Tag Archives: Thomas Rhett

Single Review: Thomas Rhett’s “Craving You” (supposedly featuring Maren Morris)

Country rating: 0/10
Pop Rating: 2/10

New music from Thomas Rhett, just what I’ve been waiting for. To be fair, almost anything could be better than the God-awful experience that was Tangled UP, an exercise in being everything but country while simultaneously insulting as many other genres of music as possible with the shit music it produced. Well, “Craving You” is better than that, if only marginally. It’s not completely terrible as a pop song, but I dare you to show me one shred of country influence in this song. Sonically, it’s sort of like Keith Urban’s “The Fighter,” as it has an 80’s pop sound. Lyrically, it’s yet another song about love and sex being compared to alcohol and drugs, so even if it’s not blatantly horrific, it’s bland and forgettable even as a pop song. You would think the inclusion of Maren Morris might make it at least bearable, and in the few lines she gets, her vocal ability does put that of Thomas Rhett to shame, but that’s probably why she doesn’t get more lines–and oh yeah, she’s female–so basically, her part in this amounts to nothing more than that of a glorified backup singer. It’s not featuring her, it’s more like “with a cameo appearance by Maren Morris.” But let’s slap a female name in the credits and that way, when this thing becomes a #1 hit, the programmers and industry executives can point to this as a step forward for women and feel better about themselves.
The best things I can say about it are that it’s better than his previous album and that it doesn’t immediately strike me as being ripped off. Of course, if it were ripped off, it might be better; we all know Thomas Rhett’s original output is far worse than when he destroys the work of other talented artists, “Vacation” being the horrendous exception…but I digress. IN short, it’s a bad pop song being sent to country radio because it couldn’t survive in the genre where it belongs, and with a few insignificant lines for a token female to make the whole thing seem like progress.

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.

The 51st Annual ACM Award Nominees, With Commentary

This morning, (2/1), the nominees for the 2016 Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards were revealed on CBS the Morning and ETOnline.com. The ACM Awards will take place on April 3rd at the MGM Grand Ballroom in Las Vegas and air on CBS. For the first time in several years, Blake Shelton will not be one of the hosts–this year it will be Blake’s former co-host, Luke Bryan, along with Dierks Bentley. This seems an unlikely pair to say the least, but we’ll see on April 3rd. Here are the nominees, along with predictions, preferences, and some personal commentary.

Video of the Year

“Biscuits”–Kacey Musgraves, directed by Mark Klausfeld, produced by Nicole Acacio
“Burning House”–Cam, directed by Trey Fanjoy, produced by Trent Hardville
“Girl Crush”–Little Big Town, directed by Karla Welch and Matthew Welch, produced by Amanda Prunesti
“Mr. Misunderstood”–Eric Church, directed by Reid Long and John Peets, produced by Megan Smith
“Riser”–Dierks Bentley, directed by Wes Edwards, produced by Jennifer Rothlein
Prediction: “Burning House” or “Riser”
Preference: none

New Male Vocalist of the Year

Good to see the ACM’s breaking down this category again, as for the past several years it has been simply “New Artist.”

Brett Eldredge [no]
Chris Janson [no]
Thomas Rhett [really?]
Chase Rice [hell no]
Chris Stapleton [thank God]
Prediction: Chris Stapleton
Preference: Chris Stapleton…I would prefer Chris Stapleton anyway, but out of these, do I really have a choice?
Note: When is Thomas Rhett going to stop getting nominated for New Artist awards?

New Female Vocalist of the Year

Kelsea Ballerini [no]
Cam [yes!]
Mickey Guyton [good]
RaeLynn [oh God no]
Prediction: Cam or Kelsea Ballerini
Preference: Cam
Note: Only four artists here…what happened to including more women? This is the only category to be missing an artist….and if we can nominate Thomas Rhett, surely we can nominate Ashley Monroe or Jana Kramer. Many more if they knew how to think outside the box…Jamie Lin Wilson anyone? Having said that, I’m impressed with the inclusion of Mickey Guyton, it is well deserved.

New Vocal Duo or Group of the Year

A Thousand Horses [ok]
Brothers Osborne [good]
Maddie & Tae [yes]
Old Dominion [please]
Parmalee [no]
Prediction: Maddie & Tae
Preference: Maddie & Tae
Note: I am sorry that Maddie & Tae and Brothers Osborne must be in the same category with the likes of Old Dominion. Maddie & Tae really deserve this award and should win it…they deserve to be the Duo of the Year, but this would involve de-throning Florida Georgia Line.

