Album Review – Ronnie Dunn’s ‘Tattooed Heart’

ronnie-dunn-tattooed-heart

If you’ve followed Ronnie Dunn’s career in recent years, especially on social media, you would find that this is an artist who has no idea how to deal with being out of the spotlight and being in the back nine of his career. It’s something I’ve talked about a lot on my blog regarding older artists facing the reality that they’re no longer in their prime and have to accept fading into the background in favor of younger, more marketable artists. I’m not saying that this is fair and in fact I’ve argued against the ageist radio system in older artists’ favor. I’m just pointing out reality. Dunn has accepted this at times and other times doesn’t seem to accept it so much. He’s argued for traditionalists and he’s argued for more modern sounds. Long story short he’s been really inconsistent. So it’s no surprise on his new album Tattooed Heart that he’s once again inconsistent and seems to hedge his bet between traditional and modern, leaning more towards the latter many times on this album.

There are many things I find wrong with Tattooed Heart, but before I get to that there are some songs Dunn gets right. One of these times is “I Worship The Woman You Walked On.” The song is about a man speaking to the ex of his current love and telling him about how he’s now loving the woman he had walked on before. He explains how he appreciates her the way he never did. The song importantly comes off more as empathetic rather than vengeful, which it easily could have. Another good song from Dunn is “Only Broken Heart in San Antone.” If there’s one theme Dunn can nail it’s heartbreak and he does it on this song. The song has a very cool and easy-going feeling about it, but this also perfectly encapsulates the loneliness of the broken-hearted person who can only see lonely in a moment of heartbreak. This song also features the most pedal steel guitar of the entire album, which would have really benefitted other songs. The only song to feature any fiddle on the album is the final song “She Don’t Honky Tonk No More.” It’s a song about heartbreak and wanting not only a shot of alcohol in this moment of pain, but classic country like Strait and Jones. This a solid song, but it unfortunately contradicts a lot of the rest of the album.

I originally praised “Ain’t No Trucks in Texas” and after giving it fresh re-listens it just doesn’t resonate as much with me and suffers from much of the same problems I have with “Damn Drunk” and that’s it’s overuse of clichés. While they’re used to get the overall point of the songs across, they each get tiresome with more listens due to these very same clichés. They’re not necessarily bad songs, but clunky and lazy and with more effort could have been good songs. The clichés are most nauseatingly bad on “Young Buck.” This is essentially a letter written from an old bro to a new bro. It praises the cliché bro who drives trucks, chases girls and is the consummate “good ole American boy” according to this song. Songs like this make me gag because it frames reality like it’s some corny, drive-in movie from the 50s America.

You would think Reba’s guest appearance on a song would lead to something good, but “Still Feels Like Mexico” feels like the same old crap we’ve heard from Nashville pop from the synth-y production to the predictable beach love theme. This song is not much different from Luke Bryan’s “Roller Coaster” or Jason Aldean’s “A Little More Summertime.” In fact I would say it’s worse than those songs. Dunn probably should have taken the time to take cues from Reba’s latest album, which chases modern sounds a couple of times, but for the most part is decidedly Reba music that complimented her strengths and didn’t alienate her fan base. Or in Dunn’s case, doesn’t confuse the shit out of the listener, who I imagine expects more traditional country from him.

The biggest problem of this album is also it’s greatest irony. Older artists like Ronnie Dunn love to complain about pop artists like Beyoncé performing at country awards show and say that country can stand just fine on it’s own, yet on their albums have palpable, straight up pop influences. Take for example “That’s Why They Make Jack Daniels” and “I Put That There.” These are straight up pop songs and bad ones at that if I might add. So it’s okay to poorly steal from other genres, yet decry their artists? Once again the hypocriticalness and ineptness of the genre shines through. The hypocriticalness reaches critical mass on the title track, Dunn’s cover of Ariana Grande’s “Tattooed Heart.” It’s not that Dunn’s cover of this song is terrible, it’s just that doesn’t fit him and it’s a blatant attempt at crossover appeal and trying to be hip. It’s so transparent and not to mention is worse than the original version. This was a song meant to be sung from the point of view of a young woman, not a 63-year-old man. This old meme sums it up:

buschemi-meme

Ronnie Dunn had a few good things going with Tattooed Heart and if he built on them this album could have been good. Instead like many other artists on major labels he falls prey to the lure of renewed fame and spotlight by chasing after modern appealing sounds and covering a pop starlet. Ronnie Dunn can do better and has shown this many times throughout his career in Brooks and Dunn. But he’ll never rediscover it if he continues to chase after something that just isn’t there anymore. You can’t rewind the clock and you can’t re-live the past. You can only move forward from where you’re at now.

