DISClaimer: Pistol Annies, Ruston Kelly Lead A Country Roots Rebellion

Pistol Annies. Photo: Miller Mobley

If you are a sick of contemporary “country” as I am, you will welcome today’s slate of artists who turn their backs on pop.

Leading a charge to save country music are Gretchen Wilson, Cody Johnson, Jimmie Allen, Jerrod Niemann, William Michael Morgan and our Disc of the Day winners, the Pistol Annies.

The DisCovery Award goes to another rootsy fellow, Ruston Kelly. Up to now, he’s probably best known to fans as the guy who inspired all of Kacey Musgraves’ new romantic tunes. His Rounder collection ought to change that.

Writers: none listed; Producer: none listed; Publisher: none listed; Broken Bow
– Rippling acoustic guitars, gentle piano notes, sky-blue celestial atmosphere and an awesome vocal. This swooningly romantic ballad rings all my bells. Ear candy that deserves massive radio spins.

CODY JOHNSON/Ain’t Nothin’ To It
Writer: David Lee; Producer: none listed; Publisher: none listed; Warner Bros./CoJo
– The title tune of Cody’s upcoming CD is a real-life ballad about making love work for the long haul. This by-god country singer just could be the savior we’ve been needing.

RUSTON KELLY/Mockingbird
Writers: Ruston Kelly; Producers: Kelly/Jarrad K; Publishers: none listed; Rounder
– A broken heart has seldom sounded sweeter or more hopeful. He sings with yearning grace, and the track swirls with an evocative blend of organ, guitars and punchy percussion. A spectacular debut.

Writers: none listed; Producer: none listed; Publisher: none listed; MCA
– Funky guitars, a choppy pop beat and a sassy, soul-sister vocal. It ain’t exactly country, but it has a saucy charm. It’s so individualistic and different sounding that I can’t imagine radio going for it.

PISTOL ANNIES/Stop, Drop and Roll One
Writers: Miranda Lambert/Ashley Monroe/Angaleena Presley; Producer: none listed; Publisher: none listed; RCA
– Delightfully humorous and loaded with moxie. Splendid trio harmonies, plenty of twang and wit to spare. I love these gals all to pieces.

Writers: none listed; Producer: none listed; Publishers: none listed; Warner Bros.
– It’s a slow jam with a slight r&b groove. But whatever it is, the warmth, intimacy and sensuousness of his vocal performance is center stage. The man can sure ‘nuff sing.

Writers: Wilson/Bridgette Tatum/Rob Hatch; Producer: none listed; Publisher: none listed; Redneck
– Righteously rocking. The video takes us back to Gretchen’s home turf of Pocahontas, IL for a tale of a wild gal who runs the cops crazy. “Girls like you make women like me look bad,” she wails. But she also adds, “Everyone knows a Stacy.” A spitfire of a single.

Writers: none listed; Producer: none listed; Publisher: none listed; BBR/Wheelhouse
– It’s in your name, bro. You are a rock singer, and all the redneck posturing in the world can’t make you country. Furthermore, you are from Detroit and flash your bling every chance you get — so how authentic is this stupid stomp about being from the hillbilly sticks?

JO DEE MESSINA/Reckless Love
Writers: Cory Asbury/Caleb Culver/Ran Jackson; Producers: Seth Mosley/ X O’Connor; Publishers: none listed; FCM
– Co-writer Asbury had a CCM version of this a little while ago. Messina’s country take on the tune features airy, chiming atmosphere and a penetrating, emotional, range-y performance from this always relatable vocalist. I remain a fan.

Writer: Jerrod Niemann; Lance Miller, JR McCoy; Producer: Jimmie Lee Sloas, Jerrod Niemann; Publishers: Audio Beer Tunes/ASCAP/New House Of Sea Gayle Music/ASCAP (Both admin. By ClearBox Rights), BMG Silver Songs (SESAC) / Still Working For All, Inc (SESAC) / Sonic Style Music (SESAC), administered by BMG Silver Songs; Curb Songs (ASCAP) / Twang Town, LLC (adm. by Curb Songs) (ASCAP) Curb
– Sung from the point of view of an active serviceman, this ballad also reflects the feelings of this stalwart USO entertainer. Admirable patriotism without the politics.


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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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