The Hodgepodge: 100 Percent Licensing

Since 1941, laws for songwriting copyrights pretty much haven’t changed. It’s because of the copyright protection that songwriting and licensing is controlled through the government, which should pretty much explain why change has been hard to come by. However, a new proposal is in the works which is called 100 Percent Licensing. The gist of this law is that any songwriter or producer for a song is able to give consent for the song to be used however someone has requested. As the law is written now, writers and producers must agree for a song’s use in a commercial or streaming site. If they don’t agree, then a producer or songwriter can still agree for their particular work on the song to be used, but not the whole song.

Saving Country Music wrote a great exposé on the situation that I encourage you all to read. I mainly encourage this because I will not be going into much depth here; I don’t want to be repetitive because I’m still learning about the law and implications should it be passed. The big black cloud hanging over this new law are streaming companies like Pandora, Spotify and Google pushing for the change. What this means is that should the law be passed, Spotify can possibly get songs onto their program at a lower copyright cost to them, which will help maximize profits.

Taylor Swift is an artist who’s been more vocal against music streaming than just about anyone else. She doesn’t want her music on those applications, but any of her co-writers could potentially get the music on there with the 100 Percent Licensing law. So if Max Martin wants “Blank Space” or “Shake It Off” available on Spotify, he can make that decision as a co-writer, and Taylor Swift would have no say to the contrary. Essentially, this is a law that’s meant to benefit the streaming sites and subsequently further marginalize the songwriters. Everyone working in the music industry agrees that a law like this would be a terrible move, but unfortunately the final decision rests with the folks in Washington D.C.

Whether or not the law is passed, what is clear is that streaming companies are looking for that next big rise in cash flow. The leaders of these companies want money, that’s it. Streaming companies like Spotify are slowly gaining more traction and control in the music industry. And as we’ve said time and time again on this site, there needs to be a change in the way these companies payout artists and writers.

One suggestion I have is making streaming something you pay for no matter what; get rid of free streaming. Spotify should at least charge users $4.99/month for access to what is now free streaming. Call it a standard subscription, then charge those wanting a Premium, non ad-based subscription more than that. They can keep it at $9.99 or boost it up a few dollars. This would accomplish one of two things. Either greedy music fans will refuse to pay five bucks a month for streaming and go elsewhere (back to radio?) for free music, or Spotify brings in a ton of money with all of their millions of users now paying for access.

If the second option were to happen, then perhaps a company like Spotify can afford to payout artists better while still maintaining their salary at the top.

That’s just one idea I have for a way to start improving the streaming problem that’s growing. And I get that these CEOs want artists like Taylor Swift to be available on their service in order to get fans to listen to Taylor Swift through their platform. They’re business people first, and this is a move in an effort to improve their business from their point of view. But these companies are merely looking for ways to get more money without a care for how their actions will affect the music industry. There’s no way to know how this will actually affect the way music is produced, but a drastic change in copyright law will certainly dictate a change from producers, singers, writers, and labels.

Upcoming/Recent Country and Americana Releases

  • Texas country singer/songwriter Sean McConnell will release a new self-titled album tomorrow.
  • Mark Chesnutt’s Tradition Lives will also be released tomorrow.
  • Next week, David Nail’s Fighter will be released.
  • Big Shoals’ Hard Lessons will also be released next week on July 15.
  • Kenny Chesney’s newest album has been pushed back for release until October.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Hell on Heels” by Pistol Annies. Country super trio consisting of Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angaleena Presley, the Pistol Annies have released two albums. This was the title track of the group’s first album in 2011. I wouldn’t hate it if we were treated to a third album from them soon.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Blink-182 California. Punk rockers Blink-182 released a new album, their first album without singer Tom DeLonge. Matt Skiba from Alkaline Trio joins the band taking the lead vocals on this new album. As an album, I like California; I think it has a good sound to it. It’s hard for me to call this Blink-182 because I associate that band primarily with DeLonge’s vocals.

Tweet of the Week

Eight great years of making fun of crap and supporting good music.

iTunes Review

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Steven Tyler’s first country solo album will be released tomorrow, and Jerek Naim apparently believes it’s the best country album of all time. There are no words for how dumb of a claim that is. Any album with “Red, White, and You” on it is no where close to the best.

