Hodgepodge of Country Stuff: No Moron, Artists Shouldn’t Pay You To Listen

So what exactly is this? That’s what you thought when you read the title above. Well I’m going to explain this to you. This is a new weekly feature that will be on the site and as you can see it’s called Hodgepodge of Country Stuff. If you’re a sports fan that visits major sites like ESPN, Sports Illustrated and FOX Sports, you’ll see some of their writers do weekly columns where they’ll discuss something and then have a variety of interesting tidbits that will follow it (think Bill Simmons and Peter King). This is just like those, except about country music of course. Got it? Good. 

When I go on social media and check out what is happening in the world around me, I don’t go in with the intent of getting pissed off. It just simply happens. Well that happened earlier this week when I read the replies to a tweet sent out by Rolling Stone. The story tweeted out was this story, which was about Kanye West and his team using data to better maximize their profit. Why wouldn’t they take data and use it to make more money? It’s what any smart business does with their customers. And then I saw this:

Seriously? Are you kidding me? I’ve read plenty about the idea of artists paying fans to listen to their music and I just laughed about it because I thought there wasn’t actually people out there naive enough to think this to be true. Sure enough there are and it sent me into a Twitter rant. If you want to see that click here. I can’t imagine how infuriated an artist must feel when they read these comments. They put their heart and soul into making music (most of them), yet some fans just don’t give a shit.

If you share the sentiments of the commenter I called out above, you’re an entitled dipshit. First off nobody is forcing you to listen to music. Second you’re not that important. To put this into context, should Leonardo da Vinci have paid people to look at the Mona Lisa? No because that’s stupid. “But their music sucks! Music has gone down hill for the most part anyway.” You know why the quality of music has slipped compared to decades before it? It’s because people started stealing it and not paying for it. All of the sudden artists aren’t making what they’re supposed to with their music. So why should they try as hard? The fans don’t care, so why should they?

“But Katy Perry and Taylor Swift don’t need more money. They’re rich!” Sure they’re rich, but these artists are part of the 1% of the musicians’ industry. What about independent artists, the 99%? This all has a ripple effect on their livelihoods. Streaming is the name of the game today, largely because of illegal downloading of music. Spotify pays artists per song streamed, between $0.006 and $0.0084. So after about 10,000 plays the artist makes $10. Can you live on $10? No! Nobody can live on this kind of financial mean.

The point of all of this is thanks to selfish music listeners, songs have been devalued into less than a penny. The quality of music has decreased in many people’s eyes. Labels and artists are making less money. Music sales are tanking. The Tennesseean had a great piece recently highlighting all of these problems. If you don’t have time to read the whole piece, here was the real eye-opening part to me:

Since 2000, the number of full-time songwriters in Nashville has fallen by 80 percent, according to the Nashville Songwriters Association International. Album sales plummeted below 4 million in weekly sales in August, which marked a new low point since the industry began tracking data in 1991. Streaming services are increasing in popularity but have been unable to end the spiral.

So in the end nobody is winning with the current system. Everybody is losing money and there’s no easy solution that can appease everyone. This problem was created by the selfish music listener though and this problem will have to be solved by music listeners. If you love an artist’s music, go buy it. Go to their concerts and buy their gear. Don’t support artists you don’t like. Don’t listen to their music. And don’t steal music ever. Be part of the solution, not the problem.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Reba McEntire just released her new single “Going Out Like That” this week. It’s the first song released under the NASH Icons label and the first single from Reba’s new album coming out this year. You’ll see my thoughts on this song real soon.
  • Justin Townes Earle will release his new album Absent Fathers next Tuesday January 13. It’s the followup to his 2014 release Single Mothers. By the way I can’t believe I forgot to put this on my 2015 albums list. I didn’t realize it until after the article was published. My bad!
  • Cody Canada & The Departed will release a new album that day also, titled Hippielovepunk. That’s certainly an interesting name. I plan on reviewing this as soon as possible.
  • Zac Brown Band will debut his new single “Homegrown” during the College Football Playoff Championship Tailgate on ESPN next Monday January 12. It’ll be the first single off his new album coming out in 2015. It was announced several months ago he would be performing here and it’s a smart move on his part. Anything beats hearing “Centuries” by Fall Out Boy for the millionth time this season (college football fans know what I mean when I say this).

