This is the kind of variety country radio would have in my perfect world.
They aren’t ranked based only on how much I like the songs, but a combination
of how long the singles have been out + how much I like them.
This is the kind of variety country radio would have in my perfect world.
They aren’t ranked based only on how much I like the songs, but a combination
of how long the singles have been out + how much I like them.
Favorite Songs of 2022: Mid-year Report
1. Kaitlin Butts - Blood
2. Jamestown Revival - Young Man
3. Drew Kennedy - Peace and Quiet
4. Big Thief - Certainty
5. Ray Wylie Hubbard ft. Lzzy Hale, John 5 - Naturally Wild
6. Aaron Raitiere - Everybody Else
7. Jason Scott & The High Heat - Suffering Eyes
8. Bonnie Raitt - Just Like That
9. Ian Noe - Road May Flood / It’s a Heartache
10. Pusha T - Rock N Roll
Next 10 (in no particular order)
Hailey Whitters - College Town
Band of Horses - In the Hard Times
Madeline Edwards - Port City
Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway ft. Billy Strings - Dooley’s Farm
49 Winchester - Russell County Line
The Wilder Blue - Feelin’ The Miles
Ben Chapman & Channing Wilson - Things People Say
Arlo McKinley - Stealing Dark from the Night Sky
American Aquarium - Just Close Enough
Tami Nelson ft. Willie Nelson - Beyond the Stars
By Kevin Broughton
This weekend marks another UFC pay per view event, so we check in with Brother Jeremy Pinnell. Fresh (well, maybe not so fresh) off a Thursday night gig opening for Dale Watson in The Bluff City, our partner was a little sassy this morning. (Note to self: don’t hassle a dude about deadlines if he could choke you unconscious.)
Let’s mix it up.
Since last time, I’ve had a chance to listen to The Wilder Blue's self-titled album, and Ian Noe's River Fools and Mountain Saints. These seem like some hot rocks to me. Your thoughts?
I absolutely love that Ian Noe record. He’s an amazing songwriter. I haven’t had too much time to dig into The Wilder Blue but the harmonies are killer and they sound like some talented folks. It’s also 9:00 a.m. and we’re in Memphis so I’m a little out of it. I’ll apologize for my answers after being berated by you last night for a slow turn around.
Hahaha! If I saw said guy approaching, I’d probably close the distance. I’d maybe shoot a double leg and go side control to mount. I’d control the position until security came or just try to keep distance. But I feel like that is a pretty threatening act which would call for immediate action.
I wasn't crazy about this UFC 273 card at first, but you kinda changed my mind. I think the Korean Zombie is kind of a weird matchup for Volkonovski. That could be a good fight, with the Zombie's length. The rematch of Yan vs. Sterling ought to be lit – given the controversial way Sterling “won” the belt.
And Burns/Chimaev has potential for a great fight. What are you looking forward to in this PPV?
I was stoked on this card as soon as I saw it. Volkonovski is a banger but Zombie is a murderer. I think everyone knows Sterling doesn’t deserve that belt; he said it without saying it when they put it around him. His pace in the last fight was awful. I’m not a fan. Yan is obviously a way more measured fighter.
Also, Chimaev - Burns is gonna be a war. There’s so much hype with Kazmat right now and, I’m really stoked on that.
If you were able to competently play one instrument besides acoustic guitar, what would it be, and why?
I’d probably play piano, if I could be a modern-day Mickey Gilley or Jerry Lee. Maybe you can buy me some lessons for Christmas.
Sharp storytelling. Gripping and gorgeous five-part harmonies. Arrangements that can swing between fun, engaging, and lively one moment and stirring, booming, and chill-inducing the next. These are the essential elements that make up the sound of The Wilder Blue, the Texas five-piece who put their own spin on rock-influenced country with their eponymous sophomore album.
Recorded at Echo Lab Studios in Denton, Texas, the band self-produced The Wilder Blue with experienced engineer Matt Pence (Paul Cauthen, Shakey Graves). A true collaborative effort, The Wilder Blue is a genuine democracy where ideas, constructive criticism, and value is demanded by all parties.
Built around the keen storytelling voice of primary frontman Zane Williams, Paul Eason’s salient lead guitar, the imaginative tandem of drummer Lyndon Hughes and bassist Sean Rodriguez, and the striking, compelling mind of multi-instrumentalist Andy Rogers, The Wilder Blue are only beginning to scratch the surface of their potential.
