The Current Pulse of Americana Music [June 13]

Colvin & Earle

Each week I will take a look at the Americana Music Association’s Americana Airplay chart and grade the top 20 albums on the chart. The grading format I use each week is every album will receive either a +1, -1 or a 0. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the current top 20 Americana albums, with the highest possible score being a +20 and the lowest possible score being a -20. How do I determine if an album is rated a +1, -1 or 0? The rating it received on the site or myself will determine this. If it hasn’t been rated yet, then I will make the call. Albums rated between 7 and 10 receive a +1. Albums rated a 5 or 6 receive a 0. Albums rated 4 or lower receive a -1.

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the current state of Americana music and determine if it’s improving or getting worse. Let’s take a look at this week’s top 20…

  1. Colvin & Earle – Colvin & Earle +1 (Up 10)
  2. Mudcrutch – 2 +1 (Up 4)
  3. The Jayhawks – Paging Mr. Proust (Down 2)
  4. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth +1 (Down 1)
  5. Hayes Carll – Lovers And Leavers (Down 3)
  6. Darrell Scott – Couchville Sessions +1 (Up 2)
  7. Parker Millsap – The Very Last Day +1 (Down 2)
  8. Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter +1 (Down 1)
  9. The Lumineers – Cleopatra +1 (Down 5)
  10. Hard Working Americans – Rest in Chaos (Down 1)
  11. The Honeycutters – On The Ropes +1 (Down 1)
  12. Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals – Call It What It Is (Up 2)
  13. Avett Brothers – True Sadness (Up 2)
  14. Bonnie Bishop – Ain’t Who I Was +1 (Up 5)
  15. Bonnie Raitt – Dig in Deep +1 (Down 3)
  16. Paul Simon – Stranger to Stranger (New to Top 20)
  17. Robert Ellis – Robert Ellis +1 (New to Top 20)
  18. Peter Wolf – A Cure For Loneliness (Down 2)
  19. John Doe – Westerner (Down 6)
  20. Charlie Faye & The Fayettes – Charlie Faye & The Fayettes (New to Top 20)

The Current Pulse of Americana Music: +11

The pulse improved one spot this week.

Albums That Dropped Out of the Top 20 This Week

  • Tedeschi Trucks Band – Let Me Get By
  • The Record Company – Give It Back To You
  • Loretta Lynn – Full Circle

Albums That Entered The Top 20 This Week

  • Paul Simon – Stranger to Stranger
  • Robert Ellis – Robert Ellis
  • Charlie Faye & The Fayettes – Charlie Faye & The Fayettes

Album I Predict Will Be #1 Next Week

  • Mudcrutch – 2

Biggest Gainers This Week

  • Paul Simon – Stranger to Stranger – Up 13 from #29 to #16
  • Colvin & Earle – Colvin & Earle – Up 11 from #11 to #1
  • Bonnie Bishop – Ain’t Who I Was – Up 5 from #19 to #14
  • Robert Ellis – Robert Ellis – Up 5 from #22 to #17

Biggest Losers This Week

  • Tedeschi Trucks Band – Let Me Get By – Out of the Top 20
  • The Record Company – Give It Back To You – Out of the Top 20
  • Loretta Lynn – Full Circle – Out of the Top 20

The Current Pulse of Americana Music [June 6]

The Jayhawks Paging Mr. Proust

Each week I will take a look at the Americana Music Association’s Americana Airplay chart and grade the top 20 albums on the chart. The grading format I use each week is every album will receive either a +1, -1 or a 0. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the current top 20 Americana albums, with the highest possible score being a +20 and the lowest possible score being a -20. How do I determine if an album is rated a +1, -1 or 0? The rating it received on the site or myself will determine this. If it hasn’t been rated yet, then I will make the call. Albums rated between 7 and 10 receive a +1. Albums rated a 5 or 6 receive a 0. Albums rated 4 or lower receive a -1.

