The Hodgepodge: Mainstream Country Artists Need To Put Up or Shut Up

Joe Nichols (public domain)
Maybe a little less talk and a lot more action, Joe?

A couple of weeks back Grady Smith at The Guardian wrote an interesting piece that centered around mainstream country artists and how they don’t like the records they make. First off kudos to Grady for this piece, as it brings to light an interesting subject that needs to be discussed. For many years I have heard fans of mainstream country artists defend the bad music their favorite artists put out because they were forced to do it by their label. Well as I’ve learned ever since I’ve started this blog, this argument is a load of crap. And the quotes from mainstream country artists in this piece further back it up.

Joe Nichols is the main focus of the piece, who is the perfect artist when it comes to this argument. Any country fan knows that Nichols is capable of churning out great traditional country music, as early on his career he did this regularly. His deep, baritone voice is capable of belting almost any country song. Then he decided to sell out to bro country with songs like “Yeah” and “Sunny and 75.” Lately he hasn’t had quite the success. So now he’s crowing about he would just love to make a traditional country record. From Grady’s piece:

“If I could just make the record I wanted to make, I’d hire the country-est guys in Nashville. Kenny Sears, Opry members, the Time Jumpers, maybe Vince Gill to come sing. And we’d make a country record that probably wouldn’t get sold at all.” Nichols claimed that he’d love to record music with “lots of twin fiddles, steel guitars, country shuffles and western swing … But I’m not that rich.”

First off this argument from Nichols isn’t nothing new. He said something similar months ago. What makes this quote in particular more ridiculous is how far he takes it. He says that this kind of record wouldn’t “get sold at all.” Just this year there are countless examples that prove this wrong. Aaron Watson and Jason Isbell both had #1 country records making albums that are very country and have received praise from fans and critics alike. As pointed out by Saving Country Music, Sturgill Simpson’s 2014 album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music has sold over 100,000 albums. This is nothing to sneeze at, considering this beats out many B and C-list mainstream country artists’ album sales. Not to mention this led to Simpson getting a deal with Atlantic Records. So the idea that traditional country records don’t sell is absolutely false. And Nichols using the defense that he isn’t that rich is laughable too. Many notable independent country artists make a good living, so I find it hard to believe that an artist on a major label like himself is struggling for money. He’s also had five #1 country songs. Excuse me while I go play the world’s smallest fiddle for Mr. Nichols.

Later in the piece Smith brings up Jake Owen saying something similar in an interview. Here’s what Owen had to say:

“It’s never strictly about music,” Owen said, “because it can’t be that way. There are too many people invested in my career.” He continued, “I’ve got management and labels, radio guys, promoters looking to do a tour. You can’t start a tour if you don’t have the right songs to support it. There’s money that’s being spent. I got guys in a crew and I feel responsible for their lifestyles, their families and their livelihood. I can’t afford to be selfish, nor do I want to be.”

Once again another pathetic excuse. So releasing terrible music is all an effort to feed all of your underlings on your team? Please. I highly doubt Owen is thinking about them as he sits in his nice house or when he’s in the studio making music. This is the equivalent of corporations using kids in ads to shield themselves from criticism. And let’s hypothetically go along with this argument for a second. This essentially means these artists don’t believe in the music they’re putting out and doing it strictly for the bottom line. That sounds less like an artist and more like a businessman to me. Why should fans care about the music if the artist doesn’t care?

Grady goes on to make a lot of great points himself and if you haven’t read the piece yet you need to do it. I just want to add a few more to them. First selling out is not guaranteed to pay off. Jake Owen’s “Real Life” didn’t get above the top 15 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart and is already recurrent. His previous single “What We Ain’t Got” actually went higher, last longer and was considered by critics to be his best single yet. It also can alienate your fan base. Ask Jerrod Niemann. While “Drink To That All Night” was his biggest hit, it only proved to be a short-term burst in stature. His follow-up single “Donkey” was a complete flop because he took things too far. It’s highly doubtful he’ll ever reach the highest of heights in country music again. Lastly, this is a slap in the face to independent artists everywhere who bust their ass and put their blood, sweat and tears into their songs. Independent country artist Chris King says it best in multiple tweets:

https://twitter.com/ArtificialChris/status/655065080682250240

https://twitter.com/ArtificialChris/status/655065779465924608

https://twitter.com/ArtificialChris/status/655066197986152448

https://twitter.com/ArtificialChris/status/655066537582170112

https://twitter.com/ArtificialChris/status/655068270479872001

Bottom line: Mainstream country artists need to stop whining about wanting to make the music they want to make and just make it. Actions speak louder than words. Saying you’ll do something means nothing. You’re simply procrastinating and making an excuse. Mainstream country artists need to either put up or shut up because the talking has gone past the point of tiring. It doesn’t matter what you think, it matters what you do.

