Talk about a pleasant surprise! Today Sony Music Nashville officially they’ve signed the popular, Grammy-winning Old Crow Medicine Show to their label. They’ve been assigned to the Columbia Records Nashville imprint and have announced the release of a new album of Bob Dylan covers, 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde. It will be released on April 28 and it celebrates the 50th anniversary of Bob Dylan’s release of his album Blonde on Blonde. The group recorded this album live at the CMA Theatre in May 2016. It is already available for pre-order on their site and will be available everywhere for pre-order this coming Friday. They’ve also announced a tour supporting the album, Old Crow Medicine Show Performing Blonde on Blonde. You can see the full tour dates schedule below.
It makes perfect sense that this iconic roots group would be honoring Dylan, as the band has crafted two great songs out of Dylan chorus, the most famous being “Wagon Wheel.” The band really came onto people’s radars after Darius Rucker covered it of course. The bigger news here is a major country label signing Old Crow Medicine Show. Certainly not for a lack of a talent because they’re one of the best groups in country/folk today. Certainly not for a lack of achievements: members of the Grand Ole Opry, certified platinum status, multiple Grammys and a very popular touring band.
It’s that a major country label would actually sign them. Or perhaps not. We’re now seeing the effects of the rise of acts like Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton. It’s forced major labels to pay more attention to acts outside the mainstream sound who sell and cultivate a major following. They’re still never going to get played on country radio. But they’re more relevant and sell better (both touring and music) than many on the radio. Remember Sony Music just recently also revived Monument Records inking Caitlyn Smith, an artist in a similar position. This very well could signal a shift in the way major country labels do business. We’ll have to wait and see.
4 Santa Barbara, CA @ The Granada Theatre
5 Los Angeles, CA @ The Wiltern
6 Oakland, CA @ Fox Theater
8 Portland, OR @ Revolution Hall
10 Seattle, WA @ The Moore Theatre
12 Salt Lake City, UT @ Delta Hall at Eccles Theater
13 Aspen, CO @ Belly Up Aspen
14 Denver, CO @ Paramount Theatre
20 Knoxville, TN @ Tennessee Theatre
22 Washington, DC @ Lincoln Theatre
24 New York, NY @ The Town Hall
25 Boston, MA @ Orpheum Theatre
28 Cooperstown, NY @ Brewery Ommegang
30 Pittsburgh, PA @ Stage AE
31 Columbus, OH @ EXPRESS LIVE!
1 Cincinnati, OH @ Taft Theatre
2 Louisville, KY @ Iroquois Amphitheater
8 Chicago, IL @ The Vic Theatre
9 Milwaukee, WI @ Pabst Theater
10 St. Paul, MN @ The Palace Theatre
11 Kansas City, MO @ Uptown Theater
12 St. Louis, MO @ The Pageant
24 Manchester, UK @ O2 Ritz
25 Glasgow, UK @ O2ABC
28 London, UK @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire
30 Amsterdam, NL @ Paradiso
About four years ago if you recall there was a big folk revival that took place. This was of course made possible by the previous folk revival around the turn of the millennium when the success of the soundtrack for the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?, as it took home a Grammy and gave way to the rise of other folk acts like Emmylou Harris and Old Crow Medicine Show. The latter group is what inspired one of two bands that were central to the 2012 folk revival, Mumford & Sons. The other band at the center of this revival was The Lumineers. Many of you probably know them from their smash hit “Ho Hey,” which alongside Mumford & Sons’ “I Will Wait” captured people’s attentions everywhere. Fast forward to today and now Mumford & Sons have abandoned their banjo and went electric, something that really didn’t surprise people. But The Lumineers certainly haven’t abandoned the sound that caught everyone’s attention. And they show no signs of stopping either.
The Lumineers are made up of founding members Wesley Schultz (vocals, guitar) and Jeremiah Fraites (drums, piano), along with Neyla Pekarek (cellist, backing vocalist) who joined the band in 2010. Schultz and Fraites write all of the songs on their albums. And now four years after their successful self-titled album, they return with their sophomore followup, Cleopatra. Before you listen to the album there’s one quote you should remember when you listen to it and that comes from Schultz, who said this regarding it, “We want to focus on the core, not the illusion.” Trust me once you hear the album, you’ll understand.
