Reacting to The Absolute Joke of the 2017 ACM Awards Nominations

pile_of_shit

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.

Predictions for the 2016 CMA Awards

CMA Awards 50

The 50th edition of the CMA Awards will hit the air tomorrow night at 8 pm ET on ABC. For the ninth consecutive year, Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood will host. There’s a lot of performances lined up for the show. Like always there will be great moments and other moments we wish we didn’t hear. This year I will not be doing a live blog, as I found most people weren’t interested in it. But I’ll be live tweeting on Twitter as always. You can follow me at @realcountryview or twitter.com/realcountryview. For those not on Twitter you can simply go to the Twitter link I just listed and hit refresh throughout the night to get my instant thoughts and snark.

If I get half of my predictions I’ll feel lucky because you never know what backstage politics are taking place for this award’s show. So let’s take a look at my predictions and who I would pick…

To see the full list of nominees for each award, click here.

Entertainer of the Year: Who I Would Pick – Chris Stapleton

Prediction – Chris Stapleton

Male Vocalist of the Year: Who I Would Pick – Eric Church

Prediction – Keith Urban

Female Vocalist of the Year: Who I Would Pick – Carrie Underwood

Prediction – Miranda Lambert

Album of the Year: Album I Would Pick – Eric Church – Mr. Misunderstood

Prediction – Dierks Bentley – Black

Vocal Group of the Year: Who I Would Pick – Turnpike Troubadours

Prediction – Zac Brown Band

New Artist of the Year: Who I Would Pick – Brothers Osborne

Prediction – Maren Morris

Vocal Duo of the Year: Who I Would Pick – Maddie & Tae

Prediction – Florida Georgia Line

Single of the Year: What I Would Pick – Eric Church – “Record Year”

Prediction – Thomas Rhett – “Die A Happy Man”

Song of the Year: What I Would Pick – Tim McGraw – “Humble and Kind”

Prediction – Eric Church – “Record Year”

Musical Event of the Year: What I Would Pick – Morgane Stapleton & Chris Stapleton – “You Are My Sunshine”

Prediction – Dierks Bentley & Elle King – “Different For Girls”

Music Video of the Year: What I Would Pick – Chris Stapleton – “Fire Away”

Prediction – Chris Stapleton – “Fire Away”

 

Share your own predictions and thoughts on the awards below!

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

1000%

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.

Looking Back at The Top 20 Albums of 2015

Country Perspective's 2015 Most Essential Albums

Lately I decided to go back and take a look at all of the album grades I handed out last year. When it comes to grading albums, it can be very polarizing to say the very least and I know there are times when you flat out disagree with me. Other times we’re in complete agreement. One of the toughest aspects of grading is deciding what album is worthy of a 10/10. What constitutes a 10/10 can vary amongst people and I’ve found context is one of the biggest determining factors. Some view a 10/10 in a historical context, some view it in a yearly context, some in a genre context, etc. When it comes to a 10/10 to me, at its core it all comes to a feel for me. I can usually sense a 10/10 from my first listen and I know it’s the mark of a truly great album.

Another important thing I keep in mind when grading is not putting too much weight on the artist’s past material. It should be considered for in terms of comparison for their average sound and whether they deviate from it or not. But in my mind you shouldn’t knock a current album’s grade just because it isn’t as good as the last one in your mind. For example, it baffled me how so many people knocked their grade for Jason Isbell’s 2015 album Something More Than Free because it wasn’t as good in their mind as his previous album Southeastern, so therefore it can’t be a 10/10 if they gave Southeastern a 10/10 in their mind. I also consider it unfair to hold an album in a historical light right upon its release. In my opinion it takes years to determine how well it holds up historically, all-time. Finally I believe there’s no such thing as a perfect album. Every album has its little flaws and has areas where it could be a little better. So I think giving a 10/10 only in the case of it being “perfect” is a little absurd. But as they say it’s all subjective and I just wanted to clarify how I look at albums.

