The Hodgepodge: The Decline of Country Festivals

With the rise of bro-country from virtually every male artist in country music came the rise of country festivals across the nation to capitalize on the hot trend. The goal was to put Florida Georgia Line or Luke Bryan on stage in a field surrounded by beer tents where hundreds of college students and recent graduates will congregate and get drunk while crappy, corporate country music blasted through the speakers encouraging the concert goers to continue getting drunk. These country festivals are basically a glorified frat party.

As quickly as the bro-country trend sky rocketed, it’s free-falling at the same rate. This year, over 20 country music festivals have cancelled shows due to a lack of interest and ticket sales. The Bayou Country Superfest saw a drop in ticket sales for the block of shows last weekend. The most likely case for these plummeting attendance numbers could be due to the fact that there’s simply way too many shows and festivals out there.

“Several shows have been downsized, canceled or just decided to skip this year. We may have reached the saturation point given the current talent pool,” – Pollstar’s editor-in-chief, Gary Bongiovanni

“There is an oversaturation in the market. … You’ve got a festival on every corner,”– Nash FM and Classic Hits 103.3 DJ Scott Innes

Another theory Innes states for the sudden evaporation of the festivals is that artists aren’t making money. “The only one that’s making money is the artist. … It’s a cross-your-fingers deal (for promoters to turn a profit).” Innes points out that top acts at these festivals could walk away with upwards of $1 million per show. A majority of these festivals have tickets that are purchased as an all day pass or gate admission for the whole day. So a $40 admission fee grants you access to see every show scheduled that day, and many festivals will have a bundle discount option for multiple days. That’s unlike a show at an arena or stadium where $60 buys your nosebleed seat for an opener or two plus the headliner.

So why are artists demanding so much money? Because concerts and live shows are what bring the majority of profit. We’ve detailed several times how streaming’s payouts are ridiculously low for artists and songwriters. However, as streaming continues to grow and modern radio continues to decline, artists and labels need to find other ways to bring in money. The concert and tour therefore become the focal point for the artist or band. That’s why albums are built with a high number of ready-made singles. Producers and labels want an album with five or six singles to sustain a long tour. They want more money for these shows because it’s essentially all they have for profit. But at festivals with multiple days and headliners, no one gets paid if fans aren’t there to buy drinks and merchandise.

One reason why I think attendance numbers are lower this year is due to the fact that bro-country is virtually dead. Many of the biggest names in bro-country have moved on with songs about heartbreak or spiritual inspired love song. Florida Georgia Line has “H.O.L.Y.”, Blake Shelton has “She’s Got a Way With Words”, Luke Bryan has “Huntin’ Fishin’….” which reverts back to his country checklist lifestyle and not a bro party. The point is, for many of these artists, the party has ended for now.

How many fans of bro-country were fans of the actual artist vs. simply fans of the trend and songs? I can’t tell you how many of my own friends despised country music until bro-country took off, then they became big fans of Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line. Boston is a city that traditionally didn’t value country music, but once bro-country became popular, Boston became a hot spot for mainstream country concerts. I’d be willing to bet that a good chunk of bro-country fans were only fans of bro-country, and don’t care for “Confession” or “H.O.L.Y.”

How will the Adult Contemporary influence on so many recent mainstream releases bring a big change to concert culture? The songs don’t ignite the party like bro-country did. And probably a better question for the concert goer, is how will the lack of extra profit from the festivals effect ticket prices for normal tour shows? Several artists like Eric Church and Kip Moore have tried to fight off scalpers, so that their fans wanting to attend shows are ripped off with ticket prices. There are singers out there who understand that for some fans, a concert ticket may be a tall order for some of the fans in attendance. This all ties back to streaming’s payouts. If streaming services can’t pay artists, songwriters, et. al. in a fair amount as the number of users grow, artists and managers will make money other ways, at the cost of the fans who only want to see their favorite band live in concert.

