Album Review – Thomas Rhett’s ‘Tangled Up’ May Be One of Country’s Worst Albums

Let’s just be honest here: Thomas Rhett’s accomplishments and notoriety in country music today are solely because his dad is Rhett Akins. Thomas Rhett is a mediocre vocalist whose debut album was nothing but generic pop and bro-country schlock. There was zero originality because Thomas Rhett is not an artist. He’s a puppet willing to sing whatever his label, Valory Music Company (a subsidiary of Big Machine), wants him to sing and become whatever persona his label wants him to be. In 2013, the money was in bro-country. Fast forward two years, bro-country has faded and the money is in R&B-influenced sounds that create funky, danceable beats. Rhett developed a professional crush on Bruno Mars and says he’s changed the trajectory of his career to emulate Mars’ style of music. Conveniently, that funk pop musical styling just happens to be what makes money for Big Machine these days. Combine that all together and we have Bruno Mars Thomas Rhett’s newest album, Tangled Up.

The album begins with a club beat called “Anthem.” Don’t be fooled, just because you’ll hear a banjo in no way makes this song country. Drum machine beats and hand claps are front and center in the production as Rhett merely narrates how the song works. He speaks, not sings, but speaks lines like “this is part where the bass gonna stop” or “You startin’ to feel the momentum build so bring it on back to the chorus” and my personal favorite line of the whole song “this is the verse where you don’t know the words and you don’t give a damn ’cause it feels good.” It’s almost as if the writers are blatantly making fun of the generation that buys into this shitty music simply because it’s a “good beat.” But don’t get me wrong, this song flat-out sucks. “Crash and Burn” follows. Josh sums the song up perfectly with this segment in the single review: “Rhett does not have the charisma and soul of Mars to pull the song off. You need a high energy singer with great chops to make this song great and Rhett simply doesn’t have that. I feel like the instrumentation swallows his voice on this song. You notice everything else on this song before Rhett’s voice.” You could take that first sentence and apply it to just about every song on the album.

Up next is perhaps the worst song of the album: “South Side.” Before we even get into the terrible funk music, we get a distorted computer voice in an English accent (why?) saying, “Please commence shaking your south side.” I fought every urge in my body to not skip this song the moment I heard that sentence. I knew from that the song to follow was going to be terrible, but I just had to listen to it to know how terrible. Firstly, the funk mixed with stupid banjos sounds a bit like “Kick the Dust Up.” Rhett, again, simply sings about how a beat makes people want to shake their ass. But the second verse of this song is probably the worst verse in country music:

Like Memphis, Tennessee, got in bed with CDB
And had a baby and when the baby cried
It made this sound, ain’t no lie it was funkified

ARE  YOU KIDDING ME?! Thomas Rhett claims his new “funkified” music is the love child of Memphis Soul and Charlie Daniels! There have been some terrible name drops in country music, but this one just may take the cake. This song deserves a dedicated rant on its own. Moving on before I throw my computer into a wall. We get the first song on the album that I can actually listen to without getting angry. “Die A Happy Man” is a blues inspired love song. The sentiment is there and it feels somewhat honest: even if he never travels to see the world, he’d still be a happy man as long as he has his wife. However, I’m still not crazy about the song. The lyrics are rather bland and clichéd as Rhett still paints a shallow picture of how his wife’s looks and sexuality are what brings him to his knees and makes it hard to breathe. Also, Thomas Rhett is not that good of a singer, and in “Die A Happy Man” you can hear him trying too hard to sound sultry and sentimental.

Tangled Up is an album chock full of ideas and sounds borrowed from others. No other song is as indicative of his lack of originality than “Vacation.” There are 14 credited songwriters for this train wreck. 14! But half of those songwriters come from the band War. Rhett wisely credits the band for the song because the beat of the verses is essentially the beat from “Low Rider.” The song is about a party at home, but the partygoers are acting like they’re on a tropical vacation. It’s stupid lyrics that Thomas Rhett poorly raps set to a borrowed beat. Even the second verse where Rhett raps about  a Walgreens beach chair and Busch Light sends the same simple life sentiment of Jake Owen’s “Real Life.”