Grade: 4/10

 

Recommend? – No

Album Highlights: Only Broken Heart in San Antone, She Don’t Honky Tonk No More, I Worship The Woman You Walked On

Bad Songs: Young Buck, That’s Why They Make Jack Daniels, I Put That There, Still Feels Like Mexico

Wallpaper: I Wanna Love Like That Again, This Old Heart


Review – Reba McEntire’s “Going Out Like That” is a Disappointment

reba-going-out-like-that-cover

Hey another comeback single! After reviewing Jamey Johnson’s first new song in several years, I now take a look at Reba McEntire’s first new song in five years. Maybe 2015 will be the year of the comeback in country music. While the return of Johnson is quite big for traditional country listeners, the return of Reba is pretty significant on several levels for the world of country music. First and foremost she’s the biggest signing by NASH Icons so far. The success of NASH Icons becoming a major player has a lot riding on Reba’s new album. Not just NASH Icons either, but the whole getting older artists and more traditional songs back on radio movement. On top of that Reba enters a country music environment that hasn’t exactly braced female artists in recent years.

So Reba as an older, female country artist has a lot resting on her shoulders. This is also her first new material in five years and things have certainly changed in the genre. No pressure, Reba. I’ve been eager myself to hear what new material she has in-store. It would be great to hear Reba back on the radio, as it would mean a lot to a large number of people and most importantly it would probably signify that country music is improving. It’s also nice that this came out right now because there isn’t a lot to talk about and I’m in the writing mood. So without further ado let’s take a look at Reba’s new single, “Going Out Like That.”

Did she deliver with this song? Eh, not exactly. The song is about a woman who just got her heartbroken and now she’s bouncing back from it. It reminds me a lot of the theme of Lady Antebellum’s “Bartender.” The woman is trying to forget about her heartache by going out on the town and partying her troubles away. The mood of the song is quite upbeat and very appealing to radio. It almost has a rock influence to it. I actually have no problem with the theme or lyrics of this song. It’s just a simple getting over a breakup song targeted toward female listeners. The instrumentation is a little bland, uncreative and very adult contemporary sounding. It’s not very country sadly (traditional country nor 90s country).

Reba’s vocals sound good. Except for one big issue I have concerning her vocals. The “echo” effect that is added to her voice throughout this song at the end of the chorus sections and most significantly in the bridge. This is painfully hard to listen to and really ruins the song for me. What makes this even more infuriating is that it’s not even necessary. Once again mainstream country music overproduced a song and ruined it. The only reason it’s added to the song is to make it more appealing to radio and the fickle mainstream listener.

While this song has shot up to the top on the iTunes chart, I expected much better from Reba. I thought of all the older artists she would be one of the last to stoop down to the mainstream country’s level of machines and special effects. If they had just left the special effects out on this song, I would have probably given this a decent grade. Sure it’s nothing new, but it’s not trying to be a deep song that touches your emotions. It’s a feel good, party song. We have enough of those in country music already though. I really hope this is just an anomaly on Reba’s new album and that the rest of it is solid country music. “Going Out Like That” is a pretty damn mediocre song that I would not recommend listening to nor buying.

I can’t believe Reba came back like that.

Grade: 4/10

Country Albums Set To Be Released & Expected in 2015

New year, new music! We saw our fair share of great country music over the course of 2014, but now it’s time to look ahead to what we can expect in 2015. There have already been a number of albums officially announced to be coming out in 2015, along with several other albums expected to be released. So I thought it would be a good idea to compile a list of what we can all expect over the course of the year. Expect all of the albums listed below to be reviewed by Country Perspective. Based on what’s been announced and what’s heavily speculated, we could be in for a fantastic year of country music. (Special Thanks to Rolling Stone and Windmills Country! They provided the majority of this information).

