The Hodgepodge: Pop Duets Ignore Country’s Rich Talent Pool of Female Artists

Dierks Bentley feat. Elle King – “Different for Girls”

Brad Paisley feat. Demi Lovato – “Without a Fight”

Kenny Chesney feat. P!nk – “Setting the World on Fire”

One of the most recent musical trends out of Nashville, as you can tell by the above pairings, is partnering a male country singer with a female non-country singer to record a non-country song, probably in hopes for a crossover hit. Three big, veteran names in country music are using the big names from female pop acts to gain even more exposure and revenue.

This isn’t a terrible trend, and Paisley and Chesney’s songs aren’t terrible. “Different for Girls” has some backwards lyrics, but Dierks and Elle sing the song well, and I like the production to the tune. My only gripe with this trend is that it blatantly ignores a large, talented pool of female singers in country music. Females who already struggle to get songs on the radio by themselves. To be fair, Dierks Bentley also recorded “I’ll Be The Moon” on Black with newcomer Maren Morris, a song which received quite a bit of album promotional play and press before the album’s release. However, the label decided to move forward with the Elle King duet as the single, not the Morris duet.

I know the answer to this question is money and marketability, but why not record these same songs with country newcomers? Mickey Guyton has a vocal power similar to Demi Lovato, and could easily fit into “Without a Fight.” In Fact, on several occasions while on tour with Paisley, Mickey Guyton sang Allison Krauss’ role in “Whiskey Lullaby.” I think Mickey Guyton could have sung Lovato’s parts and “Without a Fight” could still be just as good.

Like I said, I know that there’s a certain marketability that comes with having Demi Lovato’s or P!nk’s name attached to a song as opposed to Mickey Guyton or Cam. Outside of the obvious pop demographic (which the songs are clearly catered toward), those two names are just simply more well-known. But even some singers like Kellie Pickler and Lauren Alaina are good singers themselves and have the American Idol notoriety surrounding their name.

Obviously the larger purpose of songs like the ones mentioned above is the fact that these females attract a non-country audience to song and probably double the listening potential. But coming off a year in which the problem of females on country radio, or lack thereof, was headlining everywhere, it’s odd to me that producers would gloss over that potential talent pool.

Chris Young recently had a number one song on the Airplay Charts that he recorded with Cassadee Pope. “Think of You” is just as Adult Contemporary sounding as the three aforementioned songs. So don’t try to argue that “country females won’t sell” because clearly a duet between male and female COUNTRY singers sold and succeeded.

I’m probably just beating a dead horse and screaming at a brick wall because complaint’s like this haven’t helped. Even with Tomato Gate on everyone’s mind last year, Carrie Underwood and Kelsea Ballerini are still the only females getting consistent radio airplay. Yet women like Lori McKenna, Brandy Clark, Aubrie Sellers, and Margo Price have all released great albums this year. Why don’t we hear them on the charts? Why aren’t labels pursuing duets with these talented singers? Yes, Aubrie Sellers has recently signed a deal with Warner, and Lori McKenna has seen excellent success as a songwriter from “Girl Crush” and “Humble and Kind.” However, it’s still a shame that several of country’s talented female singers are overlooked for a cash-grab pop duet.

Upcoming/Recent Country and Americana Releases

  • Mo Pitney has announced his debut LP through Curb Records. Behind This Guitar will be released October 7.
  • William Michael Morgan announced his debut album, Vinyl, will be released on September 30.
  • Reckless Kelly will release Sunset Motel on September 23.
  • Also on September 23 Dwight Yoakam is releasing a bluegrass album titled Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars…
  • Jack Ingram will release Midnight Motel on August 26. Hear the new single, “I’m Drinking Through It.”
  • The Cadillac Three will release Bury Me in Boots tomorrow.
  • Cody Johnson will release Gotta Be Me tomorrow.
  • Next Friday, both Cody Jinks (I’m Not The Devil) and Kelsey Waldon (I’ve Got a Way) will release albums. A day which is sure to be a good day for new country music.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” by Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn With all the talk of country duets today, what could be better than a duet from two of country’s best singers? Sit back and enjoy this 1973 hit from their duet album of the same name.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Foo Fighters “Everlong” The only non-country music I’ve listened to this week is the Foo Fighters Greatest Hits album, so I recommend what is probably my favorite Foo Fighters song.

Tweet of the Week

I told myself not to mention a certain country group that I wrote about in last week’s Hodgepodge, but this tweet pretty much sums up my opinions on “Comeback Kid.”

iTunes Review for Big Smo

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This guy hates the fact that country fans call Big Smo not country. Especially when later on in this review, he clearly states how Big Smo raps. Sure we don’t technically own the word “country” but we know which music is actually country music and which is actually rap or hick hop.

