The CMAs and Alt-Country

Last night I watched the CMA Awards in anticipation for a night of the typical acts getting awards, with a few nods to the handful of Country artists I enjoy. For a while, I was not a fan of country as it stands today. You either have to sing about girls, trucks, and beer if you’re a man; and if you’re a woman you have to sing about your plans to kill your significant other. Of course I’m ridiculously broad brushing but I don’t think I’m that far off. We are long gone from legends such as Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and George Jones but to be honest, that’s OK. They did their thing for as long as they could and to say they left an impact on music is an understatement. Now a few years ago I thought that Country was completely lost from these heroes of the past but I was mistaken. It wasn’t until I was introduced to the music of Chris Stapleton.

 Chris Stapleton already had a successful career as writer when he recorded his own first solo album. He plays an older brand of country with songs of heartbreak and problems with that devil whiskey. Since his debut album he has risen to become one of Country’s biggest stars. Even saying that makes me both happy and sick at the same time. Happy that Chris and his wife Morgane have finally found the recognition they deserve while at the same time almost gagging at the term “Country’s Biggest Star”. Last night he came out on top with Album of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year. That was a pleasant surprise for me. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Chris and his music and I would choose him to win most of the categories but I’m not used to seeing people I like in the country community winning things. For instance, while announcing the nominees for Album of the Year, a list I did not see, I saw Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit nominated for their new album Nashville Sound. I was so happy to see his band nominated and pleasantly surprised to see Nashville give him a nod at all.

That brings me to the topic of Alt-Country. This is a subgenre of country that strays away from the mainstream pomp and circumstance that you see at these country concerts and award shows. They are the underground of country. I found this goldmine of music shortly after discovering acts Chris Stapleton and Kacey Musgraves. Artists who weren’t afraid to push the envelope on subjects their genre tends to stay away from like bad apple pie. It wasn’t until I started listening to Kacey Musgraves that I realized country artists can really be quite outstanding lyrically and sonically. She opens up on subjects like accepting all people, being less judgemental, and just doing your own thing. What country is really all about. It was wrong of me to hate on country for so long without really opening up the old crate and finding those records. Whether they are satirical or not, this is the genre that is really moving country forward. I don’t think mainstream country is going to keep moving forward and that’s ok. As long as cheap beer is flowing, cheap music will always be there to provide the soundtrack to your mistakes. 

Now the one thing I was really able to take away from last night was compassion. Whether it was outside the venue or not. Inside, Carrie Underwood performed an incredible rendition of “Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling” which was enough to tug at your heartstrings alone but they displayed pictures of  victims from the Las Vegas shooting. Although they tried to keep the show politically lukewarm, the pictures should have been enough for someone who is questioning their ideas on gun control to take a second look at their second amendment right. I hope that even this subtle message was able to change people’s hearts. Outside there was a less subtle message being made. Sturgill Simpson was playing tunes outside the venue in a protest of the stale stance country takes on politics. Broadcasting it on Facebook, Simpson was busking and everything he got from that night he was donating to the American Civil Liberties Union. While playing he had a sign that read, “I don’t take requests but I take questions about anything you want to talk about because fascism sucks.” If that isn’t punk rock I don’t know what is.

This is why I love to follow Alt-Country. It is as Harlan Howard would say, “Three chords and the truth.” Country hasn’t died or gone away. It has gone into hiding. Playing on small NPR radio stations and curated Spotify playlists. I almost want it to stay that way. Just so that the few of us who have found these records can buy them without Nashville getting their dirty hands on them. So for me, I’m going to keep my antennas up for any incoming country that I should know about, try to ignore the mainstream takeover sponsored by Walmart, and be as open as I can possibly be with all music.

** Thank you for taking the time to read this. You can follow me on Instagram and Twitter for updates on posts. My Instagram is @soundchefofficial and Twitter is @soundchef. You can also find my movie podcast at **

