Best Albums of 2016


Ah, yes, it’s the end of the year so it’s time for my annual best albums post which I always thoroughly enjoy writing.  As you will notice almost all of these are rock/metal albums but since that’s my favorite style of music that shouldn’t be too surprising.

Aside from the first two, these are in no particular order.

**Edit as of Jan 18, 2017: I had to come back & add to this post because I’ve discovered 2 more albums (technically 3) which I would be greatly remiss if I left off of this list.

aa the black

  • The Black by Asking Alexandria: I already wrote a whole post about this album because it floored me so much when it debuted.  I’m not going to reinvent the wheel, so you can read that post here.  However, I should add that since the time this album was released Denis Stoff has exited the band & original lead singer Danny Worsnop has rejoined the band.  I never knew AA’s music before this album & what I have listened to since then I haven’t liked as much, so I have to say I was quite disappointed to learn that Denis had abandoned the group, especially after creating such a great album.  I’ve since come to appreciate Danny a bit more, but even so it pains me to think that the magic of this album will never be furthered.  If you can’t be bothered to read my full post about this album, at least check out the following songs: I Won’t Give InThe Black, & The Lost Souls.BSC Kentucky
  • Kentucky by Black Stone CherryOnce again I already wrote a blog post about this album when it debuted because I was so impressed with the music.  You can read that post here.  Since that time I’d like to add that I had the privilege of seeing BSC perform here in Raleigh & they were even more amazing live.  It’s so obvious that every single one of these guys is extremely talented so when you put them together they have a truly unmatched synergy.  Once again if you can’t be bothered to read this post, at least check out these songs: Cheaper to Drink AloneShakin’ My Cage, & The Rambler.uabb-sftb
  • Straight From the Barrio by Upon a Burning Body: With artwork that looks like graffiti & a title that honors the band’s upbringing in the barrios of San Antonio, this is a diverse & fun album that you do not want to miss.  Check out Till the Break of Dawn & Already Broken which include some fantastic Spanish inspired music as well as some Spanish lyrics.  Lyrically my favorite song is the inspiring piece The Outcast.  Also be sure not to miss the ending ballad My Distorted Reflection which presents a whole new side to this normally very “tough” sounding band.  who-you-selling-for
  • Who You Selling For by The Pretty Reckless: This right here is an album that absolutely begs to be played as an actual album, that is from top to bottom without skipping a single song.  With strong blues influences this disc shows great maturity both musically & lyrically.  I truly believe you can’t appreciate this album for its true genius without listening to it in its entirety, but some stand-out tracks include Hangman with its very dark Alice in Chains vibe, the catchy Take Me Down, & the funky Mad Love.i-prevail-lifelines-cover
  • Lifelines by I Prevail: This Michigan band made a huge splash two years ago when they covered Taylor Swift’s Blank Space, & this year marked the debut of their first full length album.  Don’t miss the catchy & snarky Stuck in Your Head & the equally fun Come and Get It.  The other single Scars is also one not to miss.joanne-lady-gag
  • Joanne by Lady Gaga: Ah, here’s the lone non-rock/metal album on the list!  But as some of you may already know, I’ve long been a Lady Gaga fan.  Regardless of what you think of her outfits & some of her more bizarre antics, you’d have to be crazy to deny the beauty of her powerful voice.  On this album Gaga displays her best songwriting to date while also showcasing a variety of different musical styles.  I have read some reviews that criticized the album for sounding so different throughout the various pieces but I think that’s exactly what makes it so fantastic.  Be sure to check out the title track, a gorgeous ballad written in honor of Gaga’s aunt who died at a young age.  Anyone who has ever experienced the loss of a loved one will relate to this song.  Other stand-out tracks include current single Million ReasonsJohn Wayne, & Angel Down.the-last-hero-ab
  • The Last Hero by Alter Bridge: Back in high school Alter Bridge was one of the first rock bands I ever appreciated & I’ve been a fan ever since.  Alter Bridge have always appealed to me because of their intelligent, well written lyrics as well as their combination of heavy riffs & soaring melodies.  These qualities are in great display on tracks such as lead single Show Me a Leader, the uplifting My Champion, & my personal favorite Poison in Your Veins.bad_vibrations
  • Bad Vibrations by A Day to Remember: I’d head of ADTR prior to this album but I wasn’t familiar with any of their music.  However, somehow I stumbled across several of the songs from this album & immediately fell in love.  I swiftly bought the album & became enamored with the entire thing.  Some of my favorite tracks include ParanoiaBullfightJustifiedTurn Off the Radio, & Naivety.  never-alone-stitched-up-heart
  • Never Alone by Stitched Up Heart: I came across Stitched Up Heart on YouTube one day a few months ago, probably while listening to In This Moment as the bands do have similarities.  This album is the band’s first full length compilation & it displays great maturity for a debut album.  Tracks like Monster definitely bring to mind In This Moment but even so the band has plenty of their own unique sound.  Also be sure to check out Finally Free & my favorite Bleeding Out.shotgunalbumfeb
  • All This Could Be Yours by Shotgun Revolution: I discovered this remarkable Danish band when Black Stone Cherry posted a link to one of their songs on their Facebook page.  I figured if BSC liked their music I would too, & right I was.  Why these guys aren’t more famous is beyond me because their music is both lyrically & sonically exceptional.  They definitely have a true classic rock sound but with just enough modern flair to not sound like a throwback band.  Be sure to check out City of Fire which starts out sounding a bit like a redneck throwdown but quickly morphs into a true rock song.  Also don’t miss Rise to Power (especially the guitar solo that starts around 2:27) & Suzie.  I feel so strongly about this album that I’m even going to include a link where you can order the album.  (The website says “preorder” but you can actually order it now . . . P.S. 12 Euros = about $12.50.)undeniable
  • Unden!able by Hellyeah: Hellyeah is a band that seems to be getting better with every new release.  This latest album makes a great workout disc (& one that is definitely not for the faint of heart) with hard-hitting tracks like Scratch a LieX, & Start a Riot.  Also check out the somewhat softer but equally interesting Human.getaway
  • Getaway by Adelitas Way: Adelitas Way left their record label & self-released this album which includes some of their best work to date.  My personal favorite is Low.  Other tracks not to miss include I Get AroundBad Reputation, & Sometimes You’re Meant to Get Used.aggressive-beartooth
  • Aggressive by Beartooth: I wasn’t familiar with Beartooth until a few weeks ago when I came across the title track from this album on YouTube.  Immediately I knew I’d found an album I had to purchase.  Lead singer Caleb Shomo is only 24 years old but you’d never know it by the amount of material he has already produced in his short life.  Other stand-out tracks on this album include Hated & Loser.  Also don’t miss King of Anythingsixx-am
  • Prayers for the Damned (Vol 1) & Prayers for the Blessed (Vol 2) by Sixx AM: I first discovered this double album when I came across We Will Not Go Quietly from Vol 2 on YouTube a few weeks ago.  I quickly delved into both albums & have been thoroughly impressed with the musicianship & lyrics throughout both albums.  Guitarist DJ Ashba (formerly of Guns & Roses) particularly stands out on both albums.  Other favorites from these albums are Barbarians (Prayers for the Blessed)Maybe It’s Time, & Prayers for the Damned.  I’ve never owned a Sixx AM album before but this double album makes me want to go back & listen to all of their older material.

