Review – Charlie Worsham’s “The Beginning of Things”

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Charlie Worsham is a name that more people should know in country music. His debut album, Rubberband, is an excellent singer-songwriter album with an eclectic sound, rich, heartfelt stories, and Worsham’s smooth, soft vocals. While he hasn’t seen much traction from the album, Charlie Worsham’s career is still young, as he’s set to release his second album this spring. To begin promotion for the album, titled Beginning of Things, Worsham has released the album’s title track for fans to hear. The song centers around William, or Bill, a man who only seems to enjoy the beginning of things. With unfinished home projects and unrealized life dreams, Bill settles down with his childhood love, Sam. Bill and Sam have a daughter, only for him to run out and become an estranged man in the lives of those two women. The song doesn’t resolve Bill’s story in a happy fashion, keeping with the status quo of the story Worsham has presented. In trying to tell a story that pretty much spans a lifetime, writers Abe Stoklasa and Donovan Woods, pack quite a bit into four minutes. The result is a rushed story with details quickly rattled off to get to the next place in timeline. The song itself doesn’t change much with the tempo over the duration, hovering in the mid-tempo range with the same acoustic guitar strum repeated. “The Beginning of Things” is a bold endeavor of a story song that doesn’t quite hit the mark for the intended wordplay or emotional effect. With that said, it’s exciting to hear new music from Charlie Worsham, and his upcoming album is one to look out for.

Grade: 6/10

Recommend? – Worth one listen

Written by Abe Stoklasa and Donovan Woods

Album Review – Blackie and the Rodeo Kings Bring Together Best Americana Male Artists on ‘Kings and Kings’

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What began as a tribute to Canadian songwriter Willie P. Bennett, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings have spent the past 20 years growing into one of Canada’s best roots music bands. Colin Linden, Stephen Fearing, and Tom Wilson, all with their own solo musical careers, have together developed Blackie and the Rodeo Kings into more than just a one-off tribute group. In 2011, the group collaborated with many of Americana and country’s finest female artists like Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, and Pam Tillis in Kings and Queens. Now five and a half years later, the group returns with Kings and Kings, a collaboration album with country and Americana’s best male singers, including Vince Gill, Rodney Crowell, Jason Isbell, Eric Church and many others.

Kings and Kings takes the best of each member and guest, which makes for an eclectic sound throughout. Written by all three members of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, and joined by the great Rodney Crowell, “Live by the Song” details the life of the band on the road and playing music. Fearing and Crowell split the vocals, and Crowell’s seasoned voice shines through; a perfect collaboration choice given the song’s content. Not all songs are vocal collaborations, with guest Nick Lowe taking full lead on “Secret of a Long Lasting Love” while the band harmonizes behind him. With Bruce Cockburn, Linden (who has produced many of Cockburn’s albums) not only splits verses with him on the tender “A Woman Gets More Beautiful,” but the pair move between English and French lyrics, adding a layer of romance onto the ballad.

Many guests bring their native band’s flair to their collaborations with the Canadian trio. Buddy Miller, who’s played guitar for many Country and American stalwarts, joins in on the rollicking “Playing By Heart.” Raul Malo brings a taste of The Mavericks’ signature Latin-inspired sound on Fearing’s “High Wire.” Jason Isbell (on “Land of the Living [Hamilton Ontario 2016]”) and Eric Church (on “Bury My Heart”) stay true to each of their respective rock oriented sounds, while the Willie P. Burnett penned “This Lonesome Feeling” sounds like a classic country standard, which is appropriate given the inclusion of Vince Gill on vocals. Keb Mo duets with Fearing on “Long Walk to Freedom”, a track that reminds the listener of a gospel song. The haunting “Bitter and Low” is benefited from a great vocals from Oakland’s Fantastic Negrito, while Dallas Green of City and Colour turns in a memorable performance on “Beautiful Scars.” Kings and Kings comes to a close with the men of the show Nashville on “Where the River Rolls.”

Overall, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings make the most of their talented guests, playing to each of their respective strengths and sounds, to create an authentic sounding roots album. Kings and Kings is the perfect example of why Americana is such a tough genre to define because a variety of sounds and styles all work under that umbrella. Blackie and the Rodeo Kings provide music fans with an album that epitomizes the genre, with great collaborations from the most respected singers of country and Americana music.

