The lyrics are instantly catchy, as I was pretty much addicted to this song when it dropped and played it on a loop to the point I was worried I would over play it to the point of hating it. But then I realized the limit doesn’t exist. And the melody is so damn infectious. How could you not want to dance to this? Not to mention the music video for this is so much fun and one of my favorites in recent memory, as it revolves around trying to find aliens. That’s right up there with Chris Stapleton in Lego form fighting a dragon with his guitar in the kind of absurd shit I love in music videos.

So with this one-two punch right out of the gate, I knew this was going to be a really fun show and what a fun show it was. The third of the aforementioned favorite songs “Tactics” absolutely blew me away. It’s such a sad sounding song, as the ache in which Zauner delivers the lyrics punches you right in the gut. The sound is gorgeous, but then again you can say that about all the production on Jubilee. But as I said before, Japanese Breakfast’s previously was quite sad and the band is sure to give us a dose of that in two songs that really stood out to me during the show. The first is “Boyish” from Soft Sounds From Another Planet. Part dark humor, more crushing disappointment, the song is about being attracted to someone who clearly isn’t attracted to you. The line of course that most poignantly showcases all of this is “I can’t get you off my mind, I can’t get you off in general.” The second song is “In Hell,” which is definitely a song that’s an exception the joyfulness that fills Jubilee. Zauner even introduced the song by saying, “And here’s the saddest song ever” and she’s not wrong. “With my luck you’ll be dead within the year, I’ve come to expect it” are the lyrics that open the song, as Zauner recalls with vivid emotion the death of her mother. It’s depressingly sad stuff, but it’s also tragically moving. You quickly understand why Zauner did sad songs for so long, as her ability to convey grief and devastation in her vocals is unquestionably one of her greatest artistic abilities.

At this point in the show I took a moment to observe the crowd around me. After my last show having arguably the rudest crowd I had ever been a part of, this crowd was great. Everybody was chill, polite and having a great time. More shockingly, pretty much everybody was wearing their masks! I couldn’t believe this. I thought for sure there would be a lot of people nursing beers to keep their masks down. Granted not everybody was wearing them I knew, as the usual concert odor of weed filled the air at one point and I don’t see how you could smoke under a mask. I would find out at my next concert how different crowds react to a mask requirement (that’s for another post). Speaking of mask, I was surprised myself of how little I noticed my own. I thought for sure I would be getting hot and annoyed at it, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it was little issue.

Japanese Breakfast would end the regular portion of the show just how they started it: with two bangers, “Slide Tackle” and “Everybody Wants to Love You.” Both of these songs had the crowd in a frenzy, especially towards the front of the stage. On the former it was absolutely crazy when at the end where the song slowly builds into an explosion of euphoria that comes with the saxophone solo. I along with everyone else lost their shit with this solo. Saxophones just make music even better. On the latter song, everybody was singing along with it because well it’s basically the hook over and over and the energy of this song just begs you to go along with it.

After this we did the traditional song and dance of cheering wildly for the encore performance, in which we were treated to Zauner coming out on stage solo and performing “Posing For Cars” and slowly being joined by another member of the band throughout the song until the end when we get the amazing guitar solo that closes the song out. We then heard the final song of the song, the eery, dystopian yet funky “Diving Woman.” By the way the lights and entertainment production were top notch throughout the whole show, with the highlights being the aquatic, dreamy background during “Posing In Bondage” (see above) and the closer “Diving Woman,” where flashing red lights just felt so appropriate going with the crunchy guitar riffs that litter the song. And thus concluded a fantastic show from Japanese Breakfast.

With a slight sweat on my forehead and a beaming smile on my face, I walk out of the theater filled with overwhelming joy. Live music is back. And I couldn’t be happier.

Thoughts & Notes on Sturgill Simpson’s ‘The Ballad of Dood & Juanita’

