The Hodgepodge: The Band Perry Has Officially Split from Big Machine Label Group

After a couple of weeks of speculation, The Band Perry and Big Machine Label Group have officially parted ways, as announced on Tuesday March 1st. All this is in light of a failed rebranding process for the band, trying to become a pop anthem powerhouse. After balancing pop and country throughout their first two albums, including some great country songs in “If I Die Young” and the Glen Campbell cover “Gentle on My Mind,” The Band Perry released “Live Forever” as the jump-start for their pop move. “Live Forever” charted poorly, barely scratching the surface of the top 30 before stalling and dropping out.

Reactions to “Live Forever” were mostly negative, and the band’s upcoming album Heart + Beat was delayed, apparently to schedule a collaboration with Nikki Minaj, though that was only a rumor. The band then revealed another song from their new pop arsenal, the hilariously pop/hip-hop anthem “Put Me In The Game Coach.” That song sounded like a forgotten song from Disney’s High School Musical. Saving Country Music dutifully documented the head scratching saga of The Band Perry’s failed move into pop. As the band’s videos disappeared from the internet for 24 hours, then reappeared, many began to wonder if The Band Perry and BMLG were done with one another. And now we know they are.

The group’s turn to pop was doomed to fail from the get-go. It seems either they didn’t know what made good pop music, or the producers didn’t know what to do with them. Either way, the idea of turning from country to pop with a feel-good motivational anthem was the wrong choice. Grady Smith said it best back in December:

Aside from the fact that the songs were terrible, there’s a few of reasons why this turn to pop with the help of a major label has failed. The first could simply be that The Band Perry just isn’t an attractive pop sell. The reason why Taylor Swift’s move to pop has worked is because Taylor Swift developed a fan base who will buy anything she records, even 8 seconds of white noise. Taylor Swift fans idolize Taylor Swift because she’s more than just a singer and songwriter. She was a pillar of strength and comfort for young, teenage girls struggling through high school, and as that initial fan base has grown, so has Taylor’s music. The Band Perry doesn’t have any kind of core fan base, nor are they anything more than just a singing group to those fans.

Secondly, The Band Perry tried too much too soon. The group was just coming off a Grammy award for their recording of the folk country “Gentle on My Mind.” From a business standpoint, how do you not try to capitalize off that? And I’m not saying that every song they recorded needed to sound like “If I Die Young” or be a folky style of country. However, if you want to move to pop and have never really had a true pop song, wouldn’t it make more sense to test the waters with a pop song as an album cut/future single?

As opposed to having “Live Forever” has the lead off single for the third album, maybe they should have had something along the pop-country lines of Kelsea Ballerini as a lead off single, then drop “Live Forever” as a second single after the album is released to first gauge reactions to the song. I understand that releasing the song ahead of the album does gauge reactions and help the label predict the album’s success, just as they did. But if you went with my devil’s advocate scenario, I would think it would make the transition easier, and it would almost guarantee an album release by having a radio pleasing pop country single to rally behind before moving into 100% pop territory. That’s exactly what the Zac Brown Band did with “Homegrown” before eventually sending “Beautiful Drug” to radio.

We don’t know who spearheaded this whole move. Did The Band Perry want to be a pop group selling out arenas with generic anthems, or did the decision makers at Big Machine Label Group want another crossover artist under their belt? From what we know about how these major labels work, I think it’s more likely than not that the latter was the case, and the group was contractually obligated to play along. That’s just a theory and I could be 100% wrong.

Regardless of who was the driving force behind the move, the fact is that the move didn’t work. It was poorly planned, poorly executed, and a majority of people didn’t latch onto the idea. What’s next for The Band Perry is anyone’s guess. The group members remain in high hopes for their future. A release from the label’s chains should allow for them to make the music they want to make. Hopefully that music is the more country stylings the band has brought us over two albums. If that music is the pop direction they were headed, then at least The Band Perry should be able to release that music to their fans who want to hear it. For right now though, the soap opera of The Band Perry has appeared to reach its conclusion while we wait to see what the future holds for this country trio.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Loretta Lynn will release a new album called Full Circle tomorrow.
  • Texas Country singer turned mainstream Granger Smith will release his newest album Remington tomorrow.
  • Chris King’s Animal was pushed back to a release date on March 11.
  • Randy Houser’s newest album, Fired Up, will be released on March 11 as well.
  • On March 18, the Dave Cobb produced Southern Family will be released.
  • Jake Owen’s newest single will be called “American Country Love Song.”
  • Wade Bowen has announced a new album called Then Sings My Soul. The album will be available for pre order starting tomorrow and released on March 18th.
  • Kelsea Ballerini’s newest single will be “Peter Pan.”