Grade: 9/10

Recommend? – Absolutely!

Album Highlights: Playing By Heart (feat. Buddy Miller), Long Walk to Freedom (feat. Keb Mo), This Lonesome Feeling (feat. Vince Gill), Bury My Heart (feat. Eric Church)

Bad Songs: None

Wallpaper: None

The Hodgepodge: Country Radio’s 15 Minutes of Fame Strategy

This week’s opening will be short. I just started a new job this week so I haven’t had a ton of time to thoroughly think through this topic, but it’s something I want to dive into and would love to see readers’ thoughts on this.

Mainstream country labels seems to aim more and more for just one hit single. For all the radio hype Chris Lane got for “Fix,” his album sales tell a different story. Girl Problems hasn’t sold well out of the gate, debuting at #8 on Billboard last week and falling off the charts this week. Outselling Lane last week was Texas Country star Cody Johnson, who still remains on the charts this week. And Cody Jinks, who debuted at #4 this week with I’m Not the Devil sold more than Girl Problems did.

It’s not really breaking news that independent country stars have strong album sales, as we saw last year with Aaron Watson, Jason Isbell, Blackberry Smoke, and Turnpike Troubadours all reaching number one on the album charts. A main reason for this could be the fact that independent fan bases seem more willing to purchase an album to support their favorite artist. But being able to sell an album well, especially at the heels of a hit radio song, could signify the longevity for an artist. Yes, Cody Johnson and Cody Jinks have established careers and released multiple albums prior to Gotta Be Me and I’m Not the Devil, but strong album sales only cement their place with their fans and in the music industry.

However, with Chris Lane selling poorly after “Fix” hit number one just screams one-hit wonder. So many times, we see artists, particularly trend-chasing B/C-level artists, only perform well at radio with a song or two. Most albums seem to get delayed, or they simply just sell like crap. How do Chris Lane or Big Loud Records expect to see any follow-up success? Not that I want to hear another full-fledged pop song from Lane, but why wasn’t Girl Problems given the same type of promotion as “Fix”? I just don’t understand why they chose to play the short game for 15 minutes of fame. Chris Lane isn’t the first, and he won’t be the last. This is just one of many, many problems with mainstream country radio.

Country radio is in the pits, and these hot, one-hit wonder type songs is a short-sighted attempt to gain listeners and revenue. Labels and radio execs aren’t thinking of the long game to improve and crawl out of its self-dug hole. I don’t claim to be a programming expert, but this type of strategy screams short-term thinking. It’s treading on water without looking for a boat to help stay afloat. And as long as radio continues this thought process, we’ll be continually treated to trendy singles followed by poor albums. Artists and labels who think solely about the one single and not the album are not building a sustainable music career.

Upcoming/Recent Country and Americana Releases

  • Jack Ingram‘s Midnight Motel will be released tomorrow.
  • Whiskey Myers’ newest album, Mud will be released September 9.
  • Also coming out on the 9th is St. Paul & The Broken Bones‘ Sea of Noise.
  • Amanda Shires will release her new album My Piece of Land on September 16.
  • Erik Dylan‘s Heart of a Flatland Boy will be released on October 21.
  • Mack McKenzie is releasing his sophomore album A Million Miles on October 22.

Throwback Thursday Song

Merle Haggard’s “My Favorite Memory” This single from Haggard was released on this day in 1981, and would go on to become Merle’s 25th number one single.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Frank Ocean Blonde In an act of defiance against the major labels and streaming, Frank Ocean left his label and self-released his highly anticipated sophomore album exclusively through Apple. With labels/streaming services/artists all at odds, this kind of move is big and could lead to more artists acting in the same fashion.

Tweet of the Week

It’s been a big week for Erik Dylan, who performed at this Guy Clark tribute with the likes of Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill, and others. Dylan’s upcoming album was also made available for pre-order.

iTunes Review for Florida Georgia Line

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This was left under Florida Georgia Line’s Dig Your Roots, which is due out tomorrow. I’ve only heard “H.O.L.Y.” and “God, Your Mama, and Me,” but I haven’t been crazy about either song. This review says it all!