  • What an epic, cinematic story!
  • The vivid imagery of the characters and details really help paint the picture
  • On that first listen it’s a gripping and emotional rollercoaster as you follow along
  • This album has a vast smorgasbord of country and roots sounds throughout it
  • “Juanita” is absolutely gorgeous! Willie and Trigger sound great and are the perfect finishing touch to a wonderfully laid out song. More on this later
  • The song is emotionally stirring, especially after learning from Sturgill’s interview in Rolling Stone that his grandmother Juanita cried upon hearing this album. There’s no greater feeling than making your family proud
  • Speaking of family, this album brings Sturgill back full circle with his beginnings, not just going back to his roots stylistically, but also thematically since family was a heavy focus on his first album High Top Mountain
  • Dood himself of course greets the listener on Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and then the album concludes with the hidden bonus track “Pan Bowl”, which is an ode to Simpson’s family and days of youth spent with them
  • I did not expect to be greeted by the sounds of whistling, the march of battle and the roar of cannon fire and gunfire to open this album. But it’s a pleasant surprise, not just because I think it helps set the time period of the album’s story well, but also because I’m a history buff and I nerd out over little things like this in an album
  • Sure, it’s a bit on the nose to open like this. But its clear Sturgill’s approach to this is more like a movie than an album. More on this later
  • Definitely happy that Simpson utilized sound effects throughout this album, as it really adds to the songs. Just little things like in “Ol’ Dood (Part I)” where when he utters “things he could do with that rifle” and then a short pause to allow the firing of the gun helps tell the story crystal clear to the listener and immerses you more into it
  • Like I said the attention to detail is so great and it’s really this album’s greatest strength. A straight-forward story like this does not work effectively without adding these little touches through each part of the story because the story itself is no groundbreaking, new idea that Simpson is telling. It’s a standard cowboy story that anyone could tell. But to tell it effectively you gotta suck people in and make them care, which Simpson does right away
  • And it’s not just the production elements that are part of these little details, but amusing lines like when Simpson describes Dood’s shot to be so precise he could “blow the balls off a bat.” It’s both hilarious and hyperbolic, fitting for this larger than life, romanticized, overly fictionalized love story
  • In one song, Sturgill establishes Dood pretty quickly and clearly: he’s a tough son of a bitch who takes no shit and was kind of a cold loner until the day he meets Juanita
  • And the effect she has on him is described quite well too. She not only gives him the love of family, but brings out the compassion and caring that was buried underneath. I mean it’s a common trope that’s been done to death in all forms of media where the hardened person softens up and demonstrates growth. But it’s common for a reason because everybody enjoys rooting for this type of character
  • It’s even easier to root for Dood when the conflict that sets up the journey of the story is established: A bandit named Seamus riding up and stealing Juanita and shooting Dood as he takes her away. The man who had found contentment after years of riding alone may have just had his world cruelly ripped away
  • I love the phrase “saw the ball had passed through, clean as a church floor.” It’s one of several “folksy” observations I enjoy in this album. They remind me a lot of the sayings I would hear growing up in my hometown
  • “Shamrock” soars!! Not just the song, but the horse too of course
  • The sound immediately hooks me and doesn’t want to let go. It gets even better when the Hillbilly Avengers get to stretch out and do an instrumental outro
  • The soaring nature of the song makes you feel you’re right there with Dood as he sets off across Kentucky on his journey to find his love. If this was a movie I could picture a nice montage of Dood traversing over hills and across rivers, day and night, with a look of determination in his eyes
  • I could also picture the glorious looking Shamrock, who Sturgill spares no moments describing in an exact detail right down to him not needing horseshoes due to having hooves so thick and also being able to kick coyotes into the stratosphere (followed by a cartoonishly great flying sound effect)
  • I mean’s Sam cool, but Shamrock is cooler!
  • No love for the mule though I guess. Must be a real jackass to be the only character to not get a name or story (even the bad guy gets one)
  • A little detail I love at the end of “Shamrock” to perfectly transition into the next track: the sound of Shamrock moaning with tiredness after days of travel and the crackling of the campfire that bleeds into the next song to signal the rest top and ultimately the crossroads of the journey
  • “Played Out” sees our heroes at their wits end. The trail has gone cold after five days and nights of searching. Dood is broken both physically and mentally. Shamrock is exhausted. And poor Sam’s body has been destroyed. The feeling of hopelessness of our heroes and the situation couldn’t be spelled out any clearer.
  • Then Sam dies and Sturgill makes sure to make this even sadder by going into great details of how the thorns tore up his paws and Sam letting out one last baying call, which I can just hear in my head and it’s sad as hell. The kind of thing that just punches you in the gut when you hear it. But man does it make for a fantastic song!
  • Also anyone who’s had a dog, well at least those who have or have had a dog that runs free in the country, knows the description of Sam running himself literally to death is an accurate description of a dog’s behavior. I can’t forget all the times growing up my brothers’ dogs and mine would run rabbits (or other animals) until they were crawling up the hill to the house. Dogs are so loyal and focused on their goals, but sometimes to a fault and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it; it’s just their nature
  • Sturgill promised a capella and he delivers it on “Sam.” And some great hillbilly harmonies too
  • “A good dog on the ground is worth three in the saddle” – lyrics like this just stick with you
  • Really this whole song has everything I like in a great song, so there’s not a damn thing I would change
  • That being said though, “Juanita” is the clear favorite for me on this album
  • I mean I highlighted it at the very beginning because it immediately bowled me over once I heard it
  • There’s no duo better than Willie and Trigger to deliver that Spanish guitar sound this song called for
  • And no, Willie did not need to have any vocals on this song. I saw some people complain about this and it’s clear they’ve never paid attention to Willie’s guitar playing. Go see him live and you’ll gain an even greater appreciation for it
  • Also one last thing on this complaint: there’s no logical reason to have him on the song. Like there’s no clear moment that Willie should join in and sing, especially since this is Sturgill singing about his grandparents
  • I’m gonna praise the lyrical detailing of Sturgill once again. Setting the scene of Dood laying under the stars, dreaming of his woman and holding her in his arms once again, it gives the song such a satisfyingly romantic feel. I mean putting that on top of the Spanish-driven sound of the song and it feels like cheating to make this song feel so good
  • “You are the ocean, I am a grain of sand” – perfectly conveys the importance of her to him. This contrast is fantastic
  • “Juanita! Where’d your mama get that name?” – Not only am I like many just randomly blurting this line out after hearing because come on it’s so damn catchy, but the passion that Sturgill puts behind the vocal delivery here could not hit any harder
  • And then he follows this up with lyrics so sweet that it makes molasses seem sour
  • Takes me back to a quote Sturgill said years ago at NPR Tiny Concerts where he said the next one is for the ladies, only to pause and then say they’re all for the ladies
  • Don’t sleep on the Hillbilly Avengers in this song either, as they get their own moments to shine in the bridge
  • The last “Juanita!” may be the most impressive, as it’s a pretty dramatic and loud delivery. But it’s necessary to show the desperateness of Dood to find her and have her in his arms once again
  • I really enjoy Sturgill including Native American characters in the story, as I don’t really recall a lot of country songs with them, which surprises me. Maybe there is and I just don’t know about them. If you do, please speak up in the comments!
  • But including them in the story is a nice follow up and foreshadowing on the mentions of Dood being Shawnee at the beginning of the album. In addition, their presence not only advances the story, but also helps further set the time period of the story
  • The blind chief is a really cool character! You gotta have a mentor in the hero’s journey of course
  • Part of me wishes that the moment Dood reunites with Juanita was better fleshed out in another song, but then again there was maybe no use after “Juanita” perfectly captured what she meant to him
  • I’m torn on this part of the story. On one hand, it works fine as is and less is more usually. But on the other hand, I wouldn’t have minded another song here
  • I have to say it’s a rare moment for me to think an album could have been longer
  • Regardless, this album has a very satisfying conclusion on “Ol’ Dood (Part II)” when Dood sets off to kill Seamus and get his revenge
  • Once again the scene of the song is set so well by Sturgill. But my favorite part is the little twist when Dood comes up to inspect Seamus after successfully shooting him 300 yards away, where Seamus is playing possum and tries to lunge at Dood with a knife, only for Dood to tomahawk him.
  • Personally how I envision it in my head is Seamus lunging, but not even really getting close, as Dood calmly whips his tomahawk out and throws it through the air, perfectly catching Seamus in the forehead (since Sturgill sings “moonlight bouncing off that tomahawk” and establishing that Dood has a perfect shot). Furthermore, he says it’s the last thing Seamus sees and you hear a little “whoosh,” which to me sounds like the tomahawk being removed from his head. Either that or it’s the sound of Dood scalping Seamus’ hair as a trophy.
  • The last minute and a half of just hearing the sounds of campfire, a stream of water, frogs croaking and locust chirping with some light banjo and harmonica over it is the perfect closer, as it establishes the peace that has now come over Dood and Juanita.
  • I also like to picture this as Dood making his way home that night and just sitting around the campfire, Juanita holding him, surrounded by his children and Shamrock, with a peaceful and easy smile on his face knowing he has his world back and that the journey he just went on has made him all the more grateful for what he has
  • This is a fun and fantastic album from Sturgill. It’s a fitting conclusion to his five-album arc too. But it’s funny how I think this has the least replayability of all his albums despite me thoroughly enjoying it. And there’s a few reasons I think for this. For one I think this is the most simplistic album Sturgill has delivered, which isn’t a bad thing. The simplicity serves this story well and makes sense. But also simplicity doesn’t make you want to come back for more listens. It doesn’t take that long to really “get” this album. Repeat listens for me have more about appreciating the aesthetics of the album. The other reasoning and what I think is a bigger reason this doesn’t lend as well to replaying as his other albums is this being treated more like a movie than an album. Like to me this is a no-brainer that it should be adapted into a film on Netflix. And Sturgill is clearly interested in movies.
  • But back to it being a movie more than an album hurting it’s replayability: I don’t know about you, but for me I can’t go back and rewatch a movie over and over because nothing beats the freshness of the excitement of the first watch of a movie. It only loses it’s luster with more viewings subsequently right after seeing it the first time. I have to space a good bit of time out before wanting to watch it and really enjoy it again.
  • Really this is often the case with most concept albums that tell one story throughout. The obvious comparison with this album has been Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger and I couldn’t really tell you my thoughts on this because I’ve never listened to the album. Yes, I know it’s shocking, especially with me being a big Willie fan. But there’s only so much time to listen to music and it’s just something that’s slipped through the cracks. If anything I feel like me not hearing it helps me look at this album a bit differently. I’m also going to be sure to listen to it now.
  • So the comparisons I thought of with this album instead were Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives’ Way Out West and Dwight Yoakam’s Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room. I love both of these albums just like this album. But my feelings on going back to listen to them feel very much like I’m going to feel with this. Again I really enjoy them, but they’re not albums I go back to listen to all the time. They’re for a specific mood. They’re niche. You have to listen to them in full to gain the greatest appreciation of them. And you certainly can’t break them up in a playlist or listen to the songs individually. So it comes down to how much value you place on this element to determine how much you enjoy it now and in the long run.
  • For me, I look at The Ballad of Dood & Juanita like a fine bottle of wine to pull out on special occasions. It may be a while in between listens, but I’m going to really appreciate it and enjoy it when I do put it on.

