TX Independence Day NYC 2018

On the heels of a somewhat lackluster performance in November and sandwiched in between CBD and PFG, I didn’t expect Eli Young Band to be the highlight of the show, but they absolutely crushed it! Vocals were on point, energy and enthusiasm levels very high. Fingerprints songs were sprinkled in as were a couple of covers, but right from the start of their set with Jet Black & Jealous and When It Rains this felt like the EYB music that I fell in love with years ago and a reminder of just how talented this band is. Crowd seemed more into Saltwater Gospel, Drunk Last Night and the cover of Come Together – but I preferred Always the Love Songs, Guinevere and their cover of Learning to Fly which surprisingly no one in the crowd seemed to know. I thought the renditions of Dust (a good song, but not one of my favorites of theirs) and Even If It Breaks Your Heart were especially strong – lots of emotion and energy in the vocals.

EYB 3-9-18

For some reason the show was scheduled for a Friday night which prevented a number of my friends from making it out, but we managed to squeeze in a few pre-concert drinks and made it to Terminal 5 right for the start of Casey Donahew Band’s set, though unfortunately missed Wade Bowen. CBD, as usual, was pretty electric – I haven’t yet seen them play a show where it didn’t seem like they were having a great time rocking out and where it didn’t feel like they’d rather be up on that stage singing their hearts out than anywhere else in the world. Set list was strong, and it seemed like the band was particularly into it with Double-Wide Dream, 12 Gauge and Stockyards. Newer songs from All Night Party were woven seamlessly into the set, and I particularly enjoyed Kiss Me – which is even better live, with a little more grit and rock and roll – and Country Song – a song just constitutionally suited to be played in concert.

Casey Donahew Band 3-9-18

Pat Green, too, seemed very much at home and happy to be playing in NYC. In addition to his usual concert set, it felt like a bonus to get to hear a few songs which don’t seem to be concert mainstays like Somewhere Between Texas and Mexico and Here We Go, and Texas On My Mind which I’ll always have a special place for even if not written by PFG since this was the first Green recording I ever heard. One of my buddies who couldn’t make the show this year would have been disappointed that neither Girls From Texas nor Down to the River made the set list, the latter of course never making it despite our best efforts at encouragement. Maybe the surprise stand out for me this year was While I Was Away. A number of the songs on Home have been growing on me since I first heard the album, and even if Green didn’t pen this one his delivery rings so true that it’s hard not to be moved by the song.

Pat Green 3-9-18

Awesome show this year, and hats off as always to these Texas artists willing to share a little country music with us folks in NYC.

Eli Young Band @ Brooklyn Bowl

Country music in NYC is always a treat and I’d been looking forward to seeing EYB at this show for a long time. The last few times I’ve seen them they opened for different pop country superstars – I want to say Kenny & Tim at Gillette Stadium and then Kenny and ZBB at the Georgia Dome. Before that I’d seen them as part of the Texas Independence Day line-up in NYC – pre-Life at Best and Crazy Girl – but I don’t think I’ve ever had the chance to see them headline.

Brooklyn Bowl turns out to be an absolutely awesome live music venue, and it was great to get to celebrate my sister’s birthday over some country. For about the first half of the concert we were bowling, which turned out to be a mixed blessing since while bowling is up there with country music among my favorite things, it was tough to focus on my pin action and give EYB the attention they deserve at the same time.

EYB 11-12-17

The set list, comprised of EYB’s “oldies”, stuff from their new album and a bunch of covers, felt unusual. In terms of old stuff, I couldn’t have asked for a much better song list – Jet Black & Jealous, Skeletons, Small Town Kid and Guinevere are some of my very favorites. Interestingly their set list had When It Rains on it too (one of my enduring favorites), but Skeletons was also penciled in and their sound guy said it was an EYB game time decision which of the two to play but that they wouldn’t play both. This old stuff is what I came for. Especially with this band, there are so many more classic songs I wish they’d have played – Radio Waves, Get in the Car and Drive, How Should I Know, So Close Now, Oklahoma Girl.

