Country Perspective’s Top 10 Albums of 2020

Country Perspective will be posting multiple best of albums lists this year to recognize the staggering amount of high quality album releases in 2020. It will ultimately conclude with Country Perspective’s Top 10 Albums of 2020, which will reflect all genres and crown this blog’s top award, Album of the Year.

Today the list-mania concludes with Country Perspective’s Top 10 Albums of 2020. When determining the top ten albums of the year, a number of typical factors you expect are evaluated for this. But in addition I also factor in aspects such as entertainment, long-term replayability and just general enjoyment. In fact I would say these factors are the most important over your other stereotypical factors. Most importantly things such as cultural impact or how it fits within the scope of 2020 do no play a factor in this. Lighter, “fun” albums are given equal artistic merit to your typical album of the year-type records. At the end of the day, this is just what I consider great music and the very best of what this year had to offer across all genres. So without further ado, here are Country Perspective’s Top 10 Albums of 2020:

10. Sturgill Simpson — Cuttin’ Grass – Volume 1

Now I expected this album to be good. Sturgill Simpson’s love and appreciation for bluegrass has always shined through. But man I did not expect this album to be this good. The melody on this album is so damn infectious, making old songs sound completely new and giving real vibrancy to his previously unrecorded Sunday Valley songs. Simpson is clearly in his element on Cuttin’ Grass – Vol. 1. He takes to bluegrass like a duck takes to water. Who knows what direction he will go on his fifth and supposedly final studio album and who knows when he’ll release Volume 2 of Cuttin’ Grass. In a tumultuous year, the best thing to do is sit back and enjoy this wonderful surprise from Simpson.

9. Chris Stapleton — Starting Over

Starting Over is what it says it is: it’s Chris Stapleton hitting a reset button on expectations. It’s him indulging in all of his influences and putting them all on display. It’s a reminder of who he is as an artist, even though this may not sound much different than what he’s released before. But again the expectations have to be kept in check because an artist’s image is more important than many listeners and reviewers realize. I think Stapleton realized he needed to reiterate who he sees himself as with this album. It’s him quietly and not so quietly voicing his displeasure at the world around him too. But really Stapleton does what he’s always focused on doing with his music on this album: making good music with no expectations. And that’s the best kind of music.

8. Kylie Minogue — DISCO

This album is full of soaring production that lives up to it’s album name while also giving it a fresh, modern feel. The songwriting focuses around love, excitement and just pure joy. To me it’s one of those albums that if you love pop and disco music, it’s impossible to come away not smiling. Minogue meant for this album to be enjoyable escapism and DISCO is absolutely phenomenal in this regard.

7. Benny The Butcher — Burden of Proof

Benny The Butcher gives you everything you want out of an excellent album and then some with Burden of Proof. The lyricism, production, the features and the themes are all flawless. He delivered so many great albums before this, but with this record he reaches a whole new level of greatness in my mind. It’s the realism and genuineness that shines through in Benny The Butcher’s work that’s quickly making him one of the best in the game, especially when so many in hip hop chase and promote the fake image he speaks out against throughout this album. Of course this isn’t an issue just in hip hop, as every genre struggles with the balance of reality and fantasy, as well as roots and tradition versus new school thoughts and ideas. If one becomes more lopsided, things go haywire. And Benny does such a good job of keeping this in mind with his music. As he says in the final track on the album, he’s ready to be a legend now. This album more than proves this high claim.

6. Tennis — Swimmer

With Swimmer, Tennis delivers an excellent album about love. It’s quickly became one of my favorite love albums. And this isn’t rash hyperbole on my end. I’m being serious when I say that this album truly delivers a heartfelt, genuine and truly touching take on true love. Love albums and love song are an absolute dime-a-dozen. They’re churned out every day. Most only focus on the surface level of love and the flip-side with heartbreak. What they don’t ever seem to focus on are the little things, the nitty gritty of relationships that aren’t easy to convey in an informative and interesting way. But that takes brilliant songwriting with equally high-quality production that aids it. Tennis delivers this.

5. Ashley McBryde — Never Will

Ashley McBryde delivers exactly what I had hoped for and then beyond with Never Will. She leans heavily into her natural heartland rock sound and combines it with traditional country to create an album I will remember for a long time. The songwriting is brilliant and varied, running the gauntlet of emotions and most importantly I think Ashley McBryde delivers a flawless presentation of flawed characters. They’re never framed as likable, but real and as they are, which can be hard to get behind as a listener. But just like Sturgill Simpson’s SOUND & FURY, it can be understandable to not want to listen to music about such real and flawed characters, songs where there are no heroes even. For me though this is the music that is truly intriguing and has a lasting impact.