Thoughts & Notes on Willie Nelson, the Osborne Brothers & Bob Wills’ records

As promised, my thoughts on the haul of records I discussed in my previous post. Time to spin some records and give you my thoughts on them…

Willie Nelson’s Stardust

  • I liken this album to a warm blanket, as you can put it on anytime and it’s instantly comforting
  • Willie just glides effortlessly over the melodies
  • While Willie is rightfully known for being one of the all time great songwriters, this album shows he’s an equally great interpreter
  • In addition, this album shows his excellence when it comes to adapting to various styles of music
  • The opening title track tells you right up front what to expect with this album, soft and gentle music unlike any of his outlaw stuff that made him famous in the previous few years
  • The tender weariness of Willie’s vocals combined with the understated soulful production from Booker T. Jones on “Georgia On My Mind” makes one feel full when listening to it
  • The harmonica solo in the bridge is a great touch, as some country creeps through in this jazzy song
  • Then again I guess harmonica isn’t something exclusive to country music. But Mickey Raphael on harmonica on a Willie song is
  • Who doesn’t know “All of Me”? And even if you don’t, I feel like it’s one of those songs you can instantly sing along with. Made famous by Willie’s friend and music legend Frank Sinatra, this song just fits Willie like a glove.
  • It fits him so well for the same reason it fit Sinatra so well: they effortlessly convey emotion behind the lyrics. There’s a passion behind the delivery that makes you care. Again it comes back to the interpreting ability of Willie. Sure you could get somebody who’s a really polished, technically sound vocalist sing this. But it wouldn’t have near the charm and appeal that a vocalist like Willie brings to it.
  • The same can be said of Willie’s interpretation of “Unchained Melody,” a song that has been done countless times across every genre and a song firmly entrenched in American culture. I mean is it a surprise a song about pining for love fits Willie well? He brings that achiness needed to make the song connect with the listener
  • I love the lingering piano that greets you in “September Song” and then drifts in the background throughout. It makes you feel like you’re taking a walk through the woods on a crisp fall afternoon in…well September.
  • Trigger of course sounds great as always in the bridge with a well placed solo to complement the carefree melody of the song
  • Just like “All of Me,” “On the Sunny Side of the Street” is one of those instantly likable songs to me. There’s a reason it became a jazz standard and covered by every big name of that genre. And Willie’s cover is certainly worthy of being right next to the best of the jazz interpretations of the song.
  • You would think I would have more to say on an album I hold to such high esteem, but the funny thing I’ve learned listening to hundreds of albums is sometimes you don’t have a lot of words to say about an album you enjoy other than a succinct, “I just like it.” Stardust is one of those albums that is better left for you to listen to and hear for yourself rather than someone else describing it to you. If you think would enjoy a country/jazz/pop fusion or if you love Willie Nelson, you’ll love this album too