EYB Set List 11-12-17

The new stuff, and by this I mean the Fingerprints songs, was difficult for me to appreciate since my familiarity with most of these songs (save Saltwater Gospel) was generally limited to my having listened to the album on Spotify a couple times over the preceding few days. Maybe it was this lack of familiarity that made the show feel a bit disjointed, rather than not liking the new songs. I suspect the former since EYB has such a solid track record of material and my sister likes the new album.

And then there were a whole bunch of covers which I didn’t quite understand, especially given how much gold of their own EYB has. When they first played David Lee Murphy’s Dust on the Bottle I said OK because that’s a great song, but they went on to play a strange mix of too many other covers including Come Together and No Woman No Cry mixed in with Small Town Kid. I definitely appreciate musical variety and it can be fun to see artists performing others’ work especially if it seems like they are really having fun with the material, but I didn’t love how the chosen songs were worked into and meshed with the set here.

EYB 2 11-12-17

All in all a fantastic concert. Eli Young Band is still one of the best, and seeing them live was a lot of fun. As a side note, EYB will be playing at 2018 TID in NYC – a welcome return to the event after an absence of a few years!

Turnpike Troubadours in NYC!

The Turnpike Troubadours are one of my favorite groups making music these days and I was very excited to see them play in New York City a couple weeks ago. At a Halloween party shortly after the concert, one fella was dressed as a cowboy and sure enough it turned out that he liked country music, but although he’d recently been to an Eric Church concert he’d never heard of the Turnpike Troubadours. Which is about right since even though both definitely fall under the larger country music umbrella, they’re not the same kind of music.

Turnpike Troubadours Full Band 10-23-17

In trying to pitch this concert to a couple of my friends, I described the group as a cross between Zac Brown Band and Mumford & Sons. And thinking about that description in retrospect, more in analysis mode than selling mode, I’d also throw in a dash of Townes Van Zandt, high praise to be sure. To encapsulate the thought in non-musical terms, the beers of choice at the venue were Shiner, Brooklyn Lager and Budweiser, with the bars running out of Shiner pretty early on in the night. There were plenty of hipster glasses, flannels and even a fedora or two in the crowd, but also some bros in white tees and tight jeans, and then of course some country band tees and boots too.

Evan Felker 10-23-17

Without reference to any kind of technical definition of the sub-genre if there is one, I’d call this music Americana. TT’s instrumentals cover the full range of traditional country sounds – banjo, harmonic, fiddle and pedal-steel guitar – generously and effectively deployed to further the mood and tone of songs’ lyrics. And it’s the lyrics that really draw me to the Turnpike Troubadours. Their songs are the opposite of so many songs out there with cookie-cutter formulas: characters and settings that get caricatured, references to products and cities that seem like a music executive has dictated and plot lines taken from a stock catalogue. Their songs have real stories to tell with characters and plot lines painted from real life that are original and often flawed or imperfect. Their songs are overflowing with lyrical content and make me feel as though TT, and Evan Felker in particular, will never run out of material and stories to tell.

Turnpike Troubadours Full Band 2 10-23-17

More on the TTs and their great songs (and new album) soon, but wanted to share a bit on this great concert in NYC!

Song Analysis: EYB’s Saltwater Gospel

In the interests of not burying the lede: I don’t have a problem with Saltwater Gospel, but I’m not crazy about it. I don’t think it stacks up against some of EYB’s very high quality songs, but at the same time it comes across much better performed by them than it would have if the song had gone to one of the pop-country regulars.

Eli Young Band has been one of my favorite groups for a long time. I remember seeing them way back when they were an opener at Texas Independence Day in NYC all the way up to what I think is the most recent time I’ve seen them: playing at the Georgia Dome with ZBB and Kenny Chesney. They’ve always deserved (and craved) a wider audience and it was awesome to see them get just that with Even If It Breaks Your Heart and Crazy Girl. (They’re also schedule to play in November at Brooklyn Bowl – more about that in a future post.)

My first reaction to hearing Saltwater Gospel was that it felt like a Florida Georgia Line song. And sure enough EYB didn’t write the song and the songwriters – Ashley Gorley, Nicolle Galyon and Ross Copperman – initially seemed to have folks like Kenny and Jake Owen in mind for the song. I’ll save for another day the so interesting topic of commercial songwriting and an exposition on singing/ performing versus singer-songwriting, but suffice it for now to say that there’s a whole to be said for folks performing their own material or, in the absence of that, at least only recording other folks’ songs that are authentic expressions of the singer’s own thoughts and feelings.