Album Review – Ashley Monroe’s ‘The Blade’

Ashley Monroe The Blade

Back in 2013 I came across a lot of great new music, specifically a lot of great country music. The most notable artists I came across were Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, Kacey Musgraves, The Mavericks and Ashley Monroe. The most under the radar artist of the group was undoubtedly Monroe. To this point she was most well-known for being one-third of the Pistol Annies. That year she released her debut solo album Like A Rose and captured the attention of traditional country music critics and fans everywhere. It was certainly a favorite listen of mine’s from that year, so I was definitely anticipating her sophomore album. This time around her label Warner Brothers Nashville has been a lot more involved and it shows, something I’ll elaborate on later in the review. One good sign to see for this album coming in was Vince Gill and Justin Niebank producing it, as both produced Monroe’s first album. So this gave me high hopes, despite the lackluster lead single. So does The Blade live up to expectations? Well in some ways it does and others it does not.

Speaking of the aforementioned lackluster single, “On To Something Good” starts the album off, which I reviewed when it was first released. And my thoughts really haven’t changed on it. From my original review: “On To Something Good” is a song about….I’m not sure. It’s so bland and uninteresting that I find it hard to listen to. It doesn’t hold my attention and is the equivalent of elevator music. It’s just something to fill the void. So for as what the song is about, you can choose. I know I don’t feel like figuring it out because this song is just so boring and we all have better music we could be listening to. 

The sound of drums plays in “I Buried Your Love Alive,” a southern gothic inspired song from the theme to the instrumentation. The song has this vibe hanging over it throughout it. It’s a heartbreak song where the woman can’t get over her lost love and does everything she can to get rid of the memory. While the theme and southern gothic inspiration is good, I have a couple of problems with this song. First it’s overproduced, as the instrumentation is too busy and the occasional echoing of Monroe’s voice is annoying. Another problem with this song is Monroe doesn’t show enough emotion to make the song connect. Not to mention I feel she didn’t go deep enough lyrically. This is a decent song that could have been great. There are some similar problems on the next song, “Bombshell.” The premise of the song is intriguing, as it’s about a woman waiting and figuring out the perfect time to drop a bombshell on her boyfriend. That bombshell is she no longer loves him. The song kept building and building to this moment and when it came I felt underwhelmed. I was expecting an explosion of emotion, but didn’t get it. The storytelling was here, but not the emotion.

Monroe relies on Kacey Musgraves’ like platitudes on “Weight of The Load.” It’s a song about helping a significant other shoulder the weight of the load in a loving relationship. It’s a little too bland and polished for my tastes. What’s even more disappointing is that Monroe and Vince Gill wrote this song. I expect more when these two write a song. Also once again where is the emotional connection? This is starting to become a running theme on this album. The album’s title track follows this and finally we get a glimpse of the Ashley Monroe I enjoyed on her debut album Like A Rose. It’s a heartbreak song where the man has left his woman and the hook of the song describes the breakup perfectly. The end of the relationship is described as the swinging of a blade. As Monroe sings from the female perspective, “You got it by the handle and I caught it by the blade.” This creates the perfect imagery in the listeners’ head and credit to the songwriters Marc Beeson, Jamie Floyd and Allen Shamblin.

The piano and acoustic guitar driven “Winning Streak” is a fast-paced song about being stuck in a losing game. As Monroe sings, “If losing’s game I’m on a winning streak.” This is just a fun and simple country song. It should be noted that Monroe wrote this song with Jessi Alexander (co-writer of the Lee Brice song “I Drive Your Truck”) and Chris Stapleton and is one of two songs this trio wrote on the album. “From Time To Time” reminds me of something you would hear on 90s country radio. I want to say it’s the production that makes me think this, as I immediately got this vibe when I heard the song. It’s very easy to listen to upon the surface, but when you listen closer I’m just not sure what this song is going for. It’s vague and not sure what it wants to be. Monroe is once again joined by two notable songwriters on a song, this time Justin Davis and Sarah Zimmermann. You know them as Striking Matches. This trio also writes two songs together on The Blade.

