Monday, February 10, 2014

Album Review: Eric Church - "The Outsiders"

The Chief is back with his first studio album in nearly three years.  If ever there was an album to review to kick off the revival of "Off The Dirt Road", none is more fitting than the newest release from Eric Church.  After enjoying critical and commercial success with "Chief" in 2011, bolstered by the radio success of the hit song, "Springsteen", Church took his time with his next effort.  Preparing more than 120 songs for potential whittling for this effort.

What results is a perfectly blended hodgepodge of music, pulling from all genres and covering the spectrum of themes.  From the, call it "Erratic", opening title track through the trippy ending, Eric Church makes one thing clear - He does his albums the way he wants to.  He is clearly not afraid to call out those around him along the way, a point that has been a recurring theme in his albums (see previous songs "Lotta Boot Left To Fill" and "Country Music Jesus").

After the opening track, one that covers more genres than "Freebird" in a shorter time, the album levels out into what could be considered near-perfection.  "A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young" is Church's "My Next 30 Years", reflecting on the first 36 years of his life and the woman who chose to love him.  "Cold One" throws listeners for a twist, with an interesting guitar as Church laments less about the loss of the girl than the beer she took with her when she left.  "Roller Coaster Ride" could likely be the subtitle of the album, describing his life after a breakup, but more accurately describing the ups and downs of the styles of music on the album. 

"Talladega" is as close to mainstream as Church is willing to go on "The Outsiders".  The song is reminiscent of the aforementioned "Springsteen", and will likely be another smash radio hit for the singer.  It also marks a turn in the sound for the album.

The second half of the album is darker, grittier, heavily influenced by rock, country, and outlaw, and is as close to perfect as one can get.  Many of the tracks ("Devil, Devil", "Dark Side", "The Joint") would likely be more welcome on a Waylon Jennings or Willie Nelson record than almost anything put out in today's country culture.  In fact, it would not be hard to see Church touring with those "Highwaymen" had he been recording when they were recording.

A particularly high point on the album comes in the tracks following Church calling out Rock Bands as fake.  Following "That's Damn Rock & Roll" comes a three-part stretch over two songs.  "Dark Side" opens with a long rambling guitar with a bass drum background before launching into a reflective song about how far a man will go for his family.  The lyrics recall "Lightning" (from Church's "Sinners Like Me" album), and could be considered a prequel track.  Following "Dark Side" comes "Devil, Devil" but not before a three minute recitation of a poem Church wrote, describing Nashville as the "Princess Of Darkness", Satan's bride.  The poem describes Nashville, particularly the recording industry, as a cesspool:

"A tramp.  A slut.  A bitch.  A mutt./  A thousand pawn shop guitars/  A nasty bitter needle to a vein that feeds a singer's heart/  She lurks in friendly shadows, but she's a junkie with a limp/  The agents are her bookie, and the label's are her pimp."

After the colorful poem, Church launches into "Devil, Devil" rounding out the dark trilogy of the album.  Fans who have been clamoring for the old days of "Good country music" will love what "Dark Side", "Princess of Darkness" and "Devil, Devil" have to offer.  

Overall, it is hard to find fault with much on "The Outsiders", and even if you could, it is clear that Church would not care.  This is clearly a project from his heart, with him pouring himself into a rebellious sound that oozes from every song.  After the commercial success of "Chief", it is hard not to expect that this album will not follow suit.  Listeners who joined the "Church Choir" after hearing songs like "Springsteen" are going to be in for a surprise though, when they discover that song to be the exception, not the rule to Church's style.  


"The Outsiders" hits shelves and digital media on Tuesday, February 11th.


So, despite promises that I was going to revive this blog in 2013, I did not.  Unfortunately, I had way too much on my plate to even consider writing.  It definitely was a transition year for me, and I am finally getting settled.

However, with the new year comes a new attempt.  I have a new writer on board, whom I will reveal in the next couple of weeks.  I have a new lineup of albums to review this year, and a new drive to succeed.

