Sometimes bloggers just want to have fun.
Kyle Akers started his feature, “Lost In The Shuffle,” as a zany way to unearth old classics and introduce readers to different artists and songs. Now, with Kyle’s permission, I have decided to try it out for myself, just this once.
How it normally works is that Kyle hits the shuffle button on his iPad and MP3 library (I, myself, will be using my Google Play library), listens to ten songs chosen at random, and makes a snap judgment on how good or bad those songs are, and produces a subjective ranking of the playlist.
As he says on his website, it’s silly and without purpose, but as someone who’s enjoyed that feature, this is my simple way of (hopefully) extending a spotlight on one of the best sites currently operating in the country music (and gaming) universe, as well as having my own fun with it. Without further ado, let’s see what my library hands us …
Song No. 1 – Dierks Bentley, “So So Long (Live)”
Wow, this is random. Truthfully, I wouldn’t place “So So Long” anywhere near my list of favorite Dierks Bentley songs, but this has always been a fun little ditty anyway. The live cut is probably the best showcase for it, so it’s fitting that it’s the one I happened to land on, but it still sounds a bit stiffer than it should be. At any rate, Bentley manages to handle this track with his usual good-natured humor and charisma, even if he’s done these kinds of songs better with, say, “How Am I Doin’.” Still, a retro Bentley cut is always welcome, and it looks like we’re off to a pretty good start!
Song No. 2 – Turnpike Troubadours, “Blue Star”
A song dedicated to Turnpike Troubadours front man Evan Felker’s uncle, Ervin, “Blue Star” is a song built with tact around a serviceman. In essence, the song is a celebratory look at a soldier finally coming home, and while it might skirt around some lingering problems this soldier could have, the song focuses more on the pure joy of having this person back home. As always, the band’s technical playing is on-point, as the blasting harmonica, supporting fiddle and rollicking acoustic groove help to sell the kind of upbeat, joyous mood this song is aiming for. Felker’s stiffer range might hinder the song’s actual joy, but this has always been an enjoyable song from the band.
Song No. 3 – Robert Ellis, “California”
Fair warning, not every song here may necessarily be country, and this is the first example of that. Anyway, on a technical level, there’s a few elements of “California” I could criticize, such as Robert Ellis’ offbeat melodic flow or the wonkier instrumental tones, but there’s a paranoid moodiness to this song I’ve always loved. Told from an outside perspective looking on at a woman who’s itching to leave her home filled with bad memories of a failed, toxic relationship, “California” does an excellent job at capturing the pain that lingers while also offering the slight potential for hope, even it still comes with the slightest bit of pessimism. If anything, the song does a great job of hinting at how much this woman has been hurt without going into explicit, unneeded detail, and while you hope she finds happiness again, the murkier production always adds an uneasy tension to her decision.
Song No. 4 – First Aid Kit, “Fireworks”
I seemed to be one of the only critics who really enjoyed First Aid Kit’s return with Ruins last year, and “Fireworks” was one reason for that. Right away, I love the atmospheric production that supports the theme of our narrator sharing a dream of losing her lover, hinting that this isn’t the first time it’s happened, either. It’s the imagery that’s most captivating, with metaphors (and a subsequent dichotomy) surrounding fire and ice to hint at the distance between them at this point. Sure, it tilts into fantasy over gritty details, but when it’s good, I’m not about to complain. And, as always, members Johanna Soderberg and Klara Soderberg sounds just as fantastic individually as they do together. I’m not sure if this is necessarily an easy sell for country fans – it does tilt into Americana-leaning production with the glistening acoustic, liquid keys and violin, but it’s the spacious mix that creates that dream-like feeling to perfectly compliment the song.
Song No. 5 – Alan Jackson, “Let It Be Christmas”
Uh … tis the season, kind of? Well, if Kyle started his first edition of this series with a Christmas song, I guess it’s fitting that I have one, too. Really, the essence of why this works is Alan Jackson himself. His greatest asset has always been his warmth as a performer, and as a kid, there was always something comforting in his promise, no – assurance – that Christmas is around the corner. It’s one of those songs that just puts you in the mood for the holiday, so I apologize if you’re one of those people who doesn’t like to play Christmas music until after Thanksgiving (or perhaps not at all), but I’m not exactly sad this appeared in the playlist!
