The Hodgepodge: Could Billboard’s Americana Chart Lead to the Radio Split We’ve Been Waiting For?

Last week Americana music fans and journalists were excited to learn that Billboard would add an Americana chart to their publishing. It’s a chart that’ll give home to many of the country artists we’ve seen ignored in Nashville, as well as root/folk rockers like The Lumineers. The chart debuted this week, along with Country Perspective’s first Americana Pulse feature. The chart gives a spotlight to artists popular in Americana, with Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, The Lumineers, Alabama Shakes, and Loretta Lynn finding their way into the top 15.

Take another look at the top artist on the chart and the 15th artist. You have Chris Stapleton, a modern country artist with a traditional sound and Loretta Lynn, a country music legend on the same chart. This is exactly what NASH Icons was supposed to do, right? NASH Icons was coming out of the woodwork in response to the cry for the country sound to return to radio grew to deafening levels. Unfortunately for NASH Icons, the experiment has been slow-moving, and the artists who’ve signed on so far, haven’t made much noise. Reba‘s NASH Icons album was great, but that’s about it for Icons so far.

But with the addition of an Americana chart to Billboard, perhaps we may see a growth in Americana radio stations. Not that radio is a sustainable medium nowadays, even for the immensely popular mainstream country music, but radio still appears to be important to most labels, managers, and fans. There aren’t many available Americana radio stations as it is, but even a double in the number of stations could be beneficial, even adding a station to more major markets. For instance, the KUSH in Cushing, OK is the station I’m able to listen to…if I drive state highways through small towns away from the OKC metro area and interstate on my drive to and from work. Besides that commute being out of my way for a drive, I still only get the AM signal for about 20-30 minutes.

My interest in Americana radio has grown ever since I’ve found that station which one time included a playlist of Corb Lund, Jason Boland, and Hailey Whitters back-to-back-to-back! My first tweet after learning about the new Billboard chart was wondering if Americana radio would grow in light of the official chart. With mainstream artists like Kacey Musgraves, Chris Stapleton, and Sturgill Simpson appearing on Americana charts (AMAs and Billboard), Americana gives a potential home to quality country artists who are ignored on radio while Dustin Lynch gets his third meaningless number one single while simultaneously citing Sugar Ray as an influential musical style.

More and more, it seems like mainstream artists are embracing genres away from country. Little Big Town is working with Pharrell on a side project, Florida Georgia Line (while passing off an R&B AC song as country) are covering the Backstreet Boys, and Sam Hunt and Old Dominion still think they’re making good music (let alone, country music).

In 2016’s first Hodgepodge, I noted that two things I’d like to see this year is a radio split and more spotlight on Americana and independent country music. With Billboard’s new Americana chart, one of those two has become a reality. Adding a chart for Americana is a great step in the effort to give these artists more of the spotlight they deserve. Maybe now Americana wouldn’t be an afterthought. Maybe the Grammys will embrace it as a major category, maybe the Americana Music Awards can find a TV deal. There’s more spotlight on the music, but now we need more avenues to play the music.

Upcoming/Recent Country and Americana Releases

  • Dierks Bentley‘s Black will be released on May 27th.
  • Maren Morris‘ debut album, Hero, will be released on June 3rd.
  • A recent release from the Netherlands to checkout is Maurice van Hoek‘s newest album, Live Forevermore. 
  • Brandy Clark‘s Big Day in a Small Town will be released on June 10th.
  • Jon Pardi‘s California Sunrise will be released on June 17th.
  • Mark Chesnutt will release a new album on July 8th called Tradition Lives.