Cleopatra begins with “Sleep on the Floor,” an adventurous song where a man urges his woman to pick up her stuff and travel the country with him. The Lumineers’ usual roots-y, folk rock, guitar-driven sound makes the song catchy and easy to enjoy. The whole album doesn’t really stray at all from this sound. The album’s lead single “Ophelia” follows. It’s a reflective, somewhat upbeat song about a woman who was once in the man’s life. Well on the surface it’s seem like, as on their site The Lumineers say it “personifies fame as a dangerous temptress.” The piano play by Fraites is great and really drives the song well. The album title track tells the story of a woman who has experienced tragedy in her life. Most notably it deals with how she was too late for the love of her life, letting life pull her away from someone she loved and wanted to marry. The inspiration for the song came from a woman Schultz met in the Republic of Georgia. She’s a cab driver who told her tragic life story to him. It inspired the group to write this song and make it their album’s name. The story and lyrics are so tragically beautiful, really personifying the whole album.
“Gun Song” is about a man discovering his father’s pistol after he died, unaware his father owned a pistol. The man himself doesn’t own a single gun, so it comes as a surprise to him. He then reflects on his life and hopes to be more than his father’s son someday. One of my favorites on Cleopatra is “Angela.” It’s a soft tale of a woman who left her small town to pursue bigger things, but now returns to it. This is despite the people in the town who like to sing her praises only to cut her down. But she returns to a man she loves, a place she can call home. It’s a story about finding what truly makes you happy. The instrumentation fits perfectly with the story, with its earthy, somewhat soaring tone.
This is followed by another beautiful song, “In The Light.” It’s about two people who can’t let go of the old memories of being together. They can’t stop thinking about each other until finally they meet again and they embrace, telling each other to never let go again. The acoustics and piano really blend together well and help tell this love story. “Gale Song” was part of the soundtrack for the movie, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and shows up again here. It’s apparently told from the point of view from a character in the movie named Gale. I’ve heard plenty about the books and movies for this series, but have never read or watched any of them. So it’s really hard to have some thoughts on this one. It does seem to fit the overall theme of the album, which is dealing with love and loneliness.
The rawest, emotional song on the album is hands-down “Long Way From Home.” It’s a sad story about a man who shares a hospital room with a man dying of a disease, probably cancer. He hopes the man can find his way home (die peacefully) soon. This happens, but not before the last words he hears from the man are moans for “more morphine.” It’s a haunting song to say the least. The eerie sounding “Sick in the Head” is next and it’s probably one of the more confusing songs on the album. It seems to be about seizing your own life and not letting others’ opinions control it. The song is quite short and as I said the theme isn’t that clear.
The waltzing “My Eyes” tells the old story of watching someone you care for make mistakes before your very eyes. You’re angry to see them get take advantage of, yet you feel betrayed they wouldn’t listen to you. It also ties into one of the main themes of the album of avoiding the corruption that fame can bring to a person. This is probably the most complete song on Cleopatra, as everything just works perfectly together. The instrumental “Patience” brings the album to a close. While an odd choice to end the album with this type of song, it makes a lot of sense after hearing the entire thing a few times because listening to this album is tiring. “Patience” allows your brain to unwind and to digest what you’ve just heard on the first ten songs.
Overall Cleopatra is a mentally exhausting album after you give it a really good listen, but it will reward you for the troubles. The themes explored throughout are complex and will send your thoughts reeling after hearing them. It’s definitely not the type of album you can pick up and immediately “get it.” One thing though that helps you digest these lyrics is the catchy instrumentation that is present mostly throughout. It’s really easy to get sucked into the album based just on the instrumentation, as it’s light and flawless. The piano play really flourishes when it shows up. The instrumentation draws you in and makes you stay, but the lyrics make you appreciate it even more. The Lumineers prove with this album that they’re here to stay and they’re more than some brief folk revival. They’re a band worthy of your attention and if you listen to Cleopatra, you will be rewarded.
In episode four of The Country Perspective Show podcast, I lead off the show discussing my experience of seeing Sturgill Simpson and Old Crow Medicine Show live. And after seeing Simpson live I now fully grasp the hype of SturgillMania. In the main portion of the show I continue the series of ranking the mainstream country artists, covering what I consider the B-level artists.
Chaotic. Anarchy. Uncontrollable. Those are the words I would use to describe mainstream country music and country radio right now. It’s a wild west of cacophony. Sam Hunt and Kelsea Ballerini continue to churn out his straight pop music. Thomas Rhett is pushing disco country with his new single “Crash and Burn.” Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean are still making bro-country/checklist country music. Zac Brown Band has no idea what genre they’re in. Steven Tyler and Bret Michaels just released country singles. Music Row Payola On The Verge continues to push terrible music. You get the picture? Country music is a damn mess. As the saying goes, the inmates are running the asylum. A genre this divided cannot stand forever.
