Review – Jason Aldean’s “Any Ol’ Barstool”

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Remember when Jason Aldean cared? I know it can be hard to remember with all of the bro country hits and his brief dip into hick hop, but he used to release at least decent music. Now he’s pretty much mailing it in and his newest single “Any Ol’ Barstool” perfectly exemplifies this. Don’t get me wrong this isn’t a bad song at all. But after listening to it I’m left wondering if this is really it. Of course this was the whole problem with his latest album They Don’t Know. Every song sounds interchangeable and vanilla. “Any Ol’ Barstool” is no different. The song itself is a breakup song with the man left drinking at a bar in the aftermath, telling us to ask any barstool what he’s been up to. It’s a perfectly fine theme, but it fails to standout because nothing is really expanded upon once we’re presented the story. Again, where’s the rest of the song? As a result the song just feels so generic and listless. Right after it ends I forget about it. The production is your standard Aldean sound. It’s drifting somewhere between banal arena rock and pop country sensibilities, although something extra is actually added this time with some lingering, soft pedal steel guitar in the background. It gives the song some warmth, but it’s not enough to cover up the songs flaws and issues. Maybe a few years ago he would have cared enough to make this song good, but he knows like the rest of us that he can mail in these average songs and watch country radio play the shit out of this all of the way to #1. Fans will continue to buy his music. Rinse, wash and repeat.

Grade: 5/10

Recommend? – Meh

Written by Deric Ruttan and Josh Thompson

The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music [August 2010]

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Yes, you read that right! With Josh’s permission I have brought this feature back to life on Country Perspective. Considering I was just a reader when this feature was introduced, I am definitely excited to see it revived as well as be the one in charge of it.

What the Past Pulse will do is 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. Since I got involved with country music in 2010 (due more to age than quality of the music at the time), I will take a look at the top 30 on the Country Airplay Chart from August 14, 2010.

  1. Jerrod Niemann – “Lover, Lover” +1
  2. Zac Brown Band – “Free” +1
  3. Keith Urban – “I’m In” 0
  4. Carrie Underwood – “Undo It” -1
  5. Blake Shelton – “All About Tonight” -1
  6. Lee Brice – “Love Like Crazy” +1
  7. Billy Currington – “Pretty Good At Drinkin’ Beer” -1
  8. Lady Antebellum – “Our Kind Of Love” 0
  9. Luke Bryan – “Rain Is A Good Thing” -1
  10. Uncle Kracker – “Smile” -1
  11. Kenny Chesney – “The Boys Of Fall” -1
  12. Josh Turner – “All Over Me” 0
  13. Easton Corbin – “Roll With It” +1
  14. Little Big Town – “Little White Church” 0
  15. Craig Morgan – “This Ain’t Nothin’” +1
  16. Darius Rucker – “Come Back Song” 0
  17. Alan Jackson – “Hard Hat and A Hammer” +1
  18. Gary Allan – “Get Off On The Pain” +1
  19. Rodney Atkins – “Farmer’s Daughter” +1
  20. David Nail – “Turning Home” +1 [Best Song]
  21. Josh Thompson – “Way Out Here” -1
  22. Sugarland – “Stuck Like Glue” -1 [Worst Song]
  23. The Band Perry – “If I Die Young” +1
  24. George Strait – “The Breath You Take” +1
  25. Toby Keith – “Trailerhood” -1
  26. Justin Moore – “How I Got To Be This Way” -1
  27. James Otto – “Groovy Little Summer Song” -1
  28. Reba McEntire – “Turn On The Radio” 0
  29. Trace Adkins – “This Ain’t No Love Song” 0
  30. Steve Azar – “Sunshine (Everybody Needs A Little)” 0

The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music: 0

Wow, we’re without a Pulse folks! The sad part is that not having a Pulse is better than the negative Pulses we’ve been exposed to these days.

So what’s changed in these past six years? The Band Perry was ascending the charts with what would turn out to be their biggest hit, and by golly it’s actually a freaking country song! So now that they seemed to have died young can I bury them in yellow instead of satin? George Strait and Alan Jackson were not only still on the country charts at this time, but they were in the top 25! Now it takes a Beyonce move just to get Strait into the top 40. What’s that they used to say? “There’s been an awful murder down on music row.” My how things change. Craig Morgan released arguably his best song ever during this time too. Heck, even Easton Corbin and Jerrod Niemann were still viewed as the good guys of mainstream country music! Gary Allan was still releasing the badass moody rockers that have shaped his entire career (and not having to appeal to trends). My personal favorite song on here though is David Nail’s “Turning Home,” a song that I always felt was under-appreciated. Sure, it may not have been the most countriest thing out there, but the song told a damn good story and Nail’s emotion and vocal presence on this track was absolutely amazing.