So with that in mind, bear with me as we get this back off the ground.  Look for the review of the new album from Eric Church, titled "The Outsiders", in the next 24 hours.

In the meantime, here is the latest music video from Brantley Gilbert:

Monday, December 31, 2012

Year In Review: The Top 12 Country Albums of 2012

2012 was a great year for country music.  Many artists released new albums this year, though many of the bigger names in the genre were still riding the highs of 2011 albums.  Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert, Eric Church, Justin Moore and Luke Bryan are just some of the artists who did NOT release new albums this year.

The good side of this is that it left country music wide open for new, up and coming artists to take the spotlight.  We reviewed some of these artists album this year, though not nearly as many as we would have liked.  Some of them are featured in this countdown, while others just did not make the cut.

So without further adieu, the Top 12 Country Albums of 2012:

12.  Rachel Farley - The Truth EP - Released in the early part of the year, this young singer did not nearly get the chance to shine as her EP deserved.  She did, however, set herself up for success in 2013, opening for Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean.  At only 17, this artist is well on her way to a big national debut.

11.  Chris Lane Band - Let's Ride - Chris Lane is a small time artist from North Carolina, but the artist already fits in well alongside artists such as Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan.  "Let's Ride" features a great combination of rocking country and smooth love ballads.

10.  Colt Ford - Declaration of Independence - I have not been shy about my love of the unique sound of Colt Ford in the past.  His August release, Declaration of Independence, returned Ford to a sound that made his debut album popular, letting country stars sing while Colt sticks to the rapping.  Guest singers include Jason Aldean, Kix Brooks (Of Brook & Dunn) and Corey Smith.  The lead single, "Back", featuring Jake Owen, helped Ford score his first #1 Country Album.

9.  Toby Keith - Hope On The Rocks - Continuing with the pattern set by 2011's "Clancy's Tavern", Toby Keith kept strong his return to more traditional sounding country music.  Gone are the partying days of old, Keith's album features songs that are more reflective in nature.  The title track "Hope On The Rocks" is one of the strongest songs TK has released in recent memory.

8.  Love & Theft - Self Titled Album - The lead single "Angel Eyes" took country music by storm earlier this year, securing the duo's place in country music.  While not a new artist, L&T is likely new to most country listeners.  Look for their star to rise even more in 2013.

7.  Brian Davis Band - Under the Influence - Another locally known artist deserving of a much bigger stage.  BDB's "Under the Influence" rocking country sound will be familiarly comfortable among those who listen to the more modern outlaw side of the genre.  Fittingly, Brian Davis Band opened for Brantley Gilbert on his first headlining tour in the second half of the year.

6.  Lee Brice - Hard 2 Love - It was a big year for Brice.  His sophomore album was met with critical acclaim.  The first two singles "A Woman Like You" and "Hard To Love" enjoyed long play on the radio.  His third single, "I Drive Your Truck", changes from the love based pace that he is known for, but is still quickly rising up the charts.

5.  Thomas Rhett - Self Titled EP - One of my favorite albums of the year, this EP is only so low on the chart because of the shortened length.  The son of Rhett Akins, Thomas is enjoying success behind "Something To Do With My Hands", "Beer With Jesus" and opening for Toby Keith this previous Summer.

4.  Florida Georgia Line - Here's To The Good Times - FGL's debut album benefited from having an EP released earlier this year, one of our highest rated releases of the year.  The lead single, the summer tune, "Cruise", spent multiple weeks on top of the chart, and is still enjoying radio success in the cold months.  Look for this duo on the Luke Bryan's "Dirt Road Diaries" tour in 2013.

3.  Chase Rice - Dirt Road Communion - A cowriter on the aforementioned "Cruise", Rice did not get much, if any, radio play on his own.  Nonetheless, "Dirt Road Communion" remains one of the top albums of the year, and is still a regular in my playlist, despite being released in March.

2.  Jason Aldean - Night Train - After having giant years in 2010 and 2011, Aldean continued his success in 2012.  His fifth album, "Night Train" features a diverse variety of songs, from the lead single "Take A Little Ride", to the risky "1994" (penned by Thomas Rhett) to the risque "Black Tears" (written by Florida Georgia Line).  It is hard to find any song on Night Train that one can classify as a bad song.