Throwback Thursday Song

 

Little Jimmy Dickens’ “Sleep At The Foot of the Bed.” The country music world lost a great artist and an even better person in Dickens this past week. I was going to write a post about it, but I didn’t feel like I could do him justice. I’ll admit I’m not the most familiar with Mr. Dickens, but I’ve known about him since I was a kid and I have heard some of his music. I definitely want to go back and listen to more of his catalog now. I saw a lot of great tributes to Little Jimmy, but my favorite was Brad Paisley’s tribute to him. I guess his tribute means a little more personally because Paisley is the one who introduced Dickens to me. If you haven’t read Paisley’s tribute, click here. I definitely recommend reading it. Rest in peace Little Jimmy Dickens.

My Non-Country Song/Thought of the Week

I have to say something about Kanye West’s new song with Paul McCartney, “Only One.” I have never understood the appeal of Kanye’s music and I still don’t understand it’s appeal. This song dropped on New Year’s night to the surprise of everyone and I thought this was a cool move on Kanye’s part. I decided to give his music a chance again, especially since Sir Paul was involved. I’m not going to beat around the bush: I think “Only One” sucks. The lyrics are good, but the auto-tune is so terrible. I don’t understand why people enjoy hearing auto-tuned singing. It’s grating, robotic and devoid of human emotion. If you want to hear this song for some reason, you can click here. By the way, Paul McCartney is barely present on the song too. I’m also not shocked Kanye fans aren’t familiar with him either. This is coming from a fan base that views Kanye as a genius.

Tweet of the Week

Never change, Michelle Beadle. Also seems like every week I see a non-country music person diss Florida Georgia Line. I hope America’s hate for the group continues to grow until the point this group is a laughingstock like Nickelback. It’s not that farfetched of an idea.

Something To Make You Laugh

An actual search term somebody used to find Country Perspective:

What

Yeah I don’t know what to say. Get it together, Google!

 

That’s it for the Hodgepodge this week! Be sure to sound off in the comments! 

Album Review – Lady Antebellum’s 747

Lady Antebellum is one of those bands that are tough to figure out. The dual vocal power between Hilary Scott and Charles Kelley certainly give the band a strong edge in the pop country world. Kelley has a nice rock grit to his voice that shines on older tracks like “Love Don’t Live Here” or “We Owned The Night.” Hillary Scott’s smooth voice elevates songs like “American Honey” or “Dancing Away With My Heart.” When combined together, these two singers have brought out some of the best pop country, adult contemporary songs like “I Run To You,” “Just A Kiss” and especially “Need You Now.” However, the group, for whatever reason, thinks that they need to release some trendy new-age country music with this new album, 747. Of all the acts of country music today, I don’t see why a band like Lady Antebellum would need to fight for relevancy by adopting sonic trends into their music. Sure when Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean are finding success through bro-country, it makes sense for solo male acts to follow suit and fight for their own solo-male act relevancy. But groups and duos, by the nature of the act, have additional avenues to help them stand out amongst a diluted crowd rather than join the club. Yes, Lady A does stick to their adult contemporary roots on a few songs here, but their attempts to make their music relevant in the short-term makes 747 a choppy, some-what frustrating listen.

Best Songs on the Album

One of the tracks that stand out among the crowd is “Damn You Seventeen,” a song about a young couple who are nervous to pull the trigger on sex. The vocals from Charles and Hillary are great here and they sing their respective parts of the couple well. The stripped back instrumentation of the track sells the regret they feel perfectly. From the songwriting view-point, I think this is the best of the whole album, with great imagery and comparisons. “One Great Mystery” is a passionate love song, again, sung by both Charles and Hillary. The song is simply about the couple pondering how the other can love them so selflessly. The guitar of the song is bluesy and maybe a little R&B influenced. It’s not really a country song and the track is certainly adult contemporary pop, but from a universal musical viewpoint, I think it’s a good song. It’s the type of song that made Lady Antebellum popular.