Album Review – Lori McKenna’s ‘The Bird & The Rifle’

Lori McKenna has been recording and releasing music for nearly 16 years, but with her songwriting success over the past year, now is as good a time as ever for her to release an album. McKenna co-wrote Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” with Liz Rose and Hillary Lindsey, a song which captured the attention of pretty much everyone. And most recently, Tim McGraw’s “Humble & Kind”, written solely by McKenna, topped the airplay charts and has gone onto be a career hit for McGraw. McKenna teamed up with producer Dave Cobb with The Bird & The Rifle, Lori McKenna delivers nine brand new songs as well as her own recording of “Humble & Kind.”

The Bird & The Rifle begins with the heartbreaking “Wreck You.” McKenna sings from the first person point of view of a wife struggling to find out why her marriage has been falling apart. She’s not exactly sure where things went wrong or what she needs to do to change and fix it, but she’s aware that something is definitely wrong. You can hear the pain in McKenna’s voice as she sings. This is followed by the excellent title track for the album. An acoustic driven story song, Lori McKenna sings of another troubled marriage. She compares the wife to a bird and the husband to a rifle, two things that don’t go together well. While the bird can sing beautiful songs that rifle loves, the bird has the urge to fly but seems to be held down by the rifle’s fear and anger. “Something about the bird her spreading those wings always seems to bring the rifle out in him.” It’s a tried and true story, but McKenna writes and delivers it with a new sense of purpose and heart.

Lori McKenna visits small town life with “Giving Up on Your Hometown.” A bit more upbeat song than the first two, but this song takes a solemn look returning to your hometown and not recognizing how it has changed. People have passed, old hot spots have been torn down, and the place simply doesn’t feel like home anymore. Even with a more slightly upbeat production, the song doesn’t drift any faster than a mid-tempo ballad. “Halfway Home” tells the story of a woman who’s stuck in relationships with men who are unreliable or around for only one night. The song encourages the woman to keep moving on because she’s halfway home, half of the way to finding the true love she deserves. “Halfway Home” is another excellent vocal delivery from Lori McKenna.

I like Tim McGraw’s recording of “Humble & Kind”, but Lori McKenna’s recording on The Bird & The Rifle is even better. Maybe it’s due to the fact that McKenna is the lone writer of the song, but she sings the lyrics with such a conviction that isn’t present in McGraw’s recording. “Humble & Kind” is a song with fantastic lyrics, and hearing Lori McKenna sing them is a gift for the listener. “We Were Cool” is another song of nostalgia. Lori McKenna reminisces about growing up and how she and her friends felt cool riding in the older brother’s cool car. With an album full of poignant heartbreaking songs (and following the excellent “Humble & Kind”), “We Were Cool” gets a little lost in the shuffle, but it’s still a fun song to listen to, and it doesn’t make it a bad song by any stretch of the imagination.

Another album standout is the brutally honest “Old Men Young Women.” For starters, this song has one of the best opening lyrics. “You can have him; I hope you have fun. I guess wife number three could be the one.” Lori McKenna, presumably singing from the perspective of wife number one, speaks to the young third wife, shining a light on the dark corners of the marriage. She’s the trophy and link to a past he’ll never experience again, and he has the material resources to provide for her. But at the end of the day, neither one is fulfilled emotionally and it’s only a matter of time before the relationship meets its inevitable end.

“All These Things” is an upbeat love song, perhaps the most upbeat song of the album. McKenna lists off several different things and situations that illustrate the strength to their devotion to one another. “Always Want You” is a song about trying to get over a break up. Just like water runs through the creek bed or church bells ring on Sunday, McKenna believes she’ll always want the one she can’t have. “If Whiskey Were a Woman” is another heartbreaking song about a marriage on the rocks. Again, Lori McKenna is singing from the perspective of a woman who has let her marriage fall apart. She knows she can’t love and comfort her husband like she should, and compares herself to the whiskey he clings to and drinks, and how she would be if she were the whiskey.

In a word, The Bird & The Rifle is excellent. Lori McKenna writes and sings great stories with a stunning conviction and honesty. These truly are McKenna’s stories to tell, and she sells you on that truth. Even with the slower and mid-tempo production, Dave Cobb helps keep the focus of the album on McKenna’s voice and words, which is where the strength of the album lies. Whether it’s a single word choice in the title track or the biting delivery in “Old Men Young Women”, Lori McKenna let’s focal point of the album shine. The Bird & The Rifle is a must listen and a must buy album. Lori McKenna delivers a stunning country, folk album.

