I’m a music fan.
I love listening to music that resonates with me. I like music that is relatable, well performed, well engineered, up-front and present while feeling as real and natural as possible. Lyrically, I put value on specificity in the details but tend to attach to broad concepts (love, home, fun, etc). I like warm, fat melodies delivered by skilled storytelling voices, though when I’m amped up I dig cutting pushed-to-the-wall rock vocals, too. I love the textures of full and clear sounding acoustic and bluegrass instruments because they feel like home, and also the energy of loud electric guitars and drums with the bass locked in during the important parts and weaving through when there’s space for interest be added. I like pedal steel that sits on top and adds dimension and depth.
Here are some of my top examples (in no particular order) of great music that influences me.
This is the most influential work of musical art in my life. I think it’s perfect in all aspects from top to bottom. It’s the platonic ideal of music. It’s my scripture. This is my compass for writing, performing, engineering, everything. If you like country, listen to That Don’t Make It Easy Loving Me, Free & Easy (Down The Road I Go), and Band Of Brothers first. If you don’t like country, listen to Long Trip Alone and Trying To Stop Your Leaving first. If you trust me, listen to it in order from track 1 to track 11.
This is one of the most honest, down-to-earth sounding albums to come from mainstream Nashville. Assembly Line is the most American song ever written and it never has to say the word “America” to achieve that. Back Of My Heart makes me cry. Last Horse is one of the most well-written songs I’ve ever heard. Burn These Matches is my style sonically and completely resonates with me. Like Long Trip Alone, this is a complete album where I never want to skip any of the tracks. I listen to it in order.
I first listened to this album in 2013 in a friend’s car and didn’t get it. Maybe because his car speakers weren’t very balanced. Probably because I wasn’t old enough to hear the INSANE amount of depth sonically and lyrically. In March 2018 its genius finally clicked for me. This album isn’t as aggressive or masculine as the mainstream country I’m used to listening to, and Charlie thrives without everything compressed to the front. Want Me Too is the most well performed catchy, uptempo pop country love song I’ve ever heard. Young To See is poignant and paints a great picture. How I Learned To Pray is beautiful and almost converts me. Mississippi In July makes me want to cry. Someone Like Me is haunting, and the only time blending U2 sounds with mainstream country music has been executed well. I’ve happily listened to this album top to bottom many times, and Charlie Worsham is one of the top 3 most talented country artists right now.
I grew up listening to Jimmy Buffett music, and the album that holds up 100% from top to bottom is this live album from 1978. It’s a band playing a show. They’re having fun. You can hear it happening. This is the best version of Pencil Thin Moustache ever recorded. Landfall has killer guitar and a ton of energy, Miss You So Badly has one of my favorite quotes in the story leading up to the start of the song. Havana Daydreamin is a perfect sounding song. Grapefruit Juicy-Fruit has a hilarious story before the song kicks in, and the band lets it rip on the instrumental closer Dixie Diner.
This is Dierks’ second album. It’s still very acoustic-heavy and natural sounding, but yielded two of his biggest mainstream hits in the neo-Waylon Lot Of Leavin’ Left To Do and the sexiest song in existence, Come A Little Closer. The song Modern Day Drifter is gorgeous sounding, with the most moving dobro playing I’ve ever heard. Good Man Like Me is a really fun bluegrass song. Settle For A Slowdown is heartbreaking and sounds beautiful. No weak spots in this album, I listen to it top to bottom.
I think Eric Church writes some of the best songs and sings them with unique deliveries nobody else would have the instincts to do. Sinners Like Me is his first album and the least weird. I, personally, am attached to grounded music more than weird music, so Sinners Like Me is my favorite version of Eric Church, though I do love most of his songs. What I Almost Was gave me faith that pursuing music and quitting sports would be okay despite many people saying otherwise. These Boots is an honest, moving ballad with some of the best picture-painting I’ve heard in a song. Two Pink Lines is hilarious and I love the harmonica and bass in it. How Bout You and Guys Like Me were the mainstream hits that made me want to buy the album. Livin’ Part Of Life is sloppy and stripped down but super fun and real. No weak spots in this album, another one where I happily listen all the way through.
