Country to Country 2018 Review Day 1 – Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Kelsea Ballerini, Old Dominion, Morgan Evans, Brett Young & The Grahams

Though things kicked off at 2.30pm I wasn’t able to get there until just after 4pm, which was the perfect time to park, and walk fast to the Big Entrance Stage where one of my to see list acts had just started, The Grahams. I actually reviewed their Riverman’s Daughter album some 4 years ago when I ran 4000 Miles to Nashville, so was aware of how good they were, or was I? These guys rocked this stage like never before, with impassioned and authentic music that they like to call angry folk rock. It’s actually a perfect description, but don’t get hung up on the angry part, that’s more the deep belief they have in what they sing about and the ferocity of which they wield their guitars, they are smiles and laughter too. The one negative of seeing this performance was when they announced that this was the end of a 4 week UK tour, that I’d missed up to this point. Utter fail on my part, but at least I got to see them at Country to Country, and what an incredible way to start proceedings this year.

Country to Country 2018 Review Day 1 - The Grahams

It was on a quest to find the Town Square market that I realised that it wasn’t just the stage that had moved outside into a big tent, but that whole area, market stalls, eateries – the lot! So off we went to what we thought was the entrance, only to be directed around the side and almost into the train station. On entering it was obvious that this was going to a popular venue as it was packed, almost claustrophobically so. The stage was empty though, so maybe the crowds had filtered from watching the music to looking at the vast variety of Westen inspired wares on offer. This included a wide array of CDs, including signed ones, so I was able to get Ashley Campbell’s debuy album, released that day, and the latest Grahams album, both signed. One day earlier I wasn’t even sure Ashley’s CD was going to be sold in the UK, and as someone who doesn’t do digital that was a concern, so bagging a signed physical copy was a big win.

Into the main arena and after the traditional welcome from Whispering Bob Harris it was Old Dominion to get the evening going, a band I knew very little bit about but had uneducatedly prejudged as an act I wouldn’t be that fussed about. Oh how wrong was I, as from the very start to the last note these guys rocked the arena, with their brand of uplifting modern country that was just so much fun to witness. Accomplished musicians and with great vocals, songs such as No Such Thing As A Broken Heart and Hotel Key stood out, with the latter being my new holiday song. The set was over far too quickly, and I’d already had my first surprise of Country to Country 2018, a very pleasant one at that.

Country to Country 2018 Review Day 1 - Old Dominion

Morgan Evans was the first to grace the spotlight stage, located towards the back of the arena, as he introduced himself as being from Australia and being Kelsea’s husband, a joke I’d presumed at the time. Morgan used his two songs to engage the crowd and put forward a great account of himself. If I’m honest, I remember liking him, but not really any specifics about his music. I’ll blame that on an overloaded weekend of musical excess, sorry Morgan. Next up was his wife Kelsea Ballerini (I learned that she was indeed married to Morgan, and it wasn’t a joke on his part. Well, who knew? Everyone apart from me most probably.) who I’d come to quite like, as discussed in a recent blog post. She seemed to have a bit of a shaky start with some less than stellar vocals, but she improved as her set progressed. I Hate Love Songs is a particular favourite of mine, and she did it justice in front of a packed O2 Arena. What I didn’t particularly take to was her demeanour on stage, which seemed very childlike and made it a little bit too giddy and girly, not helped by the saccharine drenched heart videos in the background. Maybe that’s what her target demographic enjoys, but at an eclectic festival setting like Country to Country, a deviation from the norm would have been a good idea.

