The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music [August 2006]

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This is the past pulse of mainstream country music. Every week, I take a look at the Billboard Country Airplay Chart (or, “Hot Country Songs” as it used to be called) from years ago and grade the top 30 songs. Each week will be a different year. Each song on the chart will receive either a +1, 0, or -1. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the top 30 songs with the highest score being a +30 and the lowest possible score being a -30. Songs rated between a 7 and 10 will receive a +1. Songs rated either 5 or 6 will receive a 0. Songs rated 4 or lower will receive a -1.

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the past state of mainstream country music and determine if it was better or worse compared to now. To see the full list of the top 30 country airplay songs for this week, click here. This week I will take a look at the top 30 songs of the Billboard Hot Country Songs from August 26, 2006.

  1. Rodney Atkins – “If You’re Going Through Hell (Before The Devil Even Knows)” +1
  2. The Wreckers – “Leave The Pieces” +1
  3. Steve Holy – “Brand New Girlfriend” -1
  4. Toby Keith – “A Little Too Late” 0 (The weird production is what kills this for me)
  5. Little Big Town – “Bring It On Home” +1
  6. Gary Allan – “Life Ain’t Always Beautiful” +1
  7. Brad Paisley – “The World” +1 (It’s a little cheesy, but man do I miss the mid 2000’s Brad Paisley…)
  8. George Strait – “Give It Away” +1
  9. Brooks & Dunn – “Building Bridges (w/ Sheryl Crow and Vince Gill)” 0
  10. Faith Hill – “Sunshine and Summertime” -1
  11. Kenny Chesney – “Summertime” 0
  12. Rascal Flatts – “Me and My Gang” -1 [Worst Song]
  13. Josh Turner – “Would You Go With Me” +1
  14. Carrie Underwood – “Don’t Forget To Remember Me” +1
  15. Billy Currington – “Why. Why, Why” 0
  16. Pat Green – “Feels Just Like It Should” -1
  17. Jake Owen – “Yee Haw” 0 (Owen’s charisma elevates this to at least passable to my ears)
  18. Dierks Bentley – “Every Mile A Memory” +1
  19. Heartland – “I Loved Her First” +1 (Yeah, it’s corny, but I can at least appreciate the emotion)
  20. Big & Rich – “8th Of November” +1 [Best Song]
  21. Danielle Peck – “Findin’ A Good Man” +1
  22. Trace Adkins – “Swing” -1
  23. Alan Jackson – “Like Red On A Rose” +1
  24. Lonestar – “Mountains” 0 (Naptime!)
  25. Sugarland – “Want To” +1
  26. Rascal Flatts – “Life Is A Highway” -1 (Just listen to Chris LeDoux’s version)
  27. Blaine Larsen – “I Don’t Know What She Said” +1
  28. Montgomery Gentry – “Some People Change” +1
  29. Gretchen Wilson – “California Girls” -1 (What the hell is the point of this song?)
  30. Jack Ingram – “Love You” +1

The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music: +10

Hey not bad! Sure, this may not have been as good as 1999, but this is still a wonderful chart to see! Remember the Wreckers from way back when? It’s a real shame they never got past three singles. They were right in line with the Maddie and Tae style of neo-traditional/country pop. I’m glad that at least Maddie and Tae have broken “the Wrecker curse” by now. In addition to this, Josh Turner was still on the radio, as was Blaine Larsen, who I’m sure many people unfortunately forgot about. If only we had him now, fighting alongside other young neo-traditional guys like Mo Pitney, William Michael Morgan and Jon Pardi. This song honestly wasn’t his best, but it’s still a solid song with a cool Spanish groove. Then we had other fantastic songs from the likes of Gary Allan, Dierks Bentley, Brad Paisley, George Strait, Big & Rich…….wait what?!? Big & Rich??? Yeah, I know right? In fact, they arguably have the best song on this chart, which is also probably the best song they’ve had in their career thus far. “8th of November” proved that the duo could tackle serious subject matter when the time came for it, and set the joke material aside. Now, two songs that I’m sure are going to raise some eyebrows are Alan Jackson’s and Jack Ingram’s. I understand that Alan’s “Like Red On A Rose” album has been called one of his weakest albums, but I actually really like “Rose” and I think it was a cool change of pace for Alan. Jack’s song…….well yeah, it’s kind of immature, but I still thought it was kind of clever in its writing, so yeah, prepare the tomatoes to throw at me!

