The Hodgepodge: Who Can Step Up and Be A Leader in Country Music?

Chaotic. Anarchy. Uncontrollable. Those are the words I would use to describe mainstream country music and country radio right now. It’s a wild west of cacophony. Sam Hunt and Kelsea Ballerini continue to churn out his straight pop music. Thomas Rhett is pushing disco country with his new single “Crash and Burn.” Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean are still making bro-country/checklist country music. Zac Brown Band has no idea what genre they’re in. Steven Tyler and Bret Michaels just released country singles. Music Row Payola On The Verge continues to push terrible music. You get the picture? Country music is a damn mess. As the saying goes, the inmates are running the asylum. A genre this divided cannot stand forever.

As I spelled out a few weeks ago, country music is on a path to destruction. If changes aren’t made soon, the mainstream bubble is going to burst without a doubt. One of the most important changes that needs to be made is a voice of reason to step up and give country music guidance. Country music needs a leader. It needs someone who can remind everyone what country music is and what it should sound like. This person needs to be respected in some way, shape or form. They need to be able to lead by example whether through their music, writing or actions. Being a success is another key aspect, as people listen to winners. This person can step up and not lose their career over their actions. In other words, they really have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I’ve been thinking over the past few weeks who fits this description and I’ve come up with a list of possible candidates. Here’s who I think could step up and fill the leadership void in Nashville:


Garth Brooks

Why I Think He Could Be Country Music’s Leader: As I laid out in the The Hodgepodge last week, Garth’s comeback has been a disappointment. One of the points I didn’t get a chance to touch on was his lack of leadership since coming back. I think this has been one of my biggest disappointments with Garth, as I really expected him to come back and have a positive impact on the currents artists in the genre. Garth was the biggest names in country music in the 90s. Hell he was one of the biggest names in all of music during this time and took country music to new heights with his style of music. Love him or hate him he’s had a massive amount of success. There are people who hate country music, but love Garth. Current country artists are well aware of him and respect him. If Garth were to step up and call for a return to roots in country music, he wouldn’t be hurt by backlash or his standing in music. In fact if his voice were to fall on listening ears, it could aid him in getting back on radio again.

Why I Don’t Think He Could Be Country Music’s Leader: Garth has never been one to speak up and rock the boat before and I don’t know if that’s changed. Garth at one point was the bane of traditionalists like Florida Georgia Line and Sam Hunt are now. In a way he might sympathize with them (this is just speculation). In his prime days, Garth loved the spotlight and being the center of attention. Now he seems content with selling out every venue and doing things his way, damn the consequences on his sales and popularity. He can continue to make the music he wants, as what’s happening on the radio doesn’t affect him or his fans in any way.


Sturgill Simpson

Why I Think He Could Be Country Music’s Leader: Over the span of the last few years, Sturgill Simpson went from obscurity to indie critical darling to major label artist. His meteoric rise has captured the hearts and minds of critics and fans across the country. Simpson has also caught the attention and earned respect from the likes of Keith Urban, Jake Owen and John Mayer. His latest album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music was a top ten album without any label push or mainstream radio play. Clearly Simpson’s music speaks to all walks of life and his third upcoming album will probably reach #1 on the country chart. And what’s brilliant about this is he did it all his own way. He’s truly a special case in the world of country music. In the late 80s there was another influential Kentuckian by the name of Keith Whitley who helped shape country music back towards its roots. Maybe in 2015 another Kentuckian can get lightning to strike twice.

Why I Don’t Think He Could Be Country Music’s Leader: Simpson has made it perfectly clear he wants to stay away from the political mainstream scene. Radio has no interest in him and Simpson has no interest in radio. It would be a cold day in hell when a Cumulus radio would play a song like “Turtles All The Way Down.” Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush,” a harmless song, was considered risky. “Turtles All The Way Down” would be deemed “satanic” by the PC crowd. Simpson, like Garth, is perfectly content to keep making his own music and singing in front of packed venues of people who love him. So the odds are long for Simpson to be the voice of reason for the genre.

