In the natural world they’re referred to as apex predators and alpha males. They’re the ones that rule the roost and crest the food chain. They’re the specimens of natural design that exhibit the ideal mix of physical abilities and/or favorable disposition to become the creatures all others are measured by.
In the crumbling ruins of America’s agrarian landscape, men and women move like ghosts as they watch the legacies of their forebearers and the communities that fostered their formative memories fall into states of irreconcilable disrepair in hectares of forgotten space. It’s a world where it was once undignified to ask another man for work, and even more undignified to have no work at all.
The story goes that The Malpass Brothers were discovered by Merle Haggard after they played an opening gig for him in North Carolina. “Well they remind me a lot of myself and people that I knew when I was young,” says Merle. “They have their hearts into what we call ‘traditional’ country music. It’s valuable to me that we cultivate young talent for that kind of music.”
In 2013, one of the biggest and most unlikely musical takeaways for this particular music junkie was a breakneck, high-octane bluegrass band from Germany called the Dinosaur Truckers. Yes, Germany is not necessarily what most would consider a hotbed of American string band music, but however unlikely the story, the music of the Dinosaur Truckers spoke for itself.
Operating a site called “Saving Country Music” for the last eight years, I’ve learned the patient art of losing every single day with grace. It is the ever-present conceit of the living to believe that the present times are the worst there’s ever been, and country music is no exception. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that people weren’t yelling that the sky was falling when John Denver was winning the CMA Entertainer of the Year…
This isn’t any slick and polished nouveau bluegrass with lilting runs and brazen compositional poise, this is Stringbean and Grandpa Jones slapping away at strings while sucking on corn pipes trying to entertain folks on back porches and beyond. Unpretentious and fun, and fairly authentic to the Appalachian traditions, The Urban Pioneers will make you chuckle and strut, and see the timeless value in the old traditions of primitive country.
This song is so good—whether it’s the album version, just Hubbard with his guitar, or with a four-piece band like he played it on Conan—at first I truly believed it had to be a cover of a hit from a previous era that had been forgotten about. The song feels so classic, yet remains fiercely original, it’s a wonder how it was never written before.
There’s no typo here. I didn’t forget the last name, or the second half of the first. Believe it or not, there really is a new female country artist condensedly known as “Cam,” and she’s creating quite a buzz around her new song, and her newish style that has some wondering if she will be the one to solve the problem of women with substance finding success in country music.
Regardless of how you feel about Kacey Musgraves, her music, her politics, or the ideologies she espouses, she symbolizes nothing short of a victory in the effort to save country music. To have a major label artist release an album like Pageant Material, full of traditional country leanings and songwriter-based material, is a sizable leap forward for the genre.
Randy Howard was killed on June 9th, 2015 in his log cabin home in Lynchburg, TN in a shootout with bounty hunters. They were serving a bench warrant stemming from a DUI Howard had been charged with that was likely going to be dismissed after the blood test came back proving he was below the legal limit. Randy Howard is gone but his music lives on for eternity, especially “All-American Redneck.”
Tyler Farr has morphed into the hardcore emo post grunge “my dad hated me so I’m angry at the World” guy of country music, and it’s not pretty. What a bizzaro world we live in where Aaron Lewis of Stand is sitting on stools and singing fairly straight laced country songs, and Farr is all bent over like he’s taking a BM, and clasping the mic like it was his bag of jewels after getting kicked in it.
Upon first listen, this new Jake Owen single is a superior candidate for an unabashedly scathing review. What, is he trying to rap again for goodness sakes? And though there may be a message, there’s really no story. At it’s heart, “Real Life” is yet another example of replacing rhythm for melody, and lists for story. So much for all of Jake Owen’s rhetoric about bringing more substance to country music.
The Deslondes is not a songwriters project per se. This is not a superpicking troupe or a project that’s all about exuding a bunch of punk energy through unplugged instruments. On paper, this band doesn’t work at all. It’s too busy, there’s no discernible frontman, and there’s nothing fashionable or cutting edge about their approach or style. But The Deslones have something that every band wants but few have…
Kacey Musgraves has found her niche, and she’s not wavering. When she released “Biscuits,” which was so eerily similar to “Follow Your Arrow” (partly because the two songs were dreamed up in the same writing session), we assured ourselves that it was just one song, and once we hear the full breath of Musgraves’ upcoming album Pageant Material it would exhibit much more variety.
Sam Outlaw is not his real name. Well, not really. His real name is Sam Morgan. But his mother’s maiden name is Outlaw, so it’s close. But he’s not a real Outlaw. Nor is he a real cowboy, even though he apparently owns a fine collection of over half a dozen Stetsons. The 32-year-old Sam Outlaw was an advertising salesman up to a few months ago.
Well that’s it folks. If we weren’t starring at the moment when any and all vestiges of the roots of country music had been completely eradicated from the mainstream before, then we are certainly doing so right now. It’s no longer a narrative about trying to hold onto the last little pieces of what made country music different from other genres.
Written solely by Carlson, the 5-song Release Me EP is a throwback, honky-tonkin, foot-stompin’ true country affair that lays full throttle on the twang and layers in the steel guitar hard and heavy. But this isn’t just all about styling and posturing to prove how country it is. Darci crafts some really smart songs and has an understanding of chords and arrangement and songwriting that separates her from the crowd.
The only thing I conclusively walked away with from this new Mickey Guyton EP is that Capitol Records Nashville has absolutely no idea what to do with this young lady. And that’s about par for the course for just about any up-and-coming female country artist at this moment. Mickey Guyton already released a 4-song EP in March of 2014. So what’s the deal?
You look at these two guys, and it is living history right in front of you. But they aren’t living history museum pieces. They are lucid, active participants in the music community, still writing and singing songs, still with the fire inside them to contribute to the genre they helped create, and pay country music forward to yet another generation of loyal and appreciative fans.
Being willing to see where a song takes you is at the heart of every music lover, and in this spirit I present eleven hand selected songs released in the first half of 2015 that will hopefully take you someplace you want to be, or somewhere you’ve never been before. This is the cream of the crop in my opinion; the gut punchers not for the faint of heart.
Charlie Parr, Chris Knight, Cody Jinks, Eric Paslay, James McMurtry, John Moreland, Justin Townes Earle, Lee Ann Womack, Love & Theft, Miranda Lambert, Randy Rogers, Townes Van Zandt, Wade Bowen, Whitey Morgan