Then there’s the bad stuff, even if it doesn’t compare with the lows we’ve seen today. Though he wasn’t shaking his ass for females everywhere yet, Luke Bryan still had a very annoying song out at the time with “Rain Is A Good Thing.” It’s also interesting to see that Blake Shelton has been releasing formulaic material for a LONG time at this point. “All About Tonight” is a total snooze-fest. Then of course we have Sugarland and their God-awful rap/reggae song which coincidentally was their last “big” hit ever. Surprisingly enough these two have both crafted some pretty solid music in their own solo careers. We also had Uncle Kracker’s cheesy, non-country “Smile” song, which bugged the ever-loving crap out of me as a teenager. Carrie Underwood’s “Undo It” was also released here, and it’s by far my least favorite song of hers. I think she can handle country-pop very well, but man this was bad…..

What’s interesting to see is that Carrie Underwood is the only solo female on this chart. Oh well, at least there wasn’t any bro-country or metropolitan. Little victories guys, little victories.

So what do you think of this chart? What’s your favorite and least favorite of the above songs? Do you want this feature to stay or remain gone?

Review – Joe Nichols’ “Freaks Like Me”

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If you asked me in the mid-2000s who were my favorite male country artists, I would have put Joe Nichols near the top of the list. For years Nichols along with the likes of Josh Turner and Gary Allan consistently gave us solid traditionally rooted country music. Fast-forward to today and only Turner is the only one who hasn’t sold out in any way. Nichols cashed-in hard on the bro country movement over the last few years with terrible songs like “Yeah,” “Sunny and 75” and “Hard to be Cool.” At least the last one was disappointing at radio, as it gave me hope that maybe it would inspire Nichols to get away from the trends. Not only that, but Nichols questioned trend chasing this past year in this interview. Even more encouraging was a recent interview in Billboard where he had this to say when asked about staying true to yourself:

If everybody is chasing something in the format and trying to be what the last guy is, I think it gives me the perfect opportunity to stay true to myself and be who I am. I think that sets me apart from the next guy in line. I think there are times when that’s given me the benefit of the doubt at radio — maybe more than I deserve. A lot of people are trying to make something that sounds exactly like the last hit that was on the radio, and there are times when we try to outsmart the genre. I just try to be myself, and hopefully that works. If it doesn’t, I’m fine with that. 

If this is the start of turning over a new leaf and going back to what made him great, then I’m excited to hear the new album from Nichols. But for now we get our first glimpse to see if he can back up his talk with his new single “Freaks Like Me.”

One thing that immediately stands out about this single is it’s a big improvement over the last three in that I’m not annoyed by the sound or the lyrics. It’s actually country, which in today’s world of country radio is already putting you ahead of 90% of the other songs. A steel guitar makes any song sound better than one with synth and EDM beats. As for the song itself it’s an anthem to the average, everyday person. Nichols sings about being out of style, drinking beer after five, opening doors for ladies, being proud of his country and Jesus. All of this adds up to him declaring himself to be a…freak. What? Here’s the chorus:

Freaks like me, just outside the in crowd
Freaks like me, out of style and damn proud
Raise a can, ‘cause I’m a fan
Of everyone who’s turned out to be
Freaks like me

I’m not really sure how he has come to this conclusion. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word freak as the following: “one that is markedly unusual or abnormal.” I think everyone can agree that the kind of person Nichols describes himself as doesn’t match this definition. What he sounds like is the stereotypical country music fan that songs on the radio have been describing for years. I guess you could make the argument that he’s being ironic, but I don’t think he is and comes off quite earnest. If that’s what the writers of this song, Monty Criswell, Josh Thompson and Lynn Hutton, were going for they missed the mark. You know what I would have done to have this song make more sense? Replace the word “freak” with “joes,” as this song describes the average joe. Now read the chorus above with my replacement. Makes more sense, no? Also his name is Joe, so you get a corny pun that some would like. It would be an improvement at least.

“Freaks Like Me” is basically an okay, average song that has a confusing premise. It sounds country and Nichols sounds great, which are its biggest pros. The lyrics are just clichéd and stuff we’ve heard before, but they’re passable and not really offensive nor do they standout. Joe Nichols makes a step in the right direction with this song, but he needs to take it further if he wants to standout and prove that he’s a country freak in a world of non-country music trying to be country. I think that’s what he should have went for with this song if he was so insistent on the freak thing, as it would kind of funny to label yourself as a freak for making country music in country music. But ultimately “Freaks Like Me” is just middle of the road.