4. Tyler Childers — Long Violent History

The best surprises are not what you want, but what you need. Tyler Childers’ surprise album Long Violent History is a record we needed. Who would have predicted an Appalachian country album filled mostly with old fiddle standards would end up being one of the best albums of 2020? But that’s exactly what Tyler Childers delivers with Long Violent History. It’s eight great instrumental songs with beautiful and thoughtful melody packaged around one of the most powerful, well-written songs of this generation. Tyler Childers writes himself into the history books with this album.

3. Carly Rae Jepsen — Dedicated Side B

Dedicated Side B is yet another pop masterpiece from Carly Rae Jepsen. I can’t believe how she just continues to blow me away with fantastic project after fantastic project. Once again she’s showing her “B material” is better than many artists’ A material. Every song on this album is enjoyable and shows why she is one of the best pop artists in music today. Jepsen won Country Perspective’s 2019 Album of the Year with Dedicated and she’s putting herself in the unprecedented position to win it again in 2020 to make it back-to-back. It’s simply incredible.

2. Brett Eldredge — Sunday Drive

There could not be more of a stark contrast between Sunday Drive and Brett Eldredge’s previous album. It’s simply night and day. Every moment on this album is absolutely enjoyable. The lyrics and production could not shine and compliment each other anymore. The reflecting theme of finding optimism and wisdom in times of trouble and uncertainty is brilliantly inspiring. Brett Eldredge has never sounded more energized and is at his absolute best on this record. There’s no other way to put it: Sunday Drive is a phenomenal album and it’s the best country album of 2020.

And Country Perspective’s 2020 Album of the Year…

1. The Weeknd — After Hours

After Hours is a phenomenal achievement by The Weeknd. This album is a rich, cinematic experience of love, losing it, fighting to regain it and ultimately reaching the realistic conclusion of realizing that it’s lost. The production team absolutely nails every emotion on this album and takes the lyricism to a whole new level. The juxtaposition of the breezy, mixed cocktail of genres (R&B, pop, hip-hop, dream pop, 80s) feels perfect on this album of frenetic, dark emotions that permeate throughout it. There wasn’t a more complete album released in 2020 than this one. Every aspect of this album is in sync with each other in driving the overarching story while each song excels on a microlevel too. Every time I listen it’s truly enjoyable to re-experience the story being told and the excellent production that permeates throughout.


Thank you for reading Country Perspective in 2020! I hope you all have a safe and happy holidays!

Country Perspective’s Top 10 Country Albums of 2020

Ah, we’ve reached list season! The time of year when everybody releases their top music lists of the year and we all argue about why somebody’s personal list didn’t reflect our own personal taste. At the end of the day, remember it’s not worth getting angry about this stuff. The most important things these lists do is help us find an artist or release that fell through the cracks or you didn’t hear about. And they’re a nice way to recognize artists, especially smaller ones who need the coverage to help them reach more people. So be sure to just enjoy these lists and not feel insecure when your favorite artist doesn’t get the “proper” placement. It’s all opinions at the end of the day.

Country Perspective will be posting multiple best of albums lists this year to recognize the staggering amount of high quality album releases in 2020. It will ultimately conclude with Country Perspective’s Top 10 Albums of 2020, which will reflect all genres and crown this blog’s top award, Album of the Year.

Today I take a look at the top country albums of 2020. The genre had a fantastic year and it was actually quite difficult to round out the list. I could have posted a longer list, but I think it’s best to keep these short since there are so many lists and it cheapens the recognition if you make it longer. Both the mainstream and indie scenes delivered great albums this year and there was also a variety of sounds amongst the top country albums, which is awesome to see. Personally I would say the word surprise would best describe my top country albums list, as most of these albums surprised me in some way. If you had told me at the beginning of the year that this is what my list would like, I wouldn’t believe you, especially the top album. But I love it when music surprises me, so it was quite fun to put together this list and reflect back on these albums. So without further ado, here are Country Perspective’s Top 10 Country Albums of 2020:

10. Brandy Clark — Your Life is a Record

Despite a few hiccups, Brandy Clark takes a big step up from her last album with Your Life is a Record. I think the production is the biggest improvement, as it flows together really well from start to finish. I really enjoy the incorporation of the flutes in this album, as it’s something not really utilized as much in country music. The songwriting stumbles in a few spots, but for the most part is pretty good and at times great. There’s a surprisingly nice mix of emotions on an album centered around a breakup too. Most importantly, Clark rewards you for listening to the whole album, giving you the emotional journey with the fittingly positive, yet realistic destination.

