Tag Archives: George Strait

Reflecting on: How I Came to Love Country Music

It’s written in my half of our writers page that “my first and deepest love will always be country music.” That doesn’t mean I don’t like other genres, and even within country, I’m certainly not a purist. I’ve definitely come to appreciate music from many different styles over the years, and you’ll even find me discussing some of it on this blog. But my first love was country, and it will always be my passion and the one thing I feel qualified to talk about.

So where did I get that love for country music? You might think living in Oklahoma, I was ensconced in it from the day I was born, but my parents were mostly into classic pop and rock, and it’s these styles which make up my earliest memories of music. It was later, when I started school, that I first began hearing country songs, and they came from my grandma. She’d pick me up from school, and she always had our country station playing in her car. These days, it plays 80’s and 90’s and 00’s country, but back then, in the late 90’s, it was a mix of classic and modern. She and I generally gravitated toward different sounds, but that was okay because the same station that played Merle Haggard also played the Dixie Chicks, whose record was one of the first country albums I ever owned. I remember my parents” reactions at first, not believing I was getting so much into country. Both of them eventually followed me into the genre and enjoy a lot of country from the late 90’s and early 00’s.

I didn’t always love her brand of country back then, but I did get into Merle Haggard and Keith Whitley. She didn’t always love mine, but she dearly loved Brad Paisley’s “We Danced.” We could agree on George strait in equal measure, as he seemed to bridge the gap between our generations. She always loved “I Just Want to Dance With You” and “Living and Living Well.” We drifted some as I grew older, for reasons which aren’t important here, and we didn’t see each other as much as we had when I was young. But we still had that time, that few minutes between leaving school and reaching my house, and we still had that music to share.

When I got into high school, I branched out some from country, starting to get into pop and rock and modern Christian music. I never drifted too far from country music during that time, but I was always careful throughout my time in school to not completely show my obsession with it. But it was there in full force; I sang records till I could perfect them, and I also started to write songs. And even though I was discovering other genres of music at the time, my love of country music only grew stronger. And it was during this time that my grandma was diagnosed with cancer. She fought it most of the time I was in high school. We didn’t speak much about it, and it’s not like our relationship changed, but that time we had in her car and the music we shared came to mean more. She eventually went into remission, and when I graduated high school, she was well.

I went to college for my passion, and it was there that I really became exposed to different styles of music, both through friends and through popular music courses. At this time, I drifted away quite a bit from my first love and began to explore all kinds of other music, and it’s something for which I’m still thankful. I got an appreciation for all different types of music and a newfound respect for the art of making it. Country was also going pretty much off the rails by this time (2010), so I was listening to it less and less.

But no form of musical expression can speak to real-life situations like country music, and I found my first love again when my grandma’s cancer returned, this time without hope for a cure. I wanted to listen to the music that she introduced me to, and it brought me comfort during those last days as we took care of her. We eventually lost her six years ago Sunday (Nov. 19th.) I listened to Merle Haggard and Keith Whitley and George Strait nonstop after that because it was the only thing that helped me. “I Just Want to Dance with You” will always make me think of her.

Her music brought me through that time like only music can, and it’s her love of country music that still lives on in me. I am so thankful that she introduced me to it and instilled that love in me, for music is the one thing that has always been there for me no matter what. It’s the one thing I have counted on to get me through loss, divorce, loneliness, and pain. And I can never, ever thank her enough for that gift.

Right Then, About This Whiskey Riff Business

Yes, I know I’m late to the party; I was out of town when the uproar broke out. And yes, I know maybe I shouldn’t give Whiskey Riff the satisfaction of even acknowledging this idiocy, as plenty of other outlets have already done it. If you don’t know by now, Whiskey Riff posted an article Friday asserting that the reason we all hate mainstream country music is because we were all losers in high school. Florida Georgia Line, Sam Hunt, Luke Bryan–well, they’re the good-looking jocks who get the popularity and the girls, and we’re all just jealous because we didn’t live this lifestyle in high school and can’t relate to or understand it. Essentially, we’re all just the geeks and misfits, and now we’re holding some sort of grudge against the jocks.

