Tag Archives: Random Thoughts

Random Thoughts of the Week: What Country Artists Can Learn From Nelly

In the short life of this blog, I have already reviewed my fair share of bad music. However, an increasing, and more alarming, problem, is that I have reviewed plenty of “country” music that wasn’t country at all. Kip Moore’s Wild Ones is a good rock album, but I should never have reviewed this at all because it is not country in any sense. Luke Bryan’s Kill the Lights is an album full of trend-chasing music which explores pop, r&b, and rock, and then throws some country on the end like an afterthought. Brett Eldredge’s Illinois was almost exclusively an r&b album, with some rock, and Thomas Rhett’s latest, Tangled Up–so named because of his many influences–was a terrible excuse for music filled with attempts at nearly every genre except the one to which it was marketed. This is a problem that should be addressed not only by country reviewers, but by those of the other genres–the music these artists are making is often terrible in its own genre and thus is disrespectful not only to country, but also to whatever genre it fails to be.

Recently, rapper Nelly was asked about a rumored country EP. This was his response, as reported by
Saving Country Music:

I love country music. I respect country music so much that I would never think that I can sit down and just as easy do a country album. That’s not it. That’s just like some country artist saying, ‘Hell, I’m just gonna do a rap album.

Yes! Country artists, take note–the rapper Nelly is explaining that you can’t just “do a rap album.” I don’t see why Nelly had to explain this to you, but allow me to elaborate: you don’t see rappers and pop artists flocking to make country records. Washed-up rockers are the ones coming to country because they want the money; however, successful artists are not running out to make a country record. They know they can’t, and they have respect for country and for music in general. Nelly apparently has more respect for my beloved country music than Thomas Rhett, whose father was Rhett Akins. This says nothing good about the state of country music.

No artist is going to make an album filled with fiddle, steel, and country lyrics and then market it as rap. For one, rap fans are not as gullible as the fans to whom country music attempts to cater. Secondly, the gatekeepers of other genres are smart enough to keep fiddle and steel out–as they are trademarks of country! So why is it that country, in the name of “evolution,” is allowed to become rap, r&b, pop, rock, and EDM? This doesn’t even make sense if you believe in evolution: no one thinks people evolved from fish because they aren’t related at all. Evolution is based on clear relationships; rap is clearly not related to country and therefore can’t “evolve” from it. The same goes for the r&b/funk/disco/pop mess that Thomas Rhett released. The lack of “evolution” is clear when these artists attempt to copy other genres because, as Nelly pointed out, they can’t just say, “Hell, I’m gonna do a rap album.” They won’t make a good rap album because they aren’t rappers. They aren’t rappers, r&b singers, pop artists, or rockers; they are country artists. It’s what they grew up doing, and it’s where they excel. To make bad music that other genres wouldn’t claim, and then to claim it is “country,” is disrespecting country, the other genre, and music in general.

Tomato of the Week: Kasey Chambers

I discovered her about a month ago and promised a Female Friday. Check out her feature on Female Friday!

Random Country Suggestion: George Strait–“If You Can Do Anything Else”

I’ve been on a Strait binge since his new album–here’s one of his better songs.

Non-Country Suggestion: Passenger–“Riding to New York”

A friend sent me this song this week with the message that it had “incredible lyrics”–this is right, so I’m sharing it with you all.

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.

Random Thoughts of the Week: The “Random Thoughts” of Merle Haggard and Jason Aldean

I was actually going to focus this entirely on merle Haggard until today, when I heard of the news of Jason Aldean’s comments. Both Haggard and Aldean shared some very interesting random thoughts on country music this week, and they are made even more interesting in light of each other, so I decided to look at them together.

In an interview on September 9th, Merle Haggard said, of modern country music,

It needs a melody real bad. Not sure what they’ll have to remember. A song is defined as words put to music, but I don’t hear any music. All I hear is the same band, the same sound, and everybody screaming to the ceiling. You stand off at a distance and you couldn’t tell who they are. They are all screaming for one note they can barely get. I don’t find it very entertaining. I wish I did.

This comes after these comments on September 3rd, shared in another interview:

I can’t tell what they’re doing. They’re talking about screwing on a pickup tailgate and things of that nature. I don’t find no substance. I don’t find anything you can whistle and nobody even attempts to write a melody. It’s more of that kids stuff. It’s hot right now, but I’ll tell you what, it’s cooling off.