Album Review – Cody Jinks’ ‘I’m Not the Devil’

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Combine the steel guitars and fiddles with Cody Jinks’ honest, heartfelt writing and a baritone twang, and you’ll find just about every factor that exemplifies what hardcore country fans look for in traditional country music. Jinks’ 2015 Adobe Sessions introduced him to a slew of fans, and now Jinks is on the road with Whitey Morgan, bringing hardcore, traditional country music to fans across the nation. And there’s absolutely no doubt that Cody Jinks’ new album I’m Not the Devil is not only traditional country, but will be one of the better traditional country albums of the year. Every song on the album is undeniably country, and Jinks truly digs deep with his approach to the songwriting, opening up his soul and struggles for the world to hear.

The ring of a steel guitar runs through the speakers as “The Same” kicks off the album. Jinks takes a subtle, yet effective approach while singing about catching up with an old flame. She pops up rather unexpectedly and strikes up a small talk conversation. While she has moved on after the end, he hints to her that his feelings haven’t changed much. Following is what can truly be described as the album’s theme with “I’m Not the Devil.” It was one of the last songs written and recorded for the album and “I’m Not the Devil” fit as the album name because it’s message permeates throughout the rest of the album. “I’m not the devil you think that I am. It ain’t no excuse, but I’m just a man. I slipped and I fell and got out of hand, but I’m not the devil you think that I am.” Many of the album’s songs deal with a man’s internal struggle between right and wrong, angels vs. demons, God vs. the Devil: coping with past mistakes and trying to move forward in a more positive way.

Cody Jinks relies on religious imagery to help tell these stories. “No Guarantees” opens up with Jinks talking about his religious upbringing. With childlike naivety, he believes reading the Bible and knowing Jesus’ words are enough to keep temptations at bay. But the reality is there are demons and temptations in his life, and it takes action and effort from a person to battle them. One thing I like about I’m Not the Devil is how Cody Jinks balances ballads with more upbeat country songs, while making the melodies work with the written material. “No Guarantees” is one of the faster tracks on the album, but it doesn’t take away from Jinks’ words and message.

“No Words” is an honest confession from a husband to his wife. He understands that he hasn’t been the best person and has made mistakes, drank too much, and not treated her well. He sees how she continues to stand beside him and not lose faith, and her devotion encourages him. He vows to be better and show her the same love. It’s a well written, touching, honest love song. “Give All You Can” is the longest song on the album, and brings out a load of passion from Jinks. From the quiet combo of a steel guitar and piano, the song evolves and grows into a musical crescendo over the five minutes. Referencing his dark places and tortured soul and being encouraged by Matthew 5, Jesus’ sermon on the mount, Jinks realizes that life needs to be lived with purpose and meaning. One mark of a great song is how it’s indescribable in what makes it great. That’s what you have with “Give All You Can”; words don’t do it justice.

“She’s All Mine” is a lighthearted love song with a simple upbeat rhythm. Jinks sings lyrics praising the great qualities in his wife, and how much he appreciates her presence in his life. Since I’m Not the Devil has such a heavy, dark mood, the song is a nice break in the mold. With that said, though, “She’s All Mine” also stands out because the writing is rather simple and unimaginative. It’s repetitive and doesn’t really have the same kind of depth as the rest of the album. The song works in the view of the album as a whole, but it doesn’t have much meat standing alone.

Cody Jinks sings of life on the road with the next couple of songs. “The Way I Am” seems to touch on feelings of doubt and frustration. “I wish I enjoyed what makes my living, did what I do with a willing hand. Some would run, but that ain’t like me. So I’ll just dream and keep on being the way I am” Jinks sings in the second stanza. It’s easy to listen to a song like this and jump to conclusions without any context, but the song is honest look at life and responsibility. And I’m sure all singers, at one point or another, get a feeling of being stuck in a rut or putting in blood, sweat, and tears without seeing the desired results. But Jinks counters this with the honky tonk foot stomper “Chase That Song.” The song uses several metaphors to describe rolling from town to town and setting up for a rowdy country show. “Chase That Song” is a rollicking good time.