Grade: 10/10

 

 

Review – Turnpike Troubadours’ “Come As You Are”

Featured on Bruce Robison’s new web series The Next Waltz, the Turnpike Troubadours revealed a new single titled “Come As You Are.” Robison’s series is dedicated to giving music fans a more intimate look at songwriting and life on the road through interviews. With the Turnpike Troubadours, we see Robison speak with the band about finding their footing in the early years with clips of them rehearsing “Come As You Are” spliced into the interview, even seeing Bruce coach the band through the opening bars of the song as they finalize the musical arrangement. The Turnpike Troubadours recorded the song in Robison’s studio in Lockhart, Texas.

“Come As You Are” opens with a solemn guitar riff, quickly joined by steel guitar ring and a quiet drum beat. The waltz tune carries traditional country sounds throughout the track, with the steel guitar and fiddle chiming in during the chorus and solos. The verses are underscored with a drum beat and acoustic guitar strum. Frontman Evan Felker sings of being reckless and careless, drinking too much and how those actions affect his relationship, hooking the story with the chorus’ final lines “I wake in the morning to start out my day to the sound of you walking away.” The band chimes in during the chorus with all their voices singing in harmony, something that’s rarely heard on the band’s albums so far. As Felker tells Robison in the interview, “The last verse is about going duck hunting and realizing you’re a jerk. Getting somewhere, sobering up, and getting your mind right, and realizing what you’re missing out on.” After a rough beginning to the year in which Evan Felker was criticized by fans after a few drunken performances, the lyrics to this song almost feel like a confession from Felker, addressing those actions and how a heavy reliance on alcohol can negatively affect your life.

The Turnpike Troubadours absolutely deliver a great, timeless country song with “Come As You Are.” A common description for country music is “3 chords and the truth” and that’s essentially what the Oklahoma band has delivered here. The lyrics are painfully honest and beautifully delivered with a musical arrangement that showcases the best sounds of country music. There’s no word about a follow-up album to their excellent self-titled from last year, but even just one new song from the Turnpike Troubadours is exciting because they’re one of the best bands making country music today. “Come As You Are” is no exception to that.

Grade: 10/10

Written by Evan Felker and Rhett Miller

The Hodgepodge: The Confusing Saga of The Band Perry Continues…..

The Band Perry confuses me. I have no clue what their intention is within the music industry. Are they mindless drones stuck in a contract that rebrands the band every year? Or are the three Perry siblings just trying to do all the different musical genres they can? The spark notes of the band’s short history:

  • In 2010, they release their first album with the great single “If I Die Young.” It’s an album I actually enjoy with a good modern country production.
  • Two years later, the band releases their follow up album Pioneer. The album has a little bit of more edge to it with songs like “Better Dig Two”, “DONE!” and “Chainsaw” being released as singles.
  • In 2014, The Band Perry returns to total country roots with their rendition of Glen Campbell’s “Gentle On My Mind” released as a standalone single. A recording that won the band a Grammy last year.
  • Late last year, the band takes a 180 turn and decides they want to be a pop group, with “Live Forever” acting as the jumping single for this transition. “Live Forever” bombs on the charts and The Band Perry stumbles through an awkward period of having their third album release get delayed, getting dropped from their label and presumably taking the reigns themselves for their pop move.
  • And now The Band Perry signs a joint deal with UMG’s Interscope and Mercury Nashville and is readying a new single for country radio titled “Comeback Kid.”

The big take away from all this is that The Band Perry’s attempt to turn pop failed…miserably. The new yellow branding and inspirational, youthful pop anthems like “Live Forever” and “Put Me in the Game Coach” crashed hard and fast. And now with “Comeback Kid,” the band is desperately trying to erase any evidence of the past 11 months. They’ve deleted all their tweets prior to the comeback branding, their website is completely redesigned with the ugly pink/beige color and typewriter text, only promoting upcoming concerts and the Fan Club. Yet going to their online store, for the moment, one can find old shirts for “Live Forever” on a page still designed for the Heart + Beat brand.

Clearly the band is moving on from the failed pop experiment and trying to reestablish themselves in country music. They’ve given no hint or preview as to what “Comeback Kid” may sound like. So maybe it’ll be more country along the lines of “If I Die Young” or “Gentle On My Mind”, or maybe it’ll be a song more in line with the Adult Contemporary musical trend hitting Nashville at the moment. But the real question is, how seriously will people take this move and return?

