Tag Archives: Big Machine

Random Thoughts of the Week: The Top Five Signs of Hope for Mainstream Country

2015 has been the year of the sellout in country music. The two most disappointing sellouts of the year for me were easily the Zac Brown Band and the Eli Young Band, the former with the release of the EDM single “Beautiful Drug” to country radio, and the latter with the terrible single “Turn it On” and the subsequent EP, as well as the horrible “country remix” of “Honey, I’m Good” with Andy Grammer. Keith Urban was a close third, using his talent to give us the brilliant “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16,” a song that personally pisses me off about as much as “Kick the Dust Up” because Keith Urban knows better. Easton Corbin used his George Strait-esque voice, previously used for “A Little More Country Than That,” to record an album full of bro country pickup lines. Brett Eldredge, though never really carrying a torch for traditional country, was never really working aginst us until his recent r&b album Illinois. Danielle Bradbery has remade herself into a wannabe pop star for the sake of reviving an already struggling career. Even the legendary Alabama sunk to the low of releasing “Southern Drawl,” a desperate attempt to be cool that failed in every respect, coolness especially. And now, Eric Paslay’s new single, “High Class” seems to have finally pushed everyone off the deep end with its blatant metro-bro bullshit lyrics and style–and this coming from the person who obviously knows better, as “She Don’t Love You” so effectively proved. In times like these, people start saying we should forsake country altogether and start calling ourselves Americana fans, that we should just surrender our beloved “country music” to these sellouts, country carpetbaggers, and metro-bro douchebags, and go listen to Americana. They say that all hope for “country” as we knew it is lost.

Well, here are some signs of hope, in no particular order of importance.

Dierks Bentley

Dierks Bentley is not selling out, as his latest single, “Riser,” has proven. I will be incredibly shocked if he succumbs to the trends, as he has no reason to. He has found the perfect balance between quality and airplay and doesn’t seem to care that he often does not get the recognition he deserves. He has made quality music throughout his career and has no reason to change that now; he’s found a formula that works for him even in this country radio climate.

Carrie Underwood

Carrie Underwood is not a traditional country artist, but she’s here because she defines what actual pop country should sound like. She takes the best of pop and country and blends them well, offering songs that both display depth in storytelling and are radio-ready. Although I was not as impressed with her new single, “Smoke Break,” as many, it certainly does not follow the current trends, and her new album, Storyteller, could be a factor in turning back the tide of mainstream country music to a real pop-country sound–what we have now is straight pop poorly disguised and incorrectly labled as country.

Cam

True, Cam has only given us two singles and an EP so far, but the reason she’s in my top five signs of hope for mainstream country is that On the Verge supported her. Her first single, “My Mistake,” was a nice pop country blend, but “Burning House,” the sponsored single, is a completely acoustic, traditional country song. The fact that this program supported an artist like that signals change. Cam’s debut album cannot come soon enough!

Chris Stapleton

Some would argue whether Chris Stapleton is mainstream, but I don’t see why. He’s on a major label and has even received some airplay. Traveller is nominated for Album of the Year by the CMA, and Stapleton is nominated for Male Vocalist of the Year and New Artist of the Year. Stapleton with three nominations is a sure sign of hope.

Maddie & Tae

I have written a lot about these ladies, but I’ll say it again–they can bring those that think “country” = Sam Hunt and Kelsea Ballerini back to country. Radio has actually given them a shot. They’ve proven they’re not afraid of fighting for country; they’ve spoken out against drum machines and their debut single was “Girl in a Country Song.” The fact that Scott Borchetta and Big Machine are behind them and that they’re actually getting played is a huge sign of hope.

Despite all the selling out, there are still a lot of reasons to hope for mainstream country, perhaps now more than ever. More and more independent artists are seeing success in album sales that mainstream Nashville can’t ignore. Country legend Merle Haggard, a name-drop in many of today’s songs, is openly speaking out. Represented above are established artists and newcomers alike, fighting for real country music. I didn’t even mention Mo Pitney, Ashley Monroe, Kacey Musgraves, Jon Pardi–the list goes on. Not to mention Tim McGraw’s new album will unashamedly be titled Damn Country Music. I wasn’t thrilled by the lead single, but the album title certainly intrigues me. The point of all this is that mainstream country is far from hopeless–in fact, after years of fighting, we are finally seeing numbers on our side, artists speaking out, and more traditional artists being signed and getting airplay. In short, although it is happening slowly, we are seeing results. Why should we give up now? The day we leave our own fight and run to Americana is the day that country music will be lost.