Throwback Thursday Song

“Colder Weather” by Zac Brown Band – This 2011 single from Zac Brown Band is easily my favorite song from the group. I would even make the argument that “Colder Weather” is one of the best mainstream singles from the past decade. And if you haven’t heard it, the song’s cowriter, Levi Lowrey, performs the song with a third verse that didn’t make it into the Zac Brown Band recording.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

“Waves” by Miguel feat. Kacey Musgraves – “Waves” is a song off Miguel’s third album, Wildheart. Miguel released a 5 song EP with various remixes of his original song, including this one where Kacey Musgraves provides vocals. I like this remix, and Kacey sounds great singing R&B.

Tweet of the Week

Am I allowed to write in candidates when I vote in November? A Willie Nelson presidency would seem to bring promises of better country music!

Two Maren Morris iTunes Reviews

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I don’t get the critique of the first one. Hippie? That’s your only complaint? That’s a stupid reason to hate an EP. The second review though is one I agree with. Maren Morris has a unique vibe to her music that I’m on board with.

Review – Dan + Shay’s “From The Ground Up”

Dan + Shay have carved themselves a distinct niche in mainstream country music apart from the bro party atmosphere. Instead of adhering to the anthemic hook-up trends, these two went the direction of Rascal Flatts with a more tender approach to their songs. As many mainstream acts continue push musical boundaries and sing of one night stands, Dan + Shay stay steady on their path of pop country (if you can even call it country) with their new single, “From The Ground Up.” This is a song poised to kick off the campaign for the duo’s second album. And in light of Thomas Rhett’s success with “Die A Happy Man,” Dan + Shay look to find their own success with a boy-band esc. love ballad.

“From The Ground Up” is a simple story of love. The narrator and his new wife are ready to start a family and build their love and life from the ground up. From the simple beginnings of laying the foundation and putting in the work, just like their grandparents have done over 65 years. The lyrics are the narrator’s devotion to his wife and their future, reading just like a wedding vow. The lyrics are cheesy and hit all the necessary little notes to rope in the mass of females with a belief in true love. “Beside you I’ll stand through the good and the bad. We’ll give all that we have, and we’ll build this love from the ground up.” The lyrics are sincere, and they have way more heart than most attempts at love songs on the radio recently. The disjointed stanzas and half-finished clauses read a little choppy, but the intention of the message is obvious.

The production though, doesn’t help the song. The melody is an orchestra-like arrangement of strings, pianos, and bells with a faint electric guitar and a simple percussion beat. It sounds like a musical arrangement you’d hear on an old Backstreet Boys or N’SYNC song. It’s almost as if the producers weren’t sure that the loving power of lyrics was obvious, so they overproduced the melody so the listeners know it’s powerful and meaningful. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how contrived the vocals sound with the forceful inflections. Dan + Shay and their team apparently need to have a hit love ballad in their repertoire, and the producers left nothing to chance.

“From The Ground Up” just sounds too contrived. A simple piano arrangement with some assistance from a dobro or steel guitar would have been just as, if not more effective in complimenting the song’s message (and also give the song some essence of country music). The buzz words are there in the lyrics that anyone with half a brain can decipher that “From The Ground Up” is meant to be a tender love song. The lines about being a shelter through the wind and the rain are just too cliché among the other clichéd love lines. This isn’t a bad song from Dan + Shay at all, it’s just so obvious that they’re trying to make sure “From The Ground Up” is received as a powerful love ballad.

Grade: 5/10

The Hodgepodge: Stop Pretending Mainstream Country is “Family-Friendly”

For years, many for its entire lifetime, country music has more or less been thought of as a family-friendly genre compared to other genres such as rap or rock n’ roll. You could make the argument that Elvis’ rise to popularity as the King of Rock n’ Roll helped perpetuate that notion. Elvis’ pelvis shaking and rowdy rock music was a culture shock to music world in the 1950s, and as teenagers rebelled and flocked to rock n’ roll halls, country music continued down a path of tradition that fit with the cultural norms and establishments. Drums were technically banned from the Grand Ole Opry until 1973, just another detail of how country music solidified itself as the antithesis of the rebellious rock music.

