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.

The Hodgepodge: The Americana Movement & Why It’s Happening

Americana Music

(Note: Derek is on vacation this week, so I’m taking over The Hodgepodge!)

What’s the next big movement in country music? We’ve had bro country, metro bro and now we appear on the verge of some sort of weird, heavily Christian-influenced movement. It’s pretty evident when Florida Georgia Line releases “H.O.L.Y.” and Hillary Scott announces a Christian-influenced album. All of the popular country artists are talking about how their new music is going to be more mature and dig deeper. To be honest, you know what I think of all of this? I could not care any less. I’ve reached the point of not caring what the next movement in mainstream country music is because they change sounds like a person changes socks. Besides there’s a much more interesting, albeit less flashy movement happening before your very eyes: The Americana Movement.

While popular country fans fuss over it and critics spend their time on self-important think-pieces on the next big thing on country radio, I’ve been quietly observing something pretty brilliant taking shape with this Americana movement. It’s becoming the “genre” (if you want to call it this) where country artists who don’t want to be called country artists go basically. It’s also home to many older country acts that the genre has cast aside for new shiny toys and other sincere, genuine artists who really can’t put their music into the box of a genre. That last point in particular is why I think many artists are drawn to the Americana label. This allure of not having to play by genre rules and standards is quite appealing. You don’t have to hear some stodgy, old critic or fan tell you that your songs aren’t country enough or shouldn’t include horns. You don’t have to hear some whiny popular country music fan tell you that you’re boring and not pop-y enough. In many ways Americana symbolizes freedom and control of your music to an artist.

Country music fans love to sit around and fantasize a new outlaw era rearing its head like in the 70s where Waylon, Willie and Merle all stood up to make their own music and how country radio was a golden paradise of songs. All of the artists band together and take down the labels and Florida Georgia Line gets put in the music version of Guantanamo Bay. And we all lived happily ever after. This is all fantasy of course. Florida Georgia Line, Sam Hunt and Luke Bryan aren’t going away ever. They’re making a lot of money for themselves, their label and have throngs of fans. This stuff doesn’t disappear. Country radio will never stop playing them (at least until they’re deemed too old to play). Mainstream country and country radio will at best be mediocre and downright garbage at worst.

Back to the Americana movement taking shape, at its core this is exactly like the outlaw movement. These are artists independently taking it upon themselves to make their own music and do things their own way. They’re experiencing sales and chart success in the forms of Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton. “But they’re country artists,” you say. Are they really country artists? For that matter is your favorite country artist really a country artist by today’s definition? Probably not. “I’m talking about the actual country standards,” you say. Define universal country standards that we can all agree on. Go on, I’ll wait. In the meantime I’m going to tell you why these three artists belong to Americana. I’ll start with the easiest argument. Jason Isbell is considered the Americana King, has championed it for years and identifies as such. Everyone pretty much agrees he’s Americana. Then we have Chris Stapleton. When you hear his music, is it straight country? No. You hear blues, soul and even some roots-rock. Now let’s look at the definition of Americana:

Americana is contemporary music that incorporates elements of various American roots music styles, including country, roots-rock, folk, bluegrass, R&B and blues, resulting in a distinctive roots-oriented sound that lives in a world apart from the pure forms of the genres upon which it may draw. While acoustic instruments are often present and vital, Americana also often uses a full electric band.

I would say Stapleton fits this more than country music, especially today’s definition of country music. Finally that brings me to Sturgill Simpson, who’s solo career sums up best why this Americana movement has been growing and has become such a thing. He made his debut with High Top Mountain, an album full of pure country and bluegrass. Independent country fans flocked to him in droves and touted his name as one to watch. Country radio and mainstream of course ignored him, something the fans who fantasize about a new outlaw movement were fine with being the case. Screw country radio they would say. Then he followed it up with Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, an album full of straight country, some roots rock and psychedelic rock-country fusion. It launched him into the stratosphere, gaining the attention of mainstream and hipsters everywhere. Country radio continued to ignore him and country fans continued to say screw radio. However he was nominated for a Grammy for Best Americana Album.

Now that brings us to his newly released third album A Sailor’s Guide To Earth. Country fans expected something straight country or close to it. Hipsters and mainstream bandwagoners expected more psychedelic music. Neither got what they wanted or expected. Despite universal critical acclaim, a large number of people have called out Sturgill for getting away from his roots and what’s best for him in their minds. They’ve criticized the horns on his record. Sturgill’s response is naturally to be a little bit angry. Here’s a group of people holding him to their standards and telling him how to make his music. So it came as no surprise to me that Simpson had this to say at a concert in Dallas this past weekend:

“You won’t see my ass at the ACMs or the CMAs. It’s all politics, and I’ve got a better chance at winning the presidency. I’d rather play for you guys, because who cares about that shit. It might take 10 years, but when they need my help, I’m gonna give ‘em two of these.”

