The Hodgepodge: Mainstream Country Artists Need To Put Up or Shut Up

Joe Nichols (public domain)
Maybe a little less talk and a lot more action, Joe?

A couple of weeks back Grady Smith at The Guardian wrote an interesting piece that centered around mainstream country artists and how they don’t like the records they make. First off kudos to Grady for this piece, as it brings to light an interesting subject that needs to be discussed. For many years I have heard fans of mainstream country artists defend the bad music their favorite artists put out because they were forced to do it by their label. Well as I’ve learned ever since I’ve started this blog, this argument is a load of crap. And the quotes from mainstream country artists in this piece further back it up.

Joe Nichols is the main focus of the piece, who is the perfect artist when it comes to this argument. Any country fan knows that Nichols is capable of churning out great traditional country music, as early on his career he did this regularly. His deep, baritone voice is capable of belting almost any country song. Then he decided to sell out to bro country with songs like “Yeah” and “Sunny and 75.” Lately he hasn’t had quite the success. So now he’s crowing about he would just love to make a traditional country record. From Grady’s piece:

“If I could just make the record I wanted to make, I’d hire the country-est guys in Nashville. Kenny Sears, Opry members, the Time Jumpers, maybe Vince Gill to come sing. And we’d make a country record that probably wouldn’t get sold at all.” Nichols claimed that he’d love to record music with “lots of twin fiddles, steel guitars, country shuffles and western swing … But I’m not that rich.”

First off this argument from Nichols isn’t nothing new. He said something similar months ago. What makes this quote in particular more ridiculous is how far he takes it. He says that this kind of record wouldn’t “get sold at all.” Just this year there are countless examples that prove this wrong. Aaron Watson and Jason Isbell both had #1 country records making albums that are very country and have received praise from fans and critics alike. As pointed out by Saving Country Music, Sturgill Simpson’s 2014 album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music has sold over 100,000 albums. This is nothing to sneeze at, considering this beats out many B and C-list mainstream country artists’ album sales. Not to mention this led to Simpson getting a deal with Atlantic Records. So the idea that traditional country records don’t sell is absolutely false. And Nichols using the defense that he isn’t that rich is laughable too. Many notable independent country artists make a good living, so I find it hard to believe that an artist on a major label like himself is struggling for money. He’s also had five #1 country songs. Excuse me while I go play the world’s smallest fiddle for Mr. Nichols.

Later in the piece Smith brings up Jake Owen saying something similar in an interview. Here’s what Owen had to say:

“It’s never strictly about music,” Owen said, “because it can’t be that way. There are too many people invested in my career.” He continued, “I’ve got management and labels, radio guys, promoters looking to do a tour. You can’t start a tour if you don’t have the right songs to support it. There’s money that’s being spent. I got guys in a crew and I feel responsible for their lifestyles, their families and their livelihood. I can’t afford to be selfish, nor do I want to be.”

Once again another pathetic excuse. So releasing terrible music is all an effort to feed all of your underlings on your team? Please. I highly doubt Owen is thinking about them as he sits in his nice house or when he’s in the studio making music. This is the equivalent of corporations using kids in ads to shield themselves from criticism. And let’s hypothetically go along with this argument for a second. This essentially means these artists don’t believe in the music they’re putting out and doing it strictly for the bottom line. That sounds less like an artist and more like a businessman to me. Why should fans care about the music if the artist doesn’t care?

Grady goes on to make a lot of great points himself and if you haven’t read the piece yet you need to do it. I just want to add a few more to them. First selling out is not guaranteed to pay off. Jake Owen’s “Real Life” didn’t get above the top 15 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart and is already recurrent. His previous single “What We Ain’t Got” actually went higher, last longer and was considered by critics to be his best single yet. It also can alienate your fan base. Ask Jerrod Niemann. While “Drink To That All Night” was his biggest hit, it only proved to be a short-term burst in stature. His follow-up single “Donkey” was a complete flop because he took things too far. It’s highly doubtful he’ll ever reach the highest of heights in country music again. Lastly, this is a slap in the face to independent artists everywhere who bust their ass and put their blood, sweat and tears into their songs. Independent country artist Chris King says it best in multiple tweets:

