If I’m Honest by Blake Shelton

If I'm Honest Blake Shelton ★★★☆ As ambivalence-inspiring pop country goes, this would be a strong contender for album of the quarter; some bad choices, like running overlong, keep it from that crown.         It seems nearly impossible to point to any one thing about Blake Shelton's If I'm Honest that justifies just how endearing I find this album. The honky tonk opener "Straight Outta Cold Beer" is fun but isn't great; the follow up, "She's Got a Way With Words" is a little over-enamoured with itself. The same goes for "Doing it to Country Songs" and "Green," which might also be a perfect case...
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Lola by Carrie Rodriguez

Lola Carrie Rodriguez ★★★★ A bilingual country album that works just as well track-by-track as it does an album. Absolutely phenomenal.         Lola opens with one of three songs sung entirely in Spanish — one of four songs that are entirely monolingual — and closes with the same. Rodriguez referred to Lola in interviews as a “TexMex” album, which is true insofar as it is sung throughout in admixed Spanish and English, but that framing is key; listening to Lola, the first and final is the former, not the latter. Which is part of why songs like “Z” and “The West Side” (the latter the aforementioned...
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Detour by Cyndi Lauper

Detour Cyndi Lauper ★★☆☆ The woman who made professional wrestling famous sings country standards pretty well. But if this is a detour, it still seems like her end goal is a Vegas hotel.         A cursory look at the tracklist for Cyndi Lauper's Detour — and at least some knowledge of the artist herself — paints a pretty clear portrait. Lauper's looking for a public way into country: Detour is a country album, featuring names like Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson and Vince Gill (and Jewel?), made (entirely?) of covers. It's the kind of thing that gets marketed as a passion project by a connected superstar who maybe...
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Real. Country. Music. by Gene Watson

Real. Country. Music. Gene Watson ★★★★ A title like Real. Country. Music. can only mean you’re a ghost, and Watson leans into that with weeping lap steel and a beautiful record.       Real. Country. Music. begins with a little string intro, supplemented by a ghostly “ooo.” A brief pause and the opening track, “Enough for You,” launches. It’s a deeply sentimental way to start an album whose name could only be a dropping of the gauntlet. It also turns out wonderfully. That gauntlet’s a storied one; even a casual observer of country with some occasional experience of its history can tell. Almost every alternative movement in...
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Petals by Elephant Revival

Petals Elephant Revival ★★☆☆ It’s hard to imagine disliking Petals.           The first issue of QROCC was filled with questions and insinuations about the status of the Americana genre. It is, of course, storied, and possesses it’s own history (and Grammy). Since QROCC is largely an experiment in exploring country by someone who doesn’t have the deepest history with it, though, certain things about these histories elude me. And so some of these insinuations are based in ignorance, or in approaching the genre through different histories. There is, of course, an element of doing due diligence, but what I’ve looked into doesn’t necessarily change my...
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Scheherazade by Freakwater

Scheherazade Freakwater ★★★☆ The vocal harmonies are phenomenal, and the storytelling should keep your ears perked, but it skews a bit Jefferson Airplane.         When the guitar solo on “Down Will Come Baby” starts shading psychedelic, the way the banjo comes in is clearly meant to signal, structurally, a return to form. As much as it’s an instrument, it’s also a signifier; this fugue is coming to a close, and we’re here to let you know that you’re still on familiar ground. I noticed this mostly because that solo was, for a certain part of me at least, the most familiar thing I heard in...
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Going Down in History by Waco Brothers

Going Down in History Waco Brothers ★★★☆ The intersection of Operation Ivy-style punk and country works way better than you might imagine.           The Waco Brothers sing, straight up, “Cheap gas, my ass / Democracy is dead at last,” on Going Down in History, in case you were wondering whether you were in for some Operation Ivy or Screeching Weasel-ass punk in this zine. Luckily it’s better than Screeching Weasel, at least, because fuck those guys. Going Down in History definitely has that late-’80s to early-aughts anarchist vibe to it, as in the aforementioned lyric off “Building Our Own Prison,” but also in how the record...
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It’s About Time by Hank Williams Jr.