Throwback Thursday Song

Kellie Pickler’s “I Wonder”One of my favorite Kellie Pickler songs. The second single from Pickler’s debut, Small Town Girl, “I Wonder” is written about a girl who wonders what life is like for her estranged parents. While Pickler didn’t write the song, it’s personal to her as her mother left the family when Kellie was just two, and her father was in and out of jail while she grew up.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week


Alessia Cara’s Know-It-All. The university I work for is already starting Freshman Orientation, and I’ve been working many of the sessions which include pop music playlists. I’ve grown to like Alessia Cara’s “Here” and don’t mine “Wild Things.” I’ve ventured to explore her debut album from last year, and I enjoyed listening to it. She had a hand in writing all 10 songs on the album, and the production on several of the tracks are well done.

Tweet of the Week

Sometimes, people need to be told where to find the good music. I needed to be told, and sometimes still do. If Simmons’ tweet is true, why did we get so many “Who is Chris Stapleton?” tweets?

Two iTunes Reviews for Blake Shelton

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Both these reviews make the point of how bland and boring Shelton’s vocals are on If I’m Honest. These are not the first two people I’ve heard say this, hence why I’m not going to listen to the album.

And that second review started off so wonderfully, and then crashed at the mention of Luke Bryan.

10 thoughts on “The Hodgepodge: Could Billboard’s Americana Chart Lead to the Radio Split We’ve Been Waiting For?

  1. Robert May 26, 2016 / 12:29 pm

    A couple of Americana stations I like are Sun Radio of Austin and Birmingham Mountain Radio of Alabama.

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    • Fred May 29, 2016 / 8:35 am

      So tell me if you can the difference between Americana and AAA? Is Birmingham playing Dale Waston? Wayne Hancock? Joe Ely?

      Do you think WXPN is an “Americana” station?

      That’s really the question one should ask

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      • Robert May 30, 2016 / 1:40 pm

        You are correct that I should’ve classified the stations I mentioned as more “anything-goes-including–some-assorted-roots.” They do throw in some Sturgill/Isbell/Stapleton types of things, alongside many non-country offerings, some of which are the types of acts on Billboard’s new Americana chart like Alabama Shakes. The Birmingham station sponsored a party in Tuscaloosa for the Isbell/Sturgill concert last year, for instance. Here’s a sample playlist from Birmingham: http://www.al.com/living/index.ssf/2016/05/regs_coffee_house_5-22-16_play.html

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  2. Nadia Lockheart May 26, 2016 / 1:37 pm

    I sure hope we get that split, though half of my heart is nonetheless worried that if “Americana” is widely defined by many to encompass merely “alternative country” and bluegrass……………………..that it may mean legitimate country artists will be left struggling through the dust clouds.

    That’s the side of this that I get kind of dewy-eyed about. Obviously the possible split is great news for long overlooked communities of artists as a whole. But for honest neotraditional-leaning country artists like Jon Pardi, Mo Pitney, William Michael Morgan and possibly Chris Janson, it’s probably a net loss for them because such a split will only embolden the corporate oligopoly to double down on their reinvention on the format while they insist Americana “can do their thing”.

    And it would be a shame to see what’s decent in mainstream country go down without a fight! =(

    *

    David Nail’s “Fighter” is apparently coming out July 15th, also.

    “Night’s On Fire” has been another underwhelming (though not terrible) lead single for David Nail. But despite my overall dislike of “Whatever She’s Got”, “I’m A Fire” turned out to be a mostly decent Adult Top 40-sensible album that hit a soft spot with me in that his style reminds me of Gin Blossoms and other 90s Adult Alternative sensibilities, stylistically.

    I’d rather see “Fighter” err more to the sound of “The Sound of a Million Dreams” and feel decidedly more rootsy, if not outright country. But I’ll still be satisfied if “Fighter” can hit more of that Gin Blossoms brand of sound. It may not make it a country album, but it would make it a good album.