I won’t waste time doing what other blogs have already done fantastically; others have already defended the reasons we criticize mainstream country music. I won’t tell you my back story in an effort to explain my situation in high school, and I won’t lie and say I was extremely popular either. I won’t tell you about the mainstream artists I do enjoy–you can find that for yourself in the reviews. I will say the most offensive part of this for me was the part where we’re all jealous of FGl, Luke, and Sam because they’re good-looking and get all the girls. Ok, so even if we go with this assumption, and even if that twisted bit of logic explains the problem men have with these artists and their music, where does that leave women? What about all the women who are offended by this music? Or have all the listeners of bro country and Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Back Road” become so desensitized to the thoughts and feelings of females that they can’t imagine them doing anything but shaking their asses on tailgates?

Now, I can’t truthfully say I hate all this music, and there are good or decent songs in all of these artists’ catalogues. I’m not close-minded enough to say everything they release is pure shit, and I will be the first to praise good material from them. As far as Sam hunt, some of his music would be fine in pop, it’s just not country. But can you not understand how offensive these songs are to women? We are treated like objects in these songs, as Maddie & Tae pointed out in “Girl in a Country Song.” There’s a reason that song was a hit–women everywhere related to it. It’s not a compliment to tell me to “slide that sugar shaker over here’ or to say I have a “body like a back road.” I said I wasn’t going to state my back story, but I will say that I have been “complimented” in this way, and when that’s all you hear, all it makes you feel is cheap. Women want to be told we’re beautiful, not just sexy, and we want to be appreciated for our minds, not just our bodies. And we have dreams beyond driving around in some guy’s truck on Friday night with our bare feet on the dashboard.

And women, you’re selling yourself short if some of this doesn’t offend you. These songs objectify us and make us things to be possessed; indeed, the article even says the artists “get’ the girls. It’s why women have disappeared so drastically from the airwaves in such a short time. Who wants to listen to a song by a female? How can a woman even have an intelligent thought when all she does is drive around in a truck with a guy? Nobody wants to hear her point of view; they want to hear from the guy who’s “getting” her. Pretty much the only consistent exception on country radio is Kelsea Ballerini, and that’s because she’s sold herself short to sing about being this type of girl.

It’s fine if you like this music, I’m not attacking you for personal taste. This is not an attack on the artists either; some of them seem like perfectly nice people. This is simply about the music and the lyrics and the lessons they teach. and if you think I’m making a big deal out of this, I refer you back to the Whiskey riff article. People are simply jealous because they weren’t good-looking and popular and didn’t get the girls. The writer doesn’t even consider the girls at all in making this argument. That’s how insignificant songs like this make females. He didn’t even take into account females who might have a problem with this when he made that assumption because all he could see were losers who didn’t get them. And if a large portion, as he says, can relate to this type of music, then a large portion of the country are learning to be sexist pigs and think it’s normal. And I know this will not change a thing, but I can’t stand by either. Next time, consider your audience before you make an idiotic statement like this.

P.S. None of these artists are good-looking/sexy at all, give me a man who sings bass, and actually knows a George strait song instead of just name-checking him to sound cool.

P.P.S. Can you please refrain from writing any more stupid pieces, so I can get back to reviewing artists instead of replying to this shit?

Single Review: Zac Brown Band’s “My Old Man”

Rating: 9/10
What a great day in the lives of Zac Brown Band fans, one of which I’ll unashamedly admit is me. After producing three great albums, including 2012’s excellent Uncaged, the band, or more accurately Zac Brown himself, disappointed the majority of their fan base with 2015’s Jekyll + Hyde. It was not exactly a bad album, and there were even some great songs from it, but it was all over the place in terms of style and seemed more like a Zac Brown solo project at times. Brown promised a return to their roots with their upcoming album Welcome Home, already made promising by the choice of producer Dave Cobb, and thankfully, the first single delivers.

“My Old Man” sees the narrator looking back on the life lessons his father taught him, as well as reflecting on how to be a better man and pass those lessons on to his son. It reminds me thematically of George strait’s “Love Without End, Amen.” The acoustic guitar in this song is gorgeous, and there is some great fiddle play too, a sound that was noticeably and sadly lacking on their last album. Also, this song showcases the great harmony of the band that was forsaken all too often on Jekyll + Hyde. In short, this is where they belong, and zac Brown band fans everywhere should be joyful.

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.

Album Review: William Michael Morgan–Vinyl

Rating: 8/10

William Michael Morgan gained the attention of traditionalists about a year ago, when he released “I Met a Girl,” the decidedly country, if lyrically underwhelming, arrangement of a song written by none other than country music antichrist Sam Hunt. To some, this was a mark against him immediately; to others, myself included, this proved that Morgan cared about the traditional sound of his music. In March, his EP arrived, bringing nothing ground-breaking yet filled with promise and potential.