Worst Songs on the Album

Luckily, most of the album is better than it’s lead off single, “Bartender.” But there’s one song that is actually worse than Bartender, and that abysmal track is called “Freestyle.” Firstly, Charles Kelley talks to no one in the opening words saying things like “We gonna do this thing?” Next, he and Hillary Scott basically rap about nothing and name drop Macklemore. Yup, Macklemore. Yet another rapper we can add to the country name drop list alongside Drake, Lil’ Wayne and T-Pain. Oh and they sing “peeling off her blue jeans.” You’d think that Florida Georgia Line wrote this one, but no it was all three Lady A members with Shane McAnally. Word on the street is that “Freestyle” will be the album’s next single, so prepare yourselves.  Lady Antebellum is capable of great upbeat, good time songs like “Downtown” (a song I actually like) and “Sounded Good At the Time” (see the next section), but neither “Bartender” nor “Freestyle” are even remotely good upbeat, good time songs.

The Rest of the Album

747 kicks off the with hard rocking “Long Stretch of Love.” A song about a couple who fight a lot but always have makeup sex which is apparently awesome enough for them to stick together through what appears to be a frequent pattern of fights and then making up. “Down South” is probably the most “country” sounding song of the album. There are mandolins and acoustic guitars and no electronic pop effects (is the lack of electronics making it sound country really the standard we’ve dropped to for mainstream acts?). Lyrically, it’s yet another small town love song where the narrator has left and wants to return. “Sounded Good At the Time” has some pop machine effects, but the song is a fun, up-tempo nostalgia track about some of the best times as a youth. For instance, the second verse tells a story of how their car broke down and they hitchhiked to a concert, a decision that “sure sounded good at the time.” “She Is” describes a girl from Boston who has her own sense of entitlement and attracts men. Essentially, this is the city girl version of David Nail’s “Whatever She’s Got,” but it’s much more adult contemporary pop friendly in its instrumentation. “Lie With Me” is an easy listening, mid-tempo track with heavy drum kicks and light guitars driving the tune. The song is about a couple, primarily the man, wanting one more night together before the end of the relationship inevitably arrives; a song about goodbye sex. The title track is actually pretty good. It’s about a couple in a long distance relationship making a last-ditch effort to save the relationship. I like the story, and Hillary Scott sings with a good amount of passion, but it’s auto-tuned. It’s slight, but it’s there, it’s unnecessary and it’s frustrating. The album ends with the relatively good “Just a Girl.” A song about how the female narrator realizes she is more than just a one-night stand object. She finally learns her lesson and ends whatever notion of a relationship she had with the male in question.

Overall Thoughts

747 should hardly be considered country; it’s full on pop music that uses just about every electronic musical effect possible. The vocals here aren’t as strong as in past albums. You can tell the focus here was on the production to make the songs 2014 relevant rather than the timeless sounds of songs like “Need You Now” or “American Honey.”  The two best songs I listed above are the strongest along those terms, but most of 747 is Lady Antebellum toeing the line between their brand of pop country and the modern heavily pop infused “country” that’s found it’s way into the mainstream. The lack of focus here hurts the band on this record. Overall, the song writing isn’t terrible; in fact for many songs, the writing is the redeeming factor to save them from being garbage except for “Freestyle.”  That song is absolute crap. They do offer some crossover friendly songs like “Lie With Me” and “She Is” that are poised find success on just about any radio station that’ll play modern music. Overall, 747 tries a little too hard to be a little bit everything that today’s mainstream country likes and it doesn’t work.

Grade: 4.5/10

 

Album Review – Tim McGraw’s Sundown Heaven Town

Tim-McGraw-Album-Cover

I don’t like the trend of country music loading albums with a large number of songs. I understand that album sales aren’t as lucrative and sustaining as they used to be. I understand that artists see the most money from ticket sales. And I know that it’s easier to pile songs onto an album than to release radio singles over the course of a couple of years while on a long tour, but I don’t like it. Filler songs take away from the album’s overall impact. Say what you will about Blake Shelton, but at least that guy cuts 11 or 12 songs for his records to make them cohesive. The deluxe edition of Tim McGraw’s new album, Sundown Heaven Town, is way too long, coming in at a whopping 18 songs. The problem with this is that the extra five songs don’t really add anything to this album, and actually take away from the overall quality of Sundown Heaven Town. However, deluxe edition or not, Tim McGraw still has a number of quality tracks here. We can breathe easy because it appears McGraw’s trend chasing days may be over.