“Like It’s The Last Time” is yet another generic pop country song about a party in a field. You have all the usual suspects here: Moonshine, trucks, raising cups up, hooking up with the girl you like, bonfires, generic mid-tempo guitars, pop beats, and an implication of Fireball shots. It’s just another song to add to the hundreds of corn field songs from the past two years. “T-Shirt” is a hookup song about a girl who keeps coming onto Thomas Rhett. Apparently the song depicts a couple who’ve had these rendezvouses before and vowed to stop, but obviously that doesn’t happen. It’s a boring up beat pop rock beat combined with terrible lyrics and bad vocals. “Single Girl” finds Thomas Rhett pleading to a single girl. He wants to be her man and Rhett, who doesn’t seem to understand the fact that people can be happy and satisfied while not in a relationship, questions why she’s single. He assumes that because she’s single that she’s lonely and that he can be the one to fix it. These assumptions are misguided, immature, arrogant and a little trashy.

Surprisingly, there’s an actual good song on this album. “The Day You Stop Lookin’ Back” is a song where Rhett sings to a girl with a broken heart. The lyrics are actually mature and respectful and the production is more organic with an acoustic guitar and very little pop effects on the drums. Rhett encourages her to stop letting a past heartbreak get the best of her because once she stops looking back, she can then move on. It’s not a great song, but compared to most of the garbage on this album, it sounds pretty good. But we return to the crap with the title track, “Tangled.” This song is straight disco with a backing vocal effects and auto tuned, funky keyboard notes, heavy drum beats for dancing, and a funk inspired guitar. The lyrics are just another song of how Thomas Rhett enjoys being with some female because of the way she loves him physically. “Tangled” is a good reminder of how poorly Thomas Rhett sings.

Another good reminder of Thomas Rhett’s poor vocal abilities can be found in “Playing With Fire.” Rhett sings this song as a duet with American Idol’s Jordin Sparks. She is a much better singer than Rhett. Her lone verse is a better vocal performance than the rest of the album, and she’s even under utilized. Sonically, it’s 100% a pop ballad, but not a bad one at all. Lyrically, it depicts yet another rotten hookup relationship where both parties know it’s bad for them. However, they give into those impulses because they love playing with fire. Thomas Rhett also collaborates with Lunchmoney Lewis on “I Feel Good.” This is a lyrical mess of random nothingness. It starts out describing a scene that would have belonged in “Vacation” then finds Rhett driving in his car celebrating the fact that he got paid. The lyrics of this song don’t make any sense, and Lunchmoney Lewis’ rap breakdown doesn’t help this stupid funk song at all.

Tangled Up finally comes to an end with “Learned It From The Radio.” This is a song where Thomas Rhett thanks Dallas Davidson, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line for teaching him how to be a cliché. “How to wake up, how to work tough, how to roll up those sleeves. How to throw down, how to get loud, and what to put in that drink. To give the stars in the sky a little halo, I learned it from the radio.” It’s every cliché list item from 10 years of mainstream country reworked into this narrative of “how I learned this, how I learned that.”

This album is a mess and shouldn’t even be called music. The songs that combine country sounds with funk sounds are just a hodgepodge of noise that would make a deaf person cringe. The actual funk, disco, R&B songs are shitty and Bruno Mars himself wouldn’t even try to record that mess. Mainstream country isn’t exactly moving away from bro-country. Sure, these songs aren’t pop rock corn field parties, but the lyrics are still the same trashy immature sentiments meant to boost bravado and masculinity. Tangled Up is an embarrassment to country music, it’s an embarrassment to funk and it’s an embarrassment to music in general.

Grade: 0/10

The Hodgepodge: The Mainstream Country Music Bubble is About to Burst

Waylon warned you, country music.
Waylon warned you, country music.

Lord it’s the same old tune…

This past weekend the 50th ACM Awards took place and the reviews for it haven’t been pretty. From Trigger at Saving Country Music to Grady Smith at The Guardian to the consensus on Twitter, they all found the show to be pretty bad. I myself found it to be weird and boring. Many of you weighed in on that post and whole heartedly agreed. The show was plagued with production errors and enough medleys to set a person insane. It wasn’t easy to sit through. Really this whole year in mainstream country music hasn’t been easy to stomach. When it looked like we were going to get more traditional country songs on the radio, the hope for that quickly evaporated. Instead we’ve gotten a heavy dose of Sam Hunt’s pop music, bro country rehashes, trend chasing, female artists continuing to get ignored and Thomas Rhett trying to be Bruno Mars. It’s the same old stuff country music has been doing for years now.

