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.
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 Wilson – The 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.