Tag Archives: country rock

Album Review: Steve Earle & the Dukes–So You Wannabe an Outlaw

Rating: 8.5/10

I’m not really sure I need to write any kind of introduction to this; I’m pretty sure Steve Earle has been introducing this quite well on his own, and that may or may not be taking away from the music. So I’m going to take the advice from Steve’s own comment, and let this be about the songs. What I will say is that he stated both that he wanted to make a record inspired by the outlaws, and more specifically, Waylon, and that this record would be about dealing with loss. And what we get is basically exactly that–the front half is filled with badass, renegade/outlaw material–or at least what we might think of when referring to that term–and then the back half adds to the validity of it all by taking us on journeys of heartbreak, loneliness, and loss, and in the end, you’re left wondering if this outlaw thing is really all that great after all, and perhaps second-guessing your dream. And in a way, that separates this record from all the others trying to be cool outlaw because it shows all the sides to the story, the glamor along with the pain.

That’s not to say there aren’t painful realities on the first half. IN fact, the opener and title track starts the album by explaining all the things you have to go through if you really want to be an outlaw, albeit in a pretty lighthearted manner. Willie Nelson appears here, which adds to the message and the overall coolness of the song. You also have “Lookin’ For a Woman” and “If Mama Coulda seen Me,” both of which Earle wrote for the show Nashville–the former is a restless heartbreak song where the narrator is trying to find a woman who “Won’t do me like you,” and the latter is about a prisoner who is thankful that his mom died before she had to see him in chains. All of this half, however, is pretty upbeat, and even though the material is dark, some of the glamorous side of being an outlaw still shines forth in the attitude and in the cool blending of country and rock instrumentation. This half comes to a brilliant, angry climax with “Fixin’ To die”–this song is told from Death Row, and I didn’t mean to compare it to Chris Stapleton’s song “Death Row,” but that’s what happened. I said before that Stapleton’s didn’t quite have emotion even though he belted it–I know a lot of people disagreed, but the point I’m making is that whether it came through or not, Stapleton meant that song to be sad. When this opens and Steve Earle bellows, “I’m fixin’ to die, reckon I’m goin’ to hell” and then adds, “I’d be tellin’ you a lie if I told you I was takin’ it well,” for me, that captures all the emotions, from anger to sadness to regret. It’s an intense story and definitely a great way to complete this more rocking front half of the record.

It’s the back half, however, that really makes this album shine and adds an authenticity to these opening songs. It’s one thing to sing about being an outlaw for the sake of it, but when you get to stuff like “This is How it Ends” and “You Broke my Heart” and see there’s a tender side to this story, it really adds something to the whole project. Steve Earle mentioned loss, and it is explored in every form here, from the heartbreak in these two songs, the former of which features Miranda Lambert, to the poverty and self-doubt in the excellent “Walkin’ in LA” to the closer, “Goodbye Michelangelo,” a tribute to Guy Clark. “Walkin’ in LA” features Johnny Bush, the writer of “Whiskey River,” and it’s one of the best songs on this whole thing, despite it not being the most flashy. It’s one of those rare gems where the melody, the lyrics, and the instrumentation all work together flawlessly to form an incredible piece of music. The melody and beautiful acoustic guitar play in “Goodbye Michelangelo” really add to that song as well. It’s a great way to close the album.

As much as I loved this record, I do have a couple criticisms. There are a few songs that felt like filler; “Girl on the Mountain” was sandwiched between “This is How it Ends” and “You Broke my Heart,” and so it stands out as the weakest heartbreak song of the three. At first, I really didn’t enjoy the pairing of Earle and Miranda Lambert, but that’s growing on me, mainly because it’s just such a damn good song. My initial problem was that Lambert is meant to be singing harmony, but sometimes she drowns out Steve. I’m starting to like it better because in doing so, she makes it easier to understand some of the lyrics. ON the front half, “The Firebreak Line” is quite a fun song, but it doesn’t necessarily add much. “News From Colorado,” the only subdued song on the front half, is also a little vague and underdeveloped lyrically. But all these are really minor, nitpicking criticisms, and overall, this record is pretty great.

