Ranking Mainstream Country Music Artists: Grade C

Two weeks ago I began the task of ranking all of the artists in mainstream country music. Handing out grade A and grade B rankings was quite easy because people don’t get angry when you’re positive. Today however is when the ranking begin to take a negative turn. To see the artists I considered Grade A, click here. To see the artists I considered Grade B, 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 three of this series, the artists I feel are worthy of a C grade.

Grade C

Today’s artists I would consider to be middle-of-the-road or average in the world of mainstream country music. A lot of these artists have released good music and bad music, which explains why they’re in the middle. Some simply haven’t done enough yet to garner a higher or lower grade. I consider this the most polarizing grading of the series because there will be an artist or two you feel should be higher or lower. In fact I’ll start with the most polarizing choice of the most polarizing grade…


Miranda Lambert – Unlike other traditional country fans who monitor mainstream country music, I haven’t been as impressed as them with Lambert’s body of work. Yes she’s done good work with the Pistol Annies, which has promoted two talented A-grade artists in Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley. She has also released a few good songs (“House That Built Me” and “Only Prettier”). However I’m going to point out what no one else points out enough. All of her songs are about passive aggressive violence against men who do women wrong or caddy, sarcastic vulgarity against people who do wrong (Kerosene, Gun Powder & Lead, White Liar, Baggage Claim, etc.). Her excessive twang has also annoyed me and I know several other country fans who don’t listen to her for the same reason. In my mind she’s pretty average compared to some of the best female artists in the independent and Americana scenes. Sorry Miranda fans, but she just doesn’t impress me.

Blake Shelton – I feel like I’m being generous with Miranda’s husband. I will never forget the monstrosity that was “Boys ‘Round Here.” I consider it one of the worst country songs of all-time. I think what saves Blake in my mind from being lower in my rankings is the early half of his career. I enjoyed a lot of his early work and I will occasionally listen to a few of these songs. There’s no doubt he has talent as an artist, but his terrible attitude and his pandering to corporate country demands makes it hard to like him at times. If you just disagree with him or write a bad review about him, he’ll send his army of sheep fans after you on Twitter. Shelton just can’t take criticism and to me that has been his ultimate downfall into the embarrassment he is today.

Eric Church – You can pretty much take what I just said what was the worst about Miranda and the worst about Blake, combine them together and that is what my problem is with Eric Church. He’s another average artist who panders to fans who want traditional country music back on radio and are completely unaware of the country music world outside of the mainstream realm. His whole “outsider,” “outlaw” image makes me want to puke and his ego seems to be growing bigger with each album. Just like Blake, his early material is great. But with each album his music has steadily gotten worse. I didn’t get a chance to review The Outsiders album, but I did listen to it and I found it be quite mediocre. But hey according to Church he did invent beer and truck related songs.

Keith Urban – The Australian pop country artist has always been about average to me. I’ve never been really angry at him for a song or something he has said, yet I have never thoroughly enjoyed one of his songs. I view him as the Switzerland of country music and that’s probably one of the safest spots to be in the genre.

Big & Rich – I’ll just repeat what I said in my review of their album Gravity: “The country duo of John Rich and Big Kenny of Big & Rich have always been interesting. They’ve proven they can make quality music (“8th of November” and “Lost in This Moment”), but also stupid novelty music (“Save A Horse” and “Comin’ To Your City”). So there are times when you want to applaud them and then other times where you’re just flat-out embarrassed for them. One thing about their dumber music though is they’re willing to admit up front they’re not being serious with it, unlike bro country where their dumb music is actually trying to be serious when it’s the furthest thing from serious.”

Jake Owen – I went back and forth on Jake Owen’s placement in my rankings. He released one of the worst country songs of 2014 in “Beachin’.” However his bro country music isn’t as offensive as the other bro country music on radio. Owen is also a pretty nice guy and has said in interviews he wants to make more serious music. He’s started to back this up by releasing “What We Ain’t Got,” a great single with substance. We’ll see what his next album is like because that will determine if he moves up or down in the rankings.

The Eli Young Band – The Texas band is in a pretty unique position. They’re still beloved in the Texas country music scene and get radio play too. Ever since they went mainstream though I haven’t enjoyed their music as much. Nothing really stands out about this band.


Gretchen WilsonThe precursor artist to Miranda Lambert. Really Wilson laid the blueprint to Lambert’s career. Go back and listen to Wilson’s songs like “Redneck Woman” and you could easily picture Lambert singing these songs. Wilson has shown she is capable of producing great music, but like Lambert the amount of twang in her voice sounds almost fake. I’m sure it isn’t, but nevertheless it’s annoying. Despite their similarities though I would take Wilson over Lambert. In fact Wilson might be having the success Lambert is having right now, but Wilson peaked too late and she didn’t marry a loudmouthed tool shed another country star.

