Album Review – Mo Pitney’s ‘Behind This Guitar’

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Right now in popular country music there’s a triumvirate of traditionalists on major labels that have people excited about the future prospects of the genre improving. Those three artists are Jon Pardi, William Michael Morgan and Mo Pitney. The first two artists have certainly gotten their fair share of buzz in 2016, as both racked up their first #1 singles at radio. Pardi’s California Sunrise has gotten mostly positive reviews (mine probably being the most positive) and Morgan’s debut album Vinyl has gotten a lot of high praise (my review probably being the most negative). But Pitney has sort of been the odd man out this year. He has yet to have a single reach the top 30 and there was very little hype leading up to his debut album Behind This Guitar. By very little hype, I mean barely anyone has been talking about it. The crowded fall release schedule is a small factor, but I believe this had more to do with Curb Records. But despite the little talk around the album, I certainly didn’t forget it and was hoping for the best as I dug into it. Unfortunately after listening to it, the problems leading up to its release are only exemplified more in the music.

Before I get to what’s wrong with this album, there are a few praiseworthy things on Behind This Guitar. The best song of the album is “Clean Up On Aisle Five.” I previously reviewed it and gave it glowing remarks. I still stand by that review, as the song perfectly captures the dread and sadness of running into an ex you’re still in love with. The song represents Pitney at his best and it’s a shame we don’t hear more songs like this on the album. Another highlight of Behind This Guitar is “It’s Just A Dog.” It sees Pitney recalling finding his dog along the side of a road, abandoned and alone. He then goes over the memories and life of the dog and the impact it had on his life. The song centers around how most people would say it’s just a dog, but to him that dog is something more, a friend and a companion. The dog eventually passes away, crushing him. It’s a real tear-jerker of a song, especially to people who may have lost a pet.

“Come Do A Little Life” is a tad on the broad side, but it’s a solid love song. It’s an easy song to sing along with and relate to, making it a worthy candidate of being a single for Pitney. The album’s title track is essentially Pitney paying thanks to the point he has reached in his career and getting to live his dream of making country music for a living. It’s shows his humbleness and dedication to his craft, which is something he will need if he wants to have a long career (more on this in a second). There’s real meaning behind the song, which the listener will feel. People will remember this and connect with the artist more when they give the listeners songs like this one. It’s just straightforward honesty.

Now let’s get to what I have a big problem with on this album. It was something that showed up on Pardi and Morgan’s albums earlier this year too, but it’s to a bigger extent on Behind This Guitar. This album does not stand out and it isn’t distinctive in any way. It seems to heavily rely on the it’s “real country” aspect that I forewarned of in my pandering and “saving” country music piece. Other than “Everywhere,” this album has plenty of fiddle and steel guitar. But the lyrics are completely lacking. The first single and song of the album “Country” is generic and is obviously pandering. The song is all about how country is a state of mind. This is the easiest of easy themes to sing about in a country song. The current single of the album, “Everywhere,” perfectly represents the type of song Pitney does too much throughout this album: generic and meaningless. I know he’s a new artist, but the amount of boring, trite music on Behind This Guitar is staggering.

The previous single “Boy & A Girl Thing,” is one giant gender stereotyping and didn’t surprise me at all that it didn’t do anything at radio (then again Dierks Bentley’s “Different For Girls” was similar and reached #1). I’m assuming Pitney is paying tribute to a legend and an inspiration with “I Met Merle Haggard Today.” Pitney recalls the day he met Haggard, which I’m sure was a special day for him. But even the Hag would agree with me that this song is just not memorable. It’s also centered on expecting the listener to pop for the song just because it mentions Haggard. This goes back to the pandering issue. “Take The Chance,” “When I’m With You” and “Love Her Like I Lost Her” are all the same song essentially. They’re generic, boring and cliché songs that have been done to death and do nothing to rise up and stand out. What’s worse is all three of these songs are in a row, which helps create a giant lull in the back half of the album and bores the listener.

It’s very easy to point the finger at Mo Pitney for Behind This Guitar being a mostly boring album. He certainly deserves some of the blame, as his name is on the album and songs. But this goes back to him being a new artist. So I put most of the blame for this album being lackluster and uneventful on Curb Records, who at this point has completely failed Pitney. Their promoting of him and his music has been absolutely pathetic and they should be ashamed of how badly they’ve mangled his career so far. Here they have a promising young talent and instead they’ve been investing their time and money more in artists past their prime and artists who will never be stars. I didn’t even know Pitney’s current single “Everywhere” was sent to radio this month until I did research for this album and I constantly keep up with country music news.