Monroe goes back to the platitudes on “If Love Was Fair.” This is your run of the mill love song. Part of the chorus is from 1 Corinthians 13:4. You know the one bible verse that is repeated at every single wedding? I just don’t understand this light and breezy approach that a lot of the songs on this album take. “Has Anybody Ever Told You” though drops this approach and is one of the most serious songs on the album. It’s a love song with some actual punch behind it and something that will create emotion in the listener. Monroe’s vocals are allowed to shine and the instrumentation is brilliant between the piano and pedal steel guitar. This is my favorite song on the album. The second co-write of the album between Monroe and Striking Matches, “Dixie,” is next. Monroe sings about being sick of Dixieland and wanting to get the hell out of there, as her experiences there have driven her away. It’s an intriguing song and kind of bold, as you don’t hear many songs about being sick of the south, especially from mainstream country artists. Just for this alone I’m kind of impressed with the song.

“If The Devil Don’t Want Me” is the second Monroe-Alexander-Stapleton co-written song of the album. Monroe wonders throughout this song of where she’ll be going if the devil doesn’t want her and she can’t find the light. This is very much a traditional country song, from the lyrics to the sound. It’s right in Monroe’s wheelhouse and another highlight of the album. It’s a real big shocker that both Stapleton co-writes are good, huh? The traditionally arranged “Mayflowers” is another song that proves Monroe needs to stick with this sound and stay away from the pop country sound towards the beginning of the album. This is a sweet love song where the woman vows to bring the love back to their relationship and uses the metaphor of “April showers bring May flowers” to convey the point. It’s a song you have to hear for yourself to truly appreciate. The 13-song album comes to a conclusion with “I’m Good At Leavin’,” a song with plenty of fiddle and steel guitar (also co-written with Alexander and Miranda Lambert). Monroe sings about how she’s good at leaving and basically she’s a rambling woman who can’t stay in a relationship for too long. I’ve always wondered why female country artists never take on the rambling man theme that male artists always use and kudos to Monroe for doing it. It’s another solid song from the Pistol Annies singer.

Ashley Monroe’s The Blade is an up and down listen throughout. The album starts out with a lot of pop country songs that are lightweight all-around and make me wonder what happened to Monroe. Luckily, the second half is more in line with what we heard on her debut album and that’s a traditional country arrangement. While there were plenty of songs that caught my attention in a good way, this is a clear step down from Like A Rose. To me what ultimately sunk this album down was there were too many cooks in the kitchen on this album. Warner Nashville stuck their fingers in this album, whereas they let Monroe do her own thing before. I’m pretty sure they were the ones pushing for more pop country, as they’ve pushed her for radio play this time around and didn’t with Like A Rose. Not to mention this album is too long at 13 songs. I would’ve cut four songs from this album (“On To Something Good,” “Weight of the Load,” “From Time To Time” and “If Love Was Fair”) and then added a duet with Vince Gill as the 10th song. Seriously, he’s right there producing and you don’t have a duet with him? This is a missed opportunity. Really that sums up this entire album: it was a missed opportunity. The Blade is just good, but it could have been so much more.

Grade: 7/10

 

Review – Ashley Monroe’s “On To Something Good”

Ashley Monroe

Ashley Monroe caught everyone’s attention when she came onto the country scene as a part of Pistol Annies, the trio made up of her, Miranda Lambert and Angaleena Presley. Monroe though caught my attention when I heard her 2013 album Like A Rose. Produced by Vince Gill, I was impressed by her artistry and her dynamic voice. It was one of my favorite country albums that year and I was excited about her future. She’s gotten more and more attention lately, mostly because of her duet with Blake Shelton on “Lonely Tonight.” It’s been featured in Pepsi commercial and has been featured heavily on radio, as it’s destined to reach #1 on the Country Airplay chart soon. But I’ve been waiting for her next album. Well now we’ve gotten the first taste of it, as she’s released the debut single off it, titled “On To Something Good.”

So is this song on to something good for Monroe? Well, no it’s not. “On To Something Good” is a song about….I’m not sure. It’s so bland and uninteresting that I find it hard to listen to. It doesn’t hold my attention and is the equivalent of elevator music. It’s just something to fill the void. So for as what the song is about, you can choose. I know I don’t feel like figuring it out because this song is just so boring and we all have better music we could be listening to. The reason I think the theme is so bland is because this song is so radio-friendly. It’s obviously a ploy for a radio play, as Monroe is capable of so much more. The instrumentation is just as boring and unimaginative as the non-existent, neutral theme. It’s quite pop sounding and upbeat. The country sound is practically non-existent, as the guitar is buried in the background of the song. That’s because the drum machine dominates the beat. Monroe even sounds bored singing, as her voice is flat in the chorus.