    *

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh Schott May 26, 2016 / 2:25 pm

      I wouldn’t necessarily think those artists would get left out in the cold. If Americana can embrace Kacey Musgraves and Ashley Monroe, I don’t see no reason why they can’t embrace Pardi, Pitney and Morgan. Not sure if I see Janson wanting to go Americana considering I think he’s content playing the game with radio and mainstream country. He appears to be trying to fill the role Joe Nichols and Josh Turner once filled. As for the other three, they seem determined to make genuinely good music, damn radio success. If anything they need to be reaching out to Americana, as well as their labels to get recognized on their charts. I think Americana will welcome neo-traditional artists with open arms because why not? They have to know they’ve attracted a lot of disenfranchised country fans looking for the traditional sound and by welcoming these bigger names also helps skew the perception of just being a niche movement.

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  3. Raymond May 26, 2016 / 2:07 pm

    I have to say I love that Kellie Pickler song so much “I Wonder” is hauntingly beautiful, I found her material good solod pop-country with strong melodies. It’s a shame she probably will never be huge, especially since she has such a lovely personality. Didn’t know Kellie Pickler experienced that growing up and now I have a newfound respect for her.

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  4. Nadia Lockheart May 26, 2016 / 2:55 pm

    Also, on the subject of Blake Shelton’s “If I’m Honest”……………………yeah, can’t blame you for wanting to pass on writing a review.

    Here, tell you what: I’ll write one for you! 😉

    *

    What I will admit is that it’s a notch better than its three predecessors (since “Startin’ Fires”). But that’s not exactly saying much because I disliked all three of his preceding “Voice”-era albums, and the only reason I like “If I’m Honest” slightly more boils down entirely to three songs: “Friends”, “Green” and “Savior’s Shadow”.

    “Green” isn’t even a new song (carried over from “Startin’ Fires”). But I admittedly enjoy the energy and country instrumentation driving it. I’m not exactly sure why Blake found it necessary to resuscitate this track and cut it for another album, let alone one that is supposed to examine his life over the past year and a half, but whatever. It still sounds nice.

    “Friends” is easily one of Shelton’s most enjoyable efforts in quite some time. I enjoy the country instrumentation, and Shelton hasn’t sounded this upbeat and engaged vocally in quite a while as well. It just knows how to toe the line between appealing to kids via “The Angry Birds Movie” while also being agreeable enough to families as a whole with some sassy personality in a few choice lyrics. It’ll be a rare +1 from me if Shelton decides to release it as a single at some point.

    And though the production is bland and the lyrics don’t reveal much, “Savior’s Shadow” definitely earns points from me for Shelton’s sincere vocal performance. It’s a respectable album closer.

    *

    Aside from that triad, however, “If I’m Honest” suffers from typical production blandness and anonymity to the songwriting.

    If we give Blake the benefit of the doubt and take his word for it that this is him being 100% honest………………………….well, his life must be among the most predictable, banal, vanilla lives imaginable! More power to him if he genuinely feels at ease admitting this is honestly how he lives and views reality and his relationships…………………………I guess?

    But in the form of music, much like all of his albums beginning with “Startin’ Fires”……………………..I don’t get why I should care. The only reason Shelton is a superstar as is is because 1) he is absolutely lucky to have as much charisma and personality out of the studio as he does, and 2) “The Voice”. It certainly helped that 3) he has been part of multiple high-profile celebrity couplings.

    The problem is, despite his undeniable charisma…………………even that fails to make all these interchangeable, dime-a-dozen tracks pop out. Anyone could have cut “Every Time I Hear That Song”, “Bet You Still Think About Me”, “It Ain’t Easy”, “Every Goodbye”, “One Night Girl” and “Go Ahead And Break My Heart”…………………….and it wouldn’t have made any net difference. They are boilerplate fodder that merely skims the surface of relationships and thus don’t demand much emotional commitment in the sum of their parts. Lesser vocalists with no charisma whatsoever like Cole Swindell could have cut all of these songs, and the end result would be no worse than what Shelton and Scott Hendricks accomplished here. Or Adult Top 40 acts with Mainstream Top 40 sensibilities like The Script and Charlie Puth could have easily taken the template of any of these songs with their producers and produce equally as bland but pleasant enough reads of their own.

