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Emma's Country Column: Rewinding 2021 Releases (Part 1)

By Emma Duncan--Eagle Editor

In the words of Parker McCollum, “Goodnight, good day, hello, and Happy New Year.”

Whether or not it seems like it, the year is officially 2022. COVID-19 has thrown a major wrench in most Eagles’ lifestyles, including mine. However, listening to music has helped ground me.

I love going to concerts and hearing artists such as Jon Pardi, Ashley McBryde, and Luke Combs play live. (Photo by Emma Duncan)

Before I go on, I should probably introduce myself. I'm Junior Emma Duncan! Some readers have probably received emails from me regarding interviews or seen me snapping pictures at pep rallies or in their classrooms. All of that work goes into making this very publication.

While I’m editing photographs or transcribing quotes, I’m almost always listening to country music. I grew up on it, and have developed a certain taste in what styles of this genre I like, and which ones I’d rather leave be.

Some are probably asking, “What does she mean ‘styles’? Isn’t it all just country?”

Not exactly. To me, there’s "classic country" (I love you Hank Jr.), which has branched into two modern sub-genres: “pop country,” the more mainstream music you hear on the radio (not always my favorite); and “real country,” where I find most of my favorite songs and artists.

“Real country” in this modern era has classic western roots, folk and bluegrass sounds, and alternative attitude, featuring relatable storylines and strong instrumentals. "Real country" artists hope to make their heroes proud and understand that even though society is changing constantly, music doesn't have to. Their songs aren’t doused in autotune, and their albums don’t exist to make a few bucks, but to connect us. This messy, unorganized filing cabinet of music has flown under the radar for years, but is finally getting some much deserved attention through artists like Tyler Childers, Cody Jinks, Zach Bryan, and Billy Strings. Nonetheless, there’s plenty of others who make up this smorgasbord of sound.

I'm sure there are some who will not be happy with some of my descriptions, and that’s okay. Everyone has their own taste in music, but those with similar tastes are free to keep reading as I rewind my favorite male music releases from 2021.

To begin, Morgan Wallen kicked off 2021 with the release his double album Dangerous on Jan. 8. Regardless of Wallen’s past, one can’t doubt the man’s charm, creativity, and talent. This double album featured songs rooted in his “I don't need anyone’s approval” attitude, which readers can learn more about in a review I co-wrote last year. This set was too good in my opinion, and it required not one, but two lengthy articles to do it justice.

Besides Dangerous, Wallen was only musically active on his social media platforms, previewing unreleased songs including “Flower Shops," a sappy, apologetic love song which received so much attention that he and friend ERNEST decided to release the song together on New Year’s Eve for fans like me to quickly learn every heartfelt word.

Dale Brisby, pictured above, sang a verse in "Cowboy Scale of 1 to 10" alongside Red Steagall, Ned LeDoux, Corb Lund, and Cody Johnson, of course. (Photo Used Under the Fair Use Provision of the US Copyright Code)

Addictive songwriting like this was seen in Cody Johnson's double album Human, released on Oct. 8. This album is significantly shorter than Wallen’s, but has listeners covered in all areas of country. It’s got highs and lows, honky tonk fasts and loving slows, and even a song for dreaming about your future home. Every song has meaning, but my favorites include “Cowboy Scale of 1 to 10," “Stronger," “Longer Than She Did," and “I Always Wanted To."

Out of all the mainstream country artists, Johnson and Wallen are definitely in my top three, right beside Luke Combs, who also made some noise during 2021, releasing “South On Ya," “The Great Divide," and “Doin' This." Each has major meaning, per Combs’ usual style, but “The Great Divide” stood out most to me. Featuring impressive bluegrass artist Billy Strings, the song calls humanity out on our selfish nature, warning that “we’re about to fall apart now if we can’t reach the other side.”The sentiment is relatable; I may not share the beliefs of one of my peers, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want the two of us to get along. There’s more to life than being right, which Combs clearly understands.

When one thinks of expressive and impactful songwriting like this, Eric Church is probably the first to come to mind, especially with “Stick That In Your Country Song." On April 16 and then 23 he surprised fans with twin albums Heart and Soul. Both were filled with passion, but besides “Hell Of A View” and “Bright Side Girl," Soul didn’t do much for me. On the other hand, I know almost every word to the entirety of Heart, with “Never Break Heart” having lyrics that stole my heart.

Parker McCollum is an artist stealing the hearts of thousands of girls recently based on his country and city blended appearance, and his music is a perfect reflection of that. Songs from his newest album Gold Chain Cowboy, released July 30, like “Dallas” and “Heart Like Mine” embrace the dialed-back, saddened saloon style, while “Wait Outside” and “Falling Apart” better fit the country-rock attitude. Special edition track “Blanco County Rain” offers a nice transition between these two parallels.

A complete contrast from McCollum, Ian Munsick is western all the way. Since Feb. 26, he’s climbed high with album Coyote Cry. “Long Haul” emerged most popular from this set, but shouldn’t take away from “Mountain Time," “Come Home To You," or an included cover of Fleetwood Mac’s hit song “Dreams." The old soul in me hates to say this, but Munsick’s rendition of this track might be better than the original. He’s just that good.

Tyler Childers (left) released one song during 2021, that being his rendition of the late John Prine's (right) song "Yes I Guess They Oughta Name a Drink After You". (Photo Used Under the Fair Use Provision of the US Copyright Code)

Munsick’s sound flows wonderfully with that of Flatland Cavalry, Tyler Childers, Zach Bryan, Carson Jeffrey, Josh Meloy, and Colby Acuff, two of which released albums in 2021. Flatland Cavalry released their album Welcome to Countryland on July 2 featuring “Some Things Never Change," “No Ace In The Hole," and “Gettin' By” to name a few.

Colby Acuff released If I Were the Devil, named after the biggest hit from that album which had been out prior. To be honest, every song in this setlist is amazing, and if I had to choose, it'd have to be my favorite album of the year. Acuff has a way of making similar sounds tell individual stories with his powerful voice control and instrumental skills.

If I had more space, I could go on and on about Flatland, Acuff, and the rest of these boys, so expect artist reviews about them sometime this semester. Their songs are in a league of their own, featuring talent only understood when listening to their music.

So far, my review has only featured men, but that doesn’t mean the women were lacking lyrically this last year. Their songs were just as meaningful, so next issue I’ll highlight my favorite female albums and songs. Stay tuned, and happy listening!

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