The articles I’ve read about SG take great pains to point out that, in their view, this isn’t just another “beach song”. That’s right in the sense that the song isn’t about loading your truck up with Bud lights, picking up some girls in swimsuits and going down to the beach to party. The other point the articles seem to focus on is that the authors have professed that they don’t want the song to be listened to as a diminution of the importance of actual church-going. I didn’t interpret the song that way (though I don’t think the music video helps) and any bone to pick I have with the song isn’t on that account.

Saltwater Gospel does have a nice point. It is definitely awe-inspiring to stand at the edge of the ocean and feel the power and majesty of what God created. Listening to the song more casually the first few times (i.e. at the gymnasium and not focusing so intently on the lyrics) I interpreted the song as a quasi-baptism song, with the singers relationship with God consummated via the ocean standing in for the formal religious rite. On closer listen, I think this is reading too much into the lyrics, and maybe this would have been too far anyway, but the nice point of feeling the awesomeness of God’s ocean still stands. In a world where there’s an embarrassment or reluctance, if not outright cynicism, towards declaring reverence for something , it’s no small feat to identify something as meaningful and stand behind it.

For me, this is the song’s success: the recognition of this awesomeness. I don’t think the song’s lyrics are so adept at developing this initial recognition – the Amens and “I’m in heaven watching all these waves roll in” feel ham-handed, although I prefer and like the lyrics of “When I’m lost I know where to get found again” and especially “Yeah, I got all the proof I need.  And it sure makes me believe” the latter of which I think really encapsulates the point of the song. Overall my take-away is that the song doesn’t feel much like EYB but despite some pop-country trappings, has something original and meaningful at its core that appeals.

Pat Green & Casey Donahew Live in NYC

Great performances both by Casey Donahew Band and Pat Green last night at Irving Plaza.

Night started with Casey Donahew Band:

CDB

Then thanks to my friend Greg, a quick photo with the man himself, Pat F. Green who was nice enough to refresh his signature on my old-style Pat Green tee:

IMG_1501

As usual, Pat was rocking out hard:

Green

A while back I’d suggested a set list for Pat for the Texas Independence Day concert. There are some tweaks I’d make to that list for non-TID show, but the concert last night stacked up well against my list. It was particularly great to hear Here We Go and Texas On My Mind. Home, while not on my list, has been growing on me lately and Green’s live performance really did justice to the song’s lyrics. I missed hearing Lucky – a very strong choice in Green’s concert repertoire and Whiskey – just an overall fantastic and under-rated song.

Green band

Some great NYC concerts coming up real soon – stay tuned for more about Turnpike Troubadours and Eli Young Band!

 

An Introduction to the Great Casey Donahew Band

If it wasn’t already exciting enough for Pat Green to be coming to town other than for Texas Independence Day, imagine how delighted I was to discover that Casey Donahew Band would be opening. Pat Green is one of the finest Texas country artists out there today and it would be hard to say enough great things about him and his music, but I’m almost as excited to see Casey Donahew Band. PFG has been an easy sell to some of my less country-musically inclined friends and readers who may not be as familiar with CDB so I thought I’d share a bit about why I’m so excited to see them (for more specific thoughts on their most recent album see here).

Casey Donahew Band’s corpus of records is relatively small – and their first album was only released in 2006 – but they have enough strong material on those 6 studio albums to play at least 3 awesome concerts without repeating a thing. For me the overriding themes of CDB are energy, authenticity, originality and humor. Right from the first track of their first album, Stockyards on Lost Days, CDB made it clear that they are Texas country through and through and here to rock. Stockyards, like a lot of their material, is Texas country-rock, with the twang of CD’s voice and plenty of fiddle plus lots of drums and electric guitar, with a foundation of original lyrics and performed with contagious energy and authentic emotion.

