Category Archives: Commentary

Random Thoughts of the Week: My Opinion on Zac Brown Band Releasing “Beautiful Drug”

Zac Brown is widely known for having called out Luke Bryan’s 2013 bro country anthem “That’s My Kind of Night” as
the worst song he’d ever heard.
So this week, when the news broke that the Zac Brown Band would
release the EDM single “Beautiful Drug” to country radio,
many fans were disheartened and felt betrayed. This subject has been discussed over and over on other blogs, and I debated whether or not to bring it up. But it needs to be addressed.

Zac Brown Band is one of my favorites in any genre, so the moment their new album, Jekyll + Hyde, became available, I purchased it. I didn’t preview any tracks ahead of time; it was ZBB, they always deliver. It should be noted here that while they have never done EDM or pop country, the group is known for experimenting with their sound. In fact, one of my favorite songs from them is “Overnight” from 2012’s Uncaged, which is an r&b bedroom song featuring Trombone Shorty. They also do many songs tinged with reggae, and having seen them live, I’ve seen them play Southern rock as well. So as a ZBB fan, it really did not come as much of a shock to me when “Beautiful Drug” came on. Even when the EDM beats kicked in at the chorus, I was not terribly shocked. A lot of people criticized Zac Brown then, saying he should never have started an album with this song and that this was a betrayal to his core fans. As a core fan, I can say that although it was a surprise, I did not consider this a betrayal. “Beautiful Drug” is indeed a club song, but it is a love song; a betrayal would have been a song about tailgating in the moonlight. I actually like “Beautiful Drug,” although it is not country. Jekyll + Hyde was all over the place in terms of sound and can be criticized for not being country, or not really sticking to any genre. Having said that, I liked “Beautiful Drug” as an EDM song, I liked “Home Grown” as a country song, and I liked “Junkyard” and “Heavy as the Head” as rock songs.

The real betrayal of Zac Brown was when he announced that “Beautiful Drug,” an EDM club song, will be released to radio as a crossover hit. I should mention that “Heavy is the Head” was released to rock radio and gave the band a No. 1. Why then does “Beautiful Drug” need to be on country radio? They should have sent it to pop radio where it belongs. This is a betrayal. This is not the Zac Brown that called out Luke Bryan. When I turn on the radio, I can usually count on hearing good singles from Zac Brown Band mixed in with all the crap being marketed as country. They stand out as hope for country music, even if they experiment with other genres. The statement they could have and should have made would have been to release “Beautiful Drug” to pop radio, as well as another single to country radio. This marks a difference in genre and sets up boundary lines, which is something Zac Brown seems to have stood for in 2013. Most people who have called out this song hate “Beautiful Drug” and/or think ZBB should have never recorded it in the first place. As someone who was not offended by its appearance on a Zac Brown Band album, I am here to say it does not belong on country radio. Zac Brown Band has been the biggest bright spot for country music in the last five years, managing to break the airplay barrier with fiddles and lyrics of substance. The news of this release to country radio means that the Zac Brown who would once fight for country music has now surrendered to a trend. This is disheartening to say the least and a slap in the face to Zac Brown Band fans who count on them as the last hope for country music.

Tomato of the Week: Gwen Sebastian

She flies under the radar a lot, but I think she could have real potential as a good pop country artist. Her full article will be featured on Female Friday.

Random Country Suggestion: Tyler Farr: “Suffer in Peace”

The excellent title track from his new album that will never be a single because it has too much heart.

Non-Country Suggestion: Zac Brown Band featuring Chris Cornell–“Heavy is the Head”

The previously mentioned No. 1 on rock radio that stayed where it belonged.

Random Thoughts of the Week: In Memory of Lynn Anderson

Lynn Anderson, best known for the hit (“I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden,” passed away Thursday night (July 30th) at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville after a heart attack. She was sixty-seven years old. The singer, known as the “Great Lady of Country Music” had twelve No. 1’s in her career and has been one of the most successful females in country music history.

Lynn Rene Anderson, (born September 26, 1947, in Grand Forks, North Dakota), was interested in country music at a very early age. Her parents were both songwriters; her mother, Liz Anderson, wrote Merle Haggard’s “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive.” Lynn released her debut album Ride, Ride, Ride in 1966 at age nineteen. She is best known for (“I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden,” a country hit that was also an adult contemporary and pop crossover success. She won the ACM Top Female Vocalist award in 1967 and 1970, as well as the CMA Female Vocalist of the Year award in 1971. Lynn won a Grammy Award in 1971 for Best Vocal Performance for “Rose Garden” and became the first woman to win an American Music Award. She was named one of Billboard’s Artists of the Decade in 1980.