1.  Kip Moore - Up All Night - Newcomer Kip Moore took radio by storm with the catchy "Somethin' Bout A Truck".  His soft, yet gruff, voice combined with a more traditional country sound makes his debut album the most played album on my playlist.  Much like Aldean's "Night Train" it is hard to find fault with any of the songs on the album.  "Beer Money", the second single from the album, is enjoying commercial success that is sure to make Moore a common sound on the radio in 2013.

Honorable Mentions:  Aaron Lewis, former lead singer of Staind, released his debut full-length country album, "The Road" late this year.  Also of note, after a long break and some time as solo artists, Big and Rich returned together to release "Hillbilly Jedi".

So there it is.  The top 12 albums in country music in 2012.  We are looking forward to sharing our thoughts on 2013 albums, including new ones from Tim McGraw, Gary Allan, Darius Rucker, Randy Houser, Brad Paisley, Band Perry and George Strait.

Until then, Happy New Year and we look forward to seeing you off the dirt road.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Album Review: Florida Georgia Line - Here's To The Good Times

The last review we did as "The Low Down For A Hoe Down" was of Florida-Georgia Line's EP "It'z Just What We Do".  How fitting is it, then, that our first review as "Off The Dirt Road" is FGL's debut full-length album, "Here's To The Good Times"?

It has been a whirlwind of a year for Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley.  Besides an EP in May, a #1 single, and spots on the Country Throwdown tour (with Justin Moore and Rodney Atkins) and the 2012 CMT on Tour tour (with Jake Owen), the duo managed to appear on Jake Owen's "Endless Summer EP" and land a cut on Jason Aldean's "Night Train" album with a song ("Black Tears") from their first EP.  FGL caps the year off with a full-length album, which picks up right where they left off with their summer EP, including all five of "What We Do"'s tracks, including their recent chart topper and debut single "Cruise".

None of the newest additions to the album stray very far from the groundwork the duo laid over the summer, and the lead single ("Cruise") defines the mood for the entire album.  Almost every song is perfect for driving down a dirt road with friends or cuddling up with a loved one on the tailgate of your truck at a bonfire.  The one song that strays from that mood is "Stay" which appears in the middle of the album.  The song, which takes on a more alternative rock feel, is about a topic almost everyone has had to deal with, heartbreak.

"I'd sell my soul just to see your face.  And I'd break my bones just to heal your pain".

It is hard to find fault with any of the tracks on the album.  The duo manages to create a mood the flows from start to finish without being repetitive, something that many artists struggle to do through an entire album.  "Here's To The Good Times" is sure to skyrocket the newcomers up the charts, winning many many new fans in the process.  Be sure to check them out in 2013, when they open up for Luke Bryan on the "Dirt Road Diaries" tour.  9/10

Rebooting, With A New Name

Hey everyone.I know it has been several months since we have done a review. This post it to let you know that we are coming back, starting tonight, with a new name and new reviews. First things first. I have decided to change the name of the blog. I feel that "Off The Dirt Road" better reflects the type of country music that we review. As I mentioned in May, while we have always reviewed country artists of all levels of fame, most of our fan base and our reviews have been for the smaller, up-and-coming artists. "Off The Dirt Road" is a better representation of that base. Second, I will be posting a review of the new Florida Georgia Line album tonight and over the next couple weeks, will take time to review some of the albums I have missed, including the latest offerings from Jason Aldean and Brian Davis. Finally, I am hunting for a new writer. Be on the lookout for an announcement on who that is in the near future. Thanks to anyone who has stuck with us, even during this extended period of no reviews.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Album Review: Florida Georgia Line - It'z Just What We Do

Florida Georgia Line is the latest in a line of Male Duos in country music to blend with rock music and hope to make it big.  Their debut EP, "Anything Like Me" was released in 2010 slipped through the cracks, which is a shame.  "It'z Just What We Do", the latest EP from the duo, should gain them more recognition, helped along by appearing with Gary Allan and Rodney Atkins on the Country Throwdown Tour.

