The Current Pulse of Americana Music [June 11]

Bob Dylan Fallen Angels

Each week I will take a look at the Billboard Americana/Folk Albums chart and grade the top 15 albums. The grading format I use each week is every album will receive either a +1, -1 or a 0. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the current top fifteen Americana albums, with the highest possible score being a +15 and the lowest possible score being a -15. How do I determine if an album is rated a +1, -1 or 0? The rating it received on the site or myself will determine this. If it hasn’t been rated yet, then I will make the call. Albums rated between 7 and 10 receive a +1. Albums rated a 5 or 6 receive a 0. Albums rated 4 or lower receive a -1.

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the current state of Americana music and determine if it’s improving or getting worse. Let’s take a look at this week’s top fifteen…

  1. Bob Dylan – Fallen Angels (New to Top 15)
  2. Mudcrutch – 2 (New to Top 15)
  3. Chris Stapleton – Traveller +1
  4. The Lumineers – Cleopatra +1
  5. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth +1
  6. Brett Dennen – Por Favor (New to Top 15)
  7. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit (New to Top 15)
  8. James Bay – Chaos And The Calm +1
  9. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – Self-Titled +1
  10. Tom Petty & Bob Dylan – Live On Air: Radio Broadcast 1986 (New to Top 15)
  11. Ruth B – The Intro (EP) 0
  12. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color +1
  13. Mary Chapin Carpenter – The Things That We Are Made Of -1
  14. Bonnie Raitt – Dig In Deep +1
  15. Sawyer Fredericks – A Good Storm -1

The Current Pulse of Americana Music:¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The pulse is currently being reconsidered (see below). 

Albums That Dropped Out of the Top 15 This Week

  • Hard Working Americans – Rest in Chaos
  • Foy Vance – The Wild Swan
  • The Jayhawks – Paging Mr. Proust
  • The Strumbellas – Hope
  • Loretta Lynn – Full Circle

Albums That Entered The Top 15 This Week

  • Bob Dylan – Fallen Angels
  • Mudcrutch – 2
  • Brett Dennen – Por Favor
  • Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
  • Tom Petty & Bob Dylan – Live On Air: Radio Broadcast 1986

Thoughts

So I’ve been sitting and re-thinking this whole Americana pulse feature. One of the stark differences between this and the Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music is this is currently based on album sales and the other is based on airplay. It’s kind of unfair and unusual to base each on two different methods of charting. Not to mention album sales are a lot more unstable and harder to keep up with for a full pulse. I don’t want to put out a pulse each week where a handful of the albums don’t have a pulse because I don’t have time to hear everything. But at the same time I still want to do an Americana pulse not only because a lot of you are interested in, but I’m also interested in it. So I propose to you a slight change in course for next week’s pulse: How about instead I base it off the Americana Airplay chart, which I covered in the past before. I can do the top 20 or something like that for the Pulse. This chart is a lot more stable and will allow me to keep up with most or all of the albums on it. Anyway let me know your thoughts in the comments below on what should be done moving forward.

The Current Pulse of Americana Music [June 4]

Chris Stapleton Traveller

It’s here! Each week I will take a look at the Billboard Americana/Folk Albums chart and grade the top 15 albums. The grading format I use each week is every album will receive either a +1, -1 or a 0. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the current top fifteen Americana albums, with the highest possible score being a +15 and the lowest possible score being a -15. How do I determine if an album is rated a +1, -1 or 0? The rating it received on the site or myself will determine this. If it hasn’t been rated yet, then I will make the call. Albums rated between 7 and 10 receive a +1. Albums rated a 5 or 6 receive a 0. Albums rated 4 or lower receive a -1.

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the current state of Americana music and determine if it’s improving or getting worse. Let’s take a look at this week’s top fifteen…

  1. Chris Stapleton – Traveller +1
  2. Sawyer Fredericks – A Good Storm -1
  3. The Lumineers – Cleopatra +1
  4. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth +1
  5. Hard Working Americans – Rest in Chaos
  6. James Bay – Chaos And The Calm +1
  7. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – Self-Titled +1
  8. Bonnie Raitt – Dig In Deep +1
  9. Ruth B – The Intro (EP) 0
  10. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color +1
  11. Mary Chapin Carpenter – The Things That We Are Made Of -1
  12. Foy Vance – The Wild Swan 
  13. The Jayhawks – Paging Mr. Proust
  14. The Strumbellas – Hope
  15. Loretta Lynn – Full Circle +1

The Current Pulse of Americana Music: +6

The pulse debuts this week!