Tomato of the Week: Jamie Lin Wilson

I featured her friend and fellow Texas country artist, Courtney Patton, last week, so this week, I am covering Jamie Lin Wilson. Check out her full article on Female Friday!

Random Country Suggestion: Randy Rogers Band–Burning the Day

A great album from one of my favorite Texas/Red Dirt bands.

Listen to album

No non-country suggestion, just go listen to these glaring signs of hope.

Female Fridays: Featuring Maddie & Tae

Their first full-length album is available today, so today is all about Maddie & Tae. As usual, the album review will come later.

How You Might Know Maddie & Tae

Unlike the others I have featured, most of you probably do know Maddie & Tae, and if you’re just a casual mainstream country listener, you should still know their breakthrough hit “Girl in a Country Song.”

Bio

From Maddie & Tae’s Web site:

“We are Country,” says Maddie. “We love all music, but we’re girls from where Country comes from. It’s who we are; it’s how we live. And that’s the music we want to make. It makes us happy, but like what we write about, it’s also who we are.”

“Honesty’s always the best policy,” says Tae. “We’re telling our stories and hope people can relate.”

Madison Marlow (born July 7, 1995, from Sugar Land Texas), and Taylor Dye (born September 18, 1995, from Ada, Oklahoma), became Maddie & Tae when they met in high school through a mutual vocal coach. After high school, they moved to Nashville and gained a publishing deal with Dot Records, which is, shockingly, an imprint of Big Machine. That’s right, the duo who released “Girl in a Country Song” is on the same label as Taylor Swift and Florida Georgia Line. On St. Patrick’s Day in 2014, Maddie & Tae sat down to write “Girl in a Country Song” after Maddie expressed a heartfelt sympathy for the girls mentioned in bro country songs who are good for little more than sitting on tailgates in cut-off jeans. Together with Aaron Scherz, the duo wrote what would become an anti-bro-country anthem and a breakout hit for Maddie & Tae. It went to #1 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart in December 2014, becoming the second debut single by a female duo in history to do so.

Maddie & Tae released an excellent EP in November 2014, featuring the songs “Sierra,” “Your Side of Town,” and the current single, “Fly,” which has reached #12 on Billboard Country Airplay and will most likely go recurrent shortly after the album release. It is worth noting that Maddie & Tae came on the scene during a time when I had all but alienated myself from country music. I talked about this in my
Random Thoughts column this week. The Maddie & Tae EP, with its fiddles, banjos being used correctly, and country lyrics, was the thing that started to bring me back to country. I hoped an EP was not all we would get from them, and thankfully, now we have a full-length album. Their long-awaited debut album, Start Here, is finally here today, and a review is coming.

Why Maddie & Tae Belong on Country Radio

I’ll keep this short, since they’ve already had radio success. Mainly, I just want to see that success continue. They deserve to be on country radio because they bring a youthfulness and relatability, the kind that Kelsea Ballerini and Taylor Swift bring. However, Maddie & Tae are actually country, as Maddie points out in her quote. Kelsea Ballerini is “calling dibs” on being the girl in the truck; Maddie & Tae are calling out the bros for their sexist lyrics. Kelsea Ballerini is using slang and straight pop instrumentation; Maddie & Tae are using catchy country lyrics backed by fiddles and mandolins. Most of all, Tae talks about honesty in the above quote, and isn’t that what country is all about? These two are going to be integral in bringing the teenage fan base back to country, and they have the ability to make actual country cool.

Tracks I Recommend

I recommend the entire Maddie & Tae EP. But all those songs are on the album, so just wait for the review.

Here’s a song which I hope will be a single and which could probably do a lot better at radio than “Fly.”

Female Fridays: Featuring Sunny Sweeney

Last week, I featured Katie Armiger and noted that she is one of my favorite underrated female country artists. I love her sound because it is pop country that is done very well. This week, I am featuring Sunny Sweeney, one of my favorite traditional country females.