So, in conclusion, this is a pretty fascinating album. First, you have the angry front half, and then you have the subdued, heartbroken back half, and together they tell a very good story. Steve Earle is a fine songwriter, and the natural grit in his voice just accidentally adds a lot to this album and the stories told. Every collaborator also brought something to the record. I mentioned there were some weaker songs, or perhaps even filler, but at the same time, it’s one of the few albums I’ve played in 2017 without a single bad track. Very nice, solid album. Give it a listen.

P.S. I’m not reviewing the deluxe version, but that also has four pretty awesome covers of songs previously written by Waylon, Willie, and Billy Joe shaver.

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Reflecting on: Steve Earle–Copperhead Road

Yeah, okay, so I’m going to refer to Steve Earle quite a lot in the next few days, so just get used to it. Ever since we heard about the new album, I’ve known I would do a reflection of Steve this week. The obvious choice would be Guitar Town–that’s the one album everyone seems to cite as his best, and it’s the album that Earle said inspired him to make this new record when he revisited it for its thirtieth anniversary. But Copperhead Road is the one I’m doing instead; for one, just because Guitar Town is more well-known, and also because the title track is such a signature song for Steve Earle and a timeless song in country music. It’s a song I’ve grown up hearing everywhere, and my final decision came to do this album when Brianna broke my heart by telling me she’d never heard that song.

Release Date: 1988
Style: country rock, almost like Red Dirt before we called it that
People Who Might Like This Album: fans of Texas and Red Dirt music, especially the harder-leaning stuff, maybe people who like stuff like Eric Church or Kip Moore
Standout Tracks: “Copperhead Road,” “The Devil’s Right Hand,” “Snake Oil,” “Nothing But a Child”
Reflections: All right, so this was cool for me, because I know some Steve Earle songs, but I’m not overly familiar with his albums. It wasn’t a first-listen sort of experience when I played Copperhead Road for this piece, but it also wasn’t something I knew like the back of my hand. What struck me that I’ve not really thought about before is the style; in 1988, you had stuff like George Strait and Keith Whitley and Randy Travis fighting for a more traditional sound on country radio, fighting to take back country from the more pop-influenced stuff–and then there’s this, which is just totally different from any of that. Nowadays, you get so many mainstream artists blending country and rock–some do it well like Eric Church and occasionally Kip Moore, which is why I mentioned them above, and some just release arena rock with no country influence. The point is, it’s normal; that’s basically what the entirety of Red Dirt music sounds like. in 1988, this was a very unique sound, and like I say, I’ve never really taken time to consider that fully.
I mentioned the title track, and now I have to say, if you’ve made it to this point in your journey without hearing “Copperhead Road,” I’m frankly a little shocked; it’s just such a classic, at least where I’m from. I heard it all the time growing up, at various events, bars, wedding receptions, etc. Anyway, it’s a fun song about a Vietnam veteran whose family made moonshine, and after the war, he uses that knowledge to grow and sell marijuana “down copperhead Road.” “Snake Oil” is another fun one; I’m reminded a little listening to this record that stuff can be fun and upbeat and still be well-written, a lesson mainstream Nashville could learn. But there are some serious moments too, like the closer, a stripped-back religious song called “Nothing but a Child.” It’s probably the most country one here.
I don’t think Steve Earle has always put out good music; in fact, I’m more excited for Friday’s release from him than I have been for one of his records in years. But those early albums were great, and you should check them out. And yeah, that goes for Guitar Town as well, even though I didn’t write about it.