Vocal Event of the Year

“Hang Over Tonight”–Gary Allan featuring Chris Stapleton, produced by
Gary Allan and Greg Droman, MCA Nashville
“Home Alone Tonight”–Luke Bryan featuring Karen Fairchild, produced by Jeff Stevens and Jody Stephens, Capitol Nashville
“Raise ’em Up”–Keith Urban featuring Eric Church, produced by Nathan Chapman and Keith Urban, Hit Red Records/Capitol Nashville
“Smokin’ and Drinkin'”–Miranda Lambert featuring Little Big Town, produced by Frank Liddell, Chuck Anilay, and Glenn Worf, RCA Nashville
“Wild Child”–Kenny Chesney with Grace Potter, produced by Buddy Cannon and Kenny Chesney, Blue Chair Records/Columbia Nashville
Prediction: “Raise ’em Up”
Preference: “Wild Child” out of these, but there are better nominees by far.
Note: Why is “Hang Over Tonight” being nominated for anything? This was not successful commercially or critically, has stalled Gary Allan’s entire career, and cost him millions of fans…but let’s nominate it for an ACM, makes perfect sense. “Home Alone Tonight” is trash, “Smokin’ and Drinkin'” is just there, and the others are decent. Terrible list altogether. The CMA nominated Willie and Merle’s collaboration album at least.

Single Record of the Year

Interestingly, or stupidly, the Song of the Year and Songwriter of the Year nominees are not out yet and should be announced “in the coming weeks”…Song of the Year has traditionally been about critical acclaim, and Single Record was for commercial success, but lately they have become somewhat interchangeable.

“Burning House”–Cam, produced by Jeff Bhasker, Tyler Johnson, and Cameron Ochs, Arista Nashville/RCA Records/Kravenworks [excellent]
“Buy me a Boat”–Chris Janson, produced by Brent Anderson, Chris DuBois, and Chris Janson, Warner Music Nashville [no]
“Die a Happy Man”–Thomas Rhett, produced by Dan Huff and Jesse Frasur, The Vallory Music Co. [to be expected, but hell no]
“Girl Crush”–Little Big Town, produced by Jay Joyce, Capitol Records Nashville [yes]
“I’m Comin’ Over”–Chris Young, produced by Corey Crowder and Chris Young, RCA Nashville [decent]
Prediction: No idea…this could go to Cam, Thomas Rhett, or Little Big Town, if we’re talking commercial success. All three would deserve it based on this.
Preference: “Burning House” or “Girl Crush”
Note: The only thing I’m certain of here is that Chris Young has absolutely no chance.

Album of the Year

I’m Comin’ Over–Chris Young, produced by Corey Crowder and Chris Young, RCA Records [lol]
Montevallo–Sam Hunt, produced by Zach Crowell and Shane McAnally, MCA Nashville [never]
Mr. Misunderstood–Eric Church, produced by Jay Joyce, EMI Records Nashville [yes]
Tangled up–Thomas Rhett, produced by Dan Huff, Jesse Frasur, and Chris Destafano, The Vallory Music Co. [absolutely horrifying]
Traveller–Chris Stapleton, produced by Dave Cobb and Chris Stapleton, Mercury Records [yes]
Prediction: Traveller
Preference: Traveller
Note: Glad to see Eric Church with a nomination here, and disappointed in the lack of women. Thomas Rhett’s Tangled Up is even worse than Montevallo which is saying something…some good nominees, but a bad category overall. At least Stapleton is now a front runner, after his upsets at the CMA’s. But Kacey Musgraves should definitely have a nomination here. The fact that Chris Young’s boring effort is here is completely laughable.

Vocal Duo of the Year

Brothers Osborne [good]
Dan + Shay [no]
Maddie & Tae [yes]
Joey + Rory [good]
Florida Georgia Line[no]
Prediction: Maddie & Tae…going out on a limb.
Preference: Maddie & Tae
Note: I don’t think Florida Georgia Line will do it again…they’ve slipped in popularity. Also, never underestimate the power of the sympathy vote for Joey + Rory, cancer is a powerful thing. I’m glad to see Joey + Rory with a nomination too, but they shouldn’t get the win…that right belongs to Maddie & Tae, and enough splitting of the votes may happen here that we will see them take it.

Vocal Group of the Year

Wow, what an awful category.

