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.

Billboard Introduces Americana Music Chart

Jason Isbell Something More Than Free

Last week’s Hodgepodge is starting to look more fortuitous, isn’t it? I swear I didn’t know when I wrote it! In all seriousness this is news that further proves my point that this Americana movement is something that’s going to continue to grow. According to USA Today, Billboard announced last Thursday in an email with record executives that the current Folk Albums chart would be re-branded as the Americana and Folk Albums chart. The change will take effect on June 4. It’s yet another step forward to wide-spread recognition by not just the music industry, but fans everywhere. By being officially recognized by Billboard, this is yet another feather in the cap for Americana.

It was a long overdue move by Billboard, especially with the commercial rise of Americana artists and the fact that another major institution like the Grammys already recognize Americana with their awards. Jason Isbell topped the Country Albums chart last year and there was a minor controversy over this because he’s widely regarded as an Americana act and he squeaked by country legend Alan Jackson, who’s representatives didn’t want to concede #1. Then of course you have the Green River Ordinance controversy from a few months back when Billboard refused to recognize their new album on the country chart. USA Today reached out to Green River Ordinance’s manager Larry Murray and asked him his thoughts on the announcement. He applauded the move and embraces the Americana label, but would still like to be recognized by the country chart too.

“When you say ‘Americana’ it gives different weight to an artist’s stature,” Murray said. “It could also be a really competitive chart in the next few months to a year, as you see artists that are more and more prevalent now coming forward.”

Executive Director of the Americana Association Jed Hilly had nothing but praise for Billboard’s introduction of an Americana chart too:

“I think it’s a game-changer and that’s why it is a home run, because this chart will represent the importance and sales potential of this genre, and we’ve never had that before,” Hilly said. “I think it will be one of the most significant charts artists will look at, because they’ll want to be associated with other artists, because these artists are writing songs to tell stories the best way they can from an artistic standpoint primarily.”

I don’t have much else to add except to echo the sentiments from both Hilly and Murray. There will undoubtedly be some acts that still end up on both the country and Americana charts like Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton. But for acts that are solely Americana this is a big move for them as they will reach more audiences and be further accepted. Some may not like that folk is getting folded in with Americana, but to me it makes total sense because many artists who identify as one identify as the other. Besides I don’t hear very much chatter on what’s happening on the folk chart. But there will undoubtedly be chatter around it now with its re-branding.

 


Country Perspective will be giving great consideration into doing a weekly series with the newly re-branded chart, especially if we see interest in expressed such a thing.

The Country Perspective Show Episode 1: Introduction, Album Sales, Luke Bryan Comments & More

Remember how I’ve been hinting about a new feature? Well it’s finally here! The first episode of Country Perspective’s podcast, The Country Perspective Show, is right below for your listening pleasure. I’ve been wanting to do a podcast for a while on the site and I finally got around to doing it. As I explain on the podcast, I have a lot of ideas for it. In the debut episode I discuss country album sales and the recent comments made by Luke Bryan and Jake Owen. Warning: I swear a little bit, as Bryan and Owen have made me do several times in the past. Their recent comments get me a little animated. I also discuss future ideas on the podcast briefly. So give it a listen and be sure to weigh in on it in the comments below!

Intro & Outro music by audionautix.com.

Luke Bryan interview

Jake Owen interview

Billboard Country Album & Digital Songs Sales Numbers

The Hodgepodge: Mainstream Country Music Has Produced Big Disappointments in 2015

Thumbs Down

Coming into 2015, I had a pretty good feeling about the state of mainstream country music in 2015. Mickey Guyton was starting to get noticed. Jake Owen, Dierks Bentley and Eric Paslay all had meaningful songs getting noticed by radio. Zac Brown Band’s new single “Homegrown” released in January was good, yet fresh. Several great artists were set to release new music that I looked forward to because of promising efforts in recent years. Things were looking so good back in January. Now I sit here a few months later around the first quarter mark of 2015 and I wonder what the hell is going on in mainstream country music. What’s causing me this wonder is how the chart seems to be regressing into the previous state of the genre has been in recent years with loads of party songs. The songs by Owen, Bentley and Paslay I mentioned are probably lucky to just sniff the top ten, as radio programmers don’t want to play them because they’re “mood killers.” Guyton has stalled on the airplay charts. Zac Brown Band continues to climb with “Homegrown,” but faces stiff competition from the bro country holdouts and Sam Hunt.