That’s all, folks!  I hope you’ll take the time to listen to at least a few of these songs & maybe even purchase an album or two off of this list.  I promise you won’t be disappointed.  Happy 2017, everyone!

Maintaining Peace of Mind in a Violent World


Well, you don’t even need to watch the news or read a newspaper religiously to know that the world has been a violent place this past week or two.  Actually, to be fair, I’m not convinced there has ever been a time in history when the world wasn’t violent.  It just hasn’t always been as well reported as it is now.  But that’s not my point right now.  The point is in times like these, it’s easy to feel like the “world is coming to an end” or society is “going to hell in a hand-basket.”  So how does one maintain one’s sanity, one’s own peace of mind in the midst of all this chaos?  Well, I don’t know how other people manage, but I’ve been surviving largely off of music . . . basically my usual coping mechanism, but an extremely effective one nonetheless.music speaks

As an effort to help spread peace & sanity during these turbulent times, today I thought I’d share some of the songs that I have found particularly encouraging lately.  Before I do that, however, I’d just like to make a few simple statements.

First of all, why does it seem like so much of our society cannot comprehend how a person can support both policemen (& women) & black people?  This is just common sense to me.  I don’t know nearly enough about the matter to definitely say if we truly have a problem with police brutality in this country, but I will say that the recent case in Minnesota involving Philando Castile seems to me to be the most suspicious & egregious case to date (that’s gotten media attention, of course).  And I just can’t help but wonder if so many of these other cases would have ended differently if the suspect in question had been white.  Of course the answer is we’ll never know for sure, but nonetheless I can’t erase the thought from my mind.  Regardless, I think those of us who are not black need to remember that those who are have legitimate reasons to be a bit less trusting of cops in general.  It might have been over twenty years ago now, but the Rodney King tragedy is not easily forgotten.  Remember, not only was the man treated unjustly but the police officers responsible for his death were never punished & were in fact found innocent of wrong-doing.  Such things are not easily dismissed from one’s memory.  police brutality

Just like any other profession, I think there are both good cops & bad cops.  Expecting law enforcement officers to be held accountable for their actions in no way means I don’t appreciate their sacrifices & bravery on a daily basis.  It’s the same with any other profession that has the responsibility for making life-altering decisions.  For example, I’m a nurse, & I can say first-hand that most nurses I’ve met are truly wonderful people who are doing a great job serving the patients in their care.  However, I will also be the first to advocate for nurses being held accountable for making reckless or negligent decisions that negatively impact patients.  That in no way means I don’t support nurses.  It just means I want us to use our power & responsibility wisely.  The same goes with police officers.peace quote

Alright, I’ve run out of steam. On to the real purpose of today’s post, the music.

I’ll start off with this touching song from Black Stone Cherry.  The band was kind enough to share this on their Facebook page this week which reminded me of just how timely this song really is right now.  Lyrics below:BSC barn

Something about our world today
That makes me wanna cry
There’s too much anger & too much pain
Too much money & too many lies
If I could have one wish tonight
I would beg of us to forget our pride
If we could do just one thing right,
We could help each other to love our lives

[Chorus]
All I’m dreamin of is good times, good friends, & somebody to love
All I’m dreamin of is no fears, no tears, & blue skies up above

There’s people around us everywhere
Who need help like you & me
A family was taken by a storm
And we just watched it on TV
If I could have one wish tonight
I would beg of us to forget our pride
If we could do just one thing right
We could help each other to love our lives.

[Chorus]

When one thing’s right another is wrong
But in the end love will always keep us strong

All I’m dreamin of is a house on a hill & somebody to love
All I’m dreamin of is the sun to shine & blue skies up abovepoynte band

Next up is great encouraging song from an awesome band out of ATL called Poynte.  Check out Hold On here, lyrics below:

Life Is Racing
Always Fading
We Are Left Standing Here
We Can’t Live With Our Regrets

We’ll Keep Holding
Onto This Dream
We Can Forgive
But We Can Never Forget

You Feel It Now
You Can’t Let Go
It’s In Your Heart
It’s In Your Soul

Every Day It’s All The Same
There’s Got To Be More To Life Than Living This Way
Hold On
To All Of Your Dreams
There’s Got To Be More To Life Than Living This Way

This Is Our Time
Can’t Push Rewind
We Can’t Hold Back
And Make The Same Mistakes Again

We’ve Been Fed Up
From The Neck Up
We Will Fight For
Another Chance To Make It Right

You Feel It Now
You Can’t Let Go
It’s In Your Heart
It’s In Your Soul

Every Day It’s All The Same
There’s Got To Be More To Life Than Living This Way
Hold On
To All Of Your Dreams
There’s Got To Be More To Life Than Living This Way

Will You Give All That You Can
Will You Give All That You Can

Every Day It’s All The Same
There’s Got To Be More To Life Than Living This Way
Hold On
To All Of Your Dreams
There’s Got To Be More To Life Than Living This Waybrent smith

I’ve posted this Shinedown song before but the message is too good not to share at a time like this.  Check out the inspirational video too.  Lyrics below:

I found a note with your name
And a picture of us
Even though it was framed
And covered in dust
It’s the map in my mind that sends me on my way

They say it’s never too late
To stop being afraid
And there is no one else here
So why should I wait?
And in the blink of an eye the past begins to fade

So have you ever been caught in a sea of despair?
And your moment of truth
Is the day that you say “I’m not scared”

Put your hands in the air
If you hear me out there
I’ve been looking for you day & night
Shine a light in the dark
Let me see where you are
‘Cause I’m not gonna leave you behind

If I told you that you’re not alone
And I show you this is where you belong
Put your hands in the air
One more time

I’ve seen a million miles
Met a million faces
Took all I knew
To reach all these places
And I’d do it again
If it brings me back to you

So have you ever been caught in a sea of despair?
And your moment of truth
Is the day that you say “I’m not scared”

Put your hands in the air
If you hear me out there
I’ve been looking for you day and night
Shine a light in the dark
Let me see where you are
‘Cause I’m not gonna leave you behind

If I told you that you’re not alone
And I show you this is where you belong
Put your hands in the air
One more time

Put your hands in the air

Put your hands in the air
If you hear me out there
I’ve been looking for you day & night
Shine a light in the dark
Let me see where you are
‘Cause I’m not gonna leave you behind

If I told you that you’re not alone
And I show you this is where you belong
Put your hands in the air
One more time
Put your hands in the air one more time

pageant material

Lastly, this song is probably my favorite ever by Kacey Musgraves.  The lyrics, below, are just so perfectly poignant.