It’s quite clear that Curb did not put a lot of support behind Pitney and this album. Say what you want about Big Machine and other major labels, but they do a hell of a lot better job with their new artists and actually give them a chance to succeed in comparison to Curb. Behind This Guitar was doomed from the beginning and that’s a damn shame. The best advice for Pitney for his next album would be to 1) get a better producer who can actually put some life and energy behind the songs, 2) step up the songwriting and 3) run away from Curb Records as soon as possible. An artist with the talent of Mo Pitney should be not be relegated to releasing such lazy and forgettable music.

Grade: 5/10

 

Recommend? – No, only the album highlights

Album Highlights: Clean Up on Aisle Five & It’s Just A Dog

Bad Songs: None

Wallpaper: Country, Everywhere, Boy & A Girl Thing, I Met Merle Haggard Today, Take The Chance, When I’m With You, Love Her Like I Lost Her


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.

Album Review – Hank Williams Jr.’s ‘It’s About Time’

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This review was written by a past guest contributor of Country Perspective. 

The start of a new year is the perfect time to start anew. For Hank Jr., it’s quite appropriate that he’s releasing his first album of new material in four years under a new label in Big Machine’s Nash Icon imprint. After a long career with Curb Records that spanned more than forty years and produced more than fifty studio albums, as well as releasing an album through his own “Bocephus Records” in 2012, it seemed like Hank was more than ready to move on to bigger and better things and release a new album. In fact, Hank even deemed his new studio album, “It’s About Time” his best work yet. That’s quite a lofty expectation from a singer who many would say had his best work in the 80s.

When it comes to what I think of the country legend, I don’t have much of an opinion. As a child of the 2000s, I can’t exactly say that I grew up with his music, nor have I ever really actively sought it out. And really, this isn’t surprising considering Hank is one of the more forgotten legends when you think of artists who were active in the 80s. It’s not like Hank is a bad artist mind you, he just hasn’t always caught my attention. But like I said, it’s a new year, and it’s a time to try new things, which is why I decided to take the plunge and see what Hank’s new album was like.

The album starts off with the lead single, “Are You Ready For The Country”, a duet with Eric Church and originally recorded by Waylon Jennings and penned by Neil Young. Honestly, I think this is one of the better tracks on the album, especially given that I think the fiddle work is solid here, but I can understand where people would be indifferent towards this and think of it as nothing but a retread. As Josh said in his review: “Overall this isn’t a bad song nor is it a good song. It’s one of those songs that just exists and you really have no opinion of it. The best things you can say about the song is at least it’s country and it’s not offensive. As I said about the vocal performances, I think they’re good and get the job done. But nothing is really done to elevate this song and re-invent it, which maybe you really can’t do to a song like this one.

The next song is “Club U.S.A.” Now, anyone who knows Hank knows he can get a little political at times (and boy is this an understatement), and thankfully It’s About Time only has political moments rather than being an overall political album. “Club U.S.A” is kind of one of those moments. The song’s theme is pretty simple. Hank Jr. tells us how America is the greatest country in the world and how everyone who isn’t already here wishes they were. As for the song itself, it’s very overproduced, loud southern rock, often times drowning out the vocal track during the verses to the point where upon first listen, the only thing I could make out in this song was Hank screaming the title. Next up is “God Fearin’ Man,” a song that continues on the tradition of the first two tracks by being loud, overproduced and rockin’. Really, this song isn’t thematically or lyrically bad, but I feel like it would have benefited from a more relaxed production. Hell, even Hank says himself at the end, “man, they played like they were pissed.” In addition to this little talking bit, Hank also proclaims, “Are You Ready For The Country?” Yes Hank, we’re already past that song. Let it go buddy.

