The Hodgepodge: Mainstream Country Artists Doing It Right in 2015

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…

Chris Stapleton Traveller

Chris Stapleton

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.

Kacey Musgraves Pageant Material

Kacey Musgraves

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.

Dierks Bentley

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.

Jon Pardi The B Sides

Jon Pardi

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

Stapleton Killed Bro Country

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! 

13 thoughts on “The Hodgepodge: Mainstream Country Artists Doing It Right in 2015

  1. Zack November 12, 2015 / 11:19 am

    I know this is going to come across as bias, but I do think Gary Allan should be on the list. I mean “Hangover Tonight” was one song, and even if it had done good, I couldn’t see him sticking with it. Obviously it’s unfair to say he wouldn’t since we’ve had some surprises from acts this year (looking at you Zac Brown), but considering some of the other new stuff I’ve heard from his live shows, he’s definitely the same artist at heart.

    Also, I would add Josh Turner here. I know we haven’t heard from him in a while, but his output has been decent thus far, and the guy has a huge love for traditional country music. Plus, “Lay Low” was a solid single. I suppose it remains to be seen where he goes next which is why I’m assuming you left him off the list.

    Anyway, don’t mean to criticize the list. I think it’s really good and features pretty much everyone worth talking about, just wanted to point some others out. 🙂

    I’m glad you included Tim McGraw and Carrie Underwood. I know both of them received some backlash for being too pop on their respective albums, but I honestly think their albums were solid country-pop records, much like I feel Eric Church’s was a solid country – rock record. Btw, I’m assuming we can take a good guess as to your thoughts on Church’s album since you have him on the list haha.

    I haven’t heard Timberlake’s “country” version of “Drink You Away”, so while I definitely have thoughts, they’re most likely not fair as of yet. Frankie’s new single isn’t the best thing in the world but it’s pretty solid for him, and will be one of the better things at country radio.


  2. Raymond November 12, 2015 / 11:20 am

    For mainstream artists doing it right I have a list of artists I consider.

    Chris Stapleton is obvious as he has now rocketing up the charts is one of the best singers out there.
    Maddie & Tae. Honestly their album will for me go down as my favorite album of 2015 unless Cam tops it. They just have good song after good song and I’m curious to see how it goes with them
    Kacey Musgraves. Well she and radio might be parting ways. She sells a whole lot better than other newcomers (Canaan Smith, Kelsea Ballerini, A Thousand Horses)
    Dierks Bentley. The only time I was concerned with Dierks was during Feel That Fire era with the title track and the other 2 songs released being blah. But then that beautiful Bluegrass album has made me a firm Dierks Bentley fan.
    Jon Pardi. He has my second favorite single of the decade so far with What I Can’t Put Down. His album and EP are solid and hopefully we get another solid album
    Miranda Lambert. She is one that I like more of her album cuts than singles. But she’s released some great songs like More Like Her, All Kinds Of Kinds, Famous In A Smalltown all songs that I still love.
    Maren Morris. I’ll have to check out her music hopefully something on the EP gets pushed to radio.
    William Michael Morgan. I can give or take his debut song but he has real talent so I am definitely curious
    Eric Church. Hate his attitude, but my gosh this guy puts on one hell of a show. Plus his latest album I definitely am going to get as I love it.
    Tim McGraw. Always solid and producing nice music
    Carrie Underwood. I always loved her music. The sad thing is that Heartbeat I think will probably be released to radio.
    Ashley Monroe. I guess like I just love the album more because I loved every song off her album particular favorites Bombshell Mayflowers and If The Devil Don’t Want Me
    Mo Pitney. I want that album and soon
    Cam. Girl can sing and she just lets her voice shine and it’s perfect
    Mickey Guyton. Hopefully we get new music from her soon.

    Now for some acts I would add that are mainstream
    Brothers Osborne- Their album is what I’m looking forward to as well.
    Eric Paslay- I still am giving him a chance since he is on The Driver which basically cancels out High Class.

    That’s about it.

    The Band Perry are going to get laughed out of country music if they keep this up mark my words.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. darkhornetlsu November 12, 2015 / 11:49 am

    I’m pretty concerned about the thought that “Drink You Away” may actually chart better on country radio than “Nobody to Blame.” 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Patrick November 12, 2015 / 12:00 pm

    What?! Collaboration with Nicki Minaj? They’re insane! I hope that’s just a rumor and a really bad joke… if they join forces with talentless Minaj they’re going to shake and damage their fanbase beyond repair. She has no class, TBP have become known for being classy (which they’re clearly not anymore). I can’t see country music getting behind this, everyone will see it as a big joke. They need to get in the studio and rework the music, add banjo, fiddle, mandolin, write better lyrics… but most of all put some actual heart in the music, be authentic and try to save this mess while they still can. Pop collaborations is the last thing they need right now, unless they actually want to kill their career. They either fix this and save it or they carry on and commit career suicide.