Simpson went on to give a one-finger salute with each hand and earlier in the night defended the horns on his new album. It doesn’t sound like someone who considers himself part of country music. He even admitted before A Sailor’s Guide To Earth came out that it may not be a country record. Of course I’ve seen fans and critics say Sturgill is ruining his career by saying such things and that he should show up to these award shows with open arms These are the same awards shows that have ignored him for years. I’ve even seen fans who said Simpson screwed up by not having some “radio songs” on his new record. Keep in mind this is the same group that said screw country radio the last two albums. Now all of a sudden they care about these pointless award shows and radio? This is flat-out hypocritical. Meanwhile they’re saying Simpson has turned his back on the people who got him where he’s at with these remarks and this new album.

I tell you this entire anecdote on Simpson’s career because it proves the point of the Americana movement. Here’s a talented artist making great music and some people just can’t help but pedantically criticize just to criticize and squabble about genres. Who needs that? There are several more examples that prove why we need Americana to continue to grow, like the ridiculousness of the “Texas Country” scene. Genuine female country artists have been ignored by radio for years and are forced to become “alt-country.” We live in a world where Kacey Musgraves and Ashley Monroe are essentially black balled from major airwaves because they refuse to play the game. Alan Jackson can’t get a freaking add at radio for his new single. There’s a group of talented artists on major labels making great music, but many are suppressed by radio. I could go on and on.

Increasingly any artist with self-respect for their music doesn’t want to be identified with country music. Why would they? They get ignored by the mainstream and radio. Their hard work is ignored and dismissed. The popular country music over the last few years has destroyed the genre’s reputation and made it a laughing stock in some circles. If you walked up to someone on the street and told them you’re a country fan, they’re going to think Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan. This whole fight to restore/save country music is pointless because great music is being made somewhere by someone. It may not be on the radio or charting alongside Beyoncé on iTunes, but it’s being made and you can access it with ease. Why does great music have to be popular? Why does it have to fit in a box? It doesn’t. Popularity should never dictate music. *Genre rules and lines shouldn’t dictate music. The only use of terms like country and Americana is to guide us, the listener. It just makes it easier for us to find what kind of music we’re looking for and wanting to hear. A true artist does not go into a studio and let genre guide the music. They just make music. That’s what Americana is all about for these artists.

*Of course don’t get this twisted to think it’s okay for Zac Brown Band to make EDM music and put it on country radio. He has every right to make EDM music and put it on his album. But when you’re sending “Beautiful Drug” to country radio, you’re calling it a country song. And that means you’re just lying straight to my face, which isn’t okay. That’s like pointing at a duck and calling it a chicken. That’s an insult to my intelligence. Don’t tell me that this song is one thing when it clearly isn’t.  

Upcoming/Recent Americana and Country Releases

  • The following artists are releasing new albums tomorrow:
    • Jennifer NettlesPlaying With Fire
    • Michaela AnneBright Lights and the Fame
    • Hard Working AmericansRest in Chaos
    • Darrell ScottCouchville Sessions
    • Wild Ponies – Radiant
  • The Honeycutters will be releasing a new album titled On The Ropes next week
  • Luke Bell will be releasing a new self-titled album on June 17
  • Jack Ingram announced he will be releasing his first new studio album in seven years on June 24 and it will be called Midnight Motel
  • Cody Jinks announced he’s releasing a new album I’m Not The Devil on August 12.
  • Avett Brothers announced they will also be releasing a new album on June 24 and it will be titled True Sadness
  • Finally some news that caught me off guard and that’s the surprise re-emergence of Josh Turner. In Country Aircheck this week, an ad ran promoting Turner’s new single called “Hometown Girl” and it’s going for adds on May 31.

Throwback Thursday Song

Linda Ronstadt’s “The Only Mama That’ll Walk The Line” – Fellow country writer Jason Scott encouraged me to dig into Linda Ronstadt’s catalog and I wasn’t disappointed. This is from her debut album and one of my favorites from her. If you aren’t familiar with Ronstadt like I was, I encourage you to check her out too.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Kyle Craft’s Dolls of Highland – If you follow me on Twitter I’ve been non-stop praising new artist Kyle Craft. He’s a rock artist who grew up Louisiana before moving to Portland, Oregon a few years back. You can definitely hear the southern influence in the album, along with several other influences from a variety of genres. I’ve seen him compared to David Bowie, but I hear more Queen actually. Anyway he’s fantastic and Dolls of Highland is one of my favorite albums released this year.

Tweet of the Week

https://twitter.com/KaceyMusgraves/status/728779798055669760

Somebody on Twitter wondered what has happened to Kacey Musgraves and she made the perfect response.

A Great iTunes Review

New Urban album

This is a pretty spot-on review of the new Keith Urban album Ripcord. Not much country to be found on it.