The Highwomen, feat. Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, Natalie Hemby, and Amanda Shires

My journey to rediscover country music continues! A modern country sound that honors the roots of the genre, The Highwomen is a unique gift to today’s country music. If you like or have liked country music but are looking for something fresh – or you prefer Outlaw Country to Bro Country or Boyfriend Country – this might be a good album for you.

Now, if you’re a longtime country fan, you’ve probably already guessed that this group was inspired by the legendary Highwaymen, composed of Outlaw Country Superstars – Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson. The idea was Amanda Shires’, who wanted to bring together a female supergroup partly to combat the low representation of women’s voices in country music radio and festivals. She connected then with Brandi Carlile  and Maren Morris, originally intending to leave the fourth spot open for guest collaborators. When the group debuted in 2019, at Loretta Lynn’s 87th birthday concert, Natalie Hemby was officially announced as the fourth member. The album came out later the same year.

What I really liked about this album was the stories that it told, stories that I haven’t heard a lot in my country listening. Now, I like a good “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” song as much as anybody else (Before He Cheats by Carrie Underwood, anyone?) but it sure seems like a lot of what makes country music (or most music, honestly) popular is the same story – boy meets girl (Hurt Somebody by Dierks Bentley), boy chases girl (She’s a Girl Ain’t She by Rodney Atkins), the bliss of love (Heaven by Kane Brown), boy wrongs girl or vice versa (Jolene by Dolly Parton, I Hope It Rains by Jana Kramer), messy heartache ensues (Burning House by Cam), both move on (Red High Heels by Kellie Pickler, Bartender by Lady A). And if it’s not that story, it’s the Living In The Country is a Real Good Time story (Where I Come From by Montgomery Gentry, Mud on the Tires by Brad Paisley, Meanwhile Back at Mama’s by Tim McGraw, etc. etc.). Both are good, but repetitive after a while.

The Highwomen sing a new slate of relatable messages – in this album we hear the voices of women wronged by history/society (Highwomen), the struggles and joys of being women (Old Soul, Redesigning Women), a daughter facing the death of her father (Cocktail and a Song), various reasons not to be a mother (My Name Can’t Be Mama), an homage to suburban moms (My Only Child) and, my personal favorite, Heaven is a Honkytonk, which is a very Willie-Nelson-esque homage to country music legends who have passed on. And of course, thrown in are a few romantic journeys including post-breakup Don’t Call Me and the both relatable and subversive If She Ever Leaves Me. The latter is particularly a gem, because it portrays love between women in a positive and unexpected way.

If you missed this album when it first came out and love a modern twist on classic genres, get your country on with The Highwomen.

A Beautiful Time by Willie Nelson

Confession time: I’m a late convert to Willie Nelson, because I’ve been known to fall into the trap of thinking all country music is created equal. Little did I know, Willie Nelson’s outlaw country is a far cry from the “bro country” or “boyfriend country” music that just doesn’t work for me. (Side note: I HAVE been known to like the feminist/”woman kills her no-good husband” country music.) Luckily, I have seen the error of my ways and am getting familiar with Willie’s large body of work, and in my opinion his newest album, A Beautiful Time, is an excellent and enjoyable addition to his canon.

There’s an even mix of toe-tapping tracks, melancholy ballads, and wise insight here – from the heartfelt loss of “Dreamin’ Again” and the playful “We’re Not Happy (Till You’re Not Happy)” to the both thoughtful and light-hearted “I Don’t Go To Funerals”. The overall message seems to be about aging with grace and being honest about death; songs like “Dusty Bottles” directly suggest that age comes with advantages, blessings, pleasures, and of course pains, all its own; it’s clear Willie sees the passage of time but doesn’t fear it, and he sings about it with heart.

I highly recommend this album as the soundtrack to your summer road trips – and if anyone has specific Willie Nelson songs or albums to recommend, send them my way!

A Beautiful Time is Willie’s 72nd solo album and has been well-reviewed by critics; it’s available from the library as both a CD and through our music streaming service, Freegal.