We’re all hoping, we’re all hopeless
We’re all thorns & we’re all roses
We’re all looking down our noses at ourselves
We’re all flawed & we’re all perfect
We’re all lost & we’re all hurting
And just searching for somebody to love

We’re all liars, we’re all legends
We’re all tens that want elevens
We’re all trying to get to heaven but not today
We’re all happy, we’re all hatin’
We’re all patiently impatient
And just waiting for somebody to love

We’re all good but we ain’t angels
We all sin but we ain’t devils
We’re all pots & we’re all kettles
But we can’t see it in ourselves
We’re all livin’ ’til we’re dying
We ain’t cool but man, we’re trying
Just thinking we’ll be fixed by someone else
We all wrangle with religion
We all talk, but we don’t listen
We’re all starving for attention, then we’ll run
We’re all paper, we’re all scissors
We’re all fightin’ with our mirrors
Scared we’ll never find somebody to love

We’re all good, but we ain’t angels
We all sin, but we ain’t devils
We’re all pots & we’re all kettles
But we can’t see it in ourselves
We’re all livin’ ’til we’re dying
We ain’t cool but man, we’re trying
Thinking we’ll be fixed by someone else

Just tryin’ to hold it all together
We all wish our best was better
Just hopin’ that forever’s really real
We’ll miss a dime to grab a nickel
Over-complicate the simple
We’re all little kids just looking for love
Yeah, don’t we all just want somebody to love?ghandi quote peace

I hope these songs will bring you some peace of mind amidst the chaos of our world today.  Furthermore, I hope they will encourage each of us to be more loving & understanding to each & every person we meet.  With incidents like the recent shooter in Dallas  & the Orlando nightclub tragedy, I’ve been forced to remember that there are some truly evil people in this world.  Is it possible that such tragedies can be prevented in the future?  I wish I could say yes, but honestly I think humans will continue to find horrific ways to kill each other, regardless of what kind of weapons it requires, as long as we inhabit this planet.  But I also believe that there could be fewer of these tragedies if we as as a society learned to embrace love & understanding more than fear & hate.

 

Album Review: Kentucky by Black Stone Cherry


I’ve said it before & I’ll say it again: one of the greatest marks of a truly great album is that the more you listen to it, the more you fall in love with it.  This statement could not be a more accurate for Black Stone Cherry’s latest album Kentucky which debuted just last month.  If you’re not familiar with BSC, they are a Southern rock band based out of Edmonton, KY.  The group formed when the guys were still in high school & they released their first album in 2006.  BSC has never released a bad album but this latest effort, which is their fifth album, may easily be their best work to date.  I’ll soon explain why, but first let me explain a bit about why this band appeals to me so much.

BSC

From left to right: drummer John Fred Young, guitarist Ben Wells, bassist Jon Lawhon, & vocalist/guitarist Chris Robertson

Most importantly of course I just love their music.  It’s raw & dirty in all the right ways, Chris’s voice is soulful & mesmerizing, the lyrics are well-crafted, the guitars are gritty, & there is no question that these guys are incredibly talented musicians.  Furthermore, as a fellow Southerner who grew up in a small town I can’t help but be attracted to a band with such a similar background.  If four “good ole boys” with Southern accents from Nowhere, Kentucky can tour the world as (relatively) famous rock stars, that just seems like proof that any of us can do anything we really set our minds to if we just work hard enough.  Additionally while the band does fulfill some rock & roll stereotypes with their tattoos, piercings, & long hair, it’s pretty obvious that none of them has ever gotten caught up in the drugs (nothing harder than marijuana anyway, which hardly counts) & partying that so often accompanies the rock & roll way of life.  In fact, these days all four of the guys are married & all but one has children.  I think it’s safe to say these guys are good role models for how to handle the rock & roll world without descending into total debauchery.BSC Kentucky

Without further ado, let’s delve into what makes Kentucky such a great album.  I hope you’ll take the time to click at least a few of the links I’ve provided so you can check out the songs for yourself.

The album opens with The Way of the Future which addresses all of the crazy things about modern life including the prevalence of violence & suicide & the ubiquitous crowd of people screaming “I’m offended!” with insightful lyrics such as these: “Wake up, hope ya don’t get shot/Step out, hope ya don’t get robbed/There’s children killin’ theirselves/Who killed who else, we’re killin’ ourselves . . . Hang on, let’s all get offended/Keep on poisonin’ the system/There’s just wrong & there’s right/No black & no white/No right in this fight/Throw away everything/You been told to believe/Break away from these chains/We’re supposed to be free, yeah free . . . It’s the way of the future/That don’t work for me . . . ”  As usual the guitars are gritty & pair perfectly with Chris’s soulful voice.

BSC logo

Black Stone Cherry’s name was inspired by a cigar, hence the logo

Next up is In Our Dreams which I see as a love song in which Chris basically says “The world’s gone mad but will you stay with me?”  Gritty guitar riffs abound in this piece & contribute to the feeling of madness that pervades the song.

The third song Shakin’ My Cage is a tribute to a tantalizing woman.  This song is a perfect example of how BSC knows how to write songs that are dirty in all the right ways.  My favorite lyrics are these: “Maybe she’s evil but I’m not afraid/I talked to the devil, it’s my chance to take/She’s my kind of magic, a warm smoking gun/I found my Medusa, she burn out the sun/She burn out the sun!”  Also, there are some great bass lines in this song.chris robertson

Next up is Soul Machine.  I don’t know about y’all, but this one just makes me want to let loose & dance.  There are some fantastic guitars solos in this one too.

The fifth song Long Ride is a bit more of a ballad which appears to have been written with the guys’ wives in mind.  “It’s been a long ride but you’ve stayed by my side/It wouldn’t be the same without you/It wouldn’t be the same without you/There’s been some long nights & sure we’ve had our fights/It wouldn’t be the same without you/It wouldn’t be the same without you/And now we’re here, we’ve got this far /There’s nothing that could tear our world apart.”

Next up is one of my favorites on the album which is a cover of the classic Edwin Starr song War.  With plenty of added funk & Chris’s strong voice, BSC has made this song even more powerful than the original version.  With all the violence in the world today, this song is every bit as relevant as when it was first released.  Don’t miss this one!

bsc old

This one’s going back a while to the days when the guys all had long hair

The seventh song Hangman is one of those that grows on me every time I hear it.  The guitars are just so gritty & dirty that I can’t help but love it.  I can’t objectively explain what I mean when I say gritty & dirty, but I know it’s there when I hear it.  Anyway, I’m not sure what Chris had in mind when he wrote the lyrics here, but I can’t help but think of his own struggles with mental illness & suicidal thoughts, & I see this song as his way of saying he’s not going to let the darkness overcome him.  “Hangman, hangman, tie your knot tight/Time is up & I’m not running from you tonight/I’m not afraid & you’re not my savior/Hangman!”

mental health cartoon

Whatever you’re facing, you are not alone.

Next up is a song that is just pure fun from start to finish & is definitely one of my favorites on the disc.  Cheaper to Drink Alone starts off with a super cool guitar riff & progresses into a hilarious song about a high maintenance woman who makes it literally & figuratively cheaper to drink alone.  Lyrically this song is so well crafted as it plays on both meanings of the word broke (as in heartbroken & out of money).  “Yeah, she’ll leave you more than heartbroke/High heels & high-dollar cosmos/Wish it was but it ain’t no joke/Cheaper to drink, cheaper to drink/Cheaper to drink alone/Well I guess I should have seen the warning/But you was everything I ever wanted/Always kept me coming back for more/And god, I felt like taking you home/You burn a memory in my head/Like shots of whiskey when they hit your chest/You loved me & left me in the red/And now I don’t feel nothing but broke/Yeah broke. . .cosmo drink

The tenth song Feelin’ Fuzzy can probably be taken several different ways.  Some may see it as a simple drinking song or an ode to Mary Jane (there were plenty of the latter on BSC’s previous album Magic Mountain), but I think one could also take it as a love song which celebrates that magical warm & fuzzy feeling being in love gives us.