Country to Country 2018 Review Day 1 - Tim McGraw and Faith Hill

Next on the spotlight stage was Brett Young, someone I know by name only. He seemed pretty good, but I think his lack of enunciation made it hard to decipher the lyrics, particularly in the first of his two songs. Then the night really took a turn, as excitement peaked with the headlining duo of Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. Unfortunately, that excitement was hugely let down by the sound set up, which had so much bass that lyrics couldn’t be heard and the seats were actually vibrating and shaking, such was the intensity. It remained so painfully bad that it completely spoiled what should have been a highlight of the weekend, and after 6 songs we could take no more and left, along with many others. Bad sound has been a recurring problem with Country to Country and I’m never sure why, as I’ve seen so many other gigs at The O2 with no problem. It was a sad way to end the day, but Old Dominion and The Grahams had made it more than worth it, so I wasn’t too down. It also meant we got home earlier than anticipated, and that’s always a bonus! I also got to browse the CDs on the way out and picked up Old Dominion’s Happy Ending and Eric Church’s Mr Misundertood Deluxe, both signed. All in all Country to Country 2018 Day 1 was really good, but could have been so much better.

Day 2 Review
Day 3 Review

Country to Country 2018 – I’m Coming For You, Be Ready!

Country to Country 2018 - I'm Coming For You, Be Ready!

For any fan of Country Music, this coming weekend at The O2 will see the sixth instalment of Country to Country, and I for one am looking forward to this one more than any other. I’d been to every one up until last year, when finances and situation didn’t allow it, so being 2 years away from my favourite music weekender of the year has only fueled my appetite for the 2018 festival. Ah to hell with the attempted build up, I’m bloody excited, and I just can’t, and don’t want to hide it!

I’m not au fait with all the acts, but having Kacey Musgraves headline Saturday is worth the cost of the 3 day ticket on its own. Along with Eric Church and Ward Thomas, she’s up there as my absolute favourite music artist of the last 5 years. You can imagine how much I loved the Sunday of Country to Country 2016 which saw Chris Stapleton play a spine-tingling set, followed by Kacey and then Eric – arguably the greatest live music experience of my life. This Saturday night will kick off with Ashley Campbell playing a tribute to her late father, which will see few dry eyes in the arena. Ashley has definitely inherited her Father’s talent, as she showcased 2 years ago and I witnessed her perform her emotional song Remembering flawlessly. Add in Luke Combs, someone I have heard a lot about, but stupidly have not listened to yet, outside maybe 2 songs, and it’s going to be a superb night. I’ll reserve judgment on Kip Moore until after I’ve seen him play live.

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill headlining Friday is a rare treat, and my own personal wish is for Faith to take Taylor’s part in Highway Don’t Care, a song I’d love to see live. I still haven’t get their recent album so I’ll be unfamiliar with a lot of their songs, but come on, how is a set from these two not going to be great? Old Dominion I don’t really know, and Kelsea Ballerini is someone I dismissed as lightweight country pop originally, but on listening to her more I’ll admit I was wrong, and I’m becoming a fan. Looks like Friday will be a storming first day of Country to Country.

Sunday has the potential to be the dark horse of the 3 nights, as Midland will kick off proceedings, a band who I only listened to recently and really like what I’ve heard. They are followed by the brilliant Margo Price, whose album All American Made was one of my absolute favourites of last year and is still on heavy rotation. Then we have Emmylou Harris who is country music royalty and arguably the most prestigious artist at Country to Country this year. The whole weekend climaxes with Little Big Town, who have never really been my cup of tea, but I’ll give them a chance, and who knows, my opinion may change.

As well as all the incredible main stage performances in the arena there are pop stages, where lesser know acts from all over the world showcase their talents from as early as 10am every day. In my experience this has been an equally good part of the festival, introducing me to many great singers and songwriters over the years. It was there that I first met UK scene favourites Dexeter 4 years ago, had the pleasure of seeing Jessi Alexander sing and got to meet her, and saw the start of the Striking Matches phenomenon, to name but a few.

So yes, this coming weekend has me very excited, as I look to being around fellow country music fans, watching great musical performances, and basically having the absolute time of my life. I’ll be looking out for familiar faces from my adventures in the UK country scene, so say hi if you see me.

My Favourite 100 Albums of All Time, The Ultimate List

This idea is unashamedly stolen/borrowed from Kendall, who posted his list here. As he’s my oldest friend, and our musical discoveries crisscrossed and intertwined at the most formative of times, I’m sure he’d be proud that I’m continuing the legacy of his idea. Whilst I have tried to stay true to Kendall’s rules of 3 albums per artist, I absolutely can’t in the case of Bon Jovi. I could have included 10 albums from my favourite band, but have limited it to 4, with a solo effort from Jon Bon Jovi too.