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Album Review: Robyn Ludwick–This Tall to Ride

Rating: 7.5/10

If you want a good endorsement for Robyn Ludwick and her music, Jamie Lin Wilson recommended her to me back in September when I asked her to give us the names of some Texas country females we should be listening to. Robyn’s also the sister of Charlie and Bruce Robison which definitely counts for a lot in the Texas scene. I could go on with more of an introduction, but those two points alone should get you interested right away, even before we get into the fascinating album that is This Tall to Ride.
This Tall To Ride–yeah, that’s certainly an appropriate name because this record and the material presented here won’t be for the faint of heart. Like a height restriction on a roller coaster, the title is there to warn unsuspecting listeners, and to let you know just what kind of ride you’re embarking on, and indeed to offer you the chance to turn around at the last minute and avoid this adventure altogether. It’s a ride that takes you through life on the streets and lonely motels, and tells stories of coping with hard times by turning to vices. Yeah, that last has been done a thousand times in country–but not Robyn Ludwick’s way, where the vices are often cocaine and casual, or even solicited, sex. I counted the word “cocaine” twelve times on this record, and you don’t hear a lyric like the opening line to the excellent “Texas Jesus” in just any country project–“She says baby, I don’t jerk just anyone, but this one’s under the table, it’s gonna be loads of fun. But he don’t care, she’s like Mexican heroin, and it’s blockin’ his hurt for awhile.”
That theme of blocking hurt and pain permeates this album, and it’s what makes all the drug references somehow fit; it’s like rock lyrics, but told with a country songwriter’s care for crafting a story, almost the opposite of the way in which Texas country artists normally mix the two genres. Robyn Ludwick writes and sings in a manner that makes you feel all the sorrow of these characters and understand why they often turn to drugs and strangers for comfort. She has taken their lives and almost made them seem glamorous, and that takes as much of a talent as writing your own stories in song, if not more–it’s interesting that she can step so well into these roles and sing with such conviction. And that’s not what she’ll sing about on this whole album, but it’s where her writing shines brightest, and it’s where the unique, sort of raspy tones in her vocal quality work to perfection to add a rough edge to these songs. That rawness in her voice especially enhances “Freight Train,” one of the other standout moments on this album.
This record is a bit hard to judge because there’s some filler mixed in with some absolute gems. You have some truly excellent songs; I already mentioned “Freight Train” and “Texas Jesus,” and I can add “Bars Ain’t Closin’,” “Lie to Me,” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Shoes” to that too. “Bars Ain’t Closin'” features some nice steel guitar as well and tells a great, desperate story of heartbreak and missing someone; it’s cool to hear more country instrumentation paired with lyrics like Robyn’s, and it makes her and these songs all the more unique within this subgenre of Texas country. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Shoes” speaks of life on the streets, and those sighs explain perfectly what the main characters were seeking when Ludwick sings, “she didn’t love him, but on the streets, you get hungry man.” But then, mixed in with these standouts, there are just some bland tracks like “Love You For It,”–which is an unfortunate opener that won’t hold your attention like an opener should–and “Junkies and Clowns.” Nothing bad on the album, just really mediocre songs, especially in comparison to some of the others–definitely what Country Perspective would have dubbed wallpaper. It was really difficult to rate this, and in that respect, it reminded me of Jaime Wyatt’s latest album because the good here is absolutely great, but there’s also some really average to balance it out. The one thing I will say for the weaker tracks, though, is that the melodies are engaging. IN fact, melody is one of the strongest points of the album all the way through, and it serves to add another element of accessibility to lyrics like these that might not otherwise be enjoyable and/or relatable.
Overall, this is just a cool, unique album. No, it’s not going to be for everyone, but that’s part of music and art, and the fact that this could be polarizing speaks both to the talent and audacity of Robyn Ludwick and to the fact that this record had something to say. Credit to Robyn for telling the stories of people so often ignored and/or misunderstood by society, and for allowing us all a glimpse into their lives and perspectives, exploring themes so seldom ventured into in country music. There’s some damn great music on here too; some of these tracks are honestly just brilliant in songwriting, and their melodies will stay with you. There’s some mediocrity and filler, and based on the outstanding parts of the album, Robyn Ludwick is capable of better, but it balances out to be a solid album, and worth your time, if indeed you’re ready for the roller coaster. Cool record, glad I went along for the ride.