Adele 21


Why I Think She Could Be Country Music’s Leader: Commenter Noah pointed out to me that Adele’s next album is expected to have noticeable country influences. This isn’t a huge surprise considering all of the gospel influences on her 21 album. Speaking of that album it was praised by critics and fans everywhere. It helped shoot her into superstardom and become one of the most respected artists in music over the last decade. Her voice is one of the best and her songwriting is fantastic. Adele has never had a problem speaking up on issues she cares about or needs to address. Country music is borrowing a lot from pop music right now, so why couldn’t a pop artist lead the genre? When Adele speaks or sings, people listen.

Why I Don’t Think She Could Be Country Music’s Leader: I’m honestly convinced she’s the best choice to lead the genre out of its current anarchy. There are only two issues I see and I honestly think they’re easily to overcome. The first issue is some fans would be taken aback by a pop artist, an outsider of the genre, taking charge. But I think it would be a small minority, probably the same group that saw “Girl Crush” as offensive. So I’m not that concerned about a vocal few. The other issue I can see is that she’s a female artist. As everyone is well aware, female artists have struggled mightily in country music in recent years. The male artists have drowned them out. Adele would be taking on not just an army of “bros,” but also the male leadership in Nashville. There could obviously be some resistance. But again I think Adele could overcome this because she’s bigger than any name in Nashville. She’s even bigger than the fearless leader of Big Machine Records, which speaking of him…

Scott Borchetta
Scott Borchetta

Scott Borchetta

Why I Think He Could Be Country Music’s Leader: Scott Borchetta is an evil and greedy man, but he undoubtedly is one of the most powerful people in country music. His Big Machine Label is home to the biggest artist in music right now, Taylor Swift. Borchetta helped make Swift into the most influential and popular artist in the world. Not only that, but he’s also the mastermind behind Florida Georgia Line, arguably the most popular act in country music today. Borchetta houses commercial successes, as well as critical as The Mavericks are on his Valory label. He covers all bases in country music. Borchetta gained even more sway when he became a mentor on American Idol. He’s no longer just a name country music insiders know. If Borchetta wanted to shift the genre back to its roots he could do it…

Why I Don’t Think He Could Be Country Music’s Leader: …But there’s no chance in hell of this happening. Borchetta is raking in money and living life well. Why would he bother to make any changes? He even hinted in past interviews that he wanted to shift back to the roots of country music, but it was nothing but window dressing. Borchetta does what’s best for Borchetta.

Other Possible Candidates:

Chris Stapleton – Stapleton has been involved in the mainstream for years as a writer and finally just released his debut album Traveller, which is fantastic and highly recommended. It has received critical and fan praise. It reached #2 on the Billboard Top Country albums chart. Mainstream artists know and respect him. But how much sway does his words have right now? If he experiences a meteoric rise in 2015 like Sturgill did in 2014, then we can seriously revisit the possibility of Stapleton being a leader in the genre.

George Strait – Remember “Murder on Music Row”? Strait has no issues calling out country music for its bullshit. King George is loved and respected by all in the genre. But now that’s he retired from major touring there’s really no reason for him to speak out. Strait can do whatever he wants while the genre burns to the ground.

Alan Jackson – See Strait comments above, minus the retirement from major touring.

Sam Hunt – Hahahahahahahaha!

