Country Confessional: I Miss 2015

Originally this piece had a very different purpose. You see, there are many people (myself included) who thought that 2016 was a down-year for great music (at least in the Country/Americana scene). To be honest, outside of a handful of projects such as Sunny Sweeney, Marty Stuart, and Rhiannon Giddens, I’d argue the same for this year as well, at least at one point I did.

But that’s not what this final draft has turned into. I still want to talk about the quality of music this year, but I want to approach it from a different perspective. To do that, we need to have story time.

Now, there are some notable years for my musical journey in terms of discovering new music and/or music that really spoke to me. 2010 was a big one seeing as that’s the year I decided to put down the video games and get lost in all of those albums sitting in my living room that I never checked out. I’m here to talk about one other year though, and that’s 2015. Now, 2014 was the year I really figured out about all the cool music beyond my radio dial, but in truth it wasn’t a huge year of discovery for me. I blame laziness. 2015 though? Entirely different animal.

It was the first year I decided to go digital with my tastes (yes, I was that crabby old fart who only wanted the actual CD), and I can’t tell you how fun it was. In the beginning I was rocking out to Holding All The Roses by Blackberry Smoke. I was also mesmerized by the bright folk of Drew Holcomb’s Medicine album, and of course it was great to have Dwight Yoakam back with his excellent Second Hand Heart album. That summer brought even more joy. I was absolutely blown away by the darkness of Gretchen Peters’ Blackbirds, and I was absolutely blown away by the lyricism of James McMurtry’s Complicated Game as well. While it took awhile to click with me as well, Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen’s Hold My Beer album brought a healthy dosage of fun to the table. Of course, if you want a damn good time, William Clark Green’s Ringling Road album is extremely hard to beat.

Now, I think you get the point. I could manage to work in some examples for Chris Stapleton or Whitey Morgan, or maybe even Ryan Bingham, but again, you get the point. All of the aforementioned artists/projects were things that changed my little world, and originally this piece was going to be me just sadly wishing that I wish we had another 2015 for music. Then I realized, we don’t need another 2015!

You’ll notice I said I went digital with my collection this year, but that doesn’t mean I started streaming right away (started that in late November). Everything I heard I bought with my own cash, and while I did buy some stuff I ended up regretting, I also found a lot more that outweighed those costs. Of course, I didn’t buy everything out there. That’s crazy. Nobody can hear it all, and nobody can buy it all. I did keep a record of the music I listened to, much as I do now. As of the last count, I’ve reviewed twenty-nine this albums this year. At this time in 2015, that number was merely thirteen, with William Clark Green being the latest entry at that point. Seems like a big difference, huh? Yeah, I noticed it too, and I think the number is ultimately what’s to blame here.

Granted, there’s a certain excitement that comes with trying anything for the first time, and that extends to hearing either a particular album or artist for the first time as well. Moreover, certain events in life can percieve how you’re taking in all of this music and in terms of my journey I’d say that’s more than accurate. However, I really think we need to focus on this number thing for a bit.

I’m a nut. I want to cover it all, and I want to be the one who can do it all. This is a stupid dream however. I was hungry in 2015, but I didn’t have the full means to carry out my wishes to hear all of this new music. So I settled for picking and choosing, hearing the music at a slower pace than what I do now. Now? I can hear what I want anytime I want, and naturally that’s led to me trying (and failing) to cover it all.

There’s too much damn music coming out though each and every week, and for awhile it’s been such a hassle to keep up with. In all honesty I haven’t really “enjoyed” listening to music in I don’t know how long, at least until I wrote this post. I used to think it was the quality that I should blame, but really I think it’s me who deserves the blame. I have a rule when covering albums – give it at least three listens and jot down notes to go with it. I scrapped that rule. It’s too mechincal, it’s not fair to any artist I’m talking about, and I’m not a critic – I’m a music fan, and while I can’t replicate those feelings I had when I was in discovery mode in 2015, I can at least reignite the passion I have for listening to music.

Thankfully I’ve already started. Last week we had two releases we covered – Chris Shiflett’s West Coast Town and Sam Outlaw’s Tenderheart. I didn’t give them three listens or jot down any notes either. Instead, I gave them each a good number of listens (Shiflett was probably around seven while Outlaw went into the double digits), and the words flowed out like it was nothing. The Outlaw piece I did took about twenty minutes to write, and I was so familiar with the album that I knew what I wanted to say off the top of my head.

Now, neither album will make my year end lists, sure, but they did help to me learn how to really absorb music again. I only focused on two for the entire week, and while there are moments I could have written about either project, I chose to wait until they were really ready instead. After all, what’s the rush? Music and time go hand in hand, and I’m starting to learn that now. Some projects take time to evolve, as I’ve learned with Marty Stuart’s latest album (which only gets better and better with every listen. SERIOUSLY). Why try to cover every single piece of music out there instead of honing in on those special projects?

