Billboard Country Airplay and Country Albums Chart (September 12th)

Billboard Country Airplay

1. Sam Hunt–“House Party” (up 1)
2. Dustin Lynch–“Hell of a Night” (up 1)
3. Thomas Rhett–“Crash and Burn” (up 1)
4. Chris Janson–“Buy Me a Boat” (up 1)
5. Keith Urban–“John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” (up 1)
6. Frankie Ballard–“Young and Crazy” (down 5)
7. Brett Eldredge–“Lose My Mind” (up 1)
8. Kenny Chesney–“Save It for a Rainy Day” (up 1)
9. Maddie & Tae–“Fly” (up 3)
10. Florida Georgia Line–“Anything Goes” (up 1)
11. Eric Church–“Like a Wrecking Ball”
12. Chase Rice–“Gonna Wanna Tonight” (up 1)
13. Luke Bryan–“Strip It Down” (up 3)
14. Cole Swindell–“Let Me See Ya Girl” (up 1)
15. Zac Brown Band–“Loving You Easy” (down 8)
16. Old Dominion–“Break Up With Him” (up 1)
17. Dan + Shay–“Nothin’ Like You” (up 1)
18. Blake Shelton–“Gonna” (up 4) [biggest gainer]
19. Jake Owen–“Real Life”
20. Lady Antebellum–“Long Stretch of Love”
21. Kip Moore–“I’m To Blame”
22. Carrie Underwood–“Smoke Break” (up 2)
23. Cam–“Burning House”
24. Chris Young–“I’m Comin’ Over” (up 1)
25. Big & Rich–“Run Away With You” (up 1)
26. Brothers Osborne–“Stay a Little Longer” (up 1)
27. Tim McGraw–“Top of the World” (up 2)
28. Parmalee–“Already Callin’ You Mine”
29. Jason Aldean–“Gonna Know We Were Here” (up 1)
30. Kelsea Ballerini–“Dibs” (re-entering top 30)

  • new #1: “House Party”
  • next week’s #1 prediction: “Hell of a Night”
  • Michael Ray’s “Kiss You in the Morning” fell out of the top 30, only to be replaced by Kelsea Ballerini’s “Dibs”
  • hope for country music exists, as Maddie & Tae are inside the top ten with “Fly”

Billboard Top Country Albums

1. Luke Bryan–Kill the Lights [please, someone take this slot back from this horrendous album]
2. Kip Moore–Wild Ones [debut]
3. Elvis Presley–Elvis Presley Forever
4. Sam Hunt–Montevallo
5. Zac Brown Band–Jekyll + Hyde
6. Eric Church–The Outsiders
7. Florida Georgia Line–Anything Goes
8. Alan Jackson–Angels and Alcohol
9. Little Big Town–Painkiller
10. Brantley Gilbert–Just as I Am
11. Jason Isbell–Something More Than Free
12. Jason Aldean–Old Boots, New Dirt
13. Luke Bryan–Crash My Party
14. Kacey Musgraves–Pageant Material
15. Various Artists–Now That’s What I Call Country, Volume 8
16. Michael Ray–Michael Ray
17. Zac Brown Band–Greatest Hits So Far…
18. Kenny Chesney–The Big Revival
19. A Thousand Horses–Southernality
20. Chase Rice–Ignite the Night
21. Pat Green–Home
22. Kelsea Ballerini–The First Time
23. Cole Swindell–Cole Swindell
24. Willie Nelson/Merle Haggard–Django and Jimmie
25. Chris Stapleton–Traveler

  • Luke Bryan remains at #1…I don’t think I need to explain how thoroughly depressing this is
  • Kip Moore’s pretty good rock album Wild Ones debuts at #2
  • after a debut at #5, Pat Green’s Home falls all the way to #21
  • A Thousand Horses moved up from #29 to #19 with Southernality

Source: Billboard

Steven Tyler and Kelsea Ballerini To Reveal CMA Award Nominees

I don’t know which of these names is more telling: Steven Tyler, the Aerosmith frontman who recently followed the trend of rockers “going country” with his single “Love is Your Name,” or Kelsea Ballerini, the label-made singer of straight pop “Love Me Like You Mean It” and female-bro-country single “Dibs.” Together, these two names perfectly sum up the current state of country music, and these two have been chosen by the Country Music Association to reveal the 2015 nominees for country music’s most prestigious honor. Tyler and Ballerini will announce the nominees in five categories live on Wednesday, September 9th, in New York City. The announcements will air on ABC’s Good Morning America, and Steven Tyler will perform the aforementioned “Love is Your Name.”

“When I was asked to announce the nominees for the ever-so-prestigious CMA Awards this year, I actually whispered, ‘They really want me?’ I’m just humbled by the open arms of the Country community and am honored to take part in this BIG moment,” said Tyler.

“I’ve grown up watching the CMA Awards and am such a fan of everything CMA does and represents,” said Ballerini. “To be able to announce the nominations for the Awards this year with THE Steven Tyler makes me beyond excited.”