I find it hard to believe Gill is producing Monroe’s next album, based on this offering. This just feels so empty and castrated compared to the material off of Monroe’s first album. I can’t even hate this song because it’s too bland to hate. I’m just left feeling disappointed and a little sleepy. I’ll forget about this song with a couple of weeks. That’s how forgettable this song is from Monroe. I hope this is just an anomaly on her new album because if this is a precursor it may go down as the biggest disappointment of 2015. “On To Something Good” is on to something not so good. It’s a watered-down, pop country song that is well below what Monroe is capable of producing.

Grade: 5/10

Album Review – Angaleena Presley’s American Middle Class is an Impressive Debut

Angaleena Presley, maybe known to some as “Holler Annie” from the country trio Pistol Annies, is another woman we can add to the list of talented country singer-songwriters. Her debut album, American Middle Class, is an impressive catalog of small town commentary, heartbreak and chasing dreams. Presley had a hand in writing every track here, five of which she wrote alone. There are so many tracks here I want to dissect and talk about, so I’ll do my best to keep it reasonable. If you’re a fan of Brandy Clark, Sunny Sweeney or Kacey Musgraves, listen to this album and take notice of Angaleena Presley. Besides great writing, this album is full of traditional country instrumentation with banjos, steel guitars and mandolins prominently featured on many of the tracks. Heavy guitars and percussions fit nicely alongside the dark material, and when necessary, Presley delivers soulful, acoustic songs on the more heartfelt tracks.

Best Songs on the Album

There are several great tracks on American Middle Class. “Better Off Red” is Presley’s self-proclaimed best song. One of the more acoustic songs, it’s about chasing dreams in the face of some criticism for leaving the small town way of life. The song features one of my favorite lines: “A blade of Bluegrass left a scar on my neck and it ain’t quit hurtin’ yet.” That’s just a sample of the type of writing and metaphors you’ll get on American Middle Class. On “Dry County Blues” we see a small town hit hard by the economy with people trying to make ends meet by anyway possible: drugs, sex, gambling, or whatever other vice comes to mind. The Christian folks in the town separate themselves from the sins and the Sheriff turns a blind eye as long as his pocket is green. “Pain Pills” is an uptempo song about those who have passed away from overdosing on pills. The song offers commentary about how this cause of death is brushed over to protect images and reputations.

“Knocked Up” is another upbeat track, and probably the catchiest song on the album. The song is about a young girl in a small town, who gets pregnant from her boyfriend. Angaleena writes about how this “accident” is perceived in small town America. You’ll hear the chorus about three times in the first 90 seconds of the song, which admittedly gets a little tiring. However, the last-minute of song is a great instrumental outro featuring a banjo solo, steel guitars, and a short mandolin solo.

American Middle Class ends with the heartbreaking song, “Surrender.” For nearly three and half minutes, Angaleena Presley builds up the story about how life’s getting hard and it’s getting difficult to do this on my own. It’s not explicitly said, but the lyrics suggest religious connotations and possibly letting go to Jesus. But all those hints are shattered with the final line that suggests suicide: “When walls come down it’s hurts but you learn to lay your hammer down.” I love songs that build everything up and drive the story home with the final line. Well done, Angaleena Presley, well done.

Worst Song on the Album

“Worst” is a heavy word here, and I’ll admit I’m probably being way unfair to this song too.  With that said, “Drunk” is my least favorite of American Middle Class, however, that in no way makes it’s a bad song. But I really can’t help but compare this song to Brandy Clark’s “Hungover” which is my favorite song from 12 Stories. It’s essentially the same song about how this woman keeps the home functioning while her man is subdued by alcohol. The only striking difference I’ve found is that in “Drunk”, Angaleena Presley sings about how she lies to her family about her husband’s problem, and only threatens to leave if he stays drunk. And for those who don’t know Brandy’s “Hungover,” the husband is left and the wife starts over at the end of that one. I know it’s probably an unfair comparison, but to me the songs are just too similar.