A year ago, The Band Perry basically admitted that they were a musical sellout by blatantly shifting to pop without warning. Are fans and radio alike ready to welcome the group back with open arms? It’s not like The Band Perry’s absence over the last year has been noticeable or left a gaping hole in country music, unlike Taylor Swift’s departure to pop. I’m sure if UMG is willing to sign the band after this failed move to pop, then the label is ready to invest some time and money to make sure The Band Perry’s image and inclusion in country music isn’t affected.

As someone who has mostly enjoyed the band’s output so far, I can’t say I’m excited about this. I think moving on and forgetting isn’t a good strategy. Personally, I’d like to see some transparency from the band about the move to pop, how it didn’t work, and why they did what they did. I do respect them for returning to country and possibly (hopefully) returning to their folksy/pop country style of music because that’s who they are. I just want to see them approach this comeback with some accountability that their attempt to move pop wasn’t a good move. Even Kimberly Perry took to twitter to throw some shade toward Little Big Town about collaborating with Pharrell, because we can only assume that was what The Band Perry was doing/wanted to do with their pop album. (Can’t link the tweet because even the siblings’ personal accounts have had tweets deleted).

August 1st will be the day that some of these questions will be answered. For some, The Band Perry may be forever tainted by this ungraceful move to pop, and others undoubtedly will be excited for the new music as if nothing happened. Aside from the fact that country radio is congested with singers desperately trying to make a name for themselves, I don’t think The Band Perry’s return to country will be smooth or grand. Maybe they’ll get a top 20 single with “Comeback Kid”, but I think this move pop hurt the band’s standing within the country music industry. And now they’re crawling back as if the last year didn’t happen. Regardless of how good their music ends up being, I think their musical saga lately has hurt the band to the point that they’ll never again be as big a country group as they were in the first half of the decade.

Upcoming/Recent Country and Americana Releases

  • The Turnpike Troubadours have a new single called “Come As You Are.” The song will officially be available for purchase tomorrow.
  • Blackberry Smoke has released a new single to promote a new album. “Waiting For the Thunder” will be the first track off their upcoming album Like an Arrow, expected October 14.
  • Lori McKenna‘s The Bird & The Rifle will be released tomorrow.
  • Hillary Scott‘s Love Remains will also be released tomorrow.
  • Cody Jinks‘ I’m Not the Devil will be released on August 12.
  • American Aquarium frontman BJ Barham will release a solo album called Rockingham on August 19.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Sick and Tired” Cross Canadian Ragweed (feat. Lee Ann Womack) From the band’s great album Soul Gravity, this collaboration with Womack has some excellent lyrics and great vocal harmonies. The song managed to hit 46 on the charts in 2004.

Non Country Suggestion of the Week

Cold War Kids. I as continue to explore some modern music outside of country and Americana, I heard this song on Alternative radio and I like it a lot. I’ve been listening to the band’s new album Hold My Home and it’s good music to check out.

Tweet of the Week

In the short lived twitter feud between Dylan Scott and Wheeler Walker Jr., Dylan Scott came to defend Chewbacca Mom after she joined him on the Opry stage. If you follow WWJ on twitter, then you probably know he hates that Chewbacca Mom has become so famous from her laugh video, and made fun of modern country’s embrace of the internet sensation. Dylan Scott (who has since deleted all the tweets) claimed that Walker’s music is trash and not representative of country music. That was an entertaining half hour to witness on twitter, and I hope someone somewhere grabbed screenshots of Scott’s tweets.

iTunes Reviews for Brantley Gilbert’s “The Weekend”

We’re sure has hell not going to bother with reviewing “The Weekend”, as I’m pretty sure our regular readers can anticipate what we’d say about it. But in case you’re curious, these reviews about sum up how I feel.

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The consensus here speaks volumes.

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music [July 25]


Derek here this week!  Josh is out enjoying a vacation, so I’m taking over the Pulse this week.

Each week we take a look the Billboard Country Airplay chart and grade the top 30 songs. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive one of the following scores: +5, +4, +3, +2, +1, 0, -1, -2, -3, -4, -5. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the current top thirty country songs, with the highest possible score being a +150 and the lowest possible score being a -150. How do I determine the score for the song? The review grade it received on the site or myself will determine this. If it hasn’t been reviewed yet, then I will make the call. The grade it has received or I would give it determines its Pulse score. The grading key: 10 [+5], 9 [+4], 8 [+3], 7 [+2], 6 [+1], 5 [0], 4 [-1], 3 [-2], 2 [-3], 1 [-4], 0 [-5].