Where do we take it from here?

It was clear as day to anyone who watched the 2015 ACM Awards that country music has two big problems. The first problem is that country music has no idea what it is anymore. There’s a clear identity crisis taking place. This show featured performances from George Strait, Sam Hunt, Christina Aguilera and Nick Jonas. Do you see hip-hop awards shows with such a melting pot of performers? Do you rock awards shows with so many different sounds? No because they know who they are. This variety of sounds was touted during the ACM Awards, like this is a great thing. It’s clearly not because you’re sending mixed signals to viewers. They have no idea what the hell country music is because you’re throwing so many different sounds at them. The second problem is country music has zero direction on where to go. They’re chasing the R&B sound. They’re chasing the EDM sound. They’re rehashing bro country stuff. Country music is like a 12-headed monster and each head is going a different way. There’s no cohesion and no identity.

It’s been the same way for years/We need to change

Country music clearly needs to change and quickly. I think that’s obvious to a lot of people. But nobody wants to make the first move. Everyone is too afraid to make a move or say something. Some people will say, “Well what about Sturgill Simpson? He can save country music!” To them I repeat what I’ve said before and what Sturgill himself has said: he’s no savior. One artist can’t save the genre. I find Sturgill to be a trailblazer and a shining example to other independent country artists on how to do it your own way. Regardless of what happens in mainstream country music, Sturgill Simpson will be safe and continue to do his own thing. Atlantic Records will wisely keep him out of that racket and market him more like an indie rock artist rather than a mainstream country artist.

Another thing people will bring up is splitting country music, something that looked very possible last year. The top 40 country artists could go do their thing and the traditional, older country artists could go do their music. It would establish a clear line and everyone could be happy. I’ve advocated for this. But that convenient dream isn’t going to happen. It’s pretty much dead right now. You’re better off dismissing this fantasy as unrealistic. There are other ideas I’ve seen floated out there that could “save” mainstream country music and bring it change, but they’re not even worth addressing because I only see one change on the horizon for mainstream country music happening. It’s a change that they’re in the midst of doing right now and they’re not even aware it’s about to happen.

The mainstream country music bubble is about to pop. No splitting. No country music civil war is going to happen. It’s simply going to break into pieces, something I forewarned of months ago if country music didn’t start to get its act together. It reminds me a lot of how rock music shattered into pieces, became irrelevant as a mainstream genre and disappeared completely off radio. Rock reached its peak in popularity in the 80s with hair metal, which bro country is often compared to. At the beginning of the 90s, Nirvana became huge and grunge became the popular style in rock. The arrival of this group was a godsend for the genre because hair metal along with some other terrible rock sub-genres had made the public bored with rock music. Nirvana brought something fresh and new to the genre. Then Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana, tragically shot himself. Some people say this was the day rock music died too. Rock music lost its icon and symbol of hope.

Slowly but surely rock music devolved into multiple sub-genres, as several groups failed to duplicate the sound and success of Nirvana. The genre lost direction and popularity. Hip-hop made its rise into mainstream prominence at this time and essentially bumped rock off radio, taking its place. Now look at rock music. You don’t hear any new rock music on the radio. All there’s left of rock music on the radio is a local classic rock station playing hits from rock’s heyday. I see country music going down the exact same path minus the Nirvana part. There’s won’t be a Nirvana because country music doesn’t want a Nirvana walking through the door. Country music would rather continue down the same path it’s on and fall flat on its face. It’s afraid of trying something new, fresh and different. Taking risks isn’t considered business sound, even though business is stagnant and terrible right now.

Somebody told me when I came to Nashville
Son you finally got it made
Old Hank made it here, we’re all sure that you will
But I don’t think Hank done it this way, no
I don’t think Hank done it this way, okay

Now this gloom and doom prediction I’ve just thrown out at you is a real bummer. But ultimately I think country music would become better as a result. A new genre will rise out of the ashes. There would no longer be a mainstream or radio presence by country music. This would mean only the best country artists would get noticed. People would take to the Internet to find country music, just like independent country fans do now. It’s what rock fans do too. The B-list artists that are only known because of manufactured radio pushes by major labels would fall off the radar. This would be anyone who isn’t at a Carrie Underwood/Blake Shelton type level. So you would say goodbye to the Michael Rays and Kelsea Ballerinis of country music. The fluff would be out the door. I wouldn’t have to review terrible music being passed off as country anymore. Come to think of it, this sounds like an ideal scenario.