Eli Young Band [no]
Little Big Town [yes]
Old Dominion [for the love of God]
Rascal Flatts [no]
Zac Brown Band [not after this year….”Beautiful Drug” is not worth any recognition, even if the group is]
Prediction: Little Big Town…they’ve become the Miranda Lambert of the Vocal Group category.
Preference: Little Big Town
Note: Can we give it to Turnpike Troubadours?

Male Vocalist of the Year

Jason Aldean [no]
Dierks Bentley [good]
Eric Church [yes]
Brett Eldredge [lol]
Chris Stapleton [yes]
Prediction: Eric Church or Chris Stapleton
Preference: Chris Stapleton, but I’d be happy with Eric.
Note: No Blake Shelton…interestingly, Blake Shelton was shut out entirely from this extravaganza.

Female Vocalist of the Year

Kelsea Ballerini [no]
Jana Kramer [good]
Miranda Lambert [duh]
Kacey Musgraves [good]
Carrie Underwood [good]
Prediction: Miranda Lambert–like with the CMA’s, I’m not an idiot.
Preference: Carrie Underwood
Note: Glad to see Jana Kramer with a nomination…if we could have replaced Kelsea with Ashley Monroe, this would have been a pretty fair list.

Entertainer of the Year

Jason Aldean [no]
Garth Brooks [good]
Luke Bryan [duh but no]
Eric Church [good]
Miranda Lambert [good]
Prediction: Luke Bryan, with an outside chance of Garth Brooks
Preference: Garth Brooks

Billboard Country Airplay and Country Albums Chart (November 28th)

Billboard Country Airplay

1. Chris Young–“I’m Comin’ Over” (up 2)
2. Cole Swindell–“Let Me See Ya Girl”
3. Carrie Underwood–“Smoke Break” (up 1)
4. Dan + Shay–“Nothin’ Like You” (up 1)
5. Blake Shelton–“Gonna” (up 1)
6. Old Dominion–“Break Up With Him” (down 5)
7. Jason Aldean–“Gonna Know We Were Here” (up 1)
8. Tim McGraw–“Top of the World” (up 1)
9. Cam–“Burning House” (up 1)
10. Brothers Osborne–“Stay a Little Longer” (up 1)
11. Thomas Rhett–“Die a Happy Man” (up 1)
12. LoCash–“I Love this Life” (up 2)
13. Parmalee–“Already Callin’ You Mine”
14. Jana Kramer–“I Got the Boy” (up 1)
15. Kelsea Ballerini–“Dibs” (up 2)
16. Big & Rich–“Run Away With You”
17. Sam Hunt–“Break Up in a Small Town” (up 2)
18. Granger Smith–“Back Road Song” (up 2)
19. Randy Houser–“We Went” (down 1)
20. Brad Paisley–“Country Nation” (up 1)
21. Hunter Hayes–“21” (up 1)
22. Zac Brown Band–“Beautiful Drug” (up 1)
23. Chase Bryant–“Little Bit of You” (up 1)
24. A Thousand Horses–(“This Ain’t No) Drunk Dial” (down 1)
25. Keith Urban–“Break On Me” (up 4)
26. Rascal Flatts–“I Like the Sound of That” (up 2)
27. Dierks Bentley–“Riser” (down 1)
28. Lee Brice–“That Don’t Sound Like You” (down 1)
29. Luke Bryan and Karen Fairchild–“Home Alone Tonight” (entering top 30)
30. Eric Church–“Mr. Misunderstood” (entering top 30)

  • new #1: “I’m Comin’ Over” [an actual good song]
  • next week’s #1 prediction: “Smoke Break
  • the atrocity that is “Home Alone Tonight” enters the top 30 this week, along with a good song, Eric Church’s “Mr. Misunderstood”
  • Florida Georgia Line’s “Anything Goes” finally fell from #7 to out of the top 30

Billboard Top Country Albums

1. Chris Stapleton–Traveller
2. Eric Church–Mr. Misunderstood
3. Tim McGraw–Damn Country Music [debut]
4. Carrie Underwood–Storyteller
5. Old Dominion–Meat and Candy [debut]
6. Luke Bryan–Kill the Lights
7. Sam Hunt–Montevallo
8. Blake Shelton–Reloaded: 20 #1 Hits
9. Josh Abbott Band–Front Row Seat
10. Thomas Rhett–Tangled Up
11. Cole Swindell–Down Home Sessions II (EP) [debut]
12. Little Big Town–Painkiller
13. Chris Janson–Buy me a Boat
14. Don Henley–Cass County
15. George Strait–Cold Beer Conversation
16. Hunter Hayes–21 Project
17. Eric Church–The Outsiders
18. Zac Brown Band–Jekyll + Hyde
19. Alan Jackson–Genuine: the Alan Jackson Story
20. Sam Hunt–Between the Pines: Acoustic Mixtape (EP)
21. Florida Georgia Line–Anything Goes
22. Alabama–Southern Drawl
23. Various Artists–Now That’s What I Call Country, Volume 8
24. Jason Aldean–Old Boots, New Dirt
25. Brett Eldredge–Illinois