Perhaps more important than her own success is the
path she paved for female artists. Lynn became the first country female to sell out Madison Square Garden in 1974. She had over fifty Top 40 hits in her career, making her one of the most successful women in country music to date. She has been considered many times for, but not yet inducted into, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and it’s unfortunate that they didn’t induct her before she passed away.

Lynn was known early in her career as the “California Horse Show Queen.” She raised horses and obtained several distinctions, including sixteen national championships and eight world championships. Later in life, she worked with the “Special Riders of Animalland,” a therapeutic horseback riding program for children. She never stopped showing horses or recording. In fact, she had just released a gospel album entitled Bridges on June 9th. The “Great Lady of Country Music” will be missed. Lynn has left her mark on the genre, as well as on music in general. At a time like this, it is especially important to remember the difference female voices can make in country music.

Tomato of the Week: Lindi Ortega

Her album comes out Friday, so it’s time to feature Lindi Ortega on Female Friday! By the way, don’t buy Luke Bryan or Michael Ray’s albums this Friday, buy Lindi Ortega’s…this will do more for country music than Jason Isbell did by beating Alan Jackson.

Random Country Suggestion: Jason Eady–Daylight and Dark

This was probably my favorite album of 2014. Plus, there’s been a lot of talk about Texas country on here lately, so seems appropriate.

Listen to Daylight and Dark

No non-country suggestion, just go listen to “Rose Garden.”

Random Thoughts of the Week: Jason Isbell and Alan Jackson Prove Quality is Worth More Than Airplay

Congratulations to Jason Isbell and Alan Jackson, who have claimed the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, respectively, on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. Both released excellent albums–I reviewed them both here on Country Exclusive–on July 17th, the first Friday release date for albums in North America. Jackson’s Angels and Alcohol was a traditional album by a country veteran, released on a major label. Isbell’s Something More Than Free was an Americana/Southern rock/folk/country blend marked by excellent songwriting, released independently. Musically, these albums were polar opposites–well, as opposite as two albums can be within the same genre. While they both had great songwriting, the content on their albums was quite different, and their ways of storytelling and crafting lyrics aren’t similar either.

So what did these two albums have in common? Musically, although different, each had a distinct country sound. As I have mentioned, each contained quality music marked with great songwriting. I gave each album a 9 when I reviewed them. Each contained many songs written solely by the artist. This is especially surprising in Jackson’s case, considering that most mainstream songs are written by at least three people these days. (It takes at least three to write crap about a dirt road, but one can write good music?) Jackson wrote seven of the ten tracks on his album. Isbell’s songwriting is something he has been praised for and something I discussed at length in his review; for him to write the material on his album, however, is not as unusual because he is an independent artist.

But, wait…there’s something else glaringly obvious these two albums have in common. Neither has had five minutes of radio support. Jackson has had a little and may have more with a future single, but he has not had airplay comparative to what he should have with the No. 2 album in the country. Isbell isn’t getting airplay at all and yet has managed to beat Jackson by less than 500 units after a fight that came down to the wire. Both albums sold over 46,000 copies.

And here I thought if you weren’t on country radio, you didn’t exist. If you were living under a rock in February, that is what Gary Overton, CEO of Sony Music Nashville, who was later fired, infamously told The Tennessean–“If you’re not on country radio, you don’t exist.” Overton’s comments were the cause of an uproar from Texas artists such as Aaron Watson who, after claiming the No. 1 album that very week, noted, “My name is Aaron Watson. I’m not played on country radio. And I have the #1 record in country music this week. I do exist.” Aaron Watson went to settle the matter with Bobby Bones and, in a strange turn of events, was told that he was being “disrespectful to women” for calling a producer “sweetheart.” This led to an epic online rant from Texas artist Charlie Robison–too long to post here–which in turn led to Florida Georgia Line’s tweet that they had “lost a lot of respect” for Robison. His reply was, “How do you lose respect for someone who doesn’t exist?”

Overton’s comments were overshadowed by the idiocy of Keith Hill in May, but they shouldn’t be overlooked. Alan Jackson and Jason Isbell certainly exist–and there is a silent majority out there buying their albums saying they’d rather search the Internet and streaming services to find good music than listen to what is offered on radio. Kacey Musgraves has been all but blacklisted on country radio, and she has held her position on the chart, debuting at No. 1 quietly. We may also see this next week with Ashley Monroe–fingers crossed–whom I have never heard on the radio. Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard don’t get played anymore, and their album Django and Jimmie has had no problem staying in the top ten, while radio-supported Billy Currington, Canaan Smith, Kelsea Ballerini, and Easton Corbin struggle to keep their places on the charts. What would happen if they lost radio support? How long will country radio ignore the numbers? Maybe they can ignore a bunch of traditionalists griping on blogs, but It’s not just people griping on blogs anymore, it’s on the charts now.