Now, that does mean I’m going to try and cut the number of albums I cover (not a problem considering we have other features to focus on…like this), but it doesn’t mean everything here is just going to be covered if I like it. The world didn’t end when I had some harsher words for Sam Outlaw’s album than others did. I covered it because I had something to say about it, and that’s what I should be going after rather than “oh, this looks cool, cover it!”. I still want to try to have a good mix, but as the post says, I miss 2015, and I miss the feeling of enjoying and absorbing the music again. As you all know, this week was a HUGE release date for new albums, and believe me, I do want to try to get to all of them. However, I won’t do it until I’ve really taken a non-half assed attempt to gather my thoughts. I’m currently on my fifth or sixth listen of Jason Eady’s new album, and others such as Brad Paisley and Charlie Worsham are probably at five listens each. I’ve only had time to listen to Angaleena Presley’s latest album once, but what’s the rush, right?

It’s funny, I don’t feel inundated at all with the new releases, mostly because I’m not concerned with the pressure of it all. I’m having a blast listening to everything right now, and it’s made me see things from a different perspective. Maybe it’s not the music that needed an upgrade. Maybe it’s just me.


20 thoughts on “Country Confessional: I Miss 2015

  1. Very nice thoughts. We talked a little about this, but we’re sort of different here in parts. About the trying to cover it all, I definitely agree, and that was a big reason for the Memorable Songs thing I started. That alone has taken pressure off me to write reviews of things that I’m only excited about a few songs on, but I still get to listen to things and absorb a lot of music. About giving it a bunch of listens…that’s an album-by-album basis for me. With Marty Stuart, for example, one listen and it was something special. It took about three to come up with my thoughts just because it’s not easy to write about. Angaleena’s…I’ve given it five listens now, but words for it were filling my head after one. for me, some albums grow on you and take some listens–Shinyribs took a month–but it seems to be the ones that take only a couple or few listens to hit me that end up getting the best reviews. But each record is different–that’s why you can’t review each one the same way, or give each the sane number of listens or whatever. Learning that lesson has made writing fun for me again, and listening to music as well. I said this not long ago on Twitter” I’m not writing anything because I think people want to hear it, or when I think they want to hear it…I think the first part is something more easily done, but the “when” part is important too because the pressure to cover things can take the passion out of this, as well as the reason we started doing this in the first place. Take Shinyribs. If I’d reviewed that the week it came out, it wouldn’t have gotten a great review, and that’s a fine record. We’ve all bought albums that grew on us, and now I think with streaming, we expect it to blow us away on first listen, when in reality we used to be more patient. But that’s perhaps a different topic for a different day. Again, nice read 🙂

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    1. Good point in regard to each album being different. Some albums do take longer to digest while some you know right away. I still think it’s important to really take your time with everything though and really step back and say “alright, is this truly how I feel?” Also, great point about it taking the passion away from this – we’ve seen so many country blogs shut down over the past couple years, and while there are obviously certain things such as personal life events or something else that could have affected them leaving, you do also have to wonder if the pressures of this thing got to them as well.

      Also, great point about Shinyribs! I keep getting his songs stuck in my head, and I was initially lukewarm on the project! Haha. Also, great point on streaming as well. We did used to be patient when it came to digesting music, and that’s something I noticed when I looked back at my album list for 2015.

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  2. I see where your coming from but I do think there has been a real dip in regards to top notch albums this year. As far as album coverage goes I tend to only want to cover what I think is good because there’s enough good albums to cover that I don’t like to waste my time reviewing bad albums. And that’s awesome that you can do reviews so well without taking notes. I have to take notes or I feel like I forget things or miss important things in my reviews. But if that works for you that’s awesome.

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    1. I understand this perspective. Trust me, you aren’t the only blogger who doesn’t want to cover bad albums, and I respect that. We disagree somewhat on the importance of having them, but I understand it. I did that sort of thing last year actually. For me, it just got hard coming up with something new and fresh to say about every great album. That’s just me though.

      As for the note thing, I only started ditching notes for my last two “reviews”, so I have no clue if it will work out yet, haha

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    2. As for the note thing…I have not taken a single note in the history of the existence of Country exclusive, and I find that when my thoughts just spill out, I write better reviews. Sure, I’ll edit them, but if I get interrupted in the writing process or I have to draft it, it inevitably isn’t as good. We’re all just different in the way we write I guess. For me, it’s more natural to just let stuff pop out 😛

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      1. I started doing the note thing around August just to try something new. Wouldn’t you know it, I ended up hating my approach to music because of it.