https://twitter.com/ArtificialChris/status/655065080682250240

https://twitter.com/ArtificialChris/status/655065779465924608

https://twitter.com/ArtificialChris/status/655066197986152448

https://twitter.com/ArtificialChris/status/655066537582170112

https://twitter.com/ArtificialChris/status/655068270479872001

Bottom line: Mainstream country artists need to stop whining about wanting to make the music they want to make and just make it. Actions speak louder than words. Saying you’ll do something means nothing. You’re simply procrastinating and making an excuse. Mainstream country artists need to either put up or shut up because the talking has gone past the point of tiring. It doesn’t matter what you think, it matters what you do.

(And if Nichols wants to make that album with a lot of fiddle, he just needs to ask Dierks Bentley. Up On The Ridge, anybody?)

Upcoming/Recent Country & Americana Releases

  • Chris Janson will release his new album Buy Me A Boat tomorrow.
  • The Yawpers’ new album American Man will come out tomorrow. If you missed my review of it yesterday, click here.
  • Tim McGraw is releasing his new album Damn Country Music next Friday.
  • Josh Abbott Band will release their new album Front Row Seat next Friday.
  • Jeff Crosby and The Refugees will release a new album next Friday titled Waking Days.
  • Steve Martin and Edie Brickell are releasing a folk album on Friday called So Familiar. Yes, it’s the actor. I’m definitely reviewing this one out of sheer curiosity.
  • Ashley Campbell is officially sending “Remembering” to country radio for adds on November 9. If you missed my review of it, check it out here.
  • Brothers Osborne officially announced they will release their debut album on January 15, 2016 and it’s titled Pawn Shop. Click here for their official announcement and the album cover.
  • Lucinda Williams has announced she will release a new album titled The Ghosts of Highway 20 and it’ll be released on February 5, 2016 via Thirty Tigers.

Great Music Currently at Country Radio

The very best of country radio right here in a nice playlist. In order for a song to be added to the list, it must currently be in the top 60 of the Billboard Country Airplay chart, so this will be updated weekly.

Throwback Thursday Song

George Strait – “Check Yes or No” – Here’s a classic 90s song from King George himself. I grew up hearing this song all the time on the radio and grew to be one of my favorites from Strait.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

I’ve said before on this blog how much I respect and enjoy Adele’s music. Well after waiting much longer than many anticipated, we finally get new music from her. This is her new single “Hello,” which is a heartfelt ballad that proves she is just as great as ever. As of this writing it already has 93 million views on YouTube. Crazy! Her new album comes out on November 20 and like her previous albums she helped write every song on it. No Chris Stapleton co-writes this time though.

Tweet of the Week

Grady Smith with the subtweet of the year! I think you’ll figure out who he is referring to…

iTunes Review That Rocks

Thomas Bieber

This week in Thomas Rhett Sucks he gets compared to a mix of Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber. That sounds about right, except Sheeran has some talent. The Bieber comparison works though.

Thanks for reading and be sure to weigh in below! 

15 thoughts on “The Hodgepodge: Mainstream Country Artists Need To Put Up or Shut Up

  1. Fat Freddy's Cat October 29, 2015 / 11:16 am

    Steve Martin and Edie Brickell are releasing a folk album on Friday called So Familiar. Yes, it’s the actor. I’m definitely reviewing this one out of sheer curiosity.

    Sounds like you haven’t heard Steve Martin’s other records, like The Crow or his album with the Steep Canyon Rangers? If so you need to check them out–good music. Steve Martin is 100% legit.

    Like

    • Scotty J October 29, 2015 / 11:28 am

      Yes Steve Martin is a very accomplished banjo player.

      Like

    • Josh Schott October 29, 2015 / 11:31 am

      I have not. But I have heard many good things about his music, so I thought this would be the perfect time to start digging into it.