The Rest of the Album

Angaleena’s metaphors are in full swing in “Ain’t No Man.” This is a song about a girl who’s too much for a man to handle. She’s “bright as the moon on a hungover morning, clean as the mouth of a welfare baby.” The metaphors get pretty impressive and humorous, and the keys and guitars are a nice mix behind the song. “All I Ever Wanted” is about meeting the devil in person. He asks if she’s packed her evil ways, probably ready to take her to hell. It’s a song about not being religious, but only wanting to have a good time in life without the punishment. A spoken word section features Presley’s neighbor reading part of Luke 1 is a great addition to the song about really just trying to live your life your way without worrying about hell. The title track is a simple song about working hard as a part of the American middle class. “Grocery Store” is about recognizing that everyone in life has skeleton’s in their closet, and we shouldn’t be quick to pass judgment to the Mom who can’t buy her child a jacket or to the cashier who’s current distant stare takes away from his customer service. “Life of the Party” is another heartbreaking song about a lonely girl who tries to mask her loneliness through partying hard. Presley explores the delicate nature of getting out of a relationship in “Blessing and a Curse.” That song has a bluesy production behind great lyrics.

Overall Thoughts

This is an impressive debut album. Angaleena Presley is a gifted songwriter and has a knack for telling real life stories with her words. She has a beautiful voice that blends perfectly with the material. Whether there’s a little bit of sass or sarcasm in “Dry County Blues” or “Knocked Up” or she’s exploring heartbreak and possible regret in “Better of Red” or “Life of the Party”, Presley is authentic and real on every track. American Middle Class hits you like a brick in many places and doesn’t pull any punches, but that’s life, and traditional country music has always been praised for it’s real life representation. Angaleena Presley has a bright future ahead of her as a solo artist, as long as the mainstream circuit starts playing women again. The Pistol Annies have had two impressive albums, but Presley proves she has chops to do this on her own as well. Alongside Sunny Sweeney’s Provoked and Lucette’s Black is the Color, Angaleena Presley has one of the best albums from a female this year with American Middle Class.

Grade: 9.5/10

 

Review – Kacey Musgraves’ “The Trailer Song”

When I first came across Kacey Musgraves last year, I didn’t even bother paying attention. I thought she was just another pop country female artist that wasn’t worth my time. But I was an idiot for doing this. I later found out she was arguably the best artist in mainstream country music and certainly one of the best female artists across the entire genre. I bought Same Trailer, Different Park and enjoyed it thoroughly. While a lot of her songs have some polarizing political messages in them, I love her no-holds barred, sassy attitude. It’s needed when female country artists are so underrepresented on the radio today, something Musgraves is quite aware of. She’s had a whirlwind experience over the last year, as she’s burst onto the scene with Same Trailer, Different Park. It netted her four Grammy nominations and she won two for Best Country Song and Best Country Album. She also won the ACM Award for Album of the Year. Now she’s released her latest single, “The Trailer Song.”

Musgraves has been playing this song at her shows for a while and for some reason was kept off of Same Trailer, Different Park. I don’t understand the reasoning behind this decision, but maybe she wanted to save it for her new album coming out. She debuted it nationally last week on The Tonight Show and was met with positivity from country fans. Musgravess sassy attitude is front and center in “The Trailer Song.” It’s about living next to a nosy, judgmental neighbor and how she should basically just mind her own damn business. I think we can all relate to this. The attitude of this song is established right off the bat with the first line: “Say you’re watching the birds out the window/Well I got a bird you can watch.” Funny and poignant! This is like Musgrave’s “Follow Your Arrow” meeting Pistol Annies’ “Hush Hush” and throwing in even more attitude.

The song is very well-written, balancing the right amount of contempt and humor showed towards the judgmental neighbor. By the end of the song Musgraves just tells the neighbor right off with the line, “Go back to your trailer, you nosy bitch.” The instrumentation in the song is perfect. This is probably the most country song Musgraves had made yet in terms of the instruments used. Many were fearful pop would start to creep into her songs after it was announced she was touring with Katy Perry for select dates this summer. But this should dispel any thoughts of this. Keep in mind she’s also touring with Willie Nelson and Allison Krauss & Union Station. Musgraves has said Krauss is one of her career role models and she appears to be good friend with Katy Perry. So things are going pretty well for Musgraves.

Pretty good first single off what should be a great upcoming album. “The Trailer Song” is another great song from a female country artist. I hope Musgraves, Lee Ann Womack, Sunny Sweeney, Ashley Morgan, Brandy Clark and other great female artists continue making great music and try to bust up the bro country bonanza on country music radio.

Grade: 9/10