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Album Review: Miranda Lambert–The Weight of These Wings

Rating: 9/10

Miranda lambert’s sixth studio album has been one of the most anticipated releases of 2016. aside from simply the fact it’s Miranda Lambert, the album has received much attention and speculation because it will be the first after her very public divorce from Blake Shelton in 2015. Many are wondering what Miranda will have to say and whether she will be honest in her approach, unlike Blake’s ironically titled If I’m Honest which we were subjected to in May. We were treated to the first single, “Vice,” in July, an interesting choice that isn’t radio friendly in any sense and held promise for the album. Last month, we received the news that this would be a double album, always a tricky undertaking, and that the track list includes twenty songs co-written by Lambert, along with songwriting credits for Texas artist Adam Hood, rising Americana artists Brent Cobb and Anderson east–who also happens to be Miranda’s current boyfriend–and former Pistol Annies member Ashley Monroe. Also included on the album would be covers of Shake Russell’s “You Wouldn’t Know Me” and Danny O-Keefe’s “Covered Wagon.” With all of this intriguing news, the anticipation and speculation surrounding this record has been understandably high. So putting aside my well documented status as a Miranda Lambert fan, I came into this album eager to hear it, and to see if it would live up to its mostly promising expectations.

The Nerve

The first disc, “The Nerve,” opens with “Runnin’ Just in Case.” The atmospheric production works well with this song of life on the road; Miranda sings, “It ain’t love that I’m chasin’, but I’m runnin’ just in case.” The last lyric of the song feels like a theme throughout this album and Lambert’s state of mind, “Happiness ain’t prison, but there’s freedom in a broken heart.” Rambling life will be a recurring theme on this album, but while the opener feels melancholy and desperate, “Highway Vagabond” tells the life of a drifter with carefree lyrics and upbeat production. It doesn’t really stand out on its own, but it works well in the context of the album. There is some overproduction here, as well as on the next track, “Ugly Lights,” a song about turning into the clich├ęd brokenhearted person sitting in a bar to drown her troubles. The overproduction is especially unfortunate here, as the lyrics are brilliant. I hope with more listens I can get past it for the sake of the writing, but so far that hasn’t happened. Next is the cover of Shake Russell’s “You Wouldn’t Know Me,” and I prefer this version. It really fits Lambert’s voice as well as the album, proving Miranda’s ability to pick smart covers, a skill which can be as important as good, honest songwriting.

Any Miranda Lambert enthusiast knows there is always one song on each album written solely by Lambert; on earlier albums there were far more, but you will still always find one that she wrote by herself. On this record, it’s the lighthearted “We Should be Friends,” advising all those with hearts as empty as diesel tanks, closets stocked with borrowed dresses, and stained white T-shirts that they should be her friend. It’s a nice upbeat moment in a mostly dark album yet still feels quite honest. Usually the solo writing credit will be found on a darker track, so this is a nice change. “Pink sunglasses” follows, and I really can’t understand the point of this, except possibly that she mentions being disguised in the sunglasses, and that they make things seem a bit better. Still, although it sort of fits the theme, it is just unnecessary. It suffers from overproduction too, and I won’t get past it on this song because this song is just not worth it lyrically. It is absolutely no coincidence that Lambert did not have a hand in writing this; in fact, the other one she did not write or choose as a cover is “Highway vagabond,” which I mentioned earlier didn’t especially stand out…but I digress. “getaway driver” introduces the moment we all knew was coming, a song co-written with Anderson East. This is the first quiet moment on the album; Lambert sings from the point of view of a man who helps his woman escape her life like a “getaway driver.” It still connects with the rambling feel of this album, but in an understated way; it’s one of the standouts of this disc. Next is the single, “Vice,” and let me take this moment to insert my status as a Miranda Lambert fan and say I wasn’t thrilled about “Vice” at first. As a reviewer, I recognized it to be an excellent single choice, but I wasn’t overly sold on the production. I’ll gladly take that back; in context, it works flawlessly, adding another dimension to the rambling theme as Lambert runs from town to town chasing whiskey, sex, and music. I wouldn’t call it country; in fact, so far I would call “The Nerve” closer to Americana, but there is a raw, unpolished feeling about it that works.