One of the things I find so enjoyable about CDB is their originality and sense of humor. Songs like White Trash Story, Double-Wide Dream, White Trash Story II and White Trash Bay blend portraits of original characters and Americana with funny juxtapositions that say yeah this is real life but we can laugh at it and ourselves too. Or CDB can turn a heartbreak song into something rollicking and fun like Go to Hell or just be funny for fun’s sake like Loser. The lyrical content of their songs is, in a very fun way, all over the map. It’s unexpected to hear an up tempo song about a woman shooting her husband with a shotgun but that’s what we get with Twelve Gauge.

Another highlight is the development of CDB’s ballad singing and composition skills across the arc of their albums. As compared to Lost Days which features significantly less variety, CDB opened up in their self-title album particularly in terms of tempo and tone, including a number of slower-paced and mid-tempo songs with a more obviously melancholy tone in addition to songs featuring unrestrained lyrical and instrumental energy. This same development continued on Moving On – the overriding theme of which was heartbreak love songs (my favorites being Broken and Breaks My Heart, though my sense is more people prefer Angel) – and through their later albums.

The energy that Casey Donahew Band brings to the table is more complex that just writing upbeat party anthems, though they get slightly closer to that in their latest album. This energy and their lyrical originality shines through in songs like Stockyards and One Star Flag about Texas, cowboy songs like No Doubt and That’s Why We Ride, love songs like Whiskey Baby and Lovin’ Out of Control and hard times songs like Homecoming Queen and Moving On. In particular I love Casey Donahew’s heartbreak love songs like Sorry, Next Time, Running Through My Head, Where the Rain Can’t Find Me, Runaway Train and California. There are no doubt great songs still to be written about breaking up and crying on a barstool, but one of CDB’s particular skills is mixing up the anger, hurt, despair, revenge, etc. with a little humor and considerable insight and empathy into up tempo songs the listener can have fun with while still considering, and actually I think more fully experiencing, the underlying emotions.

Hope to see everyone at Irving Plaza in New York City on September 9 for this show – should be a great one!

Let’s Burn a Country Music CD

Folks who’ve heard a bit of country here and there and are looking to get a little more involved have often asked me for country recommendations. I never got the chance to swap vinyls but I do remember sharing cassette tapes and then, the crown-jewel of childhood music sharing, mixed compact discs. There’s still something wonderful about a burned CD mix, especially with the song titles written in sharpie on the front of the CD. In the spirit of putting together a mixed CD for you dear reader and friend, I thought I’d share what I would now put onto a mixed CD as a country music primer.

At least for the CDs I’d make as a kid, you could typically get 22 or so songs to fit on there, so that’s the list I’ve put together. By way of qualification, I don’t mean to suggest that I think the below songs are the best or even my favorite 22. This isn’t the country mix I’d choose if stranded on a desert island with only my boom box and one CD. And neither is this a listing of the songs I think represent the country music canon. Rather this is intended to serve as an introductory flight of country songs – a tasting of different eras and styles, so a new listener can wet their beak. It’s for this reason I’ve intentionally omitted certain artists or songs, especially if they are more well-known or contemporary. For example, it’s hard to put together a list like this and not include a song like The Devil Went Down to Georgia or anything by Johnny Cash, Garth Brooks or Dolly Parton. Similarly, if we were (virtually) doing one of those data CDs you could get more songs on, I would surely have put something by Carrie Underwood, Patsy Cline, Reba, Hank Jr., and Tim McGraw on here. But anyway I’ve tried in my selections to put together a mix that reflects at least some songs and artists folks might not be familiar with already together with some classics, so a listener can decide what they like best and what country roads they’d like to further explore.*

1. Mama Tried – Merle Haggard
2. L.A. Freeway – Guy Clark
3. Pancho and Lefty – Townes Van Zandt
4. Lost Highway – Hank Williams Sr.
5. Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain – Willie Nelson
6. Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man – Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn
7. Forever and Ever, Amen – Randy Travis
8. Guitars, Cadillacs – Dwight Yoakam
9. Independence Day – Martina McBride
10. Me and Bobby McGee – Kris Kristofferson
11. Mountain Music – Alabama
12. Stand By Your Man – Tammy Wynette
13. Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’ – Charley Pride
14. Copperhead Road – Steve Earle
15. Wide Open Spaces – Dixie Chicks
16. He Stopped Loving Her Today – George Jones
17. Chattahoochee – Alan Jackson
18. I Can Still Make Cheyenne – George Strait
19. The Road Goes on Forever – Robert Earl Keen
20. This Time Around – Randy Rogers Band
21. Texas on My Mind – Pat Green
22. Colder Weather – Zac Brown Band

*This virtual CD is also presented with apologies, since I’ve not given credit to the songwriters or original recording artists in some cases, and instead I’ve listed the singers whose rendition I’d like to be on our CD.