Without further ado I wanted to give you my thoughts on what I would grade albums I gave a 10/10 last year at this current time after having more time to digest and listen to them. Some have held up and some have not. Like I said at the beginning of the year when I announced we were approaching 10/10 grades differently this year, I gave way too many last year. So now I give you what I believe the true 10/10 grades, as well as what I believe didn’t hold up as 10/10. There probably won’t be another post like this next year because I’m being more focused on the grading this year and don’t have any regrets like last year. So here you go:

10/10

Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free

Whitey Morgan – Sonic Ranch 

Chris Stapleton – Traveller 

Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen – Hold My Beer 

Don Henley – Cass County

Turnpike Troubadours – Self-Titled

Houndmouth – Little Neon Limelight

Whitney Rose – Heartbreaker of the Year

Thoughts: Of course our album of the year choice is still a 10/10. I also still stand by my point that Something More Than Free is a better album than Southeastern, even though I’m aware this is unpopular. The key word here is album. If you asked me to pick the best three songs amongst the two albums, I’m probably picking them from Southeastern. But looking at both as whole albums, Something More Than Free is better because it flows better as a whole, thematically and sonically. I know people will disagree.

Of the others that hold up to a 10/10, I know there’s only three of them that some people would disagree. While Traveller being at 14 songs is not ideal and detracted from it in people’s minds, it ultimately doesn’t hurt the album’s overall quality in my opinion. Houndmouth may never put out a better album than Little Neon Limelight again, especially in light of the news of Katie Toupin departing from the band earlier this year. Her vocals were a big reason why I loved that album. As for Whitney Rose’s Heartbreaker of the Year, it just does such a great job of standing out and taking risks while remaining rooted in country. It’s why she won our Female Artist of the Year award.

9/9

Tami Neilson – Don’t Be Afraid 

Sam Outlaw – Angeleno 

The Malpass Brothers – Self-Titled

The Lone Bellow – Then Came The Morning 

Thoughts: So now we get to the albums where they didn’t hold up. Don’t Be Afraid ultimately doesn’t hold up for me because it just doesn’t follow the emotional punch of its title song all the way through the album. Angeleno was a big favorite in a lot of circles, but I just don’t get the same feeling as I did when I first listened to it. It just doesn’t sound as good hearing it back now, but it’s still a great album. The Malpass Brothers are an act I really enjoy, but giving 10/10 to an album mostly full of cover songs wasn’t the right choice. Then we have one of the big surprises for me of 2015 and that’s The Lone Bellow’s Then Came The Morning. A lot of people missed this one because it was a January release. It’s still a really really good album, but it just doesn’t make the cut in my mind for a 10/10, although it’s close.

8/8

Maddie & Tae – Start Here

Jonathan Tyler – Holy Smokes

Dwight Yoakam – Second Hand Heart

The Mavericks – Mono

Banditos – Self-Titled

Thoughts: This is where I know I’m ruffling feathers and people won’t like my downgrading. But I remind you this is just my opinion and not the end all be all. We’ll start with the elephant in the room: Maddie & Tae’s Start Here. I’m a big fan of this duo and that’s one of the things that ultimately clouded my final grade. There’s arguably no other act in mainstream country I want to see succeed more than these two. So I gave Start Here a grade it shouldn’t have received. There’s a lot of really good moments on the album, but it doesn’t follow that through on all of it’s songs. “Your Side of Town” is one song that brings it down, as well as “Right Here, Right Now” and “No Place Like You” for just not being memorable songs. I still say their best album will come when they finally get fed up of the games you have to play on a major label and leave to make their own records on Thirty Tigers.

My fandom also clouded my judgement on Second Hand Heart and Mono. Dwight Yoakam is a living legend and The Mavericks are perhaps one of the most underrated acts in music. Both delivered really good albums with some fun songs, but they’re just not 10/10 albums. Both needed more serious songs on the album to merit it. I enjoy Jonathan Tyler’s Holy Smokes and even bought it on vinyl, but I don’t know what I was thinking giving it 10/10. Maybe it was the summer heat? Ditto for Banditos’ self-titled album. Just a case of me going overboard.