Music Buzz: International

Travel around the world (including the heart of the USA)  with these hit albums from international musicians!

Italy: Teatro d’Ira by Måneskin

This is the second album from the wildly successful, Eurovision-winning Italian band, and features the hit that Americans will recognize the most: I Wanna Be Your Slave.  The band originally formed in Rome, Italy in 2016, and – fun fact – the band name is drawn from the Danish word for moonlight. You may also have heard their rendition of the song Beggin’, which was originally popularized by the band The Four Seasons in 1967. That song doesn’t feature on this album, but you can hear the song that won them the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest – Zitti e buoni.

Colombia: Dharma by Sebastián Yatra

If you’re a Disney fan or have kids, you may have seen the Disney film Encanto – and if you have, you’ll remember the pivotal song Dos Oruguitas. Sebastián Yatra is the performer of that song, both in the Spanish and English versions, but he’s also a highly successful musician in Latin America, known for romantic ballads and reggaeton influences. Born in Medellín, Colombia and raised in Miami, he released two previous albums and has collaborated with artists including Daddy Yankee, Ricky Martin, and the Jonas Brothers.

Puerto Rico: LA 167 by Farruko

Farruko first broke into music as a collaborator to J Balvin, Bad Bunny, Nicki Minaj, and others, before launching his solo career his first studio album, El Talento del BloqueThis most recent album features his wildly popular song, Pepas, which is in his signature Reggaeton style mixed with an electronic dance style called Tribal guarachero. You won’t want to miss this album particularly because it may be the last of this kind – at an event in February he announced his retirement from urban music in an emotional speech.

USA: Run Rose Run by Dolly Parton

Both Dolly Parton and James Patterson are juggernauts of mainstream American culture, and now they’ve pooled their talents in a special project that feels uniquely American. Run Rose Run is both an album and a novel, and in both cases it tells the story of a young country music star trying to make it big despite a dangerous past catching up to her.  The album doesn’t require you to read the book, since the tracks are universally appealing statements in a number of styles, from bluegrass to ballads, pop and more.

Upcoming Albums from LGBTQ Artists

Don’t miss these albums from iconic artists of the LGBTQ community, coming soon!

The Lockdown Sessions by Elton John is a collection of collaborations that the British singer recorded remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, featuring Miley Cyrus, Lil Nas X, Stevie Nicks, and many more. The tracks cover a variety of genres and moods for a truly eclectic mix. Personally, I can vouch for this album because I’ve already heard a few of the tracks, including Chosen Family (absolutely gorgeous track with a great message) and Nothing Else Matters (gives me chills every time). If you, like me, spent time in quarantine singing along to everything and making playlists, you might relate to this album!

Broken Hearts and Beauty Sleep by Mykki Blanco is the new album from non-binary boundary pusher Mykki Blanco, melding hip hop and rap with club and trap sounds as well as experimental elements. I’m excited for this one because I love more publicity for non-binary artists, AND I just recently discovered this artist through their essay in The Queer Bible (an excellent book!).

 

To discover other LGBTQ artists, try:

Halsey’s If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power – their most recent album which was accompanied by a film released on HBO Max, and which wrestles with the suffocating side of love, pregnancy, creation, destruction and how we claim and use power.

 

 

Brandi Carlile’s In These Silent Days : the 2021 offering from a country and folk rock staple. Encompassing both intimate contemplation and defiantly rollicking tunes, it’s an album exploring the full breadth of Carlile’s skill and power, with echoes of Elton John and Joni Mitchell, according to critics.

Recently Added: Dark Horse Debuts

I can’t imagine breaking into the music industry in the midst of a global pandemic, but these brave artists have done it, with vibrant, personal, and unique sets of music. From country to classical-pop fusion to jazz, here are three fresh solo artists you won’t want to miss.