Willie Nelson’s Always On My Mind

  • I had no clue that “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” was originally recorded by Aretha Franklin
  • Willie obviously has a much different take, but very much makes it his own by making more of a country pop waltz
  • By the way you can tell right away that this is an 80s album, with what I call the “dramatic” production that permeates every genre of music in this time
  • Another thing I learned: Originally producers Chips Moman and Bobby Emmons suggested to both Nelson and Merle Haggard to record the song for their collaboration album Pancho & Lefty. But Merle turned it down! Willie says he never heard it right according to his autobiography, but he was impressed by it the moment he heard it. It goes to show even legends can sometimes miss on “getting” music
  • To me this song is absolutely gorgeous and Willie’s version is by far my favorite of all the versions of it recorded. It’s one of the first songs I think of when I think of Willie Nelson. From the soft and smooth piano strokes that open to the tenderness of Nelson’s delivery, it’s one of those songs that gives you goose bumps. It’s a love song with true emotion that resonates with anyone who listens closely
  • I completely forgot there was a hidden Waylon feature on “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” so I popped up from my seat when listening to this vinyl record for the first time
  • The lyrics to this song are so different, especially for Willie and Waylon. But they absolutely nail what was originally a baroque pop song. They’re rightfully known as the kings of outlaw country, but their talent made them capable of taking on any genre they set their minds to. That’s just brilliant artists for you
  • Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is one of those American classics you can’t avoid, especially since Simon feels like your favorite songwriter’s songwriter
  • With Willie’s version, I like the subdued production choice here by Chips Moman and letting Willie’s voice be front and center. When he hits those upper notes it stands out even more
  • “Old Fords and a Natural Stone” is one of those simple songs that Nelson knocks out in his sleep. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but enjoyable nonetheless. I also enjoy the saxophones that pop up in the background throughout. Again I’m a sucker for 80s production and over Willie singing it’s just even better
  • So the song I mentioned before that’s my favorite on the album (and that’s saying something with multiple great songs on it)
  • “Permanently Lonely” is the definition of confident bitterness. Oh I’ll be alright from his breakup, but you won’t because you’re always going to be lonely. And in light of a breakup, I think it’s perfectly natural to feel this way
  • But of course it’s not just bitterness being displayed here, but it’s also a coping mechanism. It’s easier to get over a breakup when you tell yourself that your ex is going to be lonely forever
  • Chris Stapleton did a good job with his cover of Gary P. Nunn and Donna Farar’s “Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning.” But Willie’s version is the definitive version for me
  • Willie’s version is much better than Stapleton’s because of the vocal deliveries of each. It goes back to what I said in my thoughts on Stardust above: Willie brings a weary charm that fits a heartbreaking song like this, whereas Stapleton’s voice, while powerful and amazing, is too much for a song like this (Stapleton does heartbreak best on a song like “Either Way”)
  • Trigger’s solo to play out this song is mesmerizing and really puts an exclamation point on this great song
  • It just makes sense to end an album with a song called “The Party’s Over”
  • That phrase also just works in a song about a relationship ending. Hell I even think I ended a relationship saying the exact phrase. But again another great piece of writing from Willie
  • Funny how this album basically happened because Willie wanted to record the title track. If Merle had said yes, maybe this album doesn’t happen. All I know is I’m glad it did, as it’s quite enjoyable and ranks as one of my favorites in Willie’s discography

Willie Nelson’s City of New Orleans

  • Remember how I said above that there are some albums that can be just summed up as “I just like it”? Well that’s pretty much the case here
  • The title track is a fun song about a train ride to New Orleans that Willie covers with a powerful delivery backed by some catchy production
  • Willie’s cover of “She’s Out of My Life” rivals the most popular version of it by Michael Jackson in my opinion. And I love the Jackson version
  • What makes the Jackson version really stand out of course is it’s so different than the rest of the songs on Off the Wall, an album full of upbeat disco songs. So the song itself is an emotional gut punch and it punches even harder next to these type of songs
  • By the way, Off the Wall is on my all time favorite albums list, so I couldn’t recommend it more. I actually think it’s better than Thriller
  • I find it hard to believe Bette Midler’s version of “Wind Beneath My Wings” is the most popular version of this song. Because in the words of a former doctor of mine, “Bette Midler is awful.”
  • So give me the Willie version this song! It’s a beautiful song that suits his voice perfectly. Have you gotten sick of me saying this yet in this post? That’s what happens when you decide to write about three Willie albums that are largely covers.
  • City of New Orleans is a solid album and follow-up to the same idea Willie followed on Always on My Mind. Unfortunately this album doesn’t quite hit the highs of that album, but this is still a good showing

