Album Artists, Single Artists & Why Both Need to Ditch The Old Rules

Everybody likes to talk about the genre divides in music today and how this places creative restrictions on artists, but to me there’s an even greater divide and it’s causing a much greater restriction on music creators: artists who focus on albums and artists who focus on singles.

Artists who focus on albums are usually independent/independent-minded artists (with occasional exceptions in the mainstream like Adele, Chris Stapleton, Beyoncé, etc.) that don’t get radio attention or rack up a lot of streams. Albums are meant to draw people to live shows, where they make their money. Typically their fans are more hardcore music listeners. Think artists like Kacey Musgraves, Cody Jinks, Carly Rae Jepsen and Freddie Gibbs.

Artists who focus on singles are usually mainstream/mainstream-aspirant artists that have had radio/mainstream success and/or do really well on streaming platforms. In other words they’re really popular. While they also make most of their money off live shows and hope to lure fans with big singles to them, they make a good chunk of change off the singles sales and streams too. Typically their fans are more casual music listeners. Think artists like Drake, Luke Bryan, Shawn Mendes and Post Malone.

(And yes not everyone will fit exactly into one of these two groups. But for most music listeners, if you think about your listening habits, you know you mostly fall into one of these two groups most of the time.)

This wasn’t always like this in music. It used to be purely singles driven. It wasn’t until the 1960s with artists like Bob Dylan, The Beatles and The Beach Boys started to take their albums seriously front to back that it prompted a wide-spread attitude change towards the concept of albums. It was standard practice up until this point to put out an album with a few singles and then literally put filler in the rest. Listen to early albums from The Beatles and The Beach Boys, as even they engaged in it. But then they put out legendary records like Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and everybody decided to put out serious albums, at least for a little while.

Through the 70s and 80s this died down and more artists started to focus back towards singles, while there were still plenty who focused on albums too. But both still pushed albums equally. Then we get to the 90s and early 2000s, where album and music sales reached their absolute peak. Also known as when you had to drive to Walmart and pay $20 for a CD and you only knew two songs on it, praying that you didn’t just flush $20 down the drain (often times you did). Then along came Napster and the Internet and then everything in music changes. It became much friendlier towards fans, as we could now listen to music before buying and led to the streaming-driven music world we have today.

I give this little history lesson to demonstrate how the more things change, the more they stay the same. But also how some things haven’t changed, yet should. I’m referring to the fact that album artists are still being forced to release singles and singles artists are still being forced to release albums. It’s a huge hinderance on creativity. Why is the music industry forcing these artists to fit a square peg into a round hole?

On one side you have album artists like Sturgill Simpson, who don’t give a shit about singles because they know they’re not going to get enough attention from them to generate the amount of sales and streams needed to justify it, yet they’re forced to do the standard single release plus album announcement, followed by a month or more of PR and other unnecessary bullshit before finally dropping the album. All while the album has been ready for release for months.

On the other side you have single artists like Drake and Post Malone, who really don’t give a shit about albums because they know their bread and butter is made by releasing catchy singles that net huge airplay and streams. But yet they’re still forced to release so many hit singles before announcing an album that’s like 20 songs long that they know is just a lot of filler, but the label knows they can exploit this for streaming and chart purposes. Oh and they still do the whole PR thing for a month or so and talk about how they really “care” about the album before finally releasing it.

In both scenarios, the artists and their fans are being screwed over by having to follow this archaic and traditional method of releasing music. Why aren’t labels adapting around these artists and their fans?

Album artists should announce their albums on a Monday and then release it that Friday. Or just drop it. There’s no need for all the waiting around and picking out singles to release when they ultimately don’t matter. Single artists should just release singles when they’re ready and after releasing so many, just put them on a playlist and call it an era instead of forcing them to release albums they don’t even want to make.

I know why this traditional method is still used and it’s because it’s how many people who work at labels justify why they have a job. But really the continual use of this method just proves why their jobs aren’t needed. Many in marketing don’t want to wake up and realize that 2/3 of today’s marketing is by the end user/customer. This is why I advocate for more artists to go independent, but I digress.

Many album artists have been beating a similar drum for years, but not so much single artists. Fortunately that might finally be changing for the latter, as in country music Rascal Flatts and Blake Shelton have both said in interviews recently that they’re now just releasing singles instead of albums. I applaud both of them for acknowledging the type of artists they are and serving themselves and their fans the way they should.

There are many artists unhappy with the way they’re being compensated for their music and the first step that needs to be taken in them seizing more control of this is acknowledging and changing how music is distributed. Not only this, but it could also create a fairer playing field when it comes to crowning what’s popular. Right now we have a chart system in place that heavily leans towards rewarding singles artists and streaming, while ignoring album artists and those with fanbases that prefer buying physical albums. I find this funny because labels know this, otherwise why would UMG keep Kacey Musgraves and RCA sign Freddie Gibbs and Tyler Childers? It’s because their album sales demonstrates a strong and consistent fan base, which in turn translates to steady concert sales.