Perhaps the darkest song on the album comes from the aptly named “Heavy Load.” Jinks said he wrote the song out of exhaustion, and it touches on feeling stuck, frustrated, carrying a heavy load of regret and mistakes. The outlaw-like production of the song keeps it darker, as Jinks goes so far to quote some end-of-the-world like Bible verses from Revelation during the song’s bridge. Despite how heavy the song is, “Heavy Load” is well produced and put together. “Grey” is an acoustic soul-searching song. Simply him and his guitar, Jinks sings about trying to rediscover the passion and trying to relight the fire in life.

Cody Jinks explores youthful innocence over a few songs. With “Church at Gaylor Creek,” Jinks thinks back to his church back home, and ponders how far he’s gone away from those days as a kid. He’s a man who has sinned and lived life differently than his family growing up, but times have changed and affected him. The song is Jinks looking back at his innocent years when he’s not being blinded by the mistakes of neon lights and whiskey. And with “Vampires,” Jinks, a father of two, sings of trying to protect his own children and their youthful innocence from the world. As time goes on, dreams may die and it get’s harder and harder to keep the protective veil over your children. Jinks compares himself and his efforts to Catcher in the Rye’s Holden Caulfield. I’m Not the Devil concludes with the loud, biting “Hand Me Down.” It’s a song where Jinks rattles off his frustration with politicians, Wall Street, the news, and many other things in today’s culture that don’t really sit well with him. The people trying to hand down their opinions, propaganda, and bullshit, trying to get Jinks and others to think like them instead of for themselves. It’s a repetitive song that doesn’t really dig into any item with much detail, but Jinks doesn’t hide how pissed he feels about it.

With a heavy hand, Cody Jinks hits you hard with I’m Not the Devil. The brutally honest self-reflection provides for some well-written songs. Cody Jinks unlocks his heart and puts his soul on display for everyone to see: his doubts, his frustrations, his missteps, and his love are cast into the light with nothing stopping them. Jinks expresses his vulnerability with thoughtfulness and tells his story with conviction. At times it may get too heavy, and at 13 songs the album feels a bit repetitive at places. But make no mistake, I’m Not the Devil is a great country album. Cody Jinks continues to make a name for himself as a country singer, and this album will do nothing but add more fuel to drive Jinks forward as a country star fans can proudly look toward.

Grade: 9/10

The Hodgepodge: Updates and Changes with Songwriting Royalties

Doug Morris, Sony CEO

There’s been a few updates over the past week with respect to songwriting royalties. I haven’t really dug into them yet to offer much commentary on the updates, but I do offer my initial thoughts at the end of the post. I’m sure there will be a follow-up post to these changes as I better understand them.

100 Percent Licensing

Last month, I somewhat broke down the new proposal at the Department of Justice called 100 Percent Licensing. Essentially, 100 Percent Licensing was proposed to give each songwriter or publisher who worked on a song 100% licensing control for the song. Before, if two people worked on a song, Person A essentially had licensing power over the part of the song he or she contributed (a verse, chorus, or melody), and Person B had licensing power over his or her own contribution. And together, Person A and B would have to come into an agreement for the whole song to be included on a service like Pandora. However, what 100 Percent Licensing proposes is that Person A or Person B can have full control over the song and be able to deal the song with Pandora without the other person’s permission.

The DOJ ruled last week in favor of what they call “Full Works Licensing.” The DOJ wrote in a statement:

“We discovered that there was significant disagreement in the industry about what rights must be conveyed by the blanket licenses (as well as other categories of licenses) that the consent decrees require ASCAP and BMI to offer,” the DoJ writes. “Some argued that, in order to effectuate the purpose of the consent decrees, the blanket license must grant licensees (also called ‘users’) the right to publicly perform all songs in the ASCAP and BMI repertories. Others believe that the blanket licenses offered by ASCAP and BMI instead confer only rights to the fractional interests in songs owned by ASCAP’s and BMI’s members and that music users must obtain separate licenses to the remaining fractional interests before playing the songs.”

The DOJ ultimately came to the conclusion, “We think the evidence favors the full-work side.” Performance Rights Organizations like BMI and ASCAP and others like David Israelite, president and CEO of the National Music Publishers’ Association have spoken out against the ruling. Israelite calls the ruling “a massive blow to America’s songwriters.”

