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:
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.
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.
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…
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
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
That’s it for the Hodgepodge this week! Be sure to sound off in the comments!