The third thing this traditional release method is doing is creating unfair expectations and judgement of artists. It leads to dismissal of album artists for releasing a lead single that is only a small part of the greater picture they’re trying to show you, while single artists are getting slammed for releasing bad albums they don’t even want to make because at the end of the day they just want to release catchy hits.

No matter what side you fall on, neither are right or wrong. But both are being screwed over by the system. I know we could just keep going along with the current system (just ignoring the albums of single artists and patiently waiting for the album artists to release a record), but when there’s a better way of doing things staring you in the face, why ignore it?

Reacting to The Absolute Joke of the 2017 ACM Awards Nominations

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Let’s be honest, I’ve never been that fond of country music award shows. Outside of the 2015 CMA Awards that helped launch Chris Stapleton to a brand new level of stardom, I’ve pretty much scoffed at these shows. As I’ve said before, no other genre spends more time patting themselves on the back than country music. This is evident by the heaps of award shows held throughout the year and this trains the viewer to basically not give a shit. But nevertheless we keep an eye on these shows in hopes they get it more right each time. Well we now have the nominations for the 2017 ACM Awards and there’s no other way to put it. These are an absolute joke. My first reaction was are these the mainstream country radio awards? Because it’s mostly a list of radio darlings that programmers fall over themselves to play. After seeing these nominations it makes me not want to watch and may not. Each category seems to have its own joke, so let’s pick through each.

Entertainer of the Year

  • Jason Aldean
  • Luke Bryan
  • Florida Georgia Line
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Keith Urban

No Eric Church or Chris Stapleton, but sure Aldean and Florida Georgia Line get nominations. Complete failure already before we even get to the more insane nominations. I know the ACMs are in the tank for Aldean, but could they be any less discreet about it? The only nomination even worthy of winning is Carrie Underwood for her excellent touring numbers and consistently churning out hits and I give her a snowball’s chance in hell of winning. Aldean and Bryan are the odds on favorites here.

Male Vocalist

  • Jason Aldean
  • Dierks Bentley
  • Thomas Rhett
  • Chris Stapleton
  • Keith Urban

Once again Eric Church isn’t a nomination. Church released the best album of his career and is releasing the best singles of his career. And every awards show is stiffing him. I guess the industry is pissed he isn’t giving them radio fodder anymore. But I’m guessing Church doesn’t give a shit. Another category with one worthy candidate in my mind: Chris Stapleton. Remember when Dierks Bentley was considered one of the good guys at these shows? Then he decided he wants to be Luke Bryan and make a bunch of cheesy and stiff adult contemporary schlock. No Tim McGraw. Also no Blake Shelton in any categories. Well there’s some good news.

Female Vocalist

  • Kelsea Ballerini
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Maren Morris
  • Kacey Musgraves
  • Carrie Underwood

I don’t know why Kacey continues to go to these awards show when she and everyone else knows she’s just a token nomination to fill out the field. What did she do in 2016 to earn a nomination? She didn’t release any new music. And keep in mind this isn’t a jab at her. She’s one of the best on a major country label. You would think Miranda is the shoe-in to win, but with her turn towards a more songwriter/Americana-like side I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Maren Morris wins. She seems poised to usurp Lambert as the new female darling in mainstream country and is racking up awards like crazy.

Vocal Duo

  • Big & Rich
  • Brothers Osborne
  • Dan + Shay
  • Florida Georgia Line
  • Maddie & Tae

Big & Rich are a Vocal Duo nomination in 2017…..hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! They released one single last year that took like 40 weeks to peak at #14 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart. They’re completely irrelevant. What in the hell makes them deserving of a nomination? Maddie & Tae are a complete token nomination like Musgraves above. I don’t see Dan + Shay being quite in the position to win yet. So it’s between CMA 2016 Duo of the Year Brothers Osborne and past years favorite Florida Georgia Line. I’m hopeful the former wins, but being a radio favorites show I expect the latter to win.

Vocal Group

  • Eli Young Band
  • Lady Antebellum
  • Little Big Town
  • Old Dominion
  • Rascal Flatts

Eli Young Band?! Where are they getting these joke ideas for nominations? You’re telling me Eli Young Band is a nomination, but not Zac Brown Band who at least had a song reach the top 15 in the last year and are a mainstream staple? Get out of here! Lady Antebellum was on hiatus for all of 2016. Rascal Flatts are irrelevant. Yet despite this joke of a category, the best group Little Big Town should easily walk away with this award.