Osborne Brothers’ Cuttin’ Grass Osborne Brothers Style

  • As soon as I heard the sweet sounds of Bob Osborne’s mandolin playing in “Sweet Thing,” I had a feeling I would really enjoy this album
  • What a great opening song! And the female vocalist is fantastic! Unfortunately it does not list on the back of the album or anywhere on it who this woman is. And my Google searching did not turn up anything definitive either. It could possibly be Felice Bryant? I’m not sure, so if anyone reading this could help me here I would greatly appreciate your help in identifying the vocalist
  • Ruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuby!
  • That’s one way to open a song! Also I immediately recognized “Ruby, Are You Mad”! I know I’ve heard it, granted a really, really long time, likely from my dad or grandpa when showing me bluegrass at a very young age. My memory is great, but it’s not strong enough to remember exactly when
  • While the picking on this song is quite entertaining, the pipes on the female vocalist impress me even more. I’m out of breath just listening!
  • The harmonizing at the end is awesome, a really nice bow on a great song
  • “May You Never Be Alone” is so mournful and sad, but also quite beautiful. The picking in the bridge lights up your soul, both the banjo picking from Sonny and mandolin picking from Bob. These brothers damn sure know how to make a compelling melody!
  • It’s a Hank song, you know actual Hank, not his drunk son. So of course the song is well written.
  • I didn’t even watch the show and I immediately recognized “Ballad of Jed Clampett.” Beverly Hillbillies is of course right up there with the Dukes of Hazzard, Hee Haw and The Andy Griffith Show as the most influential and influential shows in country and bluegrass history
  • “Sour Wood Mountain” is where the brothers really show off their picking; it’s no surprise as they wrote this one themselves. The banjo really shines on this one
  • Hank Locklin’s “Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On” I thought I had never heard, yet I knew I was enjoying this too much and knew the lyrics too quickly for this to be true. Sure enough I realized I heard this first on Dwight Yoakam’s Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room. And it’s been covered by several in country music.
  • I’m not surprised because man, this is an enjoyable heartbreak song.
  • Once again the harmonizing is right on point and really gives the song some heft
  • It’s definitely amusing to hear about how bluegrass is the in and hip thing on Earnest Tubb’s “Bluegrass Music’s Really Gone to Town.” Because other than a brief period in the early 2000s, this has never been the case in my lifetime. Then again this album was released in 1963
  • “Night Train to Memphis” is really catchy and the gospel influences on this are really enjoyable. Of course I think every song on this album is catchy and enjoyable
  • Well “New Partner Waltz” just lays it right out there: a couple both notice the other looking over each others’ shoulders during the waltz and concluding they’ll each have a new partner when the next song begins. Yet he seems to think they’ll be alone after this dance? Maybe I’m reading too much into what’s just a simple heartbreak song
  • “White Lightning” is a song that holds such importance in the history of country and bluegrass: it pays homage to the influence of moonshining, it was the first hit for George Jones and it’s a go-to example of how the genres utilized humor in it’s earlier days to win audiences over
  • I mean how can you not chuckle and smile with the funny lyrics and reactions of the characters throughout to taking a sip of white lightning
  • I will say I’ve never had a chance to take a sip of white lightning myself, but based on what I’ve heard it sounds like it would knock me on my ass
  • While I’ve heard my share of bluegrass albums that sound repetitive and really hearing these types of bluegrass album is what kept me away from further exploring the genre, this album is certainly not repetitive. In fact, I’m dying to hear more of it
  • I shit you not the first time I played this record I immediately had to play it a few more times because I was thrilled by what I was hearing
  • The melodies on this are fantastic and captivating, the vocals are very impressive and Cuttin’ Grass Osborne Brothers Style is definitely my type of bluegrass
  • Needless to say I’ll continue to search for more of this type of bluegrass

Bob Wills’ Fiddle

  • Well it’s an all instrumental, fiddle-laden album. While the music nerd in me enjoys this, it honestly doesn’t make for interesting writing in my opinion, unless you yourself are an expert fiddle player who can break down all the details they could pick up listening to Bob Wills. And even then I would probably skim their writings. 
  • All in all though I’ll leave you with this: If you thought Tyler Childers’ Long Violent History was pretty neat like I did, then you need to check out Bob Wills.
  • While Childers’ project was great from an artistic standpoint, from a technical standpoint it wasn’t anywhere near what you get with Wills. There’s a reason he’s one of the all time great fiddle players and what I love about this album is how it shows his progression. The album begins with some of his earliest recordings in the 1930s, which are simpler in nature songs and the album progresses up until the end in the mid 40s, where you can hear the complexities and learnings he’s accumulated over the years to good use. The back of the album makes for fantastic reading as you listen because it explains all of this and how Wills was shaped by various influences. Particularly fascinating to me is his love of many genres, including blues, Spanish music, dance music and most interestingly, jazz! I would have never thought this, but then you listen and you can’t unhear it.
  • He actually worked with several jazz fiddlers, which I didn’t know was a thing. It’s not really what I think of with jazz (and they usually call it a violin I thought). It’s really a good reminder of how much of a melting pot music is and how integral each genre truly is, as one may not exist without the other. 
  • Wow! I actually did have something to write! I guess disregard the beginning of this section. And man what a fun haul of music! 

A Trip to the Record Store

One of my favorite hobbies is going to the record store. Especially after a stressful week, it was exactly what I needed. And the thing is there was absolutely nothing I had in my mind in particular I was looking for on my trip. Of course I have my list of records I’m on the hunt for to add to my collection, but I went on this trip with no expectations other than to browse and have fun.

And of course not overpay for a record. Like many, I appreciate a good deal when it comes to buying anything. Who doesn’t want a good deal? Whether I’m checking out deals online or in a record store, if I can snag it for a good price, I’m going to be even more thrilled with my buy. Lately this feels like it’s become even more important in the hobby of collecting records. The prices of records have been absolutely ballooning, with no signs of slowing down. Record sales have been steadily climbing for a decade, but it got even bigger in the midst of this pandemic we’re in, as people have embraced new hobbies, one of them being collecting records. The pandemic has also played a major factor in another aspect of vinyl: the pressing of them, or rather the shortage due to increased demand and the mess COVID-19 has created in shipping and manufacturing. Highly sought after records and limited variants can be hard to find nowadays in some cases. It doesn’t help that a lot of people give into the FOMO or worse, paying outrageous reseller prices on Discogs and EBay.

All of this has become especially egregious in hip hop. Out of all the genres, it attracts the most hype beasts. It’s not surprising when a lot of music in it glorifies materialism and having the best/most stuff. Hip hop is also a major part of popular culture and fashion and something that is constant through human history is obsession with popularity. It doesn’t effect my enjoyment of the genre in the least, but it’s certainly affected my record collecting habits. I refuse to pay $40 for the new J. Cole album, even though The Off-Season is a great record. Cole raps his ass off on it and the features are all impressive. But I’ll gladly wait on it to drop in price.

So I made my way to the record store and there was a lot of people, which surprised me, but in a good way. It’s a great sight to see so many people getting into this fun hobby. Anyone who loves music I highly encourage getting into collecting records (CDs or cassettes if that’s more your speed too). Of course with more people buying records it means I have a harder time finding the ones I want. But that’s not a big deal. I was especially happy to see though that the store had expanded, so I had even more records to browse. I knew I was about to spend a couple hours digging (I did).

The first section I head for is the country and bluegrass section: one because I love the genres of course and two because there weren’t any people in that section. I’m not surprised it’s empty, as so many people unnecessarily thumb their noses down upon country music, especially in the city I’ve come to realize. Oh sure I’ve found some people who appreciate it. But most in the city either don’t care for it or they just like the stuff on the radio. But it also means I should find some great records. So I began to dig.

