Review – Midland’s “Drinkin’ Problem”

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A traditional country band on a major label? Being pushed at radio? Yeah right. You’re pulling my leg. There’s no way this new group Midland is a traditional group, so let’s take a look at them. They’re a trio made up of Mark Wystrach (lead singer), Jess Carson (lead guitarist) and Cameron Duddy (bass player). Based out of Dripping Springs, Texas they came up with their name based off a Dwight Yoakam song. Some of their biggest influences they cite are Merle Haggard and Gary Stewart. Hold on a second. Stewart? Anyone who cites him as an influence must be the real deal (and good people to boot). After listening to lead single “Drinkin’ Problem” these guys prove they’re absolutely the real deal. This is straight up, stone cold, country music. It immediately takes me back to what country radio sounded like a couple of decades ago with all of the steel guitar. The song is your classic country theme of a guy at the bar drinking. Everyone is calling the situation a problem and something he needs to stop. But he assures it’s very much a solution and the real problem is heartbreak and a lot of thinking. Props to producer Shane McAnally for keeping the production restrained and letting the lyrics really drive this song. Wystrach’s delivers an all-around solid vocal performance. This is a group I can’t wait to hear more from. They’ve only released a self-titled EP so far and are currently working on a full album with McAnally and Josh Osborne. If that album is along the lines of “Drinkin’ Problem” and the rest of the EP, we’re in for a real treat. This is country music done right.

Grade: 8/10

 

Recommend? – Yes

Written by Mark Wystrach, Jess Carson, Cameron Duddy, Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne

Album Review – Brantley Gilbert’s ‘The Devil Don’t Sleep’

brantley-gilbert-the-devil-dont-sleep

Keep in mind Brantley Gilbert’s last album wasn’t terrible. In fact it was actually quite decent. I had multiple nice things to say about Just As I Am, despite some bad singles. When Gilbert tries he can make good music, but this new album doesn’t really feature Gilbert trying. It instead features Gilbert at his absolute worst and indulging in his worst tendencies. First it must be stated that The Devil Don’t Sleep is not a country album. No, this is straight up butt rock for the most part. Click on the definition I’ve linked and tell me it isn’t the perfect description of this album. Gilbert has never really wanted to be a country artist, but rather a rocker. This has always been his targeted fan base and he targets them well with this album. Of course I hate butt rock, as do most people. Now you might say I’m being overly harsh and outright mean, even before I get into the album. But this thing is 16 songs long and I had a headache before even getting halfway through. Needless to say I did not have a pleasant experience listening to this album. I guess I should start with what songs I liked on this album because it’s quite brief.

The album’s opening song “Rockin’ Chairs” is without a doubt one of the best of the album because it isn’t the same old recycled butt rock clichés that plague this album. The song is about living it up while also striving to live to the day you can sit back in a rocking chair to reminisce about those days. It’s a somewhat mature outlook on living the party life. It also features some nice acoustic guitar play to open the song and Gilbert’s vocals are used to the best of their abilities. The album’s final song “Three Feet of Water” is a quiet piano ballad that actually has something to say. The song is about seeking forgiveness from a life of wrongdoing and sees some actual emotion from Gilbert. The instrumentation is well arranged and frames the lyrics appropriately. It’s a shame that the album’s one good song is buried beneath so much crap, but I do applaud Gilbert for managing to produce one song I actually like on this record.

Now let’s get to the bad. The lead single of the album “The Weekend” somehow annoys me even more than it originally did. The lyrics are just so stupid and vapid that I want to rip my hair out in anger out of the sheer lack of intelligence on display. Casual misogyny fuels the fire of “You Could Be That Girl.” We get the disgusting line from Gilbert of “you know how to hit your knees” to the girl he sees as his one. This quickly followed by a clarification of a girl who will pray for him, but I’m not an idiot. This is an intended double entendre that you the listener is supposed to find clever and funny. “Bullet in a Bonfire” had a very small chance of being a compelling song about abuse, but instead the moral of the song is solving violence with more violence. But oh it gets much worse with “Bro Code.” This might be Gilbert’s worst song ever. The IQ level of this song is a Tapout shirt wearing frat bro shot gunning Monster energy drinks as he jerks off to underground MMA videos. The word bro gets said so many times and the sneering attitude of Gilbert as he and some random bro treat a woman like a piece of meat make for the ultimate douchebag anthem. You truly have to hear this masterpiece of asshattery yourself to understand it’s awfulness.