This is Dierks’ first major label album. What Was I Thinkin’ was a huge hit and a really fun song. Wish It Would Break has some of my favorite writing and acoustic guitar work. Forget About You sounds perfect and got me through rough, confusing times. How Am I Doin’ is fun and genius, and Distant Shore is haunting and cathartic. Train Travellin’ is one of my first exposures to bluegrass music and opened that door for me. I listen to this album from track 1 to track 13.
A perfect live DVD. It is perfection. It was recorded during the tour leading up to Long Trip Alone’s album release and it was early enough in Dierks’ career for him to still be playing a ton of deep cuts. It was directed by a British guy who does rock stuff and mixed by the guy who mixed Dierks’ studio albums. It looks perfect, sounds perfect, has a ton of energy, and inspired me to rock out in my basement pretending I was on the big stage with them. Every song sounds great. Rod Janzen’s lead guitar playing is especially captivating, and led to me wanting a blonde Anderson Hollow T Classic. The live versions of Lot Of Leavin’ Left To Do, Free & Easy (Down The Road I Go), Forget About You, and Cab Of My Truck make me especially happy. This DVD has the only publicly available recording of Where The Wind Don’t Blow, a song that was recorded and initially planned to be the title track of the Long Trip Alone album, but didn’t make the final track list. The live version of Ain’t Livin Long Like This by Waylon Jennings rocks hard. And the set-closing Folsom Prison Blues has awesome instrumental battles between guitar and steel.
This is the most solid Brad Paisley album for me. I love how relatable All I Wanted Was A Car is. Mr. Policeman is the most fun song I’ve ever heard and the reason I started to chicken pick. Some Mistakes might be my favorite sounding Brad Paisley song. It Did is really well arranged, musically. Throttleneck is obviously badass. Letter To Me makes me cry.
The guitar album. It helped (and continues to help) my musical growth. I love the clear, repeated instrumental hooks at the tops of the songs. These strong melodies make it easy to grab on to and love even without lyrics. Huckleberry Jam, Kentucky Jelly, and Cliffs Of Rock City are my favorite instrumentals. Cluster Pluck made me twice as solid at guitar. Start A Band is a perfect song for a teenager in a band to obsess over, and I definitely did.
The fourth studio album from Dierks Bentley, incorporating a few more rock elements and mainstream choices but still more grounded and rootsy than most other commercial country in 2009. The first single Feel That Fire has a sweet chorus and guitar solo. Little Heartwrecker is one of my favorite songs with awesome dobro playing. Here She Comes has Steve Brewster letting rip on the drum intro and J.T. Corenflos killing the guitar solo, and the song is my favorite on the album. You Hold Me Together is a great major key song that always makes me feel good. I can listen to this album the whole way through, though a couple of the songs don’t hold up as well for me now as they used to. The high points in this album are very high and I love it.
This is a mainstream country album, but it separates itself from other mainstream country albums by being perfect. I don’t know how this happened. Texas Was You has the best mainstream rhythm guitar tone I’ve ever heard and is my favorite Jason Aldean song. Church Pew Or Bar Stool is an incredibly relatable song that I love (co-written by Josh Thompson). Just Passing Through is my favorite neck-pickup guitar song and the song really resonates with me sonically (lyrics are great, too). Country Boy’s World is one of the best crafted modern stereotypical country-country songs and I love listening to it. The sore spot on this album is Dirt Road Anthem, where Jason raps the verses and it’s cringey. The sonics and playing in that song are still great, so I can listen to it, but it’s a bummer that it’s a country rap song. Aside from that, this is an album I listen to from top to bottom.
The lead vocal sound on this album is phenomenal. It’s so CLEAR. I especially enjoy the new recordings for this album that weren’t on previous albums, meaning Phil’s versions of Bye Bye, I’m Alright, My Next Thirty Years, Little Red Rodeo, and For A Little While, all famous songs that he wrote and other artists (Jo Dee Messina, Tim McGraw, Collin Raye) cut and released as singles. The energy is great, the vocal is well delivered, the band and mix are really tight. This is one of a small number of things with prominent piano that I really love. I’ve listened to this in my car and let it repeat all the way through many, many times.