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the current state of Americana music and determine if it’s improving or getting worse. Let’s take a look at this week’s top 20…

  1. The Jayhawks – Paging Mr. Proust (Up 1)
  2. Hayes Carll – Lovers And Leavers (Down 1)
  3. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth +1 (Up 2)
  4. The Lumineers – Cleopatra +1 (Down 1)
  5. Parker Millsap – The Very Last Day +1 (Down 1)
  6. Mudcrutch – 2 +1 (Up 4)
  7. Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter +1 (Down 1)
  8. Darrell Scott – Couchville Sessions +1
  9. Hard Working Americans – Rest in Chaos (Down 2)
  10. The Honeycutters – On The Ropes +1 (Up 6)
  11. Colvin & Earle – Colvin & Earle (New to Top 20)
  12. Bonnie Raitt – Dig in Deep +1 (Down 3)
  13. John Doe – Westerner (Down 1)
  14. Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals – Call It What It Is (Down 3)
  15. Avett Brothers – True Sadness (Up 3)
  16. Peter Wolf – A Cure For Loneliness (Down 3)
  17. Tedeschi Trucks Band – Let Me Get By (Down 3)
  18. The Record Company – Let Me Get By (Down 1)
  19. Bonnie Bishop – Ain’t Who I Was +1 (Up 2)
  20. Loretta Lynn – Full Circle +1 (Down 5)

The Current Pulse of Americana Music: +10

The pulse is starting anew this week with the Americana Airplay Top 20.

Albums That Dropped Out of the Top 20 This Week

  • N/A

Albums That Entered The Top 20 This Week

  • Colvin & Earle – Colvin & Earle

Album I Predict Will Be #1 Next Week

  • Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth

Biggest Gainers This Week

  • Colvin & Earle – Colvin & Earle – Up 16 from #27 to #11
  • The Honeycutters – On The Ropes – Up 6 from #16 to #10
  • Mudcrutch – 2 – Up 4 from #10 to #6

Biggest Losers This Week

  • N/A

The Current Pulse of Americana Music [June 4]

Chris Stapleton Traveller

It’s here! Each week I will take a look at the Billboard Americana/Folk Albums chart and grade the top 15 albums. The grading format I use each week is every album will receive either a +1, -1 or a 0. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the current top fifteen Americana albums, with the highest possible score being a +15 and the lowest possible score being a -15. How do I determine if an album is rated a +1, -1 or 0? The rating it received on the site or myself will determine this. If it hasn’t been rated yet, then I will make the call. Albums rated between 7 and 10 receive a +1. Albums rated a 5 or 6 receive a 0. Albums rated 4 or lower receive a -1.

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

  1. Chris Stapleton – Traveller +1
  2. Sawyer Fredericks – A Good Storm -1
  3. The Lumineers – Cleopatra +1
  4. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth +1
  5. Hard Working Americans – Rest in Chaos
  6. James Bay – Chaos And The Calm +1
  7. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – Self-Titled +1
  8. Bonnie Raitt – Dig In Deep +1
  9. Ruth B – The Intro (EP) 0
  10. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color +1
  11. Mary Chapin Carpenter – The Things That We Are Made Of -1
  12. Foy Vance – The Wild Swan 
  13. The Jayhawks – Paging Mr. Proust
  14. The Strumbellas – Hope
  15. Loretta Lynn – Full Circle +1

The Current Pulse of Americana Music: +6

The pulse debuts this week!