Now, aside from the obvious fact that Merle Haggard has just said what many of us are thinking, this news is significant because these words have come from a legend. Mainstream outlets are actually reporting it; Merle Haggard is name-dropped in many of today’s songs, and yet he is calling out mainstream country. A more underrated but no less significant fact is that he said it’s “cooling off”–Merle Haggard has been around awhile, and if he says a trend is dying, we all might want to listen to him. Also, Merle points out Sturgill Simpson and
Taylor Swift, of all people, as being current artists he respects. Sturgill Simpson, seen by many people on these blogs as our biggest hope, who carries a giant torch for traditional country, and Taylor Swift, who, even though she eventually went pop and made an entire career on “kid stuff” knows how to write a melody better than most of our generation. I love that he called out Swift especially, because as I said, she made a name for herself writing “kid stuff.” By mentioning her name, Merle Haggard is separating himself from those “old” country fans who just want everything to sound like Hank Williams. He’s acknowledging that you can still write “kid stuff” and be relatable; also, as a commenter on SCM pointed out, Taylor was a kid when she wrote “kid stuff,” whereas the bros are adult frat boys.

And speaking of the bros, there’s one that actually agrees with Haggard…well, sort of. Monday, (September 14th), Jason Aldean said this when asked about the lack of female representation in mainstream country music,

I feel like a lot of times female singers, to me, when they’re singing – and I’ll probably kick myself for saying this – a lot of times, it just seems like I can’t distinguish one from the other sometimes if I just listen to them, you know? A lot of times they just sound really similar to me.

Well, cluelessness of that statement aside, it does seem interesting that Aldean hears the sameness in country music that Haggard noted. However, back to the cluelessness–so he can tell all the bros apart? The females are easily more distinguishable–has anyone here heard Kelsea Ballerini sing and assumed it was Miranda Lambert? Then Aldean went on to say:

…you have some that come out like a Carrie [Underwood] or Miranda [Lambert] or somebody like that, that really has a different, distinctive sound to their voice, then it’s like, oh, okay, you can tell them apart all of a sudden. They go on to be obviously big stars, but I think it’s because you can distinguish between them … Listening to country radio, you always have these labels that are putting out new acts and it’s like, you already don’t know who this person is. So what is going to make you remember them?

Oh, okay, so he can tell two females apart on the radio: the two that are played on country radio!!! Here’s a thought; I bet, just maybe, possibly, if he heard more females, he might be able to tell more of them apart! So, in reference to females, his comments become absolutely ridiculous. However, in reference to country in general, it is interesting that both Merle Haggard and Jason Aldean, who come from very different backgrounds and perspectives, have noticed a sameness and lack of individuality in country music. Too bad Jason Aldean’s comments were only directed at women; Merle Haggard made no distinction between men and women. Still, regardless of the intent of Jason Aldean, his comments were no less honest than those of Merle Haggard, and both point to an increasing notice of, and concern for, the lack of individuality in a genre that once embraced it.

Tomato of the Week: Courtney Patton

I am going to turn my attention to the Texas scene for this week’s Female Friday–it seems Texas is just as lacking in female representation as Nashville–and I look forward to featuring Courtney Patton.

Random Country Suggestion: Josh Turner–“Lay Low”

The excellent single from the album that has yet to be released or even announced.

Non-Country Suggestion: Kelsea Ballerini–“Secondhand Smoke”

Kelsea Ballerini is a terrible country artist, and should have never been classified as such. But her debut album actually had some decent pop songs and I put this here for that reason; listen to it as a pop song. It’s a personal song for Ballerini and should not be overlooked because of the atrocious “Dibs,” “Yeah Boy,” etc.

One Last Thought

Congratulations to Lindi Ortega, who won the Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA) 2015 Roots Artist of the Year award Saturday night (September 12th.) This is Lindi’s second win in a row, and hope for females, independent/Americana/roots artists, and music of substance everywhere.

Random Thoughts of the Week: Songwriting and the Artist Identity Crisis

I have been wanting to address the lack of good songwriting in mainstream country music since I started this blog, and now is the perfect opportunity. Many of you have heard Danielle Bradbery’s terrible new single, “Friend Zone,” a pathetic attempt at relevancy that relies on fake drums, rap, a token banjo, and confusing sports metaphors to save Danielle’s already underwhelming career. (I had actually planned to rip apart this song, but SCM and Country Perspective have already done it for me, and this song is not going to save Danielle’s struggling career by any stretch of the imagination, so I’ll save my ranting for other worthy songs.) If by chance you haven’t heard it, here it is, consider yourself warned.