This is all discouraging enough, but what’s been most frustrating is the lackluster music released by artists I expected much more from. First, Ashley Monroe released her first single off of her upcoming sophomore album, “On To Something Good.” This song is bland and average. It’s by far worse than anything on her debut solo album Like A Rose in 2013. It’s radio-friendliness makes me quite weary of her new album. Many are giving her a pass because she’s a female artist and female artists are struggling to make it onto radio, but that just doesn’t cut it for me. I could go on and on about this, but I’ll save that discussion for another day. Speaking of female artists, Kacey Musgraves just released her lead single from her sophomore album too, which is called “Biscuits.” Again this is a pretty average showing from an artist who showed much more on her 2013 debut album Same Trailer, Different Park. Just because something isn’t bad, doesn’t mean it’s good. Average doesn’t cut it for me and shouldn’t cut it for you the music listener.

Reba McEntire released a pretty mediocre single in “Going Out Like That.” Not only is it below average, but it’s struggling on the charts. This does not bode well for her considering she’s the face of the Nash Icons label. That’s on top of making a comeback after being away from music for a few years. We have yet to hear any other music from Nash Icon artists too. The possible splitting of country music looks a lot bleaker now compared to a few months ago. Without this split, it’s more likely for artists to sell out to the popular sound. Speaking of that a group fans could rely on for decent music that just sold out is Eli Young Band. Just listen to “Turn It On” and you’ll be rolling your eyes 30 seconds in. The thing is they know the sold out and they don’t care. They don’t give a shit about quality.

The biggest disappointment though out of all these disappointments is Gary Allan and his new single “Hangover Tonight.” Allan was one of the “good guys” for all these years and even spoke out against bro country years ago when it got popular. Now he’s chasing the trends right alongside the likes of Swindell and Aldean, at least with this single. I mean I was holding out hope that this single was just an anomaly of his new upcoming album, but now I’m not so sure. This week in the Billboard Country Update there was a section about how Allan came about making this single. And it was pretty disheartening to read. I recommend reading it all, but I’ll tell you what stood out to me. It took six songwriters to make this song, which is red flag #1. The next thing that stood out was Allan is drawing music ideas from the same pool as Thomas Rhett, as Allan wanted to record “Crash and Burn,” which will be on Rhett’s new album. Allan doing anything similar to Rhett raises another red flag and quite frankly disgusts me.

Allan for over 20 years has made country music of at least good quality and stayed true to himself. This has all the similar makings to when Brad Paisley sold out last year. Ironically it was an interview with Billboard too that gave the first warning signs his album would be mediocre. “River Bank” and “Hangover Tonight” both have a pretty similar vibe and kowtow to radio. I really hope I’m wrong about Allan and that single is an anomaly. I very well could be. But I said the same thing about Paisley in 2014. Coincidentally, Allan has a show coming up in my area and I’m going to go see him live. Maybe I can find out more about his upcoming album that will help determine whether or not this single is a reflection of the album.

I haven’t even got around to mentioning Music Row’s newest project Michael Ray, who’s poised to terrorize country music with his On The Verge push. Sam Hunt is dominating so much now that it’s spawning Hunt-copycats, just like the bro country trend spawned bro country copycats. Luke Bryan is going to release another terrible Dallas Davidson-penned single that I will hate. Country music is in rough shape and shows no signs of improvement. Maybe we’ll get some quality releases from mainstream like originally intended to help balance out all of this crap. Ashley Monroe could very well release a good album still, as Vince Gill is producing it and I trust Gill. Musgraves album should still be good, as long as she doesn’t go overboard with songs like “Biscuits.” All my worrying could be for nothing. We can only hope. I know I have no answer and we can only wait. In the meantime I plan to review more independent country stuff that deserves to be heard instead of this garbage being put out by mainstream country.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Steven Tyler is releasing a country record. Yes, this is the same Tyler who was the frontman for Aerosmith. Perfect timing with this Hodgepodge, huh? I don’t even know what to say about this news. Can mainstream country get any more embarrassing?
  • Striking Matches will release their debut album, Nothing But The Silence, next Tuesday. I’m not sure what to expect from them, as their lead single was just decent. T Bone Burnett is producing the album, so expect some interesting production choices.
  • Houndmouth, the alt country/indie folk group from Indiana, has released their second album Little Neon Limelight. I hadn’t heard of the band until this year, but I regret this. They’re damn good and I’ll have a review on their new album next week.