In addition to implementing a lone studio for a cohesive sound, the months between studio sessions was an added luxury. This allowed songs and ideas to marinate and work themselves out over the course of band practices, soundchecks, and shows.
The band’s 2020 debut (Hill Country – more on that in a bit) was an under-the-radar gem that cracked this correspondent’s top five albums of the year. The Wilder Blue have raised their own bar in 2022, improving on every aspect of their musicianship, writing and vocals. The self-titled sophomore offering will remind you of the best of The Eagles, Alabama, and so much more. It’s a strong contender for album of the year through just one quarter.
We caught up not only with Williams, but 80 percent of the total band as bassist Sean Rodriguez, drummer Lyndon Hughes and multi-instrumentalist Andy Rogers joined the conversational jam.
Clear up some confusion for me. In 2020 I got an advance copy of y’all’s first album. The name of the band at that moment was Hill Country, but by the official release date that had become the name of the record, and the band became The Wilder Blue, seemingly from lyrics in the song “Dixie Darlin’.” What was the deal with that little double-clutch?
(Group laughter) Zane: Well, what had happened was…When we named the band Hill Country, obviously we were just going for something general, like “Alabama” or “Eagles” or whatever. And I did some searching around to see if there was another band called just “Hill Country.” And there wasn’t. But what I missed was that there was a restaurant somewhere out in the world, and it has the trademark on the term “Hill Country” not just in food services, but in recorded music and live music as well.
And I didn’t realize that until after we released our album, but once we realized, I contacted them. We tried to work out an arrangement, but they had plans for that name in the future, they had the trademark, and that’s what trademarks are for. So we did the old switcheroo and went with our second choice, which I think has worked out well…and it’s kind of a better name, anyway.
Except that I had to go into my iTunes and physically change it…
Ha! At least you did. I was listening to the radio the other day and the DJ said, “That was the latest from Hill Country!”
You had six or seven albums of your own and a very productive career as a songwriter before putting this band together. What made you want to stretch your creative legs and start a harmony-based group, and how long did it take you to assemble the lineup?
This is really the band that I’ve always wanted to have, but it never fell into my lap. A few years ago, I read Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography, Born To Run, which is amazing. And I read some other books that were really good, and they inspired me not just to make another record or write another song, but to make really iconic music that will stand the test of time; really shoot for the moon, musically, and not ever settle.
And that’s what it took for me to think to myself, “Well, just because I’ve never had this certain time of band in the past, why does that mean that I can’t do it now?” I know a lot more people now than I did when I was younger, and that inspired me to give some people a call and see what I can put together. And it was a year-long process, I guess, finding the right people and making that transition. It hasn’t been easy, but every time we get on stage together I’m happy I took the leap.
The band paid for its studio time via crowdfunding. How did that impact the strategy and structure of recording this album?
Zane: Lyndon, you wanna take that one, brother?
Lyndon: Sure. This is really kind of the ultimate for us. We were in a lot of debt after our first album and had made a lot of it back with streaming and record sales, but it can take quite a bit. At our website, thewilderblue.com, we have a thing called The Hideout, where you can sign up for five or ten bucks a month or so. And we used every single dollar of that to go to our record budget, and basically have no debt because of it.
And not only that, we’re not beholden to a label that can tell us what we can record, how long we can record; we’re the producers and the executive producers are our fans. We’ve actually been able to release one song every single month for the last year or so. And we did that every month until we had our second album done.
It’s pretty incredible and the fans get it right away, even before the official release date. It’s freed us up quite a bit.
Quick follow-up. If you’re releasing one cut a month, I assume you’re not going into the studio once a month. Is there some continuity?
Lyndon: That’s a really good question. Basically we’ll go in the studio every few months, and stay there for three or four days and record two or three songs. But sometimes…like on “Feeling The Miles,” it took us three and a half days to do one song. (Chuckles.) We did the whole thing, start to finish, on a tape machine, so it can take a lot of time. So yeah, we didn’t go in with 12 songs, but we could go in with two or three at a time. We went four or five times total, I guess, to the same studio. And we need to get back and do more.
I’d like to touch on some specific songs and the influences that went into their writing. “Feelin’ The Miles” stands out distinctively, I think, from most of the rest of the album. There’s an intense-yet-mellow vibe that evokes the late 1970s…maybe a hint of James Taylor or Jerry Rafferty. How did that song come into being, and what’s the division of labor when it comes to songwriting?