Baseball & Country Music: Part 2 – Country All-Stars

There are some baseball players with truly great taste in country music, and there are also some truly great players with a taste for country. And then of course there are those most special of cases where the two come together.  My listings below of players and their associated songs do not necessarily represent current music choices.  In some cases it was more fun to look at songs players have chosen within the last couple of years, including when there was a real gem a year or two ago but their more current choice was less exciting.  These listings necessarily reflect my imperfect information, in many cases drawn from local sports reporting, and if I’ve misstated any player’s preferences I’d be happy to talk the confusion out over a game of catch.

Player performance combined with choosing country songs that align with my music preferences are the main drivers of the rankings below. Also weighing in were my feelings on what would be an appropriately motivating walk-up song and my desire to present more fun examples of player music choices which resulted in my not duplicating players across the various lists.  For example, Dillon Gee’s choice of an RRB song would clearly have put him towards the top of Players Who Like Great Modern Country, but his incongruous other choice of Nuthin’ But a “G” Thang made him a more fun entry onto the weird combos list.  These rankings also evidence my favorable disposition towards more unique music choices (e.g. God’s Gonna Cut You Down is an awesome and intimidating song for a dominant relief pitcher, but it loses a little something each additional guy that picks the song).  On the flip side I’ve given short shrift to even great players who like relatively common artists or songs.

5 Elite Players Who Like Country:

5. Buster Posey – Hell on Wheels (Brantley Gilbert)
4. John Lester – I Use What I Got; Gonna Know We Were Here (Aldean)
3. Corey Seager – U Turn (Chase Rice); Night’s on Fire (David Nail)
2. Zack Greinke – Runnin’ Outta Moonlight (Randy Houser); Anywhere With You (Jake Owen)
1. Kyle Seager – Life is a Highway (Rascal Flatts cover); Night’s on Fire (David Nail); Wild Ones (Kip Moore)

Top 8 Players Who Like Great Modern Country:

8. John Danks – Should’ve Been a Cowboy (Toby Keith)
7. Mark Reynolds – Country Boy (Aaron Lewis); Barefoot Bluejean Night (Jake Owen); Cruise (FGL)
6. Josh Osich – Right Where I Need to Be (Gary Allen); American Outlaws (Whiskey Meyers)
5. Dan Uggla, Colin Rea – Homegrown (ZBB)
4. Aaron Hill – Knee Deep (ZBB plus Jimmy Buffett); It’s a Great Day To Be Alive (Travis Tritt)
3. Bryan Flynn – Freight Train (Aaron Watson)
2. Charlie Morton – Gin, Smoke, Lies (Turnpike Troubadours); Palmetto Rose (Jason Isbell
1. Brock Holt – Ragged as the Road (Reckless Kelley), My Hometown (Charlie Robison), Dance Her Home (Cody Johnson) [Editor’s Note: Mr. Holt’s music choices, only some of which are listed here, evidence fine, fine taste indeed. And he’s a heck of a ballplayer.]

Top 10 Players Who Like Great Classic Country:

10. Cody Allen – God’s Gonna Cut You Down (Cash); Outsiders (Church)
9. Wade Miley – Thank God I’m a Country Boy (John Denver), Backwoods (Justin Moore)
8. Kevin Gregg – A Country Boy Can Survive (Hank Jr.)
7. Alex Wilson – Snake Farm (Ray Wylie Hubbard)
6. Daniel Mengden – Long-Haired Country Boy (Charlie Daniels)
5. David Robertson, Kendall Graveman – Sweet Home Alabama (Skynyrd)
4. Lucas Harrell – When the Man Comes Around (Johnny Cash)
3. Devin Mesoraco – Fishin’ in the Dark (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band)
2. David Ross – Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler) (Alabama)
1. Mark Lowe, Adam LaRoche – Copperhead Road (Steve Earle)