Enter Waylon and The Outlaw movement of the 1970s which gave country music more of an edge, combining rock music with their country music. But while the outlaws operated outside the established Nashville Sound, producers like Chet Atkins kept the reigns tight on the rest of his artists who recorded at Studio A. The control Music Row had (and truly still does have) on artists signed to Nashville labels brought forth a face and image of what country music is. Country music is three chords and the truth, cheating and drinking songs, pick up trucks, etc. But what also set country music apart was their willingness to consistently record gospel tunes, a practice that allowed country music to be viewed as a family-friendly genre.

Carrie Underwood, for example, has had numerous number one singles from songs with religious messages (“Jesus Take The Wheel” “Something in the Water” “So Small”). Garth Brooks had a number one single with “Unanswered Prayers”, and George Strait’s “I Saw God Today” hit number one. Aside from religion, family values and marriage devotion have been successful songs in country music as well. Stars like Alan Jackson (“Remember When” & “Livin’ on Love”), Brad Paisley (“He Didn’t Have to Be” & “Anything Like Me”) and Kenny Chesney (“There Goes My Life”) have had number one singles celebrating family values in songs.

Even though tides have turned and mainstream country in 2016 is very different compared to 30 or 40 years ago, even 10 years ago, I think there’s still a general assumption that country music is still considered a family-friendly music choice. That, however, is a terrible assumption because mainstream country music has become anything but family-friendly. Before I argue why, the inspiration for this post came from a recent article about how Chris Lane’s single “Fix” came to fruition. (Don’t worry, that single will be dealt with on this site soon enough). The sentence that draws my ire has to do with the original draft of the song’s lyrics:

By the time they finished it, “Fix” incorporated images of cocaine lines at a nightclub and the phrase “good shit,” all of which was considered OK because, after all, it wasn’t supposed to be a family-friendly country song.

Chris Lane FixThe implication here, is that by censoring the word “shit” and providing euphemisms for cocaine  “Fix” will then become a family-friendly country song. I call bullshit! The entire song is a three and a half-minute metaphor to drug addiction, a positive metaphor at that rate. I can’t imagine any parent with half a head on his or her shoulders wanting their 10-year-old to listen to a song with several drug references and implied sex. What about that song is “family-friendly”?

Mainstream country in the past few years has regressed from its family-friendly nature, mainly due to bro country. Sure, these bros still referenced their religious upbringing, but those were throwaway checklist mentions to verify to themselves that they were indeed country boys. “This Is How We Roll” isn’t a religious song at all, even though Luke Bryan sings “we pray on them Sundays.” Florida Georgia Line may be “all good with Jesus” in “It’z Just What We Do”, but that song is just another late night bonfire party song. And Michael Ray’s “Real Men Love Jesus” is no where close to being a song about a Christian man.

But the songs on the charts recently stray far away from that family friendly face of country music. Songs about revenge sex (“Home Alone Tonight”) and running from the cops (“We Went”) are sitting in the top 30 this week. Florida Georgia Line’s “Sun Daze” was a parade of family-unfriendly references (“If I’m lucky, yeah, I might get laid,” “wear my favorite shades and get stoned” & “stick the pink umbrella in your drink”). And does anyone think that Jason Aldean’s creepy robotic voice singing about seeing a girl naked in his bed (“Burnin’ It Down”) is something families want to listen to?

There are still artists and country singers who hold onto the traditional values and roots of country music, but those artists aren’t the ones being played on radio. Those artists don’t have a mass audience like Luke Bryan or Florida Georgia Line. Mainstream country and radio today isn’t the same family-friendly country music as before; it’s not even close family-friendly music. I’m not complaining about the fact that these songs exist; the complaint is that these are the songs that are representing country music to the majority of people – on award shows, radio, in publications like Rolling Stone or Billboard. My complaint is that people still refer to country music as a family-friendly genre while songs with very unfriendly content are the songs people hear the most. And that’s okay, but stop pretending you’re a family-friendly genre if that’s the direction you want to go.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Chris King has announced the date of his album releaseAnimal will hit the shelves on March 4.
  • Randy Houser provided details for his next album. The album, Fired Up, will feature 17(!) songs including Houser’s current single “We Went.” Fired Up will be released on March 11.
  • Dierks Bentley announced the title of his eighth studio album, Black. 
  • Randy Rogers Band will release Nothing Shines Like Neon tomorrow. Josh’s review for the album will also be published tomorrow.
  • Brothers Osborne’s debut album, Pawn Shop, will also be released tomorrow.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Better Things To Do” Terri Clark. Terri Clark is one of my favorite female singers in country music. She was all about girl power while keeping it country, and this 1995 hit is the epitome of her attitude. Clark tells her ex-man that she’d rather do just about anything than miss him.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

David Bowie. To say David Bowie was an icon feels like an understatement. The man was an innovative entertainer, influential in his music, leaving a legacy that will carry on for years to come. Rest in peace, David Bowie, you will be missed by many. I’ve just picked the song “Heroes” for this post, but go listen to any of Bowie’s music.