“Those Days Are Gone” is arguably the best song on the album. It’s a solid honky-tonk number that actually allows the production to breathe (well, at least as much as it can….) for the first time on this album. In this song, Hank reminisces on the good ol’ days, and how he misses guys like Merle Haggard, George Jones, and David Allan Coe, especially on country radio. He acknowledges that those days are gone however, and aren’t coming back. It’s not a great song, mind you, but it’s at least a good song. The best song on the album is followed up by the absolute worst song on the album, “Dress Like An Icon.” The theme of this song contradicts pretty much every other theme on this album. Where a song like “God Fearin’ Man” celebrates the working class hero, or a song like “Those Days Are Gone” laments on the current state of country music, “Dress Like An Icon” pretty much says that if you want to gain any sort of recognition in life, you have to not be yourself. Instead you should “step like Nicki Minaj,” “wear black like Johnny Cash,” and get a load of this one, “have them stacked like Dolly Parton.” I shit you not, those are actual things promoted here.

Not that trying to emulate someone like Johnny Cash or Dolly is bad mind you, but it’s sad when we have a country legend promoting everyone to be fake and flashy to get to the top. I have to wonder if this song hadn’t already existed for a while now, as I definitely think a few mainstream country artists had already heard this. That’s not to mention that the production is once again completely overdone, and Hank sounds bored as can be on this song. Plus, you’re telling me that Hank is on Nash Icon and recorded a song called “Dress Like An Icon” purely out of coincidence? I think not. Skip this song entirely. Surprisingly enough this is one of five songs on the album that was written purely by Hank, making this song all the more frustrating.

Hank gets political again on “God and Guns,” and if it sounds familiar, it is. Southern-rock band, Lynyrd Skynyrd covered it for their 2009 album of the same name. This song calls to question what kind of world we would live in if politicians took our guns and God, and it’s a good thing people like Hank are around to prevent that from happening. I’m not going to go any into any further detail with the song. You already know whether you’d like or wouldn’t like this song based on the description I just gave, so we’ll leave it at that. “Just Call Me Hank” is Hank’s way of reflecting upon himself, and his career. He states that he never thought he’d shed the lovesick blues (an allusion to always living in his father’s shadow), and that he doesn’t play many shows anymore, but when he does, he wants it to be real and rocking. This song really didn’t bother me until we hit the chorus. Once it hits, Hank proclaims:

“Don’t call me an icon, don’t care about the hall of fame”

OK……weren’t you just the one who literally said you have to dress like an icon to achieve any sort of prominence? Hell, he even says at the end of “Dress Like An Icon” that he’s an icon! Still, the song overall isn’t bad. The production here at least fits into the country category rather than the overwrought southern rock mold. There’s at least some heart to this that I can appreciate. “Mental Revenge” is another cover of a Waylon Jennings song and really, there isn’t much to say here. This version is a heck of a lot more upbeat, which doesn’t fit the mood of the song at all. Just stick with the original, or even Jamey Johnson’s fantastic version from his 2010, The Guitar Song album. Where “Just Call Me Hank” found Hank reflecting on the past, “It’s About Time” focuses on the future. The song starts off with Hank stating where he wants to go on his journey in life next, which is back home to Alabama. The song then takes a complete left turn when the chorus hits, saying it’s about time Hank plays some real country and southern rock to wash out the “weird pop-country sound.” There have been protest songs that have been done better, but there’s at least a sense of belief to this song, even if Hank Jr. is still on a major label which has supported pop-country acts. You can look at “The Party’s On” as a watered down version of “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight” or a bro-country song, and you’d probably be right on both counts. There’s not much to say about this song other than that.

“Wrapped Up, Tangled Up In Jesus (God’s Got It)” is about a man who goes fishing. He manages to hook a big fish, and surprisingly enough the fish can’t get away. He then proclaims that he wishes Jesus had a hook on him similar to the one that the man has on the fish. One night, Jesus finally does hook him! When he tries to tell everyone that Jesus came unto him, nobody believes him. Later on, he proclaims that if you have a friend in Jesus, you can have anything you want. Heck, a friend? Sure. Shoulder to cry on? Sure, God can do that. New car? Sure….wait what?!? It’s as completely ridiculous as it sounds. The theme of this song moves from fishing, to finding Jesus and then getting things just because you’re Jesus’s friend? Seriously what is the overall message here? If the story doesn’t sound hokey enough, the production will surely do it for you. Of all the spots where the production is just way too much, this song takes the cake by a long shot. Complete with gospel singers and a completely overwrought vocal performance, this song is just way too much. That’s not to mention the fact that it’s six freakin’ minutes long! And really, once you’re halfway through the song it’s essentially just repetitive and boring. The album comes to a close with a rendition of Hank’s very own hit, “Born To Boogie” with Brantley Gilbert, Justin Moore and Brad Paisley (Was Earl Dibbles Jr. busy that day Hank?). I’ll say the same thing here that I said about “Mental Revenge”, skip this and just listen to the original. You’ll be much better off.