(And if Nichols wants to make that album with a lot of fiddle, he just needs to ask Dierks Bentley. Up On The Ridge, anybody?)

Upcoming/Recent Country & Americana Releases

  • Chris Janson will release his new album Buy Me A Boat tomorrow.
  • The Yawpers’ new album American Man will come out tomorrow. If you missed my review of it yesterday, click here.
  • Tim McGraw is releasing his new album Damn Country Music next Friday.
  • Josh Abbott Band will release their new album Front Row Seat next Friday.
  • Jeff Crosby and The Refugees will release a new album next Friday titled Waking Days.
  • Steve Martin and Edie Brickell are releasing a folk album on Friday called So Familiar. Yes, it’s the actor. I’m definitely reviewing this one out of sheer curiosity.
  • Ashley Campbell is officially sending “Remembering” to country radio for adds on November 9. If you missed my review of it, check it out here.
  • Brothers Osborne officially announced they will release their debut album on January 15, 2016 and it’s titled Pawn Shop. Click here for their official announcement and the album cover.
  • Lucinda Williams has announced she will release a new album titled The Ghosts of Highway 20 and it’ll be released on February 5, 2016 via Thirty Tigers.

Great Music Currently at Country Radio

The very best of country radio right here in a nice playlist. In order for a song to be added to the list, it must currently be in the top 60 of the Billboard Country Airplay chart, so this will be updated weekly.

Throwback Thursday Song

George Strait – “Check Yes or No” – Here’s a classic 90s song from King George himself. I grew up hearing this song all the time on the radio and grew to be one of my favorites from Strait.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

I’ve said before on this blog how much I respect and enjoy Adele’s music. Well after waiting much longer than many anticipated, we finally get new music from her. This is her new single “Hello,” which is a heartfelt ballad that proves she is just as great as ever. As of this writing it already has 93 million views on YouTube. Crazy! Her new album comes out on November 20 and like her previous albums she helped write every song on it. No Chris Stapleton co-writes this time though.

Tweet of the Week

Grady Smith with the subtweet of the year! I think you’ll figure out who he is referring to…

iTunes Review That Rocks

Thomas Bieber

This week in Thomas Rhett Sucks he gets compared to a mix of Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber. That sounds about right, except Sheeran has some talent. The Bieber comparison works though.

Thanks for reading and be sure to weigh in below! 

The Hodgepodge: Hey Taste of Country, Music Reviews Still Matter!

Jason Aldean
Somebody has to call out Jason Aldean when he puts out a bad song. And I have no problem doing it.

When it comes to the corporate country blog Taste of Country, I like to generally ignore it because I have no respect for the blog, as I outlined in this piece months ago. They bring zero journalistic integrity to the table and are a glorified public relations arm for artists and labels. Today I want to talk about a piece they actually seemed to put some time into and offered some sort of opinion. Shocking, right? They actually took a break from kissing major labels’ asses and writing fluff pieces to offer an opinion from an actual person. The topic of the piece? Do Record Reviews Matter in the Age of Social Media?

First off this is pretty damn ironic coming from Taste of Country, considering the fact that they don’t review music. As I said they are a PR machine and don’t offer opinions and analysis on music. Every song is a unique little snowflake and every artist is a creative ball of sunshine and rainbows. Nothing is bad and everything is good. You get the picture. So to the piece itself now. They begin the article asking the question above of record reviews mattering in this day and age. They then cite an NPR article from 2013 in which indie band Arcade Fire talks about receiving negative reviews for their Reflektor album, yet it was still a major chart hit. The NPR piece and band basically brush off negative reviews and say it really has no bearing on the fans. Taste of Country then writes the following:

There are plenty of examples of this in country music; in fact, the disparity between artists who are seeing the biggest commercial success in the genre and those who are the most critically applauded has arguably never been greater. Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark, Sturgill Simpson and more of country’s most respected singer-songwriters have received glowing reviews, while generally finding little-to-no support from country radio, with only Musgraves scoring a Top 10 single there. Meanwhile, some of the biggest superstars in the genre routinely score commercial hits with songs that either receive lukewarm or outright negative reviews.