As I spelled out a few weeks ago, country music is on a path to destruction. If changes aren’t made soon, the mainstream bubble is going to burst without a doubt. One of the most important changes that needs to be made is a voice of reason to step up and give country music guidance. Country music needs a leader. It needs someone who can remind everyone what country music is and what it should sound like. This person needs to be respected in some way, shape or form. They need to be able to lead by example whether through their music, writing or actions. Being a success is another key aspect, as people listen to winners. This person can step up and not lose their career over their actions. In other words, they really have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I’ve been thinking over the past few weeks who fits this description and I’ve come up with a list of possible candidates. Here’s who I think could step up and fill the leadership void in Nashville:
Why I Think He Could Be Country Music’s Leader: As I laid out in the The Hodgepodge last week, Garth’s comeback has been a disappointment. One of the points I didn’t get a chance to touch on was his lack of leadership since coming back. I think this has been one of my biggest disappointments with Garth, as I really expected him to come back and have a positive impact on the currents artists in the genre. Garth was the biggest names in country music in the 90s. Hell he was one of the biggest names in all of music during this time and took country music to new heights with his style of music. Love him or hate him he’s had a massive amount of success. There are people who hate country music, but love Garth. Current country artists are well aware of him and respect him. If Garth were to step up and call for a return to roots in country music, he wouldn’t be hurt by backlash or his standing in music. In fact if his voice were to fall on listening ears, it could aid him in getting back on radio again.
Why I Don’t Think He Could Be Country Music’s Leader: Garth has never been one to speak up and rock the boat before and I don’t know if that’s changed. Garth at one point was the bane of traditionalists like Florida Georgia Line and Sam Hunt are now. In a way he might sympathize with them (this is just speculation). In his prime days, Garth loved the spotlight and being the center of attention. Now he seems content with selling out every venue and doing things his way, damn the consequences on his sales and popularity. He can continue to make the music he wants, as what’s happening on the radio doesn’t affect him or his fans in any way.
Why I Think He Could Be Country Music’s Leader: Over the span of the last few years, Sturgill Simpson went from obscurity to indie critical darling to major label artist. His meteoric rise has captured the hearts and minds of critics and fans across the country. Simpson has also caught the attention and earned respect from the likes of Keith Urban, Jake Owen and John Mayer. His latest album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music was a top ten album without any label push or mainstream radio play. Clearly Simpson’s music speaks to all walks of life and his third upcoming album will probably reach #1 on the country chart. And what’s brilliant about this is he did it all his own way. He’s truly a special case in the world of country music. In the late 80s there was another influential Kentuckian by the name of Keith Whitley who helped shape country music back towards its roots. Maybe in 2015 another Kentuckian can get lightning to strike twice.
Why I Don’t Think He Could Be Country Music’s Leader: Simpson has made it perfectly clear he wants to stay away from the political mainstream scene. Radio has no interest in him and Simpson has no interest in radio. It would be a cold day in hell when a Cumulus radio would play a song like “Turtles All The Way Down.” Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush,” a harmless song, was considered risky. “Turtles All The Way Down” would be deemed “satanic” by the PC crowd. Simpson, like Garth, is perfectly content to keep making his own music and singing in front of packed venues of people who love him. So the odds are long for Simpson to be the voice of reason for the genre.
Why I Think She Could Be Country Music’s Leader: Commenter Noah pointed out to me that Adele’s next album is expected to have noticeable country influences. This isn’t a huge surprise considering all of the gospel influences on her 21 album. Speaking of that album it was praised by critics and fans everywhere. It helped shoot her into superstardom and become one of the most respected artists in music over the last decade. Her voice is one of the best and her songwriting is fantastic. Adele has never had a problem speaking up on issues she cares about or needs to address. Country music is borrowing a lot from pop music right now, so why couldn’t a pop artist lead the genre? When Adele speaks or sings, people listen.