Overall, if you were a Hank Jr. fan going into this album, then you’ll most likely enjoy this and hey more power to you. For others, “It’s About Time” is full of pretty much nothing but a lot loud, obnoxious and overdone southern rock, retreads of old songs, and a few redeeming moments. Considering this is Hank’s first new album in four years, and considering that it’s the first on a brand new label, it just feels like there wasn’t a lot of effort put into It’s About Time. It’s certainly not going to be anywhere close to the worst country album you’ll hear this year, but it’s hard to recommend It’s About Time to anyone but hardcore Hank Jr. fans.

Grade: 4/10

Review – Mo Pitney’s “Boy & A Girl Thing”

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While the current crop of mainstream country acts dominating the country radio airwaves certainly aren’t my cup of tea, a lot of the new and upcoming country acts though are certainly catching my attention. Among them are Jon Pardi, Eric Paslay, Cam, Maddie & Tae and Mo Pitney. The biggest qualities about these artists that they all share that I like are their dedication to sticking to the roots of country music’s sound and songwriting. Pitney has certainly demonstrated this in every song I’ve heard from him. His debut single with Curb, “Country” wasn’t able to crack the top 30, but it caught a lot of people’s attention due to its traditional sound and Pitney’s golden voice. He also released the non-single (that should be a future single) “Clean Up On Aisle Five” for digital purchase, a song that I consider one of the best I’ve heard in country music this year. Pitney is now releasing his second single to country radio, “Boy & A Girl Thing.”

Once again Pitney reaffirms his traditional country sound with this single. A combination of an acoustic guitar, drum and steel guitar drive the sound of the song, along with a lingering organ in the background throughout. It makes for a catchy rhythm that is decidedly country. The song itself (written by Pitney and Don Sampson) is about how boys and girls grow up from an early age until their later years and how they’re feelings change for each other through the years. Pitney sings about how at an early age boys and girls have no interest in each other and both think each have “cooties.” They then grow up and slowly start to notice each other more and become attracted to each other. They then start to date and before you know it marriage and children come. Ultimately it’s a song about life and love.

Personally I think it’s a good and simple theme that a majority of listeners will be able to relate with. This is what the average boy and girl go through as they grow up and fall in love and start their lives. Of course not everyone adheres to this life timeline, so these listeners won’t be able to connect with it as easily, if at all. Another thing I’ll point out about this theme is it’s easily relatable, but then again it’s also a little too simple. It doesn’t feel very personal and can definitely come off too broad to some. This prevents the song from ultimately being a great song in my mind, instead of just simply good.

Regardless this is a step-up for Pitney from his first single “Country.” The lyrics have more meaning, despite being a little cliché. There’s a solid story and theme here that I think will allow the song to perform better at radio ultimately. The biggest pros of this song are without a doubt the instrumentation and Pitney’s voice. The instrumentation is proof that country music can stick to its roots and be catchy. An organ and steel guitar are more palatable to the ears than drum machines and club beats too. Hopefully “Boy & A Girl Thing” is given a chance at radio because it’s certainly deserving and would add quality when it’s been lacking it for several months now. Mo Pitney continues to prove why I think he’s one of the most promising country acts rising up.

Grade: 7.5/10

 

Review – Ruthie Collins’ “Ramblin’ Man”

Ruthie Collins

When listening to any kind of music, I can pretty much tell you after a few listens what I think of the song or album. It’s kind of important as a reviewer of music. For example, the first time I listened to The Mavericks’ “Come Unto Me” I knew this was a good song. Just like the first time I heard Florida Georgia Line’s “Sun Daze” I knew it was terrible. While it can be described in words, feeling is a big part of the listener experience. Very rarely do I listen to a song and not have any idea how to feel about it. Well one of those rare moments arose when I listened to newcomer Ruthie Collins’ new single “Ramblin’ Man.” And the reason I have this feeling of confusion is there’s so much going on with this song.