Hey, this is correct. But you want to know something about those radio stations that aren’t playing Musgraves, Clark and Simpson, Taste of Country? The same labels pulling the strings behind radio are the same pulling the strings behind your site. You are essentially why they’re “held back” and not on radio. The labels are pushing the trash to radio and not the genuinely good music, but you conveniently ignore these simple facts. But wait this article continues to get more ridiculous! Taste of Country goes on to cite Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind of Night” as an example. They quote the reviews from Country Weekly and Country Universe bashing the song (those mean blogs!), along with Zac Brown’s quote that he thought it was the worst song he has ever heard. After that they write about how Bryan still accomplished a bunch of accolades with that song and his 2013 album Crash My Party. Then this gem of a line:

With that being the case, it’s not hard to see why many people feel professional reviewers are simply talking to themselves and their peers at this point, rather than influencing the tastes and decision-making of the fans.

Are you kidding me? Where the hell do I begin with this? I’ll start with the easy point: reviewers without a doubt are influencing fans. I know because you guys have told Derek and myself that you’ve found great new music thanks to us. Go to Saving Country Music and there are fans constantly telling Trigger that they’ve found music thanks to his reviews. I’ve seen this with my own eyes. But Taste of Country can’t say this because they don’t write reviews, so how do they know? They have no idea what they’re saying.

The second big crux that this Taste of Country article is insinuating is that because Bryan’s Crash My Party was a huge success chart wise and sales wise, it’s great. I’ve said this point a hundred times, right here on this site and I guess I am going to have to say it once again. Chart success, radio success and sales success doesn’t mean the music is of high quality. I’ll use the cheeseburger example to further illustrate this. McDonald’s sells billions of cheeseburgers a year. They’re one of the wealthiest companies in the world and are statistically a success. Now tell me this: Does McDonald’s make the best cheeseburger? I’ll venture to say most of you would say no. It’s not the best cheeseburger. Maybe you think your mother makes the best cheeseburger. Maybe you know a little hole in the wall that makes the best cheeseburgers ever. I know one of my favorite places to get a cheeseburger is Five Guys. They don’t sell near the burgers a year that McDonald’s does. But they sell the most! That says nothing about the taste and quality of the product. It says they have the greatest access to the public at large and are simply more present than Five Guys. A personal example: There are a total of 10 McDonald’s within a 40 minute drive of where I live. There is only one Five Guys within that area.

Taste of food is subjective, just like music. Music is a highly subjective art form. It is not black and white, only gray. The quality of music can’t be measured with numbers and metrics. Music is something that you need to hear for yourself. It’s a human interaction that engages your mind, body, heart and spirit. A robot can’t listen to a song and tell you how it feels, but a person certainly can. While iTunes, Spotify and YouTube can certainly give you suggestions, it simply isn’t the same as getting suggestions from a real, live person. When you call tech support when dealing with a faulty product, would you rather be greeted by automated messages or a real person? I know I would choose the latter every single time. People want to replace everything with a machine in today’s world, but some things just can’t be replaced with a machine. Only a person can do a certain job and a reviewer is certainly a job for a real, live human.

The rest of the article is really nothing special. The majority of it is getting the perspective of publicist Claire Cook, who does promotional work for Average Joes Entertainment (the label that is home to hick-hop acts like Colt Ford and The Lacs). Her comments are pretty neutral on the subject, although she does mention how she views reviews as a promotion vehicle for artists and that good reviews can help. Taste of Country tacks on after this:

It’s getting harder and harder for individual acts to get positive reviews from respected sources, in part because there are more acts competing for exposure than ever, and in part because so many outlets simply don’t publish in-depth reviews anymore.