Zane: I guess I’ll take that one. I wrote that song and I write most of them right now, though that was never my intention. We’re always working on co-writing more as a band, as well as guys bringing in outside songs. Those are things like The Eagles did and The Beatles did, and a lot of other bands that we respect. So we’ve got some exploring to do. But since we’re all in different towns, a lot of it ends up, “I wrote this song and brought it to the band.”
With “Feelin’ The Miles,” the original arrangement and feel was very folky and singer/songwriter-y, but we already had a couple songs like that; “Birds of Youth” and “Okie Soldier” are kind of in that vein. So for that reason, the song was just “sitting around,” and I wasn’t sure we could do it or not. And then one day I thought about taking it in a different groove, with a tasty bass line that Sean could get down on; a groovy drum part…then I would definitely want to do the song. I didn’t want to give up on it.
So I came up with that new direction – at least in the broad strokes – and then rewrote the melody of the song and some of the lyrics. So it’s really “Feelin’ The Miles 2.0.” And that’s another really cool thing about our band’s subscriptions, because it’s not public and we can just stick songs up there. The original version is there, too, so our fans and subscribers can see how that song evolved over time.
“Wave Dancer” manages to evoke a Baptist hymn and channel the Eagles’ “Seven Bridges Road” at the same time, with its tight harmonies. It’s got such a big, determined sound to it. I’m guessing it wasn’t a first-taker, with all those vocal layers?
(Laughs) Zane: How many times do you guys think we sang that chorus in the studio?
Sean: Well, we tried it like a million different ways: “Should we record this in a stairwell?” Finally we just did it standing around a bunch of microphones. (Laughs)
Zane: We definitely experimented around on that one.
Zane, you’ve said that life is about the ups and downs, and you don’t want just to write about the ups. This is a generally uplifting album, but it has its moments. “Build Your Wings” is one of Paul’s songs – I’m sorry he’s not here to comment on it – has a line that literally made me stop what I was doing: “It’s hard staying sober with your mattress on the floor.” Dang, dude. Strong stuff.
Sean: Poor Paul was going through a rough time while he was writing that song, and it came across in the lyrics, obviously.
Zane: Yeah, Paul’s had a rough couple of years…been through a divorce. He was speaking to his uncle about this stuff, and his uncle told him that line: “Man, sometimes you build your wings on the way down.” Paul wrote that song and his girlfriend Bree Bagwell contributed some stuff as well. It’s a personal one for Paul.
“The Ghost of Lincoln” closes out the album but it was the first release, complete with a fancy animated video. I think it’s the perfect bookend to “Picket Fences,” and turns into a jam you might here from Bella Fleck. Have y’all had a chance to road test these cuts yet?
Zane: Oh, yeah. Almost all of them by now.
Sean: And it’s also a really good bookend to the show, because Andy really gets cooking at the end.
Zane: He really turns it on on the banjo, so I bet he’s good with the Bella Fleck comparison.
Andy: Ha! Yeah, I was trying to keep myself calm when you said that!
That you on the dobro, too?
Andy: Yeah, I play dobro, banjo, some acoustic guitar…a little mandolin on this record. But yeah, I play a little bit of everything.
And on tour dates: I’ve checked your site, and boys, you’ve got the states of Texas and Montana covered up. Would some gigs East of the Mississippi be too much to ask?
(Group laughter.) Zane: Yeah, we definitely have big plans – nationwide and beyond – for the band. I know we’ll be all over the West coast this summer…we’re playing the Alaska State Fair! East is definitely on the menu. We did some shows with The Steel Woods East of the Mississippi last year, and we’re comparing schedules and stuff now.
But it’s our job to come to you.
The Wilder Blue is available wherever you consume music, but here’s a great place to grab the album.
Voted on by: Megan Bledsoe, Robert Dean, Jeremy Harris, Trailer, Kevin Broughton, Matthew Martin, Travis Erwin, Scott Colvin, and (tiebreakers) Chad Barnette.
