The Past Pulse of Mainstream Country Music [March 2010]

Every week I take a look the Billboard Country Airplay chart from years ago and grade the top 30 songs. Each week will be a different year. It could be 10 years ago, 20 years ago or even further back. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive either a +1, -1 or a 0. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the past top thirty country songs, with the highest possible score being a +30 and the lowest possible score being a -30. How do I determine if a song is rated a +1, -1 or 0? The rating it received on the site by either Derek or myself will determine this. If it hasn’t been rated yet, then I will make the call. Songs rated between 7 and 10 receive a +1. Songs rated between 5 and 6.5 receive a 0. Songs rated 4.5 or lower 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 take a look at the top 30 on the Country Airplay Chart from March 13, 2010.

  1. Josh Turner – “Why Don’t We Just Dance” +1
  2. Billy Currington – “That’s How Country Boys Roll” -1
  3. Darius Rucker – “History In The Making” 0
  4. Blake Shelton & Trace Adkins – “Hillbilly Bone” -1
  5. Brad Paisley – “American Saturday Night” 0
  6. Easton Corbin – “A Little More Country Than That” +1
  7. Carrie Underwood – “Temporary Home” +1
  8. Keith Urban – “‘Til Summer Comes Around” 0
  9. Zac Brown Band – “Highway 20 Ride” +1
  10. Lady Antebellum – “American Honey” 0
  11. Kenny Chesney – “Ain’t Back Yet” -1
  12. Taylor Swift – “Fearless” -1
  13. Rascal Flatts – “Unstoppable” -1
  14. Kellie Pickler – “Didn’t Know How Much I Loved You” +1
  15. Steel Magnolia – “Keep On Lovin’ You” 0
  16. Justin Moore – “Backwoods” -1
  17. Eric Church – “Hell On The Heart” +1
  18. Joe Nichols – “Gimme That Girl” 0
  19. Alan Jackson – “It’s Just That Way” +1
  20. Chris Young – “The Man I Want To Be” 0
  21. George Strait – “I Gotta Get To You” +1
  22. Tim McGraw – “Still” +1
  23. Martina McBride – “Wrong Baby Wrong” +1
  24. Clay Walker – “She Won’t Be Lonely Long” +1
  25. The Band Perry – “Hip To My Heart” -1
  26. Reba – “I Keep On Lovin’ You” 0
  27. Love and Theft – “Dancing In Circles” +1
  28. Luke Bryan – “Rain Is A Good Thing” -1
  29. Lee Brice – “Love Like Crazy” 0
  30. Gretchen Wilson – “Work Hard, Play Harder” 0

The Past Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: +4

As we continue to look further towards the present, the pulse continues to drop. Two weeks ago we looked the chart in 2005 and it was +22. Last week we looked at the chart in 2007 and it was at +10. This week we look at the chart in 2010 and it’s down to +4. Clearly the quality drops the closer we get to present day and the pre-cursors to the problems currently plaguing the genre are rearing their ugly heads. At the top of this chart is a good song, Josh Turner’s “Why Don’t We Just Dance.” Turner to this day continues to produce solid country music that appeals to the roots of the genre and country radio. We need more artists like Turner. Right behind that though is a problematic song in Billy Currington’s “That’s How Country Boys Roll.” This song being a success is what helped lead to a lot of country songs about how country they are. Then you have the ridiculous “Hillbilly Bone,” which was pretty much Trace Adkins last hurrah as he’s faded into obscurity since this hit. Also another song comparing country boys to city boys.

Easton Corbin just broke out with “A Little More Country Than That” and really got me excited about his potential at the time. Unfortunately he’s declined in quality ever since. What a shame. Carrie Underwood’s “Temporary Home” was a nice return to her early beginnings after releasing mediocre pop country singles “Cowboy Casanova” and “Undo It.” Zac Brown Band’s “Highway 20 Ride” is one of the group’s most sentimental songs in their library. Kenny Chesney had run out of ideas at about this time in 2010 and really he’s still out of new ideas for songs. Same could be said for Rascal Flatts. Taylor Swift was in the midst of her big rise to becoming a superstar. Kellie Pickler was still on radio and I wish I had appreciated it more. Steel Magnolia doesn’t even exist anymore and one half of the duo is now “trying out” on The Voice.

Justin Moore’s “Backwoods” was terrible then and still terrible now. This song and really his music helped usher in bro-country. I need to pick a week when “Bait A Hook” is charting so I can rant about it. Eric Church wasn’t an egomaniac making pop rock yet. Joe Nichols was slowly starting to fall to the dark side. Sure “Gimme That Girl” isn’t terrible, but giving it a pass is what led to him making “Yeah” in my opinion. From 19-24 (other than Chris Young), torch bearers of country music from the 90s and 2000s were slowly fading in radio play. Love and Theft was still a trio and this single was actually not that bad. Luke Bryan’s “Rain Is A Good Thing” was his first big hit and it annoyed the absolute shit out of me. Radio played this one to death, at least in my area. This just made me hate rain even more.

