When looking at mainstream country music it’s easy to just dismiss it all as bad music and move on with your life. After all Florida Georgia Line, Sam Hunt, Cole Swindell and Luke Bryan are all still very big parts of mainstream country music at this moment and show no signs of leaving soon. But if you sift through all of the garbage you’ll find yourself a good group of promising artists who could be the key to turning the quality around in mainstream country music. Throughout 2015 these artists have been releasing quality music and have made an impact in some way or could be very soon. I’ll start first with the artist inspiring the most optimism in me that things could be getting better for mainstream country music…
I think it’s safe to say now that he’s a mainstream country artist. After his monumental performance with Justin Timberlake and winning three awards at the 2015 CMA Awards, the world is now familiar with this bearded traditionalist. Currently his debut album Traveller sits atop the Billboard 200 chart and according to industry experts could be poised to stay there for a second straight week. His songs have populated the top 50 on the iTunes all-genre chart and Traveller is still the best-selling album on iTunes chart as of this writing. Notoriously slow to react country radio is even taking notice, as his newly released single “Nobody To Blame” sits at #46 on the Billboard Country Airplay and was the second-most added song at Mediabase radio stations this week (only trailing Eric Church’s new single “Mr. Misunderstood”). This is all on top of the critical acclaim he had been receiving for months. There’s nobody hotter in country music than Chris Stapleton and he has done it all making the music he wants to make. There’s no telling how big of an impact Stapleton could have on the genre in the coming months.
Maddie & Tae
Just like Stapleton, this up and coming duo makes country music their own way and have seen their own share of success. While their sophomore single “Fly” didn’t experience the huge success of their mega debut hit “Girl In A Country Song,” it still performed in a radio environment not ideal for this type of song. Their debut album Start Here was full of excellent songs and very good potential singles, all maintaining a traditionally rooted sound. With the backing of Scott Borchetta, the sky is the limit for Maddie & Tae. They will be instrumental in turning the genre around and in the meantime have brought integrity to a genre sorely lacking it.
Country radio still won’t play Kacey Musgraves, but she doesn’t give a shit. This is quite evident from her interviews and in listening to her newest album Pageant Material. It’s one of the most traditional mainstream country albums of the year and there certainly isn’t any evidence of Kacey trying to appeal to radio on any of the songs. She calls out country radio on “Good ‘Ol Boys Club.” She doesn’t need the support of radio though, as she has a passionate fan base who packs theaters across the country and her album still reached #1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. She’s even been exploring airplay on Americana radio and George Strait tabbed her to open up for him at his Vegas shows in 2016. Musgraves is determined to do it her own way and while this might not earn her radio play, it earns her respect and that’s something much more important than kissing the asses of radio programmers.
If there’s one artist who has consistently throughout their career deliver quality music that appeals to traditional country roots and mainstream attention, you won’t find anyone more fitting than Dierks Bentley. There hasn’t been one point throughout his career where I thought to myself that he’s a sellout. Even his dumber songs like “Drunk on a Plane” aren’t bad. Yet I feel like Bentley gets overlooked a lot and deserves more credit for his music. His label wanted no part in releasing the emotional “Riser” as a single, but Bentley passionately insisted because he likes the song so much and wants as many people possible to hear it. It’s currently rising up the chart and will probably perform better than his label expected. In addition to releasing quality singles, Bentley tabbed the talented Maddie & Tae to open for him on his tour. As the years pass I continue to respect Dierks Bentley more and 2015 has been no exception.
I was praising Jon Pardi last year when hardly anyone was talking about him and this year everyone else has finally started to get on his bandwagon. Just like Bentley, Pardi released a passion project himself this year with his EP The B-Sides, 2011-2014. These were all songs that didn’t make his very good debut album Write You A Song and this was even better than it. Pardi’s sound is like a combination of Dwight Yoakam and 90s country and very much a fan of steel guitar in his songs. While many of the new artists around him have went with trends, Pardi has stuck to what he wants while also finding a balance that appeals to radio. This is clearly evident in his current single “Head Over Boots,” which if you haven’t noticed has steadily been moving up the chart and should reach the top 30 soon. Pardi was candidly nervous about this single performing well and it looks like sticking to his guns will pay off. This is a young artist that needs to be on everyone’s radars in the years to come.
Other Mainstream Artists Doing It Right:
- Miranda Lambert – While her single choices haven’t been the best lately, she’s still an artist who can bring quality to the table. I also have a really good feeling about her next album.
- Maren Morris – I just reviewed her EP and I think this Texan has what it takes to shine.
- William Michael Morgan – He’s only released one single so far, but it’s a good one. If Morgan keeps releasing songs like “I Met A Girl,” his future could be really bright.
- Eric Church – Google Play finally has his new album and you’ll have to wait until Monday to hear my thoughts on Church now and this album…
- Tim McGraw – His new album Damn Country Music is even better than expected.
- Carrie Underwood – Her new album Storyteller takes a lot of risks and her single releases continue to be good.
- Ashley Monroe – Despite The Blade being underwhelming to my ears, it was still solid.
- Mickey Guyton – Her lead single “Better Than You Left Me” has caught people’s attention, but she has drifted out of the spotlight a little. She still has a ton of potential though.
- Mo Pitney – I’m still worried Curb is going to mess him up, but his talent is great enough to overcome it.
- Cam – One of the biggest surprise hits of 2015 has been “Burning House” and we’re about to get more from her when her new album Untamed comes out in December.
Upcoming/Recent Country & Americana Releases
- Justin Timberlake is officially sending “Drink You Away” as a single to country radio. This is pretty big news and I’m still formulating my thoughts on it. This will be given a full review soon.
- Chris Young will release his new album I’m Comin’ Over tomorrow.
- Wynonna Judd announced her band Wynonna & The Big Sound will be releasing a new album on February 12, 2016 through Curb Records.
- Loretta Lynn announced she’s releasing a new album titled Full Circle on March 4, 2016.
- Frankie Ballard is releasing a new single titled “It All Started With A Beer.” We’ll have a review on that soon.
- The Band Perry announced they’re delaying the release of their new album Heart + Beat until 2016 now. It was originally slated to come out on November 20. The trio says a last minute pop collaboration came up (rumor mill says Nicki Minaj possibly) and that’s the reason for the delay. Despite this delay, I still think it’s going to bomb.
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
Willie Nelson – “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” – This is just one of those songs you need to know, not only as a country fan, but as a music fan. When I heard Old Crow Medicine Show perform this live I got chills. It’s one of those special songs that I just enjoy and brings a smile to my face when I hear it.
Non-Country Suggestion of the Week
Eh I don’t have anything this week, as I’ve been listening to nothing but country and Americana this week. So here’s the Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake performance from last week that will never get old.
Tweet of the Week
There are a lot of great accounts on Twitter, but Jason Isbell might just be the best.
iTunes Review That Rocks
The Chris Stapleton Effect! This was left under Cole Swindell’s new EP and now that the public has been exposed to a real artist, they want the bros out. Out with the old and in with the new!
Thanks for reading and be sure to weigh in below!