Grade: 5.5/10

The Hodgepodge: Mainstream Country’s Lack of Artistic Integrity

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More and more every day, country music finds another artist to release a pop song to pass off as the next country hit. Honestly, ever since the official departure of Taylor Swift from country into pop, it seems that mainstream country is simply trying to chase after her in their own world. Curiously, it’s the pop world that seems to find women with sustainable music careers with the likes of Katy Perry, Nikki Minaj, and Swift herself releasing hit after hit. Whereas in country music, it’s the male acts who have that same sustainability.

Seemingly, in order to fight the controversy of TomatoGate and compete with the pop world, country music has severely tainted itself by turning towards pop music. While the slew of EDM-inspired music from acts like Sam Hunt, Chase Rice, Luke Bryan, etc. can’t be ignored, it seems to be the female acts and female led groups who most notably deliver pop songs in the shadow of stars like Perry, Minaj and Swift.

It was Danielle Bradbery’s newest single, “Friend Zone” that fueled this post. In the comments below the review, a conversation began of who’s to blame for a country act churning out a single like this. To some extent, I believe labels, executives, and producers need to be held accountable. Music is a business, and a business first when it comes to Music Row in Nashville. As evidenced by the bro-country onslaught and recent pop garbage, mainstream label executives are chasing the dollar signs. And that means molding singers into whatever style allows for the biggest audience.

Now I don’t know how songs on music shows like The Voice are selected, but look at some of the titles Danielle Bradbery sang while on the show: “Wasted” (Carrie Underwood), “Maybe It Was Memphis” (Pam Tillis), “Heads Carolina, Tails California” (Jo Dee Messina), and “Born To Fly” (Sara Evans). Now if you listen to those songs in comparison with Bradbery’s first singles of “Heart of Dixie” or “Young In America” you’ll hear a common theme of pop country that still sounds very much country. If I had to guess, I’d say this is the kind of music Bradbery would prefer to sing, especially if she was allowed to choose said songs while competing. This sort of pop country mold is where I think her musical wheelhouse resides and where she shines as a singer. And I think the only reason we’re seeing the terrible pop song “Friend Zone” is due to the fact that she was strongly encouraged by Big Machine to be more appealing to younger pop fans.

And if we move further and look at the musical arcs of The Band Perry and Dustin Lynch, we can see similar shifts. From the folky self-titled debut album with songs like “If I Die Young” and “Postcard from Paris” to singles like “DONE!” “Chainsaw” and now “Live Forever”, The Band Perry are all over the place musically. We’ve talked about evolution a lot this year, and there’s no natural evolution of The Band Perry’s sound from their first album to the second, to now. My theory is that they were pushed to make a more pop rock type album for Pioneer, and now they’ve essentially been molded to be a crossover act with “Live Forever.” And Dustin Lynch has moved from the excellent pure country sound of “Cowboys and Angels” to bro-country and R&B inspired songs. A recent interview even reveals Lynch’s admiration for Luke Bryan’s career and how Lynch would like to emulate that with his own music.

All this begs the question of do these acts have any artistic say in these decisions and directions? Does Danielle Bradbery really, truly want to be the “female Thomas Rhett” or does she want to release music that carries the spirit of Dixie? Does Dustin Lynch want to be a pretty boy pop singer in a cowboy hat, or want to sing country songs like his lead single or album cuts like “She Wants A Cowboy”?

One theory proposed in the “Friend Zone” comments suggests that these younger singers simply don’t know who they are and who they want to be. And I think that has some traction. But I think Bradbery, Lynch, and The Band Perry all know what they want: to be famous, successful singers and musical acts. However, the way they’re accomplishing that life mission is through a willingness to sing whatever their label suggests they sing. There’s no artistic integrity to the music; they’re just singing whatever will bring in the money, even if that means releasing a new album that’s a 180 degree difference from the one before it. Music is a business first, and these are just some examples of the puppets that help labels become successful businesses.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

Today in Country Music History

  • Merle Haggard’s Mama Tried is released in 1968.
  • In 1995, Littlefield, Texas celebrates Waylon Jennings Day with Johnny Cash joining Jennings in concert during the day.
  • Faith Hill has the number one country song on Billboard with “Mississippi Girl” in 2005.