If this is insinuating why Average Joes’ artists don’t get good reviews, I got news for Taste of Country and that label: they don’t get good reviews because their music sucks. I have been pitched numerous times by Average Joes and I refuse every time because hick-hop is horrible and not a valid art form. I don’t consider it a part of country music. It would be a waste of time to review it because it all sounds the same and has no respect for the roots of country music. There are many others that feel the same way. And the problem of outlets not publishing in-depth reviews anymore? That’s on you Taste of Country and the other blogs you cite that have dropped reviews from their sites. Rolling Stone is part of the problem too, as I don’t consider a paragraph a review. LA Weekly dropped them because they said they didn’t get a lot of hits on reviews. Maybe that’s a sign that people don’t like your reviews? I don’t know because I don’t read them, but I certainly have no problem getting hits for my reviews and I think our reviews are pretty in-depth compared to most other blogs’ reviews.

I’ve blubbered on enough about Taste of Country for one day, so to my final point: reviews definitely still matter. If they didn’t I wouldn’t have started this site. Multiple independent country blogs wouldn’t still be doing reviews either. People still read and appreciate hearing thoughts from reviewers. Not only that, but it brings fans together in comments sections in reviews everywhere. Do you see people coming together on iTunes comments or Taste of Country comments section on music reviews? No you do not because they’re lifeless reviews that in no way are constructive or helpful to people reading them. You tried really hard to bring an opinion to the table, Taste of Country, and unfortunately for you it was completely off base. Now run along and go back to praising Florida Georgia Line or ranking country artists with their shirts off (this is a real thing on their site). Let us music reviewers get back to doing the job you should be doing.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Billy Currington’s new album Summer Forever is coming out next Tuesday. Based on the track listing, I’m expecting a mixed bag. There will surely be some summer anthems and bro country, but I think there will be a few deeper songs too.
  • Gloriana is releasing their third album, Three, next week. You gotta think this is an important album for them, as their relevancy on the charts and radio has waned considerably in recent years. I’m really not sure what to expect with this one.
  • The new collaboration album between country icons Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard is also slated to be released on June 2. It’s titled Django & Jimmie, as the two pay homage to guitarist Django Reinhardt and country musician Jimmie Rodgers. You can get an early listen on it, as it’s currently available for streaming at NPR.
  • Lindi Ortega has released another song from her new album Faded Gloryville, slated to come out on August 7. It’s a cover of the Bee Gees’ song “To Love Somebody” and it’s fantastic. Can this album get here already?
  • Joy Williams, the former one half of The Civil Wars, is releasing a solo album on June 30 titled Venus.

Throwback Thursday Song

Dwight Yoakam – “Guitars, Cadillacs” – I heard this song come on the other day on Sirius XM’s Outlaw Country station and it still sounds as good as when it came out. Who doesn’t enjoy a little hillbilly music from Dwight?

Non-Country Song of the Week

The Black Keys – “Gold On The Ceiling” – The Black Keys were on my long list of artists I’ve put off for far too long to give an in-depth listen to and I’m definitely a fan now. “Gold On The Ceiling” was one of the most successful singles off their brilliant 2011 album El Camino. I definitely recommend listening to this song and that entire album.

Tweet of the Week

So for those on Twitter, Tuesday night was pretty heated in the world of country music on the social media platform. Keith Hill, a radio programmer, said the quote above on the weekly Country Aircheck. Pretty damn ridiculous. This situation is now being termed #SaladGate. Not only do I recommend checking out Grady Smith’s timeline on all of this, but definitely recommend checking out Windmills Country’s timeline too. She took Hill to school on Tuesday night! Windmills is an absolute must-follow for all country music fans and people interested in the industry. Oh and female artists are noticing the quote too:

There are a lot of fed up people over the situation with female artists on country radio, but the female artists are by far the most fed up. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them steps up and calls out radio for its bullshit. They have nothing to lose because radio already hates them. When Carrie probably misses out on another airplay #1, I hope she has the guts to say something.

iTunes Reviews That Rock!

Kick The Dust Up Great Reviews

So I heard that Luke Bryan’s new single “Kick The Dust Up” was getting some backlash on iTunes and I went to look for myself. Holy crap, it’s true! These are the three top reviews under it and one of them is a Bryan fan who hates it. Please please please please please let this be the beginning of change in mainstream country music.

One More Thing…

No it’s not bad news this week! It’s great news. I’m going to be at the Bunbury Music Festival in Cincinnati next Friday and Saturday covering it. So if you’re at it be sure to say hi if you see me. The lineup is great and I’m definitely looking forward to it. I’ll have a post on the site recapping my experience and the artists performing.

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

The Hodgepodge: Is Country Music Heading Into A Civil War?