Tweet of the Week

More love for David Bowie. Rodney Crowell says it best here: “a tear in the fabric of creation itself.”

Two iTunes Reviews from Clueless Chris Lane Fans

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As I said before, “Fix” will be dealt with soon. But these two reviews are from Lane’s EP. The lines that make me face palm:

  • “If you listen deeper and can picture yourself living the song, it’s gotta be country” (because A) that doesn’t apply to any other genre, and B) that’s the end all, be all defining nature of country music)
  • “Adds a little something that I’ve rarely heard in country music…SOUL.” (who has ManOfMuzic been listening to that he hasn’t heard a country singer sing with soul? Probably only Cole Swindell).
  • “…blending bluegrass and gospel since the begining. This takes it one step further and really brings all those sounds full circle and into 2016!” (Aside from the spelling error, THIS IS A POP EP!!! ManOfMuzic must have a different version of Fix-EP because I didn’t hear any resemblance of bluegrass or gospel.)

Album Review – Thomas Rhett’s ‘Tangled Up’ May Be One of Country’s Worst Albums

Let’s just be honest here: Thomas Rhett’s accomplishments and notoriety in country music today are solely because his dad is Rhett Akins. Thomas Rhett is a mediocre vocalist whose debut album was nothing but generic pop and bro-country schlock. There was zero originality because Thomas Rhett is not an artist. He’s a puppet willing to sing whatever his label, Valory Music Company (a subsidiary of Big Machine), wants him to sing and become whatever persona his label wants him to be. In 2013, the money was in bro-country. Fast forward two years, bro-country has faded and the money is in R&B-influenced sounds that create funky, danceable beats. Rhett developed a professional crush on Bruno Mars and says he’s changed the trajectory of his career to emulate Mars’ style of music. Conveniently, that funk pop musical styling just happens to be what makes money for Big Machine these days. Combine that all together and we have Bruno Mars Thomas Rhett’s newest album, Tangled Up.

The album begins with a club beat called “Anthem.” Don’t be fooled, just because you’ll hear a banjo in no way makes this song country. Drum machine beats and hand claps are front and center in the production as Rhett merely narrates how the song works. He speaks, not sings, but speaks lines like “this is part where the bass gonna stop” or “You startin’ to feel the momentum build so bring it on back to the chorus” and my personal favorite line of the whole song “this is the verse where you don’t know the words and you don’t give a damn ’cause it feels good.” It’s almost as if the writers are blatantly making fun of the generation that buys into this shitty music simply because it’s a “good beat.” But don’t get me wrong, this song flat-out sucks. “Crash and Burn” follows. Josh sums the song up perfectly with this segment in the single review: “Rhett does not have the charisma and soul of Mars to pull the song off. You need a high energy singer with great chops to make this song great and Rhett simply doesn’t have that. I feel like the instrumentation swallows his voice on this song. You notice everything else on this song before Rhett’s voice.” You could take that first sentence and apply it to just about every song on the album.

Up next is perhaps the worst song of the album: “South Side.” Before we even get into the terrible funk music, we get a distorted computer voice in an English accent (why?) saying, “Please commence shaking your south side.” I fought every urge in my body to not skip this song the moment I heard that sentence. I knew from that the song to follow was going to be terrible, but I just had to listen to it to know how terrible. Firstly, the funk mixed with stupid banjos sounds a bit like “Kick the Dust Up.” Rhett, again, simply sings about how a beat makes people want to shake their ass. But the second verse of this song is probably the worst verse in country music:

Like Memphis, Tennessee, got in bed with CDB
And had a baby and when the baby cried
It made this sound, ain’t no lie it was funkified

ARE  YOU KIDDING ME?! Thomas Rhett claims his new “funkified” music is the love child of Memphis Soul and Charlie Daniels! There have been some terrible name drops in country music, but this one just may take the cake. This song deserves a dedicated rant on its own. Moving on before I throw my computer into a wall. We get the first song on the album that I can actually listen to without getting angry. “Die A Happy Man” is a blues inspired love song. The sentiment is there and it feels somewhat honest: even if he never travels to see the world, he’d still be a happy man as long as he has his wife. However, I’m still not crazy about the song. The lyrics are rather bland and clichéd as Rhett still paints a shallow picture of how his wife’s looks and sexuality are what brings him to his knees and makes it hard to breathe. Also, Thomas Rhett is not that good of a singer, and in “Die A Happy Man” you can hear him trying too hard to sound sultry and sentimental.