I also have way more than 3 albums from various artists, as compilations and soundtracks have always made up a huge part of what I listen to, and as it’s my list, I make the rules. Please do comment away, on what you’d have included that I haven’t – let’s get the discussion flowing. Like Kendall, these albums are in alphabetical order rather than ranking them 1 to 100, but it would be all Bon Jovi/Jon Bon Jovi at the top. Yes, I have a very eclectic taste in music. Hey, variety is the spice of life.

My Favourite Albums of All Time, The Ultimate List

Aerosmith – Pump
Angaleena Presley – American Middle Class
Angaleena Presley – Wrangled
Ashley Monroe – Like A Rose
Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
Beach Boys – Surfer Girl
Beatles – Sgt Peppers
Belly – Star
Bon Jovi – Keep The Faith
Bon Jovi – New Jersey
Bon Jovi – Slippery When Wet
Bon Jovi – These Days
Brad Paisley – Wheelhouse
Brandy Clark – 12 Songs
Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine – 30 Something
Danni Nicholls – Mockingbird Lane
David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars
Def Leppard – Hysteria
Dexeter – Brighter Skies
Diana Vickers – Music To Make Boys Cry
Diana Vickers – Songs from the Tainted Cherry Tree
Disneyland Paris – Une Journee a Disneyland Paris
Dixie Chicks – MMXVI Live
EMF – Unbelievable
Eric Church – Mr Misunderstood
Eric Church – The Outsiders
Europe – The Final Countdown
Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown
Guns n Roses – Appetite For Destruction
Guns n Roses – Chinese Democracy
Iron Maiden – Powerslave
Iron Maiden – Seventh Son of the Seventh Son
Iron Maiden – Somewhere In Time
Jean Michael Jarre – Revolutions
Jessi Alexander – Down Home
Jesus Jones – Doubt
Jon Bon Jovi – Blaze of Glory: Young Guns II
Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material
Kacey Musgraves – Same Trailer Different Park
Katie Melua – Call Off The Search
Katie Melua – Piece by Piece
Larkin Poe – Peach
Lily Allen – Alright Still
Manic Street Preachers – Generation Terrorists
Maren Morris – Hero
Martika – Martika
McFly – Motion in the Ocean
McFly – Wonderland
Miranda Lambert – Platinum
Natalie Imbruglia – Left of the Middle
Nirvana – Nevermind
Oasis – Definitely Maybe
Oasis – What’s The Story Morning Glory
OST – Buffy The Vampire Slayer
OST – Dawson’s Creek
OST – Dirty Dancing
OST – Moana
OST – Rock of Ages
OST – Star Wars The Last Jedi
OST – Star Wars The Phantom Menace
OST – The OC Volume 1
Pantera – Cowboys from Hell
Pearl Jam – Ten
Poison – Flesh & Blood
Poison – Swallow This Live
Pop Will Eat Itself – Wise up Suckers
Racine – Number One
Rainbow Girls – Perceptronium
Rainbow Girls – The Sound of Light
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik
Skid Row – Skid Row
Spice Girls – Spice
Steve Vai – Passion and Warfare
Steve Vai – Elusive Light And Sound Vol. 1
Taylor Swift – Red
Taylor Swift – Reputation
Taylor Swift – Speak Now World Tour – Live
The Cure – Acoustic Hits
The Darling Buds – Pop Said
The Killers – Hot Fuss
The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers
The Smiths – The Queen is Dead
The Who – Quadrophenia
The Who – Who’s Next
The Wonder Stuff – Never Loved Elvis
Thirty Seconds to Mars – This Is War
Thunder – Back Street Symphony
Tim McGraw – Two Lanes of Freedom
Transvision Vamp – Pop Art
Transvision Vamp – Velveteen
U2 – Rattle & Hum
Various Artists – MegaBass
Various Artists – Now That’s What I Call Country Volume 4
Various Artists – WCW Mayhem: The Music
Various Artists – Unbelievable
Various Artists – Unbelievable Too
Ward Thomas – Cartwheels
Ward Thomas – From Where We Stand
Whitesnake – Live…In The Shadow of the Blues
Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool

100 Word Book Review: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S Thompson

100 Word Book Review: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - Hunter S Thompson

I feel like my complete ignorance as to who Hunter S Thompson was and his legacy may have hampered my attempt to read this book. On the other hand, maybe not wearing those rose tinted glasses allowed me to see it for what it is: hints of a decent story all but completely hidden by the countless descriptions of drug excesses and bad behaviour. While it was intriguing at first, the narcotic abundant diary of excess became repetitive and dull. It centred around 2 characters whom I found deeply unlikable and whose story I couldn’t wait to end.

** (out of 5)

100 Word Book Reviews are a maximum of 100 words, but can be less

One To Watch Out For: Jessica Meuse

Back when I used to run 4000 Miles to Nashville I’d get a plethora of emails daily from artists and management, telling me about their latest projects. Every now and then some of these reach me here at Steve’s Room, and I’ll be honest, I ignore the majority of them as they are for artists that just don’t appeal to me. That’s what I thought was going to be the case when an email hit my inbox this morning talking about Jessica Meuse, not someone I am familiar with. However, I was sat waiting for the latest Dedicated to DLP Podcast to finish saving and wanted some background noise, so I clicked through to the video for Jessica’s song Love Her Better.

Even before she started signing I was drawn in by the guitar intro, and then when the vocals did kick in, they did so with a very warm and familiar tone that made me look up and pay attention. Within 20 seconds I could tell that Jessica had a voice of great range, and with the chorus, I was proven right, and with a subtle dose of gravel the song took off. Love Her Better is a song about love gone wrong, which isn’t unfamiliar ground in the music industry, but not in a boo hoo poor me kind of way, more a glad to be away and good look to the new lady kind of way. It’s actually a really catchy tune that is enhanced by a strong and fun personality that shines through in both the audio and in the video, recorded for Bed Stock.

It wasn’t until an hour or so later that I realised there was a second video linked in the email, one showcasing Jessica signing live, and that’s when my attention piqued.

Here we get to see what Jessica can really do, with highlights from a few of her songs, and her aforementioned vocal range. The live version of Love Her Better is even better than the music video version for me, as it takes on a rockier sound, accompanied by a cracking band who add in great guitar solos to her songs that I have always been a fan of, since my beloved days of 80s hair rock music.

Jessica Meuse

There’s an album being released in July which I’ll be looking out for, and as my birthday month will consider an intended treat for myself from her record company, and not coincidental in any way. She has a bunch of shows coming up in the States, though none in the UK. The annual C2C Country to Country festival at London’s O2 Arena is in 1 week, and she’d be perfect for next year, though any live dates over here before then would be more than welcome too.

The southern rock country sound of Jessica Meuse is one that I didn’t know until a few hours ago, but one that I will be keeping tabs on for sure, and I await that album eagerly.

My Top 10 TV Shows of All Time – 2018

A few decades ago I’d have included shows like The A-Team and The Dukes of Hazzard, but they haven’t aged so well, and so are better left as nostalgic memories. The order is also interchangeable really, though the top two have been steadfast in the one and two positions since I finished watching them. Yes, I’ve always been a sucker for high school/college dramas.