Albums That Dropped Out of the Top 15 This Week

  • N/A

Albums That Entered The Top 15 This Week

  • Chris Stapleton – Traveller
  • Sawyer Fredericks – A Good Storm
  • Hard Working Americans – Rest in Chaos
  • Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
  • Foy Vance – The Wild Swan

Album I Predict Will Be #1 Next Week

  • Chris Stapleton – Traveller

Biggest Gainer This Week

  • N/A

Biggest Loser This Week

  • Mary Chapin Carpenter – The Things That We Are Made Of – Down 8 from #3 to #11

Thoughts

Not a bad start at all for the Americana/Folk Albums chart this week. As I expected Stapleton takes the top spot with Traveller and will chart on both country and Americana chart. Same for Sturgill Simpson and his new album A Sailor’s Guide To Earth. There are a couple bigger names I didn’t expect to see, which are Sawyer Fredericks and James Bay. Both are more along the lines of singer-songwriter/acoustic-based artists, however it is entirely fair to put them on this chart because they do fit the Americana definition. Alabama Shakes and The Lumineers are two acts that really define the chart and why we needed it. The inclusion of Ruth B is the only one that caught me off guard. Then again I’ve only heard one song from her, so maybe she fits the chart well.

As you can see I have not heard all of the albums on this chart, but that won’t be a problem moving forward and only be the case on this first one as the chart begins to define itself. Some of you probably thought I would never give a -1 on an Americana pulse and I prove you wrong on the very first one. I couldn’t even get through the Carpenter album because as I remarked on Twitter last week, it was just too dry throughout and had no variety sonically. It’s a shame because I was expecting big things from it, especially with Dave Cobb as producer.

It’ll be interesting to see what names will pop up each week on this chart and how long it will take before we hit a perfect score or a negative score. As always be sure to weigh-in below with your thoughts and let me know what you think of the format. I’m still tinkering with it and wouldn’t say it’s set in stone. This feature might also be on Tuesdays moving forward and only came out today because I’ve been debating myself on how to approach this. Anyway let me know your thoughts.

Update 1

I’m starting to slowly listen to each album without grades and I’m going to update as I go along.

Ruth B – The Intro (EP): The four song set has some nice piano arrangements, but all of the songs sound too similar. “Lost Boy” is a good song though. It’s a shame the other three don’t do more to stand out.

Sawyer Fredericks – A Good Storm: I couldn’t even make it all the way through with this album. It’s the definition of generic and fits the “white guy with a guitar” stereotype to a T. Also another reminder of why I stopped watching The Voice years ago because it churns out cookie cutter artists.

The Hodgepodge: The Americana Movement & Why It’s Happening

Americana Music

(Note: Derek is on vacation this week, so I’m taking over The Hodgepodge!)

What’s the next big movement in country music? We’ve had bro country, metro bro and now we appear on the verge of some sort of weird, heavily Christian-influenced movement. It’s pretty evident when Florida Georgia Line releases “H.O.L.Y.” and Hillary Scott announces a Christian-influenced album. All of the popular country artists are talking about how their new music is going to be more mature and dig deeper. To be honest, you know what I think of all of this? I could not care any less. I’ve reached the point of not caring what the next movement in mainstream country music is because they change sounds like a person changes socks. Besides there’s a much more interesting, albeit less flashy movement happening before your very eyes: The Americana Movement.

While popular country fans fuss over it and critics spend their time on self-important think-pieces on the next big thing on country radio, I’ve been quietly observing something pretty brilliant taking shape with this Americana movement. It’s becoming the “genre” (if you want to call it this) where country artists who don’t want to be called country artists go basically. It’s also home to many older country acts that the genre has cast aside for new shiny toys and other sincere, genuine artists who really can’t put their music into the box of a genre. That last point in particular is why I think many artists are drawn to the Americana label. This allure of not having to play by genre rules and standards is quite appealing. You don’t have to hear some stodgy, old critic or fan tell you that your songs aren’t country enough or shouldn’t include horns. You don’t have to hear some whiny popular country music fan tell you that you’re boring and not pop-y enough. In many ways Americana symbolizes freedom and control of your music to an artist.