Song No. 6 – Blackhawk, “I Sure Can Smell The Rain”
Ah, one of my favorite Blackhawk songs – yes! “I Sure Can Smell The Rain” is a song that knows how to cultivate atmosphere, starting with the glistening acoustic groove before blending in its low-simmering electric guitar and touches of reverb to hint at that coming metaphorical storm. And the narrator is just as scared knowing his lover’s spark is about to burn out, where even though he knows it’s likely for the best, he still wants to hold out hope he can dodge one more day of it all crashing down. The foundation is solid, and the execution is even better. I might have to go on a ‘90s country kick after this – just sayin’.
Song No. 7 – Will Hoge, “Illegal Line”
Considering Will Hoge’s newer material does next-to-nothing for me, I’m happy to revisit this old classic. In a nutshell, this song is seedy as all heck, and I love it. Will Hoge’s rage is furious and righteous as he sells the role of a migrant doing whatever he has to do to make it in the United States, no matter how dark and dirty the job, if only because it’s better than whatever he’s got waiting for him back home. “Tense” doesn’t even begin to describe it, really, and when that instrumental kicks in, it provides the kind of adrenaline rush that’s only as good as it is for the development of its story, which doesn’t end well for our narrator. Well, I suppose it still ends better than it could have for him, which is why this has always been one of my favorite Hoge songs.
Song No. 8 – Dwight Yoakam, “Ain’t That Lonely Yet”
I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but this song is … fine. In truth, it’s got the misfortune of being compared to Dwight Yoakam’s other comeback singles of its time, a bias I can’t get past, unfortunately. “Ain’t That Lonely Yet” still carries that same dusky, cool California atmosphere, and Yoakam sings the heck out of it as always; but the production also feels too polished sometimes, not carrying the weirder, more experimental textures of “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere” or “Fast As You.” Yoakam’s callous attitude here is fairly good, considering the subject matter, but in the context of Yoakam’s entire career, “Ain’t That Lonely Yet” is good instead of great.
Song No. 9 – Bobbie Gentry, “Ode To Billie Joe”
Truthfully, I’m not sure where to begin here, if only because “Ode To Billie Joe” is the kind of song you reserve for critical essays and discussions over a quick blurb on how much you like or dislike it. At any rate, it’s the song that dared to dream – a sparse, acoustic song that, for a moment, captivated America with its questions of why Billie Joe committed suicide, and what he and the narrator threw off the same bridge the day before. And the fact that there isn’t an answer to any of it is the point, speaking to small town nonchalance and inability to engage with the grief underneath in fear of it disrupting their own, perfect little worlds. More than 50 years after its release, I’m certainly not the first person to sing this song’s praise, and there’s a good reason for that.
Song No. 10 – David Bowie, “Lazarus”
Oh, this isn’t fair.
It’s hard, no, impossible not to consider the context of “Lazarus” in the timing of its release. Just two days after the release of Blackstar, David Bowie left this world, and it’s hard not to hear “Lazarus” in an entirely different light – I know I can’t. Sure, the technical elements are worth praising alone – the fantastic fuzzed out riff that the horns then mirror, or Bowie’s crushing delivery – but when reading between the lines, it makes the prophetic distance from his audience all the more stark. Not shying away from the desctructive force of cancer, Bowie wants his audience to know he’ll finally feel free with the release of death rather than just be the dead man walking. Calling it nihilistic would be unfair, especially when Bowie’s freedom comes with a crack in his delivery to suggest he’s still scared of facing that end. Calling it a triumphant swan song, however, is a more appropriate description.
And as for my rankings, considering I’m nearly in tears from “Lazarus,” there’s no way it’s not clinching the top spot for this “playlist,” but honestly, the rankings are harder than I imagined they’d be – there’s no song here I outright dislike or even think is mediocre. I guess it makes sense, considering these are all songs I liked enough to buy, but considering these rankings are based solely on pure enjoyment, here’s how the list would likely turn out:
1. David Bowie – “Lazarus”
2. Robert Ellis – “California”
3. Bobbie Gentry – “Ode To Billie Joe”
4. Will Hoge – “Illegal Line”
5. Alan Jackson – “Let It Be Christmas”
6. Blackhawk – “I Sure Can Smell The Rain”
7. First Aid Kit – “Fireworks”
8. Dwight Yoakam – “Ain’t That Lonely Yet”
9. Turnpike Troubadours – “Blue Star”
10. Dierks Bentley – “So So Long (Live)”
Once again, I want to thank Kyle Akers for letting me give this feature a spin. For more editions of this feature, be sure to check out his website here.