Heed the words of Waylon and make proactive change, country music. Or a crashing change will eat you alive.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Zac Brown Band will release their new album Jekyll + Hyde next Tuesday. I have no idea what to expect in terms of sound with this album, which makes me even more excited to give it a listen. If you haven’t read it yet, check out the album’s track listing. Also Aircheck confirmed the rumor that the group’s next single will be “Loving You Easy” and will impact radio on the first week of May.
  • Tyler Farr’s new album Suffer in Peace will also come out next Tuesday. The track listing for it suggests a mixed bag. I expect a few good songs and a few terrible songs. Speaking of terrible, I found out via Windmills on the song “C.O.U.N.T.R.Y.” Farr sings about his love of truck nuts. I’ll let you imagine what that song is like.
  • For those who missed it, Jason Isbell announced his new album will be released on July 17 and will be called Something More Than Free. That’s the same day Alan Jackson’s new album comes out too. This is also a significant day because it’s the first week where major releases start coming out on Fridays rather than Tuesdays.
  • Sammy Kershaw just announced recently that he will be releasing his first full-original album in five years on June 9. It will be called I Won’t Back Down. He signed a deal with Cleopatra Records to release the album. This is a great surprise and I’m definitely looking forward to this one.
  • Also for those that aren’t on Twitter: I saw Gary Allen live in concert last Friday and it was a fantastic show. From what I’ve gathered from the show, his new album should be classic Gary. He mentioned that “Hangover Tonight” was the last song written onto the album, which leads me to believe he threw it in to appease his label. Allen played two new songs from the album and they sounded like great country songs. The one was called “Mess Me Up” and I think it has great potential to be a single.

Throwback Thursday Song

Randy Travis – “Forever and Even, Amen” – It was so great to see Lee Brice give a shout out to Randy Travis at the ACM Awards. It was also classy of him to play a couple of lines acoustically from Travis’ classic song “Forever and Ever, Amen.” So I thought it was only appropriate this iconic song would be this week’s throwback song.

Non-Country Album Recommendation 

Rap music’s great year continues, as another fantastic rap album just came out. It’s Yelawolf’s Love Story and it has one of the most different sounds I’ve ever heard on a rap album. Probably because it’s a rap album with heavy country and southern rock influences. What? Yes, you read that correctly. The wording is key: it’s a rap album with country influences and not the other way around. It’s in the right genre too. I always thought though you couldn’t mix these two genres period, but Yelawolf, a southern hip-hop artist from Alabama, proves me wrong. What separates Yelawolf from hick-hop artists like Colt Ford is Yelawolf’s got bars. He understands the craft of rap. The album is a whopping 18 songs long and complex, but it’s well worth listening to from start to finish. Ironically it has even more country moments than many mainstream country albums. Patsy Cline’s “Walking After Midnight” can be heard in the opening song! Rap music is now sounding more country than country music. What world am I living in?

Tweet of the Week

So many great candidates for tweet of the week, thanks to the ACM Awards. But this one took the cake. It’s the perfect analogy.

An iTunes Review That Will Make You Face Palm

Hunt Fans Being Hunt Fans

This was under Sam Hunt’s Montevallo. I…just…I got nothing. What can I say to this?

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

Review – Thomas Rhett’s “Crash and Burn”

Thomas Rhett Crash and Burn

Oh how I’ve waited to talk about you Mr. Thomas Rhett. With the site approaching its first year anniversary coming up, I noticed that neither Derek or myself have yet to review something produced by Rhett. Well I guess you could count “Small Town Throwdown,” but he was only a featured artist and not the main artist. So this is the first time I’ve had a chance to formally review a Rhett song. I’m just going to get this out of the way upfront: I’ve disliked every single song Rhett has released. Nothing about his career has impressed me. Rhett, just like Cole Swindell and Chase Rice, has cashed in hard on the bro country movement and became a bigger name in the process. Many in 2013 rightly took aim at Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind of Night” and Blake Shelton’s “Boys ‘Round Here” for being absolutely horrible songs. But Thomas Rhett’s “Get Me Some of That” deserved just as much scorn and it never got it, despite being at the same level of terribleness as Bryan and Shelton’s songs.