TNT

Pretty quiet in country music, huh? Unless you’ve been living under a rock, country music has been anything but quiet. It all started last week at the 2015 Country Radio Seminar where Sony Nashville CEO Gary Overton uttered the following infamous statement: “If you’re not on country radio, you don’t exist.” This has kicked off a giant shit storm in the world of country music. Right about the same time it became official popular Texas/Red Dirt country artist Aaron Watson had the #1 album in country music with his new release The Underdog. Watson doesn’t get played on mainstream country radio and yet here he was with the #1 album in country music. This created the “perfect storm.” This led to Watson’s interview with Trigger at Saving Country Music and Watson said the following in response to Overton: “My name is Aaron Watson. I’m not played on country radio. And I have the #1 record in country music this week. I do exist.”

Grady Smith of The Guardian (an excellent country music journalist I highly recommend reading) then posted an article pointing out how Watson’s success proves Overton wrong. It’s a great article and that is completely spot on. This appeared to be the end of it, but really it was just the beginning. This article prompted country radio shock jock/talk show television wannabe Bobby Bones to post a lengthy letter on his Facebook page. It has since been taken down, but luckily Trigger at Saving Country Music transcribed it here. Bones, as in most of his rants, is off-base and has no idea what the hell he’s talking about. I think he forgets that he’s just a talking head paid to parrot the company line. They definitely don’t pay him to think.

Of course it doesn’t end there with Bones. Aaron Watson, being the nice guy that he is, went to Bones’ studio to patch things up. But Bones refused to let him in the building because apparently Watson called one of his assistants sweetheart and this was considered sexist by Bones. This is despite the fact that Bones whores himself out as a spokesperson for bro country artists on his show, who use actual sexist and offensive terms in their music. I see nothing wrong with calling a woman a sweetheart, as long as it’s not said in an offensive way because the term itself is not offensive. According to pretty much everyone who has met Watson, they all reaffirm that he’s not a sexist pig. I’ll trust them over a shock jock. Bones eventually accepted Watson’s apology (which wasn’t necessary) after he extorted $1,000 out of Watson for Bones’ charity.

This caused many Texas country fans, artists and outlets to take to social media to respond. The most notable response of course was by Texas country artist Charlie Robison, who posted a scathing takedown of Overton, Bones and Nashville:

Then there’s the move that took this feud from an industry level to a mainstream level. Florida Georgia Line, of all mainstream country artists, came to the defense of Overton by posting the following tweets:

Robison then made the most appropriate response:

Now many Texas country artists are using the phrase “I exist” as a rallying cry and country music fans are taking sides. Really all that’s needed is a match to light all of the powder that’s just been laid in the last week. It’s a lot to take in and I’ve been thinking about it as I’ve watched all of this happen in the last week. Well is country music heading into civil war? I want to say yes, but these situations have happened often in the last five years. So for now I say no, however I think this should be the moment that sends country music into a war against itself.

I think is inevitable and quite frankly this is exactly what country music needs. To me this reinforces the idea of splitting country music. Take a look at mainstream country music in the last few years. It has progressively gotten less country each year when everyone thought it possibly couldn’t get any worse. First it was more pop influences. Then rap influences, followed by EDM. Now it’s just straight pop, EDM. Sam Hunt is the most popular country music artist right now and there’s not a damn thing country about his music. All the while the independent country scene has become louder and more prominent in the minds of country music fans. There’s no greater example of this than Sturgill Simpson, who went from obscurity to a major label quicker than anyone ever anticipated.

More people are realizing they can find alternatives to the music played on the radio through the Internet. They’re realizing they don’t have to listen to what executives are shoving down their throats and marketing as “country.” The listeners have a voice and the call for more traditional country music on radio is getting louder with each passing month. Texas and independent country artists know they’re worthy of being on radio and are tired of being passed over when they know they have plenty of fan support. Mainstream acts like Florida Georgia Line don’t want to lose their spot at the top, even though it’s inevitable that they’re just a fad band. Country radio sits in-between this cross fire hoping to appease both sides.

In-fighting in country music is what’s needed to heal the genre because it’s clearly broke. The creativity well in Nashville is drying up, as evident by all of the average music that Derek and myself have been reviewing lately. Female artists continue to struggle for radio play. Bro country is a dead concept. Streaming continues to hurt music sales and that’s causing division amongst artists too. Labels, artists, songwriters and fans all want more than what they have now and nobody wants to give an inch anymore. That’s really how we got to this spot in country music. Compromises were made and everything just snowballed from there. People have sat on their hands for too long and now it’s time for action to be taken.