Next up is another of my favorites on this album.  Born To Die contains beautiful lyrics which encourage us to live our lives full of love & meaning.  “I was fifteen, yeah I knew it all/I tried to run before I knew how to crawl/And couldn’t nobody seem to make me understand/But in this life you’ve got to pick your fights/And even if you lose you’ve got to know you tried/Sometimes you’ve got to fall before you dance/Because we’re born to die/In this life, when it’s time/Think about what you leave behind/You’ve got a love for life/Take your time, make it right/Before you go, you can shine a light.”BSC barn

The album closes with The Rambler, the only true ballad & purely acoustic song on the album, which has quickly become another favorite of mine because of the poignant lyrics.  I think anyone who’s ever spent a long time away from their loved ones will be touched by this song.  “You were born in a Southern Fall/It might have been Sunday but I can’t recall/All the birthdays I must have missed/Your first steps & your first kiss/I don’t even know if you know my name/But you should hear the truth before it’s too late/So I hope this finds you on some highway/’Cause I’m an old time rambler/I call the road my home/Forgive my indiscretion/It’s the only way I know/A million miles from Kentucky/But I will always be around/So turn the radio up when your heart breaks down.”  words fail music speaks

I hope you’ve clicked on at least a few of the links here & found some fun new music to enjoy.  Most importantly, if you do find that you like these songs, PLEASE GO OUT & PURCHASE THE ACTUAL ALBUM!  (It’s at Best Buy.)  At the very least, please pay for it through a legitimate source such as iTunes.  Musicians, especially rock bands, need all the support they can get these days, & that includes financially.  After all, they can’t continue to make awesome music if people aren’t actually buying it.  Okay, end soapbox.  Happy Wednesday, everyone!

Life Lessons From My Grandfather


It’s probably been close to three weeks since I’ve blogged anything, but I spent the last weekend of August in Boston visiting my college roommate (which was awesome, except for the part where I ended up in the ER at Mass General after passing out on the street), & then just a few days after that my grandfather was admitted to the hospital on comfort care & passed away a few days later.  So needless to say my life has been a bit of a whirlwind, both physically & emotionally, these past few weeks.tears

Ever since my grandfather died, I’ve been tossing around the idea of writing a blog post in honor of him & the things he taught me, but it’s taken some time for the pain of loss to ease enough for me to be able to write about this without dissolving into a mass of tears.  Just to be clear, the things I’m writing about today are not necessarily things PawPaw taught me in so many exact words but rather things I learned from him by watching the way he lived his own life . . . As has been said many times before by folks much wiser than I, actions truly do speak louder than words.grief quote

  1. One of the greatest things I learned from my grandfather was the value of hard work. PawPaw worked as a lineman with the electrical company in his area for many, many years.  He took turns being on call on nights & weekends & many times went out in storms, snow, & ice to help restore electricity, not only in his own community but sometimes in other parts of Virginia or even West Virginia.  Additionally, up until the last maybe five years of his life, my grandfather planted & tended to his own garden, growing everything from potatoes & corn to tomatoes & beans.  He was also an active member of the local Ruritan Club & his church.  One of the greatest lessons PawPaw taught me was that there is no job beneath me.  It doesn’t matter if it’s scrubbing toilets, flipping burgers, or shucking corn, whatever I’m doing, I better do it to the best of my ability & take pride in the fact that I’m providing for myself & my familyhard work

I’m not a big fan of country music anymore, although there are certainly exceptions to that rule (namely Eric Church, Kacey Musgraves, & Brandi Carlile), but there is a Montgomery Gentry song that came out when I was in high school that has never failed to make me think of PawPaw, especially these words right here:

That’s something to be proud of
That’s a life you can hang your hat on
You don’t need to make a million
Just be thankful to be working
If you’re doing what you’re able
And putting food there on the table
And providing for the family that you love
That’s something to be proud of

And if all you ever really do is the best you can
Well, you did it man

Here’s the video for the song if you want to check out the whole thing.judge quote

  1. One of the other biggest lessons I learned from PawPaw was to never judge someone’s intelligence based on their level of education or their manner of speech. For those of you who don’t know, my grandfather was from Shenandoah County, a rural area in northern Virginia close to the WV border.  Most all of his ancestors were poor farmers & almost no one in his family attended college, & there were probably plenty who didn’t even finish high school.  In any case, my grandfather was one of those people who legitimately said things like “crick” instead of creek & “pi-an-y” instead of piano (although the latter was possibly a joke).  But despite his countrified accent & lack of college education, you didn’t have to talk to my grandfather for long to realize what an intelligent man he really was.  He had a great deal of historical knowledge, not to mention practical knowledge regarding farming & electrical work, & he had traveled to all but three states by the time of his death.  Though I certainly value education & elocution, I always strive to remember, largely thanks to PawPaw, to give everyone the benefit of the doubt & not judge anyone’s intelligence based solely on their manner of speech or educational attainment because such things are not always the greatest predictors of intelligence as one might naturally assume.generosity-quotes
  1. Another great lesson my grandfather taught me was the value of generosity. Ironically, when I was a young child, to be perfectly honest I was a little afraid of PawPaw.  He was a big, tall man with a fairly deep voice who didn’t shave every day & could come across as a bit gruff.  Since I was used to my dad who is considerably smaller, shorter, shaves religiously, & is very soft-spoken I guess it’s not too surprising that as a young kid I was a little intimidated by PawPaw.  However, over the years I realized what a truly kind, generous man my grandfather really was.  I’ll never forget the time he was working at a bottling plant after retiring from the electrical company & he brought in some clothes & such things to some of his Hispanic coworkers who were clearly in need.  My grandfather was also a very friendly, talkative person who could strike up a conversation with most anyone.  A great example of this is a story that one of the pastors told at his funeral.  Many years ago my grandparents were driving through Montana on one of their many road trips across the country.  At some point my grandfather started waving at a farmer who was in a field beside the road.  My grandmother asked him if the man was a friend of his since he was waving at him.  His response was “No, but he’s gonna be.”

    Most recent good picture I have with my grandparents is from our wedding 4 years ago.  Photo credit to Triskay Photography.

    Most recent good picture I have with my grandparents is from our wedding 4 years ago. Photo credit to Triskay Photography.

I never heard this story until PawPaw’s funeral, but it was so powerful that I feel compelled to share it.  One of my uncle’s friends who is now a pastor spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ house as a kid/teen.  This man’s own father was not very involved in his life, so he cherished the time he got to spend with my grandfather.  As it turned out when he went home to his own house & began talking about all the things his friend’s dad did with them, his own father eventually became inspired to take a more active role in his son’s life.  As I said earlier, actions really do speak louder than words & I’m so glad my grandfather lived a life in which his actions were proof of the love he had for his friends & family.

 I’m going to close this post by sharing one of my favorite Black Stone Cherry songs, Things My Father Said.  The song is written from the perspective of a son whose father has died, but the emotions it portrays are relevant for anyone who’s lost someone they love & is trying to carry on the lessons that person taught them.