Already Announced

Blackberry Smoke – Holding All The Roses – Release Date: February 10

The southern rock/country band officially announced in November that they will be releasing their first album under new label Rounder Records. It will be called Holding All The Roses and here is track listing for the album:

1. “Let Me Help You (Find the Door)”
2. “Holding All the Roses”
3. “Living in the Song”
4. “Rock and Roll Again”
5. “Woman in the Moon”
6. “Too High”
7. “Wish in One Hand”
8. “Randolph County Farewell”
9. “Payback’s a Bitch”
10. “Lay It All on Me”
11. “No Way Back to Eden”
12. “Fire in the Hole”

Love & Theft – Whiskey on My Breath – Release Date: February 10

Now this was a group I did not expect to get excited about releasing new music. Then I heard the first single from this album (which is also the album name as you can see), “Whiskey on My Breath” and I was blown away. By the way, kudos to Derek for pointing this out to me. The duo never impressed with their bland pop country, so where did this come from? Well the duo left their major label Sony Music Nashville in October 2014, so now you know why they’re making real music now. This could be one of the biggest dark horse albums in country music this year.

The Mavericks – Mono – Release Date: February 17

The Mavericks actually leaked back in June 2014 on a Facebook post that they were releasing a new album on February 17, which Country Perspective aptly pointed out to you. But the post was taken down and they didn’t officially announce it until November. If this album, titled Mono, is as good as their 2013 comeback In Time, there is a great chance this is one of the top albums in country music in 2015. If you haven’t heard lead singer of The Mavericks Raul Malo sing, then you’re missing out.

Allison Moorer – Down To Believing – Release Date: March 17

The former wife of Steve Earle will release her first album since 2010. She talks about the album in length in her great interview with Rolling Stone (linked above), which I highly recommend reading. Another album that could quietly be one of the best of the year.

Alan Jackson – N/A – Release Date: Early 2015

Alan Jackson

The veteran country artist will release a brand new album of music that will coincide with his 25th Anniversary Tour, all of which I broke down back in October. So far no album name and official release date have been announced. It will be his first country album since 2012, as in 2013 he released a bluegrass album (which was fantastic too). Jackson hasn’t been getting a lot of radio time in recent years, but that might change with NASH Icons coming onto the scene.

Zac Brown Band – N/A – Release Date: Spring 2015

Zac Brown told Rolling Stone Country in November they plan to have a brand new album out in the spring of 2015, their first full album since Uncaged in 2012. He said they currently have 18 songs planned for the album, which as you know I’m not a fan of these big albums. He also talked about one song he’s excited about called “Beautiful Drug,” which he thinks will be a crossover hit. I’m anxious to hear what the band has come up with.

Maddie & Tae – N/A – Release Date: Spring 2015

In an interview with Country Weekly, Maddie Marlow said the duo hopes to have their first full length album released by spring 2015. They released a self-titled EP in November, their followup to their polarizing lead single “Girl in A Country Song.” Their first album will certainly be a hot topic upon its release.

Brothers Osborne – N/A – Release Date: Early 2015

After releasing a five song EP in November, the duo announced they would be releasing their first full album in early 2015. I thought their EP was solid, so I expect this album to at least be solid too.

Will Hoge – N/A – Release Date: Early 2015

The first single from the yet untitled album, “Middle of America,” came out in 2014 and I thought it was a solid song. There are very few details, but Rolling Stone put at the end of this post in November that a new album will be coming out in early 2015. We’ll wait and see.

Garth Brooks – N/A – Release Date: Sometime in 2015

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The country music icon made a solid, yet unspectacular comeback with Man Against Machine in November. But the album sales and radio performance has been quite disappointing. In fact his entire comeback has really been a letdown full of bad mistakes. What the hell was he thinking with those singles choices? Anyway he announced during his comeback presser that he would have another new album in 2015. We’ll see what the unpredictable Brooks has up his sleeve this year.

Loretta Lynn – N/A – Release Date: Sometime in 2015

The legendary country singer signed a multi-album deal with Sony Legacy last year and announced a new album for 2015. It will be her first album of new material in 11 years. I have no idea what to expect, but I’m definitely intrigued.