Country music needs to face its problems head-on. It needs to force itself through a rough patch so to speak. I think many are afraid that may put it in a situation similar to rock music’s standing in the mainstream realm, but I don’t think that will ever be the case. Country music simply needs to find itself again and a little civil war might be what helps it find it’s identity again.

In the words of Dolly Parton: “I think country music is popular – has been popular and will always be popular because I think a lot of real people singing about a lot of real stuff about real people. And it’s simple enough for people to understand it. And we kind of roll with the punches.”

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Whitey Morgan will be releasing his new Kickstarter-funded album Sonic Ranch on May 19. As someone who got an early copy, I can tell you this is a great one you will need to check out. If you like honky-tonk style country, this one is for you. You’ll see my review on this in a few months.
  • Tyler Farr announced he will be releasing his sophomore album on April 28. It will be called Suffer In Peace. The lead single from it, “A Guy Walks Into A Bar,” has been doing well on the charts. Hopefully his album will have similar songs and be nothing like the crap that was “Redneck Crazy.”
  • Maddie & Tae announced they will be releasing their debut album Start Here on June 2. This one should be intriguing, as this duo was one of the hot topics of country music in the last year.
  • Corb Lund wrote the following message via Twitter last week: “cutting a new record in april. writing feverishly. 11th hour. it’s not as easy as it looks on the television. psychologically hellish. erg.” So expect a new Lund album later this year.
  • Kacey Musgraves is releasing her lead single from her second album on March 17. I’ve heard mixed reviews on this and still need to give it a good listen before forming an opinion on it.

Throwback Thursday Song

George Strait & Alan Jackson – “Murder on Music Row” Hey it was only appropriate this song was chosen this week. Who doesn’t like this song?

My Non-Country Song of the Week

Ed Sheeran – “Thinking Out Loud” – I’m surprised I haven’t bothered to listened to Ed Sheeran sooner, who by the way is a noted country music fan (actual country music). I’m hoping to listen to his album X released last year soon, as I’ve heard countless recommendations from people.

Tweet of the Week

Damn. Jason Isbell wins Twitter for the week again.

An iTunes Review That Will Make You Face Palm

Idiot Swindell Reviewer

This was left under Cole Swindell’s Down Home Sessions EP he released last year. And it features crawfish sex!

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

Glen Campbell’s Final Song, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”

 

I was going to do a review for Glen Campbell’s final song ever, but I realize that I can’t find the words to really do this song justice. For those who aren’t aware Campbell is suffering from Alzheimer’s and was diagnosed in 2011 with the disease. As someone who has lost a loved one to this terrible disease, I know how painful it is to watch someone slow lose their memory and eventually pass away. Glen Campbell is a country music legend and this song is his farewell to the world. And if you want to read something that does this song justice, check out this article Grady Smith penned last week. It’s a fantastic read I highly recommend checking out. Watch the video above and you will understand why it’s impossible to review a song like this one.

Country Music Needs More Honesty

If Johnny Cash was still alive, he would give Nashville a piece of his mind.

When it comes to the world of country music nowadays, there isn’t a lot of honesty. From the songs on the radio to the songwriting to online publications that cover the genre, not everyone is forthright. I guess that’s why I pride myself on being honest and frank in every review and post on the site. People can smell phoniness from a mile away. Nobody trusts a phony. When one part of an industry starts to be phony, the rest of the industry will fall in line. Let’s just look at the music itself first.

Bro country has been the trend dominating the genre for the last few years. When I’m talking about bro country, I’m talking about songs that name check Jack Daniels or another alcoholic drink and mention activities such as hanging out in a field or on a river bank. Basically a bunch of bullshit terms that make it marketable for corporations to use in their ad jingles and commercials. It isn’t just bro country, which is slowly dying, but the trend that preceded it known as check-list pop country songs. As someone who has lived in the country for the majority of his life, I can tell you that this isn’t an accurate representation of people who live in rural communities and anyone else who has actually lived in the country will tell you the same exact thing. There are no parties in fields or “small town throwdowns.” So there’s one lie right out in the open for everybody. Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan and the other “country” artists sing about this style of life when they haven’t experienced this lifestyle in several years or they haven’t even experienced this style of life ever. Mainstream country artists have no idea what it’s like to be normal people because they’re so far removed from reality with their fame and fortune. That’s not to say all of them are like this. Some actually may understand, but you don’t hear songs about the actual lives of everyday people on the radio because it isn’t as marketable drinking on the beach and driving an F-150 around town.