Below are the lyrics:

“The things my father said would make me a better man
Hard work and the love of friends, a woman that understands

I hope my father knows the seeds we’ve sewn still grow
At night I go to sleep and pray he’s watching over me

Somewhere there’s a star that’s shining
So bright that I can see you smile
And all that I need is one last chance
Just to hear you say goodbye

Sometimes I remember, when you taught me to tie my shoes
One thing I will never forget, is the day that I lost you

I hope you always know the car that we built will always roll

Somewhere there’s a star that’s shining
So bright that I can see you smile
And all that I need is one last chance
Just to hear you say goodbye

And if you have a dream you better hang on for dear life
And when that cold wind blows, just let it pass you by

The things my father said

Somewhere there’s a star that’s shining
So bright that I can see you smile
And all that I need is one last chance
Just to hear you say goodbye”

46 Things I Want to Teach My Children Someday


As some of you may know, for many years I was quite sure I never wanted to have children.  Deep down I knew I’d probably change my mind someday but I just couldn’t imagine that ever happening.  I’ve just never been one of those women who instantly connects with children or feels really comfortable with them.  Perhaps this is because I wasn’t the happiest child myself; indeed I was always in a hurry to grow up & I’ve never been happier than I have been since I reached adulthood.

As it so happens, I’ve been thinking A LOT about becoming a mom lately.  It’s probably partly due to having Chaucer (my dog) & watching him grow up & how wonderful that is.  And it’s probably partly because I’m 26 so I’m hitting what might be considered a normal age to start having kids.  (Hell, where I grew up I’m already far behind!)

Our Welch corgi, Chaucer

Our Welsh corgi, Chaucer

When I do decide to have kids, you can be sure I’ll have thought about all the possibilities & consequences.  I’ve read all the articles about how kids ruin your sleep, your appearance, your metabolism, your sex life, your marriage, your career, & everything else.  (May I just say my husband & I are determined to prove all those articles wrong?)  I’ve never been one of those “starry-eyed” women who see babies & only think of cuddles & love.  No indeed.  When I see babies I mostly think about the pain of labor & breastfeeding & the sleepless nights.  Does this make me cold-hearted & unfeeling?  No, I think it just makes me realistic.  And as one of my dearest friends told me today, the fact that I’ve thought about all of these things & am taking this decision so seriously is probably evidence that I will actually be a good mom.  Her saying that means the world to me because whenever I express doubt about becoming a mom or admit that I’m not particularly fond of most young children, it seems that most people give me that look that implies something must be inherently wrong with me & say “Well, if you’re not sure, you better not do it.”  Whenever I become a mom, I know I’ll be a bit different than most of the moms in my family, but I can only hope I’ll be half as good, even if I am a bit unorthodox.blankie baby

In any case, as part of my pondering about becoming a mom, my mind keeps thinking of all the things I want to teach my children someday.  I know some people will probably think I’m really pretentious for writing out this list, but the way I see it is it’s better to have a lot of plans that I might never fully accomplish than to have no plans at all. 

  1. I will teach my children the importance of asking both “Why?” & “Why not?” If the subject is something to believe or trust, the appropriate question is “Why?”  If the subject is something fun to do, the appropriate question is “Why not?”
  2. I will teach my children to play in rain puddles, piles of leaves, & grassy meadows.
  3. I will teach my children to value people of different races, ethnicities, & cultures. I will teach them that no one is superior or inferior than anyone else but especially not because of something so superficial as race, gender, or nationality.diverse kids
  4. I will teach my children that love is love & it doesn’t matter who it’s between as long as they are two consenting adults who are not hurting each other.
  5. I will teach my kids the value of good nutrition & eating well.
  6. I will teach my kids to enjoy exercise, even if it’s just running around the yard chasing the dog.
  7. On that subject, I will teach my kids that dogs really are man’s (& woman’s) best friend.
  8. I will teach my kids to love rock & roll. I will take them to rock concerts when they are old enough (probably 10-12 or older).  I will be that crazy mom who is screaming to the music with my kids & I will not be ashamed or apologize for it.  In the car we will rock out to Halestorm, Godsmack, & Black Stone Cherry (among others).freak like me
  9. I will teach my children not to judge others based on appearance. I will teach them that some of the best people in the world are covered with tattoos & piercings while some of the most deceitful people in the world are dressed in suits & ties.
  10. I will teach my children that life isn’t all fun & games but it isn’t all misery & suffering either. It’s a little bit of everything & we have to learn to appreciate all of it.
  11. I will teach my children that life’s not fair & they better get used to that real fast.
  12. I will teach my kids that they alone are responsible for the choices they make; thus they better be ready to face the consequences of their actions, no matter what they are.choices
  13. I will teach my children that sex is wonderful & amazing . . . & because of that they better be careful who they do it with & when. But I will never make them feel that sex in & of itself is something dirty or something to be ashamed of.
  14. I will teach my children about birth control & how it works & why they had better use it until the day they (& their partner) are absolutely certain they are ready to be parents.
  15. I will teach my children that education is the key to success in life . . . but they better have a plan to go along with it because degrees alone are worthless these days.
  16. I will teach my kids that there is no job that is beneath them & working hard at everything they do is essential to success in life.
  17. I will teach my kids to show respect to everyone they meet, whether it’s their doctor, their teacher, or the janitor.
  18. I will teach my children that “everything in moderation” is a really great motto in life, the only exceptions being things like heroin & cocaine. Just have some common sense!moderation
  19. I will teach my kids that things in & of themselves are never evil; it’s how we use them that makes them good or bad. For example, the internet isn’t evil just because some creeps use it to prey on children or watch porn.  Books aren’t evil just because some of them say things you don’t like.  Music isn’t evil just because some of it contains lyrics that are rude or disparaging.
  20. I will teach my kids the importance of valuing every single day they’re alive because life is never guaranteed.
  21. I will teach my kids that they don’t have to be just like me for me to love them or be proud of them. There is more than one road to success in life & theirs might look very different than mine.  And that’s ok.Dalai lama quote
  22. I will teach my kids that in order to be successful in life they need to get off their ass & get moving. Success doesn’t come to those who wait for it.  It comes to those who set goals & work hard to meet them.
  23. I will teach my children that the exact words people say are far less important than the feelings behind them.
  24. On a similar token, I will teach my children that actions speak far louder than words.
  25. I will teach my children to always be honest about their intentions with others.
  26. I will teach my kids the value of empathy & how important it is to just listen to others when they are suffering.
  27. I will teach my children that the world doesn’t owe them anything. They will not be entitled brats if it kills me.
  28. I will teach my kids that the purpose of life is to live it, to soak up every experience life has to offer, & to revel in the love we have for each other.purpose of life
  29. If I have daughters, I will make sure my husband teaches them how to check the oil in their car & how to change a tire because these are all things I’ve never learned & I want my daughters to be more independent than I am.
  30. If I have sons, I will teach them how to do laundry & basic cooking because I love that I never had to teach my husband any of these things.
  31. I will teach my children that society has various expectations of them based on gender but they need to choose their own path, regardless of what society says.
  32. I will teach my kids to value the simple beauties of nature: the way the sky looks just before it rains, the sweet smell of honeysuckle in the spring time, the sound of the waves crashing on the shore, the feeling of snowflakes tickling your nose, & the way a little frost makes the whole world look magical.