The Band Perry – This is another group that just doesn’t stand out much to me. Their singles on radio have irritated me because the hooks of those songs were quite annoying. They did improve some in my eyes recently when they performed a beautiful cover of Glen Campbell’s “Gentle on My Mind” on the 2014 CMA Awards, proving they could perform real country music. I hope this performance opened up their minds and convinced them to make more traditional country music.

The Swon Brothers, Danielle Bradbery, Cassadee Pope, Gwen Sebastian – I felt it was appropriate to group all of The Voice alumni together. They all impressed me more on the show than they have with their careers after the show. Blake Shelton endorsements on Twitter don’t sell a lot of albums nor impress critics like me.

Tyler Farr – “Redneck Crazy” is horrible and a song I wish I could destroy with a sledgehammer. It was creepy, in poor taste and probably one of the worst song choices I have ever heard for an artist to start their career out with. “Whiskey in My Water” was nothing special. However I did enjoy “A Guy Walks Into a Bar” and found it to be a solid song. I also thought he did a good job with his cover on The Doobie Brothers tribute album. It feels like to me that his career is stalling out and it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if he left Nashville. He could actually be a great artist if he went out on his own. We’ll wait and see.

Brett Eldredge, Casey James, Frankie Ballard, Kristian Bush, Kelleigh Bannen – Meh.¯\_(ツ)_/¯

That’s all for part three. Be sure to check back for part four where I breakdown the D grade artists. 

17 thoughts on “Ranking Mainstream Country Music Artists: Grade C

  1. Derek Hudgin December 3, 2014 / 11:26 am

    If you ask me, I think Brett Eldredge could be considered a B. I know he’s got songs like “Tell Me Where To Park” and that single “Don’t Ya” that are low grade songs. But his lead single, “Raymond” is pretty great, and I do like his new love song “Mean To Me” and I think the rest of his debut album is rather good. I think most were quick to rope him into broland with “Don’t Ya” but you could argue that was just an attention gainer song like Jon Pardi.

    And I know this might ruffle a few feathers here, but I think “Beat of the Music” is an excellent summer/vacation love song. Lightyears better than anything Luke Bryan releases along the same theme. I get the mindset of a C, as his debut album doesn’t really show much about him, but I personally think he’s a B- modern pop country male.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh Schott December 3, 2014 / 11:42 am

      These are all fair points. I will admit before I became a “born again” country fan, that I did buy a few of Eldredge’s songs. “Raymond” is pretty good. What inclined me to put him at a C is I’m not confident he is going to avoid whatever trend is happening in country music. He does play with a lot of artists in broland at his concerts. I also felt a few of his songs were too bland to take seriously on his album. If he can follow up with an album with more emotional and interesting songs, I’ll move him up to a B.

      By the way I am now using the term “broland” in posts now. Haha!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Derek Hudgin December 3, 2014 / 11:28 am

    Also, there’s a noticeable absence of RaeLynn in the Voice alumni……… 😉


    • Josh Schott December 3, 2014 / 11:43 am

      Hahahaha….nope. I have a special spot for her later in the rankings. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Kevin Davis December 3, 2014 / 12:49 pm

    I will have to strongly disagree with the choice of Miranda as grade C, especially if we are considering mainstream country. (I really can’t wait to see who actually qualifies for B and A rankings!) Yes, I am not overly fond of her shtick (passive aggressive…or active aggressive…empowered woman), which works fine on occasion, but it has almost solely defined her persona. That is a shame. But she has some very solid work under her belt, such as “What About Georgia?,” “New Strings,” “Me and Charlie Talking,” “Mama, I’m Alright,” “More Like Her,” “Famous in a Small Town,” — all from her first two albums — plus the two songs you mentioned from Revolution. Moreover, Platinum is one of the most enjoyable country albums, from beginning to end, that I have heard in a while from a mainstream country artist, especially the closing two tracks (“Hard Staying Sober” and “Another Sunday in the South”). So, yeah, she has a lot more material worthy of praise than a couple tracks from Revolution.

    But, that’s the nature of music criticism. We’ll agree to disagree. But, seriously, who the hell qualifies for A and B?!!


    • Josh Schott December 3, 2014 / 1:27 pm

      I’ve already did the grade A and grade B artists. Both are linked in the post above, although I revised it so it’s more noticeable to find.

      Yes we will have to agree to disagree on Miranda. I’ve just never heard anything real special come from her and to me her material doesn’t belong beside who I put at Grade A and Grade B.