New Male

  • Kane Brown
  • Chris Janson
  • Chris Lane
  • Jon Pardi
  • Brett Young

Out of all the categories, this actually might be the one I have the least qualms with because these are all new male artists who have did something notable in the last year. Despite not being a fan of him, Kane Brown is deserving based on the fact that he does sell well and has great streaming numbers. While you and me might not like him, there are many he does resonate with and it’s ironic he’s one of the few nominations where the ACM looked beyond radio. Hands down this should go to Jon Pardi, who achieved a #1 album with California Sunrise, racked up a #1 hit in “Head Over Boots” and is on his way to another #1 in “Dirt on My Boots.” And I think it actually does go to him because his accomplishments blow the others out of the water. If anyone else wins I’m calling shenanigans.

New Female

  • Lauren Alaina
  • Cam
  • Brandy Clark
  • Maren Morris

That’s right they couldn’t even fill out the nominations for this one. Hey ACMs: Margo Price and Aubrie Sellers. Did you forget they exist? How is Brandy Clark new? This is just another award for them to give Maren.

New Vocal Duo/Group

  • A Thousand Horses
  • Brothers Osborne
  • Dan + Shay
  • LoCash
  • Maddie & Tae

None of these are really new, but then again barely anything else makes sense with these awards. I’m guessing Brothers Osborne or Dan + Shay win here.

Album

  • Dierks Bentley – Black
  • Florida Georgia Line – Dig Your Roots
  • Maren Morris – Hero
  • Keith Urban – Ripcord
  • Miranda Lambert – The Weight of These Wings

This should 1000% go to Miranda Lambert for her great album. But it’ll probably go to Urban or Morris or maybe even Bentley. You could take the best material from all of the non-Lambert ones, put it in one album and it still wouldn’t top Lambert’s album.

Single

  • Keith Urban – “Blue Ain’t Your Color”
  • Florida Georgia Line – “H.O.L.Y.”
  • Tim McGraw – “Humble and Kind”
  • Maren Morris – “My Church”
  • Miranda Lambert – “Vice”

Key distinction is this is single. I’m kind of surprised Thomas Rhett’s “Die A Happy Man” isn’t here, but rather under Song below. I don’t give Lambert a chance here either sadly. I could see any of the other four winning.

Song

  • Keith Urban – “Blue Ain’t Your Color”
  • Thomas Rhett – “Die A Happy Man”
  • Tim McGraw – “Humble and Kind”
  • Eric Church (feat. Rhiannon Giddens) – “Kill A Word”
  • Chris Stapleton – “Tennessee Whiskey”
  • Miranda Lambert – “Vice”

I would be happy with any of the bottom four winning, but watch one of the top two win. If I had to pick the winner I would definitely go with “Kill A Word,” being the best song of the nominations and for Church getting screwed over in general.

Video

  • Chris Stapleton – “Fire Away”
  • Various Artists – “Forever Country”
  • Tim McGraw – “Humble and Kind”
  • Kelsea Ballerini – “Peter Pan”
  • Miranda Lambert – “Vice”

With all due respect to the other videos, “Fire Away” is the no-brainer best video. It’s one of the powerful music videos I’ve watched in years and takes the song to a whole new level of meaning. Instead though “Forever Country” will probably win because it’s done insane numbers on YouTube and sold well (also great numbers on this very blog). The only hesitation I have of it winning is this song was specifically made for the ACM’s chief rival show CMA’s 50th Anniversary. How ironic would that be if it won an ACM Award?

Songwriter

  • Ashley Gorley
  • Luke Laird
  • Hillary Lindsey
  • Shane McAnally
  • Lori McKenna

McKenna has to win this one, right?

Vocal Event 

  • Dierks Bentley (feat. Elle King) – “Different For Girls”
  • Various Artists – “Forever Country”
  • Florida Georgia Line (feat. Tim McGraw) – “May We All”
  • P!nk (feat. Kenny Chesney) – “Setting The World on Fire”
  • Chris Young (feat. Cassadee Pope) – “Think of You”

I could see a case made for any of these conceivably winning. I think this will largely depend on the other categories’ winners.

Review – Artists of Then, Now & Forever’s “Forever Country”

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So I’m just going to state right up front this isn’t going to be your ordinary, standard review. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever reviewed on the site and contemplated not even reviewing it due to its uniqueness. But I’ve been asked for my thoughts and it’s gotten a fair amount of attention at radio and in sales. Plus I love a challenge. So I decided to tackle “Forever Country.” To give background on the song, it’s been slowly hyped up by the numerous artists apart of it in the build up to its release. If you follow one of these artists on social media, chances are you’ve heard a clip of them singing on the song to give their fans a taste of their participation. This is all for promoting and honoring the 50th anniversary of the CMA Awards coming up on November 2. And it’s impressive the amount of artists that are on-board with this song. In the order they appear on the song, here are the 30 artists who take part in “Forever Country”:

  • Brad Paisley
  • Keith Urban
  • Tim McGraw
  • Faith Hill
  • Little Big Town
  • Luke Bryan
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Blake Shelton
  • George Strait
  • Kacey Musgraves
  • Eric Church
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Charley Pride
  • Randy Travis
  • Dierks Bentley
  • Trisha Yearwood
  • Lady Antebellum
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Martina McBride
  • Darius Rucker
  • Jason Aldean
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Willie Nelson
  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Alabama
  • Brett Eldredge
  • Reba
  • Alan Jackson
  • Vince Gill
  • Dolly Parton

For the most part that’s a pretty impressive lineup and it does a great job of showcasing various eras of country music, although I would say it’s noticeably missing Garth Brooks (he most likely isn’t a part of this because the song is available on services he’s against such as iTunes, Spotify and YouTube, which has also kept him from being apart of other collaborations too). The song itself is a medley mashup of three iconic songs: John Denver’s “Country Roads,” Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again” and Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.” I really can’t argue with these choices, as they’re all classics in my book. Some might take offense to a pop country artist like John Denver being one of the three artists highlighted here (somewhere the ghost of Charlie Rich is surely pissed), but he’s arguably one of the best pop country artists in the genre’s history. “Country Roads” seems to get the most time in the song upon the first listens, but after further listens and paying close attention I found all three songs got pretty equal time.

“Country Roads” does lead off and appropriately the West Virginia-born Brad Paisley is the one who leads the song. We also get a lot of pedal steel guitar up front and throughout the song, which kudos to the organizers of this song for doing the right thing. One interesting moment that catches my eye is how close Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton are to each other in the song. Luke Bryan separates each of their solo lines and I’m sure the proximity of the ex couple was merely coincidence, but nevertheless I had to point it out. Kacey Musgraves, Eric Church and George Strait all sing near each other, which put a smile on my face. Willie Nelson getting a prominent spot in the middle was definitely the right call. I thought Brett Eldredge sounded really good when he sang his parts and made me wish he would go in a more traditional direction, as his rich voice can really shine when paired with a good song. Brooks & Dunn and Alabama, two of the most prominent groups in country music history, singing together is a special moment. Reba gets the honor of leading off the main part of “I Will Always Love You” and nails it of course. Then Alan Jackson and Vince Gill following makes it one of my favorite moments in the song. Carrie Underwood leading the chorus is the perfect choice, as she can belt that line like both Dolly and Whitney Houston have done it. Then various artists layer all three songs together to create a crescendo until the finish where the queen of country music, Dolly Parton caps it off perfectly. Whoever made the choice to have Dolly close the song is genius.

I think “Forever Country” is a special moment that perfectly honors country music. And unlike other massive collaborations like “We Are The World,” this song isn’t cheesy and sanctimonious. I think a lot of credit is owed to the producer of the song, Shane McAnally. It’s not easy task melding these songs and these performers together, but he managed to really pull it off well. Everyone involved with this should be proud of their efforts and I hope to see a live performance of this at the CMA Awards because it would certainly be a memorable moment. I’m not sure this song will be remembered years from now, but in the moment it’s a really enjoyable collaboration. It’s hard not to get emotional as a country fan listening to this and as a result makes it impossible for me to really nitpick or dislike.

Grade: Two Thumbs Up 

Video is here now and it is amazing! Check it out:

The Hodgepodge: Reactions to the 50th CMA Awards’ Nominations

CMA Awards 50

Yesterday morning on Good Morning America the nominations for the 50th annual CMA Awards were announced to the entire world. As always these nominations were greatly anticipated, but more than usual after the scathing Facebook post published by Sturgill Simpson earlier in the week that followed him being one of the finalists for multiple awards at the show. So now we know who was nominated and who got snubbed. Needless to say there’s plenty to dissect, so let’s get to it:

Entertainer of the Year

  • Garth Brooks
  • Luke Bryan
  • Chris Stapleton
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Keith Urban

Well well well. Right away I’m a little taken aback by the nominations I see. Garth and Luke were a slam dunk to be nominated, as Garth is still a major force touring and Bryan is still the top star of the Nashville pop. Then we get to Stapleton, who earns his very first nod for the top spot and has an excellent shot. Carrie Underwood surprisingly earns her first nomination too, as she has been one of the top touring artists in the genre in 2016. Rounding it out is Keith Urban, who has experienced a lot of success with Ripcord (ugh) and sells well also. I would say he’s the long-shot here though. Ultimately I think it will be between Stapleton and Bryan, as disheartening as this will sound for Carrie fans.