The rest of the album for the most part is split between songs with obnoxiously loud guitars interrupted by the grunting vocals of Gilbert and really sleepy ballads with no teeth and creativity. Gilbert’s vocals range from Cookie Monster gargling sandpaper to bored droning. The lyrics for the majority of the songs on this album are the most predictably tripe, faux outlaw tough guy word associations that many have come to expect from Gilbert on his worst material (by the way Gilbert wrote or co-wrote every song). Outside of a few songs, Brantley Gilbert’s The Devil Don’t Sleep is at best a huge waste of time. At worst it’s butt rock at it’s most butt rock. I didn’t think I would hear one of the worst country albums of 2017 by the end of January, but I’ll be highly surprised if The Devil Don’t Sleep isn’t a contender for Country Perspective’s Worst Album of 2017 award. It’s that damn awful.

Grade: 2/10

 

Recommend? – No No No No No No

Album Highlights: Three Feet of Water, Rockin’ Chairs

Wallpaper: The Ones That Like Me

Horrendous Songs: Bro Code, The Weekend, You Could Be That Girl, Bullet in a Bonfire

Bad Songs: The rest of this album


Review – Trent Harmon’s “There’s A Girl”

trent-harmon-theres-a-girl

So it turns out Trent Harmon was the final winner of American Idol. Who knew? I stopped paying attention to that show once Simon Cowell left (even those final few seasons I was drifting off). Since I assume most others did the same, here’s a primer for those who don’t know Harmon. Originally he tried out on The Voice and was rejected. So with one music show rejection down, he turned to American Idol, where originally he auditioned and came off as an R&B/pop artist. Oh boy. As the show went on he started to perform some country and by country I mean a couple of Chris Stapleton songs. The rest of the songs he performed were soul, R&B and pop. The winning song he performed was called “Falling.” It was written by Keith Urban, Brett James and Dallas Davidson (ugh). Naturally Big Machine Records President and Idol adviser that season Scott Borchetta signs him to be a country artist because of course Borchetta would do this. It’s said that Harmon’s debut album will be country with indie-soul influences. When Borchetta was asked about it, he said it would be like the country album Justin Timberlake plans to make. Now I don’t know about you, but I see some red flags here. Based on these facts, it sounds like Harmon is just another pop artist cashing-in on country music.

Nevertheless I did my best to keep an open mind as I dug into Harmon’s debut label single, “There’s A Girl.” And after listening to it multiple times, it’s actually not terrible as I expected it to be. I was expecting heavy R&B and little to no country. Instead there’s actually some pedal steel guitar in the song. An actual pleasant surprise! Don’t get too excited though because there’s definitely some pop influence within the song too. But it’s not overbearing though and works for the most part. The light, up beat acoustics work well blended with the steel guitar. The song itself is about how guys are driven by girls and how they drive guys to do things they normally wouldn’t do like drive hundreds of miles to see them, clean up their vehicles and spend money they don’t have. On the surface you could look at this cynically, saying the song paints guys as being controlled by their dicks. But I really don’t see the song this way and the song doesn’t really indicate these intentions. It’s more a light-hearted look at the age old phrase of “love makes you do crazy things” and this is quite true. As far as first impressions of Harmon’s voice, it’s solid, yet unspectacular.

Overall Trent Harmon’s “There’s A Girl” isn’t half bad. You could do much worse for debut singles that’s for sure. Hell I think this song actually has some chance to stand out and be remembered by listeners. I wouldn’t call the song good either, but then again most debut singles usually aren’t because most play it on the safe side. You just hope for something decent and taking this song for what it is, that’s what you get with “There’s A Girl.”