    Then there are a couple of moments that get on my nerves. The first comes with “She’s Got A Way With Words”. It’s clearly trying to follow the clever example Eric Church’s “Kill A Word” set with wordplay, but where “Kill A Word” was smart in how it executed it and also conveyed a lot of heart, it just sounds sleazy and at least borderline-misogynistic here. I mean: “She put the S.O.B. in sober?” “She put the F.U. in my future?”. Really?!!! Grow up and get over it: Shelton, Earp, Albert and Beeson!

    The other moment that grates rather quickly is “Doing It To Country Songs”. Admittedly, the first time I heard the track I did enjoy the sound of it…………………..but from there the track burned on me at a record pace in just how idiotic the lyrical conceit is and how desperate they are to repeat it in the hopes it becomes a profitable merchandise slogan. I mean seriously: it’s the lyrical equivalent of a scene from “Beavis & Butthead” depicting the duo watching music videos and, upon glimpsing a stereotypical “cowgirl” in daisy dukes, bikini top and platform boots, says:

    *

    Butthead: “Uh huh huh huh huh huh…”

    Beavis: “Heh heh heh heh heh heh…”

    Butthead: “Uh huh huh huh huh huh, that chick loves doin’ it to country songs!”

    Beavis: “Heh heh heh, yeah yeah, heh heh heh!”

    Butthead” “Uh huh huh huh huh huh, she can raise my barn any time!”

    Beavis: “Heh heh heh, you said raise, heh heh heh!”

    Butthead: “Uh huh huh, oh yeah……………..uh huh huh huh…”

    *

    It’s not clever! I’ll admit that it does still sound pretty good, but it is futile when the track lyrically DEMANDS your attention and hits you over the head with the repetitive innuendo.

    *

    So, yeah…………………its title may imply an incisive, intimate glimpse into the emotional complexity of Blake Shelton’s recent life. But the actual result is a typical, conveyor-belt assembled Blake Shelton album that is no more vulnerable and intimate than any of his preceding releases. It’s by no means a terrible album, but certainly an instantly forgettable and anonymous one.

    I’m thinking a Decent to Strong 4 out of 10 for this.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. OlaR May 27, 2016 / 6:47 am

    After listening to the new Shelton & Bentley albums i’m sure both guys will not get much airplay on americana-radio.
    Blake Shelton: meh. Boring. More of the same. Predictable. Bland…4/10
    Dierks Bentley: omg. Ross Copperman…’nuff said. 1/10

    The new Little Big Town album is not a “country” album.
    Jackson Michelson will release his first Ep on 6/17 (“Jackson Michelson”) on Curb Records. First single is “Boys Will Be”. Look at the cover & you know why the guy was signed.

    Check-Out/New Ep: Adam Craig – “Adam Craig” (Stoney Creek – 5/20)
    Five tracks. No real highlight. Middle of the road country-pop. I like the voice & i’m sure it’s not the first time i hear his voice (Adam Craig Band, 2010 or so?). 6/10.

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  6. Evileprechaun May 27, 2016 / 11:16 am

    Blake gets “points” for putting out the least bad of the mainstream male pop-country albums that have come out recently (looking at you Keith and Dierks). SS is worth it, GAABMY is actually decent (although Stefani’s lyrics are better) and I like Friends. There are a couple other songs which I wouldn’t turn the radio channel on if they came on..and that’s about it. The album also gets a bonus point for not being entirely filled with drinking songs/or songs about one night stands (seriously mainstream country stinks).

    Frankly, I find Shelton to be the most frustrating person in country. Unlike most of the current mainstream superstars, I think he actually knows and appreciates country & has the charisma to pull it off. I was hoping for an album with more songs like SS, that show a different dimension, and instead it’s just more of the same. Not the most offensive for sure, but generally bland.

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  7. theknightswhosayni4 May 30, 2016 / 3:17 pm

    Frankie Ballard also has a new CD coming June 10th! It sounds like it might be a little more Rock than Country, but it should be a good CD.

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