Now onto the bad, and really, much like 1999 I don’t have a ton to complain about. Remember last week how I said Trace Adkins was awesome when he sang stuff like “Don’t Lie”? Well he sucks when he’s doing crap like “Swing.” Seriously, what the hell is this song? Listening to this just made me want to grab a baseball bat and smash the device that I was listening to this from! The other song that raises a red flag and also takes the crown as the worst song is Rascal Flatt’s “Me and My Gang.” What the hell kind of title is this?!? If “swag” were a term back then I’m sure it would have found its way somewhere into the lyrics of this song. What’s sad is that “Bob That Head” rivals this song in bad Rascal Flatt song title choices. Other than that? Yeah, there’s not a lot else that really riles me up. Faith Hill’s song is pretty irritating as is Steve Holy’s, but still I can’t get real angry at them.

If you have any questions as to why I gave a certain song the score I did, or perhaps just want to make your own Pulse, sound off in the comments!

Derek’s Top Ten Country Songs – September 2014

 

There were quite a bit of music releases this month, so for me to narrow this down to ten wasn’t as easy as I thought.  In my opinion, the best song released this month was Keeley Valentino’s “Burned.” I said quite a bit about the song in my review of her EP, here’s a snippet: Perhaps the most impressive part of the whole song is the fact that Keeley hits such a high note in the choruses. Her high-notes combined with the echoing instrumentation create a sort of haunting emptiness that captures the emotions of the song’s characters.” Without a doubt that was the song that stood out to me the most this month. Number two is Lee Ann Womack’s “Same Kind of Different” which was easily her best song on The Way I’m Livin’. I’m not surprised that women hit the top two marks on my top ten. Female country singers have been releasing a number of quality albums over the past few years, and I hope to see that trend continue. The Phillip Fox Band gets a spot at number three with the impressive Country Fried Rock N’ Roll western tune “Nothin’ Worse Than Weak.” Number four is The Roy’s heartbreaking, yet well-written Alzheimer’s song called “Sometimes.” Rounding out the top five, I have my favorite song from Tim McGraw’s Sundown Heaven Townhis duet with Catherine Dunn called “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools.”

The Phillip Fox Band appears again at number six with “Ava Lee”, the upbeat love song about a couple living life in the fast lane, and the man debates if he should settle down and have a future with her. Josh Turner’s new single, “Lay Low” comes in at number seven. Lee Ann Womack shows up again at number eight with “Prelude: Fly.” I was captivated by this track during my first listen and it features some great vocal work from Womack. Keeley Valentino makes another appearance on the list with “Love Will Come Around Again” at number nine. It’s a great song about getting over a break up and preparing yourself for when the next person comes to capture your heart. Finally, concluding the top ten is Wade Bowen with “When I Woke Up Today.”  This fun song is about finding joy in life and remaining positive while the trials of a life on the road take form. It’s a great lead off single for his new self-titled album due out late next month.

Honorable Mentions:

  • “Your Daddy’s Boots” by Dustin Lynch – I really wanted this song in my top ten. It’s easily the best song on Where It’s At and possibly Lynch’s best of his young career.
  • “Sick of Me” by Tim McGraw – Another standout track from Sundown Heaven Town. Great song writing and a good, mid-tempo traditional/modern blend of country music.
  • “Writin’ a New Damn Book” by Phillip Fox Band. A great up-beat southern rock song about marking your own path through life.
  • “Heaven Needed Her More” by The Roys. A beautiful song about getting over a death of a loved one and remaining positive through the heartbreak.

October has a ton of albums due out.  Next month’s top ten list might be even harder!

Album Review – Phillip Fox Band’s Heartland

About a year and a half ago the Phillip Fox Band began what would be a long production process to mix together the band’s full-length debut album, Heartland. Funded through Kickstarter, this project was intended to capture the feel and energy from their live shows. Well, for a band who describes their sound as “Country-Fried Rock N’ Roll”, it’s safe to assume that those shows would be full of high-energy, upbeat, almost head-banging rock music. But don’t let that fool you; there are definite country sounds and influences in nearly every track here. Country-fried rock, southern rock, rock-inspired-country, however you want to call it; these guys have captured the sound of a healthy blend of rock’s hard edge and country’s hardworking honesty.