The Ghost of Hank Williams – I can get behind a ghost leader, if you’re willing.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Mickey Guyton is releasing a self-titled EP next Tuesday. Oh how I wish it was a full album! Still I’ll take new music from Guyton any time. You can see the EP cover art and the track listing for the EP right here. We’ll have a review on this one.
  • Country music veteran John Anderson is releasing a new album titled Goldmine next week. I’m curious to give this one a listen.
  • Luke Bryan’s new album will be called Kill The Lights and come out on August 7. Oh freaking joy.
  • A new duo I just came across has me excited to give their new album a listen. Their name is the Malpass Brothers. It’s made up of Christopher and Taylor Malpass, brothers who love country music. And by country music I mean the real country music. Just look at this quote on their site right here. How does that not excite you to hear their music?
  • For those who missed it, Kacey Musgraves revealed the cover art and track listing for her new album Pageant Material. Originally it was slated to come out in the beginning of June, but it’s now set to be released on June 23.
  • Josh Turner in a recent interview with the Journal Star told them that his new album is “pretty much finished.” But there’s no album name or release date set. So new music is coming from Turner, but it sounds like he has no idea when (hopefully soon).

Throwback Thursday Song

Old Crow Medicine Show – “Wagon Wheel” – Because you’ve heard enough of Rucker’s version and you need to listen to the real deal.

Non-Country Song of the Week

Run the Jewels – “Early” – One of my favorite albums of 2015 was Run The Jewels’ sophomore album RTJ2. They just released a stunning new music video for “Early,” from the album and it’s something you need to watch for yourself.

Tweet of the Week

I second this!

An iTunes Review That Will Make You Smile

Kelsea Ballerini Sucks

This was left under Kelsea Ballerini’s new album. And I completely agree. She is hurting the genre just as much as Sam Hunt with her brand of pop music. Kudos to the reviewer for calling this the teen pop it is.

One More Thing…

I’m looking to sell two tickets to a Jason Isbell concert next Wednesday, May 27 at the House of Blues in Cleveland, Ohio. I won’t be able to go due to a conflict in my schedule. I’m selling them for less than face value, as I don’t want them to go to waste. If you’re interested in them or you know someone who would, reach out to me by email:

That’s it for the Hodgepodge this week! Be sure to sound off in the comments! 

34 thoughts on “The Hodgepodge: Who Can Step Up and Be A Leader in Country Music?

  1. Derek Hudgin May 21, 2015 / 11:10 am

    I think Dierks Bentley could make a great leader for Country Music. Yeah, he dips his feet in both puddles, runs with the bros, records songs like “Pretty Girls” and “Drunk on a Plane,” but Bentley also does a ton of good country music as well. The simple fact that he got a number one with “Say You Do” speaks volumes to his potential. Also everyone loved “I Hold On,” and has a ton of great deep cuts on his albums.

    I think Dierks is happy where he is, but he’s still relevant enough where he could have some pull in the direction of mainstream’s future.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh Schott May 21, 2015 / 11:33 am

      I could see Dierks as a possibility. The only thing that held me back from putting him on the list is he hasn’t ever really been the one to speak up or give commentary on the genre. If he would emerge as the leader, I think it would be more lead by example than by speaking. Picking Maddie & Tae for his tour was a great move and his courage to do a bluegrass album a few years back shows he does care about quality music.


      • Derek Hudgin May 21, 2015 / 12:19 pm

        Yeah, Dierks certainly keeps his mouth shut and even praises some of the bros. But his actions do tell a different story. But yeah, someone more vocal would certainly be better.


  2. Raymond May 21, 2015 / 11:13 am

    Hey that Itunes review made me Sad. Kelsea Ballerinis album has some hidden gems didn’t you guys listen XO Peter Pan The First Time SecondHand Smoke heck Sirens and Bibs aren’t terribile. Josh, Did you listen to the album or not.

    Besides that I don’t want a leader I just want people to respect the genre a little more at least keep a little bit of country music.


    • Raymond May 21, 2015 / 11:50 am

      So Josh I’m gonna assume for the review for Kelsea it’s gonna get a thrashing and be a top candidate for warts album of the year and I’m assuming you never want Kelsea Ballerini making music because you make it sound like she’s a talentless hack.


      • Derek Hudgin May 21, 2015 / 12:20 pm

        I’ll be reviewing it, Raymond. I honestly haven’t listened to it yet, so I can’t give you any sort of preview of what to expect.