Two big snubs that immediately stands out here are Blake Shelton and Eric Church. Now before you pull out the pitchforks Church fans, you shouldn’t feel too bad because Church is well represented in every other award. Blake on the other hand, well more on Blake in a second…

Album of the Year

Far and away Eric Church is the most deserving of winning this award. Stapleton’s big night at last year’s CMA Awards unfortunately also overshadowed Church’s best album of his career. This year’s CMA Awards should make it up for that and I expect him to walk away with a lot of hardware. Keep in mind country music needs Church as much as it needs Stapleton if you want to see improvement in the mainstream scene. Carrie’s album is easily #2, despite it’s pop leanings at times. The rest of the nominations are kind of a joke. Morris made a good pop album, Urban made a bad pop album and I don’t know what the hell Dierks was thinking with Black. Despite my disdain for Bentley’s album though, it’s probably the closest competition for Church’s album because Bentley’s team is hellbent on making him an A-list artist.

Single of the Year

  • Thomas Rhett – “Die A Happy Man”
  • Tim McGraw – “Humble and Kind”
  • Maren Morris – “My Church”
  • Chris Stapleton – “Nobody To Blame”
  • Eric Church – “Record Year”

Anyone but Thomas Rhett winning here and I’m happy. Unfortunately I think he has a good chance because so many industry insiders touted this as his most mature and deep song, despite it just being a ripoff of Ed Sheeran. Keep in mind this is for single of the year, so that benefits Rhett more here. If I was asked who I would choose to win here I would choose “Record Year” because it went #1 at radio. I also believe this song will go down as a career song for Church and it’ll be hailed as a classic years from now. McGraw’s “Humble and Kind” also went #1 and was a big hit this year. Stapleton would be my close third choice because he was weirdly not chosen for Song of the Year and I would like to see both songs from Church and Stapleton recognized.

Song of the Year

  • Cam – “Burning House”
  • Thomas Rhett – “Die A Happy Man”
  • Tim McGraw – “Humble and Kind”
  • Maren Morris – “My Church”
  • Eric Church – “Record Year”

Same candidates as above, only Cam replaces Stapleton. It would have made more sense to put “Burning House” up for Single of the Year, but I guess it doesn’t matter to the CMA. If Church doesn’t win Single of the Year, I would pick him to win this one. If he does win Single of the Year, I would pick “Humble and Kind” because I would love to see Lori McKenna get recognized for this great song. I wouldn’t be surprised though if “My Church” ends up walking way with either Single or Song of the Year.

Male Vocalist of the Year

  • Dierks Bentley
  • Eric Church
  • Tim McGraw
  • Chris Stapleton
  • Keith Urban

Stapleton won this last year and I think he’s the favorite to win again if he’s not taking home Entertainer of the Year. So if he is winning EOTY, I expect Eric Church to win this one and Dierks Bentley being the other favorite. It’s kind of ironic after years of Bentley being the best choice in most categories that he’s now one of the worst choice. That’s what happens when you go chasing for fame and not focusing on making quality music I guess.

But let’s talk about Blake Shelton, who you can see did not make the above list. In fact he’s not nominated for a single award. Neither is Jason Aldean and Sam Hunt. All three have been shut out! Isn’t it wonderful? Hunt really hasn’t done anything in the past year except release “Make You Miss Me” as a single, so I wasn’t too surprised to see him missing. But Aldean and Shelton have been fixtures at these awards shows. Shelton used to dominate this award. Of course they could easily re-emerge next year. But for now let’s appreciate this moment.

Female Vocalist of the Year

  • Kelsea Ballerini
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Maren Morris
  • Kacey Musgraves
  • Carrie Underwood

Miranda Lambert will once again because reasons. If there’s one thing I’ve learned since starting this blog is that you don’t bet against Lambert for this award. She wins it every year, even though she didn’t do hardly anything to win it last year and that’s the case once again this year. “Vice” was released after the eligibility window for this award, so she can’t win for that song and that’s the only new music outside of “Sweet By and By” on the Southern Family album that she’s released in 2016. Hands down this should be going to Carrie Underwood or even Maren Morris. Kacey Musgraves is somewhere sarcastically chuckling at her token nomination. Kelsea Ballerini continues to be one of the most fake stars in not just country music, but in all of music with her fabricated #1 songs. Her just being a nomination is an absolute joke and one of the best examples of the bullshit that is spun out on Music Row.

New Artist of the Year

  • Kelsea Ballerini
  • Brothers Osborne
  • Maren Morris
  • Old Dominion
  • Cole Swindell

Why is Ballerini up for this award too? And Swindell? Meanwhile Jon Pardi, Sturgill Simpson and Brandy Clark didn’t make the cut. Fuck you, CMAs! If this was Douches of the Year, I would give it to Old Dominion. Morris should walk away the winner here. If there’s one category you should be angry at, it’s this one.