The Best Songs on the Album

In my opinion the best song on the album is “Nothin Worse Than Weak.” A song that takes the listener on a fantastic cowboy/outlaw journey: the survival of the fittest, fighting until death and facing the inevitable end like a man. Behind the lyrics lie great acoustic western-style guitar notes with a building drum beat and horns that come together during the instrumental break and rise to a dramatic showdown. One can almost fill in the blanks with their own imagery of two western outlaws having a face-to-face confrontation on that dirt road outside a western saloon. Phillip Fox shows his soft side for love a few times on Heartland, but the best two love songs come in the form of “Ava Lee” and “Don’t Forget Me.” In “Ava Lee” we’re introduced to a couple who have lived life together in the fast lane. They burned their own path through the world, but when things slow down she gets ready to say goodbye. He begins to wonder if they should stop ignoring their feelings and try to take their love to the next step. “Don’t Forget Me” shows us his vulnerable side. His woman of affection has moved away, and he will not soon forget her, wishing the same from her. He drives the point home in the bridge with “for all of time, across the great divide, though this sea may swallow me, I will wait for you.” This is a stripped down acoustic song and you can hear the pain in Phillip Fox’s voice as he sings on this track.

There were two other songs that caught my attention. “Writin a New Damn Book” is short and sweet, concluding at a quick 2 minutes 20 seconds. But the song carries a message of taking life head on and making it your own. Have a little faith and don’t simply turn a page in life but write your own damn book. “Cancer Cannot” is a song of faith and hope in the midst of cancer. Coming from a family where I’ve had two relatives fight (and thankfully survive) a battle with cancer, this song hit home to me. The lyrics perfectly capture the emotional strength and enduring hope that cancer patients and their loved ones have during those hard times, and the light acoustic instrumentation behind it help sell the inspiring message.

The Worst Songs on the Album

Most songs on this album either had great lyrics and story telling, or a great musical melody and production behind the vocals. However, songs like “Lovin’ You (Never Felt Like Work)” and “We All Lose Somethin’” don’t really offer either quality. “Lovin’ You” is very basic. He may be a hard-working blue-collar man, but the love is strong and it’s never come with challenges compared to life’s struggles. The lyrics are simple and somewhat predictable, and because it quickly follows (and is not as well written as) “You Are the Girl” (see below) the song’s story seems repetitive and not creative. “We All Lose Somethin’” isn’t much of a story. The song is a long list of how mankind, you and me, all experience loss in one-way or another: from the menial lost wallet to the tragic moments of 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina, we’ve all experienced some life let down. The problem I had with the song is there’s no redemption or offer of motivation. It’s a list that tries to include everyone’s problems and emotional reactions to said problems or losses. With three distinct verses to the song, the message of the lyrics is hammered in so hard that the third verse feels like it’s beating a dead horse. Overall these two songs aren’t bad, but the other ten songs offered so much more in lyrical and/or musical composition that these two sit on a lower level in comparison.

The Rest of The Album

The Phillip Fox Band open up the album with “You Are the Girl.” An anthem dedicated to the woman you come home to after a hard day’s work. This song is about the man’s undying love to his wife and his desire to keep romance alive in spite of life’s twists and turns. “Been Workin’ Hard” is Heartland’s ode to the blue-collar workers. The song features quick drum beats and fast-picking guitar work, and even takes the time to call out the upper class 1% who hardly work. The title track is a song dedicated to a little midwestern town. What makes “Heartland” stand out from the hundreds of other small town anthems is that Phillip Fox doesn’t use a single country small town love cliché to sell this story; it’s unique and you can feel his appreciation for his roots with his delivery. “I’d Be Runnin’ Too” offers commentary about a guy and a girl who both cheated on their loved ones. The narrator of the song offers the not so helpful advice of “I’d be runnin’ too” if he’d been the one to cheat and disrespect. Finally, the album ends with “I Ain’t Angry (But I’m Feelin’ Mean).” The song isn’t that strong lyrically, but coming in at eight and a half minutes, this track is clearly dedicated to bluesy, pure hard rock instrumentation and guitar solos.  The musicianship on this track is strong and show that the Phillip Fox Band can rock as hard as a majority of their Southern Rock peers.

Overall Thoughts

Phillip Fox Band are definitely “Country-Fried Rock and Roll.” Along the lines of Blackberry Smoke and The Buffalo Ruckus, this is another great group to keep your eye on. Their instrumentation is sharp and skilled; you can certainly hear the musical cohesion these guys have crafted over the years leading up to Heartland‘s release. Phillip Fox has a unique singing voice with a rough edge and almost growl to it. At times, his voice seems to tail off a line a bit too soon, or combine words together in a few lines that take away from the lyrics. But overall Heartland is a great display of the blue-collar hard work and dedication that these men have put into building this band from the ground up.

Grade: 8/10