“Vice” dissolves effortlessly into the slow burning “Smoking Jacket.” Lambert sings of wanting a man with a smoking jacket whose “heart is tragic” but “he makes his magic every night on me.” She also adds, “I don’t need a diamond, I like wearing his smoke rings.” “Pushin’ Time” is the most country so far, opening with just Miranda and her guitar. The song itself is about reckless love and not being able to take it slow; “sometimes love acts out of spite, and good things happen overnight.” This is another highlight of the disc and the entire album. Lambert’s country rock cover of Danny O-Keefe’s “Covered Wagon” works well after the quiet moments, and once again, it’s a perfect cover choice; it’s another track about life on the road, this time obviously in a covered wagon. “The Nerve” closes with the quiet, introspective “Use my Heart.” This features some of the best songwriting on the album, and here we find the inspiration for the disc names; “I can write the line, but I can’t sing the song. I can call my mama, but I won’t go home. The thought of loving you just makes me sick. I don’t have the nerve to use my heart.” This is also the first songwriting appearance by Ashley Monroe, who it seems has never lent her pen to a bad song. So far, with the exception of “pink Sunglasses,” the record has flowed smoothly and seemed to lack filler. But double albums can be risky, so with that in mind, we move on to the second disc.

The Heart

“The Heart” opens with decidedly more country production than “The Nerve.” It will continue to be mostly country throughout. “Tin Man” is an excellent track which sees Lambert explaining to the tin man that “if you ever felt one breaking, you’d never want a heart.” From this first track, it feels as though “The Nerve” is Lambert running from the pain, while “The Heart” sees her confronting it head on. “Good Ol’ Days,” co-written by Brent cobb and Adam Hood, is a lighthearted track on the surface, but it holds more meaning than just an ode to days gone by; Lambert asks “when will the road run out” and says she’ll go back if only she can find the truth. “Things That Break” sees Miranda lamenting the pain she causes, saying “I’m hard on things that matter, hold a heart so tight it shatters, so I stay away from things that break.” There is a vulnerability in this song that reaches out and just slaps you in the face. “For the Birds” feels like the companion of “we Should be Friends.” Both are lighthearted moments surrounded by darkness, but whereas ‘we Should be Friends” is about her personality in general, this one is more about what she stands for.

“Well Rested” is hard to explain–it’s somewhere between heartbreak and personal reflection and features some of the best vocals on the whole thing. All of you who love steel guitar should listen to this one immediately. “Tomboy” is a fun song about just that; “Daddy tried to raise a southern belle, he got a tomboy.” It doesn’t really go with the album, but at the same time, it goes deeper than just listing the characteristics of a tomboy; she’s “hard to love and hard to please,” and explaining “she’s got a soft spot you’ll never see.” Steel guitar lovers, I take my earlier comment back. Listen to “To Learn Her” first. This is a straight-up classic country song. It’s a beautifully written song telling men that “to love her is to learn her.” It is no surprise that Ashley Monroe’s pen is once again found here, as this is the shining moment of “The Heart.” This could easily have been on a Monroe record. after this traditional song, “Keeper of the Flame” feels appropriate–it’s an ode to the songwriters who came before Lambert, and her promise that she won’t let their legacies die. Because of this, I wish it would have been more traditional, but the country rock production works pretty well.

“Bad Boy” starts off interestingly, with Miranda singing half a line and then asking, “can I ask one more question, what’s the intro?” I love that this is in there–it’s the exact opposite of every polished record coming out of Nashville. This one is more similar in production to “The Nerve,” standing out as “Pushin’ Time” did on that disc. This is an ode to the bad boys and the women who want them, but once again, it’s not shallow; it feels like this disc’s companion to “Smoking Jacket.” I prefer “Smoking Jacket,” but this still doesn’t really feel like filler. There is no way to describe the production on “Six Degrees of separation” except strange. I wouldn’t call it overproduced necessarily, but it just doesn’t go with Lambert’s voice or the lyrics. It’s like someone thought it would make the song more depressing to add some sort of alternative stoner rock feel. It doesn’t come off as depressing or angry, it just comes off as annoying. The song itself is about running from heartbreak but never being able to escape the memories. Lyrically, it’s pretty good, but I can’t imagine getting past the train wreck that is the production. Then “Dear Old Sun” arrives, and we’re back to country/acoustic rock. This is simply a nice little ode to the sun and the morning light. The album concludes much as it began, with the rambling “I’ve Got Wheels.” It connects the whole record seamlessly as Lambert sings, “When I can’t fly, I start to fall, but I’ve got wheels, I’m rollin’ on.”