Vocal Duo of the Year

  • Brothers Osborne
  • Dan + Shay
  • Florida Georgia Line
  • Joey + Rory
  • Maddie & Tae

Florida Georgia Line will win again and will continue to win since their new soft AC direction seems to have won the mainstream crowd over. Dan + Shay are probably just happy that this country career is working out so they don’t have to go back to being back up singers for a pop band. The remaining three choices would be the favorites if I were making the choice. Seeing Joey + Rory being recognized would be an awesome, feel good moment. They should be the winners. Brothers Osborne will probably be the main contenders to the Florida Georgie Line dynasty for years to come, but will continue to fall short in the immediate future. I hope Maddie & Tae are plotting their escape to the independent scene.

Vocal Group of the Year

  • Lady Antebellum
  • Little Big Town
  • Old Dominion
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Zac Brown Band

Wait a minute! Why in the hell are Lady A nominated? They’ve been broken up all year! Meanwhile the CMA snubbed Randy Rogers Band (they were a finalist), who produced a fine album in Nothing Shines Like Neon. Yes, I know they wouldn’t have won. But what’s the harm in a nomination, especially over a group that’s not currently active? This is just all-around stupidity. I wouldn’t give any of these groups the recognition of Vocal Group of the Year. I would write in Turnpike Troubadours, who run circles around all five of them.

Music Video of the Year

  • Cam – “Burning House”
  • Chris Stapleton – “Fire Away”
  • Tim McGraw – “Humble and Kind”
  • Eric Church – “Record Year”
  • Dierks Bentley – “Somewhere on a Beach”

I would be fine with anyone but Dierks Bentley winning here. To be honest though it should absolutely, 100% go to “Fire Away.” That music video is something special and one of the best I’ve seen in years. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it (and have some tissues on hand).

Musical Event of the Year

  • Dierks Bentley & Elle King – “Different For Girls”
  • Luke Bryan & Karen Fairchild – “Home Alone Tonight”
  • Keith Urban & Carrie Underwood – “The Fighter”
  • Chris Young & Cassadee Pope – “Think of You”
  • Morgane Stapleton & Chris Stapleton – “You Are My Sunshine”

Again hands down this should go to the Stapletons. There’s no question in my mind they deserve it with their excellent take on a classic song. Also Don Henley and Merle Haggard’s “Cost of Living” (a finalist) should have been one of the above five nominations. Once again the country industry snubs Haggard.

Musician of the Year

  • Jerry Douglas
  • Paul Franklin
  • Dann Huff
  • Brent Mason
  • Derek Wells

All are excellent and deserving, but I would have to go with the dobro master Jerry Douglas. He should win it alone for his reaction to the Stapleton performance.

Overall there’s a lot to like and dislike about these nominations. As I predicted, Stapleton and Church racked up the most nominations. Morris also tied them for most nominations, which I knew she would get a lot of attention but not this much. It’s certainly something to keep an eye on, as she appears poised to breakout. There’s a lot of love for Urban, Underwood and Bentley, which I also expected. For the most part I think the CMA got it right outside of groups and new artist. These are categories where they could have went out on a limb and went with different artists. Sturgill fans should rightly be angry, but he’ll at least get his due at the Americana Awards and the Grammys. Jon Pardi and Brandy Clark fans have more to be angry about, as they should have been shoe-ins for New Artist. Clark is probably the worst snub of all, as she had legitimate claims not just for New Artist, but Female Vocalist and Album of the Year.

As always I’m curious to hear your thoughts on all of this in the comments below.

Upcoming/Recent Country & Americana Releases

  • First I just wanted to point out that Eric Church sent a radio edit version of “Kill A Word” to country radio that features Rhiannon Giddens singing one line solo. This was deliberately done so it could be listed as featuring Giddens, which is a cool move by Church and his team to help her get recognition.
  • Next week Whiskey Myers will be releasing their new album MUD. I’ll definitely have a review on it soon.
  • Also next week St. Paul & The Broken Bones release their new album Sea of Noise.
  • Karen Jonas will be releasing her sophomore album Country Songs on October 14. This could definitely emerge as an album of the year contender, much like her debut album Oklahoma Lottery in 2014.
  • Jon Pardi’s next single will be “Dirt on My Boots” and will impact country radio on September 19.

Throwback Thursday Song

Kelleigh Bannen – “Cheap Sunglasses” – I just wanted to take a moment to shout out Kelleigh Bannen, who had the guts to leave EMI Nashville to go out and make the music she wants. Her new EP released earlier this year was pretty solid and I would review it, but I don’t like to review EPs because I will get bombarded with EP pitches (despite clearly stating in the about section we don’t take EP pitches). The entire EP is worth a listen, but I particularly enjoyed this song. I’ve always saw potential in Bannen and now we’re finally getting to hear it.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Temperance Movement – White Bear – One of my favorite rock groups today and their new album White Bear proves once again they’re a rock band you should know.

Tweet of the Week

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iTunes Reviews of the New Florida Georgia Line Album

FGL Dig Your Crap

I haven’t actually completely ruled out reviewing the new Florida Georgia Line album. But these reviews give you a taste of what I would say. I guess not everyone loves their new AC direction.