For those who don’t recognize it, this song was originally done by Hank Williams. Yes, on her debut single Collins chose to cover the legendary Hank Williams. Talk about ballsy! Oh but that’s not it. She samples the icon’s voice in the song. Okay, but there’s even more. She incorporates drum loops into the song, aka inserts EDM influences into it. So to recap: this is Ruthie Collins debut single, it’s a Hank song, an icon is sampled and EDM is mixed with country music. See what I meant when I said this song has a lot going on? It’s a lot to take in.

The instrumentation in the song used outside of the drum loops and dance beats are bluegrass instruments. Collins voice for the most part is unaltered and is actually quite good. You can’t say she doesn’t have a great voice. The song itself of course is about a rambling man who has a thirst for the open road. Collins though flips the song and sings it from the female perspective, so it’s about how she watches her man continue to leave her for the open road. By the end of the song, the rambling man’s lifestyle catches up with him. As Collins sings, God called home the rambling man.

After giving the song several listens, I wanted to see if Collins had any further information about the making of this song. Luckily, there’s a video on her YouTube page that explains who she is and the making of this song. You can see the video below. The part though that caught my interest is when she talks about “Ramblin’ Man.” She starts to talk about it at the 2:40 mark, although I recommend watching the whole thing because she’s actually quite a charming person and is very candid about the country industry.

Right after talking about how producers push her to a more “poppy” sound, despite her saying that her voice isn’t meant for that, here’s what she says regarding “Ramblin’ Man”:

“But I wanted to be modern sounding at the same time. So the way that we kind of brought that element in is through these really interesting like drum programming. So you really get that cool modern energy, but you’re still basing the sound around these really, organic old-fashioned instruments.

“Ramblin’ Man” was sort of an idea that came out of a writing session. I was like, ‘Man has anyone sampled an old country song?’ And instantly I was like, ‘I know how to do this! We have to do this now.’ You know this is such a cool idea. I just Googled the lyrics on my iPhone and started singing and the melody just came out of nowhere. I don’t know where it came from, but I sang it down the first time and we have never changed the melody since. It was really one of those just…okay it was really meant to happen. We just started working on the track and I took it into Curb and everybody flipped out and it just kind of changed everything for me lately.

To me this was just such a cool thing to bring these old elements of this beautiful, classic country song, but give it a modern twist and bring it to 2014.”

Before I tell you what my ultimate thoughts are on this song, I have to put into context where I’m coming from as a listener because I found myself re-examining my experience of listening to country music. Before I became a “born-again country music fan,” I tried my hardest to accept “the evolution of country music.”, aka the Florida Georgia Line type songs. I tried to reason that rap country and bro-country were reasonable music. In the end I realized I was lying to myself and that this was garbage of course. My heart was never truly into this music, only my brain trying to make the hurdles so to speak. But the one thing I kept from this brief moment of time as a music listener was an open mind. That’s something I still try to keep with me until this day because there’s always an opportunity to introduce a new sound, while still keeping the integrity of the genre.

With all of this being said, I think “Ramblin’ Man” is a song that is completely unnecessary. I applaud the tenacity and attempted creativity by Collins to try to reinvent an old song with her own twist. Ultimately though this isn’t really creative at all. An artist shouldn’t have to rely on a past song to make their own creative song. They should be able to create something of their own, completely by themselves. A Hank Williams song should never be reinvented, let alone have EDM introduced with it. Not to mention that isn’t a long-lasting, sustainable sound. As coined by Trigger at Saving Country Music, this “metro-politan” music in country right now is just a fad (by the way if you haven’t read that piece by Trigger, go do this). It will not be remembered decades from now.

A true form of art comes from the heart, not a drum machine. A true artist catches people’s ears with their storytelling and songwriting. Ruthie Collins has the talent and skills to capture people’s attention with her dynamic voice and storytelling. Relying on a drum machine to do this is quite frankly beneath her and as much as she seems to be behind the idea, I don’t buy it. Those producers who push her to sound more “poppy” sound like the culprits behind it more than anything. As notable country critic Grady Smith has said though, this will be a smash hit on radio. It will also be one of the most polarizing country songs of the year. If you like this song, I don’t blame you. It’s quite catchy and easy to dance to. It’s not a offensively bad song, but it would be wrong to call it good too. I judge “Ramblin’ Man” based on what it’s labeled. It’s labeled country when it clearly is not, therefore on principal I dismiss it. This is a fad and fads are what is killing mainstream country music.

Grade: 4/10