Fast-forward to present day where bro country is now pretty much dead in the water. Surprisingly showing good foresight, Rhett has seemed to move away from bro country and turned to a different sound. The problem is this new sound may just be as bad as Rhett’s bro country sound. Rhett is now making R&B infused, Bruno Mars-type songs. In fact he released a cover of Mars’ “When I Was Your Man” and has spoken in great length in interviews of how much he idolizes him. For almost any genre, this is a good thing to hear from an artist. Mars is undoubtedly a talented artist  who not only makes smash hit songs, but smash hit songs with great quality. Just look at “Uptown Funk,” which has been THE song of 2015. I’m a huge fan of Bruno Mars. There’s a problem though with Rhett adapting Mars’ style into country music: it simply doesn’t work.

Case in point: Rhett’s new single “Crash and Burn,” the lead single from his new upcoming album that just came out. The Mars influence is palpable throughout the song and it sounds awkward as hell mixed with the sprinkled in country instrumentation. The production is messy and all over the place, despite the chorus portion of the track being quite catchy. This will no doubt hook a lot of casual listeners. The song itself is actually good. It’s about a man who continues to let romantic relationships fall apart, but realizes as another door closes he learns another lesson. The song has a decent message with a good hook. I really have no problem with the songwriting on this song, so kudos to Chris Stapleton.

Now I’m going to get to why this song ultimately doesn’t work: Rhett himself. You give this song to Bruno Mars, take out the awkward production, replace it with Mars-like production and you have yourself a mega pop hit. I would also enjoy the hell out of it. Rhett’s version of this song is terrible because Rhett does not have the charisma and soul of Mars to pull the song off. You need a high energy singer with great chops to make this song great and Rhett simply doesn’t have that. I feel like the instrumentation swallows his voice on this song. You notice everything else on this song before Rhett’s voice. This is by design of course because the catchy beat is what will pull in gullible casual listeners. They don’t care about the fact that this song isn’t country in any way possible.

The cold, hard truth with “Crash and Burn” is this is just another attempt by country to hawk sounds from other genres in a desperate attempt to win back the temporary cross-over popularity it had with bro country. Don’t give me this crap about country music evolving. Changing the genre sound completely to the point where you can’t tell it’s country music anymore is not evolution. Artists like Rhett say it’s evolution because it’s the laziest and most brainless excuse you can trot out. Their fans and the corporate country outlets eat it right up too. When it comes down to it “Crash and Burn” is a song in the wrong genre performed by the wrong artist. Many will applaud this song for being different, but I jeer it for the poor excuse it is to make pop music and label it country. You should do the same too.

Grade: 0/10

The Hodgepodge: Is Pop Radio Better Than Country Radio Right Now?

500px-Train_wreck_at_Montparnasse_1895
A look at the current state of country radio and really mainstream country music in general.

Yesterday in this week’s current pulse of mainstream country music, I was pretty frustrated and exasperated with country radio. The reasons being of course is that nothing new is being tried by country radio and the songs with substance are getting harder to find. They’re simply rehashing the same old crap. Case in point: Jason Aldean’s new single “Tonight Looks Good On You” is surging and will undoubtedly reach #1 on the chart. It’s just another version of Aldean’s 2014 hit “Burnin’ It Down.” On top of that it’s a Dallas Davidson song. I mean come on! I thought country radio had moved passed Davidson’s bullshit, but apparently not.

So as I normally do when I get frustrated with terrible music, I go listen to music I enjoy. As I sat and listened to Hozier’s excellent 2014 debut album, an idea came to me for this week’s Hodgepodge. Why not take a look at pop radio and compare it to country radio? It’s a perfect time to do so when many country stations across the nation are playing blatant pop music. When Kanye West and Ed Sheeran are getting airplay on country radio, you know shit has hit the fan and country stations have run out of answers. So to conduct this comparison, we’ll take a look at the top 20 on the Billboard Top Pop Songs chart from last week and compare it to the top 20 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart from last week. The same exact rules will apply to this as the current pulse that runs every week.