Grade: 6/10

 

Recommend? – Sure it’s worth one listen, especially if you like pop country


Written by Trent Harmon, Jimmy Robbins and Laura Veltz

Label Review – The Major Country Labels of Nashville

I’ve reviewed all kinds of artists from all across the world of country music and Americana. From all corners of the United States, to Canada, Europe, Australia and everywhere in-between I’ve listened and reviewed music here on Country Perspective. But today we’re going to do something a little different. Today I’m going to review the major country labels of Nashville. This is an idea I’ve had for a while and quite frankly is overdue. While it’s easy to bash the likes of Luke Bryan and Sam Hunt, we have to also remember they have a label behind the scenes pulling a lot of strings and really causing a lot of the problems in the genre today. They deserve a lot of blame for why there’s so much bad music because at the end of the day they don’t care about quality. All they care about is money and they will do anything to get you the consumer to fork over your hard-earned dollars. This includes pushing artists who have no business in the genre and are only here for a quick cash grab. So let’s take a look at the major country labels and grade them for their rosters they put out.

Sony Music Nashville

Good

  • Dolly Parton
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Brad Paisley
  • Cam
  • Miranda Lambert

In-Between

  • Maren Morris
  • Chris Young

Bad

  • Dee Jay Silver
  • Old Dominion
  • Lanco
  • Jake Owen
  • Chase Rice
  • Kane Brown
  • Tyler Farr
  • Kenny Chesney

Unknown/Irrelevant

  • Kix Brooks
  • Luke Combs
  • Seth Ennis

Analysis: Well looking at the good, it’s pretty much the ladies club with Paisley as a plus one. In fact all of the women except one on the roster fall under good, which is no surprise. You have a legend in Dolly, two stalwarts in Lambert and Underwood and promising young talent in Cam. Paisley appears to be on the right track again with his music. Young and Morris land on the in-between space because Young has turned into the country Daughtry (h/t to reader Nadia) and Morris is only country sometimes. The bad has some absolute doozies. Old Dominion are the poster boys for douche bands everywhere, Kane Brown thinks he can be the country Bieber, Lanco sounds like a bus stop and Chase Rice was a semi-finalist in our worst country artist tournament earlier this year. The bad ultimately outweighs the good, so I can’t give Sony Music Nashville a positive grade. But the good artists are good enough to save it from a failing grade. Grade: C-

Big Machine Records

Good

  • Tim McGraw
  • Jennifer Nettles
  • Maddie & Tae
  • Drake White
  • Reba McEntire

In-Between

  • Zac Brown Band
  • A Thousand Horses
  • Ronnie Dunn
  • Martina McBride

Bad

  • Danielle Bradbery
  • The Cadillac Three
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Eli Young Band
  • Brantley Gilbert
  • Justin Moore
  • Thomas Rhett
  • Florida Georgia Line
  • Cassadee Pope
  • Brett Young
  • Tucker Beathard
  • Aaron Lewis
  • Steven Tyler
  • Hank Williams Jr.

Unknown

  • Breaking Southwest
  • Trent Harmon
  • Lauren Jenkins
  • Midland
  • The Church Sisters
  • Tara Thompson
  • Ryan Follese
  • Kalie Shorr

Analysis: Big Machine is a large roster mostly full of crap. Of the handful of good artists they have, they’re pretty good and a mix of different styles. McGraw has become one of the leading proprietors of great music on the radio, Reba is a living legend, Nettles is one of the most underrated vocalists of the genre, Maddie & Tae have unlimited potential and Drake White impressed me with his debut album. Zac Brown Band will be back in good graces once they follow through on their promise for the next album. Dunn has left a sour taste in my mouth with the music he’s set to release, including an Ariana Grande cover (why?!). The bad is pretty self-explanatory with some of the worst pop chasers in the genre here to represent. I know people will disagree with Lewis and Hank Jr. under bad, but I will firmly stand by it. Lewis is a panderer and Hank Jr. put out a horrible album earlier this year (he isn’t trying anymore). There’s just so much terrible on this roster that is completely overtakes the good. Grade: D

