Editor’s note: From 2012 to 2014, Matt Rice wrote the music column Matt on Music for The Eastern Echo, the student newspaper for Eastern Michigan University. In 2016, Matt relaunched this column on The Young Folks. You can read past installments of this column here.
With this week came releases from two of my favorite country artists from the 21st century. One of the albums is the artist in question’s best album, the other their worst.
Angaleena Presley: Wrangled (Thirty Tigers) First of all, album cover of the millennium. Second, a strong album comes with it. American Middle Class, Presley’s debut, was a very good (if slight) record that didn’t quite reach the level of bandmates Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe’s best solo work. Here, she writes her finest group of songs since the seven she received credits for on Hell on Heels, experimenting just enough for distinction while rarely overdoing it. She stumbles somewhat on “Country”—an intense track that falls apart when Yelawolf comes in to deliver a lackluster verse and praise Sturgill Simpson—and on an opener (co-written with Lambert and Monroe) whose reference to the “whores in high school” contradicts later honest takes on teenagehood (“High School”) and sexism (“Good Girl Down”). Beyond that, this is a rollicking country album, the most consistent to come from an Annie since Platinum and exactly the sort of relentless, confident release you’d want from Holler Annie. 8.5/10
Brad Paisley: Love and War (Arista Nashville) In June of 2009 (the first year of the Obama era), Paisley released his best album, American Saturday Night. In April of 2017 (the first year of the Trump era), he’s released his worst. If you think it’s a coincidence, compare the politics. American Saturday Night, while often falling on neoliberalism, was great precisely because of the audaciousness of its political viewpoint, balancing typical country fare (“Then,” “Catch All the Fish”) with surprising jolts of feminism (“She’s Her Own Woman”), multiculturalism (the title track), and love letters to progress (“Welcome to the Future”). This continued on This is Country and Music, as well as Wheelhouse, in which Paisley’s moderate idealism resulted in the notorious “Accidental Racist.” Then came Moonshine in the Trunk, in which the mildly feminist “Shattered Glass” was the only sign Paisley had retained any sort of unique partisanship. And now, this. At its best, his latest is boilerplate, “Heaven South” and “Today” serviceable in the same way songs like “The World” and “Beat This Summer” were. At its worst, there’s “selfie#theinternetisforever.” Since “Online,” the internet has been a cruel Achilles’ heel of country’s most fervent humanist. But that one at least didn’t stoop to transphobia and tired misogyny. 5.5/10
Single of the Week – Paramore: “Hard Times” (Fueled By Ramen) Since I missed last week, I should do two singles of the week again. But that would be unfair to any song I seat next to this one.