The -3 score on last week’s pulse will not be used, since it’s the cumulative score of the top 30. Only the pulse of the top 20 will be used. By taking away the bottom ten songs, the pulse of the top 20 is 0. That will be the score we use to compare to the pop chart. Today you will get to see the very rare occurrence of yours truly evaluating pop music. See what you’ve done to me country radio? So without further ado let’s take a look at the Top Pop Chart:

  1. Taylor Swift – “Style” 0
  2. Maroon 5 – “Sugar” 0
  3. Ed Sheeran – “Thinking Out Loud” +1 (Sheeran is awesome)
  4. Bruno Mars & Mark Ronson – “Uptown Funk” +1 (This song is great, despite being overplayed)
  5. Pitbull & Ne-Yo – “Time of Our Lives” -1 (Pitbull sucks no matter what genre he is in)
  6. Ellie Goulding – “Love Me Like You Do” -1 (A terrible Fifty Shades of Grey song)
  7. Kanye West, Rihanna & Paul McCartney – “FourFiveSeconds” 0
  8. Natalie La Rose & Jeremih – “Somebody” -1
  9. Calvin Harris & Ellie Goulding – “Outside” 0
  10. Ariana Grande – “One Last Time” -1
  11. Nick Jonas – “Chains” +1 (I’m surprised I liked this)
  12. Zedd & Selena Gomez – “I Want You To Know” +1
  13. Taylor Swift – “Blank Space” -1
  14. One Direction – “Night Changes” -1
  15. Lillywood & Robin Schulz – “Prayer In C” 0
  16. Flo Rida, Sage The Gemini & Lookas – “G.D.F.R.” -1 (Flo Rida is the Toby Keith of pop music. He just keeps hanging on.)
  17. Jason DeRulo – “Want To Want Me” -1
  18. The Weeknd – “Earned It” -1 (Another terrible Fifty Shades of Grey song)
  19. Usher & Juicy J – “I Dont Mind” -1 
  20. Tori Kelly – “Nobody Love”

So the total current pulse of pop music is -8. Wow! It’s even worse than country radio! Yet country radio is borrowing from it. It shouldn’t be borrowing period from pop music, whether it’s better or worse. Still country radio is borrowing from a genre that is even worse. There are genre lines for a reason. The only common denominator between both groups of songs is the club theme. You can thank Sam Hunt for bringing this into country music. Music about going to the club is just plain dumb and it’s why people laugh at artists like Pitbull and Flo Rida. I will say though I would take pop’s club music over country’s club music.

After this not very surprising revelation, I think I can safely say that all of radio is nothing but a vast wasteland of garbage songs. Country radio isn’t the only one lacking substance. However it’s imperative if I point out the big different between both. Country radio and pop radio historically have been viewed completely different by listeners. Pop radio is a mix of several different genres all in one place for casual listeners to hear. Upbeat, fun, party songs are the norm for pop and everyone pretty much knows this. You don’t hear a lot of songs that you would consider classics get on pop radio today, save for the likes of Adele and Hozier maybe. In years past you had icons like Michael Jackson dominating pop, but I don’t see any singers like Jackson on the horizon.

Country radio on the other hand was always viewed by people as a place to go for songs about life, love and other themes that explore deeper meaning. It was the genre of substance. You could hear a song like Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High On That Mountain” and be brought to tears. George Strait’s “Give It Away” or Garth Brooks’ “The Dance” connected with anyone out there whoever had their heart-broken. Go back a little over ten years and you could hear a song on country radio like Josh Turner’s “Long Black Train” that had a great message to anyone of any age. These are the kind of songs that made country music what it was. It was what made you and me fans of country music.

Now an entire generation views country music as a laughing-stock full of songs about drinking, debauchery and partying. That respect country music once held in popular culture has eroded away. People turn on country radio and don’t even recognize the genre. Some people don’t even turn on the radio. Sure there is plenty of great independent country music out there and sites like this help spread the word of it. But why would people seek it out? After what they hear on country radio, it makes them run away from the genre. They’ve got such a sour taste from country radio that they won’t even try the good country music. Country music fans need something to believe in and hear to reaffirm their faith in the genre. Will we get that before it’s too late? For the sake of country music, I hope so.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Will Hoge will come out with his new album Small Town Dreams next Tuesday. A couple of months ago we got a taste of what’s to come on the album and based on that I’m expecting this to be a good one. Derek will be reviewing this one, as Hoge is one of his favorites.
  • Kristian Bush’s debut solo album Southern Gravity will also be released next Tuesday. The lead single “Trailer Hitch” was a surprisingly good song, so it’ll be interesting to hear what the rest of the album sounds like and whether the sound of Sugarland is evident at all.
  • The third notable release next week and the biggest in the independent realm is Pokey LaFarge’s Something In The Water. This could quietly be one of the best releases in April.
  • On Monday, Jason Isbell tweeted: “New new album is done and mastered.” So maybe we’ll get this sooner than July? I certainly hope so. We should at least hear the first single from it very soon.