9. Texas Exit — Black Water

Texas Exit delivers an absolute blast of a debut album in Black Water. While they definitely let their cited influences above shine through, personally the two bands I thought of when listening to this album are Molly Hatchet and Blackfoot, as the sound feels like it fits right in with those bands. While it’s understandable how a band wearing it’s influences on it’s sleeves can be a bit annoying, I find that Texas Exit does this in a way that feels like a good combination of homage and putting their own flair on it. While it’s easy to get lost in the fun guitar play, it’s the lyrics of this album that are it’s secret weapon and what makes this band stand out amongst other groups who attempt these popular sounds.

8. Brothers Osborne — Skeletons 

Skeletons is easily the best album delivered by the Brothers Osborne so far. This duo at their best in my mind is the modern day version of Brooks & Dunn. What both of these duos excel at is delivering accessible, yet “smarter” versions of fun country music that doesn’t delve into mindless drivel like bro country nor does it feel forced like pop country. Then sprinkle in a few serious songs to give you a nice breather in between all of the partying and this is the perfect formula for the duo to follow. This is a really enjoyable album.

7. Mike and the Moonpies — Touch of You: The Lost Songs of Gary Stewart

Mike and the Moonpies continue to prove why many are quickly considering them one of the best acts in country music right now, as they’ve now released two great, back-to-back surprise releases. Not to mention the respect they pay towards Stewart is classy and a true homage to the late country star, as they do a great job bringing his old, unreleased songs to life. If you’re a country music fan and not familiar with Gary Stewart, I hope this urges you to dig into his music because it’s a real joy. And of course you should also familiarize yourself with Mike and the Moonpies, as this top ten country release in 2020 follows Country Perspective’s #1 country album of 2019.

6. John Anderson — Years

There have been many near death/mortality albums done throughout country music history, calling to my mind Johnny Cash’s famous American Recordings series, Wille Nelson’s hauntingly great Spirit, and the late great John Prine’s final album The Tree of Forgiveness grinning in the face of mortality. John Anderson’s Years is without a doubt worthy of standing right next to these pieces of work. The songwriting on this is incredibly strong, with Anderson impressively having a hand in writing every track. Auerbach and Ferguson also deliver production that shines for the most part and continues their streak of quality projects. Years shows John Anderson is not only still hanging on, but he’s thriving and smiling.

5. Daniel Donato — A Young Man’s Country

Daniel Donato delivers quite an impressive debut with A Young Man’s Country. It’s not too often an artist of his caliber on guitar comes along, as his style and skill reminds me of a cross between Marty Stuart and Charlie Starr of Blackberry Smoke. It evokes a lot of emotion and color, giving Donato’s music a cinematic-like quality that draws the listener in. Needless to say I look forward to hearing more from Donato.

4. Chris Stapleton — Starting Over

Starting Over is what it says it is: it’s Chris Stapleton hitting a reset button on expectations. It’s him indulging in all of his influences and putting them all on display. It’s a reminder of who he is as an artist, even though this may not sound much different than what he’s released before. But again the expectations have to be kept in check because an artist’s image is more important than many listeners and reviewers realize. I think Stapleton realized he needed to reiterate who he sees himself as with this album. It’s him quietly and not so quietly voicing his displeasure at the world around him too. But really Stapleton does what he’s always focused on doing with his music on this album: making good music with no expectations. And that’s the best kind of music.

3. Ashley McBryde — Never Will

Ashley McBryde delivers exactly what I had hoped for and then beyond with Never Will. She leans heavily into her natural heartland rock sound and combines it with traditional country to create an album I will remember for a long time. The songwriting is brilliant and varied, running the gauntlet of emotions and most importantly I think Ashley McBryde delivers a flawless presentation of flawed characters. They’re never framed as likable, but real and as they are, which can be hard to get behind as a listener. But just like Sturgill Simpson’s SOUND & FURY, it can be understandable to not want to listen to music about such real and flawed characters, songs where there are no heroes even. For me though this is the music that is truly intriguing and has a lasting impact.

2. Tyler Childers — Long Violent History

The best surprises are not what you want, but what you need. Tyler Childers’ surprise album Long Violent History is a record we needed. Who would have predicted an Appalachian country album filled mostly with old fiddle standards would end up being one of the best albums of 2020? But that’s exactly what Tyler Childers delivers with Long Violent History. It’s eight great instrumental songs with beautiful and thoughtful melody packaged around one of the most powerful, well-written songs of this generation. Tyler Childers writes himself into the history books with this album.