Country music fans love to sit around and fantasize a new outlaw era rearing its head like in the 70s where Waylon, Willie and Merle all stood up to make their own music and how country radio was a golden paradise of songs. All of the artists band together and take down the labels and Florida Georgia Line gets put in the music version of Guantanamo Bay. And we all lived happily ever after. This is all fantasy of course. Florida Georgia Line, Sam Hunt and Luke Bryan aren’t going away ever. They’re making a lot of money for themselves, their label and have throngs of fans. This stuff doesn’t disappear. Country radio will never stop playing them (at least until they’re deemed too old to play). Mainstream country and country radio will at best be mediocre and downright garbage at worst.

Back to the Americana movement taking shape, at its core this is exactly like the outlaw movement. These are artists independently taking it upon themselves to make their own music and do things their own way. They’re experiencing sales and chart success in the forms of Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton. “But they’re country artists,” you say. Are they really country artists? For that matter is your favorite country artist really a country artist by today’s definition? Probably not. “I’m talking about the actual country standards,” you say. Define universal country standards that we can all agree on. Go on, I’ll wait. In the meantime I’m going to tell you why these three artists belong to Americana. I’ll start with the easiest argument. Jason Isbell is considered the Americana King, has championed it for years and identifies as such. Everyone pretty much agrees he’s Americana. Then we have Chris Stapleton. When you hear his music, is it straight country? No. You hear blues, soul and even some roots-rock. Now let’s look at the definition of Americana:

Americana is contemporary music that incorporates elements of various American roots music styles, including country, roots-rock, folk, bluegrass, R&B and blues, resulting in a distinctive roots-oriented sound that lives in a world apart from the pure forms of the genres upon which it may draw. While acoustic instruments are often present and vital, Americana also often uses a full electric band.

I would say Stapleton fits this more than country music, especially today’s definition of country music. Finally that brings me to Sturgill Simpson, who’s solo career sums up best why this Americana movement has been growing and has become such a thing. He made his debut with High Top Mountain, an album full of pure country and bluegrass. Independent country fans flocked to him in droves and touted his name as one to watch. Country radio and mainstream of course ignored him, something the fans who fantasize about a new outlaw movement were fine with being the case. Screw country radio they would say. Then he followed it up with Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, an album full of straight country, some roots rock and psychedelic rock-country fusion. It launched him into the stratosphere, gaining the attention of mainstream and hipsters everywhere. Country radio continued to ignore him and country fans continued to say screw radio. However he was nominated for a Grammy for Best Americana Album.

Now that brings us to his newly released third album A Sailor’s Guide To Earth. Country fans expected something straight country or close to it. Hipsters and mainstream bandwagoners expected more psychedelic music. Neither got what they wanted or expected. Despite universal critical acclaim, a large number of people have called out Sturgill for getting away from his roots and what’s best for him in their minds. They’ve criticized the horns on his record. Sturgill’s response is naturally to be a little bit angry. Here’s a group of people holding him to their standards and telling him how to make his music. So it came as no surprise to me that Simpson had this to say at a concert in Dallas this past weekend:

“You won’t see my ass at the ACMs or the CMAs. It’s all politics, and I’ve got a better chance at winning the presidency. I’d rather play for you guys, because who cares about that shit. It might take 10 years, but when they need my help, I’m gonna give ‘em two of these.”

Simpson went on to give a one-finger salute with each hand and earlier in the night defended the horns on his new album. It doesn’t sound like someone who considers himself part of country music. He even admitted before A Sailor’s Guide To Earth came out that it may not be a country record. Of course I’ve seen fans and critics say Sturgill is ruining his career by saying such things and that he should show up to these award shows with open arms These are the same awards shows that have ignored him for years. I’ve even seen fans who said Simpson screwed up by not having some “radio songs” on his new record. Keep in mind this is the same group that said screw country radio the last two albums. Now all of a sudden they care about these pointless award shows and radio? This is flat-out hypocritical. Meanwhile they’re saying Simpson has turned his back on the people who got him where he’s at with these remarks and this new album.