It’s About Time Hank Williams Jr. ★☆☆☆ Obsessed with his legacy, Bocephus declares himself mentally trapped in 1975, and there’s no arguing that.         From the opening notes of “Are You Ready For The Country,” it’s clear that Hank Williams, Jr’.s mission on this album is to cement himself in the pantheon. Considering that he’s Hank Williams Jr, that seems a bit unnecessary; but I suppose when you built your name on Outlaw Country and Southern Rock, the impulse to pretend you’re an outsider sticks around. It’s About Time does his legacy no favors, though: just take “God and Guns,” which reads and sounds like...
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What to Fear by Sean Watkins

What to Fear Sean Watkins ★★★☆ Watkins' What to Fear is full of Bush-era sentiments and politics, in a way that isn't nostalgic. There's a twist at the end that saves it from its own quagmire, resulting in a neat little album.       It's probably the case that there's plenty of music still being made that seems as though it never stepped foot outside of the Bush-era. 2008 wasn't that long ago, after all, and there was so much affect associated with it; the fear, the solipsism, the impotence. But all that gets really talked about now is how something is "post-9/11." Luckily we have...
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Timeless EP by The Swon Brothers

Timeless EP The Swon Brothers ★☆☆☆   An EP so bad it almost feels mean to talk about how gross it is.       A miniature manifesto: no matter whether it is called a critique of ideology or a psychoanalytic approach, the practice of reading a text for its symptomaticity is not of great interest to me. It is useful, and has been important; but to my goals it is not relevant. Take, for instance, the claims it would lead to when dealing with country music; anyone can tell you that these are songs about fragile masculinity, or white rage, or working class false consciousness. And these...
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The Ghosts of Highway 20 by Lucinda Williams

The Ghosts of Highway 20 Lucinda Williams ★★★★ The Ghosts of Highway 20 is a goddamn journey of an album.         The Ghosts of Highway 20 declares its intentions from the beginning, with guitars panned heavy left and right, trading on washy drive and harmonics before the brushed drums come in. The album’s about space and spacing, and the delicacy of the hook — “you couldn’t cry if you wanted to” — that precedes the elongated chorus, just “even your thoughts are dust” over and over again. And then, somehow, “Dust” bleeds into a solo that’s as delicate and high as you could imagine. If there’s...
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Weighted Mind by Sierra Hull

Weighted Mind Sierra Hull ★★★☆ An album of introspection by a prodigy that plays well, Weighted Mind’s complications buoy and sink it simultaneously.         The muted strums on “Queen of Hearts Royal Tea” that lead into the mandolin solo are the heart of Weighted Mind; forceful absences, technical displays that aren’t wrapped in technicity. They are a part of the song as a whole but are brought weight by what they anticipate, rather than any explicit change. They are — and Weighted Mind is — a sort of suspended potential, a repudiation that never quite finds itself a ground. If those strums are the heart, then...
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New City Blues by Aubrie Sellers

New City Blues Aubrie Sellers ★★★☆ A distinct sound and a solid, if strange, throughline make for an album that’s nearly great.         Storytelling is a fairly often-recurring theme in the reviews throughout QROCC, but odds are I’ll speak of narrative hardly ever at all. This is not because country records don’t have a narrative — or if that’s true, then it’s true because they don’t have a narrative, but many. The issue is that narrative is not a particular concern of mine, and that what it accomplishes is usually in tandem with other aspects (stylistic, structural, or otherwise) that I tend to find more...
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Nothing Shines Like Neon by Randy Rogers Band

Nothing Shines Like Neon Randy Rogers Band ★★★☆ Less cyberpunk than expected, but still full of little pleasures.         As an album, Nothing Shines Like Neon has some peaks and valleys; “Rain and the Radio” and “Old Moon New” both do what they’re trying to do well, while a song like “Actin’ Crazy” seems either so steeped in jargon (or just plain not well written) that it makes a whole mess. But as a total package, the record is so suffused with interesting imagery and sonic moments that it comes out ahead of being flattened. That imagery is the neon, and admittedly some of the interest...
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Another Black Hole by Malcolm Holcombe

Another Black Hole Malcolm Holcombe ★★★★   Hearing the spit bubble up on Holcombe’s lips is the make or break moment, and goddamned if he didn’t make it.       If the best albums use their opening seconds to indicate what’s in store, then Another Black Hole opens with deception. Based on “Sweet Georgia,” you might be lead to believe that you’re in for a pleasant little twang with a bit of a dark side. It’s fitting, in its way; this is an album about dying, and spitting, and not minding how much you hate it. The spit’s literal, and it’s remarkable. By “To Get By,” Holcombe’s already...
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