May 21, 2021
Jan 16, 2019
by Matthew Martin
Something that really grabbed me about Ryan Culwell's latest album, The Last American, was his voice. His voice and phrasing are unique and the range is pretty impressive. So, when I saw Culwell was going to be at Hill Country here in Washington, D.C. for a solo show, on January 10th, I knew I had to round up the troops and go. The best thing about these solo shows is it allows the words and the voice of the artist to really stand out. That's exactly what happened.
Culwell sang most of the songs off of his new album, but also sang quite a few from his last album Flatlands. I had listened to the Flatlands album prior to seeing this show, but there was something about seeing those stark songs in that setting that made them hit much harder. When he sang songs such as "Never Gonna Cry" and "Red River," the crowd was hushed and listening with the same intensity as Culwell was singing.
Of course, every show has 1 or 2 of those people that won't quite read the room around them. And, this show was no different... Two women sat two rows from Culwell and talked, laughed, and generally disrupted the show for those around them. Most of it was overlooked. Until in the middle of a washed-out, quiet song Culwell stopped playing until the two women got the point and decided to take their talents elsewhere. This was met with cheers and applause from the whole room. My wife was about to lose her cool, so I was glad Culwell dealt with it so graciously.
With that out of the way, the crowd could once again focus on the songs. The remaining night, Culwell had everyone under his spell going from sweet songs ("Moon Hangs Down") and heartbreakers ("Dog's Ass") to blues numbers ("Dig A Hole"). Ryan easily commands attention while on stage. Even when he's singing the saddest, quietest songs, you strain to make sure you catch every single word sung. It was very clear that Ryan is comfortable in that space and knows how to work his voice with ease. Adding some reverb to wash out his vocals was a great way to fill out the songs, as well.
(different show, obviously)
With all that said, there were a few moments in the show that hit me incredibly hard; one of which was the song "Won't Come Home". The song is about traveling/leaving home and the fact that sometimes it's hard to come home again because your experiences have broadened. What you think you knew is no longer what you know. Not that you know any more or any less. It's just that you have a very different perception of what life, and home, is. That one got me down in my soul. I remember thinking that my mom would sob uncontrollably the moment she ever hears that song. What a song. What a night. The night ended on the standout track "Can You Hear Me" from his latest album. With that, Culwell walked off stage and met the many fans that came out to hear him.
If you get a chance to see Ryan Culwell soon, do it. Doesn't matter if he's opening for someone, headlining, with a band, or solo. This guy is the real deal. He's out there slinging authentic, honest songs and deserves every ounce of our attention and the accolades he's been receiving. I highly recommend his latest album as a starting point. It's lyrically strong and the music is a perfect amalgamation of what makes Ryan Culwell so great. But, don't sleep on his 2015 release Flatlands. When you go see him (or hell before, so you'll know all the songs), buy one or both of those albums. You won't regret it.
Jan 2, 2019
by Matthew Martin
1- Brandi Carlile - By The Way, I Forgive You
Brandi Carlile's album this year was by far and away the album I listened to the most and the one that had the most emotional punch. Brandi's voice is perfectly suited to the songs of heartbreak, being a new mother, and being a touring musician. The production is immaculate and if Hold Out Your Hand doesn't get you moving, you're clearly a lost hope. This is a perfect, timeless album.
2- American Aquarium - Things Change
When BJ lost his band a couple of years ago due to whatever reasons, I thought the American Aquarium name would be retired. Instead, BJ found a new backing band and came back stronger than ever. These are some BJ's strongest songs he's written since Burn. Flicker. Die. And, the band! I'll be damned if this band doesn't seem even tighter. When BJ has been at his lowest point, band-wise, he's given us masterpieces and this album is no exception.
3- Lucero - Among The Ghosts
To follow Lucero's career has been an amazing transition from country/punk 4 piece to a straight-up Memphis rock and roll band complete with a horns section. For their 9th (or 10th if you count The Attic Tapes) studio album, the guys took it back to their roots and left the horns out for the most part. What they gave us was their best album since 1372 Overton Park. It's a musically concise album cutting away any fat and letting the songs and band speak for themselves. Ben Nichols has written some of his most interesting songs to date about Civil War battles, touring, and shoot-outs. In a catalog full of incredible albums, this one is certainly at the top.
4- Cody Jinks - Lifers
I remember when I first heard Cody Jinks a few years ago, I wasn't immediately a fan. I don't remember what made me think that- maybe just wasn't in the right headspace or something. But, that has completely changed. Jinks released the album that will likely (and seems to already have) boost him to the ranks of Simpson or, potentially even Stapleton. Jinks's voice is velvety smooth and his band is right on the mark. The songs are a perfect mix of hard-life livers, hard-night havers, and hard-love lovers. It's incredibly relatable to those listening and it's the kind of tunes we've come to expect out of Jinks over the last few years. Yet another very good album in Jinks's short, but incredibly respectable output.
5- Ryan Culwell - The Last American
This album hit me harder than any other album on this list. Just by sheer surprise and being completely blown away by Culwell's voice and music composition. This is the album it takes folks quite a few albums into their career to get to. But, this is Culwell's 3rd. And it's a masterpiece. The songs are barnburners and gut-wrenchers. It's a perfect mix. This is perfect Southern American music. It sounds like Tom Petty channeling Mark Knopfler. There's going to be a lot to hear from Culwell in the future, so I definitely suggest you go ahead and hop on the bandwagon now.
6- Great Peacock - Gran Pavo Real
I've been a fan of Great Peacock for a few years now and after their last album, I was excited to see where they would go. As I would go to shows over the next few years, it became clear they were going to go in a more electric direction. And, they absolutely did. This album is a rocker full of the harmonies and introspective lyrics you've come to expect. This is the one you reach for on Saturday night around midnight.
7- Caleb Caudle - Crushed Coins
Caudle has been pumping out perfect country songs for a while now. On Crushed Coins, Caudle hit his full stride. The songs are his best set of songs he's put out. The music and production are absolutely perfectly suited for his voice and his songs. NYC In The Rain is a perfect song and a perfect Caleb Caudle song. I don't think there's anyone else I can imagine singing this song other than Caudle. If you haven't checked out Caudle, this album is the one to start with. It's Caudle at his best.
8- Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears - The Difference Between Me and You
Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears have been making music for over 10 years now and let me tell you, they haven't lost a step. If anything the music has grown more electric, more biting, and louder. 2018 Black Joe Lewis is still writing those 2008 funky party songs, but now he's writing songs about issues he sees going on in this country. If you like The Stooges, James Brown, and pissed off Steve Earle, this is the album for you.
9- The Pollies - Transmissions
I'm a sucker for any album The Pollies put out. In my mind, they're one of the best bands out there and it's a complete shame that more people don't know them. On Transmissions, The Pollies have written a perfect set of Southern pop rock songs. It's hard not to bob your head along to these songs. If you've been looking for our generations answer to Big Star, you have no need to look any further. Keep an eye on The Pollies and do yourself a favor and buy this album.
10- Whitey Morgan and the .78s - Hard Times and White Lines
When it comes to straight-up, hard-edged country, there's not a single person doing it better than Whitey Morgan. He and his band have again written a damn incredible country album. You can always bet the bank on Morgan to only release the best of the best. You will not get filler or cheap songs. You're going to get songs about living out on the road, the things that does to relationships, and ways to pass the time when out on the road. It ain't a pretty life, but when Morgan sings about it, it sure makes you wanna try it out for a while.