Oh and one last thing. I wanted to give you what I considered a ranking of the top 20 albums of 2015. I think this will also serve useful to those who have just found the site and are looking for great music. These are albums you can’t go wrong with and you can’t go wrong with any of the ones I mentioned above too. My top 20 ranking is all albums reviewed, not just what I reviewed. If you have any questions about this, feel free to ask below.

  1. Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free
  2. Whitey Morgan – Sonic Ranch
  3. Chris Stapleton – Traveller 
  4. Turnpike Troubadours – Self-Titled (This one has gotten even better for me upon more listens)
  5. Wade Bowen & Randy Rogers – Hold My Beer
  6. Don Henley – Cass County (Still can’t believe the drummer for the Eagles made a top ten country album of the year)
  7. John Moreland – High on Tulsa Heat (This one has really grown on me)
  8. Blackberry Smoke – Holding All The Roses
  9. Houndmouth – Little Neon Limelight 
  10. Whitney Rose – Heartbreaker of the Year
  11. Eric Church – Mr. Misunderstood (Still not giving this a 10/10, Church fans. So don’t ask)
  12. The Lone Bellow – Then Came The Morning
  13. Sam Outlaw – Angeleno (This placing will get more complaints than you realize)
  14. Brandi Carlile – The Firewatcher’s Daughter (I hate myself for giving out 9.5/10 grades at one point)
  15. Cody Jinks – Adobe Sessions (Most under-the-radar debut of 2015)
  16. Gretchen Peters – Blackbirds
  17. Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material (Deserves a lot more credit than it received)
  18. Corb Lund – Things That Can’t Be Undone (Also deserved more credit)
  19. Tami Neilson – Don’t Be Afraid
  20. Will Hoge – Small Town Dreams (I always forget about this one, which is dumb)

Just missed the cut: James McMurtry’s Complicated Game, Tony Furtado’s The Bell, Justin Townes Earle’s Absent Fathers and Jami Lin Wilson’s Holidays and Wedding Rings.

The Hodgepodge: Zac Brown Band and ‘Jekyll + Hyde’ One Year Later

It was one year ago today that the Zac Brown Band released their 4th studio album, Jekyll + Hyde. Released on the heels of Uncaged, the excellent third album from the band, and a four-song rock EP produced by Dave Grohl, expectations were high for this album. Initially, the album seemed to fall in line with the expectations. We learned that the band would be covering Americana star Jason Isbell, and had a duet with rock star Chris Cornell from Soundgarden and Audioslave. Early access to “Dress Blues” and “Heavy is the Head” along with the album’s lead single “Homegrown” showed promise for another stellar album.

Come April 28th, downloads from iTunes were available, the album was on the shelves in stores for fans to buy. Everyone loaded the album, pressed play for track one, and then heard the unexpected. Electronic dance music pulsed through the speakers as “Beautiful Drug” played to kick off the album. The name Jekyll + Hyde rang true.

Dr. Henry Jekyll from Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde conjures a potion that he hopes will suppress his evil thoughts and motivations. Much to his surprise, the potion acts in the opposite way, strengthening Jekyll’s evil alter ego, Edward Hyde. As the story goes, the evil Hyde continues to gain strength and overpower the good Dr. Jekyll. Jekyll and Hyde became synonymous with the good and bad in a person.

Zac Brown naming the album Jekyll + Hyde was perfect. He was completely aware of the content being released on the album, and the title could almost be an excuse or cry for forgiveness from the fans who were disappointed by the album. Those who were upset to hear not one, but two EDM-inspired songs on the album. The fans confused by the fact that the first six songs on the album jump around in six different genres: EDM, R&B, world-like, pop-country, big band/jazz, and rock. And those were the first six songs because those were the songs most we’re meant to hear. The band’s first four singles from the album (3 to country radio, 1 to rock radio) are found in this group.