The Best Songs on The Album

“Meanwhile Back At Mama’s” still stands as a great song and is, without a doubt, one of the better songs here. The other big standout song here is “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools.” McGraw sings this song with his cousin, Catherine Dunn, providing background vocals and harmonies. Dunn has a beautiful voice here and this may jump-start her into a record deal. Back to the song, this is a great country love song with steel guitars and simple instrumentation about recognizing how temporary and unfulfilling a life of booze is compared to longevity of marriage and love. “Sick of Me” is a song about a couple after a break-up. She is doing well and he is drunk/hungover, feeling sorry and missing her. He’s tired of who he is and wants to change to get her back. There’s a quiet steel guitar behind the drums and electric guitars here; this song does a good job of blending traditional country sounds with a modern rock country sound.  Finally, “Portland, Maine” is a great acoustic heartbreak song. In this song about a long-distance relationship ending McGraw, in a time zone far from the East coast, pulls the plug because it’s not working. He knows she won’t be coming back home and they know he won’t leave that town. It’s sad, it’s heartbreaking and Tim has a great, stripped back vocal performance here.

The Worst Songs on The Album

If we’re just looking at the normal album, “Lookin’ for that Girl” is the only one worth calling out for its terrible auto-tuned, electronic crap trying to pass as a country song. Considering the deluxe edition, you can add “I’m Feelin’ You” to that list for pretty much the same reasons. Auto-tune does not belong in country, plain and simple.

The Rest of The Album

Tim McGraw has some solid modern country songs like “Overrated.” This song has a nice banjo beat and builds to a rocking chorus in a song about love being the only thing that matters in life. It’s a great track to kick off this album. McGraw’s next single, “Shotgun Rider,” is undeniably country in sound. Lyrically, a little trendy with a girl in the truck, but this song stands out because this song could be about his wife, finance or a girl he intends to propose to. The point of this song is that this is the “shotgun rider” Tim McGraw wants for the rest of his life. Songs like “Words are Medicine”, “Dust” and “Keep on Truckin’” are a little cliché in their respective content areas about lifestyles and overcoming hardships, but they’re a pretty typical country-rock blend and don’t sound out of place here. “Last Turn Home” and “Still On the Line” have much more pop sounds in the music. However, both these song offers some depth about love and heartbreak respectively, so in my mind they’re not terrible.

The deluxe edition offers a lot of mediocre songs behind a fairly solid album. “Lincoln Continentals and Cadillacs” is a pop-country song that McGraw sings as a duet with Kid Rock. This is the type of song you’d expect from Kid Rock and to be honest Tim isn’t terrible here. It’s about reminiscing to the old days when they were cool guys with cool cars getting girls. In today’s mainstream radio, the song may be viewed with a bro-country eye. But while the song isn’t as deep as the better tracks on this album, it has a fun nostalgic feel to it. Also, since this is a deluxe edition song it leads me to believe this is intended to be an album novelty (and maybe for award show performances) more so than a potential single.

Overall Thoughts

The rest of the deluxe edition, “Kids Today”, “The View”, and “Black Jacket” aren’t all that strong and certainly filler songs. In fact, just due to the fact that Kid Rock is featured, “Lincoln Continentals and Cadillacs” is the only bonus track that has some purpose or marketability. The deluxe version bogs the whole album down. The 13 songs of the normal version of Sundown Heaven Town carry some good weight for mainstream country. For the most part, you get a sense that Tim McGraw and his team realize that there’s a want for more traditional sounding country music back in the mainstream circle. There are songs that toe the line between modern musical trends and traditional sounds, but many songs here feature good lyrical content and depth. With the exception of “Lookin’ for That Girl,” the regular version of the album is the type of album McGraw has built his career on and the type of album he should release. Tim McGraw still has relevancy with his music; he’s one capable of bringing mainstream back to more of its roots and several songs here prove that. Overall, fans of Tim McGraw and traditional country music overall can breathe a little easier now, especially listening to the first half of Sundown Heaven Town.

Grade: 7.5/10 (Deluxe Edition: 6/10)