To me, this album is Brad’s biggest success in merging diverse styles with contemporary mainstream country. No two songs are the same style and it’s really high quality the whole way through. Mud On The Tires is a mainstream hit single, Celebrity has good humor and social commentary, and Little Moments is a wonderful love song using simple American vernacular without being too hokey. And of course, Whiskey Lullaby with Alison Krauss is one of the objectively best songs ever. The deep cuts are satisfying, too, with Hold Me In Your Arms being my favorite classic country sounding song. Make A Mistake is a fun guitar/vocal that spins into a whole western swing jam. The Best Thing That I Had Goin is a great blend of bluegrass, Telecaster, and mainstream country and one of Chris Stapleton’s first cuts as a songwriter. The high points of this album are very high and very diverse.
The songs Alcohol, She’s Everything, and Waitin’ On A Woman are three of my favorite Brad Paisley songs. The joy and emotion I feel from the lyricism and playing on those songs makes me think of this album very fondly. It has my favorite Brad Paisley album cover, too.
The first 7 tracks of this album are huge to me. Amazing guitar work that I think is really tasteful (I made a video talking about this at some point). Anything But Mine is my favorite love song/slow song ever. I Go Back has great memories attached to it. And toward the end of the album, Outta Here is infectiously joyful with a cool twin guitar line.
This is the first country album I was ever given. I had started to like country music and my aunt Sue got me this as a gift because it was a big new album at the time. It was my first experience hearing songs and loving them BEFORE they became singles and everyone knew them. Summertime and Beer In Mexico caught my ears on my first listen-through and I played them on repeat, and celebrated when I heard them on the radio for the first time because I had known they were awesome songs for months already. Livin’ In Fast Forward was the first country song I latched onto while it was a single and it has awesome guitar. You Save Me is a great 6/8 song with an awesome melody and chord progression. Kenny’s cover of Somebody Take Me Home by Randy Rogers Band also hits me hard and I listened to that many times when I was feeling lonely. The high points on this album are very high.
In high school my friend Cole had a mix CD of Warped Tour bands and one of the songs was Damned If I Do Ya, and it was stuck in my head for a month after I heard it sophomore year. I ended up downloading the rest of the Nothing Personal album and was really surprised by how much I liked it. Weightless is amazing. Break Your Little Heart rocks so hard. The Party Song has a really cool verse kick pattern and palm muted guitar part. The main draw for me is the huge sounding guitars. The guitars on this album sound huger than any other recorded guitars ever. Toward the end of the album, Therapy is a really pretty song that’s more acoustic based than the rest of the songs.
I’m so happy that All Time Low made this when they did. They were selling out theatres and only had two full length albums, both of which have great songs beyond just the singles, and in the hour+ set they play a lot of great deep cuts that wouldn’t get played after more music was released. Also, they sound great. I’ve listened to the live CD all the way through a ton of times and it taught me how to arrange live music since there are only 4 band members, one off-stage guy that played a little, and the pre-recorded tracks and loops are only the focal point a couple times in the show. 99% of what you hear is drums, bass, two guitars, and three vocals. And it sounds huge. Every song is great, but if I have to point out one moment in particular, the bridge in Jasey Rae is beautiful. Some of the best arrangement of 4 instruments ever. Note: there is a lot of swearing and immature sex jokes, if that behavior turns you off then you won’t like the banter between songs. These guys are Blink fans.
I loved Boulevard Of Broken Dreams the first time I heard it, and I didn’t even like music back then. Especially not music on the pop station (Green Day was on pop radio and that’s weird to think about now). American Idiot was on the Madden 2005 soundtrack and it was one of two songs I liked in that game so I listened to it on loop with “Take Me Out” by Franz Ferdinand (doesn’t hold up) for hours and hours as I played that game. I had my friend, TJ, burn me a copy of any Green Day CDs he had and I listened to them over 4th of July weekend 2010. I got it in my atmosphere and liked it, but it wasn’t until 2016/2017 that it really hit me how great it is. Jesus Of Suburbia is genius, and a totally unique listening experience. Wake Me Up When September Ends is beautiful. And I think Whatsername is really underrated. I sometimes cherry pick the hits when I’m listening and sometimes I listen all the way through for the full journey.