1. Brett Eldredge — Sunday Drive

“What in the world are we all doin’ here?”

They say first impressions are important, whether it’s the first time you meet somebody or the first time you’re listening to a piece of music. Right away Brett Eldredge leaves an impactful first impression with his new album Sunday Drive. It’s such an important question that can resonate with anyone listening. Right away Eldredge reaches out to the listener and makes a connection, inviting them into the music.

There could not be more of a stark contrast between Sunday Drive and Brett Eldredge’s previous album. It’s simply night and day. Every moment on this album is absolutely enjoyable. The lyrics and production could not shine and compliment each other anymore. The reflecting theme of finding optimism and wisdom in times of trouble and uncertainty is brilliantly inspiring. Brett Eldredge has never sounded more energized and is at his absolute best on this record. There’s no other way to put it: Sunday Drive is a phenomenal album and it’s the best country album of 2020.

Album Review — Chris Stapleton’s ‘Starting Over’

Chris Stapleton isn’t just a country artist. He’s a rock, soul, pop and blues artist too. It’s why he crosses over betweens several groups of fans and he gives off what feels like universal appeal. Incorporating multiple influences of genres into his music is what he’s always done and always will do. Expecting anything less is quite frankly naive. Of course he’s marketed as a country artist because it’s what sells easiest to listeners and for people who like to have boxes for their music (plus artists seemingly aren’t allowed to be marketed beyond one genre, but that’s another can of worms). But as for me, I enjoy variety and I hate boxes. Starting Over is an album that refuses to stay in one box and damn do I enjoy this record because of this.

The jangling “Starting Over” is an appropriate opener. It feels like the beginning of a trip or journey thanks to it’s uplifting nature conveyed by it’s acoustic-driven sound and of course the lyrical content centering around hitting the reset button. It’s Stapleton at his core and that’s a songwriter with a guitar. He sets the base with this song and spends the rest of the album building on this with the different layers of his style. “Devil Always Made Me Think Twice” is his twangy, “outlaw” country side. He shows off his bluesy, rawer side vocally that he demonstrated a lot in From A Room: Volume 1. And I love this because it’s so powerful and gives the song an enjoyable sing-a-long quality. Yes, the lyrics aren’t evolutionary. But they don’t need to be when Stapleton’s voice is the centerpiece of the song. The whole point is giving this raw and bluesy passion a platform.

“Cold” instantly became one of my favorites from Stapleton. Just like “Either Way,” this song blows me away with it’s powerful vocals. The piano and strings-driven, orchestral sound gives it an entertaining dramatic feel. It feels like something out of the climax of a movie. There’s a sense of urgency and gravitas behind each sound in this song, constantly building until the crescendo in the bridge as the guitars crash and Stapleton explodes vocally. Again, Stapleton doesn’t need lyrics to tell a compelling story with this song. He just uses his effortless vocals and grand instrumentation to create great emotion in the listener.

Stapleton though switches more into storytelling mode with “When I’m With You.” It’s set very much in the vein of “Tennessee Whiskey”: it’s slowed down, bluesy and reiterating an appreciation for your significant other. It goes beyond this slightly though, as it’s within the context of Stapleton turning 40 and being introspective of not only his relationship with his wife Morganne, but where he’s at in his life and reflecting on lessons learned so far. It’s not just an “I love my wife” song in the vein of the boyfriend country songs on radio. Stapleton also admits that life hasn’t been the “pot of gold” he imagined it to be either and isn’t exactly where he expected to be. It’s grounded in reality and doesn’t have a singular focus, which makes it more resonating.

“Arkansas” is a fun rocker. It’s a song where you crank the volume all the way up and sing along with like his cuts with The Jompson Brothers. Because an album with just introspective ballads would be boring and as I said at the start, Stapleton is many genres, including rock. Even though I must admit that a song about having fun in Arkansas is a bit funny because it’s not exactly Las Vegas in the minds of many. Stapleton then covers John Fogerty’s “Joy of My Life” and it’s another enjoyable love ballad from him. He knocks these out in his sleep. But it’s one of a couple songs that aren’t essential for this album. He already has a couple other ballads that are better on not just this album, but in other albums too.