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  3. There was a time when I wanted to – no, I felt obligated to – cover every album and single I was sent. Now I get dozens and dozens of submissions a week and there is no way I can do that being one person. But I have to admit, it actually feels nice to be able to pick what I want and review it. Sometimes I will review it b/c it’s a new artist, sometimes bc they’re eclectic, sometimes they lean alt rock, but the point is, I guess I am enjoying it again. Taking the pressure off is a wonderful thing. 🙂

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    1. I also felt that at one point, particularly last year (and admittedly this year as well). You’re right though, as one person you can only hear so much.

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  4. This was a really good post. Three of my favorite albums came out in 2015: Ashley Monroe’s The Blade, Maddie and Tae’s Start Here, and Kacey Musgraves’s Pageant Material. Hopefully soon, we’ll get new music from all three. That would make 2017 so much better, in country music.

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    1. Those were great projects! I tried to stick mostly with albums that had already come out by this point (as none of those had), but yes, those definitely enhanced country music in 2015. Personally I also hope we get more projects like those. I still think 2017 is weaker as a whole compared to past years, but you never know when things will pick up. Hell, I hope they do. I want to be proven wrong with this.

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  5. I think 2017 is about to really pick up. The first week of May alone we get C. Stapleton (and I saw him perform in Kentucky last week – wow !), John Moreland, Tony Jackson, Andrew Pope, and Harmonica Sam all at once. Then, Colter Wall and Zac Brown and so on the next week. All of these should be really good.

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    1. I’ve never heard of Harmonica Sam but thanks for putting him on my radar! I do think May will be great. Let’s hope those expectations aren’t let down.

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  6. Great editorial, Leon.

    It’s interesting how everyone’s musical journey is unique. 2015 was a monumental year in your life as a music fan in which you discovered non-radio music. For me, that was in 2009. The artists and albums that were big around that time will always hold an extra special place in my heart, just like how albums like Blackbirds and Ringling Road will always mean a lot to you. I wonder if there are people out there reading our blog who are just going through their “musical awakening” right now. Wild to think that we could be playing a part in that.

    I totally understand what you mean by not having rules and such when it comes to listening to music. Speaking from experience, trust me when I say nothing will sap your enjoyment of listening to music faster than forcing yourself to listen to music that you’re not really interested in. My philosophy is to just listen to whatever I want to listen to in that moment. No need to place limits on yourself! Music is supposed to be fun, and if it’s not bringing enjoyment to your life, then you’re doing it wrong.

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    1. “I wonder if there are people out there reading our blog who are just going through their “musical awakening” right now. Wild to think that we could be playing a part in that.”

      Not to sound arrogant but it is cool to think about. I hope we have. I know it’s just music and all, but hell, music can help you through some tough events or just make you feel human sometimes…if we’ve actually helped towards that that would be an awesome feeling for me, and I’m sure for you as well.

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      1. Absolutely. The notion that someone could be listening to something for the first time that might change their life simply because I recommended it is really weird, in a good way.

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  7. Not that this was the thrust of this blog post, but I miss 2015 in a different way — in terms of new music, for me 2015 was the best year in a VERY long time, with albums from all my go-to guys and then some: Corb Lund, Jason Isbell, Aaron Watson, George Strait, William Clark Green, Jason Boland and the Stragglers, and the Turnpike Troubadours. In fact, I think ’15 was probably the best year for new music for me since I discovered the Texas/Red Dirt music scenes back in late 1999. I guess it would be hard to measure up to that, but still 2016 was a tremendous letdown. I said it at my own place, but it bears repeating here: pretty much the only things I bought from last year that grabbed me upon the first couple of listens were the live albums from Robert Earl Keen and William Clark Green. I bought the new albums from the Randy Rogers Band, Hayes Carll, and Sturgill, but none of them grabbed me like all the great stuff from 2015 did. That’s not to say that they were bad at all — in fact, they were all very good — there was just something about them. (I should be giving the RRB album more spins, though…)

    And even with the new Aaron Watson (which was a hugely unexpected disappointment), I’m sorry to say that almost four months into the year 2017’s not looking so hot either. I would probably do better to look beyond the artists I’ve gotten to be release day buys, though. And, to be fair, at this point in 2015 we didn’t even know about the forthcoming releases from Strait & Boland off the top of my head. We’ll see how it goes, I suppose.

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    1. Yeah, I think part of my excitement for that year was also because it WAS such a great year for music. It seems like ever since I hopped on board that things haven’t been as great. I still just wanted to try and see if there could be another reason…at least for me personally. I do agree that 2017 hasn’t been good for top tier projects. I do think we’ve had a ton of great projects, but in terms of excellent ones? Eh, slim pickings so far. I do think it will pick up soon though. May looks to be pretty promising, but after that I’m not sure. I did want to write this post now rather than later because I want to look back on this and be proven wrong. Hopefully that happens, but who knows.

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