20. Kathleen Edwards - Total Freedom
Welcome back! This first collection of songs from Edwards in 8 years is warm and lush, her music still fitting like a soft leather glove. That’s not to say the songs are all comfy, there’s ample amounts of hard-lived emotion and sharp lines. She hasn’t lost a step! ~ Trailer
Despite everything 2020 was good if only for returning Kathleen Edwards to us. Eight years removed from her last album (Voyageur), Edwards is back with her familiar brand of songs that comfort, caress, and importantly make us smile when it was needed most. ~ Scott Colvin
19. Elizabeth Cook - Aftermath
Cook’s most varied album of her career sees her pulling together threads of country, glam rock, and other genres to create a still-cohesive piece of art that’ll get your feet moving, heart pumping, and mind considering. One of her best. ~ Trailer
18. Margo Price - That’s How Rumors Get Started
I read a lot of reviews for That’s How Rumors Get Started when it came out, and the gist was “she’s not making country records anymore.” To which I say, “so what?” That’s How Rumors Get Started is a great album. Period. Whether it’s country, California country, or Stevie Nicks-esque soft rock is inconsequential. Just put it on and enjoy the ride. ~ Scott Colvin
17. Jesse Daniel - Rollin’ On
America needs many things in 2020. At or near the top of that list is The Bakersfield Sound, and Jesse Daniel delivers both a faithful send-up and a high standard for others to meet going forward. Rollin’ On exudes hope, as you’d expect from an artist who’s emerged on the redemptive side of addiction. The best pure country album of the year.
His was the last real show I saw B.C. (Before Corona), and I remember how excited I was about Daniel’s future. At the turn of a bad year, I’ll emulate his optimism: 2021 is gonna be a great year for this troubadour. ~ Kevin Broughton
16. Ashley McBride - Never Will
When people say the state of mainstream country is beyond repair, introduce them to Ashley McBryde. When they say that women only sing about happy endings and heartbreak, introduce them to Ashley McBryde. When they say that you can only make it big in Nashville if you sell out, introduce them to Ashley McBryde. And don’t give McBryde or this record any qualifiers; she is not the best mainstream country artist in 2020, and this is not the best mainstream country album; rather, she is one of the best artists and this is one of the best albums in all of country music this year. ~ Megan Bledsoe
15. Jaime Wyatt - Neon Cross
For my money, there is not a better straight up honky tonk country album released in 2020 than Jaime Wyatt's Neon Cross. Shooter Jennings produced this album beautifully as well. Jaime's vocals are incredible and the incredibly personal lyrics are deceptively strong and deep. I think this was my most listened to album of the year and I don't think it will be out of rotation any time soon. The title track and "Rattlesnake Girl" are indicative of Wyatt's songwriting and vocal ability. The self-assurance Wyatt sings with draw you in from the beginning and there is no let-up throughout the album. ~ Matthew Martin
14. Arlo McKinley - Die Midwestern
Everyday on my way to work I pass a small town, crap bar with a sign full of misspelled words and local bands that played the other bars in town last week. Then one day just before this album was released, there it was, spelled correctly and everything. ARLO MCKINLEY with a date he’d be performing. That date, the weekend after Ohio closed all the bars due to rising Covid rates. Thankfully this album was around to play the lonesome sound 2020 demanded, just not live like I wished. ~ Jeremy Harris
Seventeen years is a long time to wait for a follow up album, and beyond that, Payne has a lot to live up given his royal lineage and ties to Outlaw hierarchy. This album lived up to all of it and perhaps even exceeded expectations. ~ Travis Erwin
When Texas Jonny Tyler told me, “That new Waylon Payne album is pretty good,” I thought, “’Waylon Payne?’ That sounds like a great pro wrestling name.” On reflection, (1) this album is damn fine, with sharp lyrics and a honky-tonk sensibility; and (2) the name of the album sounds like a stable of wrestling villains. ~ Kevin
12. Run the Jewels - RTJ4
2020 may not have been an ideal year for most but if there was a soundtrack it’d be RTJ4. A guided tour of struggle and protest, on point lyrics, and some awesome beats. The perfect album for an imperfect year. ~ Jeremy
11. Sturgill Simpson - Cuttin’ Grass, Vol. I
As someone who has never really been a Sturgill apologist, this album made me a believer. It is something special to be able to reimagine an entire album’s worth of one’s work at all, let alone with such fresh, engaging results. It takes something even more special to deliver a bluegrass album with nuance and restraint, and Simpson does just that, proving that bluegrass is not always about instrumental prowess, but sometimes about simplicity and emotion. ~ Megan