So what do you think of this chart? What’s your favorite and least favorite of the above songs?

Album Review – Love and Theft’s ‘Whiskey On My Breath’

Love & Theft Whiskey On My Breath

The story of country music group Love and Theft is certainly interesting. They originally started out as a trio made up of Brian Bandas, Stephen Barker Liles and Eric Gunderson. They got their break into country music via the writing of Liles and caught people’s attentions with their pop country flavor. After two top 25 songs under Carolwood/Lyric Street Records, it shut down in April 2010 and left the group without a label. In 2011 Bandas left Love and Theft, making the trio a duo. Liles and Gunderson then signed with RCA Nashville, where they landed their first #1 hit, “Angel Eyes.” Their three follow-up singles flopped however and in October 2014 they parted way with Sony Music Nashville. They’re now with the independent label Hate & Purchase Music. They’ve released their first album under Hate & Purchase, Whiskey On My Breath. The first single from this album has impressed me, so let’s see if the album can follow suit.

The album starts off with “Can’t Wait for the Weekend,” which begins well enough with some acoustic guitar play. When the song itself begins is when it takes a wrong turn. It’s a boring, clichéd party song about weekend warriors. There’s nothing offensively bad about it, but it bores me to tears with its bland lyrics and vocals. The boring clichés continue with “Anytime, Anywhere.” The premise of the song is a guy willing to kiss his girl anytime, anywhere. Call it bro country, call it checklist country, call it whatever you want to, but you’ve heard this song hundreds of times already. This song is the antithesis to creativity. It’s more of the same again with “Hang out Hungover.” There are more clichéd lyrics and another song about a man trying to have sex with a woman. Nothing to see hear. This is another uncreative song appealing to radio.

Next is the album’s title track, which was the lead single and as I said above what colored me interested in this album in the first place. Up until this song, Love and Theft had yet to impress with a song because they just sang vapid pop country songs. This is a song of substance that deals with meeting Jesus and answering for your sins, but the man in the song doesn’t want to meet him with whiskey on his breath. The lyrics are well written, the song is decidedly country and it’s easily the best song Love and Theft has ever put out. They follow this up with another strong song, “Easy.” Love and Theft sing about how easy it is to love someone who captures your heart. While the lyrics are a little cheesy and checklist-y at times, they work for the most part. What really sells this song to me is the harmonies, which is part of what made “Whiskey on My Breath” such a great song. This is a pop country with a simple theme that makes for a solid song.

Based on the title of “Tan Lines,” I came into this song expecting the worst. Does it live up to this expectation? Yes it does. Within the first five seconds of the song you know this is not going to be good because of the reggae, beach beat you’ve heard in beach country songs before. The song is about getting drunk on a beach and finding girls with tan lines. While it might seem harmlessly fun at first, the chorus of this song will annoy you more every time you hear it. It’s easily the worst song on this entire album. I predict this will be a hit single and it will haunt us in the summer of 2015. I really hope I’m wrong though.

“Everybody Drives Drunk” is another song that when I saw the title of it, I expected a terrible, inappropriate party song. Fortunately, I’m very wrong. This is a song about how people are all under the influences of some past heartbreak or unfortunate event in their lives, meaning that we’re all going through life driving drunk. In other words, we’ve all been hurt and we are all influenced by our past. So the title “Everybody Drives Drunk” is actually quite clever and creative. This song sounds like it came right out of the 90s too. It’s a great song, although I find it bizarre that it follows “Tan Lines.” Love and Theft go back to being radio-friendly unfortunately on “Can’t Stop Smiling.” This song could have been good, but the lyrics are just too clichéd and unimaginative. I’m also getting a boy-band like vibe from the song. I will say one thing this song gets right is the mandolin, so at least the song sounds mostly country. That saves the song from being completely not memorable.

The next song is “Wrong Baby Wrong” and wait a minute…this song sounds familiar. That’s because this was a top 15 song by Martina McBride in 2010. I’m sure most of you will instantly remember this one. One of the writers of this song is Stephen Barker Liles, who is one half of Love and Theft. The other writers are Brad and Brett Warren (The Warren Brothers) and Robert Ellis Orrall. So it makes sense Love and Theft would be covering this song. Compared to Martina’s version, their version is more stripped down and bluesy, as it has a nice dose of harmonica play. While this version isn’t as powerfully vocally, it’s better instrumentally and production wise.