    P1080662

    Taken along the Highline Trail at Glacier Ntnl Park, Sept 2014

  33. I will teach my children to love curry & all foods Indian & Mediterranean. If not, they might starve at our house . . .
  34. I will teach my kids that having an argument with someone doesn’t mean you don’t love them. It just means you disagreed about something & the worst thing you can do in such situations is to bottle up your emotions & hold them in until you explode.
  35. I will teach my kids to question everything & never believe something just because such & such person said it. I will teach them to judge everything based on its own merits.
  36. I will share with my kids the joy of reading & searching out used book stores in all corners of the city.
  37. I will take my children to visit their elders & teach them to appreciate all the things the elderly can teach us about life.
  38. I will teach my children that being weird is awesome & following the crowd is for losers.weird awesome
  39. I will teach my children that no one can make them feel inferior without their consent.
  40. I will teach my kids the difference between serving others & being a doormat. It’s a fine line but it’s one you have to find.
  41. I will teach my kids that in order to take care of others, they must first learn to take care of themselves. As hard as it will be to do so, I will role model this for them as best I can.
  42. I will teach my children that, like things, emotions are never evil. It’s what we do with them that matters.  I do not want them to grow up feeling guilty for experiencing anger, sadness, lust, or any other “sinful” emotion.  I just want to teach them heathy ways to express these feelings.
  43. I will teach my kids that nothing in life is perfect all the time. Life isn’t a fairytale but it’s still pretty damn good if we make smart choices & chase our passions.fairytale tequila
  44. I will teach my children that even though being a mom is immeasurably important I am still other things too: a wife, a sister, a daughter, a nurse, etc. Even though I know all children have a hard time thinking of their mothers as anything else, I hope they’ll learn to appreciate me as more than just “a mom” if that makes any sense.
  45. I will teach my children that we are all hypocrites sometimes & no matter how hard we try, we all fail to live up to our own ideals at times. We just have to keep striving to do the best we can & stay humble when we make mistakes.
  46. And, perhaps greatest of all, I will kiss & hug my children every day & teach them to never doubt how much I love them.

What do you think, readers?  Are these worthy goals or am I just tilting at windmills?

The Best Albums of 2014


Last year I was a little slow to post my hall of fame choices for best albums of 2013, but if any of you remember that post, you might recall that at the end of it I mentioned my two most anticipated releases for 2014.  Well, not too surprisingly both of those albums are at the top of my list for this year’s album hall of fame.  I sincerely hope you’ll take the time to click on at least a few of the links I’ve provided in this post & discover some new music to enjoy in the coming year.  eric church the outsiders

  1. The Outsiders by Eric Church (Country . . . with rock influences)

I already have an entire blog post about why Eric Church is such a musical genius which was largely inspired by this album, so I won’t spend too long describing the individual songs on this one (you can read that post here: https://athicketofmusingsblog.com/2014/02/25/why-eric-church-might-be-the-musical-genius-of-the-21st-century/).  I’ve seen Eric Church in concert twice in the past three months which makes for a total of three times in the past two years.  And I’d still go see him again tomorrow, no questions asked.  Eric Church just has such a raw, inspiring energy that his music, especially live, never gets old.  If you don’t normally like country music, I sincerely implore you to check out this album anywayThis is clearly the most rock-influenced album Church has ever produced (listen to the title track here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_P-YNJIdNc or to “That’s Damn Rock & Roll” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8rknp0kkVzY), yet there are several pieces with some serious blues influence that bring to mind old-fashioned swamp music from the deep South (see “Cold One”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKvE-WoooLE).  But true to form, it’s the sometimes witty, sometimes heart-wrenching lyrics that are the greatest strength of all of Church’s music.  Church has stated in an interview “One thing I miss is turning on the radio & just having a song punch me in the gut, &, as a songwriter, knock me on my ass.  And I think we could use more of that” (see: Eric Church Misses More Substance on ‘Feel-Good’ Country Radio).  I miss that too, but I’m happy to say that every track on The Outsiders is one that has punched me in the gut, in one way or another.  Also, do yourself a favor & listen to the whole album from start to finish.  Church has stated that’s the way it’s meant to be heard, & he’s 100% right when he says that each song becomes more powerful when listened to in order.BSC Magic Mountain

  1. Magic Mountain by Black Stone Cherry (Rock/Southern Rock)

This was my second most anticipated release of 2014, & happily it did NOT disappoint.  If you’re not familiar with BSC, they are a four-piece rock band based out of a small town in Kentucky whose music has notable Southern rock influences.  There are plenty of upbeat “partying” type songs on this album, including the notable title track (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QAtHWXtEV7w), but there are several more serious pieces as well.  The ballad “Sometimes” is easily one of the most well-written songs BSC have ever recorded (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrnUpoJ9sno).  The emotion in Chris’s voice in that song is just so palpable that it’s impossible not to be touched.  Additionally, check out “Remember Me” which was written the day the lead singer’s grandfather died (you can see the video & read about the inspiration for the song here: http://loudwire.com/black-stone-cherry-remember-me-exclusive-video-premiere).  For a great motivational “pick-me-up,” check out “Never Surrender” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68ELngYG3IU).  BSC is one of those bands who clearly deserves more radio play than they get, so do yourself a favor & check out this album because there isn’t a single bad song on it.blood for blood

  1. Blood for Blood by Hellyeah (Hard Rock/Metal)

I had actually never heard of Hellyeah until I started seeing their song “Sangre Por Sangre” on a hard rock blog that I follow (https://hardrockdaddy.wordpress.com/).  Intrigued by the Spanish title of the song I decided to check it out on YouTube one day.  Rarely have I ever been so immediately blown away by a song as I was by this one (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=keZ-GsRRVlQ).  The words, the music itself, the message behind the song, all of it is just undeniably powerful.  I ended up buying the album & quickly fell in love with it.  With songs that touch on the horrors of war, child abuse, & violence in general, this album definitely isn’t for the faint of heart & probably shouldn’t be played around young children (though you ought to be able to guess that just by the band’s name), but please don’t let that stop you from enjoying one of the year’s best albums.  Be sure to check out “Moth” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIWeIChes5k), “Cross to Bier” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRBc8YqePrg), & “Hush” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PQd3HYHYXA).black widow ITM

  1. Black Widow by In This Moment (Metal)

I just bought this album a few weeks or maybe a month ago, & it’s been on almost constant replay in my car ever since.  ITM’s 2013 album Blood caught my attention & made my hall of fame for last year, but Black Widow is even more impressive than Blood.  Maria Brink wasn’t kidding when she said the lyrics to this album are largely based on her own personal experiences.  “Sex Metal Barbie” is Maria’s devilishly witty response to all those who trash her & her music (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–bhD1uItK8) while “The Fighter” is a piano-driven ballad about survival that is easily one of the most powerful songs I’ve ever heard in my entire life (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWNkqfn5oh4).  Even if you don’t traditionally like metal or ITM, I beg you to at least listen to “The Fighter;” it’s just that good.  I could go on & on about this album, but be sure to check out the title track with its infectious melody (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zMEQ4aWnK2s), “Big Bad Wolf” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJBQzF1AwvU), & “Sexual Hallucination,” the haunting duet with Brent Smith, the lead singer of Shinedown (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Fp4yRDEVyM).  Both lyrically & musically I have no doubt this is ITM’s best album to date, & you will be greatly remiss if you don’t give it a good listen.Godsmack-1000hp-album-cover

  1. 1000 HP by Godsmack (Hard Rock)