Tomato of the Week: Angaleena Presley

As I featured her fellow Pistol Annie Ashley Monroe last week, I thought it fitting that she should be this week. Check out her article on Female Friday!

Random Country Suggestion: Zac Brown Band–“Bittersweet”

Great song off their new album, Jekyll + Hyde. It should be a future single.

Non-Country Suggestion: Chris Tomlin–Love Ran Red

I often post pop music here, but as I’ve mentioned before, I like a little of everything, and I like some Christian music too. If you don’t like Christian music, don’t listen. If you do, you are probably familiar with Chris Tomlin, and his work speaks for itself. He is the Strait or Jackson in the Christian world that just keeps releasing good music, and his latest album is no different.

Listen to Love Ran Red

That’s all for this week’s Random Thoughts!

Random Thoughts of the Week: Luke Bryan Apoligizes, Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert Announce Divorce

This column has previously been on Sundays, but this weekend I was moving so it comes late. However, since music is now being released on Friday, changing the times for album reviews, this column will move to Tuesdays starting next week.

Last week, I used the Random Thoughts column to rip apart Luke Bryan for his disparaging comments about outlaw country, as well as his mischaracterization of Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Merle Haggard. Since then, Luke has called the families of Waylon and Merle to personally apologize for his actions. Both Shooter Jennings and Ben Haggard have come forward publicly about this to say basically that this is water under the bridge, and that Luke did an honorable thing by apologizing privately. I happen to agree. Whether he meant to disparage them or not, he proved by apologizing personally that he truly cared about how it affected them. he had already tried to repair his public image on Twitter–and that is all most artists would have done. Regardless of my opinion of Luke or his music, this was a very classy thing. Last week, my post was entitled “What Happened to the Class in Country?” and this was Luke showing he still has some.

Earlier today, (July 20th), Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert released a statement announcing their divorce. They said this was not the future they had “envisioned” and added that “it is with heavy hearts that we move forward separately.” The statement continued, “We are real people, with real lives, with real families, friends, and colleagues. Therefore, we kindly ask for privacy and compassion concerning this very personal matter.” In respect to them, we should not, and I will not, seek to decipher what led to the divorce. However, I do wonder how it will affect their careers. Will Blake Shelton lose some relevancy? He gained much more radio relevancy when he married Miranda, although this was also around the time he started on “The Voice,” which certainly played a role. If this had happened a few years ago, he might have been in trouble, but now, with the male-dominated radio waves and his job on “The Voice,” I think he will not be affected, but who knows? Miranda could continue to lose airplay as well–she is a female and that is an automatic strike against her, and now she won’t be married to Blake, so radio will probably give her less of a chance. Their dominance at the ACM and CMA Awards will certainly end, and Carrie Underwood will have a well-deserved shot at Top Female Vocalist. Personally, I hope neither of their careers is seriously hurt, but I prefer Miranda over Blake, and I would hate to see one less female on the radio because she lost her “ticket.” As I mentioned, I will not speculate on what led to the divorce, but we all know if cheating was indeed involved–as many gossip sites would have us believe–Miranda will put it in her next album. However, their privacy should be respected. Just because we hear their music and see Blake on TV does not mean their lives should be put under a microscope.

Tomato of the Week: Ashley Monroe

Her new album comes out Friday–I have been waiting for this since her last album–so what better day to feature her? Here’s the lead single from the new album, The Blade

Random Country Suggestion: Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton, “Better in the Long Run”

A song from happier times–incidentally, co-written by our featured female Ashley Monroe.

Non-Country Suggestion: Taylor Swift, 1989

I’m late to the party on this, as I could not stand Taylor’s previous album Red attempting to be both pop and country and thus failing at both. However, I recently bought 1989 and now that she is not pretending and is embracing a pop sound, Taylor is better than she ever was in country. If you like pop, give it a listen.

Listen to 1989

That’s all for this week’s Random Thoughts!

Random Thoughts of the Week: What Happened to the Class in Country?

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have probably heard Luke Bryan’s chosen “defense” for his brand of “country,” as told in an interview Thursday. But in case you haven’t, here’s the now infamous quote, given in an interview with Hits Daily Double:

Well, yeah. I think that people who want Merle, Willie and Waylon just need to buy Merle, Willie and Waylon. I’ve never been a ‘Those were the good old days’ kind of guy. I’m not big on looking back on the past. I’m not an outlaw country singer. I don’t do cocaine and run around. So I’m not going to sing outlaw country. I like to hunt, fish, ride around on my farm, build a big bonfire and drink some beers—and that’s what I sing about. It’s what I know. I don’t know about laying in the gutter, strung out on drugs. I don’t really want to do that.