Overall

Double albums always run the risk of containing too much filler, and that was definitely a concern with this project. However, except for “Pink Sunglasses,” and to a much lesser extent, “Tomboy” and “Bad Boy,” all the tracks feel like they belong here. Honestly, I would have given this album a ten without the unfortunate inclusion of “Pink Sunglasses,” and perhaps even with it if the obnoxious production of “Six Degrees of separation” and some overproduced moments hadn’t been present. lyrically, it’s mostly a great effort, and I am impressed that Miranda not only co-wrote most of this, but also used the opportunity to showcase little-known songwriters outside the mainstream. I didn’t even mention Irish singer Foy Vance, who co-wrote “Pushin’ Time,” but that was one of the most impressive names found here. As I mentioned, there some production issues, but overall, that was solid as well. I don’t think there is too much material here; “The Nerve” is the edgy Americana half where Lambert runs from her pain and problems, while “The Heart” is the heartfelt country reflections that find her confronting and dealing with the heartache. As I have said many times, the best music is honest and makes you feel something, and that is what this album does. It brings you in and shows you what Miranda Lambert is going through right now, while at the same time holding you at arm’s length, reflecting Lambert’s refusal to do interviews about this release and keeping her privacy while speaking through the music. It’s an album I absolutely recommend, the best album we’ve seen come out of the mainstream in 2016.

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Country Music vs. Good Music: Does Genre Matter?

There has been a lot of talk lately about genre lines and how important they really are. Does it matter that an album sounds country if the lyrics are bland? Is hearing songs rife with fiddle and steel on the radio really an improvement in itself, or have we gone so far that country-sounding music is praised over good music in general? Do we overlook artists like David Nail and Eric Church, both of whom have put out solid country albums in the past year, while propping up more traditional artists like Mo Pitney and William Michael Morgan just because they sound a certain way? All of this boils down to one question: Does genre really matter at all?

Well, that is a difficult question to answer, and there are differing viewpoints on all sides. This is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write because of the sheer number of people who may disagree, and I could ignore it, but I feel inclined to address it, and to be honest with myself and all of you. Honesty is absent everywhere in music right now, and that is one of the driving factors behind Country Exclusive’s existence, so I am going to do my best to provide it.

The simple answer is no, genre doesn’t matter. Good music is good music regardless of who is singing or what genre it is labeled. This is why I gave Carrie Underwood’s Storyteller two different grades–one as a country album, and one as simply an album. It makes a pretty good pop album. Kelsea Ballerini made a decent pop album too and then sent the singles to country radio–and not the best singles either, I might add, but that’s a different story. I wrote that Courtney Marie Andrews defied genre lines in Honest Life, and while not being the most country album, it is the best album I have reviewed to date. Good music can and does come out of every genre, and that is what we should be looking for the most.

To add to that, I want to say that country can be good without having fiddle and steel. I have written in several Red dirt album reviews a sentiment like, “This isn’t the album to buy if you want fiddle and steel,” followed by praise of the album. Red Dirt has a raw honesty that often surpasses genre, and this is evident in the massive sonic difference between Jason Eady and Reckless Kelly, both of whom have produced an inordinate amount of great music during their respective careers. There’s good pop country too, like the aforementioned Carrie Underwood and David Nail. Eric Church produced one of the better albums of 2015, both musically and lyrically, and you won’t find fiddle or steel anywhere on it. I have written a great deal about Maddie & Tae, advising strict traditionalists to give them a chance because they were bringing country back to radio, even if it was pop country. I praised Aubrib Sellers and her debut album which she labeled “garage country.” I’m far from a country purist, ready to criticize something immediately because it isn’t what country “should” sound like.