Top 7 Elite Baseball Players Who Like Great Country:

7. Mark Buehrle – The Wind (ZBB)
6. Matt Holliday – Chicken Fried (ZBB)
5. John Lackey – Friends in Low Places (Garth Brooks)
4. Jake Peavy – Ramblin’ Fever (Haggard)
3. Adam Wainwright – Song of the South (Alabama)
2. Matt Carpenter – Long Hot Summer Day (Turnpike Troubadours cover)
1. Madison Bumgarner – Fire on the Mountain (Marshall Tucker Band); Simple Man (Lynyrd Skynyrd)

Top 5 Weirdest Country Combos:

5. Bryce Harper – Wagon Wheel (Darius Rucker cover); Flower (Moby); Boyfriend (Bieber); The Best is Yet to Come (Sinatra)
4. Andrew Cashner – Chillin’ It (Cole Swindell); How to Be the Man (Riff Raff)
3. Paul GoldSchmidt – It’z Just What We Do (FGL) and We Went (Randy Houser); One Step Closer (Linkin Park)
2. Matt Cain – She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy (Kenny Chesney); Hillbilly Deluxe (Brooks & Dunn); Men in Black (Will Smith); Team (Iggy Azalea)
1. Dillon Gee – Shotgun (Randy Rogers Band); Nuthin’ But a “G” Thang (Dr. Dre & Snoop)

There are plenty of very good players with very good song choices that I haven’t mentioned in the lists above. These players are probably the core of baseball country: significant baseball talent and above average country music choices.  See, e.g., Ross Ohlendorf/ Brent Morel/ Matt Wieters (Barefoot Bluejean Night), Joe Blanton/ Jeff Clement (Hillbilly Deluxe), Joe Paterson (How Bad Do You Want It), Chris Owings (Sunny and 75), Andrew Benintendi (I Love This Life); Billy Butler (Chillin’ It, Drunk on You); Gordon Beckham (Chicken Fried); Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Eight Second Ride); Paul Janish (Ain’t Going Down till the Sun Comes Up); Travis Wood (You Can’t Hide Redneck).  The good taste of baseball talents like these perk our ears up when we least expect it and let us rock out to 15 or so seconds of a nice country song when we’re already living life pretty good at a baseball game.

Album Review: Gotta Be Me – Cody Johnson

Writing something about Cody Johnson is long overdue having looked down at my phone so many times to see that a song I was thoroughly enjoying was a Cody Johnson. I decided it made the most sense to consider CJ’s newest album to stay current, etc and expected to find almost exclusively great things to say.  But on a closer listening at just the material off Gotta Be Me, the story is a bit more mixed.  There are some great moments on the album but there are also some wide misses and a number of songs middling about somewhere in between.

Leading off the category of wide misses, Kiss Goodbye starts off unpleasantly with some spoken-word, country-rap type lyrics.  I had brief hopes of redemption after the start of the second verse “I turn off my radio as I turn off your county road/ to pick you up just like I’ve done at least a thousand times/ the gravel underneath these tires/ half mile stretch of ol’ barbed wire”, but this verse didn’t lead anywhere and the rhymes in the song could be seen coming a mile away.  CJ’s vocals are solid, but (thankfully) this song doesn’t come off as authentic for Johnson and my primary takeaway is that, artistically and financially, this song could have been more profitably farmed out to a Brantley Gilbert or Jason Aldean.  Ditto for Billy’s Brother.  We can see the rollicking Ain’t Going Down ‘Til the Sun Comes Up kind of fun CJ is going for here, but bro-country emptiness overwhelms.  I could see this song playing a bit better live.

In the forgettable category, I’d put I Know My Way Back (Clara’s Song) and I Ain’t Going Nowhere Baby.  There’s nothing wrong with these songs, and in the modern pop country realm they stack up favorably, but they are just too cookie-cutter.  I Know My Way sounds like a mash-up between Uncle Kracker (on account of the opening chords) and then I want to say Easton Corbin or Brett Eldredge (I can’t quite put my finger on why).