Review: William Michael Morgan EP

We finally got a full album from Morgan Friday, and although it’s not perfect, it’s an unapologetically country record coming out of mainstream Nashville which is a victory in itself in 2016. It’s not Haggard and Jones country, but it is Strait and Jackson and Keith Whitley country, and that’s exactly what we need right now–a mainstream artist bringing a true country sound to the masses. The Jason Isbells and Turnpike Troubadours of the world won’t get airplay; William Michael Morgan’s “I Met a Girl” will hit #1 this week. Because of this, we need to root for William Michael Morgan as much as Isbell and the Troubadours. With all that in mind, I’ll get to my thoughts on Vinyl

The album opens with “People Like Me,” a decidedly country song that could have been a hit on 90;s radio. If you read this at all, you know the importance I place on openers, and this one signifies William Michael Morgan’s country approach without apology. Many artists who are releasing pretty good albums with a few terrible singles choose the said terrible singles as openers, thereby hurting the album as a whole–Zac Brown Band’s “Beautiful drug,” anyone? The premise of “People Like Me” is an ode to the working class people who didn’t go to college and live paycheck to paycheck. “Vinyl,” the title track, follows; I have mixed opinions about this one. I quite liked it on the EP; it’s a song about an old-fashioned love that is classic like vinyl. It’s not a hookup song or disrespectful by any means, but I do find the repeated use of ‘girl” to be annoying; it’s the same thing we criticize Florida Georgia line for, so I can’t let Morgan get by with lazy lyricism even if it has country instrumentation. It’s hard to form an opinion here, and I can see how people could enjoy it or hate it.

“Missing” is one of the highlights of the album; here, Morgan escapes the world for awhile to go “on a mission to be missing.” He ignores his messages and leaves the world behind, something we all should do a little more often. The instrumentation and production combine to make this a really fun and enjoyable listen. Next is the single, “I Met a Girl,”–this has grown on me considerably since its release. It’s a very basic song about, well, meeting a girl, but although the lyrics aren’t earth-shattering, there’s a sincerity about it that really stands out. “Spend it All on You” is a nice, lighthearted track about getting away with a girl to enjoy time together. This one is one of the more modern-leaning songs on the album, but modern-leaning is the key here; it is still traditional. IN fact, the whole album stays with a definite traditional sound. “Beer Drinker” came from the EP; there is not much to say about this song. Its lyrics could be considered shallow by some, as it attributes everything that gets done to the work of beer drinkers. However, as I stated in the EP review, we all love George Strait’s “Stop and Drink,” and that doesn’t come off pandering at all. It is just a fun song that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I think “Beer Drinker” is intended to be much the same.

“I Know Who he Is” is another highlight; I wish the production were a little less modern-leaning here, but the lyrics are great. The narrator is talking to the doctor about his dad, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease;

I don’t wanna hear he’s going downhill, what about thank God he’s around still? Looking right through me’s not at all the way I see him. I don’t mind at all remembering for him, he doesn’t have to get why I adore him. He doesn’t have to know me, I know who he is.

“Cheap Cologne” carries a throwback, Keith Whitley style sound that really suits Morgan. This was one of the highlights of the EP and is about a man who lies at home in bed with his bourbon while his woman is out, probably cheating–She don’t smoke cigarettes, and I don’t wear cheap cologne.” “Something to drink About” is similar to “Beer Drinker” in that it walks a fine line between safe and shallow. It just lists all the possible reasons for drinking, which again is quite like strait’s “Stop and Drink.” This could have been left off and it would have made no difference, but it doesn’t really hurt the album either. “Lonesomeville,” co-written by William Michael Morgan, is the best of the album–it’s a classic country heartbreak song that has been told thousands of times, and that’s really all I can say about it. It speaks for itself with a listen. The album closes with “Backseat driver,” which has emerged over several listens as a dark horse for my personal favorite. It’s a song about a young man leaving home while his dad gives him advice about the road ahead and tells him, “I can’t be your backseat driver anymore.” This one isn’t as traditional as some of the others, but this one is more believable from the 22-year-old Morgan, and this authenticity makes it stand out.

Overall, this is a really solid album, especially for a debut. William Michael Morgan is perfectly clear and uncompromising in his desire to make country music with a traditional sound. The lyrics are weak in places, and there are definitely some safe songs. This album has its flaws, but it also has several standouts. Most importantly, it is filled with promise for William Michael Morgan and for mainstream country in general.

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