After taking a look last week at the very best of mainstream country music, it’s now time to look at the artist I view as good, but not quite worthy of an A at the moment. If you missed part one, click here.
Keep in mind these rankings were entirely compiled by yours truly. It’s only my opinion. The only artists I’m considering in these rankings is mainstream country artists that are on major labels and/or still get radio time. I’m also including legends and acts that are too big to be considered independent artists. The way I determine these rankings is by looking at the overall body of work of the artist, as well as taking into account the most recent offerings from them. So bro country artists that have been churning out hit after hit will be lower on the list. If an artist made bad music in the past, but is now putting out better music lately that will help them. But that bad music won’t be forgotten either. One more thing: attitude and respect for the genre will be considered. The rankings will be determined by grade. Now I’ll take a look at part two of this series, the artists I feel are worthy of a B grade.
These are artists that I feel are doing mostly good things for the genre, but it’s certainly a mix of different ways they land here. Some of these artists are new and could move up to an A grade if their next album is great. Some of these artists may have once made great music, but have taken a step back lately. Each one is different.
Eric Paslay – The self-titled debut album from the singer-songwriter earlier this year is pretty solid, including a Song of the Year candidate in “She Don’t Love You.” Paslay also impressed me when I saw him live in concert back in August. He has proven that he can write and perform great songs. Unfortunately he also wrote a few clunkers and not just his own songs. His two debut singles on his album, “Friday Night” and “Song About a Girl” are the two weakest songs on the album. He also wrote “Rewind” for Rascal Flatts and “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” for Jake Owen. If he can stay away from writing bad pop country and deliver a great second album, he can move up in the rankings.
Jon Pardi – Just like Paslay, Pardi has been hurt by being associated with the wrong crowd at times. His debut single and introduction to the country music world was “Up All Night,” a terrible bro country song. He was playing songs right beside the worst of bro country. This tends to paint an artist in a negative light in my eyes. Luckily his next single, “What I Can’t Put Down,” proved he’s a talented artist worth paying attention to. His debut album is mostly solid and features some hidden gems that can surprise you. At best he can be Dwight Yoakam with his Californian accent and Bakersfield style music that will remind you of the 90s country superstar. I’m worried the industry will corrupt him, but I’m hoping Alan Jackson picking him to open for him on his 25th Anniversary Tour will remind Pardi that he’s more talented than those bro country hacks and shouldn’t stoop to their level ever again.
Maddie & Tae – The teenaged-duo burst onto the scene with their incendiary “Girl in a Country Song” and immediately captured everyone’s attention. They have followed this up with a four song EP that showed they’re capable of good country music that respects the integrity of the genre and yet still sounds fresh. If they can release a great country album next year, then they can move up to an A grade possibly.
Tim McGraw – The country music veteran dabbled with bro country and auto tune for a while, but finally realized how stupid this decision was. He went back to his old sound with his new album this year and we all hope he never releases another abomination like “Lookin’ For That Girl” ever again. A year ago I might have ranked McGraw at a D grade level, but he’s made up for it with a solid album and a solid single in “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s.”
Ronnie Dunn – The former half of super duo Brooks & Dunn has been a solo artist in the last few years and has released some great songs. He’s also had some terrible album cuts. Just look at his last album. It was all over the place and even Dunn admitted to this in a Facebook post. Although it hasn’t been officially announced, Dunn confirmed the rumor via social media that he is signing with NASH Icons. So don’t be surprised if we get a new album from him sooner rather than later. Let’s hope he finds redemption on his next one.
Brothers Osborne – The duo’s summer hit “Rum” may have been viewed as lazy from some, but I thought it featured great instrumentation and the lyrics weren’t terrible. Their new EP proved to their doubters that they can make solid music and we’re still waiting on a full album from them, which is expected in early 2015. That album will determine if they move up or down in my next rankings.
Brad Paisley – A year ago Paisley would have been easily ranked at grade A. His 2013 album Wheelhouse was different, fresh and to me one of the best offerings from mainstream country music. Then 2014 happened. Paisley has done a lot of harm to his overall respect over the course of this year. First he released the mediocre at best “River Bank.” Then he announced he was experimenting with EDM on his new album, which outraged me. The missteps continued when he initiated one of the dumbest social media campaigns I’ve ever witnessed where he engaged in a faux battle with his record label over the release of his music. What was even sadder was most media outlets believed it and ate it right up. And then at last his album Moonshine in the Trunk, which I criticized more than any other publication. I’ll admit I was maybe too harsh on the album, but it was such a huge disappointment from an artist I had come to respect greatly over the years. I hope he learned his lesson, but who knows. We’ll have to wait and see.
Carrie Underwood – The pop country superstar is one of only two female artists in the genre to get a lot of exposure. Even so she still struggles at times to compete with the bros of the genre. Despite some bad pop country over the last few years, Underwood has always undeniably had a fantastic voice. Arguably her voice is the best in mainstream country music. Her best work came with her first two albums, but her newest single “Something in the Water” was pretty solid and reminded me she is a great artist.
Martina McBride & Sara Evans – Two veteran female artists that have been forgotten by radio and mainstream country music. Why else do you think Martina made an R&B tribute album here recently? The genre treats the ladies like crap and something needs to change. Another thing Martina gets credit for is inspiring the creation of the fantastic parody account, Fake Martina McBride.
David Nail – Nail’s music has never blown me away and yet has never offended me either. I’ve heard good things about his album I’m a Fire, but I haven’t got a chance to listen to it and review it yet.
Mickey Guyton – The young, up and coming country artist blew me away with her new single, “Better Than You Left Me.” She hasn’t released an album yet, so I can’t put her at grade A based on such a small sample and pure potential. If the first album she releases lives up to her potential, she will easily move up to the top.
That’s it for part two. Part three will be coming soon!