Good Time by Niko Moon is a debut album, but not the first music Moon has been part of: Niko Moon has written songs for a number of high-profile country bands, including Zac Brown Band, Diercks Bentley, Rascall Flatts, and more. He also helped start the group Sir Rosevelt, but Good Time is his first album of all solo original music. He caught my attention with this quirky cover art that reminds me of Nirvana or Twenty One Pilots.

 

Chloe Flower’s self-titled album is not only her solo music debut, but it’s also the first entry in her self-created musical genre: popsical (pop + classical). This means she features not only skilled and moving instrumentals, but also hip hop beats and other popular music elements. She’s been working on this album a long time, but was (like us all) irrevocably changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Me, I’m a sucker for classical crossover so I’m excited for this one.

 

Yellow by Emma-Jean Thackray is a “transcendent” jazz album which seeks to capture the shared human experience. The British Thackray incorporates a number of influences, including 1970s fusion music, P-Funk, Alice Coltrane, and the Beach Boys. I don’t listen to a ton of jazz but those influences and that cover? I’m already on board.

Key Changes: New Country Mega Albums

In previous blog posts, we’ve talked about how being in isolation during the coronavirus pandemic has caused many artists to make unique new music and innovative albums. This time around, it’s the Country Music Edition, featuring two artists who have created double and triple albums of their best work in the past year. Don’t miss these exciting large-scale projects from big names and hitmakers from the country music world!

First up, Eric Church. Heart and Soul were released in April, two weeks apart, and they’re designed to be part of a trilogy set. The third album, called ‘&’, which unites the two, is being exclusively released on vinyl to Church’s fan club. Heart and Soul are the two bookend albums with nine songs each, featuring songs each written and recorded in a single-day marathon recording session in early 2020, according to an interview with Church about the release. This allowed writers and musicians to collaborate more directly than in his previous work, a process which Church says produced a “special, special project.”

 

Second, Sturgill Simpson. Rather than releasing new tracks, Simpson has remixed his older country songs into bluegrass versions. Cuttin’ Grass vol. 1: the Butcher Shoppe Sessions, and Cuttin’ Grass vol. 2: The Cowboy Arms Sessions are two albums which pay homage to bluegrass music with powerful and creative versions of Simpson’s earlier works. Volume 2, released in April, also features a previously un-released track shared with Simpson by the late Merle Haggard. A longtime trendsetter in the country music genre, Simpson has now created a pair of albums that explore his inspirations, grounding his transcendent themes in an earthy style.

Recently Added: Quarantine Music

I think it’s safe to say the last few months have changed a lot of plans. Countless goals and dreams and ways of thinking have been forced to adapt, be revised, or be put to rest. One way, both beautiful and bittersweet, that these changes are expressed is through the art we create. Taylor Swift is a good example of what can be created in these unusual circumstances, but there are several other cases of creative projects altered by pandemic that are worth looking at. All the albums listed have recently been ordered for the library and will be available soon.

how i’m feeling now by Charli XCX is an album that was created in a truly unique way, unlikely to have arisen except in the context of self-isolation. The artist announced (where else?) on a Zoom call  that she would be making an album in self-isolation and that she would use only the tools at her fingertips to create the music, album art, everything.  Moreover, she worked collaboratively with her fans to get feedback on tracks, album art, and more. The result has been highly acclaimed by critics and fans.

In A Dream by Troye Sivan is the artist’s third album, following 2018’s Bloom. According to Sivan, this album represents an emotional rollercoaster, where emotions and feelings are shockingly fresh. Similar to Taylor Swift’s journey with Folklore, this album was made while Sivan was in lockdown in Melbourne, and it was facilitated by the boredom and isolation of the experience. Songs were created day by day and it was an unexpected realization to find that an entire album had materialized.

Here On Earth by Tim McGraw, in contrast to previous examples, was planned and recorded before the pandemic, but was unmistakably altered by it. The tour originally planned to accompany the release had to be canceled, and according to an interview with Rolling Stone, McGraw had to reexamine the record in light of the pandemic to see how its emotional impact had been changed. Some tracks, including I Called Mama, were found to have unexpected emotional weight.