Right away I notice a lot of the records are brand new records, which means high prices. And oh sure there’s some that are on my list I want to get, but the price is too damn high. For example, I come across Miranda Lambert’s The Marfa Tapes. I really enjoy this album, as it’s what I would describe as a fun campfire record. The stripped down nature and the “flaws” of the recordings of the songs make it an enjoyable listen. However, I don’t like it enough to pay $32 for it. I have to really love an album to pay that price for a record. I don’t really love this album, so I will wait until I can grab it at a better price. And hey I know this has become the standard price, but I don’t have to like it.

The rest of the albums in the section are the higher priced used albums they have, I’m talking $20 or more. I normally don’t like to pay that for used records, unless it’s something I absolutely love and it’s in excellent shape. There a few records priced in the range I usually like to buy used ones in. One that catches my eye is Willie Nelson’s Honeysuckle Rose soundtrack. I’m familiar with multiple songs on the album (“On The Road Again,” “Whiskey River”, etc.), but I’ve never listened to the whole album. Usually I like to listen to the whole album, but in this case it was more of this record isn’t amongst the Willie Nelson albums I’m looking for. I put it back and kept it in the back of my head as a possible maybe to return to later as I continued to look.

I finished my way through the section of country and bluegrass records sitting on the tables and I was surprised by the lack of variety and so many new records populating the section. I walked over to the jazz section next to it, poking around, only to find it was very much the same case. This made no sense to me, until I figured out I wasn’t looking hard enough. I noticed below the tables of country and bluegrass records I just pilfered through to see several crates and boxes marked “country overflow.” I start to dig in this group of records and this was more of what I was looking for. I spend twice as much time digging through these, despite having to bend down on the ground and block aisles than I did with the top shelf selections. Sure, it’s awkward having to move out of the way for people trying to make their way around. But this is a record store and anybody who has ever dug for records knows record stores aren’t exactly Ikea when it comes to organization and efficient aisle ways. It’s the just the way it is.

This is the part where the digging pays off. Remember earlier I said there were certain Willie Nelson records I was looking for? Well I find the first of the day that I hold onto without hesitation: Willie’s Always On My Mind. The Chips Moman produced album of course is highlighted by Willie’s take on the title track. The album mostly consists of covers, but I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed Willie’s interpretations of others’ songs because many times he can equal or surpass them. My favorite of this album though is him covering one of his own songs from a previous album, “Permanently Lonely.” It’s a pointed, subtle as a brick to the face breakup song that perfectly encapsulates the fallout anger of a relationship. It’s a song that to me shows why Willie is one of the all time great singer-songwriters.

My next two finds are unconventional and surprising; the latter because I have never listened to these albums before. It’s not something I do a lot when record picking, but when I’m feeling adventurous I like to buy records of albums I’ve never heard. When you have a big selection at your disposal like this one, it’s fun to take risks and buy records that are sort of a mystery. The first is a Bob Wills fiddle instrumental compilation album released in the late 80s. Of course I’ve heard many of Wills’ songs, but an all instrumental album with many songs I’ve never heard from him really caught my eye. The second is the Osborne Brothers’ Cuttin’ Grass Osborne Brothers Style. Now bluegrass is a genre I started dipping my toes into more after Sturgill Simpson released his Cuttin’ Grass albums. But with me always having a wandering ear, I kind of sidetracked and lost sight of my exploration into the genre. But with so many bluegrass records at my selection in this mess of records in front of me, I thought picking one to take home with me would be a good way to kick start my exploration of it once again. My final pickup in this section is yet another Chips Moman-produced Willie album: City of New Orleans. While it’s not quite as good of a fun covers album as Always On My Mind, it’s still a really enjoyable album that feels like a successful follow-up on the former’s formula. And well…can you really go wrong with Willie?

After having quite a fill of the country and bluegrass section, I set off next for the rock and pop sections. Like when I first went into the country section, I start off by looking through the top shelf records, where just like before I just find a bunch of records that are too highly priced and/or not what I’m looking for. I repeat this process with the hip hop section. This section is without a doubt the most picked over I’ve looked through. It’s also the most overpriced. No surprise, as I mentioned before when discussing hip hop. But I was more inclined to buy a new hip hop record versus any other genre if it was something hard to find or out of stock online. For example, Griselda records were something I was definitely inclined to buy. Griselda of course refers to the trio of Benny the Butcher, Conway the Machine and Westside Gunn (and there are other great artists on the label too, but these three are the faces). But after much searching, I couldn’t find anything. The same search for Freddie Gibbs records turned out the same, although for a hot minute I thought I found something. It was a single of his song “Playa” with various remixes on the record. I had never heard or seen this before, so for a second I thought I found something rare. And I was also surprised I didn’t know of this because I had spent a lot of time digging through Gibbs’ discography after he won me over immediately with Pinata and Freddie. The latter is an album I still regret not buying on vinyl when I had the chance, so it along with You Only Live 2wice remain on my wanted list. But a quick Discogs search showed this “Playa” record was quite common. Not to mention I reminded myself that I don’t and buy play singles very often and playing the same song over and over just doesn’t make for a good listening experience. So I put it back in hopes of finding something else to take it’s place.

Now I turn my attention back to the overflow, bottom sections in rock and pop. And man there’s a lot more to dig through! But at this point after being here for a couple hours, my patience for digging is running thinner. Plus, I’ve already landed four records from the country section and I didn’t want to spend a ton today. One album in particular though I’m looking for is Electric Light Orchestra’s Out of the Blue. For fellow seasoned collectors, yes I know this album is incredibly common and it’s ridiculous I don’t have it. Chalk it up to bad luck I guess! But I’ve never come across it before. And today was no different. I do however pick up two records that I give strong consideration to: The Doobie Brothers’ first greatest hits album (you know the one with the jukebox on the front) and the Carpenters’ Christmas album. I ultimately though decide against both of them after 10 minutes of wavering. I decide against the Doobie record because I realize I already have their second greatest hits album and I don’t even listen to it a bunch, so why get the one that is my less favorite of the two? And I decide against the Carpenters’ record because despite my love of the duo, it’s just really hard to buy a Christmas album when it’s 90 degrees outside. I also waffle on my thoughts on collecting Christmas albums. On one hand, they’re great to play around the holidays. Nothing beats the cozy feeling of sitting on the couch listening to a record with the Christmas tree glowing and snow pouring down outside. On the other hand, they sit on a shelf for 10.5 months the rest of the year. So it makes sense to be more picky and selective with them.