One of the more seemingly underrated tracks on this album is “Hillbilly Blood.” Stapleton says this song takes inspiration from Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road” and you can definitely hear the influence in both the production and lyrics. It’s a thrilling story of an outlaw on the run for illegal activity (likely weed or moonshine, but it’s never specified). While I can understand wanting some more details, I believe the vagueness of the story gives it an appealing shroud of mystery similar to Eric Church’s “Knives of New Orleans.” Stapleton gets sentimental on “Maggie’s Song,” an ode to his dog that passed away that tells a synopsis of her life and the impact she had on him and his family. Normally this type of song elicits an eye-roll from me. It’s critic bait. It’s usually saccharine and it brings out my crankiness towards the unhealthy obsessiveness of today’s pet ownership culture. But damn does it win me over in a big way, in large part thanks to the intricate descriptiveness and reflection in the lyrics. It gets personal and that makes it so much more connectable than other songs in this vein. It has heart.

Just like “Devil Always Made Me Think Twice,” Stapleton’s voice is the centerpiece on “Whiskey Sunrise.” The theme and lyrics are nothing special, but that’s not the point. This is an exercise in showcasing his incredible vocals. For some this has become a boring and predictable aspect of Stapleton, but I’m still impressed by his voice and this song shows this in spades. Also the build up of the drums in the background of the hook gives the song a satisfying swell and excitement. “Worry B Gone” and “Old Friends” are two unlikely covers of the legendary Guy Clark. On the former, it’s easy to dismiss it on the surface level as Stapleton’s standard weed song on an album. But reading into it more, you could interpret it as a subtle protest of the times and not fitting the mold of what others expect of him, which makes it a more interesting inclusion on the album. Maybe I’m just finding what I want to find. It’s all subjective of course. The latter is unfortunately my least favorite track of the album. It’s not bad, it just doesn’t fit Stapleton in my mind and the original from Clark feels like it should be left as is. This feels like the same situation of when Stapleton covered “Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning.”

“Watch You Burn” was probably my most anticipated song on the album. It was sampled in the album teaser and it caught my eye because it sounds unlike any other Stapleton song to this point. It’s a viscerally angry response to the shooter at the 2017 country festival in Vegas. It rightfully rips the shooter a new ass and condemns him to hell for his monstrous actions. And quite frankly there shouldn’t be any other response to such an event. Shooters don’t deserve to be humanized in any way and their name should be forgotten. And you can’t solve the problems of the world in a song either (and certainly not through anger). But you can give voice to an emotion. This song gives voice to the angered and those wronged from the shooting.

I instantly enjoy “You Should Probably Leave” due it’s smooth and breezy R&B sound. The lyrics are arguably more enjoyable, as a potential romance is constantly teased and built up before it finally happens. There’s an internal resistance that doesn’t match the actions that builds up the sexual tension for both sides in the song, creating an intriguing doubt. This results in a clever twist at the end, where doubt is only doubled after indulging in passion. And the song rightfully doesn’t come to a conclusion because it’s the tantalizing doubt and flirting with danger that’s the whole point of it all. It’s enjoyable to be left wanting more, a la a cliffhanger in a movie.

The album concludes with “Nashville, TN” and it’s a breakup song between Stapleton and the city. He says he wrote the song in the wake of his rise to superstardom, something he’s admittedly not comfortable with. I think this is his quiet rebuke to those who expected him to rise to the occasion and be this superstar they envisioned him to be. So more than anything this feels like him divorcing himself from the expectations of the machine: producing radio hits, promoting himself and fitting the mold of a typical country star. Because as this album proves throughout, playing by the rules and meeting expectations is not something Stapleton is really interested in. Nor was it how he came to be the star he is today. Moving out of Nashville is symbolic of all of this.

Starting Over is what it says it is: it’s Chris Stapleton hitting a reset button on expectations. It’s him indulging in all of his influences and putting them all on display. It’s a reminder of who he is as an artist, even though this may not sound much different than what he’s released before. But again the expectations have to be kept in check because an artist’s image is more important than many listeners and reviewers realize. I think Stapleton realized he needed to reiterate who he sees himself as with this album. It’s him quietly and not so quietly voicing his displeasure at the world around him too. But really Stapleton does what he’s always focused on doing with his music on this album: making good music with no expectations. And that’s the best kind of music.

Grade: 9/10

Reacting to The Absolute Joke of the 2017 ACM Awards Nominations

pile_of_shit

Let’s be honest, I’ve never been that fond of country music award shows. Outside of the 2015 CMA Awards that helped launch Chris Stapleton to a brand new level of stardom, I’ve pretty much scoffed at these shows. As I’ve said before, no other genre spends more time patting themselves on the back than country music. This is evident by the heaps of award shows held throughout the year and this trains the viewer to basically not give a shit. But nevertheless we keep an eye on these shows in hopes they get it more right each time. Well we now have the nominations for the 2017 ACM Awards and there’s no other way to put it. These are an absolute joke. My first reaction was are these the mainstream country radio awards? Because it’s mostly a list of radio darlings that programmers fall over themselves to play. After seeing these nominations it makes me not want to watch and may not. Each category seems to have its own joke, so let’s pick through each.