      • Raymond May 21, 2015 / 12:32 pm

        Yay Derek’s reviewing it there’s hope for something above a 1/10 I hope.


      • Lisandro Berry-Gaviria May 21, 2015 / 3:45 pm

        Raymond, Josh in no way acts like Kelsea is a “talentless hack.” Sure he pounds her music, but that’s because it’s pop being marketed as country (why doesn’t that sound new)? No hard feelings Raymond I’m sorry if I pissed you off.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Raymond May 21, 2015 / 3:56 pm

        No it’s not you it’s Josh he makes it sound like she’s a worse singer than Raelynn or Haley Georgia Cole Swindell I mean yeah her musics more pop than country but it’s more pop-country than pop seriously give the album a go.


  3. Zack May 21, 2015 / 11:16 am

    If i had to choose a leader, i’d say Chris Stapleton. It’s hard to predict what will happen with his success as it’s simply to early to say anything yet. I honestly believe we don’t need a singel leader, we need multiple people who are willing to band together to change things. Also i have to disagree with you on Adele, Josh. I believe that if we want to see a lasting change in country music, then the shakeup has to come from within the genre. The problem with today is that everyone is content with doing their own thing, and watching the genre “Crash & Burn” (see what i did there? 😉 )

    I am very excited for John Anderson’s album. he co-wrote a couple tracks with Josh Turner!

    Btw Josh, isn’t Country Perspective’s one year anniversary coming up?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh Schott May 21, 2015 / 11:34 am

      Haha! Yes it is. You’ll see something on this soon.


  4. SRM May 21, 2015 / 11:18 am

    Not that big a fan of OCMS’s original “Wagon Wheel”. Really unprofessional recording, especially the fiddle part. I get that that’s the point, but a bad-sounding recording is a bad recording. I have similar feelings about Sturgill Simpson. Rucker’s “Wagon Wheel” was a very welcome clean-up for me, and it was my favorite song of 2013.

    I wouldn’t worry about country not having a leader right now. We’re in a period of flux, a leader will naturally emerge as time goes on and a new trend is decided on. I can’t promise he/she will be a good leader, but he/she will lead.


    • Derek Hudgin May 21, 2015 / 11:25 am

      Not that I’m trying to pick a fight here, but I don’t really understand what makes the recording unprofessional? Is it just poorly mixed in your opinion? To me, I like the rough sort of mix. It makes it sound more authentic. Could you elaborate?

      My biggest issue with Rucker’s recording was how everyone in the mainstream world painted the picture that it was Darius’s song, and not a cover. I think he did justice to OCMS, but this is one of those songs that the original will always be best.


      • Raymond May 21, 2015 / 11:28 am

        I’m with SRM OCMS one just felt a little bland the main guys voice in it felt way too subpar I mean I give credit where it’s due the instrumentation is great but that guys voice feels like he’s like I don’t know sounds a little to sick. Where as Darius’s his voice also manages to stick really well with Lady A.


    • Josh Schott May 21, 2015 / 11:39 am

      We’ll agree to disagree on the recording of “Wagon Wheel,” but I understand why some people don’t like the sound. I didn’t like it at first, but it grew on me. I just think Rucker’s version is too clean. Now I’m curious is it just this song with OCMS or the band in general you feel about their sound? Because I thought their 2014 album Remedy sounded clean.


      • SRM May 21, 2015 / 11:41 am

        From what I’ve heard of “Remedy”, it’s definitely more the sound I go for. “Sweet Amarillo” is awesome. I actually haven’t heard the whole album, but I will get right on that.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Josh Schott May 21, 2015 / 11:43 am

          Yes it is definitely worth a whole listen. It was one of the best of 2014 in my mind. And “Sweet Amarillo” is awesome. They took another Bob Dylan song and nailed it. It’s a really fun album that also has some nice emotional moments too.