      Like

      • Fat Freddy's Cat October 29, 2015 / 1:26 pm

        You won’t regret it. There are a few novelty songs (including the very funny “Atheists Ain’t Got No Songs” on the album with the Steep Canyon Rangers called Rare Bird Alert IIRC) but plenty of straight-up good tunes.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Raymond October 29, 2015 / 11:24 am

    Well I just wish that artists if they truly want to be who they wanna be then be it. Don’t whine and hint just do it. Aw well, I’m not going to say Jake Owen is a sellout yet just yet notice that Real Life has been gone for a while now and I imagine Sony is going to try to re-work it with Jake Owen and probably Miranda Lambert since well you haven’t heard anything from her I imagine especially for Jake they will probably release a song a little less polarizing than Real Life maybe something more in line with Alone With You. Joe Nichols well whatever.

    Chris Janson well the album I heard was just meh! That’s all. I do have to say I am looking forward to Tim McGraw’s album as the preview tracks show a lot of promise and Top Of The World has grown on me significantly. Ashley Campbell well her song is just so emotional I really hope her song becomes a sleeper hit in 2015. I am stoked about Brothers Osborne album so much I hope for the best but I just never know. Also Cam is going to release her album really soon!!!!!! Yay!!!!!!!!

    George Strait well that song got overplayed to where I just don’t care for it anymore sorry I just can’t. Adele well what can we say the need for music from her was there and well she doesn’t disappoint.

    Ed Sheeran is definitely talented too bad Thomas Rhett ripped off one of his songs. Justin Bieber well I have no comment on that Canadian.

    Hey are you guys going to review Lindsay Ell By The Way I have been really liking that song and I am curious to see your guys thoughts on that song.

    Like

    • Josh Schott October 29, 2015 / 11:33 am

      If “By The Way” starts to make progress up the airplay chart, we’ll definitely consider it.

      Like

      • Raymond October 29, 2015 / 11:40 am

        Fair enough I happen to like the song it’s definitely more pop than country but it’s not bad that’s for sure.

        I’m curious what would have you given Up On The Ridge grade if you could review (I would personally like to see a review of it just for the heck of it)

        Like

  3. George October 29, 2015 / 11:31 am

    So he is basically acknowledging he is a sell out

    Like

    • Josh Schott October 29, 2015 / 11:33 am

      In a round about way, yes.

      Like

  4. Scotty J October 29, 2015 / 11:40 am

    These guys are really trying to have it both ways by signaling to the more traditionally minded fans that they really are one of us but their actions are so disingenuous that if anything they are doing more damage to their reputations than if they sold out all the way.

    The thing is that there is a way to safely straddle this line and Dierks Bentley is the best example. Mix substance with more standard radio fare while still coming across as committed to quality above commerce.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Scotty J October 29, 2015 / 3:51 pm

    The enormity of the first week for ‘Hello’ is hard to overstate. It’s looking like it will sell over 900,000 downloads in it’s first week breaking the previous record of 600,000+ for a single week set by Flo Rida back in 2009. And this coming in a time when downloads are down considerably from past years. The video has also been viewed over 100 million times since it’s debut last Friday and her record set to be released on November 20 seems in line to sell somewhere between 1.3 to 2 million copies in it’s first week which is beyond extraordinary.

    Very heartening to see quality music strike such a chord with the culture. It can be done.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh Schott October 29, 2015 / 4:12 pm

      Absolutely! It’s remarkable in this music era today to have these kind of numbers and the fact that it’s a quality artist with quality music doing it is even more encouraging. I’m looking forward to her album a lot.

      Like

      • Raymond October 29, 2015 / 6:23 pm

        Even though it is a pop album will you guys mention Adele’s album in a Hodgepodge later on or better yet review it as a pop album.

        Like

  6. Derek Hudgin October 29, 2015 / 3:51 pm

    Actions speak louder than words. This is a good topic to address since it seems there are several artists chiming in with this reassurance. I didn’t see Chris King’s string of tweets before now, but that’s awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Diego October 30, 2015 / 3:04 am

    Josh Ward new album is also out today

    Like

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