Why I Don’t Think She Could Be Country Music’s Leader: I’m honestly convinced she’s the best choice to lead the genre out of its current anarchy. There are only two issues I see and I honestly think they’re easily to overcome. The first issue is some fans would be taken aback by a pop artist, an outsider of the genre, taking charge. But I think it would be a small minority, probably the same group that saw “Girl Crush” as offensive. So I’m not that concerned about a vocal few. The other issue I can see is that she’s a female artist. As everyone is well aware, female artists have struggled mightily in country music in recent years. The male artists have drowned them out. Adele would be taking on not just an army of “bros,” but also the male leadership in Nashville. There could obviously be some resistance. But again I think Adele could overcome this because she’s bigger than any name in Nashville. She’s even bigger than the fearless leader of Big Machine Records, which speaking of him…
Why I Think He Could Be Country Music’s Leader: Scott Borchetta is an evil and greedy man, but he undoubtedly is one of the most powerful people in country music. His Big Machine Label is home to the biggest artist in music right now, Taylor Swift. Borchetta helped make Swift into the most influential and popular artist in the world. Not only that, but he’s also the mastermind behind Florida Georgia Line, arguably the most popular act in country music today. Borchetta houses commercial successes, as well as critical as The Mavericks are on his Valory label. He covers all bases in country music. Borchetta gained even more sway when he became a mentor on American Idol. He’s no longer just a name country music insiders know. If Borchetta wanted to shift the genre back to its roots he could do it…
Why I Don’t Think He Could Be Country Music’s Leader: …But there’s no chance in hell of this happening. Borchetta is raking in money and living life well. Why would he bother to make any changes? He even hinted in past interviews that he wanted to shift back to the roots of country music, but it was nothing but window dressing. Borchetta does what’s best for Borchetta.
George Strait – Remember “Murder on Music Row”? Strait has no issues calling out country music for its bullshit. King George is loved and respected by all in the genre. But now that’s he retired from major touring there’s really no reason for him to speak out. Strait can do whatever he wants while the genre burns to the ground.
Alan Jackson – See Strait comments above, minus the retirement from major touring.
Sam Hunt – Hahahahahahahaha!
The Ghost of Hank Williams – I can get behind a ghost leader, if you’re willing.
Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases
Mickey Guyton is releasing a self-titled EP next Tuesday. Oh how I wish it was a full album! Still I’ll take new music from Guyton any time. You can see the EP cover art and the track listing for the EP right here. We’ll have a review on this one.
Country music veteran John Anderson is releasing a new album titled Goldmine next week. I’m curious to give this one a listen.
Luke Bryan’s new album will be called Kill The Lights and come out on August 7. Oh freaking joy.
A new duo I just came across has me excited to give their new album a listen. Their name is the Malpass Brothers. It’s made up of Christopher and Taylor Malpass, brothers who love country music. And by country music I mean the real country music. Just look at this quote on their site right here. How does that not excite you to hear their music?
For those who missed it, Kacey Musgravesrevealed the cover art and track listing for her new album Pageant Material. Originally it was slated to come out in the beginning of June, but it’s now set to be released on June 23.
Josh Turner in a recent interview with the Journal Star told them that his new album is “pretty much finished.” But there’s no album name or release date set. So new music is coming from Turner, but it sounds like he has no idea when (hopefully soon).
Throwback Thursday Song
Old Crow Medicine Show – “Wagon Wheel” – Because you’ve heard enough of Rucker’s version and you need to listen to the real deal.
Non-Country Song of the Week
Run the Jewels – “Early” – One of my favorite albums of 2015 was Run The Jewels’ sophomore album RTJ2. They just released a stunning new music video for “Early,” from the album and it’s something you need to watch for yourself.
Tweet of the Week
Idea: An awards show in which only acoustic performances were allowed.
This was left under Kelsea Ballerini’s new album. And I completely agree. She is hurting the genre just as much as Sam Hunt with her brand of pop music. Kudos to the reviewer for calling this the teen pop it is.
One More Thing…
I’m looking to sell two tickets to a Jason Isbell concert next Wednesday, May 27 at the House of Blues in Cleveland, Ohio. I won’t be able to go due to a conflict in my schedule. I’m selling them for less than face value, as I don’t want them to go to waste. If you’re interested in them or you know someone who would, reach out to me by email: email@example.com.
That’s it for the Hodgepodge this week! Be sure to sound off in the comments!
Darius Rucker’s foray into country music has certainly been successful. The former Hootie & The Blowfish frontman has racked up six #1 hits since 2008. The biggest of course was his cover of Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel,” which was certified platinum three times and experiences massive crossover appeal. Even though I found his cover to be inferior to the original, this did expose many fans to Old Crow Medicine Show, including yours truly. Combine this with his inoffensive music and I’ve really had nothing against him. His most recent single however was by far his worse and made me pretty hesitant about the album. Along with some interesting song titles that concerned me, I didn’t have much hope for Rucker’s new album Southern Style. My expectations were quite low heading into this album.