FGL opens the EP with "Cruise", a viable candidate to replace "Dirt Road Anthem" as this year's perfect summer driving song.  The first single from the band, "Cruise" is radio friendly and hopefully will get the duo noticed by fans outside of the South.  The summer fun continues with "Get Your Shine On" and "Tip It Back".  Both are perfect bonfire songs, with "Shine" being part love song and "Tip It Back" being a great drinking song.    The latter of the two is sure to hook fans of Montgomery Gentry, as there is a similar sound to the duo's back and forth singing.

"Tell Me How You Like It" changes the pace some, bringing a unique sound to a romantic song.  FGL is down for anything, just waiting for the word from the girl.  Wrapping up the short EP is "It'z Just What We Do", the title track.  The duo is unapologetic as they party, combining rap, rock, and country, the duo creates a great bar song, no matter what part of the country you are in.  If FGL releases another single before a full-length album, I would bet on this being it.

Full of summer party anthems, FGL's EP hit the shelves just in time to have maximum impact.  Florida Georgia Line's "It'z Just What We Do" is exactly what the duo needs in order to put them on the radar and the radio.  Be sure to catch them on the Country Throwdown Tour this summer.  The EP is available on iTunes,  Amazon and the Google Play Store 8/10

One of the things that I have always taken pride in with "The Low Down For A Hoe Down" is our focus on the smaller artists, the ones who are up and coming.  I have always felt that the people I connect with are the ones who enjoy the unknown artists.  And the readers have proven that.  Today, 10 months after starting this blog, we reached 10,000 unique readers and our three most-read posts are our reviews of Chase Rice, Rachel Farley and Brantley Gilbert, none of whom are platinum selling artists.  All of them are currently either not touring or opening acts.  The fact that our readers are drawn to these reaffirms my faith in the true country music fans, so we will continue to bring you artists you may not have heard of in hopes that their music will spread.  We will continue to review big artists too, but our primary focus will be on the currently unknowns.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Album Review: Rachel Farley - The Truth

Rachel Farley is a young female singer that first grabbed my attention about two years ago.  A group of friends and I drove down to South Carolina to see our favorite artist, Brantley Gilbert.  The venue was a bar in Florence and there were two openers.  To this day, I cannot tell you who the middle act was, but the first performer was this young woman.  I remember us being very impressed by this unknown artist, but knowing she had a lot of potential.  Flash forward two years and that woman, Rachel Farley has released another EP and is still just as impressive as that Carolina night.

It would be unfair to try to compare Farley to any of the leading female singers in country music today.  She does not have the innocent tone of Taylor Swift, nor the violent attitude of Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood or Kellie Pickler.  But that does not mean she is inferior to any of these.  She is truly a unique voice, and one that has a pure country tone to it.  In fact, she starts the EP off with a theme more commonly found among the outlaw boys of country.  "Ain't Easy" leads "My granddaddy ran moonshine/ Till the day he died/ Left behind his children/ And a .45/ That outlaw stuff/ Runs through my blood/ I was raised to be tough/ I was born to run".  These are not uncommon sentiments from the likes of Brantley Gilbert, Jamey Johnson or Montgomery Gentry, but it is refreshing to hear it from a woman.

Not only is she an outlaw, she falls for them too.  "Damn I Do" is about her falling for the guy that everybody says she should not.  Despite what those around her say, the guy makes her feel alive, so she is going with it anyway.  This leads nicely into "Place To Land".  The two songs work well back to back as Farley tells about how when she is tired from her Gypsie life, she always has that safe place to land.

Wrapping up the album, Farley make it clear what every country boy knows: if you mess with a country girl, you are going to have to face daddy.  Obviously someone did not get the memo as the guy is now facing the shotgun of a pissed off father.

Rachel Farley is not known now, but if she keeps making music like this EP, she will end up right there with the current leading women of the genre.  I, for one, cannot wait for a full length album from this genuinely outlaw woman. 9/10