My Top 10 TV Shows of All Time – 2018

1. The West Wing
2. The Sopranos
3. Dawson’s Creek
4. Gilmore Girls
5. Buffy The Vampire Slayer
6. Angel
7. The OC
8. Las Vegas
9. Newsroom
10. Sons of Anarchy

Just Falling Short: Game of Thrones, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Mad Men, Beverley Hills 90210, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Deadwood, Charmed

Still To See That Could Make The List Based on Reputation: Twin Peaks

Show That Lots Rate That I’ll Never Watch, Don’t Ask: Breaking Bad

Charity Shop Find: Sam Bourne Books

Walking home from a stroll around our local farmers market, where we bought an amazing tasting chicken and mushroom pie, and we happened upon a new charity shop in town, which I think was for the Essex & Herts Air Ambulance. Anyway, my failing memory aside, always on the lookout for a good book to read, we popped in. I’ve just this week finished reading Sam Bourne’s (pseudonym of journalist Jonathan Freedland) To Kill The President, which was my first of his. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and as much as you’d think no this couldn’t happen, with the incumbent President in America right now, who knows? I won’t spoil it for you, other than to say it was definitely a page-turner with lots of twists and turns along the way. Keen to read more of Sam Bourne’s books I was on the hunt for other works of his, and would you believe it, I found one!

Charity Shop Find: Sam Bourne Books

Well actually, I found one, and then so surprised and elated, I didn’t notice a second one right next to it. Thankfully my wife was more observant than I, and so for the grand price of 67p, I walked away with two books from an author I had just discovered and wanted to read more from – amazing. You know what is the cherry on the icing on the cake? The Righteous Men is his first book, which means after I’m finished reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas I can get stuck into the very first of Sam Bourne’s novels, without needing to look any further than my own bookshelf.

I Forgot The Miz!

When compiling the list of my 10 favourite wrestlers ever yesterday I made one glaring omission, that being The Miz. He wouldn’t be in the Just falling short part at the bottom, but firmly in that main list, possibly top 5. I recently rewatched all of the Tough Enough seasons from years gone by, where he was robbed of the victory by the wooden and soon forgotten Daniel Puder. From his main roster debut, his superb tag team with John Morrison and his subsequent singles run, I’ve been a huge fan of The Miz for over a decade, to the point where he’s probably my favourite wrestler since the retirement of Shawn Michaels.

I Forgot The Miz!

He’s without a shadow of a doubt the best on the mic, and has been for some years now. In the ring he’s a master of making every move matter, and getting people invested in what he does without relying on flashy moves and illusion breaking stunts. More than anything, he’s a proper heel, an almost forgotten art which sees supposed bad guys these days appeasing fans rather than pissing them off, as they should be. As we head towards WrestleMania there are rumours of a Miz v Strowman match, which would see my two current favourite wrestlers face off, and is a matchup which intrigues me greatly, in how they will build up to it and in what direction they will take the in-ring action. As great a heel as Miz is I do see the possibility of him having a top level run as a face, one day maybe. Miz, I apologise, you should have been on my original list, but you get your own blog post, arguably an even greater accolade.

My Top 10 Wrestlers of All Time – 2018

Kendall is one of my very oldest (possibly actual oldest) and best friends, and back in the day we were both into pro wrestling. We still are, so when he posted his list of favourite wrestlers earlier today I just knew I had to reciprocate. As great friends as we were, and still are, and shared lots of wrestling experiences, most memorably my first ever live (on PPV) show in WrestleMania VI, our tastes always differed, and these lists show that in spades. While he cheated by having all members of the Kliq as one choice, and being that I have 2 Kliq members in my list and others knocking on the door, I feel my cheating of using a tag team as one option is by far the more forgivable crime. So, the list…

*drumroll*

1. Shawn Michaels
Highlight Match: Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker (WWE Badd Blood – October 5, 1997)

Shawn Michaels WrestleMania 12

2. The Ultimate Warrior
Highlight Match: The Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan (WWE WrestleMania VI – April 1, 1990)

3. The Midnight Express
Highlight Match: The Midnight Express vs. Brian Pillman and Tom Zenk (WCW Capital Combat – May 19, 1990)
Close call between this and the match vs. The Southern Boys from The Great American Bash of the same year, but I love Pillman and Zenk as a team too, so this one gets the nod.

4. Sid Vicious
Highlight Match: Any squash match in WCW in 1989, singles or tag team match as part of The Skyscrapers with Dan Spivey.