Somewhere above forgettable but not quite good is Gotta Be Me, the album’s title track, which has plenty of Texas twang and some great harmonica and steel guitar action.  The theme’s a fine one, but the content comes off as superficial (including the cringeworthy rhyme “I had a girl/ her name was Pearl”). Half a Song sounds like a slightly better version of a Blake Shelton song I’ve heard before.  It’s not original and at times the vocals are overproduced, but it does make for easy listening.

In the good category I’d first put Chain Drinkin’, solid primarily in the straightforward simplicity of the song.  Right from the outset the song establishes itself as good old fashioned feel-good, toe-tapping, upbeat and up-tempo country western swing.  And so the song succeeds. Wild as You succeeds for a similar reason: a familiar motif of wild beauty is packaged inside a sweet delivery and taped up with some fitting fiddle, the song doesn’t break any new ground but neither does it try to do too much.  In the same category, Grass Stains, not written by CJ, opens up nicely with some steel guitar and two good verses with lyrics like “This white v-neck that I got on/ as clean as a whistle, bright as a day/ I got new spit shine on my old boots/ starched these wranglers just for you, yesterday”.  But the roll into the first chorus feels contrived.  The choruses themselves bring to mind Paisley’s Ticks, but whereas the tongue-in-cheek chorus deliveries in Ticks allows the listener to play along for some hijinks not meant to be taken seriously, Grass Stains doesn’t display the same self-awareness.  Nevertheless I’d rate the song pretty good especially on account of the pleasantly twangy delivery and upbeat tempo and instrumentation including some solid fiddle.

In the great or near-great category I’d put With You I Am, a nice simple love song.  The authenticity of the lyrics forgives a delivery that is a bit too intentionally smooth and pop country.  The lyrical contrasts of what the narrator isn’t or wasn’t (e.g “I ain’t no Patrick Swayze”, “that guy with the big ol’smile as wide as the Rio Grande”) paired with the deceptively simple title lyric, towards the end with the right amount of electric guitar to match comes together for a very good song. Every Scar Has a Story is another substantive contribution off the album.  The song evokes and maintains a cowboy grittiness while tackling the topic of emotional scars from a love lost.  I like the contrast of the physical hurts with the emotional, and I like that the nature and timing of the love lost is not made explicit because it absolutely doesn’t need to be.  It doesn’t matter the details of the loss, we’re more concerned with the fact of the scar and the lingering hurt and the nostalgic lyrics and tone of delivery almost summon up that these details are omitted because they are too painful and are trying to be forgot. Walk Away is a great song too, notably co-written by Randy Rogers – the purveyor of so much awesome and original material.  Walk Away is an original spin on the timeless hard times intersection of love and cheating with the narrator sitting down on a bar stool next to his love’s cheater in crime and addressing the ballad to him, there being no ambiguity that the narrator is prepared to give his love a second chance.  There’s no monkey business around the instrumentals or the vocals, the lyrics don’t try to overdeliver and we’re just left with a wonderfully pure song.  Lastly, The Only One I Know (Cowboy Life) is my favorite song off the album.  It’s a traditional cowboy song that favorably recalls the best of George Strait or Casey Donahew Band, and the sentimental, nostalgic lyrics are original and heartfeltly delivered.

Overall I think the album is a great effort and it’s awesome to see this independent label album make it to No. 2 on the country charts and With You I Am break into the top 50. I don’t begrudge the desire for mainstream success, but as with this album I think Johnson can get there while keeping at least one tip-toe in Texas country territory.  This album doesn’t ooze Texas country like an album by Pat Green or CDB does, but the instrumentation and CJ’s authentic cowboy content does enough.  While the nods to or outright deviations into bro-country are not at all flattering, Johnson clearly has so much talent and really shines as a cowboy troubadour with the songs that are simple yet substantive.