First of all, Steven Tyler is right: it’s ever-so-prestigious, and having one country single should hardly qualify him for this. Secondly, I wonder if Kelsea Ballerini would be just as excited if she were to announce the nominees with THE George Strait…but I digress. The 49th annual CMA Awards will air live on ABC on Wednesday, November 4th.

Album Review: Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard–Django and Jimmie

Rating: 9.5/10

On June 2nd, before Country Exclusive came into existence, two country legends released a collaboration album entitled Django and Jimmie. Like several other earlier albums I have covered, this one certainly deserves a review. It hit #1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums Chart and has held its own well against several radio-supported albums that have come out since. It is currently also at #11 on the Americana Airplay Chart. (I don’t know what the world is coming to when Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard are considered Americana, and Thomas Rhett’s latest single is considered country, but whatever.) Chart performance aside, however, this album deserves a review if for no other reason than it was released by two living legends. It reminds us that country radio can continue down the path to hell, but there will always be good country music being made. Modern country fans, I urge you to give this album a listen and appreciate these living legends while they are still with us.

The album’s title track and opener is a tribute to Django Reinhardt and Jimmie Rodgers, Willie and Merle’s inspirations. They sing, “There might not have been a Merle or a Willie if not for Django and Jimmie.” By the way, there are two things that immediately hit me from the start of this record; their friendship and musical chemistry is palpable, and their voices, though seasoned, are still great. Next is a fun, upbeat little song called “It’s All Going to Pot,” that hopefully I don’t need to elaborate on if you know anything about Willie Nelson. The instrumentation in this song, much like the rest of the album, is great, and some awesomeness is added to the song by its release date of April 20th.

The album turns serious on “Unfair Weather Friend,” a song about the ones who are there for us during life’s hardest times. This song is made better coming from Willie and Merle, whom I am sure have been there for each other throughout their lives. They pay tribute to another friend in “Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash,” a humorous ode to the Man in Black in which they share personal stories and memories. My favorit part of this album is here–Merle asks Willie if he knows anything about Cash, and Willie replies, “Well, yeah, I know a lot of things about Cash, I’m not sure I should talk about it. But I checked with John and asked if it was okay and he said he didn’t give a shit. One time he took a casket up to his hotel room and got into it and called room service. I thought that was pretty funny.” This is just awesome.

“Live This Long” sees the two legends looking back on their lives and reflecting that they might not have lived as hard if they had known they’d live this long. I’m not sure how serious this is and whether they really would have changed one bit about the way they lived. “Alice in Hulaland” is about a fan who goes to all of a band’s shows. They speculate, “Are you there for the melody, there for the lyric, or just for the boys in the band?” It’s a nice, lighthearted track with plenty of steel guitar that I was surprised to have enjoyed so much. Next is an excellent cover of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” a song dealing with a bad relationship where they say “don’t think twice, it’s all right” as they leave. All I can say is take note, mainstream country artists, this is how to do a cover. It fits them perfectly and works well on the album.

“Family Bible” features Merle primarily and is a song reflecting back on childhood memories of his family reading the Bible together. This is extremely relatable and feels like hearing your grandparents’ memories, only in a song. It borrows a little of the melody from the hymn “Rock of Ages,” and I could picture my uncle singing this at his piano. I think it will connect with others in similar ways. “It’s Only Money” works well after this song–it’s an up-tempo song with the premise, “It’s only money, it will go away.” It’s nice to hear this from these two, and I don’t think it was placed after “Family Bible” by accident. Also, there is a saxophone in this song that just works beautifully, as well as some outstanding country piano playing. Next, they nail Merle’s hit “Swinging Doors,” where a man hangs out in a bar because he doesn’t feel welcome at home. Mainstream country artists, this is how to sing a heartbreak/drinking song. (Cole Swindell, I am looking right at “Ain’t Worth the Whiskey” here.)

“Where Dreams Come to Die” is an intriguing song about just that–the place where hopes and dreams are shattered. This is one of the “deeper” songs on the album, but it was easy to connect with for me, and I think many more will be able to relate to it as well. “Somewhere Between” is just Willie, which I find a little perplexing and out of place on a Willie/Merle album. Still, it’s a good heartbreak song in which Willie says there’s a wall “somewhere between” him and the woman he loves, with a “door without any key.” This is a good song with some excellent songwriting, but I would have liked it even better if Merle had joined in. It’s hard to say exactly what “Driving the Herd” is about, but I think “the herd” is the people at the shows. Merle and Willie talk about singing and playing from the heart while they’re “driving the herd.” My interpretation could be totally wrong, but even if so, the song has some of the best instrumentation and vocals on the whole album. The album closes with “The Only Man Wilder Than Me,” where the two friends sing of each other; each calls the other “the only man wilder than me.” It’s a great way to close this album of friendship.

Overall, Django and Jimmie is an excellent album. Willie Nelson is 82, and Merle Haggard is 78, yet their voices, though they sound seasoned, don’t reflect their ages at all. The songwriting on this album is stellar, yet still simple and relatable. This is what country music is all about. If someone asks you what “country” means, you can point to this album–simple arrangements, relatable songwriting, and great storytelling. One of the best albums of the year so far.