But it’s funny how one small moment of hesitation led to my final find of the day. While I’m walking around the store stalling and mulling over getting these records, a line forms at the front. After my mulling it’s still there. And it’s quite cramped up front near the register. I really don’t want to be close to people if I don’t have to, especially with the Delta variant in full swing. So to kill some time I look around more and find a section of newly arrived used albums. How did I not see this before? Might as well look through them, you never know…less than 10 records into my flipping through them, I hit the jackpot! I find staring back at me a record that’s been on my list for quite some time. It’s one of my all time favorite albums: Willie Nelson’s Stardust! The cover is in perfect condition and it’s even a promotional copy, which means it’s not been played much either. The record is scratch free. I grabbed it without hesitation.

The line disappeared and happy with what I have in hand, I paid for my records and I set off home with my haul for the day.

Don’t worry I’ll get to the music on these records next time…

So What Do You Do?

I’m tired of running from what I love. I’m tired of running from who I am. I’m a writer and I love music. I love to write about music. Sometimes you just have to let some time pass to let passion reignite.

When you meet someone, you cycle through the usual chit chat and small talk until you inevitably get to the question, “So what do you do?” This of course refers to your job/career/what you do for a living. It’s a question that’s always caused a variety of feelings within me.

When I was working in an office job out of college to make money, I felt awkward telling people this because I knew it wasn’t me. It wasn’t who I am. I quit that job after a year because I was miserable. In addition I had a broken heart from a falling out with a girl I thought I loved, only to realize I had no clue what love was and that I was a long way from understanding it. So I started a little blog called Country Perspective, a site dedicated to covering my growing love for a genre I had always loved since I was a child. I was also simultaneously running from my problems.

What ignited that passion? Well I was sick of bro country and I took to the internet in search of the country music I grew up and loved that had seemingly disappeared from the radio waves. What I found instead was something much better and much more. I found independent country through the likes of Saving Country Music and Grady Smith. At least that’s what I thought. But really I found something much bigger. I found the gateway to a whole world of music I didn’t know about. I found a part of me I had repressed all my life and that was the passionate music fanatic and nerd in me that had been inside of me all along that was finally able to be unleashed. I had never felt the rush I had felt when I first started Country Perspective. And along the way I lost that excitement (and regained it and lost it a few more times). How did I lose it? Well there’s everything else.

A blog is a real pain in the ass. It’s a labor of love. You make no money from it. There’s no greater passion project. You see things worked out for the first couple years of Country Perspective for me because the pressure of everything else was put at bay. I took an unconventional route for college. I graduated high school with two Associates degrees and then I finished my undergrad degree in two years. I was done at college at age 20. I was two years ahead of schedule and saved a considerable amount of money and time. Well eventually I realized I lost time. You’re only that age once. I also made a good bit of money from the office gig. I had time and money, for a while at least. But then it started to run out and the walls started closing in. The pressure was on both internally and externally for me to get a real job.

The pressure finally cracked me when I quit Country Perspective in spring of 2017. Shortly after I fell into a deep anxiety and depression state. This lasted for around 6-8 months. I can’t really tell you for sure because it was a hazy time I would rather forget. But years later I realized this was ultimately one of the biggest blessings I ever received because it made me realize that I had been living unhealthily for years. I had essentially kicked the can down the road for years and finally I ran out of road and was forced to confront them. It was the wake up call I needed. Once I got myself out of that horrible state, I began my journey to realizing my true self.

I started taking the small, boring steps I needed just to feel normal. I started to fix my problems. You ultimately realize it’s better to face shit head on than avoid it. I still missed writing though, so then I started a blog called Fusion Country. A good idea that ultimately fell apart due to the limiting scope of the blog and my own personal journey not being far enough long for me to be a writer and person with no malice dripping from their words. You see at the time I was quite bitter and angry over feeling I had to leave Country Perspective because of life and the world’s demands. I unfairly blamed the country music community at the time for having to leave and lashed out because I felt like it was all I could do after losing something I felt like I shouldn’t have had to lose. But at the same time I was also angry at myself for Country Perspective being ran not the way I wanted it and also realizing I was not portraying my true self with the blog as some pure, only traditionalist country music fan (I love that music, but not just that music). So let’s back up a second to cover a moment I had with the blog in the summer of 2016, a breaking point if you will, before we get back to my personal journey. I’ve never told anyone about this moment before now.

In August of 2016 I had a breaking point moment as a person and a music listener. Anyone who knows me knows I have quite the vivid memory. It scares me how much I can remember stuff. So I remember this August day well. Lately I had noticed I was growing more restless with the blog and it was becoming harder to write reviews. The passion was waning, but my stubbornness and refusal to quit didn’t let me acknowledge this. But the funny thing about me is even if I don’t want to admit to something, my body and mind will gladly wring it right out of me somehow someway. So to that day I keep alluding to: I sat down to write a review for BJ Barham’s Rockingham. It’s quite frankly a depressing album about failed American dreams and the struggles of the blue collar working person. Sitting down and spending hours on this review drained me. I mean no offense to Barham when I say what I’m about to say, his album just happened to be the one I wrote that was the straw that broke the camels back for me: this album and review made me fucking hate Americana music. It made me hate depressing and dark music. It took me years after this album to start fully appreciating this type of music again. This is what happens when you have zero balance and are all gas, no brakes all the time like I was back then. Doing the same thing over and over makes you feel crazy. All I was doing was listening to and reviewing this type of music.

