The Best of 2019…so far by Jeremy Riesenberg
As we hit the midpoint of 2019 (yes, I know it’s hard to believe!), it’s time to look back at the new releases and see what stands out so far. As we look back at the last six months, it is tough to determine at times if we are looking back six months, or further. Let’s get straight to the point, there’s a lot of great music coming out of Nashville right now, but the currents are showing that the format is coming back to a traditional vein right square in the middle of the 90’s. And that’s a good thing! So without further ado, here’s three of my favorite albums from 2019…so far. This list is just my personal highlights, and is by no means an end-all-be-all-best-of-list. There’s a ton of great music out right now, but these are the stand outs!
“The Prequel” – Luke Combs
If we’re talking current artists, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone hotter than Luke Combs right now. There’s not a chart out there he hasn’t topped this year, and his current hits like “Beautiful Crazy” among others fit right at home on the 92.5 KJJY playlists amongst the greats in country music. One of the unlikeliest success stories when he started, now Luke is just one of the biggest early successes in country, if not all time. Seriously, who else has had the success he has right out of the gate? But back to the music, coming off the success of his debut album, many wondered how Luke would follow it up. Put those worries to rest. The Prequel delivers. Blasting out of the gate with “Beer Never Broke My Heart”, The Prequel feels like a continuation of This One’s For You. However, with standout tracks like “Refrigerator Door” and “Even Though I’m Leaving”, we see a new layer of depth from Combs that bodes well for this second chapter of his career. Luke Combs is a no longer one of the brightest new comers in country music; we’re seeing a generational talent blow up right in front of our eyes. Hard to believe less than two years ago he was playing for a few thousand of us at Seven Flags here in Des Moines, right?
“The Reboot” – Brooks & Dunn w/ special guests
The compilation album none of us seen coming, is the album all of us needed. Although you can still catch Brooks & Dunn quite often on KJJY, they haven’t had a proper single on country radio for nearly a decade. In the meantime, we were left to wonder what would happen if Brooks & Dunn were still releasing music in this current era of country music. When it was announced they would be releasing The Reboot, with many of the format’s most popular current artists, it was easy to be skeptical. We should have known better! The Reboot gives us twelve songs of many of the biggest hits of Brooks & Dunn’s career with a special guest on each song. The album kicks off and gets your boots stomping immediately with “Brand New Man” featuring Luke Combs. The only thing better than this song in album form is seeing it live during the ACM Awards. Absolutely phenomenal. A cool surprise on the album was the creative freedom the new artists had to put their spin on these classics. The first time I heard “Neon Moon” with Kacey Musgraves, it stopped me in my tracks. Just brilliant, yet so different from the original. Additionally, putting the acclaimed but not always celebrated properly Ashley McBryde on “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone” provides another absolutely remarkable moment on an album full of them. I sincerely hope Ashley is including this track in her set list, as I want to see this live when she comes to Guthrie’s River Ruckus later this month. “The Reboot” is a 12 pack of pure country awesomeness, best consumed one after another. Next time, Kix and Ronnie, give us a case! You can never have too much of a good thing!
“Honkey Tonk Time Machine” – George Strait
Coming into 2019, there was rumors that a new George Strait album was on the horizon, but none of us could be prepared for the 13 tracks of pure country gold that The King blessed us with. Seriously, tracks like “Every Little Honky Tonk Bar” and “God and Country Music” sound absolutely at home on KJJY with classics like “Check Yes Or No” and “Heartland”. And at the root of it all, that’s exactly why this album works. Through his historic career, George has continued to stay true to what he does. I got the chance to hear a portion of this album ahead of its release while at Country Radio Seminar, and I was instantly blown away. My reaction on Facebook was this, “King George is coming to reclaim his throne.” What followed was one of the biggest first weeks in country radio history with “…Honky Tonk Bar” and an album that defies the odds, selling actual physical albums in the streaming era. Backed by stand out tracks “The Weight of the Badge” as well as the profound “What Goes Up”, when you drop the needle–because everything old is cool again and the best way to listen to an album will always be vinyl–you’re transported into a “Honky Tonk Time Machine”, where fiddle, steel and lyrical content matter. As the first half of 2019 comes to a close, my anticipation and love for country music are at an all-time high, and it’s due to fantastic albums like these three.