  • Chris Stapleton enjoys a 2nd week at #1 with Traveller
  • Tim McGraw’s mostly good Damn Country Music debuts at #3
  • Josh Abbott Band’s concept album, Front Row Seat, debuts at #9

Source: Billboard

“Who the Hell is Chris Stapleton?”: Answering the Question in the Minds of Millions of Sam Hunt Fans

Who is Chris Stapleton? This is a question on millions of Google searches and in the minds of Sam Hunt fans everywhere since Wednesday night (November 4th), when their beloved Sam Hunt was shut out at the CMA’s by this guy they’d never heard of. It was a huge upset when Stapleton beat out Hunt, Thomas Rhett, Kelsea Ballerini, and Maddie & Tae for New Artist of the Year. But then he went on to win Album of the Year for Traveller, so the Sam Hunt fans were forced to admit this Chris Stapleton might be a name worth knowing. Later, he even won the Male Vocalist of the Year award, breaking Blake Shelton’s five-year winning streak and causing Luke Bryan’s Entertainer of the Year win to look at best like an afterthought and at worst completely comical. Eric Church, predicted to be a front runner for the top awards, was shut out except for a joint win with Keith Urban for Event of the Year for “Raise ’em Up.” Little Big Town’s three wins looked unimportant compared to Chris Stapleton’s sweep. Both Luke Bryan and Miranda Lambert thanked Stapleton in their acceptance speeches, and Luke noted that seeing Stapleton “have this night is so uplifting.” To add to all of this, Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake took the stage for what was undoubtedly the best performance of the evening, singing “Tennessee Whiskey” and “Drink You Away.”

So naturally, the million-dollar question among the masses is, “Who the bloody hell is Chris Stapleton?”

In an effort to answer this for themselves, the country community has launched Chris’s only album, Traveller, straight to the top of the iTunes chart. He has never had a hit crack the top 40 on Billboard Country Airplay, but that could all soon change. Chris Stapleton will now be a household name. Traditionalists everywhere are dancing in the streets, some even calling Chris Stapleton our “country music savior”–rest assured that Country Exclusive does not hold this view–but this will certainly change Chris Stapleton’s life forever.

So aside from the 2015 CMA’s making Chris Stapleton an overnight superstar, what has this actually done for our beloved country music?

The sweep of Chris Stapleton has finally begun to put mainstream artists and independent artists on equal footing, in terms of recognition. Stapleton is widely respected in the industry for writing others’ hits, both traditional and otherwise–in fact, on many traditionalist blogs, Chris Stapleton is often ridiculed for having taken part in such pieces of shit as Thomas Rhett’s “South Side.” Although Traveller is his debut album, Chris Stapleton is a name that has been around Nashville for many years, and the news that he was making an album was welcome and long overdue to many dedicated fans. The CMA took notice of all this. It didn’t matter that Stapleton has had little to no commercial success. If there was ever a time when the comments of Gary Overton–“If you’re not on country radio, you don’t exist”–rang false, it was Wednesday night. This is a statement that radio cannot ignore. Country radio is no longer the only way to gain attention and recognition–in fact, radio-supported Sam Hunt, Thomas Rhett, and Kelsea Ballerini left the CMA’s empty-handed. It may be that country radio will take notice of this and start to play artists like Chris Stapleton and Kacey Musgraves–album sales and declining radio ratings in 2015 have suggested country radio’s loss of relevancy, and this was the ultimate indicator. Country music may look back on this day in its history and find that the victories of Chris Stapleton, traditional country, and music of substance marked the beginning of the returning of country to its roots. Chris Stapleton is no “savior”–country cannot be saved overnight. His music blends country, blues, and soul, and so many have been quick to complain that he is not “strictly” country, so we should not be so excited about this victory. But we are music fans first, and Chris Stapleton has brought a huge victory, both for country music and for music in general, and for this we should all be forever grateful.