Reba – N/A – Release Date: Sometime in 2015

The biggest singing of the NASH Icons project so far, Reba was said to be almost finished with the album in October. The first album in five years from the country legend will be heavily promoted by Scott Borchetta and his NASH Icons teams I can imagine. If this album does great in sales and on radio, it will be a great first step for the new venture. Reba fans I’m sure are anxious to hear new material from her.

Expected, But Not Officially Announced

Hayes Carll – N/A – Release Date: Early 2015

As Saving Country Music reported in May 2014, Carll signed with well-known independent label Thirty Tigers and Carll said he expects to release a new album in early 2015. An album name and release date have yet to be announced.

Jamey Johnson – N/A – Release Date: Sometime in 2015?

After several months of speculation and years of no new music, Jamey Johnson finally came out and announced some big news. As he told Rolling Stone in late November, he has formed his own label Big Gassed Records and will now be releasing all of this music through it. The first music that has been released through the label was his Christmas EP, The Christmas Song. As for future music plans, here’s what he had to say in the interview:

To answer the question that the fans have been asking: “When are we gonna put out new music?” Now. We’re gonna start putting it out now, starting with this Christmas EP. And then you can look for another release from me after the start of the year. And you can look for more releases from me as the year progresses. We don’t have to go through the same waiting process that other artists might have to, stand in line and wait to get their music out. We’ll just kind of fall in line where we fit for retail — and if we don’t fit there, we don’t fit there. It’s not a problem to me.

His possible first single from the album was released for free on his site this past week titled, “Alabama Pines,” which you can expect a review on soon. Nothing has been officially announced regarding an album, but expect this soon.

Sturgill Simpson – N/A – Release Date: N/A

Sturgill Simpson hasn’t announced anything regarding new music in 2015. However, his producer Dave Cobb seemed to hint that we can expect more from Simpson in 2015 in an interview with Rolling Stone back in July 2014. When talking about Sturgill, he concluded with this:

We’re already starting another one — I feel like we could make three records this year.  Maybe he doesn’t release all three, but we should make them. We’re already doing something totally different and it will probably make a lot of people mad.”

I’ll be shocked if we don’t get new music from Simpson once again in 2015, although I won’t be disappointed because he has delivered two great albums in the last two years. Based on that quote from Cobb I’m excited and nervous about his next album.

Kacey Musgraves – N/A – Release Date: Sometime in 2015

Musgraves made her splashing debut in 2013 with the album Same Trailer, Different Park. Unless you have been living under a rock, you’ve watched her rack up numerous awards from Grammys to CMA awards for this album. Nothing has been confirmed or announced in regards to the new album, but she has been dropping tons of hints on social media like this tweet. It’s just a matter of an official announcement.

 

Carrie Underwood – N/A – Release Date: Sometime in 2015?

Underwood has subtly hinted that she will be releasing a new album in 2015, but other than that she has been quiet about it. With a baby on the way, her main concerns are probably not on music. She just released a greatest hits album in November.

Luke Bryan – N/A – Release Date: N/A

Yeah I’m not looking forward to it either, but you knew he would probably be releasing new material. Think of this as a friendly warning. Bryan has already said he’s in the middle of recording the new album, which would be his first since Crash My Party in 2013. Let’s hope it’s not as terrible as that one. I’m not confident. Also according to Windmills Country and Hits Daily Double, he will come out with a new spring break album on March 10, 2015.

Gary Allan – N/A – Release Date: Sometime in 2015

Gary Allan

Allan hasn’t released a new album since 2013, the critically acclaimed Set You Free. In an interview with MLive.com, Allan said he already has a bunch of new tunes lined up. The always under-the-radar artist will probably knock our socks off again.

Montgomery Gentry – N/A – Release Date: March 24

The music from this veteran duo lately has been terrible, but I once enjoyed their music and as you know I give every artist a chance at redemption. They hinted in a Billboard interview last October that they may release a new album in 2015. According to Windmills Country and Hits Daily Double, the new album will come out on March 24, 2015.

Josh Turner – N/A – Release Date: March 31

After a lengthy hiatus, Turner returned in 2014 with the single “Lay Low,” a pretty solid song. Turner says it’s the first single from his new album, which according to Windmills Country and Hits Daily Double is set to come out on March 31.