      • Kevin Davis December 3, 2014 / 3:41 pm

        Oh thanks, Josh, I didn’t notice that you had done the A and B lists. I’ll take a look. For Miranda, she is at her best when she is the primary songwriter or principal co-writer: “More Like Her” is beautifully sensitive, “Mama, I’m Alright” is fun and heartfelt, and I could go on. She is not a strong vocalist, but when she’s not trying too hard (as in the aforementioned songs) her voice is charming and endearing, which connects her to her audience.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Cobra December 3, 2014 / 2:08 pm

    I would also grade Miranda as at least a B. I understand what you mean about her persona, but she’s also had some seriously strong album cuts, which really helps elevate her in my opinion.

    Blake is definitely a C. He still puts out enough good album cuts and occasionally strong singles to be considered decent, but enough bad (i.e. “Boys Round Here” and “Hillbilly Bone”) to lose some serious respect.

    I also put Eric Church as a very high B. I actually really liked “The Outsiders.”

    Keith Urban is one I agree with.

    EYB I also grade as a high B.

    Most of the other C artists, I would tend to agree with, but Frankie Ballard I give a D. He’s just so forgettable and inconsequential to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh Schott December 3, 2014 / 4:58 pm

      Eric Church’s “The Outsiders” album has to be one of the most polarizing albums I’ve seen this year. People either love it or hate it. There really is no in-between. I think my overall problem with it is there isn’t a clear direction with it in terms of content or sound. It doesn’t feel focused enough to capture my attention. And again his attitude really hurts him in my eyes. I hope he gets back on my good side in 2015. We need a top male artist in the mainstream making great country music.


      • Cobra December 3, 2014 / 5:25 pm

        I agree that he does have a very egotistical attitude, almost one of entitlement, which I can definitely understand turning people off. And you’re right, it’s one of those albums where people seem to feel strongly one way or another with little middle-ground.


  5. NoahHibiscusEaton December 3, 2014 / 4:24 pm

    Like I said before, I consider Eric Church to be a B artist in that, although his bravado can get on my nerves, it’s also quite evident that he tries much harder than most mainstream country/”country” entertainers and has a real knack for descriptive language, puns, innuendo and other figurative devices that make for surprisingly enjoyable lyricism: especially on nostalgia songs. He’s definitely, though flawed, better-than-average.

    Keith Urban also is a B artist in my view. Yes: he often sounds safe and yes: he does rely too heavily on the “Aw shucks” romantic persona and stock imagery like fast cars and dialing the radio up on a hot summer day………….yet he is admirably consistent all the same and, in addition, I do credit hi for either writing or cutting some solid standout songs including “Stupid Girl”, “‘Til Summer Comes Around” and “Cop Car”. And there are few quite like Keith who can emotionally commit himself consistently as a vocalist, burn some solid guitar and contribute to the writing of solid hooks and melodies. His craftsmanship and charisma deem him deserving of a B.


    Aside from that…

    Miranda Lambert is somewhere between a B and a C for me. Earlier on, if you were to ask me, I’d say she was a B artist, and even upgraded to an A- artist with “Revolution”. Then I thought “Four the Record” was a B-effort that nonetheless didn’t produce any decent singles until “Mama’s Broken Heart” and “All Kinds of Kinds”. “Platinum”, however……………just hasn’t grown on me yet. It’s a fairly mediocre album by her standards, and she just reverts too heavily on rough-around-the-edges cliches. So…………….eh, I’d say a B- artist at this point.

    Blake Shelton……………yeah, you’re being MUCH too generous at this point. I’d say he started off kind of a B- artist, then downgraded to C artist beginning with “Startin’ Fires”…………….and now he’s arguably a D+ artist. I say arguably because Blake Shelton is absolutely lucky he has so much charisma to boot many entertainers would only dream to have……………but, on the other hand, sometimes the charisma works against is favor on tracks that call for more swagger or smugness, and on those kind of cuts he can come across as insufferable. Still……………..charisma does matter, and it really the thing that saves him from being anonymous. Eh, I’ll go with a C, though his latest album was clearly a D effort.

    Eh, I’d still probably consider the Eli Young Band a B group. Their latest album was probably a C+ grade album to my ears, but at least they have good taste when it comes to 80s rock influences and unless the follow-up to “10,000 Towns” is more of the same, I’m keeping them perched at B in the meantime.

    Brett Eldredge is probably a B- upon first impression, but I’ll round it up to a B in the meantime.

    Yup………..Big & Rich have gotten too safe, and thus I can’t award them any higher than C, especially when most of what they release only wants me to put “A Horse of a Different Color” back in the CD player.

    I’ve barely heard from Gretchen Wilson in years, but it seems like almost every time she opens her mouth, she is adamant about rehashing “Redneck Woman” or the “girl who likes to raise a little hell” routine. Still, she can be a decent vocalist and has some charisma so, yeah, a C.