Listen to Album

Random Thoughts of the Week: Country Music Should Move Forward, Not Backwards

Last Friday (August 28th), Maddie & Tae’s debut album became the first mainstream album to receive a ten from me in the short history of this blog. It was characterized throughout by great country instrumentation–fiddles, steel guitars, mandolins, and banjos being used for good. There were a few lyrical weak points, but overall, the songwriting was great too, displaying a maturity that Kelsea Ballerini and RaeLynn lack, while still relating to the same demographic. In short, Maddie & Tae did something no one has managed to do in years; they brought real, traditional country music, albeit slightly pop-influenced at times, to the generation that believes “country” = hip-hop beats, bad rapping, and a token banjo. The impact this album and these ladies could have on the mainstream should be apparent to all of us, and if we truly want country music to survive, this is a victory we should be celebrating.

But apparently this is still not good enough for some people.

I have seen a number of comments on various reviews of this album saying that this is not country, that this is immature, and/or simply dismissing it out of hand because it is pop country. These people can’t even acknowledge that this is progress for country music because they immediately focus on the electronic beats, which were such a minimal part of this album that I didn’t even mention them in my review. First of all, I’d definitely say this is country-pop, not pop country, but if you don’t like pop country, fine. If you listen to this album and can’t deal with the occasional electronic beat–even with the fiddles, steel guitars, mandolins, and banjos always front and center–fine. But everyone reading this knows the fans I am addressing–these are the fans that want country music to return to its “golden age” and are so close-minded that they cannot even accept progress when it is staring them in the face. I actually addressed a commenter on SCM who listened to twenty-six seconds of one song and judged Maddie & Tae for being “bleach blondes.” Comments, and fans, like this, are hurting the genre as bad as, if not worse than, Sam Hunt fans who refuse to listen to Merle Haggard or Jason Isbell for more than twenty-six seconds. Close-minded classic country fans, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but country music is not going to return to its “golden age,” and Hank Williams is not going to be reborn, nor should we wish for this. Being stuck in the past like this does not help the genre–it is not progress to move country backwards. Rather, country music should move forward, while still respecting the roots of the genre. That’s right, I’m saying country should “evolve”–and no, that doesn’t equal Thomas Rhett’s “Vacation,” The Band Perry’s “Live Forever,” or Luke Bryan’s “Strip it Down,” but it does equal Maddie & Tae’s entire album.

Many of us remember the infamous remarks that Blake Shelton made in 2013, calling classic/traditional country fans “old farts and jackasses” among other things. Granted, he made this comment to defend the false “evolution” of country music, but there is some truth to his point that was overshadowed back then by the remarks themselves, as well as by his motive. I didn’t link this article because I don’t want to focus on the ridiculous/incorrect part of his remarks; however, part of his point is indeed valid. He said that young people don’t want to listen to their “grandpa’s music” and that is generally true. I am a twenty-three-year-old country fan interested in keeping the genre that I love alive, and while I respect the talent of the country legends who came before my generation, I generally prefer to listen to good country music of my generation. I’m sure you can understand this, older country fans, since you prefer to listen to the legends of your generation. However, as I said, I do respect the talent and vision of the legends that established the genre and made country what it is today; if I didn’t, I wouldn’t care what country “evolved” into. And respect is all I am asking of you–you don’t have to like Maddie & Tae or similar artists, but if you really want country music to survive, understand that it’s people like Maddie & Tae who have a chance of making that happen. Respect them as artists who can bring real country music to the generation that sees “country” as Sam Hunt and Kelsea Ballerini, and understand that this is what it will take to change the state of mainstream country music. And don’t say their music isn’t country–just as a banjo doesn’t automatically make music country, the presence of an electronic beat doesn’t immediately disqualify music from being country.

Older country music fans, instead of dismissing Maddie & Tae or another artist like them because of looks or style, at least give them a listen. If they’re not your cup of tea, fine. But maybe your children or grandchildren could relate to them. Instead of being close-minded and wishing for the days of George Jones, try introducing your children and grandchildren to country music through people like Maddie & Tae. This will do far more to “save country music” than ranting on a blog. Please don’t be one of the “old farts and jackasses” that Blake Shelton was referring to. Don’t be someone that makes true country fans like myself, who want to see the genre move forward and survive beyond our generation, look like close-minded, uninformed people who want everything to sound like Hank Williams. As long as there are comments and fans out there like these, the artists and labels will use them to their advantage to support their brand of “evolution” and ultimately to kill country music. Close-minded classic country fans, if you truly love country music, please do your part to keep it alive.

Tomato of the Week: Brandy Clark

Many people are somewhat familiar with, or have at least heard of, Kacey Musgraves. Brandy Clark has had a hand in writing many of Kacey’s songs and is a talented singer in her own right. See her full article on Female Friday!

Random Country Suggestion: Keith Whitley–“I’m No Stranger to the Rain”

A #1 hit for Keith back in 1989 and one of my all-time favorite country songs. See, there will never be another Keith Whitley, and why should we want one?

Non-Country Suggestion: Skillet–“Salvation”

As I say anytime I post Christian music here, if you don’t like Christian music, ignore this. If you do, this is the best song from their latest album.