Jun 29, 2021
Country Ain't Dead
Jan 1, 2021
Kevin's Favorite Albums of 2020
What an awful year for America, and yet.
It was a wonderful year for independent music, and yet.
The year was spoiled by politics at the end. I speak, of course, of the phony hoax election shenanigans at this fake news satire blog site: Sturgill Simpson – who was totally honest about his FOUR ALBUM pledge until he wasn’t – hired a bunch of bluegrass ringers and re-released a covers album. Should his bogus record be up for current awards? No.
The election was rigged. I know this because my side didn’t win. I’d go on, but Trailer is chanting “Lock him up!” in the background. I know better than to take on fascism.
Anywho, this is the best year of music in the five years I’ve been privileged to comment for FTM. And I do mean privileged. This year in particular, I’ve interviewed some wonderful artists who made the best of an awful year. It’s been a great year for music in spite of the virus, and the vaccine’s gonna make 2021 even better. On to the list.
Caudle went to the Cash Cabin to record his follow-up to Crushed Coins. The contrast is evident; the quality, enhanced.
14. Ward Davis, Black Cats and Crows
Davis played the Nashville game for a while, and now emerges as an independent tour-de-force.
An impressive initial wide-release effort. I’m looking forward to more of these haunting vocals to go with the poignant songwriting.
Warm, ethereal vocals and a mid-90s power-pop ethos. These guys make great records. I’m kinda waiting for a full Collective Soul retro thing to make me fall in love.
11. Ray Wylie Hubbard, Co-Starring
We should all celebrate the improbable signing by Big Machine of one of our godfathers. He celebrated with a star-studded triumph. Good for him. About time he got paid.
10. Skylar Gregg, Roses
Saucy blue-eyed soul from an authentic Tennessee diva. This album was a decade in the making; my money’s on another high-caliber offering inside the next two years.
9. Western Centuries, Call The Captain
Country music’s bi-coastal supergroup went to Nashville for their third album and emerged with yet another keeper. It’s an eclectic collection of often topical songs, done with nuance and perfect three-part harmonies. All they do is make great records.
Oh, and Dr. Jim Miller is the Official Lepidopterist of FTM.
8. Waylon Payne, Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me
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.
7. Hellbound Glory, Pure Scum
Sometimes I get the feeling we’re all part of a simulation, and Leroy Virgil is the only real human player in the game. Or he might just be Andy Kaufman-ing all of us. But under the guidance of Shooter Jennings, Virgil’s vocals are allowed to fully shine. Neon Leon, you’re my freaking hero. Even though you’re always drivin’ with the AC on.
6. 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. Did I mention that there was a RIGGED ELECTION that allowed for cover albums this year? Oh. )
This record dropped in December and re-ordered my top 10. Stapleton’s a beast.
5. 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 pussy at No Depression put Zeph on blast for NOT being political enough, smearing Merle Haggard in the process.
And by the way…by “some pussy at No Depression,” I mean the whole outfit, run by the hyper-political Grant Alden and Peter Blackstock, or whichever woke pansies are in charge of that shit site now. Zeph sang a song about avoiding politics. Shame on you for shaming an artist for not being woke enough for your standards. You guys suck, and are no fun.
4. The Wilder Blue, Hill Country
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?
3. Sam Morrow, Gettin’ By On Gettin’ Down
On making a record in such an insane year, Sam Morrow wanted his new album “to be a refuge from” a constant deluge of information and drama. “I just wanted to make a fun record.” Channeling Little Feat and Lowell George like no one has since the great one’s passing, Morrow does just that. Swampy, bluesy and with a tough swagger, it’s a heaping helping of American rock ‘n’ roll.
The boy kicks ass:
2. Jesse Daniel, Rollin’ On
America needed many things in 2020. At or near the top of that list is The Bakersfield Sound, and Jesse Daniel delivered 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.
1. 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, Jinx, Elizabeth Cook and Paul Cauthen.
But seriously, this “Johnny” tune…
Dec 18, 2020
Farce the Music's Top 20 Albums of 2020
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)
Sep 1, 2020
Aug 28, 2020
Album Review / Zephaniah OHora / Listening to the Music
Music Row is rife with country artists either obsessed with proving their Southern street cred or lamenting the restrictive boundaries of country music and forsaking their musical roots in the name of evolution. Across town in east Nashville, the Americana world has been flooded in recent years with musicians and songwriters who are more concerned with making records that sound old rather than records that sound timeless. And all across the country, more and more artists are taking political stances which are alienating their audiences rather than seeking to speak to us all and change hearts through artistic expression. Somehow, Zephaniah OHora manages to be the antithesis of all of this at once, the cure for every issue plaguing country music in 2020. This record comes out of New York City, and yet it’s more country and more authentic than the majority of the music coming from Nashville. And OHora is not looking to divide, but rather is proud of being "an all American singer,” as he announces on the track of the same name. For so many reasons, this is the album we desperately need in this moment.
The obvious concern when writing and recording within these boundaries and when trying to perfect the classic country style is that the songs may feel more like an interpretation of the style rather than a true representation of the artist and revitalization of the sound within a modern context. But Zephaniah OHora does a nice job keeping these songs relevant to the modern ear. The best example of this and indeed the album’s greatest strength lies in a trio of tracks in the heart of the record. “All American Singer,” as mentioned above, takes the radical position of taking no political position, but rather seeking to unite all people through the music. Some may say this is OHora choosing to "shut up and sing,” as many people on social media have unfairly asked artists to do, and OHora himself says that he’ll get "back behind the guitar” rather than on a soapbox. But this song is more about Zephaniah OHora making the choice to reach out to all people and recognizing music’s power to do so. This is further evidenced in the next song, the albums title track, as he declares that in a time of "evil that plagues the earth, it’s hard to find anything of worth” and that music is his escape from all the pain of this world. We can all certainly relate to these sentiments, as well as those expressed in the next track, “Living Too Long,” wherein OHora reflects on the times changing and local bars shutting down. Regardless of our backgrounds or political stripes, we can all understand this uncertainty, particularly this year. Life is hard, and we all have days where we feel like we’ve been living too long. Music, and especially country music, is unique in its ability to speak to us and sustain us through these times of trouble, and as the album’s title suggests, this is what OHora is seeking to accomplish with this record, and in so doing, he makes these songs and these ideas as relevant and important in 2020 as they would have been in 1970.
Aug 25, 2020
Country TwitterWINs: August 2020
Apr 18, 2019
Video Premiere / Nicholas Mudd / "Sit Right Here"
|Photo by Shalon Goss|
Dec 22, 2017
Ten Best Songs of 2017: Another Perspective