The album continues its schizophrenic behavior with “Like I Feel It.” What I said for “Can’t Stop Smiling” above, you can say the same for this song. The lyrics are bad, but the instrumentation is actually good. The vocals are very average at times and at other times cringe worthy, especially in the bridge where they add an echo effect to their voices. Why artists are compelled to add this to their songs is beyond me. The album ends with the party song, “Get Drunk and Make Friends.” While this will make you roll your eyes, let me expound upon this. It’s actually a country party song. The main instrumentation in this song is the piano and harmonica. The lyrics aren’t offensive and are actually kind of fun. This is a country party song done right and reminds me of the feel good country songs of the past. So it’s a great way to end the album.

I have no idea what the hell I just listened to, as Whiskey On My Breath was literally all over the place. There are times on this album where I roll my eyes and cringe, while there are other moments where I applaud the creativity and instrumentation. A psychologist would say Love and Theft is experiencing an identity problem, as they have no idea what they want to be with this album. There’s really a song on it for everyone, which I guess is okay. But for an album as a whole it sends mixed messages. So with that being said I would recommend listening to “Whiskey on My Breath,” “Easy,” “Everybody Drives Drunk,” “Wrong Baby Wrong” and “Get Drunk and Make Friends.” If you like vapid party songs, check out the rest. I give a half-recommendation, half-condemnation. Love and Theft’s Whiskey On My Breath isn’t among the best, nor worst country albums you’ll hear in 2015.

Grade: 5/10

Derek’s Top Ten Country Songs – November 2014

My favorite thing about my top ten this month is the number of independent artists represented here. These are some great songs with wonderful vocal deliveries and fantastic songwriting.  My favorite this month by a slight edge is Mack McKenzie’s “Walk With Me”: a heartbreaking song about losing your wife after 50 years. I’m a sucker for that kind of topic, and McKenzie delivers the story with perfection over a simple, acoustic arrangement. At number 2, we have “Old Ways” from Ashley Raines & The New West Revue. Their newest album, After The Bruising was released on Thanksgiving (be on the look out for my review later this month). “Old Ways” is about life’s lessons and understanding the decisions we make have brought us to this point. Mack McKenzie appears again with “I’m Doing Alright”, “One Last, One More”, and “Oceans.” McKenzie’s One Last, One More is simply great country music.

Ashley Raines appears again with the title track from his new album. “After The Bruising” is dark and heavy with room for interpretation within the lyrics. The Doobie Brothers’ reworking of their hit, “Black Water”, with Zac Brown Band was such a pleasure to listen to. I’m convinced there isn’t a song Zac touches that I won’t like and this was no exception. Newcomers Maddie & Tae had an impressive EP released this month. I love the youthful, witty sass they write with, and “Sierra” is a great example of that. It was my favorite of the four songs on that EP. Love and Theft (remember them?) released an impressive single in late November. “Whiskey on My Breath” is about a man who drinks too much and has a life that fell into shambles. When he dies he knows he’ll get into heaven, but the shame of facing Jesus with whiskey on his breath scares him. It’s a wonderful song. And finally, I realize there are only 9 songs on that playlist. My last song comes from Garth Brooks. You know, the man who called Youtube “the Devil” and is anti streaming so I can’t link his studio tracks. I loved “Tacoma” off Man Against Machine.  

As a treat, here’s “Tacoma” songwriter Caitlyn Smith performing the song:

My Thoughts on The 2014 CMA Award Nominations

Earlier this morning the nominations for the 2014 CMA Awards were announced on Good Morning America and in an official press conference. The 48th edition of the CMA Awards will air on November 5 at 8 pm ET live on ABC. Here are all of the nominees:

Entertainer of the Year
Luke Bryan
Miranda Lambert
Blake Shelton
George Strait
Keith Urban

Once again it’s going to come down to Luke Bryan and George Strait for the top award. If you recall earlier this spring, Bryan fans took to social media in droves to complain about Strait winning because he was retiring from major touring. I really don’t see the other three artists even having a shot to win. I want to say Strait is going to win again and I hope he does for the sake of traditional country music, but you just never know. I’m sure Bryan’s team is going to be making an all out effort to help him win.

Female Vocalist of the Year
Miranda Lambert
Martina McBride
Kacey Musgraves
Taylor Swift
Carrie Underwood

Anyone who thought seeing Taylor Swift get nominated, despite going to pop music, is a surprise obviously doesn’t understand how these awards shows work. Country music is going to do everything it can to keep her, like the ex-lover clinging to your leg as you leave them out the front door. She could win the award as country music’s attempt to get her to show, but I think that would make the CMA look pretty foolish. Then again it wouldn’t shock me they would do something stupid. Lambert is the favorite to win the award, as she has the most nominations out of everyone with nine total nominations. Kacey Musgraves has a great chance too, as she’s already won two Grammys and the CMA Album of the Year in 2014. I’ll be fine with Lambert or Musgraves winning. If Swift wins I’ll be outraged.