Albums That Dropped Out of the Top 15 This Week

  • N/A

Albums That Entered The Top 15 This Week

  • Chris Stapleton – Traveller
  • Sawyer Fredericks – A Good Storm
  • Hard Working Americans – Rest in Chaos
  • Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
  • Foy Vance – The Wild Swan

Album I Predict Will Be #1 Next Week

  • Chris Stapleton – Traveller

Biggest Gainer This Week

  • N/A

Biggest Loser This Week

  • Mary Chapin Carpenter – The Things That We Are Made Of – Down 8 from #3 to #11

Thoughts

Not a bad start at all for the Americana/Folk Albums chart this week. As I expected Stapleton takes the top spot with Traveller and will chart on both country and Americana chart. Same for Sturgill Simpson and his new album A Sailor’s Guide To Earth. There are a couple bigger names I didn’t expect to see, which are Sawyer Fredericks and James Bay. Both are more along the lines of singer-songwriter/acoustic-based artists, however it is entirely fair to put them on this chart because they do fit the Americana definition. Alabama Shakes and The Lumineers are two acts that really define the chart and why we needed it. The inclusion of Ruth B is the only one that caught me off guard. Then again I’ve only heard one song from her, so maybe she fits the chart well.

As you can see I have not heard all of the albums on this chart, but that won’t be a problem moving forward and only be the case on this first one as the chart begins to define itself. Some of you probably thought I would never give a -1 on an Americana pulse and I prove you wrong on the very first one. I couldn’t even get through the Carpenter album because as I remarked on Twitter last week, it was just too dry throughout and had no variety sonically. It’s a shame because I was expecting big things from it, especially with Dave Cobb as producer.

It’ll be interesting to see what names will pop up each week on this chart and how long it will take before we hit a perfect score or a negative score. As always be sure to weigh-in below with your thoughts and let me know what you think of the format. I’m still tinkering with it and wouldn’t say it’s set in stone. This feature might also be on Tuesdays moving forward and only came out today because I’ve been debating myself on how to approach this. Anyway let me know your thoughts.

Update 1

I’m starting to slowly listen to each album without grades and I’m going to update as I go along.

Ruth B – The Intro (EP): The four song set has some nice piano arrangements, but all of the songs sound too similar. “Lost Boy” is a good song though. It’s a shame the other three don’t do more to stand out.

Sawyer Fredericks – A Good Storm: I couldn’t even make it all the way through with this album. It’s the definition of generic and fits the “white guy with a guitar” stereotype to a T. Also another reminder of why I stopped watching The Voice years ago because it churns out cookie cutter artists.

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

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 8.39.28 PM

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.

 

The Past Pulse of Mainstream Country Music [April 1993]

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? 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 April 3, 1993. This is the first time the past pulse has went back to the 90s, so the chance of our best score yet is highly possible.

  1. Clint Black – “When My Ship Comes In” +1
  2. Garth Brooks – “Learning To Live Again” +1
  3. George Strait – “Heartland” +1
  4. Mark Chesnutt – “Ol’ Country” +1
  5. Pam Tillis – “Let That Pony Run” +1
  6. Brooks & Dunn – “Hard Workin’ Man” +1
  7. Reba McEntire & Vince Gill – “The Heart Won’t Lie” +1
  8. Tanya Tucker – “It’s A Little Too Late” +1
  9. Radney Foster – “Nobody Wins” +1
  10. Billy Ray Cyrus – “She’s Not Cryin’ Anymore” +1
  11. Sammy Kershaw – “She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful” +1
  12. Tracy Lawrence – “Alibis” +1
  13. Restless Heart – “Mending Fences” +1
  14. Alan Jackson – “Tonight I Climbed The Wall” +1
  15. Hal Ketchum – “Hearts Are Gonna Roll” +1
  16. Mark Collie – “Born To Love You” +1
  17. Aaron Tippin – “My Blue Angel” +1
  18. Alabama – “Once Upon A Lifetime” +1
  19. Kathy Mattea – “Standing Knee Deep In A River (Dying of Thirst)” +1
  20. Trisha Yearwood – “You Say You Will” +1
  21. Lorrie Morgan – “What Part of No” +1
  22. Little Texas – “I’d Rather Miss You” +1
  23. Mary Chapin Carpenter – “Passionate Kisses” +1
  24. Doug Stone – “Made For Loving You” +1
  25. Lee Roy Parnell – “Tender Moment” +1
  26. Dwight Yoakam – “Ain’t That Lonely Yet” +1
  27. Neal McCoy – “Now I Pray For Rain” +1
  28. Gibson/Miller Band – “High Rollin'” +1
  29. John Michael Montgomery – “I Love The Way You Love Me” +1
  30. Dolly Parton – “Romeo” +1

The Past Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: +30

Perfect score! I knew we would find a chart with a +30 score. It was close on a couple of songs, but each song was good enough to merit a +1 from me. The songs that came close to getting a 0 were Hal Ketchum’s “Hearts Are Gonna Roll” and Mark Collie’s “Born To Love You.” None of the songs came I considered giving a -1. Last week we looked at March 2004 and I considered a +15 pretty good. But this point in time in country music was truly great. It’s really hard to choose my favorites from all of these. There’s a lot of variety too, with several female artists on it. Garth Brooks wasn’t starting to put out corny songs yet either. Can radio go back to these kinds of songs please?

As is now customary, fire away with your comments and questions about this week’s past pulse. Recognize some old favorites? Maybe a few you would like to not be reminded about?