Speaking of the content of songs, that leads me to the songwriting. I was prepared to lay out my points of how stale the songwriting has become in Nashville, but then I found the perfect quote to sum up the songwriting. Sam Hunt in a recent interview with Buzzfeed (yes, the same site with those stupid lists) had this to say about songwriting in Nashville (emphasis mine):

Football was at the center of his life until he moved to Nashville in 2008. “I didn’t know you could write songs for a living,” he told BuzzFeed News. “Then I realized there were lots of publishers in Nashville and these publishers were partnered with songwriters and a lot of the songs that I’d heard on country radio over the years were written by all these guys. That community of people who are churning out lots of country songs that you’re hearing on the radio is not large, numbers-wise,” he said.

The last sentence says it all. You pretty much have the same people churning out the same material over and over. It’s obviously working financially because we keep hearing the same stuff from almost all of the artists in mainstream country music. Meanwhile there are several great songs just sitting on the shelves waiting to be recorded, but since they weren’t written by the “Nashville group” they will continue to sit. You can’t take risks with your music, otherwise that might upset the key demographic. This all goes back to the false image country music loves to portray of itself.

In other industries, when bullshit like this is being churned out as the product somebody in the mainstream media will call them out for it and bring attention to the fans. But this isn’t the case in country music. There are many small, independent sites like Saving Country Music, Farce the Music and the other sites who call out mainstream country music for their bullshit every day. As far as mainstream country media outlets, other than Grady Smith last year, you never hear a peep out of them. I’m not going to call them out by name because you know who they are. You never see them write anything negative about the music that comes out in mainstream country music. The lowest they ever rate an album or song is 4 out of 5 or 9 out of 10. According to them, the artists in mainstream country music do no wrong.

I can’t begin to tell you how big of a problem this is. This type of automatic validation sends a message to the artist that everything they do is great, so they continue to produce the same material. This also tells fans that they should eat up any crap that is produced on the radio. Nobody is thinking for themselves, turning the industry into a bunch of corporate zombies who do as they’re commanded. When Brad Paisley went to the Associated Press and bitched about negative reviews for his new album, Trigger at Saving Country Music issued the perfect response. To sum it up, Paisley didn’t like the criticism he was receiving from independent outlets for his new album. Why? Because he wasn’t used to being told his music stinks. All of his fans and the mainstream media all pat him on the back before the album was even released. Independent outlets gave it to him straight, such as I did in my own review of the album, and this confused Paisley. When you say yes to a kid all of the time, they don’t like it when you tell them no. It’s foreign to them. This is the exact same case with Paisley in this instance or when Blake Shelton sends his rabid fans after news outlets that wrote a bad review about him.

As you can see, it’s all one connected machine. Bad songwriting leads to bad music, which had led to bad journalism by mainstream country music outlets (basically turned them into PR machines). Country music is in bad shape quality-wise (and not much better financial-wise either). All it would take to fix the situation is one of these sides changing their ways, but that isn’t going to happen. The record labels would never allow it, unless it meant more money for their bottom line. The mainstream country sites are too afraid to piss off their masters. There’s a reason more people are gravitating towards the independent country scene, older country artists and Americana. They’re honest in their music. This is where real country music and honesty in the genre went. Artists like Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Shovels & Rope, Sunny Sweeney, Dolly Parton, Billy Joe Shaver and several others across these three groups are putting their heart and soul into every song they sing. Do you think a mainstream label would allow Sturgill to post this kind of rant on Facebook? Or Jason Isbell’s candid honesty on Twitter? People appreciate sincerity and soul. Mainstream country music lacks these qualities.

Mainstream country music can continue down the road they’re on. They can continue to make bad music and trick themselves into thinking they are in a good situation. I’ll continue to call out the bad music, along with the other independent outlets because it’s the honest thing to do. And if they make good music, I’ll credit them for it. Country Perspective will always deliver honesty in each post and that’s a promise. When will mainstream country music start to be more honest? In the words of Mark Twain, “Honesty is the best policy – when there is money in it.”