Entertainer of the Year

  • Jason Aldean
  • Luke Bryan
  • Florida Georgia Line
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Keith Urban

No Eric Church or Chris Stapleton, but sure Aldean and Florida Georgia Line get nominations. Complete failure already before we even get to the more insane nominations. I know the ACMs are in the tank for Aldean, but could they be any less discreet about it? The only nomination even worthy of winning is Carrie Underwood for her excellent touring numbers and consistently churning out hits and I give her a snowball’s chance in hell of winning. Aldean and Bryan are the odds on favorites here.

Male Vocalist

  • Jason Aldean
  • Dierks Bentley
  • Thomas Rhett
  • Chris Stapleton
  • Keith Urban

Once again Eric Church isn’t a nomination. Church released the best album of his career and is releasing the best singles of his career. And every awards show is stiffing him. I guess the industry is pissed he isn’t giving them radio fodder anymore. But I’m guessing Church doesn’t give a shit. Another category with one worthy candidate in my mind: Chris Stapleton. Remember when Dierks Bentley was considered one of the good guys at these shows? Then he decided he wants to be Luke Bryan and make a bunch of cheesy and stiff adult contemporary schlock. No Tim McGraw. Also no Blake Shelton in any categories. Well there’s some good news.

Female Vocalist

  • Kelsea Ballerini
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Maren Morris
  • Kacey Musgraves
  • Carrie Underwood

I don’t know why Kacey continues to go to these awards show when she and everyone else knows she’s just a token nomination to fill out the field. What did she do in 2016 to earn a nomination? She didn’t release any new music. And keep in mind this isn’t a jab at her. She’s one of the best on a major country label. You would think Miranda is the shoe-in to win, but with her turn towards a more songwriter/Americana-like side I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Maren Morris wins. She seems poised to usurp Lambert as the new female darling in mainstream country and is racking up awards like crazy.

Vocal Duo

  • Big & Rich
  • Brothers Osborne
  • Dan + Shay
  • Florida Georgia Line
  • Maddie & Tae

Big & Rich are a Vocal Duo nomination in 2017…..hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! They released one single last year that took like 40 weeks to peak at #14 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart. They’re completely irrelevant. What in the hell makes them deserving of a nomination? Maddie & Tae are a complete token nomination like Musgraves above. I don’t see Dan + Shay being quite in the position to win yet. So it’s between CMA 2016 Duo of the Year Brothers Osborne and past years favorite Florida Georgia Line. I’m hopeful the former wins, but being a radio favorites show I expect the latter to win.

Vocal Group

  • Eli Young Band
  • Lady Antebellum
  • Little Big Town
  • Old Dominion
  • Rascal Flatts

Eli Young Band?! Where are they getting these joke ideas for nominations? You’re telling me Eli Young Band is a nomination, but not Zac Brown Band who at least had a song reach the top 15 in the last year and are a mainstream staple? Get out of here! Lady Antebellum was on hiatus for all of 2016. Rascal Flatts are irrelevant. Yet despite this joke of a category, the best group Little Big Town should easily walk away with this award.

New Male

  • Kane Brown
  • Chris Janson
  • Chris Lane
  • Jon Pardi
  • Brett Young

Out of all the categories, this actually might be the one I have the least qualms with because these are all new male artists who have did something notable in the last year. Despite not being a fan of him, Kane Brown is deserving based on the fact that he does sell well and has great streaming numbers. While you and me might not like him, there are many he does resonate with and it’s ironic he’s one of the few nominations where the ACM looked beyond radio. Hands down this should go to Jon Pardi, who achieved a #1 album with California Sunrise, racked up a #1 hit in “Head Over Boots” and is on his way to another #1 in “Dirt on My Boots.” And I think it actually does go to him because his accomplishments blow the others out of the water. If anyone else wins I’m calling shenanigans.

New Female

  • Lauren Alaina
  • Cam
  • Brandy Clark
  • Maren Morris

That’s right they couldn’t even fill out the nominations for this one. Hey ACMs: Margo Price and Aubrie Sellers. Did you forget they exist? How is Brandy Clark new? This is just another award for them to give Maren.

New Vocal Duo/Group

  • A Thousand Horses
  • Brothers Osborne
  • Dan + Shay
  • LoCash
  • Maddie & Tae

None of these are really new, but then again barely anything else makes sense with these awards. I’m guessing Brothers Osborne or Dan + Shay win here.