Perhaps hate is a strong word and maybe that hate wasn’t really towards Barham or sad music. It was towards me liking it and listening to it at the degree I did because despite me being a way too harsh critic on myself in the past, I’m a pretty happy person. I always skew towards positivity. Well I did for years until I started to run from my problems. And yet I always acted like I was into this type of music in my first run of Country Perspective. I felt like I had to like it to fit in instead of just being completely myself. The hard truth was I had never really listened to much of this type of music and I was intrigued by the newness of it. The newness though finally wore off and my mind and body was ready to stop pretending to be someone I wasn’t. So it’s not that I didn’t or don’t currently like sad music, I just didn’t like it as much as I was telling myself and my readers at the time. I was depriving myself of who I was as a person and listener. But you can only fake it for so long.

(Also I realize I’m rambling a lot at this point about a bunch of personal stuff that I imagine can be quite tedious and boring for you. But I gotta get all this shit off my chest to completely move on and move forward as a writer.)

So completely drained from my Barham review, I decided to go for a bike ride to help clear my head. And on this bike ride I listened to an album I had been hearing a lot of buzz about. Over the past year I had started branching out to all types of music beyond the mainstream and following the buzz around all genres, not just country. And the album I listened to was Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion. I was immediately captivated and in awe of such a fun album. This album blew my mind and it was the kickstart to me realizing again how much I love pop music. It all goes back to being true to yourself. I didn’t just listen to country music growing up. I was a pop listener too. I loved the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. I loved Top 40 radio growing up. And just like I had deprived the country fan in me for years, I had deprived the pop fan in me too.

(By the way I’m going to explore the music of my younger years someday in a piece that’s already thousands of words and I haven’t even began reviewing the actual music yet. That piece is honestly what drove me to this moment and my return. And all because I just let it happen naturally.)

This realization of my enjoyment of pop only continued to lead to more moments like this and also made me open up to all music. For example, when I quit Country Perspective, the only music I listened to for a while was yacht rock. Then I dove more into hip hop, realizing my love of it. See how this breakdown was ultimately a blessing? It made me open my eyes and embrace things like never before and this went beyond listening to music. Everything began to open up for me like never before. All because I finally started embracing who I am and facing my problems head on.

(By the way don’t ever be afraid to talk to a therapist and read books because combined with a drive to improve you can make tremendous changes. Don’t be afraid to be the best version of yourself!)

In late 2018 I finally got the professional break I had long desired, landing a professional writing gig I still hold to this day. The gratefulness and joy of this moment was overwhelming. Ironically enough articles and reviews I had written on Country Perspective is part of what helped me land the job. Not only was it a great relief to finally land a good job, but it only added validation to all the work I did on the blog.

Only for eight months into it to be missing writing about music badly (this was after two months into the job officially closing Fusion Country). So I began Country Perspective again, but this time I was going to review all genres and do it my way. I also wanted closure. After some learning moments and reintroducing myself, I wrote happily on Country Perspective for a while also experiencing some more stuff that further informed me that I had some growing up to do. Then the pandemic happened in spring 2020. I kept writing, but the situation of the world obviously made things difficult with so much uncertainty. More importantly for me though I had just fallen into a serious romantic relationship. The combination of these things once again pulled me away from my love of writing.

The relationship fizzled out by summer’s end. I will not go into details of course out of respect for her. All there is to say is that it takes two to fall into love and it takes two to break it. It was an enjoyable experience for a while, but man was it painful when it ended. Just like before when I was heartbroken and unhappy with my office job, writing was there to pick me up for this breakup too. It’s amazing how cathartic writing can be when you have a broken heart, especially with an album like Brett Eldredge’s Sunday Drive that hit so hard for a broken hearted man like me at the time.

Writing was half the equation of my formula of getting over the breakup. The other half was immediately diving back into dating less than a month after it. Maybe it wasn’t the smartest thing in hindsight on paper. But it eventually proved to be a catalyst for yet another breakthrough for me personally. I consider it to be the biggest epiphany I’ve ever had. After two particularly bad dates, I was pretty down. One night I finally just decided that I’m getting to the bottom of this shit that was bugging me. I had realized this feeling had been sitting at the bottom of my stomach for years, the question of who I am and more importantly why I am. I mean the biggest lesson I learned the last few years was that you have to confront your issues to figure them out. After hours of researching I came across something that felt like a bullseye description of who I am and why I am. I immediately bought the book that delved into the aspects of a driven personality and I learned immensely from it. After reading this book I found an inner peace I had never found before and still hold to this day because not only did I finally get me, I accepted me for who I am. I discovered a true happiness with myself. It felt like I had completed the journey I set out on three years ago and now I’m in the epilogue of it.

But then there’s that whole writer thing and me still being stubborn and fighting against me that just can’t help rear it’s ugly head…

I quit Country Perspective again in spring of 2021, thinking satisfied of my second run, thinking I wouldn’t have the time to write due to taking on more responsibilities at my professional job, thinking I need to direct more focus on developing other skills, thinking I had enough of writing…

Only to be here in August 2021 writing this piece you’re reading now on September 1, 2021. Writing this after having a great summer, accomplishing many things I set out to do and yet once again missing writing about music. I just can’t quit it.

I can’t quit when there’s so much music I want to talk about, both past and present. But it goes beyond the music!

I can’t quit when I’m always telling my brothers to pursue their passions and support them in their goals. I can’t quit when my friends and family tell me they love my writing. I can’t quit when the wrestling fan in me sees CM Punk return to wrestling after being away for seven years and having his passion drained, his refusal to let his love for the art of wrestling go, just like how I can’t let my passions go. I can’t quit when thousands of screaming fans greet college football teams across the country in these coming weekends after two years away. The passion and the love, it’s overwhelming. When you see others embrace it, it reminds you that you need to embrace it too.

I can’t quit being a writer. I can’t quit writing about music. Because when you boil it all down, I realize I can now proudly answer that question everyone will inevitably ask me.

“So what do you do?”

I’m a storyteller.

I enjoy telling stories.

So that’s what I do.

Welcome to Diggin’ Up Records!

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