Today’s Country Music history facts come courtesy of RolandNote.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Gone Country” by Alan Jackson. I love this Alan Jackson song; it’s one of my favorites from him. The song almost acts a critique of how everyone wants to come to country music because that’s where the money is. Funny, this song was released 21 years ago and is still relevant today. “The whole world’s gone country”….. most in name only, though. Perhaps the best thing about this song, though, was Jackson’s performance of the song on the ACMs as a protest to singing along to pre-recorded tracks. Keep your eye on the drummer in the video above.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week


T. Hardy Morris Hardy & The Hardknocks: Drownin on a Mountaintop. This is one of the more interesting albums I’ve heard this year. Farce the Music tweeted about this album and described it as “grunge country” which seems to be the most fitting description. There is some undeniable country influence in a few of the songs, with a steel guitar being a prominent instrument throughout the album. Most of the album, though, sounds like hard rock with a steel guitar. However you decided to look at it, it’s an entertaining album to listen to with some unique production you won’t find in many other artists.

Tweet of the Week

I think this has been mentioned numerous times on the site, but hits and #1s are not the only way success can be achieved. There are many ways singers can be successful without having a radio hit. I think if a singer follows the assumption that #1s is the only way to be successful, than that singer has missed the point of music entirely.

An iTunes Review That Makes Me Shake My Head

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This was left under Thomas Rhett’s Tangled Up. While “Crash and Burn” and “Vacation” are the only songs available for download from iTunes currently, reviews and comments are already swarming in. Apparently Thomas Rhett’s music is magical and evokes a lot of emotion to this listener and reviewer. Therefore, we must be open-minded about what country music is because the music of “Vacation” and “Crash and Burn” is magical (the absurdity of that felt necessary to repeat). But I disagree with this reviewer, so that must mean I’m a hater.

Review – Kip Moore Hopes to Regain Early Success with “I’m To Blame”

Kip Moore hasn’t had the easiest time with consistency in the mainstream light. Kip had three top-10 singles off his debut album, with “Somethin’ Bout a Truck” hitting the number 1 spot. However, his two follow-up singles (“Young Love” and “Dirt Road”) have failed to crack the top-20 of the country and Airplay charts. The disappointing performances of those songs caused Moore’s team to push pause on a new album release last year and figure out how to move forward. Fans don’t want to see Kip Moore to go away, and neither does country music. Between a semi-finalist nod for best new artist (however debatable) at the upcoming ACM’s and a spot on Dierks Bentley’s Sounds of Summer tour, Kip Moore is still a hot commodity for country music. Hoping to build on this momentum, Kip Moore has a new single out to radio titled “I’m To Blame.”

“I’m To Blame” carries a simple rock-inspired melody. Heavy drum beats over guitar notes drive the first verse. The production gets a little busy once the chorus kicks in with some “double clap” sounds and extra guitar licks sneaking in. It’s an upbeat groove that’s easy to get into, and probably most importantly for Kip, it’s a safe melody that should attract many listeners.

Lyrically, Kip has a semi-fresh perspective on the “bad boy” story. Where Eric Church tells a family saga of sinners in “Sinners Like Me” or Josh Thompson tips his hat to the outlaws in “Blame it on Waylon,” Kip Moore knows who’s at fault with his wrongdoings. Essentially, this song is a take it or leave it, this is who I am song. “If it ain’t broke, you can bet that I’m gonna break it/If there’s a wrong road, I’m damn sure gonna take it” Kip sings in the first verse. In the chorus he does mention that he comes from a bloodline who won’t change, but Kip Moore accepts the fact that he is who he is. “So take your pistol pointing finger right off of the trigger/I know where to aim, hell, I’m to blame.”  The lyrics are pretty safe, and average for a country “bad boy” song.  They aren’t offensive, but nor are they groundbreaking, original, or inspired.

“I’m To Blame” is a short, catchy jam coming in a quick 2:14 for its run time. He doesn’t waste time with guitar solos in the song; the lyrics are packed in tightly. Should “I’m To Blame” do well on the charts, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear news of an album release date. Frankly, I think “I’m To Blame” should catch the ears of country music fans. It has a catchy hook. However, it’s not a meaningful, well intended country song. It’s a fun, safe track for radio. It’s Kip Moore singing a song to garner radio attention without being a trend-chasing sellout. I’d theorize that “Young Love” stalled because the ballad was too stark a contrast to the bro-country love fest, and “Dirt Road” had anti-heaven notions with a heavy rock melody was too polarizing to the feel-good pop trends. But country radio is starting to move away from bro-country and trying to reestablish a better identity, so now it appears to be a good time to release a new single to kick off a new album. Between the upbeat, pop-rock style production and a simple concept to buy into, “I’m To Blame” has the makings to re-spark the fire of Kip Moore’s career.

Grade: 6/10