This song, as well as The Band Perry’s worse single “Live Forever” (I can’t bring myself to even post this piece of crap), have caused many to wonder if these artists have any sense of identity. Are they sellouts, or are they being forced to sing this bad pop music because they have no idea who they want to be? In both Danielle Bradbery and The Band Perry’s cases, Scott Borchetta was blamed for “turning his artists” into bad pop crossovers. Borchetta probably had a lot to do with it, but as much harm as he has caused the genre, it’s important to be fair here–and in the spirit of fairness, Borchetta also gave us Maddie & Tae, who produced the best mainstream country album of 2015 so far. So why do Maddie & Tae get to have their own “vision” for their music, while other artists are forced to sing whatever the label assumes will sell? I think it boils down to an artist’s identity, or lack thereof. If you watch The Voice for more than ten minutes, you will hear the phrase, “You know [or don’t know] who you are as an artist.” This is a crucial part of an artist’s career; a lot of people can sing, but not many have this part figured out. Maddie & Tae seem to have it figured out, but Danielle and The Band Perry obviously don’t, so they will sell out and sing whatever their label tells them will sell.

So what is causing this identity crisis in country artists? I think a large part of it has to do with the way many of today’s mainstream artists view songwriting–as an art, or as a business. Songwriting should, especially in country music, reveal things about the writer. Good songwriting should tell a story and often reflects the writer’s thoughts and emotions. This makes the art of songwriting relatable and is one thing that makes country music stand out among other genres. Say what you want about Taylor Swift, but there is a reason her music is so popular–she is an excellent, relatable songwriter. Songwriting also helps artists discover who they are and gives them individuality, which is another lost concept in country right now. This is songwriting as an art, and artists who recognize it as such will write good music and/or choose well-written music to release. But somehow, in the past five years, songwriting on Music Row has turned from this personal experience of connecting with the listeners and discovering artists’ identities into a formulaic hit-making process requiring at least three contributors. Thomas Rhett’s latest train wreck, “Vacation,” took fourteen songwriters, and it is one of the worst songs I have ever heard. How can Thomas Rhett or any of these artists ever hope to have an identity if they only contribute a line or two to a song, or rely on the Dallas Davidsons of the world to churn out #1 hits which relate to no one except frat boys and preteen girls? This is songwriting as a business, and if you recognize it as such, of course you would have no artist identity–you have never had to write anything from your heart.

I haven’t reviewed a great deal of albums and singles on this site yet, but one thing that has set good music apart consistently so far has been the songwriting. Jason Isbell, Alan Jackson, Courtney Patton, Kacey Musgraves, Maddie & Tae, and Kasey Chambers all immediately come to mind as names whose songwriting stood out–there were obviously others, and I mentioned them in the reviews, but I named these to illustrate the diversity in style among these albums. Not all of these albums were strictly country; represented here are both men and women, Americana, traditional country, Texas country, pop country, etc. They all stood out because they contained honest, relatable songwriting with the storytelling that sets country music apart. Each of these albums told me, both as a reviewer and as a fan, something about the respective artists. Rather than listening to polished-up, radio-ready singles, I was hearing something real from each of these artists. In short, the albums they made reflected their identities.

By contrast, the albums and singles I have ripped so far have had formulaic, unrelatable songwriting–Luke Bryan and Easton Corbin’s albums, Thomas Rhett’s aforementioned train wreck, and Kelsea Ballerini’s “Dibs” come to mind here. Not all mentioned here were strictly non-country; in fact, Easton Corbin’s album was pretty country musically. However, all of these lacked honest songwriting containing substance and relatability. Rather than telling honest stories, these songs were marketable singles written for the sole purpose of appealing to specific groups of people–in other words, these artists and writers have taken the art of songwriting and made it into a business. Every song I have given a negative review to has lacked the storytelling for which country has always been known best. And without a story to tell, how can an artist be expected to have an identity? And without an identity, why not sing whatever you think/hope will sell? Enter singles like “Friend Zone”–a song that desperately screams for us to relate to Danielle Bradbery when she can’t even relate to herself.

Tomato of the Week: Kacey Musgraves

I debated whether or not to do a Female Friday over Kacey Musgraves because she is well-known, but I think it is needed. Too many people know her and typecast her only for “Follow Your Arrow,” and she is much more than that. See Kacey’s full article on Female Friday!

Random Country Suggestion: Miranda Lambert–Revolution

If you want to find some good country songwriting, early Miranda Lambert is a great example of it. Both this and her first album, Kerosene, display her songwriting in full force.

Listen to Revolution

Non-Country Suggestion: Fleetwood Mac–Rumours

One of the most personal, relatable albums in history, written while all five members were going through separations. Two separations were within the band. They wrote honestly, and this produced the biggest album of their career.

Listen to Rumours

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomato of the Week: Brandy Clark

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

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

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

Non-Country Suggestion: Skillet–“Salvation”

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