    The Perry siblings have gone mad… I can’t find an explanation for this, what a shock what this band has become. Learn something from Chris Stapleton please!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ron November 12, 2015 / 3:14 pm

      That has to be a joke right?? are they going to do a country version of anaconda?


      • Josh Schott November 12, 2015 / 3:33 pm

        Wouldn’t be shocked. They did a country version of Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” and it made me sick listening to it.


  5. Jed November 12, 2015 / 1:40 pm

    Here’s a bold prediction that isn’t so bold if you think about it… On Eric Church’s new album, Mr. Misunderstood, I believe the song “Record Year” will be as big as Springsteen was back in 2012. This song is brilliantly written and sang and deserves to be the song of the year next year! The entire album is seriously crafty and addictive. Eric Church is headed in the right direction.


  6. NoahHibiscusEaton November 12, 2015 / 3:01 pm

    Gary Allan, Josh Turner and Lee Ann Womack deserve inclusion here too. The former released one rough single but, as Zack said, the other new material he has previewed is decisively signature Allan.

    If not for “Live Forever” and “Beautiful Drug” respectively, I would add both The Band Perry and the Zac Brown Band to the list. I actually think the latter’s album consists of quality tracks regardless, but I’m admittedly in something of a separation phase from the Zac Brown Band that will likely cease once “Beautiful Drug” flops. If they follow that with “Bittersweet”, I’ll surely start to forgive them. I haven’t forgotten their prior track record and think Zac Brown, in heart, has his best ahead of him. As for The Band Perry, who knows? But both their debut and sophomore albums had genuine moments and signs of promise.

    I can also see Frankie Ballard ascend to these ranks soon enough. I really like both his current single and it’s predecessor. In fact, the only single of his I’ve flat-out disliked is “Sunshine & Whiskey” because of the asinine lyrics. But even “Helluva Life” is likeable to my ears.


    I honestly think Stapleton has pinched much the exact same cultural nerve ending as Adele has, and so there is truth to Isbell’s Tweet.

    I bet his CMA sale explosion will prove to be no fluke at all. “Traveller” will go Platinum by the Grammy Awards and I think he has a strong shot at outselling “Kill The Lights” and “Old Boots New Dirt” by mid-2016.

    Yes, you heard me correctly: I’m saying that I think Stapleton has a strong shot at out-selling Bryan and Aldean’s current releases by July 2016. And I’m prédicting that to happen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh Schott November 12, 2015 / 3:10 pm

      I love the bold prediction! And I don’t think it’s that farfetched. Stapleton is hotter than everyone and shows no signs of cooling. If country radio gets on board it’ll be even better. I wouldn’t have a problem with the Stapleton trend.

      All of those are definitely quality artists that I love. I just didn’t remember them when writing this and I forgot to put an addendum at the end of the list saying these are the artists that immediately came to mind. Not an all encompassing list 🙂


      • NoahHibiscusEaton November 12, 2015 / 4:31 pm

        I’m prédicting this because I think Stapleton has very decent odds at garnering Grammy nominations not merely in the Country/Americana categories, but both Best New Artist and Album of the Year as well.

        Depending on whether BOTH Dr. Dre’s “Compton” and Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly” are nominated for Album of the Year or not, I can see a real opening for Stapleton to pull an upset. If only one of the two are nominated, Stapleton will likely be out of luck (especially if it’s Dr. Dre due to the sentimental factor being his last album and the hit film too). But of BOTH get nominated, Lamar and Dr. Dre will siphon support from each other and then Hozier (I don’t see Taylor Swift as a threat this time) would be Stapleton’s closest rival most likely.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Jason November 12, 2015 / 3:11 pm

    I agree with most everything but Mickey Guyton. Better Than You Left Me was great, but her single as well as her EP flopped, and her new single “Somebody Else Will” is boring country-pop garbage. It seems she’s going to be soon forgotten, the lyric video for the new song barely pulled in views and has faded off the map entirely. It’s unfortunate, but unless something changes fast, she’s probably going to be gone relativity quickly.


    • Ron November 12, 2015 / 3:16 pm

      I tend to agree. I highly doubt we hear from her again.


  8. Tyler DeJong November 14, 2015 / 4:45 pm

    Is it just me or does Dierks Bentley’s party/drinking songs fatalistic. Dierks protagonist drinks to escape his situation because his life is in the shitter, so. Compare to bro-country, where drinking is the avenue to the good country life… I think that it gives Dierks’ silly songs more meaning than most other silly drinking songs.


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