ALICIA by Alicia Keys was also planned ahead of time, but struck a timely chord with its themes. Critics said the album struck a balance between hope and despair, and Keys herself said the album showed the value of introspection – something we’ve all had more time to do lately, right? The album was scheduled for release in March, but was delayed by the pandemic until September. In the meantime, various virtual performances allowed Keys to debut songs from the album ahead of its release, including the iHeart Living Room Concert for America.

My Way by Willie Nelson on CD

Guest post by Laura V.

I became a Willie Nelson fan around 2005. This was also about the same time I became enamored with Patsy Cline and Lyle Lovett. Old-style country is one of the many music genres that has my heart. I also like old-school jazz like Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra so this was a fusion of tunes I was eager to hear.

Nelson and Sinatra were good friends so what better way to honor an old friend’s memory? It’s a bit odd to hear Nelson backed by jazz music but the steel pedal guitar and the harmonica brings the music back home to Nelson’s Texas roots. He interprets the well-known and often covered songs in his one-of-a-kind style, a kind of slow half-speaking, half-singing conversation with the audience.

I was not completely awed by My Way but I really enjoyed “Summer Wind” and I found myself a little misty-eyed with his version of “My Way”, the last track of the album. Sinatra fans and Nelson fans alike should give this release a listen.

New CDs for October

Michael Buble — Nobody But Me

The 9th studio album and first in three years from the multi-Grammy, multi-platinum award winning singer. It follows the critically acclaimed To Be Loved album which was his fourth album to reach No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 200 Charts.

 

 

Colbie Caillat — The Malibu Sessions

Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter Colbie Caillat returns with the follow up to her 2014 album Gypsy Heart. Her sixth studio album also includes the single Goldmine.

 

 

Kenny Chesney — Some Town Somewhere

Country superstar Kenny Chesney releases the follow-up to his hit album The Big Revival. His latest includes the single Noise, which is quickly rising up the country charts.

 

 

 

Green Day — Revolution Radio

After four years, Green Day return with a brand new album, their first release since being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Their latest includes the new single Bang Bang.

 

 

Norah Jones — Day Breaks

One of music’s most beautiful and critically acclaimed voices returns with an album that finds her returning to her jazz roots.

 

 

Kings of Leon — Walls

Kings Of Leon release the follow-up to their Mechanical Bull album. Includes the songs Waste A Moment; Find Me; Over; and more.

 

 

Pitbull — Climate Change

International icon Pitbull releases his 10th full-length album that features an array of superstar and burgeoning musical guests including Jennifer Lopez, Enrique Iglesias, Prince Royce, Jason Derulo, Stephen Marley and more.

 

 

Rascal Flatts — The Greatest Gift of All

Country superstars Rascal Flatts release their first ever holiday album, which features both new and classic tracks like Strange Way to Save the World; The First Noel, and Someday at Christmas.

 

New CDs for July

Blink-192 — California

Nearly five years after their last album, Blink-182 releases their seventh studio album. It marks a change for the band as Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba joins the group.

 

 

 

Jake Owen — American Love

Country star Jake Owen releases his fifth studio album, which includes the single American Country Love Song.

 

 
Hillary Scott & The Scott Family — Love Remains

A collection of thirteen faith-based songs featuring Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott, her mom Linda Davis, father Lang Scott, and little sister Rylee Scott, all produced by Ricky Skaggs.

 
Steven Tyler — We’re All Somebody from Somewhere

A highly anticipated first solo country album from Steven Tyler, the voice of rock band Aerosmith. His first single, Love Is Your Name, hit number one on the Billboard Country Streaming Songs chart.

 
Switchfoot — Where the Light Shines Through

For the first time in ten years, Switchfoot went back to the studio with producer John Fields to work on their tenth studio album. While moving forward, the band does look back, and there is a lot of nostalgia flowing through the album.

 
Various Artists — Hamilton Original Broadway Cast Recording

With its unique mix of history and hip-hop, Hamilton has become one of the most talked-about productions on Broadway.