10. Tami Neilson - Chickaboom!
I am such a sucker for female fronted garage rock. I got into Tami Neilson a few years back with Don’t Be Afraid and enthusiastically devoured Chickaboom! when it was released. I don’t have this on vinyl...but I will…and hopefully soon. ~ Scott
9. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - Reunions
There's a real late-80s/early-90s undercurrent to most of Isbell's latest release from the production with high-hitting snares, slight reverb-laden vocals, and high-flying guitar solos. But, this works well for Isbell who creates brand-new sounds within the old sound. Isbell's voice is about as good as it's ever been. It's remarkable to hear him sing a murder ballad so beautifully - I had to listen to the song "River" a couple of times to clear the dissonance between the beauty of the song and the darkness of the lyrics. But, that is what Isbell is so adept at doing. He shows no sign of slowing down any time soon. ~Matthew
8. Futurebirds - Teamwork
Futurebirds have always been road dogs. Their show has always been one that seems just about ready to go off the rails in the best possible way. Their albums have always been really good, but with Teamwork, Futurebirds put in what feels like their most personal set of songs which includes the Futurebirds' best songs: "Broken Arm," "Rodeo," and the absolutely incredibly raw emotional gut-punch "Waiting On A Call." ~ Matthew
7. Ruthie Collins - Cold Comfort
The album’s opening track might be my favorite cut of the year. “Joshua Tree” was inspired by the relationship of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. Other favorites of mine were “Dang Dallas,” “Wish You Were Here,” and “You Can’t Remember.” ~ Travis
I remember the first time I listened to Cold Comfort. I put it on as background music and then “Joshua Tree” started playing. The background music was brought to the forefront and the world became the background. Starting at that moment my least productive physical moments were hidden behind the sweetness of Ruthie Collins. Wasted time is a thing to relish. ~ Jeremy
6. Ward Davis - Black Cats & Crows
The title track was the first track I heard here and was strong enough to have me digging in for more. “Sounds of Chains” keeps the murder ballad alive and in gritty capable hands. The fourteen tracks here take you for an emotional ride and the collection feels traditional, without ever coming across as cliché. even on the Alabama cover, “Lady Down on Love.” ~ Travis
5. Chris Stapleton - Starting Over
I look on Stapleton as the Miles Davis of country music. Seems like he can show up in a studio and just churn out high grade stuff. (Sturgill is a lot like that. But Sturgill didn’t release any new material this year.) This record dropped in December and re-ordered my top 10. Stapleton’s a beast. ~ Kevin
4. Zephaniah OHora - Listening to the Music
It was a high bar to cross, but Ohora’s sophomore effort exceeds 2017’s lofty This Highway. On Listening to The Music, Zeph channels Merle Haggard, both vocally and spiritually. I’m not sure what was more 2020 about the song “All American Singer: (a) that it’s genuinely courageous in woke America to say “not everything has to be about politics;” or (b) that some p***y at No Depression put Zeph on blast for NOT being political enough, smearing Merle Haggard in the process. ~ Kevin
3. Tennessee Jet - The Country
A cinematic masterpiece from a Renaissance man, Tennessee Jet draws on the likes of Sergio Leone and William Faulkner to craft his characters. This is literary songwriting combined with punchy production and execution. The crown jewel on an album of gems? A grungy, scary, 3 ½-minute movie soundtrack about the creepy death of Johnny Horton. And of all the covers of “Pancho and Lefty,” -- I’ll plant a flag right now – none equals the four-headed monster version here by TJ, Jinks, Elizabeth Cook and Paul Cauthen. ~ Kevin
2. The Wilder Blue - Hill Country
A mashup of The Damn Quails, Flatland Cavalry, and The Bellamy Brothers - but with their own blood pumping through this vital music, this probable side-project may have garnered enough attention to become a front-street project soon; at least I hope so. This is a fantastic album full of great lyrics, killer harmonies, and memorable melodies. ~ Trailer
A late add to my list, but wow. There’s a lot of purity here in these harmonies and spot-on acoustic guitar licks. A half-dozen of these songs should be on mainstream radio right now, but what can you do? ~ Kevin
1. American Aquarium - Lamentations
No one speaks their mind like B.J. Barham and that is why his music tends to be so provocative. ~ Travis
With American Aquarium's latest album, BJ Barham has turned in his most poignant and pointed set of songs of his career. With the incredible production by Shooter Jennings and the tighter than ever musicianship, American Aquarium have released their hands-down most mature and best album to date. This is officially the highwater mark for American Aquarium. The opening, title track sets the tone for the album and it takes off from there. ~ Matthew
(Top Others Receiving Votes: Brandy Clark - Your Life is a Record; Marcus King - El Dorado; Katie Pruitt - Expectations; Steve Earle - Ghosts of West Virginia; Nicole Atkins - Italian Ice; Kesha - High Road; Great Peacock - Forever Worse Better; Gabe Lee - Honkytonk Hell; Brent Cobb - Keep ‘em on They Toes; Tessy Lou Williams - s/t)