One more thing…

Site News: Derek is taking an indefinite hiatus from writing on the blog, as he settles his personal schedule. Once that’s settled, he’ll be back. For the time being I will be doing the Hodgepodge.

The Hodgepodge: Five Thoughts on Country & Americana Music Right Now

Thumbs Down

Derek is busy dealing with some stuff this week (don’t worry there’s nothing wrong, he’s just a little too busy to write), so I’m stepping in this week to write the Hodgepodge. It was good timing too, as I have multiple things on my mind I would like to discuss at the moment regarding the current states of country and Americana music. There was no way I could pick just one topic, so I’ve decided to do a little state of the genre type address on some topics I feel are pressing and need addressed. So enough pleasantries and let’s get to the talking points, starting with the most prevalent on my mind…

1. Country & Americana Music are Down in Quality in 2016

This seems to be the consensus amongst not only you the readers, but the industry as a whole. I agree with this sentiment, to an extent. There hasn’t been as much quality music being churned out this year compared to recent years. This is true not only for mainstream/popular country, but in the independent and Americana scenes too. But I see people talking like there’s a complete lack of quality and this just isn’t true. I think the issue people are getting mixed up here is genre qualifications and quality standards. No two albums exemplify this more than Sturgill Simpsons’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth and Robert Ellis’ self-titled album. Here you have two artists that have been consistently identified as country artists by the fans and are pretty popular too. They then both release albums that are sonically different from all of their previous releases. It’s a departure from their usual sound and as you know music fans don’t always react well to change. People are calling these albums bad because they’re not fitting their standards of genre qualifications. It’s not evaluating the actual quality of the music for what it is, but rather arbitrarily dismissing them for not meeting their sonic standards. This is flat-out lazy on the part of listeners and reviewers employing this train of thought. I will never dismiss quality music just because it doesn’t fit what I wanted. If its quality, it’s quality. I don’t give a shit if it doesn’t fit the genre I wanted it to fit. Of course I’ve already laid out this thought process on my review of Keith Urban’s Ripcord.

With this point aside, I think the better way to describe country and Americana music in 2016 is that there hasn’t been enough quality music that reflects the roots and sounds of the genre. There’s a lot of different sounds and influences being experimented with right now. I think mainly it’s a lot of artists trying to find a way to stand out while also trying to satisfy their own creative itches. I also stand by my point that a lot of artists are tired of being put in genre boxes. As Robert Ellis sings on “Elephant,” how can you call it art when you’re sticking to a dotted line? I have faith that things are about to improve, especially in the month of August where there are several potential album releases that could be album of the year contenders.

I think there’s a bigger problem though facing artists that is rearing its head in 2016. Both in mainstream and independent scenes the competition for eye balls has never been greater, which makes these problems so concerning…

2. Too Many Independent Country & Americana Acts are Failing to Stand Out/Get Their Name Out There

Many up and coming acts love to look at the likes of Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton as inspirations for their own path to success in music. They love to think they too can replicate the paths they took and be household names just like them. I get a lot of pitches every single week of starry-eyed, hungry and ambitious artists looking to have their music featured here right on the blog in the hopes that they can get enough promotion to stand out and be “discovered.” But here’s the problem I see: they don’t do enough to stand out. It’ll be good music, but it does absolutely nothing to stand out and be different from the crowd. Keep in mind I get pitches from all over the world, not just in the United States. As an independent artist you have to remember you’re going against thousands of other acts in the same position as you. If you want to be recognized and featured on blogs like mine, you have to do everything you can to be unique while also producing genuinely great music. It’s easier said than done. I may be coming off sounding like a pompous ass, but that’s not my point. If I featured and reviewed everything pitched to me, I would never get any sleep. Readers would be driven away by the lack of quality standout music. It’s my job to feature the very best not only to keep my sanity and keep readers’ attentions, but because somebody has to be a gatekeeper for quality. This means I have to turn down upwards of 90% of what is pitched to me.

Then of course there are artists out there who do make great enough music to standout and get featured on my blog, but they simply don’t do enough to grow their fan base and stand out even more. This could be due to lack of a web presence, social media presence and/or touring presence. It’s maddening to watch talented artists who have a chance to really break out squander opportunities before their very eyes and be stuck in the same position for years. Just being featured and getting critical acclaim on blogs like mine isn’t the end all be all to get your name out there. It’s 1% of the things you need to do to grow.