How You Might Know Sunny

Sunny Sweeney had a top 10 hit in 2011 with “From a Table Away” which many will remember. She was also an opener on Miranda Lambert’s recent Certified Platinum tour.

Bio

Sunny Sweeney (born December 7, 1976 in Houston, Texas, and raised in Longview), got a degree in public relations and even tried to make it in the “real” world for awhile. That is, until one day when she picked up a guitar and made the life-changing decision to pursue singing and songwriting. She began playing several shows a week in Texas and quickly had a growing fan base. In 2006, she independently released Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame, which, according to her Web site,
found its way onto the desk of Big Machine Records president Scott Borchetta
This turn of events led to a record deal and the re-release of the album in 2007, with three singles making the Texas Music Chart.

In 2010, after signing to Republic Nashville, a joint venture between Big Machine and Universal Republic, Sunny released the well-known “From a Table Away.” This has been her highest charting single–on a major chart–and peaked at No. 10. it was followed by the excellent album Concrete. Concrete was my first experience with Sunny Sweeney, and I couldn’t wait to hear more music from her. Other less-known singles from that album include “Staying’s Worse Than Leaving” and “Drink Myself Single.”

For whatever reason–we can speculate on many–Sunny Sweeney and Big Machine parted ways after this album. In 2014, Sunny released her third album, Provoked with Thirty Tigers, the self-proclaimed
“home for independent artists.”
The first two singles, “Bad Girl Phase” and “My Bed”–a duet with fellow Texas singer Will Hoge that Sunny co-wrote with Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley of the Pistol Annies–hit No. 1 on the Texas Music Chart. This makes Sunny Sweeney the first female to have two consecutive singles hit No. 1 on the Texas charts. She said of the experience, “I am very honored to be the first female to ever have two number one songs back to back on the Texas music chart…I believe firmly that if you just keep following your heart and working your butt off, you will see the payoff and positive results.”

Why Sunny Belongs on Country Radio

Why? Well, for one, she’s already proved she can get chart success with “From a Table Away.” That song wasn’t a pop song either–it was a traditional sounding song about the “other woman” witnessing the husband, whom she thought was ready to leave his wife, from a table away with his wife. The husband is obviously still in love with the wife, and the other woman is confronting him later after having seen them together. This song did well on the charts, so why is it inconceivable to think Sunny could have radio success again? Not to mention she’s doing very well on the Texas Music Chart right now–proving that if actual country music was getting played on “country” radio, she would be highly successful. Also, much like Katie Armiger, her songwriting is relatable and autobiographical. However, unlike younger artists, such as Katie and Taylor Swift, Sunny writes from a place of more experience. Her songs speak of marriage, divorce, and adultery–many times from the view of the “other woman,”–in a way that says she’s lived the lyrics.

In addition, Sunny got a lot of exposure from Miranda Lambert’s Certified Platinum tour, so many more people should know her music now. But sadly, when I was standing in line before the doors opened to see Miranda on that very tour, a local DJ was spinning Miranda Lambert and Justin Moore hits (Justin was the other opener.) After awhile, he called out, “All of you know Miranda Lambert” to which we all cheered. Then he added, “But how many of you know Sunny Sweeney?” A handful of people answered. He said, “Well, here’s one of her songs,” and played “Bad Girl Phase,” one of the recent No. 1 Texas Music Chart singles. For many standing around me, that was the first they’d heard of Sunny Sweeney, and that speaks volumes. The same crowd that was cheering for Miranda Lambert should have been cheering for Sunny Sweeney, and yet most did not even know her name.

Tracks I Recommend

You cannot go wrong with either Concrete or Provoked, but if I had to narrow it down, here’s where I’d start.

1. Amy–Concrete
2. From a Table Away–Concrete
3. Fall for Me–Concrete
4. Staying’s Worse Than Leaving–Concrete
5. My Bed (featuring Will Hoge)–Provoked
6. Carolina on the Line–Provoked
7. Find Me–Provoked
8. Bad Girl Phase–Provoked
9. You Don’t Know Your Husband–Provoked
10. Drink Myself Single–Concrete
11. Refresh my Memory–Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame

Listen to Concrete

Listen to Provoked

These are the two No. 1 Texas Music Chart singles. Both are great, but my personal favorite is “My Bed.”