Martina McBride – N/A – Release date: Sometime in 2015

Two days before Christmas Martina McBride officially announced on her Twitter page that she was the newest signing to NASH Icons, another big coup for the new Big Machine imprint. She promised new music and more details to come. Last year she released an R&B covers album because she realized that country radio isn’t going to pay attention to her so why not do music she wants to do. This 2015 will most likely be a country album I’m thinking.

Easton Corbin – N/A – Release Date: March 31

Corbin already released the first single from the album, “Baby Be My Love Song.” It wasn’t very good. Hopefully the rest of the album is much better. According to Windmills Country and Hits Daily Double, the album will be released on March 31.

That’s all I could round-up! If you’ve heard any other new country music coming out this year or if you’re excited about a certain album, be sure to sound off in the comments below. 

Ranking Mainstream Country Music Artists: Grade B

After taking a look last week at the very best of mainstream country music, it’s now time to look at the artist I view as good, but not quite worthy of an A at the moment. If you missed part one, click here.

Keep in mind these rankings were entirely compiled by yours truly. It’s only my opinion. The only artists I’m considering in these rankings is mainstream country artists that are on major labels and/or still get radio time. I’m also including legends and acts that are too big to be considered independent artists. The way I determine these rankings is by looking at the overall body of work of the artist, as well as taking into account the most recent offerings from them. So bro country artists that have been churning out hit after hit will be lower on the list. If an artist made bad music in the past, but is now putting out better music lately that will help them. But that bad music won’t be forgotten either. One more thing: attitude and respect for the genre will be considered. The rankings will be determined by grade. Now I’ll take a look at part two of this series, the artists I feel are worthy of a B grade.

Grade B

These are artists that I feel are doing mostly good things for the genre, but it’s certainly a mix of different ways they land here. Some of these artists are new and could move up to an A grade if their next album is great. Some of these artists may have once made great music, but have taken a step back lately. Each one is different.

Eric Paslay 2

Eric Paslay – The self-titled debut album from the singer-songwriter earlier this year is pretty solid, including a Song of the Year candidate in “She Don’t Love You.” Paslay also impressed me when I saw him live in concert back in August. He has proven that he can write and perform great songs. Unfortunately he also wrote a few clunkers and not just his own songs. His two debut singles on his album, “Friday Night” and “Song About a Girl” are the two weakest songs on the album. He also wrote “Rewind” for Rascal Flatts and “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” for Jake Owen. If he can stay away from writing bad pop country and deliver a great second album, he can move up in the rankings.

Jon Pardi –  Just like Paslay, Pardi has been hurt by being associated with the wrong crowd at times. His debut single and introduction to the country music world was “Up All Night,” a terrible bro country song. He was playing songs right beside the worst of bro country. This tends to paint an artist in a negative light in my eyes. Luckily his next single, “What I Can’t Put Down,” proved he’s a talented artist worth paying attention to. His debut album is mostly solid and features some hidden gems that can surprise you. At best he can be Dwight Yoakam with his Californian accent and Bakersfield style music that will remind you of the 90s country superstar. I’m worried the industry will corrupt him, but I’m hoping Alan Jackson picking him to open for him on his 25th Anniversary Tour will remind Pardi that he’s more talented than those bro country hacks and shouldn’t stoop to their level ever again.

Maddie & Tae – The teenaged-duo burst onto the scene with their incendiary “Girl in a Country Song” and immediately captured everyone’s attention. They have followed this up with a four song EP that showed they’re capable of good country music that respects the integrity of the genre and yet still sounds fresh. If they can release a great country album next year, then they can move up to an A grade possibly.

Tim McGraw – The country music veteran dabbled with bro country and auto tune for a while, but finally realized how stupid this decision was. He went back to his old sound with his new album this year and we all hope he never releases another abomination like “Lookin’ For That Girl” ever again. A year ago I might have ranked McGraw at a D grade level, but he’s made up for it with a solid album and a solid single in “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s.”

Ronnie Dunn – The former half of super duo Brooks & Dunn has been a solo artist in the last few years and has released some great songs. He’s also had some terrible album cuts. Just look at his last album. It was all over the place and even Dunn admitted to this in a Facebook post. Although it hasn’t been officially announced, Dunn confirmed the rumor via social media that he is signing with NASH Icons. So don’t be surprised if we get a new album from him sooner rather than later. Let’s hope he finds redemption on his next one.