However, this idea of good music first has been taken too far. William Michael Morgan got a #1 at radio with “I Met a Girl,” which, while indeed lyrically weak, actually sounded country. It’s a step in the right direction as much as the songwriting on Eric Church’s album or the CMA wins of Chris stapleton. Why? Because something actually resembling country can be heard on country radio for the first time in years. But if genre doesn’t matter, why are we even celebrating? Surely Morgan’s “I Met a Girl” is just more shitty music with fiddle and steel.

It’s because truthfully, genre can’t be ignored completely. If you went to a bookstore and found the books arranged in categories of “good” and “bad,” this wouldn’t help you find a book at all. It’s because these terms are subjective. If you wanted to read crime fiction, you would go to the section marked crime fiction, and from there, you could decide which books you wanted to read. If you found romance in the crime fiction section, you would say the book has been put in the wrong place. Of course, there are books that have elements of both and can therefore be classified as both. Now, let’s apply this to music. Crime fiction might be country, romance might be pop, and the two might blend to make pop country. A book containing many different elements might be labeled just “fiction” or “literature”–in music, this could be Americana, with its blending of many styles. There are probably good books in all the different genres, but since you came looking for crime fiction, you aren’t going to be satisfied with a good romance novel. In the same way, if you want to hear traditional country, you won’t find it in the pop country of Carrie Underwood, the country rock of Eric Church, or the Americana of Jason Isbell.

Therefore, when an artist like Morgan comes along, who actually sounds traditional, it’s right to be excited that he’s getting airplay. It’s right to fight to hear more country on country radio–in fact, many of us ran to underground country simply because of the lack of country on country radio. And it’s right to want to see mainstream Nashville and country radio embrace people like Sturgill Simpson and Margo Price. We can run to Americana and give up on the mainstream altogether, but no matter how you look at it, Americana isn’t country. Some of it is excellent, but it still isn’t country. It isn’t the music we fell in love with, the music we miss. We should praise music of substance regardless of how it sounds, but the lack of country on country radio is just an important a problem as the lack of substance in the music.

I daresay the majority, if not all of us, fell in love with country music, at least in part, by listening to country radio. Maybe you grew up with the legends like Haggard and Nelson. Maybe you remember Keith Whitley and Randy Travis, or maybe you miss the sounds of Alan Jackson, George Strait, and Vince Gill. Maybe you’re like me, and the first country you ever heard was the Dixie Chicks. Regardless, you heard all of them because they were played on country radio and available to the masses, just like their pop country counterparts. Pop country has always been around, but never has it replaced and eradicated the traditional as it has in recent years. Wherever your nostalgia comes from, you fell out of love with country radio after it lost the sound and substance you were drawn to. Today, even though the substance is slowly returning, there is still a noticeable lack of the sound. People growing up with country radio today might associate country with Luke Bryan or Thomas Rhett, both of whom lack the sound and the substance. Or maybe they’ll associate country with Carrie Underwood and Eric Church–they will recognize the substance but lose the sound. But until Morgan and Pardi, there hasn’t been a traditional sound being carried to the masses in years. Pop country isn’t a bad thing, but the complete elimination of the traditional is a terrible thing, and a dangerous thing for country as we know it. Therefore, when an artist like Morgan breaks through and gets a #1 single, we should all be celebrating. There is still much work to be done in Nashville, both in sound and substance, but Morgan, and others like him, are bringing hope for everyone who thought traditional country was lost. He’s not pop country, he’s not country rock, he’s not Americana. He’s just country. And I miss country. I fell in love with country. Country is my passion as a fan and my focus as a reviewer. It’s what I’ll always love the most, even though I praise and listen to plenty of good music from other genres, and it seemed, not long ago, that the music I loved would be lost forever in the mainstream. I am nothing but glad that Morgan and Pardi have broken through, and that young people out there listening to country radio once again have the opportunity to fall in love with real country the way I did. As I said, there is still a lot of work to be done, but let’s all recognize this for what it is, a positive step, and be glad for how far we’ve come.