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the current state of mainstream country music and determine if it’s improving or getting worse. Let’s take a look at this week’s top thirty…

  1. Florida Georgia Line – “H.O.L.Y.” -2 (Up 1)
  2. Carrie Underwood – “Church Bells” +2 (Down 1)
  3. Eric Church – “Record Year” +4 (Up 1) [Best Song]
  4. Chris Lane – “Fix” -5 (Up 1) [Worst Song]
  5. Jason Aldean – “Lights Come On” -2 (Down 2)
  6. Jon Pardi – “Head Over Boots” +3 (Up 1)
  7. Dan + Shay – “From The Ground Up” +1 (Up 2)
  8. Jake Owen – “American Generic Country Love Song” -2 
  9. Sam Hunt – “Make You Miss Me” -4 (Up 1)
  10. Kelsea Ballerini – “Peter Pan” -1 (Up 1)
  11. Justin Moore – “You Look Like I Need A Drink” +2 (Up 1)
  12. Blake Shelton – “She’s Got A Way With Words” -2 (Up 3)
  13. Dierks Bentley & Elle King – “Different For Girls” -3 (Up 5)
  14. Kip Moore – “Running For You” +2 (Up 2)
  15. Zac Brown Band – “Castaway” +1 (Up 4)
  16. Brad Paisley & Demi Lovato – “Without A Fight” +2 (Up 1)
  17. Tucker Beathard – “Rock On” -3 (Up 3)
  18. Miranda Lambert – “Vice”   +3 (New to Top 30)
  19. Billy Currington – “It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To” +2 (Up 3)
  20. William Michael Morgan – “I Met A Girl” +3 (Up 1)
  21. LoCash – “I Know Somebody” -5 (Up 3)
  22. Big & Rich (feat. Tim McGraw) – “Lovin’ Lately” +2 (Up 1)
  23. Kenny Chesney – “Noise” (Down 10)
  24. Brett Young – “Sleep Without You” -2 (Up 1)
  25. Cole Swindell – “Middle of a Memory” -2 (Up 2)
  26. Drake White – “Livin’ The Dream” +1 
  27. Jennifer Nettles – “Unlove You” +3 (Up 1)
  28. Old Dominion – “Song for Another Time” -2 (Up 1)
  29. Maren Morris – “80s Mercedes”  +1 (New to Top 30)
  30. Jason Aldean – “A Little More Summertime” 0

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: -3

The pulse improves eight spots this week!

I give Jason Aldean’s “A Little More Summertime” a based on the iTunes preview of the song. We still haven’t heard the full version yet. Grade may change once the full version is heard.

Songs That Dropped Out of the Top 30 This Week:

  • Keith Urban – “Wasted Time” -3
  • David Nail – “Night’s on Fire” -1

Songs That Entered The Top 30 This Week:

  • Miranda Lambert – “Vice”
  • Maren Morris – “80s Mercedes”
    • Josh’s review of the song from Maren’s EP and HERO were positive, praising the pop-country aspect of what could be a big late summer hit. Maren sings the song well, the lyrics are catchy, and the melody is infectious. I honestly debated between scoring this a +1 or 0 and decided to give “80s Mercedes” the benefit of the doubt. Since I’m taking over for Josh this week, this score could change next week if Josh ultimately feels differently than I do.

Song I Predict Will Be #1 Next Week:

  • Florida Georgia Line – “H.O.L.Y.” (I think FGL is in for a multi-week run with this one).

Biggest Gainers This Week:

  • Miranda Lambert’s “Vice” debuts on the chart at #18!
  • Dierks Bentley and Elle King’s “Different for Girls” jumps 5 spots from #18 to #13

Biggest Losers This Week:

  • Keith Urban’s “Wasted Time” – Out of the Top 30 and recurrent
  • David Nail’s “Night’s On Fire” – Out of the Top 30 and recurrent
  • Kenny Chesney – “Noise” – Down 10 from #13 to #23

Songs I See Going Recurrent & Leaving The Top 30 Soon:

  • Kenny Chesney – “Noise”
  • Jennifer Nettles – “Unlove You”
  • Jason Aldean – “Lights Come On”

On The Hot Seat:

  • Justin Moore – “You Look Like I Need a Drink”
  • Brad Paisley & Demi Lovato – “Without A Fight”
  • Drake White – “Livin the Dream” (33 weeks on the chart and not making any headway)

Next Four Songs I See Entering Top 30:

  • Tim McGraw – “How I’ll Always Be”
  • Brothers Osborne – “21 Summer”
  • Luke Bryan – “Move”
  • Brantley Gilbert – “The Weekend”

As always be sure to weigh in on this week’s Pulse in the comments below.