5. Sting
Highlight Match: Ric Flair & Sting vs. The Great Muta & Terry Funk (WCW Halloween Havoc – October 28, 1989)
“But what about Sting vs. Ric Flair at NWA Clash Of The Champions?”. Sorry, its’ good, but not as great as the legend has grown, not for me anyway. Embrace this genius Thunderdome match instead!

6. Hulk Hogan
Highlight Match: Hulk Hogan & Brutus Beefcake vs. Randy Savage & Zeus (WWE SummerSlam 1989 – 28 August, 1989)

7. The Great Muta / Keijo Mutoh
Highlight Match: Keiji Mutoh vs. Genichiro Tenryu (NJPW Super Power Series tour – June 8, 2001)

8. Yuji Nagata
Highlight Match: Yuji Nagata vs Kazunari Murakami (NJPW Triathlon Survivor – December 12, 2002)

9. Scott Hall
Highlight Match: Watch his promo on WCW Nitro on May 27, 1996, then watch the first 6 months of the nWo.

10. Zeus
Highlight Match: Hullk Hogan vs. Big Boss Man (WWE Saturday Night’s Main Event – May 27, 1989)

Just falling short: Triple H, Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Brian Pillman, Tom Zenk, Braun Strowman, Rick Martel, Kevin Nash, Bob Sapp.

Records I Bought: Limited Edition Star Wars Attack of the Clones Soundtrack

I realise the title of this post is plural, but I intend it to be used for all future such posts, whether I’m buying one or ten. So now we’ve cleared that up let’s go back to yesterday evening around 6pm, when I was browsing in my local record store, the fantastic David’s Music in Letchworth. I was actually looking for the Rogue One soundtrack on vinyl, but alas that has sold since I last saw it in there, and I’m kicking myself for not buying it then. Over in the sale section I did come across another Star Wars record, that being the Attack of the Clones soundtrack. However, even though it said limited edition, at £28.99, down from £42.99, I didn’t consider that much of a bargain, so I left it.

Star Wars Attack of the Clones Limited Edition Colored Vinyl Jango Fett Version

Back home and I started to have a Google, as you do, to see just what being limited edition entailed in this scenario. Well, it turns out that 2 years ago a Limited Edition Colored (American spelling) Vinyl Jango Fett version was released, and in a small run of 1,000, worldwide. I didn’t recall seeing that mentioned on the sleeve, but then I didn’t pay that much attention. Further detective work and the £28.99 it was being sold for would actually be somewhat of a bargain, considering its price elsewhere and limited availability. So as always, I regretted not buying it and planned to return the next day, being this day that I write this post.

Star Wars Attack of the Clones Limited Edition Colored Vinyl Jango Fett Version

Star Wars Attack of the Clones Limited Edition Colored Vinyl Jango Fett Version

Having to wait much of the day due to other commitments and plans, I managed to get back to David’s Music at around 3pm, and much to my delight it was still there. Even better, it actually was the Jango Fett version, or I should say is, as we are now very much in the present, and thus I bought it and record 1 is playing in the lounge where I am typing these very words. The coloured (back to English spelling now thanks) records have an interesting tie-dye look to them, and as every bit a collector as a player of records, this pleases me greatly. I’d forgotten just how superb this John Williams score is, being probably the least played of the Star Wars soundtracks along with Revenge of the Sith for me.

Star Wars Attack of the Clones Limited Edition Colored Vinyl Jango Fett Version

The records play really well, for the most part, though do seem to crackle and pop a bit more than is usual during quieter moments, some of them anyway. The sleeve front, whilst beautiful and in a lovely matt finish, is just the front cover of the CD from 2002. As a limited edition reissue I think some different artwork would have been nice. The double spread Clones image inside is very striking, and I like the dedication to Christopher Lee on the back, his character Count Dooku being the nemesis to all that is good in this chapter of the Star Wars story. There is no booklet and not even a one sheet with information and credits, so it’s a little disappointing in that respect. Overall I am very pleased with my purchase and can see the Star Wars Attack of the Clones soundtrack being played a lot more frequently in this house going forward. The Star Wars section of my record collection grows ever bigger, with many more additions to come.