Tangled Up is an album chock full of ideas and sounds borrowed from others. No other song is as indicative of his lack of originality than “Vacation.” There are 14 credited songwriters for this train wreck. 14! But half of those songwriters come from the band War. Rhett wisely credits the band for the song because the beat of the verses is essentially the beat from “Low Rider.” The song is about a party at home, but the partygoers are acting like they’re on a tropical vacation. It’s stupid lyrics that Thomas Rhett poorly raps set to a borrowed beat. Even the second verse where Rhett raps about  a Walgreens beach chair and Busch Light sends the same simple life sentiment of Jake Owen’s “Real Life.”

“Like It’s The Last Time” is yet another generic pop country song about a party in a field. You have all the usual suspects here: Moonshine, trucks, raising cups up, hooking up with the girl you like, bonfires, generic mid-tempo guitars, pop beats, and an implication of Fireball shots. It’s just another song to add to the hundreds of corn field songs from the past two years. “T-Shirt” is a hookup song about a girl who keeps coming onto Thomas Rhett. Apparently the song depicts a couple who’ve had these rendezvouses before and vowed to stop, but obviously that doesn’t happen. It’s a boring up beat pop rock beat combined with terrible lyrics and bad vocals. “Single Girl” finds Thomas Rhett pleading to a single girl. He wants to be her man and Rhett, who doesn’t seem to understand the fact that people can be happy and satisfied while not in a relationship, questions why she’s single. He assumes that because she’s single that she’s lonely and that he can be the one to fix it. These assumptions are misguided, immature, arrogant and a little trashy.

Surprisingly, there’s an actual good song on this album. “The Day You Stop Lookin’ Back” is a song where Rhett sings to a girl with a broken heart. The lyrics are actually mature and respectful and the production is more organic with an acoustic guitar and very little pop effects on the drums. Rhett encourages her to stop letting a past heartbreak get the best of her because once she stops looking back, she can then move on. It’s not a great song, but compared to most of the garbage on this album, it sounds pretty good. But we return to the crap with the title track, “Tangled.” This song is straight disco with a backing vocal effects and auto tuned, funky keyboard notes, heavy drum beats for dancing, and a funk inspired guitar. The lyrics are just another song of how Thomas Rhett enjoys being with some female because of the way she loves him physically. “Tangled” is a good reminder of how poorly Thomas Rhett sings.

Another good reminder of Thomas Rhett’s poor vocal abilities can be found in “Playing With Fire.” Rhett sings this song as a duet with American Idol’s Jordin Sparks. She is a much better singer than Rhett. Her lone verse is a better vocal performance than the rest of the album, and she’s even under utilized. Sonically, it’s 100% a pop ballad, but not a bad one at all. Lyrically, it depicts yet another rotten hookup relationship where both parties know it’s bad for them. However, they give into those impulses because they love playing with fire. Thomas Rhett also collaborates with Lunchmoney Lewis on “I Feel Good.” This is a lyrical mess of random nothingness. It starts out describing a scene that would have belonged in “Vacation” then finds Rhett driving in his car celebrating the fact that he got paid. The lyrics of this song don’t make any sense, and Lunchmoney Lewis’ rap breakdown doesn’t help this stupid funk song at all.

Tangled Up finally comes to an end with “Learned It From The Radio.” This is a song where Thomas Rhett thanks Dallas Davidson, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line for teaching him how to be a cliché. “How to wake up, how to work tough, how to roll up those sleeves. How to throw down, how to get loud, and what to put in that drink. To give the stars in the sky a little halo, I learned it from the radio.” It’s every cliché list item from 10 years of mainstream country reworked into this narrative of “how I learned this, how I learned that.”

This album is a mess and shouldn’t even be called music. The songs that combine country sounds with funk sounds are just a hodgepodge of noise that would make a deaf person cringe. The actual funk, disco, R&B songs are shitty and Bruno Mars himself wouldn’t even try to record that mess. Mainstream country isn’t exactly moving away from bro-country. Sure, these songs aren’t pop rock corn field parties, but the lyrics are still the same trashy immature sentiments meant to boost bravado and masculinity. Tangled Up is an embarrassment to country music, it’s an embarrassment to funk and it’s an embarrassment to music in general.

Grade: 0/10