When 1000 HP debuted this year, it had been four years since the last Godsmack album & many of us weren’t quite sure what to expect.  While the title track describes the band’s rise to fame & is wildly fun (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6rL4em-Xv5o), it’s some of the other pieces that I believe truly make this album one for the record books.  The current single “Something Different” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VH_SbTsOBxo) showcases a lot of the Alice in Chains influence for which Godsmack is famous.  Sully’s growling voice is perfectly in place in this brooding piece, just as it is in “Turning to Stone” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xWNxdmXqe0), which is very reminiscent of “Serenity” & some of the other more melodic/acoustic pieces from earlier albums.  Being Godsmack, of course there are plenty of upbeat/angry pieces too including one of my favorites, “Locked and Loaded” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJGUB8ws8uQ).  While staying true to their signature sound, this album truly showcases the various different sides of Godsmack & a real maturity that is nothing short of scintillating.nikki lane all or nothin

  1. All or Nothin’ by Nikki Lane (Alternative Country)

Some of you may remember reading about Nikki Lane in one of my blog posts from November (https://athicketofmusingsblog.com/2014/11/14/the-6-best-bands-youve-never-heard-about/), but if not let me introduce you to one of the most fascinating voices in alternative country today.  I discovered Nikki Lane sometime this year & was immediately intrigued by her unique voice & her cleverly crafted lyrics.  This album was produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys & actually includes a duet with him, “Love’s on Fire” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUKZshEAWSg).  Check out Nikki’s rock & roll spirit in “Right Time” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzS3vU6wZa4), & then check out her more jazzy/bluesy side in “You Can’t Talk to Me Like That” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCRRO_IqVgs).stuck adelitas way

  1. Stuck by Adelita’s Way (Hard Rock)

I’ll be the first to admit that this album actually disappointed me a bit the first couple times I listened to it.  Before I purchased it I had already fallen in love with the lead single “Dog on a Leash” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AqrNmlK2nog) so I was expecting a lot more songs like that.  As it turns out the album is a conglomeration of some more traditional harder songs like that one as well as quite a few softer, more ballad-like pieces.  With time though, I’ve come to really appreciate the entire album.  There is no question that this band is very talented both musically & lyrically, & if you read any of his interviews, you’ll quickly understand why I have so much respect for lead singer Rick DeJesus.  Be sure to listen to “Save the World” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3062FJuCZI), “Something More” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f926saj7Bvg), & “Blur” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kO4WYoawUA).the gallery band

  1. Restless by The Gallery (Soft Rock/Pop)

This is actually a 2013 album but I discovered it this year so I’m including it in my list for 2014.  (It’s my blog so I can do whatever I want anyway, ha!)  In any case, The Gallery is a four-piece soft rock band based out of Massachusetts who opened for Honor By August at the Pourhouse in downtown Raleigh this summer.  I was there to see Honor By August, but I was very impressed with The Gallery as well.  Being the music junkie I am, I of course purchased their album.  Being a hard rock fan, it took me a little while to warm up to the mellower sound of this band, but once I did I realized how truly ingenius their song-writing is, both musically & lyrically.  This band really knows how to write songs that pierce to the heart of 20-somethings today (probably because they are 20-somethings!).  Check out the infectious melody of “Fast Friends,” a tribute to the oh-so-popular “friends with benefits” arrangement & how it’s never as uncomplicated as it’s “supposed” to be (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nlRIczaovdw).  “The Catalyst” was the song that really caught my attention at the concert because the lyrics “You lit me up like a cigarette/Then you burned me down & now there’s nothing left/You were the one who put the spark to this/You were the gasoline, you were the catalyst” just struck me as so fascinating (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQnmzqvLAd0).  Also check out “The Runaround” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vo1toCvDv8E).

As I did last year, I’ll end this year’s post with my most anticipated releases of the coming year.  I for one cannot wait to hear Halestorm’s third album which is scheduled to debut sometime in early 2015 (the sooner, the better!).  I’m also sincerely hoping Gemini Syndrome will come out with another album this year.  (If you don’t know them but you like FFDP or Tool, check them out NOW.  Their 2013 debut album Lux is amazing & has become a favorite of mine as well as my husband.)

Happy listening & happy 2015, everyone!

The 10 Best Albums of 2013


I realize it’s a little late into 2014 to be writing this, but I didn’t get the idea until mid-way through January & it took me a while to compile this list, so I’m going ahead with it anyway even if the post seems a bit belated.  A few of these albums were actually released in 2012 but didn’t become truly popular until 2013, or at the very least I didn’t discover them until 2013 so I’ve included them anyway.  I’ll be upfront & tell you that 90% of these albums are rock albums, so if you don’t like rock music I guess this post isn’t for you.  But I challenge you to read it anyway because you never know what might trigger your interest.

Aside from #1, these are in no particular order.

I’ve included links to at least one of my favorite songs from each album because I’m awesome like that.  🙂  At the end I’ve also included some of my most anticipated album releases for 2014.

1.       The House of Gold & Bones, Volumes 1 & 2 by Stone Sour

It’s nigh impossible for me to pick a favorite album of all time but if I had to do it, I think this dual-album would be my choice.  There are a lot of reasons I say that, not the least of which is that I find myself subconsciously judging other albums based on this one.  I don’t mean to do that because consciously I realize that a concept album such as this is not THE standard for all albums ever made & yet this one is just so breathtaking that it’s become my point of comparison for just about everything.  I didn’t know a lot of Stone Sour music before this dual-album debuted, but when I started hearing Absolute Zero on the radio I fell in love immediately.  I was at Best Buy purchasing another album one day & just happened to see Volume 1 of The House of Gold & Bones & decided to take a chance on it.  Best decision ever.  Within a few weeks of purchasing Volume 1, I was completely entranced.  Every single song is just so perfect & they all flow together like a rock symphony so that often it is difficult to tell where one song ends & another begins.  Volume 2 is exactly the same way.  Between the two Volume 1 is my favorite but honestly they are both phenomenal.  From ballads to harder songs that are more Slipknot in feel, the vocals, the lyrics, the music itself, everything is in top form.  Just about every emotion human beings can experience is touched on in these songs.  There is so much more I could say about this dual-album but I’ll stop now for fear of boring you.  Just buy the albums.  You won’t regret it.

Volume 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7dHBjXnbtk

Volume 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwkGatmflbw

2.       Same Trailer, Different Park by Kacey Musgraves

May I just say that I am really proud of myself for having this album months before Kacey Musgraves started garnering national attention & winning a very well-deserved Grammy?  I used to be so behind the times when it came to music & popular culture & I still am in a lot of ways, but with music I am often quite ahead of my time nowadays, at least in certain genres.  It’s often been said that Kacey Musgraves sings country music for people who don’t like country music.  I think the reason for that is that Kacey’s lyrics are so profound while also being extremely wittyShe also isn’t afraid to write about the nastier side of small town life.  While most popular country stars are singing about pick-up trucks, fishing, & drinking beer, Kacey is penning such scathing & controversial but inspiring songs as Merry Go Round & Follow Your Arrow.  Every single song on this album is a real winner & it’s rare for me to say that, especially about a country album.  If you don’t want to buy the album or don’t typically like country music, just look her up on YouTube.  You might end up buying the album after hearing some more of her songs, just like I did.  (Also of note, Kacey has written many popular songs sung by other country artists including the recent Miranda Lambert hit Mama’s Broken Heart.  No offense to Miranda, but I like Kacey’s version of it even better.  Again, look it up on YouTube.)  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qo212zOUKxI

