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 – Jordan Rager’s “Southern Boy” is Confusing

southern-boy-cover-art

This post was written by a past guest contributor for Country Perspective. 

These days in mainstream country music, you have to keep a watchful eye on new artists bursting onto the scene. Some try to fight the good fight for country music (Jon Pardi, William Michael Morgan, Mo Pitney), while others just want to make music that’s “hip” and “connects with the young ‘uns” (Cole Swindell, Kane Brown). Jordan Rager is in the latter camp.

You know how people make jokes that Cole Swindell is Luke Bryan 2.0? Well, now we seem to have a Jason Aldean 2.0 with Jordan Rager. The difference between the two (Cole and Jordan that is) is that Cole looks to Luke as a lifelong friend, whereas Jordan looks to Jason as an idol and influence. Jordan originates from Loganville, Georgia (same state that Aldean is from), and is currently signed to Broken Bow Records (same label that Aldean is on, noticing something?). And really, I hate to judge based off only two songs, but I’m not sure who Jordan is. Yeah, he’s a big fan of Jason, I get it. But what about Jordan? After hearing what was originally going to be his debut single, “Feels Like One Of Them,” all I could gather was that the song was a carbon copy of an Aldean throwaway track. His new single, “Southern Boy” also does nothing to tell me about who Jordan is, which is one of the many things that puzzles me about this song.

When asked about the song “Southern Boy” by the Rowdy’s Jason Scott, Jordan proclaimed, “this song is inspired by losing somebody and you’re not sure how to get through it. You keep carrying on. You stay strong through it.” Based off this description, I was expecting something in the vein of “You Should Be Here” by Cole Swindell or “Drink A Beer” by Luke Bryan. Instead, this song isn’t about death at all, but rather a mid-tempo number where Jordan is joined by none other than Jason Aldean.

Written by Luke Laird, Barry Dean, Jeremy Stover and Jaron Boyer, “Southern Boy” is performed by Rager and Aldean speaking somewhat as mentors to an imaginary southern boy. The two offer advice to the boy such as never compromise your roots, enjoy Friday nights with friends and always be true to your family. Really with a title like “Southern Boy”, I was expecting something way worse than this, and to be honest there’s really no egregious lines here. The overall problem with the song is that the lyrics are cliché and never really have time to develop into something more. The song just lists off a bunch of checklist traits that are normally expected in a good ol’ southern boy. Really, this song is just a big wasted opportunity. After all, considering that this song has a teacher-student type of lyrical atmosphere to it, and considering that Jordan cites Jason as a major influence, why not just make Jordan the southern boy and have Jason being the one giving advice? You know, turn it into a song that tells advice about how to handle life on the road and all the craziness of the music industry? Pass on advice to someone who actually looks up to you? As this song is, having two males playing the exact same part in the song is completely unnecessary.

Vocally this song has another issue. I’m certainly not against bringing in some help for your debut single, but the problem with this song is that Jason helps a little too much, to the point where this feels more like Jason Aldean featuring Jordan Rager than the other way around. It doesn’t help matters either that the two sound extremely similar to each other, to the point where it can be hard to discern who’s singing at certain points in the song. Leaning on Aldean as a crutch may work for Jordan this time around, but I feel that it’s the wrong choice to make for a debut single. Granted, you don’t have to stand out much to get a hit in mainstream country music, but still I think the average fan is just going to think this is a Jason Aldean song and not even realize this is someone else’s song.

That’s not to say however that “Southern Boy” is without redeeming factors. The mid-tempo vibe actually works well with this song, as it gives both singers a chance to at least try to pour some emotion into this, even if it ultimately comes across as empty. The production also isn’t half bad, and sort of fits a nice rock-country vibe. Other than that however, there’s a lot of wasted potential with “Southern Boy” and I can’t say that it’s ultimately a good song by Jason Jordan.

Grade: 2/10

Review – Granger Smith’s “Backroad Song”

Granger Smith Backroad Song

One of the more interesting aspects I’ve learned about since starting this blog is the Texas/Red Dirt country scene. At first I viewed it with rose-colored glasses and couldn’t praise it enough. But then you learn more and dig a little deeper. You then realize that it’s really not much different from the mainstream/Nashville scene: there are genuine artists, but there is a lot of crap too and the politics are just as bad. Not to mention some artist hate getting the “Texas country” label. But this is a rabbit hole I don’t want to go down today. No, today let’s discuss an artist involved with both scenes: Granger Smith. He’s been a mainstay in the Texas scene for years, but now he’s moving on up to Nashville, as Broken Bow Records signed him to their label late in the summer. Not only is Smith signed, but his parody persona Earl Dibbles Jr. Personally, I’ve never been that intrigued to dig enough into the split personas of Smith. At least not until now with Smith’s current single “Backroad Song” slowly creeping up the Billboard Country Airplay chart.

“Backroad Song” right away gives off a bad smell with its title. It’s a dead giveaway what this song is about. Nothing like being blatant, eh? If this song was released by Dibbles, it would change the complexion and interpretation of it. But alas it’s under the serious Smith persona. Unfortunately there isn’t anything about it to really take seriously. This is a straight bro country song with all of the checklist items (written by Smith and Frank Rogers). You got a truck, a backroad, the radio and a girl by your side in this song. It’s the standard bro country starter kit. It should also be mentioned that the chorus for this song gets old really quick:

(Ooh-ooh-ooh)
Freedom is the miles I’m rollin’ on
(Ooh-ooh-ooh)
Out here cruising to a backroad song
I feel the wheels like a melody, like a radio dialing in strong
C’mon, c’mon sing along, sing along to my backroad song
(Ooh-ooh-ooh)
(Ooh-ooh-ooh)

You want to annoy this listener easily? Throw lots of ooh-ooh-oohs into your song over and over. It’s like someone constantly grinding their nails against a chalkboard. It’s pointless and grating to the ears. There are a total of 16 “ooh-ooh-oohs” throughout this song, so listen at your own risk. Despite this song being pretty terrible, I actually found myself thinking this isn’t that bad. You know why? Because the absolute worst in mainstream country music is so terrible right now that this song sounds decent in comparison. The pop/R&B/disco/Bruno Mars ripoff songs being passed off as country music is actually making bro country sound tolerable. Oy vey!

If Granger Smith was intending to sell out, he couldn’t have picked a better song in “Backroad Song.” It’s everything labels and advertisers want in a song: something that could be played in some Hershey’s ad and something a gullible teenage girl would want to hear. It’s fluffy, stupidly simple and has no meaning. This is the kind of song that sounds like it came straight off a conveyor belt in some songwriting factory in Nashville. Avoid “Backroad Song,” as there are plenty of country songs better that you can crank while driving down a backroad.

Grade: 0/10