Album

  • Dierks Bentley – Black
  • Florida Georgia Line – Dig Your Roots
  • Maren Morris – Hero
  • Keith Urban – Ripcord
  • Miranda Lambert – The Weight of These Wings

This should 1000% go to Miranda Lambert for her great album. But it’ll probably go to Urban or Morris or maybe even Bentley. You could take the best material from all of the non-Lambert ones, put it in one album and it still wouldn’t top Lambert’s album.

Single

  • Keith Urban – “Blue Ain’t Your Color”
  • Florida Georgia Line – “H.O.L.Y.”
  • Tim McGraw – “Humble and Kind”
  • Maren Morris – “My Church”
  • Miranda Lambert – “Vice”

Key distinction is this is single. I’m kind of surprised Thomas Rhett’s “Die A Happy Man” isn’t here, but rather under Song below. I don’t give Lambert a chance here either sadly. I could see any of the other four winning.

Song

  • Keith Urban – “Blue Ain’t Your Color”
  • Thomas Rhett – “Die A Happy Man”
  • Tim McGraw – “Humble and Kind”
  • Eric Church (feat. Rhiannon Giddens) – “Kill A Word”
  • Chris Stapleton – “Tennessee Whiskey”
  • Miranda Lambert – “Vice”

I would be happy with any of the bottom four winning, but watch one of the top two win. If I had to pick the winner I would definitely go with “Kill A Word,” being the best song of the nominations and for Church getting screwed over in general.

Video

  • Chris Stapleton – “Fire Away”
  • Various Artists – “Forever Country”
  • Tim McGraw – “Humble and Kind”
  • Kelsea Ballerini – “Peter Pan”
  • Miranda Lambert – “Vice”

With all due respect to the other videos, “Fire Away” is the no-brainer best video. It’s one of the powerful music videos I’ve watched in years and takes the song to a whole new level of meaning. Instead though “Forever Country” will probably win because it’s done insane numbers on YouTube and sold well (also great numbers on this very blog). The only hesitation I have of it winning is this song was specifically made for the ACM’s chief rival show CMA’s 50th Anniversary. How ironic would that be if it won an ACM Award?

Songwriter

  • Ashley Gorley
  • Luke Laird
  • Hillary Lindsey
  • Shane McAnally
  • Lori McKenna

McKenna has to win this one, right?

Vocal Event 

  • Dierks Bentley (feat. Elle King) – “Different For Girls”
  • Various Artists – “Forever Country”
  • Florida Georgia Line (feat. Tim McGraw) – “May We All”
  • P!nk (feat. Kenny Chesney) – “Setting The World on Fire”
  • Chris Young (feat. Cassadee Pope) – “Think of You”

I could see a case made for any of these conceivably winning. I think this will largely depend on the other categories’ winners.

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Radio [January 30]

Creepy Blake
Three weeks in a row of creepy eyes! Aren’t you going to miss this staring back at you next week?

Each week we take a look the Billboard Country Airplay chart and grade the top 30 songs. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive one of the following scores: +5, +4, +3, +2, +1, 0, -1, -2, -3, -4, -5. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the current top thirty country songs, with the highest possible score being a +150 and the lowest possible score being a -150. How do I determine the score for the song? The review grade it received on the site or myself will determine this. If it hasn’t been reviewed yet, then I will make the call. The grade it has received or I would give it determines its Pulse score. The grading key: 10 [+5], 9 [+4], 8 [+3], 7 [+2], 6 [+1], 5 [0], 4 [-1], 3 [-2], 2 [-3], 1 [-4], 0 [-5].

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the current state of mainstream country music and determine if it’s improving or getting worse. Let’s take a look at this week’s top thirty…