*** I apologize for the odd paragraph breaks. I’m working on fixing that. ***

It’s Hard

I drove into a tunnel today and I tried hold my breath

the way we used to do

I can’t do it for long anymore because my face gets red

my eyes swell up and I get light headed

Not because I’m not breathing,

but because you can’t beat me anymore

And I always win

It’s hard to play when you have no breath to hold


I played that Bowie record today and I tried to listen

the way we used to do

I can’t do it for long anymore because my throat gets dry

my eyes swell up and I get light headed

Not because I’m not listening,

but because you can’t sing it anymore

and I never could

It’s hard to sing the high notes alone


I wrote a song today and I tried to play

the way we used to do

I can’t do it for long anymore because my fingers hurt

my eyes swell up and I get light headed

Not because I’m not playing,

but because you can’t play anymore

And I still can’t

It’s hard to write a duet alone

Counting Sheep

I was too hard on her
The pillow’s indented
She got into her car
The pillow’s indented
It’s a nice Cadillac
The pillow’s indented
She drove down 95
The pillow’s indented
To get away from me
The pillow’s indented
The truck didn’t see her
The pillow’s indented
Gin can do that
The pillow’s indented

Lay on, MacDuff

Born on the 13th day of this month

I was northbound toward misfortune

But like MacDuff I was never born at all

which means I’m destined to be

a pain in the ass for murderous kings

and bound to duty of my sword


I hold my sword between my fingers

and combat the blank pages

that fought so hard to say nothing

But as the Three Witches commanded:

this page will fucking bleed before I’m through

Fall victim to my words like stab wounds

Lacerating lines beyond recognition

And through their bleeding show my truth

Through their bleeding show my love

Through their bleeding show my hate


Any tragedy that may bruise my soul,

I must press on for the Greater Good.

But I must also feel it as a man

Take it out on the blank page

I will hold my sword against it once more

And through their bleeding show my truth

Through their bleeding show my love

Through their bleeding show my hate

Proof of Love

Proof of love is in the long lines

that reach around your photographic memories

to the end of your casket where your family stands

An island of misfit toys saying goodbye to a dear friend

I’m starting to feel the effects of the parking lot

flask that my uncle keeps in his coat pocket

I knew my brain cells were dying for no earthly purpose

and I think the paintings of Jesus Christ know

that I’m buzzed lying in this church pew

Maybe all those Irish jokes are true after all


Proof of love is breaking fire codes

in a house that raised six children

“Bring more chairs up from the basement”

A house of books and tools feels empty

without its patriarch to join hands with

And thank God for a family that even through all their flaws

are together at the table

To discuss their racist coworker

or the new band your cousin found

It took four months to clean

50 years of memories out of this house

But, memory is beyond material


It is held in the heart of your loved ones

That miss you

North Broad

The green and blue doesn’t want you

To know where you are

They cover up the gray and copper

That tells you you’re not worth it

The black and green remind you

You are only who you want to be

The spray paint smells but

At least it’s better than regret

The Man doesn’t understand

That the buildings he’s left behind

Look better than they way he left them

He sees rapists and murderers

a ketchup stain on his tie


I see misrepresented steel and wood

Silent power


Where are all friends?

They’re off on a posthumous adventure

While you wait for your train

When it arrives you won’t know where it is going

That’s for the Creator to decide

I’ll never understand why the train was so late

But conveniently on time

We’re all just a sucker for the long train ride

So we see our grandkids or something

“We’re not here for a long time, we’re here for a good time”

Is written on the wall

Do you think Walt Whitman would like me?

Or Sylvia Plath for that matter?

They say she ended her life too soon.

No, she just hijacked the controls

Do you think anyone on Flight 11 knew Sylvia Plath?

No, their story was different.

Their controls were taken by miscalculated holiness and fear

Where I am From

I am from wet streets and coal mines

From potato farms and landmines

“No Irish Need Apply” signs


I am from court mandated sobriety

From problems with authority

Unapologetic loyalty


I am from Sears and Roebuck debt

From smoking the last cigarette

Matrimonial regret


I am from sonic record stores

And country wide tours

Opening doors

1961 Chevy Impala

I find normalcy in the chaos

In the bloody backseats

The unpredictable twilight

I do not thirst for the rigid laws of man

Because comfort is weakness

Although I do not seek confrontation

She tempts me with a lapdance

And I’m back in her bed  

I want every smooth ride to be interrupted

By sodium nitrate combustion

Do you

Let me rest for I am wicked

And the Lord will not let me rest when I am through

A life of sin is exhausting when your nights are long

And your mornings are short

But I’ll get to the point

A girl I knew stopped talking to me today

Now she is a ghost only I’ll remember

But my hard drive will forget

Which is a good thing

Because I’d hate to see my hard drive get hurt


When you get stood up you have the best damn dessert

Of your life

Fuck yeah I’m gonna order the fudge brownie with ice cream

Sounds like the American Dream


When you drive home from the heartbreaking brownie adventure

You listen to George Jones

Because he has enough pain for the 18 mile drive home