Then, after the backlash from a significant portion of the country community, Luke took to Twitter to respond (in other words, his manager told him, “Hey, everyone thinks you’re a douchebag, and your public image is in jeopardy.”) Here’s his response

I’ve been thinking about this all day, every now and then I feel I need to defend myself in this business. I did a great interview with many topics discussed. It’s so frustrating that something negative has spun out of the story. I would never speak against any artist. It’s not my style. I consider Willie, Waylon and Merle musical heroes. I was trying to state what I was about and where I come from with my music. It’s simple as that.

Now, before I pick apart this ridiculously fake “response,” let me first say that “outlaw country” refers to taking creative control of one’s music. I am not going to spend a lot of time covering this; a lot of other blogs have done a great job with this. I will simply say that Luke isn’t an outlaw country singer because he sings whatever the labels throw at him. He sings shit like “Kick the Dust UP” and “That’s my Kind of Night” to make money. He has no original thoughts of his own, and even if he did, his desire for money has overshadowed them. Outlaw country spawned the Texas/red dirt country movement, and that’s where you will find today’s outlaws; they are people like Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers who sing about having “standards” as opposed to making “hits” and are relegated to the Texas Music Chart and Texas and Oklahoma stations willing to play their music.

But let’s pretend “outlaw country” did mean “laying in the gutter, strung out on drugs.”
Saving Country Music has a great article documenting Willie, Merle, and Waylon’s own words about their experiences with cocaine, and I have copied the link here. To summarize, Willie fired anyone in the band caught with cocaine, Merle tried it once and would never do it again, and Waylon was a long-time addict who finally quit and overcame his addiction. So now we can add “uneducated idiot” to Luke’s first crime of “classless douchebag.”

But let’s pretend further that they did, in fact, “do cocaine” and “run around.” This boils down to Luke’s lack of disrespect for legends of the genre that allowed him to become successful. Country music is (or used to be) about class. Here’s what Toby Keith had to say about Willie Nelson after the success of their duet “Beer for my Horses:”

When you see somebody that still has the love and passion that he’s got, you don’t understand why they can’t have a [No. 1] shot like these young guys and girls…but I’ve told him time and time again that I’m glad to be the guy that got to take that ride with him

And here’s Kenny Chesney, atWaylon’s passing: “I learned a lot from him, for not even meeting him. He had his niche. He had his style. He blazed his own trail. He didn’t care what anybody thought about it. That was a true artist.” (Also, apparently Kenny knows what “outlaw” means.)
And finally, just last year, country artists voted Merle Haggard the first-ever
Artist of a Lifetime and numerous artists spoke about his career and influence. And now Luke, who says, “I would never speak against any artist” has chosen to do just that–instead of defending his douche “country,” he has chosen to misuse the term “outlaw” and drag the names of legends through the dirt for his own gain. So it wasn’t enough to destroy country radio with the shit you call music, Luke, but now you are seeking to destroy the last shreds of class and knowledge left to country music with your ignorance and disrespect…nice.

Waylon’s daughter-in-law, Kathy Pinkerman Jennings, has spoken out against Luke in a Facebook post and YouTube video. I will close this post with her thoughts, as I couldn’t have said it better myself

To Luke Bryan:

I hope your family members are proud of you for using your WORLDWIDE platform to take the time to disrespect my Father in Law. You have managed to PROVE to the world your true self.

Albeit that Waylon’s drug use is well documented and something he overcame, I assure you, he was never “laying in a gutter.” At the peak of his career and drug abuse, he was making history and setting records. He, single handedly paved the way for you and everyone else to make music the way the artist wanted to make it. I’m not willing to waste my time to debate your “music” and / or the fact you have zillions of fans – I will however, not sit back and be quiet when you have so blatantly disrespected Waylon.

I recall the time I was at the Grand Ole Opry to visit with Andy Griggs, you were making your debut appearance. My friend that was with us had just seen your video. As we stood at the side of the stage, Jeannie Seeley [Seely] was talking to us and you walked over to introduce your self to her and told her how much you admired her, she in turn introduced you to myself and my husband. I almost got a cavity because of the sweetness of the words coming out of your mouth – you told us Waylon was one of your musical heroes. You went on and on and on.

This is not about music, Outlaw Country, whatever – it’s about DISRESPECT.

You are a platinum, disrespecting, no singing, whining, grasping for media attention, asshole. Use your platform for something good, instead of bashing the LEGENDS that came before you.

Tomato of the Week: Sunny Sweeney

As she just had two singles hit No. 1 on the previously mentioned Texas Music Chart, I thought it appropriate to feature her this week. Check out her full article on Female Friday!

Random Country Suggestions

This week I am including two country suggestions, because they both seem appropriate. There will be no non-country suggestion.