Throwback Thursday Song

Jamey Johnson & Lee Ann Womack – “Give It Away” – Now everyone has heard the George Strait version of this song and it was a massive hit of course. But I guarantee a lot of people haven’t heard Jamey Johnson and Lee Ann Womack’s version of it. Five years ago they performed this on the ACM Artist of the Decade All-Star Concert, as George Strait smiled in the audience at this great performance. Even Taylor Swift was enjoying it!

Non-Country Song of the Week

Kendrick Lamar – “i” – I’ve been wanting to get into Kendrick Lamar’s music for a while now and I finally dove into it this past week. I wish I did sooner because it’s fantastic. His latest single “i” won multiple Grammys and I’m not surprised. It’s funky influences make for a great beat. His upcoming album To Pimp a Butterfly was set to come out in a couple of weeks, but he just released it earlier than expected. And I’m just now enjoying his major label debut album good kid, m.A.A.d city. So I got some catching up to do on Lamar’s work.

Tweet of the Week

Isbell makes it here again, but not with his humor. No, this just makes me even more eager for his new album. Southeastern is amazing and for some people, the best country album released in 2013. So if this new album is indeed better, it will be a top contender to win Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year.

An iTunes Review That Will Make You Face Palm

Stupid EYB Comment 1

This was a comment left under Eli Young Band’s new EP Turn It On. While there were mostly sell-out comments, there were a good bit of comments like the one above defending the group and their new metro-politan direction. I honestly don’t know how you can defend this turd of an EP. I’d say 90% of the comments I’ve seen on it are negative.

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

Album Review – Wade Bowen’s Self-Titled Album Is Texas Country At It’s Best

The Texas Country/Red Dirt scene has produced a great amount of quality country artists in recent years. From a mainstream superstar like Kacey Musgraves to known independents like Rich O’Toole. Then there’s an artist who has been on both sides of the fence: Wade Bowen. In 2012 Bowen released his first record on a major label (BNA Records) after shining in the Texas Country scene for years. While this was his first and so far only top ten country album, many of his longtime fans felt he got away from what made him great. Well apparently he felt the same as he’s now back to being independent and seems pretty happy about it. In a recent interview with Billboard, Bowen said he approached this album different from his previous albums:

“I had a few different ideas for the title that were floating around, but none of them really stuck,” he tells Billboard. “I kept listening to the record, and I thought, ‘Don’t do the normal thing. Go against the grain.'”

Bowen admits the same philosophy also extended itself to the recording process. “I just wanted to have fun with this record, and make sure it’s different from anything I’ve done. I think this is sort of a reset button for me in my career.”

I think this is a great approach for Bowen and I commend him for wanting to switch it up. Does this decision pay off? Well let’s just say I don’t have many complaints with this album.

The album starts off with “When I Woke Up Today,” a song about Bowen waking up and observing the events around him, from some girl crying at the bus stop to a couple getting married. Basically it’s a simple song about everyday life. You know a normal life, like you and I experience, not partying in fields and driving down dirt roads like the bro artists say we live. The song is solid. Bowen keeps it simple again with “Sun Shines on a Dreamer.” It’s a love song that tells a short story about a woman who meets a man and falls in love. There are no frills or any deep layers are in this song. It’s straightforward and back to basics country music. It’s a solid, yet unspectacular song.

This is followed by another love song, “My California.” It’s about a man in love with a woman from California, as throughout the song he compares her to the many features of the state. This is an interesting song choice from the Texan. It’s a decent love song, but the lyrics could’ve been so much better. To me it was too cliché to drop so many features of California into the song. This is probably the weakest point on the album, although for many artists this might be one of their better songs. But I expect great songs from Bowen, which is exactly what he delivers for the rest of the album. “Watch Her Drive” is a love song about a man falling for his dream woman, but he’s fearful of losing her after the night is over (he does). There are a couple of moments while listening to this song where you think it’s going in a bro country directions, but thankfully it never does. This is a song that is easy to like with the infectious rhythm and simple storytelling.