Warner Music Nashville

Good

  • Ashley Monroe
  • Aubrie Sellers
  • Charlie Worsham
  • William Michael Morgan

In-Between

  • Frankie Ballard
  • Chris Janson

Bad

  • Blake Shelton
  • Big Smo
  • Brett Eldredge
  • Cole Swindell
  • Dan + Shay
  • High Valley
  • Hunter Hayes
  • Jana Kramer
  • Michael Ray
  • RaeLynn

Unknown

  • The Last Bandoleros
  • Ryan Kinder
  • The Railers

Analysis: Only having four good artists is pretty pathetic. But they are pretty good of the four. Monroe and Sellers are two of the best on a major label, Morgan is a traditionalist that has a lot of people excited and Charlie Worsham is an artist more people need to know (listen to his debut album). I would like to put Janson in the good, but I don’t know if he won’t fall back into the bad songs trap. Ballard is the type of artist that never wows you, but has decent enough music. The bad on Warner’s roster is pretty horrific, led by racist tweeter and the King of Petty Shit Mountain himself Blake Shelton. By the way if you say anything bad about Warner’s golden boy you won’t get the promised early copy of William Michael Morgan’s new album from them because Warner is run by assholes. Trust me I know. The rest of the bad artists aren’t even worth getting that angry about because they’re boringly bad and barely worth discussing. This is definitely a label in need of more substance for sure. Grade: D-

Broken Bow Records

Good

  • Craig Campbell
  • Kristian Bush

In-Between

  • Thompson Square
  • Trace Adkins

Bad

  • Jason Aldean
  • Dustin Lynch
  • Jordan Rager
  • Adam Craig
  • Lindsay Ell
  • Randy Houser
  • Parmalee
  • Chase Bryant
  • Joe Nichols
  • Granger Smith

Unknown 

  • Kristy Lee Cook
  • Jackie Lee
  • James Wesley
  • Brooke Eden
  • Runaway June (their first single is pretty good, but I want to hear more before putting them in good)
  • Walker McGuire

Analysis: Geez we’re getting worse with each label. Only two good artists on this label in Campbell, a traditionalist, and Bush, a singer-songwriter type who put out a solid debut album. Thompson Square and Adkins are pretty inoffensive and basically irrelevant. The bad artists don’t seem so bad until you really think about it. A majority of the bad artists need radio gerrymandering to even get airplay, which gives you a pretty good idea of how bad they are. At the same time they aren’t the absolute worst, so they have something going for them. Aldean is their only major artist and while his music has been inoffensive as of late, you can’t forget his past singles either. Grade: D-

Universal Music Group Nashville 

Good

  • Jon Pardi
  • Eric Church
  • Brothers Osborne
  • Alan Jackson
  • Vince Gill
  • Kip Moore
  • David Nail
  • George Strait
  • Kacey Musgraves
  • Chris Stapleton
  • Josh Turner

In-Between

  • Dierks Bentley (before his latest album he was easily in the good)
  • Mickey Guyton (her latest single makes me question her)
  • Charles Kelley
  • Little Big Town
  • Darius Rucker
  • Gary Allan
  • Eric Paslay
  • Hillary Scott
  • Lauren Alaina
  • Billy Currington
  • Shania Twain

Bad

  • Luke Bryan
  • Keith Urban
  • Lady Antebellum
  • Haley Georgia
  • Clare Dunn
  • Sam Hunt
  • The Band Perry
  • Easton Corbin
  • Canaan Smith

Analysis: Here’s the perfect example of a label that plays it safe, while also hedging their bets. There’s a lot of great artists on this label, probably the best group of good artists out of all the labels reviewed here. But there’s about an equal group of bad artists and in-between artists. UMG Nashville could easily get over the hump if a few of the in-between artists put out better music, but could easily tank if they go the opposite. The great (Church, Musgraves, Stapleton, etc.) ultimately cancels the horrible (Bryan, Urban, Hunt, etc.) out. Grade: C+