Brothers Osborne – The duo’s summer hit “Rum” may have been viewed as lazy from some, but I thought it featured great instrumentation and the lyrics weren’t terrible. Their new EP proved to their doubters that they can make solid music and we’re still waiting on a full album from them, which is expected in early 2015. That album will determine if they move up or down in my next rankings.

Brad Paisley

Brad Paisley – A year ago Paisley would have been easily ranked at grade A. His 2013 album Wheelhouse was different, fresh and to me one of the best offerings from mainstream country music. Then 2014 happened. Paisley has done a lot of harm to his overall respect over the course of this year. First he released the mediocre at best “River Bank.” Then he announced he was experimenting with EDM on his new album, which outraged me. The missteps continued when he initiated one of the dumbest social media campaigns I’ve ever witnessed where he engaged in a faux battle with his record label over the release of his music. What was even sadder was most media outlets believed it and ate it right up. And then at last his album Moonshine in the Trunk, which I criticized more than any other publication. I’ll admit I was maybe too harsh on the album, but it was such a huge disappointment from an artist I had come to respect greatly over the years. I hope he learned his lesson, but who knows. We’ll have to wait and see.

Carrie Underwood – The pop country superstar is one of only two female artists in the genre to get a lot of exposure. Even so she still struggles at times to compete with the bros of the genre. Despite some bad pop country over the last few years, Underwood has always undeniably had a fantastic voice. Arguably her voice is the best in mainstream country music. Her best work came with her first two albums, but her newest single “Something in the Water” was pretty solid and reminded me she is a great artist.

Martina McBride & Sara Evans – Two veteran female artists that have been forgotten by radio and mainstream country music. Why else do you think Martina made an R&B tribute album here recently? The genre treats the ladies like crap and something needs to change. Another thing Martina gets credit for is inspiring the creation of the fantastic parody account, Fake Martina McBride.

David Nail – Nail’s music has never blown me away and yet has never offended me either. I’ve heard good things about his album I’m a Fire, but I haven’t got a chance to listen to it and review it yet.

Mickey Guyton – The young, up and coming country artist blew me away with her new single, “Better Than You Left Me.” She hasn’t released an album yet, so I can’t put her at grade A based on such a small sample and pure potential. If the first album she releases lives up to her potential, she will easily move up to the top.

That’s it for part two. Part three will be coming soon!

Ranking Mainstream Country Music Artists: Grade A

If you look at mainstream country artists from the perspective of mainstream country music news outlets, every artist is great in their own way. None of them can do no wrong and it’s just like watching a giant ass kissing convention. If you look at mainstream country artists from the Country Perspective, not every artist is great. There are some good artists, some average ones and some really bad artists that should never make any kind of music. In other words we tell it like it is and deliver you honesty. To me it’s not a very difficult thing to do. I never hesitate nor does Derek when writing reviews to say what is exactly on our minds. So today I thought it would be a good time to start sorting out the good and bad artists in mainstream country music in case you’re an independent country music fan who has thoughts about checking out mainstream country music or you’re just getting into country music period.

Keep in mind these rankings were entirely compiled by yours truly. It’s only my opinion. The only artists I’m considering in these rankings is mainstream country artists that are on major labels and/or still get radio time. I’m also including legends and acts that are too big to be considered independent artists. The way I determine these rankings is by looking at the overall body of work of the artist, as well as taking into account the most recent offerings from them. So bro country artists that have been churning out hit after hit will be lower on the list. If an artist made bad music in the past, but is now putting out better music lately that will help them. But that bad music won’t be forgotten either. One more thing: attitude and respect for the genre will be considered. The rankings will be determined by grade. First we’ll take a look at who I consider the best of the genre.

Grade A

The best of the best in mainstream only make grade A. These artists have consistently churned out great country music over their careers. Their work has benefitted the genre and really saved it some face in recent years. They’re the most country ones left and each of them have a place in my music library. These artists also approach their music and the genre with respect to the roots of it and it’s storied history. Some of them are the biggest names ever in country music. Speaking of that…

WillieWillie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Billy Joe Shaver, Dolly Parton, George Strait, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, Alison Krauss, Reba – The legends of country music that are still making great music after all of these years. They’re icons that have done more than enough to be considered grade A for the rest of their careers. Cherish their music as much as you can. Any country fan worth a lick knows these artists, so there’s no need for me to explain why each are legends.