Throwback Thursday Song

George Jones – “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?” – You know how I was saying up above about how country music was the genre about life and connecting with everyday people? This song articulates that point perfectly. And it’s a song many country fans wonder today.

Non-Country Song of the Week

AC/DC – “Shoot To Thrill” – This is one of my all-time favorite AC/DC songs. The high notes blow me away every time.

Tweet of the Week

Anti-Bobby Bones tweets are always great. He’s another problem hurting country music, but that’s another post for another day.

Two iTunes Reviews That Will Make You Face Palm

Stupid EYB Comment 2

 

Stupid EYB Comment 3

 

I’ve been sitting on these gems for a couple of weeks. These were under Eli Young Band’s new EP Turn It On. The first one justifies this terrible EP by saying everyone’s going pop in country, so it’s fine. The other says it’s fine because they wrote all four songs. Here’s an easy way to determine whether or not a song or group of songs suck: people having to list reasons to justify why it’s good. People making excuses for it. A great song speaks volumes on its own merit and doesn’t need to be explained why it’s good.

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

Hodgepodge of Country Stuff: iTunes Should Keep the Free Single of the Week

ITunes_12_logo

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. 

One of the most under-the-radar stories in music so far in 2015 has been iTunes quietly killing off its Free Single of the Week. Not only is it being killed off here in the United State, but in all countries. It’s probably being underreported because Apple did it without making a big announcement and has only been noticed by fans who checked this feature out on a weekly basis. Also many tech outlets are afraid to say anything bad about Apple because they don’t want to be banned from their events (I learned this when I was dabbling in tech journalism). Well I’m a music journalist now and I don’t use iTunes to purchase and listen to my music anymore, so I have no problem saying cross words about the Cupertino tech giant.

I was pretty disappointed when I found out about this because over the years of using iTunes I’ve found several new artists to listen to through the Free Single of the Week. In fact I think it was this feature that made me set up an iTunes account. Going back to 2008, one of the free singles of the week was Jamey Johnson’s “In Color.” This was before he was a household name and won any Grammys. I guarantee he gained several new fans by offering this free single. In 2009, I found out about Eli Young Band and David Nail through their free singles of the week. In 2010, Easton Corbin’s “A Little More Country Than That” is what introduced me to his music.

As I’ve stated numerous times on the side, rock music is my second favorite genre and a free Bob Seger EP in 2011 is what introduced me to his music and made me explore his catalog. I mentioned in my review of Greg Bates’ “Sand” this week the first time I heard his music was when I heard “I Did It For The Girl,” which was an iTunes Free Single of the Week in 2012. In 2013, two of my favorite non-country songs of the year, John Newman’s “Love Me Again” and Bastille’s “Pompeii”, were free singles of the week and these two songs went on to have huge success. It really helped put these artists on the map. Go take a look at the list of all of the free singles that have been offered by iTunes over the years and I guarantee you’ll see artists and songs you like.

The point of this free single of the week was to introduce fans to artists they’re not familiar with and bring new music into their library. Many times I would go on to explore and buy more music from the artist. Judging from the comments I’ve seen on message boards and social media, many others did the same. This Free Single of the Week acted as a “gateway drug” to get fans to check out artists and their catalogs. It gave a platform to lesser known and independent artists to grow their fan base. Many artists and labels understood this, which is why so many different artists participated in this program (some of them multiple times).

So why did iTunes do away with this feature? Personally I think it’s the answer to most questions: money. It’s no secret that music sales are progressively getting worse and this is forcing everyone in the industry to take notice. The Free Single of the Week was financially beneficial to artists, but it wasn’t financially beneficial enough for iTunes. So iTunes selfishly got rid of this feature. Instead they’ll push their streaming service down your throat because that’s better for their bottom line. As a result fans and artists will pay the price. What was a great feature that benefitted fans and artists is now gone because the suits aren’t making the money they want to make.