“The interpretation that the consent decrees demand that all works must be licensed on a 100% basis is both unprecedented and disastrous to the songwriting community,” he said. “The decision represents a misunderstanding of copyright law and directly violates the legal guidance given by the Register of Copyright. The defiance displayed by these career antitrust lawyers in ignoring the legal opinion of the Register of Copyright is shocking.”

BMI and ASCAP issued a joint statement proclaiming that the ruling “will cause unnecessary chaos in the marketplace and place unfair financial burdens and creative constraints on songwriters and composers.”

It appears that the new ruling won’t go into effect for another year, giving the organizations and stakeholders time to figure out how to conduct business within the scope of the new full works licensing. The full statement from the Department of Justice can be found here.

NSAI Calls Out Sony

Another big movement within songwriting and streaming is Sony blocking and contesting songwriters during the recent proceedings with Copyright Royalty Board. As songwriters and publishers fight for larger payouts from streaming, Sony has been contesting them, siding with digital streaming services. In fact, Sony is the only major label stepping in and opposing the publishers and songwriters on the matter.

In an open letter to Sony CEO Doug Morris, Nashville Songwriters’ Association International (NSAI) Executive Director Bart Herbison asks Morris and Sony to step out of the proceedings.

It is embarrassingly disingenuous that Sony would attempt to hide behind its claim to “increase the headline rate” when in fact its proposal to the CRB would actually lower the rates songwriters currently receive from digital interactive streaming services. Warner Brothers, Universal and other record labels have chosen not to attempt to suppress the rates digital interactive services pay to songwriters.

The big argument is that labels like Sony and Universal can benefit financially from an artists’ tour and merchandise sales while a songwriter only receives royalty payments from his or her song. David Israelite has also been vocal about Sony’s involvement.

With one major change from Full Works Licensing and a possible change in the works with CRB, we could in fact see a shift in the way the music industry conducts itself. If songwriting royalties are diminished through streaming, then chances are that we’ll be subjected to far more committee songs written for popular appeal. That’s essentially what we see on country radio today as it is, but moves like this could further marginalize the solo or independent songwriter, and could detract potential songwriters.

While a service like Spotify or Apple Music have playlists for “Americana” or “Independent Folk” for music fans to explore away from the mainstream, these are still playlists that need to be sought out and aren’t necessarily advertised. And if a label like Sony is getting in bed with streaming services to favor the labels, then they could easily “encourage” Spotify to advertise a playlist of Sony artists on Spotify’s main page or within Apple Music’s suggested playlists. The labels have money and that money allows them to wield their power for personal gain. And working to have streaming services give the labels more money, not the songwriters, only intensifies that power cycle.

Upcoming/Recent Country and American Releases

  • Tomorrow’s a big day for releases in country music:
    • Cody Jinks‘ I’m Not the Devil
    • Kelsey Waldon‘s I’ve Got a Way
    • Justin Moore‘s Kinda Don’t Care
  • BJ Barham of American Aquarium will release a solo album called Rockingham next week on August 19.
  • John Paul White will release Beulah on the 19th.
  • Lydia Loveless will release a new album on the 19th called Real.
  • And Dolly Parton will also release her new album on the 19th called Pure & Simple.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Diggin Up Bones” by Randy Travis 30 years ago this week, Randy Travis’ debut album Storms of Life hit Number 1 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart. So this week’s throwback song is a number one hit for Travis from that album.

Non Country Suggestion of the Week

Gov’t Mule The Tel-Star Sessions Rock band Gov’t Mule recently released an archival album called The Tel-Star Sessions, which include early and never-before-heard recordings from the band. Gov’t Mule is set to go on tour with Blackberry Smoke with the first show tonight in Portland, ME.

Tweet of the Week

When I saw that “Fix” was number 1 on the Airplay charts, I went to Twitter seeking out tweets complaining about the song. When my search for “Chris Lane Fix Sucks” had no results, I complained on Twitter, and our friend Cobra from Hope For Country Music fixed the search problem.

Two iTunes Review for Chris Lane

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Both of these reviews were left under Chris Lane’s new album Girl Problems. Whether it’s the whole album or simply “Fix,” both reviews apply.