Male Vocalist of the Year
Dierks Bentley
Luke Bryan
Eric Church
Blake Shelton
Keith Urban

This is Luke Bryan’s award to lose. He’s easily the front-runner. If I was making the choice I think Dierks Bentley is the most deserving out of the five. While “Drunk on a Plane” is an absolute dud, the rest of his album was great. I hope I get a chance to do a proper review on it because there are a lot of hidden gems on it. No Jason Aldean? Considering he has the #1 song out right now I figured he would at least be nominated.

Album of the Year
Crash My Party, Luke Bryan
Fuse, Keith Urban
Platinum, Miranda Lambert
Riser, Dierks Bentley
The Outsiders, Eric Church

This group is interesting and I think it’s a tossup on who wins Album of the Year. Obviously I think Bentley should win this award too, but him and Keith Urban are probably the least likely to win. I could see Church getting this one to appease his massive ego.

Vocal Group of the Year
Eli Young Band
Lady Antebellum
Little Big Town
The Band Perry
Zac Brown Band

No question I think Zac Brown Band is deserving of this award. The most likely winner though is Lady Antebellum. After picking up Taylor Swift’s ex-producer for their new upcoming album and their single “Bartender” staying in the top five on the Hot Country Billboard chart all summer, they’re the favorites. Little Big Town may have a shot, depending on how their new album is received.

New Artist of the Year
Brandy Clark
Brett Eldredge
Kip Moore
Thomas Rhett
Cole Swindell

The most pleasant surprise out of all of the nominees is Brandy Clark being nominated for New Artist of the Year. This is a big deal for traditional country music fans everywhere and Clark is certainly deserving of the nomination. She’s definitely the underdog for this award and the only female artist too. In a perfect world, she’s a shoe-in for this award. But we live in a world where bro country has dominated for years. Cole Swindell is the definite favorite. I know I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that Clark is able to pull off the upset.

Vocal Duo of the Year
Dan + Shay
Florida Georgia Line
Love and Theft
The Swon Brothers
Thompson Square

None of these artists deserve to win. I would choose either First Aid Kit or Shovels & Rope. If Florida Georgia Line doesn’t win, I’ll eat my hat.

Single of the Year (Award goes to artist and producer)
“Automatic,” Miranda Lambert
“Drunk on a Plane,” Dierks Bentley
“Give Me Back My Hometown,” Eric Church
“Meanwhile Back at Mama’s,” Tim McGraw featuring Faith Hill
“Mine Would Be You,” Blake Shelton

I think this one is a tossup too. I could see any of these winning. My choice would be “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s.” I’ll need some time to think about this one for my predictions.

Song of the Year (Award goes to songwriters)
“Automatic,” written by Nicolle Galyon, Natalie Hemby and Miranda Lambert
“Follow Your Arrow,” written by Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally
“Give Me Back My Hometown,” written by Eric Church and Luke Laird
“I Don’t Dance,” written by Lee Brice, Rob Hatch, and Dallas Davidson
“I Hold On,” written by Brett James and Dierks Bentley

This is another tough one to predict. I would say “I Don’t Dance” is the favorite because I’m sure the CMA wants to make sure Dallas Davidson wins an award. I think “Follow Your Arrow” should win this award for its different theme, as well its traditional country elements. I would be fine with “I Hold On” winning too because it’s one of the best off Bentley’s album and it did pretty well on radio for a while.

Musical Event of the Year
“Bakersfield,” Vince Gill and Paul Franklin
“Meanwhile Back at Mama’s,” Tim McGraw and Faith Hill
“Something Bad,” Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood
“We Were Us,” Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert
“You Can’t Make Old Friends,” Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton

There’s two classic country nominations in this fight. I feel like “You Can’t Make Old Friends” doesn’t get enough credit for how well written and performed it is by Rogers and Dolly. It would be fantastic to see Vince Gill and Paul Franklin win. The one I don’t want to see win and is the most likely winner is “Something Bad.” It’s such a horrible song, but it sat in the top ten for so long and it reached #1 on Billboard so it’s the obvious favorite.

Music Video of the Year
“Automatic,” Miranda Lambert
“Bartender,” Lady Antebellum
“Drunk on a Plane,” Dierks Bentley
“Follow Your Arrow,” Kacey Musgraves
“Something Bad,” Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood

Four out of the five nominations have a female artist, which to me is the second biggest surprise of the nominees. I’m shocked “This is How We Roll” and “Dirt” didn’t get nominated. Nevertheless this one is tough to call too and another one I have to think about for my predictions.

Musician of the Year
Sam Bush
Jerry Douglas
Paul Franklin
Dann Huff
Mac McAnally

Another one I’m going to have to think about for when I make my predictions.

Be sure to voice your own thoughts on the nominations in the comments sections below.