Hearing Jekyll + Hyde for the first time was jarring. It’s an experimental album also meant to achieve commercial success. If you think the album was just a way for the band to try new things and have fun, they wouldn’t have released “Beautiful Drug” as a single. We had never heard Zac Brown Band sing an EDM/club song before, but they made sure we heard it, and they wrote it simple enough to take it to the top of the Country Airplay chart. Zac Brown saw dollar signs in the future, and he did everything in his power to stuff his pockets.

I was optimistic that the band’s Southern Ground strategic partnership with Big Machine et al. would result in some great opportunities for the band and the label’s lesser acts, all while Zac Brown maintained his creative vision. But Zac didn’t have a creative vision for his music, just a commercialized vision. Not two years after criticizing Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind Of Night,” Zac Brown eats his own words and released “Beautiful Drug” country radio. And I firmly believe that this was 100% the band’s idea. Take a look at this recent tweet from band member Clay Cook.

With a recent string of artists like Chase Rice apologizing for his new music, the Zac Brown Band are defending their crap. They’re happy to have written and recorded songs like “Beautiful Drug” because it was a successful experiment. A band who were once the outspoken gatekeepers calling out Nashville’s crap are now producing the same shit they criticized.

To an extent, you can’t blame a music artist for wanting to achieve a little more commercial success. But when that desire for more comes at the price of compromising the ground on which you once stood, it’s a disappointing transition. The desire for more money, the potion, brought about the band’s inner Edward Hyde.

It remains to be seen what the future will hold and how the band will follow this album era up. The Zac Brown Band island country staple, “Castaway,” is being released to country radio just in time for summer, which is almost guaranteed to help carry the song to another number one on the Airplay chart. With an album of 15 different songs, it’s possible that we could see a 5th single from Jekyll + Hyde be released to country radio. Maybe we’ll hear “Dress Blues” on radio after all, but time will only tell.

The past year has been disappointing in respect to the Zac Brown Band. They were one of the few mainstream artists leading the charge for quality music, and their foray into this EDM experimental world changed the minds of fans eager for something better than Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line. Some respect has been lost, but hope remains that Dr. Jekyll will win this time around.

Upcoming/Recent Country & Americana Releases

  • Tomorrow, Martina McBride’s Reckless will be released.
  • May 6 is a big release day for mainstream country and Americana.
    • Cole Swindell’s You Should Be Here
    • Keith Urban’s Ripcord
    • Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Things That We Are Made Of
    • Cindy Lauper’s Detour
    • Ryan Beaver’s Rx
  • Florida Georgia Line will release their debut single from their upcoming third album. “H.O.L.Y.” will be available tomorrow.
  • Maddie & Tae will release “Sierra” as their next single.

Throwback Thursday Song

Wade Bowen’s “One Step Closer.” I’ve mentioned a few times on this site about how highly I think of Bowen’s album Lost Hotel. This breakup song from the 2006 album is one his best songs, in my opinion. A great example of country music being modern without compromising the genre’s roots.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week


Fort Frances – Alio. Fort Frances is a Chicago-based indie rock band. There’s a hint of Americana roots in their sound and style, but Alio carries a dynamic rock sound throughout the album. The band has a big following in Lithuania, and are looking to expand their fandom with the new album. In Lithuanian, “alio” means “hello.” It’s a well produced album and quite honestly one of my favorite non-country albums I’ve heard so far this year.

Tweet of the Week

In the wake of the world learning of Prince’s death, a generic country account tweets lyrics to a Sam Hunt song. That deserves a bit more criticism, but Wheeler Walker Jr. did pretty well here.

iTunes Review of the Week

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A simple, yet effective review of Dallas Davidson’s new single “Laid Back.” Yes, the notorious bro-country songwriter has a country-rap single that includes vocals from Maggie Rose, Big Boi, and Mannie Fresh. Take this reviewer’s advice and don’t listen to it. Just say no.