3.       The Wrong Side of Heaven & the Righteous Side of Hell, Volumes 1 & 2 by Five Finger Death Punch

FFDP is one of those rare bands whose songs I almost always fall in love with immediately upon hearing them.  They are just that good.  From ballads to thrashing rock & roll anthems, Ivan Moody’s voice is mesmerizing & the band behind him is top-notch in every way.  When you hear a FFDP song, there’s never any question about whose song it is.  You just know.  Like Stone Sour, FFDP released a dual-album in 2013.  These are not concept albums but they are fantastic nonetheless.  There are plenty of the traditional “angry” songs for which FFDP is famous, but there are also plenty of powerful ballads.  The titular song on the first album is one of my favorites along with Battle Born & Cradle to the Grave on Volume 2.  Volume 1 contains several compilations with other artists including Rob Halford from Judas Priest & Maria Brink from In This Moment.  There is also a remake of the LL Cool J song Mama Said Knock You Out featuring the rapper Tech N9ne.  A hard rock/metal band remaking a rap song?  Yes, that’s right.  And it’s amazing.  There’s a reason FFDP is the number one band I listen to on the way to work: their music is just so energizingIs it ironic that what most people would consider to be “angry” music energizes me to provide compassionate care to sick people?  Maybe, maybe not.  There’s a lot more to this kind of music if you just take the time to listen a little deeper.  Bottom line: whether you are already familiar with FFDP or not, check out these albums today.

Volume 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DxVQX95GtgU

Volume 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LyA1GL1touw

4.       Amaryllis by Shinedown

This is definitely a 2012 album but I love it so much that I decided to include it anyway.  I know a certain segment of rock/metal fans think Shinedown isn’t “hard-core” enough for their taste, but I’ve always found that to be a rather superficial & undeserving judgment.  Shinedown is one of those rare rock bands who have somehow found that “sweet spot” of writing songs that are “tame” enough to be played on mainstream radio (sometimes even on stations that aren’t pure rock stations) while not becoming a pop band.  I’ve seen Shinedown in concert twice & each time my respect for them has only increased.  Amaryllis is an album that covers a vast amount of subject matter as well as an impressive range of musical styles.  There isn’t even one song on this album that I would give less than 4 stars.  If you don’t usually like rock music, I’d recommend Shinedown as a great place to start.  It’s not necessarily that their music is “softer;” they just seem to have a way of reaching out to people across all genres of music.  Even in their more angry/cynical songs, Shinedown has a way of inspiring hope.  Perhaps that is what makes them so powerful. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGhJKiMR4XY

5.       The Strange Case Of… by Halestorm

I had the privilege of seeing Halestorm live in 2013 & the best way to sum up that experience is this: I can’t wait to see them again, preferably on a head-lining tour.  A hard rock band with touches of metal here & there with a seriously bad-ass female lead singer?  I mean, what is not to like here?  The Strange Case Of… is a great follow-up to Halestorm’s first album.  From the fast-paced Grammy award-winning Love Bites to powerful ballads like Break In & Here’s to Us, Halestorm is in top form in every way on this album.  In the traditionally male-dominated world of rock & roll Lzzy Hale makes female rock fans like me feel right at home.  At the same time, her music is far from “feminine” & many of her top fans are actually guys.  And it’s not just because she’s sexy.  She, & her band which includes her brother Arejay on drums, is seriously talented too.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FmkHqUwa4zg

6.       Blood by In This Moment

I had never heard of In This Moment until 2013.  As soon as I heard the titular song Blood, I knew I had to have the whole album.  Maria Brink & her band are just that talented.  This isn’t music for the faint of heart; it’s raw & sometimes a little raunchy.  But, wow, it is powerful! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulgE1v1eyRk

7.       Onyx by Pop Evil

I am proud to say I owned all three of Pop Evil’s albums before they became more mainstream this past year with the success of their hit singles Trenches & Deal With the Devil off of their 2013 album Onyx.  I first started listening to Pop Evil after the moderate success of  Monster You Made in 2011.  It was that song that prompted me to buy their first two albums & I was thoroughly impressed with both of them.  Then came Onyx.  Each album Pop Evil has released gets better & better so I can only imagine what their next album will be like.  Pop Evil is definitely on my list of bands that I most want to see live in the next year or two.  (P.S. Ladies, the lead singer Leigh Kakaty is a sight for sore eyes.  Do a quick Google image search & I promise you’ll thank me.)  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWdtN7pCZug

8.       Fortress by Alter Bridge

Alter Bridge is one of those American bands who have actually had greater success in Europe than here in their own country.  But I’ve been a fan since high school, thanks originally to my husband.  In any case Fortress has made it on many lists of top albums for 2013 & rightfully so.  This isn’t an album that you’ll fall in love with at first listen.  Or at least you might not.  Alter Bridge isn’t known for writing songs with super catchy tunes; in other words they don’t always get stuck in your head immediately.  But what marks them as a truly great band is that their music gets better & better the more you listen to it.  Their music is like an onion; there are so many layers & each time you listen you hear a little more & a little more.  To me that is the mark of great musicianship & these guys have it.  I think Alter Bridge has always resonated with me because they aren’t a flashy band & their music somehow walks the fine line of facing the harsh darkness of life while always retaining a bit of hope.  To me they are a band that will stand the test of time, & I won’t be surprised if fifty years from now they are more respected & popular than they are now.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7M9QxzpTjec

9.       Brave, Bold, & Broken by Mindset Evolution

I first heard ME at Uproar Festival in Raleigh in Sept 2012.  At that point they only had a 5-song “album” out but I bought & loved every song on it.  So when their first full-length album debuted in 2013 I purchased it the very day it came out.  And I’ve been nothing short of pleased.  Why these guys don’t get more radio-play I’ll never understand. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-fFHCXscp3k

10.   Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies by Volbeat

Ok, here’s a rock album that evokes the feeling of the American Wild West.  As if that isn’t a great enough feat on its own, consider that Volbeat isn’t even an American rock band.  They are actually a Danish band!  I’m not sure that this album really qualifies as a concept album, but all of the songs are about characters from the Wild West.  Volbeat is another of those bands whom you can never mistake for anyone else, yet somehow they manage to really evoke the sound of the Wild West in these songs while still remaining true to their own unique sound.  It’s seriously impressive stuff.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dj1sVQ2qdnI

And lastly, my most anticipated albums of 2014:

The Outsiders by Eric Church (debuting tomorrow, February 11!)  I have a soft spot in my heart for this NC native because he is passionately devoted to his MUSIC above all else.  He comes across as kind of rough around the edges, but in reality he’s a family man who travels with his wife & infant son on his tour bus.  I admire his willingness to speak whatever’s on his mind even when it’s not always popular & his refusal to bend to the whims of popular opinion.  I’m also partial to his music because of its rock & roll feel.  Going to one of his concerts felt like being at a redneck rock concert.  Needless to say, I loved it & would love to see him live again someday.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_P-YNJIdNc

Magic Mountain by Black Stone Cherry (coming May 6)  BSC is a band I discovered in 2013 after seeing a picture of an Alter Bridge member wearing a BSC sweatshirt.  I figured if Alter Bridge liked them, they had to be good.  And they are!  The 2011 album Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea by these small-town Kentucky rockers is fabulous & has me eagerly anticipating their new album this year.  I love the fact that BSC’s music has a very Southern rock feel while still being very hard-core.  I also must point out that the current Florida-Georgia Line hit Stay is actually a BSC song from their 2011 album mentioned above.  It really grinds my gears that BSC isn’t getting credit for that song.  (Sorry FGL fans, but their version sucks anyway.)