Bowen shows his more emotion side in “Hungover.” This song is about a man who feels hungover when he wakes up the next morning, yet he didn’t drink a single drop of alcohol the night before. Instead he got “drunk on his own pride” and is heartbroken over his actions the previous night. This song has a simple premise yet the meaning goes much deeper. The instrumentation is well put-together and Bowen’s vocals are spot on. This is a great song that you shouldn’t look over when listening to this album. “West Texas Rain” is another song about life and it compares moments in life to the west Texas rain. Again the storytelling and emotions are quite simple, but Bowen’s delivery and the instrumentation sell this song to the listener’s ears. It’s hard to describe why this song is so good and really something to hear for yourself. Maybe because it’s relatable to the everyday person. Bowen said this is his favorite song on the album and I have to agree with him.

The album speeds up with “When It’s Reckless.” This is an up tempo country song with rock influences about a man who lives for danger and recklessness. It’s a change of pace from Bowen’s normal laid back approach, as this song attacks the listener’s ears instead of just waiting for the listener. There are plenty of steel guitars featured in this song. Bowen appears to do some self-reflecting in “Long Enough to Be a Memory.” This is about a man who moved away from his hometown and is living in a town now thousands of miles away. He’s hoping he sticks around long enough to be remembered, but he’s looking forward to making his return home where he knows he’s remembered. This is really a song about hometowns, without being about hometowns as it describes the feelings everyone has about their home. This is probably one of my favorite songs about hometowns I’ve heard this year. Take notes mainstream country music.

“Sweet Leona” is about a man who professes his love about a woman named Leona. But he’s not ready to tell her yet and for now simply remains an admirer who dreams about her. It’s your classic country love ballad. One of the most underutilized instruments in country music, the harmonica, is used prominently in the song. That always gets two thumbs up from me. This song kind of reminds me of Zac Brown Band’s “Sweet Annie” and not just because sweet is used in the titles of both. These songs are both about a man who is clearly in love with a woman, but afraid to commit and experience it. Regardless I like both of these songs. The next song, “Welcome Mat,” is one of my favorite songs on the album. It’s about a man saying the woman who just left him treated him like a welcome mat. He feels used, dirty and laid out flat. I think that’s a feeling listeners who have experienced these kinds of relationships can relate to. The song has a Tex-Mex/Western feel to it that really brings the listener in too. To me everything in this song works together perfectly and delivers in a big way.

Bowen and his band have fun with “Honky Tonk Road.” This is just a fun party song that you listen to at the end of a long week. I said this is a party song and some might immediately think bro country, but none of these tropes are really in the song. It goes to show you that you can make a good party song without the usual clichés that make you want to vomit and still honors the traditional country sound. It’s a well-written song. And one more thing that makes this song so much better than Florida Georgia Line party songs: a piano! The album comes to a close with “I’m Gonna Go,” a song about remaining persistent and pushing ahead in life. At least that’s what I got from this song. It’s motivational without being blatant and cheesy about it. The album caps off similar to Sturgill Simpson’s album with a mostly instrumental song that has a simple theme. Speaking of the instrumentation in this song, it’s different. I would classify it as having an alternative/rock influence. Whatever you want to call this influence, it works for this reviewer.

There really isn’t one bad song on this album, although there are a couple of songs that don’t shine as bright as the other songs on the album. Nevertheless I really have no complaints about this album. Bowen is pretty much all-around solid on almost every song. The instrumentation is good and the songwriting tells stories and evokes emotions in listeners. On a personal note it is refreshing to be reviewing great country music again and not the garbage that has been spewing out of mainstream country in the last two months. If you’re a mainstream country music fan who is looking to get into the independent and Texas Country scenes, I would start with Bowen because he’s smooth enough for mainstream radio and he’s traditional enough for traditional country fans. I give this album a high recommendation and it’s definitely worth your money to go buy.

Grade: 9/10