Of course on the flip-side…

3. Major Labels Have Become Too Reliant on Radio to Break Out New Artists

This comes after I had a lengthy and constructive conversation with Christopher Baggs the other day on Twitter. For those unaware, Baggs is a country music chart tracker and industry insider who is very knowledgeable when it comes to these subjects. I highly recommend following him if you don’t already. Anyway our conversation begins after he pointed out how this week on the aircheck chart that 30 of the top 70 songs did not move up or lower in position from the week before with their bullet along with no recurrent. On top of that there’s a very crowded release schedule. This is obviously a big problem. To see the full conversation between us, start at this tweet (click on the date to see the full conversation):

We both agree that right now the labels are on a very dangerous path that could potentially hurt all parties involved. Anyone who follows the Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music knows that there are a lot of songs being pushed way too long on the chart and overstaying their welcome. Chase Rice’s “Gonna Wanna Tonight” spent over a year on the chart! Major labels are taking a boom or bust approach to breaking new and lower level acts via radio and this in turn is delaying new albums from these artists. The Cadillac Three have spent several years on Big Machine and are just now releasing their first album under the label in August. This is all because labels are hell-bent on making singles work and this is just short-sighted. With all of the technology and resources at their disposal there’s no reason why they can’t find other ways to break these artists out and get their names out. I don’t understand why these labels just can’t accept that sometimes a song is not a hit and move on. If a song spends 20 weeks in the 30s to 40s on the chart without hitting the top 30, that should be a sign that this song is just not going to work. But every label has seemed to adopt this boom or bust attitude, so now we’re about to find out what happens when you try to put 100 gallons of water into a 20 gallon bucket (it’s not going to be pretty),

4. Female Artists Still Aren’t Given a Fair Shake 

I’ll keep this one short and simple. It’s over one year after Tomato Gate and not a damn thing has changed in regards to female artists at radio. The only female acts that can get consistently played at radio are Carrie Underwood (an established star) and Kelsea Ballerini (a pop artist that has a label behind her willing to throw obscene amounts of money into marketing because her boyfriend’s dad runs it). Jennifer Nettles will be gone from the chart soon. Miranda Lambert will get a nice initial run with “Vice,” but I highly doubt this song reaches the top of the chart. Maddie & Tae have appeared to be Musgrave’d by programmers. All the while labels continue to pigeonhole their new female acts into two categories: straight pop or throwback country. Of course things aren’t exactly great for female artists in independent scene either. Just like in popular country, male artists get far and away more attention than female artists at festivals. It doesn’t help also when critics like myself stick our feet in our mouth and call them great female artist when we should just say great artist like we do for male artists (I saw an artist point this out and it made me realize I’m guilty of this on occasion). Just overall we could do better on giving female artists a fairer shake and opportunities.

5. Despite all of these issues, I think fans are becoming more informed than ever.

I think slowly but surely more and more country fans are realizing they can’t rely on mainstream media and radio to get their country music fix. They’re taking to the Internet and discovering great artists on their own and through blogs like this one. It may not be that noticeable, but I can truly sense that people are no longer accepting the status quo that has been presented to them. If enough fans become informed and call the bullshit out, that’s when real change and progress gets made. Support your favorite artists and tell your friends too.

Upcoming/Recent Country & Americana Releases

  • As far as I’m aware there are no major releases on our radar this week. But next week the following albums will be released
    • Lori McKennaThe Bird & The Rifle
    • Hillary Scott – Love Remains
  • In two weeks Alan Jackson will release the box-set Genuine: The Alan Jackson Story digitally. It was released last year exclusively in a physical format at Walmart. As someone who owns it, I highly recommend it if you’re an Alan Jackson fan.
  • Also on August 5 Cody Johnson will release his new album Gotta Be Me.
  • Dolly Parton will be releasing a new album on August 19 titled Pure & Simple.
  • Amanda Shires announced she will be releasing a new album titled My Piece of Land on September 16.
  • On September 30 the legendary John Prine will be releasing a new duets album called For Better, or Worse. The female talent featured on the album will be staggering and expansive, including the likes of Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Help Me Make It Through The Night” by The Highwaymen – Country’s greatest supergroup performs the classic Kris Kristofferson tune together. Just hit play and enjoy.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

“Let The Storm Descend Upon You” by Avantasia – I’m not usually a big metal listener, but I instantly loved symphonic metal group Avantasia upon first listen. Their entire new album Ghostlights is highly recommended from yours truly, but my favorite on it is hands down this song. It’s a whopping 12 minute epic! But I assure it’s fantastic. This is probably one of my favorite songs of 2016.

Tweet of the Week

This is in reference to a recent interview Granger Smith had with The Boot, calling Texas the minor leagues. And this tweet is pretty damn funny (funnier than anything Earl Dibbles Jr. has ever done).

The Perfect Steven Tyler Album Review

Steven Tyler Sucks

There’s no chance in hell we’re reviewing the new Steven Tyler album because it is all kinds of awful. This iTunes review here sums it up pretty well (although I’m not sure if I agree on the Run DMC version of “Walk This Way” being bad). Tyler is nothing but a trend chaser desperately trying to cling to the spotlight.