  5. SRM May 21, 2015 / 11:36 am

    To my ears, the original just sounds sloppy. The fiddle part wavers on-and-off pitch, the banjo feels a bit clunky, and it sounds like it was just recorded in one take and thrown on the final album with no mixing done afterwards. Granted, it probably was, which is why I say that the sound of the record is intentional. You’re totally right that it’s a more authentic version. But, personally, I hate that kind of sound, I want more polish from studio recordings. It’s a personal-taste issue. It’s similar to how I demand to be able to understand every word an artist sings on a studio recording, which is why I couldn’t get into Sturgill’s album or Dwight Yoakam’s, for that matter.


    • Derek Hudgin May 21, 2015 / 12:27 pm

      Fair enough. Thanks for elaborating! There are sometimes where a clean, smooth production works, but I think the rougher, one take style like in “Wagon Wheel” is the perfect showcase of musical talent. That’s really what draws me in as a music fan, and many times an act has won me over based on a live performance or concert.


  6. Scotty J May 21, 2015 / 11:46 am

    I’m not seeing the Adele thing at all and I can’t see her being any kind of leader in country music. Maybe her next record will have country influences (whatever that even means anymore) but I find it hard to believe that this record will be marketed as country so it is kind of ridiculous to even bring her up. The fact that she is even brought up is a sad commentary on the state of the genre and this is coming from a fan of hers going back to the ’19’ record.

    The fact of the matter is there probably won’t be one leader but there will need be many at different levels from a label exec that encourages his or her biggest acts to record music that is more in line with what the genre has been to the superstar act with the stones to release a single that isn’t trend chasing but is instead a quality song. And then there needs to be radio execs that have the vision to see that the country format is worth saving itself and not just something to change into a warped version of top 40 radio. Also you can throw in some leadership from groups like the CMA and Billboard magazine where it would be nice if someone would stand up and say STOP just because a label says something is country doesn’t make it so.

    Change will almost certainly have to come from mainly inside the industry and not from people that have no connection to the genre no matter how talented they may be. That has been the problem and it can’t be the solution.


    • Zack May 21, 2015 / 11:49 am

      Very well said Scotty, i 100% agree


    • Scotty J May 21, 2015 / 12:09 pm

      Thanks Zack!

      Truth be told the person that could have been the biggest leader was Taylor Swift. If she would have stayed on the country side and continued to evolve in her music thematically and maybe sing about real life and keep it to a country-ish sound that would have been HUGE for the genre. But the moment she added those four pop tracks to RED it was over for her in country music because that was proof that she didn’t really believe in country music. She could have been Dolly and Reba wrapped in one and her music could have grown and matured as she did but it wasn’t to be.


  7. Rick May 21, 2015 / 11:56 am

    This is probably my favorite version of Wagon Wheel. I didn’t like their studio recording as much, but this live version is great in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Truth No. 2 May 21, 2015 / 4:18 pm

    I think the Dixie Chicks could be leaders if they ever reunited. They could top the charts just on hype and sympathy from liberals alone, and their pre-controversy albums toed the line perfectly between mass appeal and substance.

    Tom Petty could also lead if he ever decided to do a country record as his thoughts are clear on the state of modern country, could see success comparable to the level Steven Tyler is already getting, plus the bros love him!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Lisandro Berry-Gaviria May 21, 2015 / 5:21 pm

    Did anybody realize that the person who left that review under Kelsea Ballerini’s album is actually the Sam Hunt fan who gave the same score to Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen’s album Hold My Beer, Vol. 1? I’m not joking. If you look at the Facepalm for the April 30 Hodgepodge and then at this one, it’s the same person—Peaceadorea. How on earth can they be a Hunt fan but not a Kelsea fan? Ridiculous.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Raymond May 21, 2015 / 5:24 pm

      Eh I can see it Sam music has more of a pure rap R&B feel where as Kelsea is more of a country-pop pop I can see the two not being the same come on I like Kelsea and not Sam.