With that being said, Google Play still offers weekly free music. They once had a free single of the week feature, but now it has been replaced with a free album of the week (they also feature a sampler of free music from all genres every month). Just like the iTunes Free Single of the Week, this has introduced me to new music. I’ve bought more music as a result of these free offerings. And iTunes wonders why I took my business to Google Play. Their competitor understands if you want to keep your customers, you have to keep them happy. While I don’t condone giving away a bunch of free music or having artists pay fans to listen to their music, giving away a little free music is something that can benefit everyone. I hope iTunes will learn the error of their ways, for the good of the fans and artists.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Ryan Bingham just released his new album, Fear and Saturday Night. I haven’t got a chance to listen to it yet, but I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about it. Despite what Bingham says, his music is country to my ears and many other people. Derek’s review of it will be coming soon.
  • Cody Jinks came out with a new album called Adobe Sessions last week. I can’t believe I overlooked this one. One of my goals this year is to review more Texas country music. I’ve listened to some of Jinks’ album and I definitely don’t hate it. I’ll be reviewing this one really soon.
  • Jamey Johnson just released “Alabama Pines” as a single and is now available on iTunes and Google Play. He released it as a free gift through his site on January 1 (it’s no longer free). I thought it was a great comeback song for the Alabama artist. It’s currently in the top 70 of the iTunes country charts, so not a bad return for Johnson.
  • Keith Urban just released “Raise ‘Em Up” as a new single from his album Fuse. He’s joined on the song by Eric Church. The song is also nominated for the 2015 Grammy for Best Country Duo/Group Performance. We hope to review this song soon.

Throwback Thursday Song

 

Alan Jackson’s “Pop a Top.” I heard this song come on the radio the other day and it was so refreshing to hear an Alan Jackson song. Most people will remember this song as the one he was playing at the 1999 CMA Awards when he stopped halfway through the performance to play George Jones’ “Choices” as a protest of the CMA not allowing Jones a full performance. Jackson then of course walked right off stage and out of the building. It was a true badass moment from Jackson. Too bad we don’t have those kind of moments at country music awards show anymore. I hope Jackson’s new album this year blows everyone away.

My Non-Country Thought of the Week

While the last two weeks I’ve had negative thoughts in this section of the Hodgepodge, this week I come bearing positive thoughts. Originally I was only going to have one non-country album suggestion, but then I heard another great album that I have to also suggest. The first non-country album I suggest checking out is James Wolpert’s The Entire City. (If you follow me on Twitter you’ve already saw this suggestion, so this is for those not on Twitter) It’s a fantastic rock album that fuses Americana, folk, pop and even a little bit of country. There is one song on the album that features some lengthy fiddle play.

 

The other non-country album I suggest checking out is Lupe Fiasco’s Tetsuo & Youth. This is hip-hop at it’s best and just like Wolpert’s album does a great job fusing influences from other genres. I heard some jazz, pop, electronic, classical and even country. Yes country influences on a hip-hop album! On Fiasco’s “Dots & Lines” there is prominent play at the beginning and end of the song from, get this, a BANJO. They don’t even have these in most mainstream country songs nowadays and there’s one on a damn hip-hop album. Lupe Fiasco’s Tetsuo & Youth is more country than Florida Georgia Line’s Anything Goes, Chase Rice’s Ignite the Night and Sam Hunt’s Montevallo combined. So ironically this week’s non-country suggestions are more country than some of the country albums I’ve recently reviewed. I don’t understand anything anymore.

Tweet of the Week

My thoughts exactly. For those unaware, Thomas Rhett covered Bruno Mars’ hit “When I Was Your Man.” I didn’t even bother listening to it because I have no respect for Rhett. I guarantee Bruno Mars has no idea who Rhett is and never will. Once bro country officially becomes uncool (which is happening) Rhett will disappear and fall off the radar.

An iTunes Review That Will Make You Face Palm

Dumb Sam Hunt Comment 1 Dumb Sam Hunt Comment 2

These reviews are from Sam Hunt’s Montevallo album. I actually couldn’t choose just one this week. You have no idea who how many potential comments I could have put here for this album. These two were the best though. The first one goes with the traditional hater comment. The second one goes in a different direction. According to the second review, only the Queen of England has the authority to move artists or genres around. So Queen Elizabeth II, your majesty, if you’re reading this could you please move Sam Hunt out of country music forever? It would be greatly appreciated.

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