It doesn’t help that the album leads off with the aforementioned single I disdain, “Homegrown Honey.” Derek covered this single pretty well back in October when it was released. From his review: “However, the main problem with “Homegrown Honey” …honey…honey… is the lyrics. Much like his buddy Blake, Darius also thinks it’s money…money…money to repeat words three times within the song. Outside of the repetitions, there is an essence of bro-like themes here, but really this song is about objectifying a woman, yet again. It’s a bar in New York City, but this Carolina girl standouts out from the “New York pretty” crowd with her “long stem legs in [her] cowboy boots” while she shoots straight whiskey.” I have nothing else to add other than this is by far the worst song on the album and if I ever hear it again it would be too soon.
The next song on the album, “Good For A Good Time” is an improvement. The instrumentation is pretty good and reminds me of 2000s country. The problem with this song though is the lyrics bore me. This is supposed to be a fun, party song and instead it’s just sort of there. Rucker is joined by Mallary Hope on “Baby I’m Right.” Their chemistry is pretty evident and they sound good together. The combination of the mandolin and the guitar make for great instrumentation. This is one of the better songs I’ve ever heard from Rucker and having a talented vocalist like Hope makes the song even better. I wouldn’t mind this being on the radio.
The album’s title track gets some things right and other things wrong. The biggest problem with “Southern Style” is the lyrics. They’re just a bunch of clichés about southern girls and life. The lyrics are completely unimaginative. But once again I think the instrumentation sounds good, as well as Rucker’s vocals. The formulaic lyrics of the next song “High On Life” prevent me from liking it. From the first twenty seconds of the song I can figure out exactly how it plays out and sure enough it does. While the message is good, the way it’s conveyed leaves little for the imagination.
One of the best songs on the entire album is “Perfect.” What I like the most about this song is it’s a song about a woman who doesn’t rely on derogatory terms or sexist remarks. Rucker compliments his woman’s beauty without sounding like a frat boy douche (like in “Homegrown Honey”). The lyrics are kept simple and straightforward, which works with this song. The instrumentation fits the song well. The upbeat “You, Me And My Guitar” is a simple romantic song about a guy, his woman and his guitar spending time together alone in the woods together. I enjoy the production of this song as well as Rucker’s voice, but once again the songwriting is just too cliché for me. There’s moments where I’m getting a “Homegrown” vibe from it, but then I’ll hear lyrics I feel like I’ve heard hundreds of times before and it throws me out of the song.
We’re at the point of the album where I’m starting to sense a pattern. Can you guess what it is? “Low Country” has great instrumentation and sub par, corny lyrics. This is the story of this entire album. I’m getting tired of repeating myself and waiting for some truly great songwriting because I have no issues with the sound of this album. “Need You More” continues this narrative (Insert everything I’ve said about the majority of each song on this album here). “Half Full Dixie Cup” was a song I was terrified to listen to based on the history of the term “Dixie cup” in country music the last few years. I was fully prepared for a bro country song. Instead this is just another song on Southern Style where I enjoy the production and yawn at the bland lyrics. I will give this song a little extra credit for the fiddles. Based on the title of “Lighter Up,” I was expecting a song about the people who puts lighters up at concerts when it gets dark and swing together. And I’m right. See I can guess a song correctly based on the title sometimes. This song leans more towards rock than country, which is different from the rest of the album. I find the lyrics predictable and uncreative. Shocker, huh?
Good songwriting finally reveals itself on this album though in “You Can Have Charleston.” Finally! These lyrics are good because they actually tell a story. This song is about how a man just broke up with a woman and tells her that she can have their town, Charleston, as there are too many old memories that surround it. Even though it’s where he grew up and it’s his home, he realize the pain won’t go away unless he leaves. This song is the perfect example of when Rucker can put it all together. The album concludes with “So I Sang,” a song where Rucker seems to reflect on his own life and career. The stripped back instrumentation with the heartfelt lyrics combine to produce a surprisingly good song. Despite having two co-writers (Tim James and Rivers Rutherford) on this song along with him, I feel like this song for the most part was written by Rucker. This is the kind of music Rucker needs to make all the time.
I’ll admit I was off base with my assumptions of Southern Style before hearing the album. It definitely surpassed my expectations and did more things right than I thought it would. Rucker wasn’t lying when he implied this would be his most country album yet, as every song actually sounds like a country song instrumentation-wise. The problem that plagued this album and ultimately held it back though was the songwriting. It was mostly bland, boring, clichéd and not really connecting with the listener. The few songs where this isn’t the case proved to be good music. So despite having low expectations coming in, after hearing this album I actually expected more. This album had the potential to be good, but it just comes up way too short in the songwriting department. If you’re a Rucker fan, you’ll like this album. For everyone else, I wouldn’t recommend the entire album. Just check out the few good songs. Southern Style has the right sound and approach, but the lyrics just don’t measure up.