Suggested Set List for Pat Green’s NYC Texas Independence Day Concert

I’ve been fortunate enough to make it to Texas Independence Day at Terminal 5 in New York City each of the past 6 or 7 years. Minus one lost year when I was in Mississippi and one of those years attending only one of the two shows – that year TID being broken up into two shows. Pat Green’s missed at least one of those years too, so I figure Pat and I are even. In anticipation of this year’s show the date of which I don’t think has been announced, I’d like to suggest a set list just in case PFG happens to stumble across this post. (And if JAB, Randy Rogers Band, Casey Donahew Band or whoever else may also be playing so requests I’d be happy to put together set lists for them as well.) To be clear, this list doesn’t represent the 15 or so songs that I’d most like to hear. Choosing only among my favorites, which are hard to narrow down to 15 anyway, probably wouldn’t make for the best concert. Rather, I’ve tried to consider the following factors: (1) the songs Green seems to like to play in concert generally and at NYC TID shows in the past specifically, (2) the venue, (3) the typical NYC audience likely to turn out, (4) balance among the types and tempos of songs, (5) sampling across Green’s albums, (6) danceability, (7) singability and (8) the nature of the event.

1. Here We Go
2. Cannonball
3. Baby Doll
4. Girls From Texas

I think Here We Go is a strong choice to lead off the concert. It’s not only a nice chronological bookend being the first song off Green’s first album, it’s also a great rev up song to get the crowd going and a signal that, yeah, this is going to be a strong concert where we hear at least some unexpected old greats. This song will flow well into the similarly up-tempo Cannonball and Baby Doll, the latter of which is a good segue into Girls From Texas (which I don’t particularly care for, but does take us to Green’s latest album Home and seems to be a crowd pleaser particularly at a Texas-centric events like this).

5. Texas On My Mind
6. Whiskey
7. Don’t Break My Heart Again
8. Life Good as it Can Be

I really like Texas On My Mind and I think it’s appropriate given the nature of the event and a solid Texas back-to-back after GFT. This is only a semi-regular Green concert offering at least up north, so if Green wanted to substitute a Texas song he wrote I’d be OK with I Like Texas instead. Having been reminded that PFG can rock out and that he’s true Texas Country (and anyway we’re all throwing up horns tonight), I think it’s then time to slow things down with Whiskey (underrated) and then into an older and newer slow song. If time allowed and we can get in an extra song I’d add Threadbare Gypsy Soul in after Whiskey (Whiskey in my opinion is a better choice than Galleywinter which Green seems to like to play), perhaps with Casey Donahew coming out to sing Willie’s part of the duet. Although I like the juxtaposition of Life and Wave (see next grouping), I think Day One could be substituted here for Life although to go along with that sub I’d also replace Don’t Break with Temporary Angel.

9. Wave on Wave
10. Carry On
11. All The Good Things Fade Away
12. Just Fine
13. Southbound 35
14. Three Days

There’s nothing to pick up the tempo again better than Wave on Wave, particularly since this is the one song we can count on most of even the New Yorkers to be able to sing along to seamlessly. And I think playing this song earlier in the show clarifies (if there was any doubt) that PFG is more than a one-trick pony and avoids the predictability of waiting for this on the encore. The rest of the grouping represents core Green offerings both in terms of concert playing frequency and caliber of content, and I’d be particularly pleased with Southbound and Three Days ending the concert set proper. This is a nice chunk of vintage PFG songs that loyalists will be happy to sing along to but that newcomers would also enjoy. Reversing the order of the last two songs does have some merit since Southbound is a bit more up tempo to close out the show (pre-encore) but I give Three Days the nod because it feels more nostalgic and I think the repetition of the chorus lines allow more people less versed in Green to sing along going into the end of the show.

15. Lucky
16. Take Me Out to a Dancehall

Lucky was also a contender to open up the show (ultimately a Texas song got the call given context) but would make a fine choice to start the encore particularly given the excitable and familiar riffs the song starts with and the awesome lyrics blending patriotism, nostalgia and general optimism. Take Me Out to a Dancehall is probably Green’s most recognizable song besides Wave on Wave, fitting for the venue and an overall very upbeat song but one that ends on a calmer, romantic note appropriate for the end of the show.

In trying to put together this objectively optimal set list I think I’ve been pretty impartial. Personally I’d love to hear Rusty Old American Dream – which I’ve never been able to hear in concert and think is a sorely underrated song. I’d also love to hear Poetry and John Wayne and Jesus and George’s Bar is another stellar song omitted here. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t note that there are some absolutely rabid Down to the River fans who will be saddened if this song isn’t played. Plenty of other great PFG songs too, but unfortunately never enough time, and I think the set list I’ve put together would make for a very solid show.