Kacey Musgraves – The current queen of country music. She’s racked up Grammys, CMA awards, ACM awards and other numerous accolades in a short amount of time. You may not agree with her messages in some of her songs, but you can’t deny she’s talented and most importantly respects the roots of the genre. Musgraves has only released one album so far and she’s already playing alongside the likes of a legend like Willie Nelson and a pop icon like Katy Perry. I believe we haven’t even seen the best from Musgraves yet either. I expect her to improve with each album and be a staple of country music for years to come.

Zac_Brown_USO_tour

Zac Brown Band – Country music purists will immediately cry foul, but to them I say blow it out your ass. “But what about “Chicken Fried” and those beach songs, Josh? You’re just going to forget them?” This argument is so damn old and I won’t stand for it anymore. I’ve listened to every single album that the band has released and I can tell you the majority of their music is not beach related. They have some damn fine album cuts. I’m guessing the people who are beating the dead horse with the island songs have only listened to his radio stuff. Even by just looking at his radio singles, only 2 of their 11 singles in the last five years are island/beach songs. Those songs aren’t terrible either. If Alan Jackson, Dave Grohl, Vince Gill, The Allman Brothers, The Doobie Brothers and Elton John are willing to make music with him, you should respect him. Also never forget this quote.

Dierks Bentley – Despite a few duds over the years, *cough* “Drunk on a Plane” *cough* Bentley has produced some of the best albums and radio singles in country music. His new album Riser is arguably the best mainstream country album of 2014. He also produced a fantastic bluegrass album a few years ago. Just remember when he’s singing a dud on radio or an awards show that he’s only playing the game so he can make great music for the rest of his albums.

Ashley Monroe & Angaleena Presley – Since the Pistol Annies aren’t a full-time group, I decided to rank the trio individually. These two are just beginning their solo careers and have only released one album each. Both albums were pretty damn good. It’s only the beginning for these two and I can’t wait to hear more.

The Mavericks – These guys aren’t mainstream, but they are signed to Valory Music Group, an imprint of Big Machine Records. There’s a reason Scott Borchetta is a wealthy man. He wisely saw money in this talented group and although they will never be on radio again, they can make whatever music they want. This is great news for country music fans. Their 2013 comeback album In Time was one of the best of that year. They’re releasing a new album in February 2015. Be sure to mark it on your calendar.

Lee Ann Womack – She is signed to independent label Sugar Hill Records, but with NASH Icon stations popping up and playing music from her great new album, I consider her mainstream enough for these rankings. Other than her big hit “I Hope You Dance,” Womack has been underrated her entire career. She’s not only put out good music, but a variety of good music from contemporary to gospel to traditional.

Gary Allan

Gary Allan & Josh Turner – Two under-heralded artists who fly under the radar and consistently put out solid country albums. Mainstream country fans will never fully appreciate them, but there are plenty of traditional country fans who do. Turner had been on hiatus recently, but he’s releasing a new album in 2015. Allan hasn’t released an album since 2013, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t release a new album next year too.

Jamey Johnson – “What happened to Jamey Johnson?” I see this in every single comments section on iTunes where someone is complaining about the newest pile of crap from a bro country artist. Well to those people: I didn’t know either until recently. Thanks to some digging by Trigger at Saving Country Music, he found out Johnson was having troubles with his publisher. Then out of nowhere Johnson put a giant banner across his newly designed site that says “New Music Coming Soon.” So we continue to wait and see. Maybe 2015 will be the long-awaited return of Jamey Johnson to country music. 

Brandy Clark – I can’t believe I almost forgot Clark! Thanks to reader Noah for pointing this out! Since she was nominated for 2014 CMA New Artist of the Year Award, that’s enough qualification for her to be considered mainstream. She’s not only penned numerous great hits for the likes of Kacey Musgraves, but her debut album last year was a solid listen.

That’s all for part one! Check back soon for part two of my rankings!