    • Josh Schott May 21, 2015 / 5:28 pm

      Haha holy crap it is! Good eye, Lisandro! That is perplexing that they like Hunt, but not Kelsea. Both are trying to pass off pop as country, so you think they would like both. Strange.


      • Raymond May 21, 2015 / 5:58 pm

        Josh at least try to give Kelsea’s album a try. Mark at Spectrum Pulse gave it a 6/10 you have to know it could be decent. You barely before mentioned Kelsea and now every week it’s like your trying to tear her music into shreds and basically act like the critic whose like ” I want that dumb pop (censor) off my radio take her and her dumb writing away” No offense but with Kelsea FGL Sam Hunt Cole you’re starting to come off a little more harsh than critical. I’m not trying to be mean.


        • Josh Schott May 21, 2015 / 6:39 pm

          Well I barely mentioned her before because she wasn’t being talked about. Now she’s on the verge of the top ten of airplay. As for Mark at Spectrum Pulse, I like him and respect him. However I have disagreed with him on almost every single country review he’s done this year, so if he gave it a 6/10 that’s probably not even close to my thoughts. For example he gave Stapleton’s album a 7/10, which is absurd. He also gave Florida Georgia Line’s album last year a 5/10, another one that completely puzzled me. I don’t understand his grading system at all, as he’s not consistent. As for my harshness towards those acts, it’s warranted when every mainstream outlet along with The Boot and Taste of Country are praising their terrible music. My harshness is balancing out the load of bullshit coming from other outlets and what I say is always 100% honesty, something I feel other outlets can’t always say. And I have no problem with you disagreeing, however you have to accept that my opinion on Ballerini is at the complete other end of the spectrum compared to your opinion.


      • Raymond May 21, 2015 / 6:49 pm

        Yes but like I said above it’s like your just she’s a talentless b*tch that’s at times what it comes across as like she shouldn’t sing and she should take her talentless a** home. Like I don’t mind you being harsh more than critical.

        You count The Boot and Taste Of Country. Hahahaha! They don’t count they don’t properly review a song besides Josh you can’t judge an artist off one song. I mean you’ve listened to Raleynn twice you have her a second chance but with Kelsea it’s an instant turn-off over 1 song I’m just failing to see your logic behind that I mean at least give the album a go you always make it sound like she’s the worst in country music like it goes
        Thomas Rhett
        Sam Hunt
        Cole Swindell
        Haley Georgia
        Kelsea Ballerini
        You make it sound like Kelsea is worse singer that ever came and she’s just talentless all around like Raelynn has more talent.

        But I don’t mind your harshness but she has to have at least a good singing voice can you at least admit that! Please!!!


        • Josh Schott May 21, 2015 / 8:57 pm

          Never called her those things. Also you assuming I haven’t even listened is dumb on your part, as I have listened to it and it was what I thought it would be. Just because I’m not reviewing it, doesn’t mean I don’t listen to it. And no I will not say her voice is good. I find it to be ordinary and nothing special. Mickey Guyton has a good voice. Carrie has a good voice. Kelsea does not. It’s certainly better than RaeLynn’s, but calling it good would be erroneous.

          Liked by 1 person

      • Raymond May 21, 2015 / 9:20 pm

        I’m not saying you said it I’m saying it comes off that tone with Kelsea. Also can you not use words like erroneous I’m not that smart. But seriously you listened to it and not one good song SecondHand Smoke The First Time Peter Pan XO I’d figure you’d at least find it decent so now Kelsea is a front-runner for worst album of the year (probably will win) and a prime candidate for worst artist of the year (probably decade while we’re at it). I’m not saying she has to be Mickey or Carrie but on her own I think she has a good voice it’s not particularly special but it’s not grating and she has a fair amount of charisma when she sings.


  10. Pete Marshall May 21, 2015 / 9:30 pm

    Garth Brooks will not be a leader of country music because he has no morals. He whines a lot you guys seen him on Television in the past. He is or was not the best country singer of all time. Don’t get me wrong he is a good singer but not the best.

    Liked by 1 person

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