    I’d consider The Band Perry somewhere between a B and a C as a group. Yeah, half the singles they have released to date have been pretty annoying…………..but when I take their full albums into account, they’re above-average and it’s a shame the deeper cuts haven’t been the ones to represent the group at radio. Should they continue to resort to more empty-calorie fare like “Hip to the Heart” and “Chainsaw” instead of more affecting fare like “Postcard From Paris” and “Lasso”, I’m not going to be as generous and downgrade them.

    The Voice alumni……………..enough said. Interchangeable, but inoffensive. Flat-out C.

    “A Guy Walks Into A Bar” is a very promising lead single from Tyler Farr, but that’s not yet enough for me to lift him to the C-tier. His debut album was a D effort, and his first two singles were a flaming F and C respectively. He remains a D artist in my book for now, but let’s hope “A Guy Walks Into A Bar” is indicative of his sophomore album as a whole.

    Kelleigh Bannen has only released a total of four (!) singles to date without an album to her name, and “Sorry on the Rocks” was the only one I considered somewhat above-average. “You Are What You Love” was pleasant enough to listen to due to her natural, laid-back charisma and sunny sound, but “Famous” was insufferable and her latest “Smoke When I Drink” is just all over the place and such a mess which I reacted neither particularly positive or negative toward. Yeah, I’d say a C with her.

    Frankie Ballard’s debut album was warm and inviting enough, but nothing to boast about. A C will do with him too.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh Schott December 3, 2014 / 4:55 pm

      You make solid points on Church and Urban. I may move them up at a later date. It would help Church if he did less interviews because his arrogance really turns me off from his music. Basically with those artists it comes down to personal taste for each listener, especially Urban.

      As for Blake, I do appear to be quite generous. However when you look at who I have at D artists I think you will see why I put him at a C. And yes his latest album is nothing special. It’s quite mediocre to put it in a nice manner. One other thing I didn’t mention with him is he has helped a few talented artists get a break (Gwen Sebastian and Jake Worthington). Swon Brothers are talented too, but their debut album left a lot to be desired. I didn’t do plusses and minuses, but if I did Blake would be a C-.

      For the Band Perry, I really want to like them. But their singles are just so generic. Like I said I hope the Campbell cover opened their eyes up and convinced them to make better music. They’re clearly talented and they need to quit wasting it on bad songs.


      • NoahHibiscusEaton December 3, 2014 / 5:31 pm

        I already can’t wait to see which remaining artists you choose to rank in the D and F categories, respectively,…………..becaue I can actually see a scenario where we rate the artists closer to the bottom of the barrel a bit differently.

        Either way, I’m sure we’ll respect where we both are coming from argument-wise when that time comes! =)

        Liked by 1 person

      • Cobra December 4, 2014 / 7:26 am

        Shelton’s new album is absolutely one of the most forgettable albums I’ve ever heard. Aside from a couple of solid tracks, there was so little there, and my original review was much more generous than it should have been. The album had about two real solid tracks, one decent one, one bad, one abomination and the other seven were just so mediocre they aren’t even worth mentioning.


      • NoahHibiscusEaton December 4, 2014 / 5:10 pm

        Pretty much all of Blake Shelton’s albums have been completely “safe-sounding” and middle-of-the-road chicken-fried Adult Contemporary……….with one or two curveballs.

        The difference before “Startin’ Fires” was that he had a better songwriting team. The production may have been just as safe and inoffensive usually, and each album was weakened by its share of filler………..but the production still had distinctive country elements and he had better songs to pick from. Especially “Playboys of the Southwestern World”, “Back There Again” and “The More I Drink”.

        We all know his personality is quite the contrary from his albums: colorful, brash, mischievous and twisted. I’ve been saying for a long time now that Shelton’s persona isn’t reflected well in his music. As much as I LOATHE “Boys ‘Round Here”, at the same time I have to admit with a cringe that it reflects his personality more than, say, goopy power ballads like “Over” or his cover of “Home”. It may be a terrible song, but at least you can believe Shelton’s personality is intact in that. And we just don’t get enough moments (and with much better songs) where that happens on any of his albums.

        I actually don’t think “Bringing Back the Sunshine” has a single great or reotely memorable song. I know you gave “Lonely Tonight” high praises, but to me it’s just passable because, while I do give high marks to Ashley Monroe’s vocals, the production, lyrics and themes just does nothing for me. When you get past Monroe’s contributions, it’s really just a pedestrian effort and isn’t going to have any staying power. I’d certainly give “Lonely Tonight” a passing grade, but I’m still not enthused about that track and, as sad as it is, I’d still conider it the best the standard edition of the album has to offer. If I were to strain to decide on a best song, it would have to be “Pain” from the deluxe edition of the album.

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