I tell you this entire anecdote on Simpson’s career because it proves the point of the Americana movement. Here’s a talented artist making great music and some people just can’t help but pedantically criticize just to criticize and squabble about genres. Who needs that? There are several more examples that prove why we need Americana to continue to grow, like the ridiculousness of the “Texas Country” scene. Genuine female country artists have been ignored by radio for years and are forced to become “alt-country.” We live in a world where Kacey Musgraves and Ashley Monroe are essentially black balled from major airwaves because they refuse to play the game. Alan Jackson can’t get a freaking add at radio for his new single. There’s a group of talented artists on major labels making great music, but many are suppressed by radio. I could go on and on.

Increasingly any artist with self-respect for their music doesn’t want to be identified with country music. Why would they? They get ignored by the mainstream and radio. Their hard work is ignored and dismissed. The popular country music over the last few years has destroyed the genre’s reputation and made it a laughing stock in some circles. If you walked up to someone on the street and told them you’re a country fan, they’re going to think Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan. This whole fight to restore/save country music is pointless because great music is being made somewhere by someone. It may not be on the radio or charting alongside Beyoncé on iTunes, but it’s being made and you can access it with ease. Why does great music have to be popular? Why does it have to fit in a box? It doesn’t. Popularity should never dictate music. *Genre rules and lines shouldn’t dictate music. The only use of terms like country and Americana is to guide us, the listener. It just makes it easier for us to find what kind of music we’re looking for and wanting to hear. A true artist does not go into a studio and let genre guide the music. They just make music. That’s what Americana is all about for these artists.

*Of course don’t get this twisted to think it’s okay for Zac Brown Band to make EDM music and put it on country radio. He has every right to make EDM music and put it on his album. But when you’re sending “Beautiful Drug” to country radio, you’re calling it a country song. And that means you’re just lying straight to my face, which isn’t okay. That’s like pointing at a duck and calling it a chicken. That’s an insult to my intelligence. Don’t tell me that this song is one thing when it clearly isn’t.  

Upcoming/Recent Americana and Country Releases

  • The following artists are releasing new albums tomorrow:
    • Jennifer NettlesPlaying With Fire
    • Michaela AnneBright Lights and the Fame
    • Hard Working AmericansRest in Chaos
    • Darrell ScottCouchville Sessions
    • Wild Ponies – Radiant
  • The Honeycutters will be releasing a new album titled On The Ropes next week
  • Luke Bell will be releasing a new self-titled album on June 17
  • Jack Ingram announced he will be releasing his first new studio album in seven years on June 24 and it will be called Midnight Motel
  • Cody Jinks announced he’s releasing a new album I’m Not The Devil on August 12.
  • Avett Brothers announced they will also be releasing a new album on June 24 and it will be titled True Sadness
  • Finally some news that caught me off guard and that’s the surprise re-emergence of Josh Turner. In Country Aircheck this week, an ad ran promoting Turner’s new single called “Hometown Girl” and it’s going for adds on May 31.

Throwback Thursday Song

Linda Ronstadt’s “The Only Mama That’ll Walk The Line” – Fellow country writer Jason Scott encouraged me to dig into Linda Ronstadt’s catalog and I wasn’t disappointed. This is from her debut album and one of my favorites from her. If you aren’t familiar with Ronstadt like I was, I encourage you to check her out too.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Kyle Craft’s Dolls of Highland – If you follow me on Twitter I’ve been non-stop praising new artist Kyle Craft. He’s a rock artist who grew up Louisiana before moving to Portland, Oregon a few years back. You can definitely hear the southern influence in the album, along with several other influences from a variety of genres. I’ve seen him compared to David Bowie, but I hear more Queen actually. Anyway he’s fantastic and Dolls of Highland is one of my favorite albums released this year.

Tweet of the Week

https://twitter.com/KaceyMusgraves/status/728779798055669760

Somebody on Twitter wondered what has happened to Kacey Musgraves and she made the perfect response.

A Great iTunes Review

New Urban album

This is a pretty spot-on review of the new Keith Urban album Ripcord. Not much country to be found on it.