Curb Records

Good

  • Mo Pitney
  • Wynonna & The Big Noise

In-Between

  • Lee Brice
  • Ruthie Collins (despite her EDM version of a Hank song, she’s quite talented)
  • Rodney Atkins
  • Love & Theft

Bad

  • Jerrod Niemann
  • Dylan Scott

Analysis: First off Curb’s artists section on its website is an absolute joke. So if I missed any of their artists, please let me know. Mo Pitney is a hands down the best artist on this label and it’s unfortunate how much they’ve mishandled him up to this point. Wynonna is a great veteran artist to have on any label. The in-between artists are an interesting bunch. When Brice tries he can be good, but he’s put out his fair share of crap. Collins is another one they’re mishandling. Atkins has been MIA for a while. The bad is pretty easy to breakdown: Niemann’s career peaked with his EDM-influenced country and will never reach those heights again. He’s a has-been, while Scott is a never-was and a never-will be. Why this guy is pushed so hard by Curb I will never understand. Scott couldn’t even properly cash-in on the bro country trend because he failed to garner a hit in the bro era. Remember when Curb had Tim McGraw? Grade: D+

 

So that’s my thoughts on the major country labels and their rosters. Let me know what you think of each of the labels and if I missed any artist please let me know.

Review – Thomas Rhett’s “Star of the Show”

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How can you follow up the worst single of 2016? After Rhett released “Vacation,” I wonder how he can top the awfulness of that song. I mean after all let’s take a look back at some of his singles: the sanctimonious bullshit (“Beer with Jesus”), the sexist garbage (“Get Me Some of That”), the poor ripoff of the Bee Gees (“Make Me Wanna”), the poor ripoff of Sam Cooke and Bruno Mars (“Crash and Burn”), the poor ripoff of Ed Sheeran (“Die A Happy Man”), the song about an article of clothing (“T-Shirt”) and the song that made me want to rip my ears off. What a stunning collection of music! The corporate Nashville machine must be so proud. When they tell Rhett to jump and rip off a much more talented artist in another genre, he tells them how high and how much auto-tune. But I digress. In lieu of a fifth single from the original version of the terrible Tangled UpRhett and team have decided to release a deluxe edition of the album and a new song as a single. That single is titled “Star of the Show.” Oh boy what do we have in store now?

The first thing of course that I wanted to figure out in regards to “Star of the Show” is which pop artist did he exactly rip off because Rhett doesn’t release original music. He only copies more successful and talented artists. After a few listens, the instrumentation and production strike me exactly as something you would hear in a Justin Timberlake song. If you have a better comparison, let me know in the comments because I would love to hear it (Rhett would too because he needs ideas for the next album). Now when I say a Timberlake song, I mean if you let country producers make it because Timberlake songs have energy and emotion. It’s usually good pop music and that’s not the case hear. The percussion line and the guitar play is limp and boring. It sounds like when they recorded it they were trying not to wake someone in the next room. I also notice how they jammed some pedal steel guitar in the background at certain spots so that way Rhett fans can point to this as proof it qualifies as country. To them I say it’s treated irrelevantly in the context of the song, so I will treat it as such.

The song itself is about Rhett expressing his love for his wife Lauren and Rhett says he wrote it after their wedding. It shocked me to find Rhett actually helped write it. I figured it would be Blake Shelton personal where he got five other people to write it. The lyrics aren’t completely terrible and I do applaud Rhett for actually basing his song around something personal, even if the songwriting is still pretty sub par. Still “Star of the Show” is a pretty below average song to put it lightly. Call it country, call it pop, call it whatever you want: what I hear is a bad song with weak production and lyrics that are based around a personal feeling, but fail to actually deliver any meaning and heart behind them. It’s breezy, fluff music that will be forgotten years from now. Listening to “Star of the Show” is the equivalent of eating cotton candy: accessible and easy to consume, but not filling and disposable. In other words, a big hit for country radio.

Grade: 2/10

Written by Thomas Rhett, Rhett Akins & Ben Hayslip