  1. Blake Shelton – “A Guy With A Girl” -1 
  2. Thomas Rhett – “Star of the Show” -3 
  3. Dustin Lynch – “Seein’ Red” -5 (Up 1) 
  4. Little Big Town – “Better Man” +2 (Up 2)
  5. Chris Young (feat. Vince Gill) – “Sober Saturday Night” +1 (Up 2) 
  6. Granger Dibbles Jr. – “If The Boots Fits” -4 (Up 2)
  7. Brad Paisley – “Today” +2 (Up 2)
  8. Michael Ray – “Douchey Pickup Song” -5 (Up 2) [Worst Song]
  9. Jon Pardi – “Dirt on My Boots” +1 (Up 3)
  10. Eric Church (feat. Rhiannon Giddens) – “Kill A Word” +4 (Up 1) [Best Song] 
  11. Luke Bryan – “Fast” -1 (Up 2)
  12. Maren Morris – “80s Mercedes” -1 (Up 2)
  13. Lauren Alaina – “Road Less Traveled” -2 (Up 2)
  14. Brantley Gilbert – “The Weekend” -5 (Up 2)
  15. Jason Aldean – “Any Ol’ Barstool” (Up 3)
  16. Kelsea Ballerini – “Yeah Boy” -5 (Up 3)
  17. Garth Brooks – “Baby, Let’s Lay Down and Dance” (Up 3)
  18. Josh Turner – “Hometown Girl” (Up 4)
  19. Kenny Chesney – “Bar at the End of the World” -3 (Up 4)
  20. High Valley – “Make You Mine” -2 (Up 1)
  21. Chris Janson – “Holdin’ Her” +4 (Up 3)
  22. Dierks Bentley – “Black” -2 (Up 4)
  23. Trent Harmon – “There’s A Girl” +1 (Up 2)
  24. Craig Campbell – “Outskirts of Heaven” +3 (Up 4)
  25. Darius Rucker – “If I Told You” (Up 4)
  26. Miranda Lambert – “We Should Be Friends” +2 (Up 4)
  27. Dan + Shay – “How Not To” +1 (New to Top 30)
  28. Runaway June – “Lipstick” +3 (New to Top 30)
  29. RaeLynn – “Love Triangle” +2 (New to Top 30)
  30. Rascal Flatts – “Yours If You Want It” -2 (New to Top 30)

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Radio: -19

The pulse improves nine spots this week!

Songs That Dropped Out of the Top 30 This Week:

  • Carrie Underwood – “Dirty Laundry” 0
  • Keith Urban – “Blue Ain’t Your Color” -4 (Glad to see this one gone, but the next one isn’t much better)
  • Chris Stapleton – “Parachute” +3
  • Lady Antebellum – “You Look Good” -4

Songs That Entered The Top 30 This Week:

  • Dan + Shay – “How Not To”
  • Runaway June – “Lipstick”
    • Yes! So glad this one finally made the top 30. I don’t think it does any better than top 20, but still I’m pretty happy to see this just crack top 30.
  • RaeLynn – “Love Triangle”
    • Another one I’m glad to see make it. RaeLynn should be rewarded for her most mature single to date.
  • Rascal Flatts – “Yours If You Want It”

Biggest Gainers This Week:

  • Dan + Shay – “How Not To” – Up 5 from #32 to #27
  • Josh Turner – “Hometown Girl” – Up 4 from #22 to #18
  • Kenny Chesney – “Bar at the End of the World” – Up 4 from #23 to #19

Biggest Losers This Week:

  • Carrie Underwood – “Dirty Laundry” – Out of the Top 30 & Done
  • Keith Urban – “Blue Ain’t Your Color” – Out of the Top 30 & Done
  • Chris Stapleton – “Parachute” – Out of the Top 30 & Done

Songs I See Going Recurrent & Leaving The Top 30 Soon:

  • High Valley – “Make You Mine” (The song that just won’t go away. It’s been here forever and it’s well past due to go recurrent)
  • Craig Campbell – “Outskirts of Heaven” (Loss of over 200k in audience and lost bullet. At 42 weeks it’s lucky to still be here)

On The Hot Seat:

  • Eric Church (feat. Rhiannon Giddens) – “Kill A Word” (Not in a great position and its close to hitting it’s wall. I still think it has enough left in it to maybe squeak out a top five, as Bryan will obviously pass him next week. But after that there’s three songs radio isn’t excited about and gives this song a cushion to stay afloat)

Next Four Songs I See Entering Top 30:

  • Lady Antebellum – “You Look Good”
  • Luke Combs – “Hurricane”
  • Zac Brown Band – “My Old Man” (Available Friday and impacting immediately, so expect hourly spins on iHeart)
  • Florida Georgia Line (feat. Backstreet Boys) – “God, Your Mama and Me”

 

Thoughts: Well we finally got a nice purge on the chart and yet it still wasn’t big enough. There’s still multiple songs that should have went recurrent by now. Looking at you Garth, High Valley and Dibbles. There are some others that are real iffy too. But at least we’re finally starting to see some new songs injected into the charts. Also just as I predicted, country radio is starting to really get behind Turner. That’s nice news for him, even if I don’t like the song. He’s an old reliable and while I don’t think this reaches the top, it should at least reach top ten. Finally Jon Pardi continues to demonstrate he has a real hit on his hands, as he moves into the top ten just under 20 weeks on the chart.

 

As always be sure to weigh-in with your thoughts in the comments below.