Upcoming/Recent Country and Americana Releases

  • Due out tomorrow:
    • Maren Morris’ debut album Hero.
    • Robert Ellis’ self titled album.
    • Jackson Taylor’s Which Way Is Up.
    • Wade Bowen & Randy Rogers’ live acoustic album Watch This.
  • On June 10th, Brandy Clark will release her second album, Big Day in a Small Town.
  • Frankie Ballard will release his newest album, El Rio, on June 10th.
  • Luke Bell will release his self titled album on June 17th.
  • Also on June 17th, Jon Pardi will release his newest album, California Sunrise.

Throwback Thursday Song

Josh Turner “Long Black Train” Ten years ago yesterday, this song was certified Gold by the RIAA. With the religious-themed lyrics and Turner’s baritone, “Long Black Train” epitomizes country music as much as cheating and drinking songs do. This is one of the best songs released in the first decade of the 2000s, in my opinion.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Eric Johnson “Cliffs of Dover.” A throwback as well, but my friend and I were sharing some of our favorite guitar solos with one another this weekend, and he sent me this song. I had never heard of Eric Johnson before then, and will accept any hate that admission warrants. Johnson is a hell of a guitarist, and this solo is awesome.

Tweet of the Week

A promotional photo used for the televised CMA Fest as they announce that Brett Eldredge and Thomas Rhett will host the ABC special. Hooray for short jokes (or any kind of joke for that matter) against Thomas Rhett!

Two iTunes Reviews for Old Dominion

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 1.58.23 PM

Below isn’t a direct response to the dumb review above, but it works.

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 1.59.21 PM

Looking Back at The Top 20 Albums of 2015

Country Perspective's 2015 Most Essential Albums

Lately I decided to go back and take a look at all of the album grades I handed out last year. When it comes to grading albums, it can be very polarizing to say the very least and I know there are times when you flat out disagree with me. Other times we’re in complete agreement. One of the toughest aspects of grading is deciding what album is worthy of a 10/10. What constitutes a 10/10 can vary amongst people and I’ve found context is one of the biggest determining factors. Some view a 10/10 in a historical context, some view it in a yearly context, some in a genre context, etc. When it comes to a 10/10 to me, at its core it all comes to a feel for me. I can usually sense a 10/10 from my first listen and I know it’s the mark of a truly great album.

Another important thing I keep in mind when grading is not putting too much weight on the artist’s past material. It should be considered for in terms of comparison for their average sound and whether they deviate from it or not. But in my mind you shouldn’t knock a current album’s grade just because it isn’t as good as the last one in your mind. For example, it baffled me how so many people knocked their grade for Jason Isbell’s 2015 album Something More Than Free because it wasn’t as good in their mind as his previous album Southeastern, so therefore it can’t be a 10/10 if they gave Southeastern a 10/10 in their mind. I also consider it unfair to hold an album in a historical light right upon its release. In my opinion it takes years to determine how well it holds up historically, all-time. Finally I believe there’s no such thing as a perfect album. Every album has its little flaws and has areas where it could be a little better. So I think giving a 10/10 only in the case of it being “perfect” is a little absurd. But as they say it’s all subjective and I just wanted to clarify how I look at albums.

Without further ado I wanted to give you my thoughts on what I would grade albums I gave a 10/10 last year at this current time after having more time to digest and listen to them. Some have held up and some have not. Like I said at the beginning of the year when I announced we were approaching 10/10 grades differently this year, I gave way too many last year. So now I give you what I believe the true 10/10 grades, as well as what I believe didn’t hold up as 10/10. There probably won’t be another post like this next year because I’m being more focused on the grading this year and don’t have any regrets like last year. So here you go:

10/10

Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free

Whitey Morgan – Sonic Ranch 

Chris Stapleton – Traveller 

Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen – Hold My Beer 

Don Henley – Cass County

Turnpike Troubadours – Self-Titled

Houndmouth – Little Neon Limelight

Whitney Rose – Heartbreaker of the Year

Thoughts: Of course our album of the year choice is still a 10/10. I also still stand by my point that Something More Than Free is a better album than Southeastern, even though I’m aware this is unpopular. The key word here is album. If you asked me to pick the best three songs amongst the two albums, I’m probably picking them from Southeastern. But looking at both as whole albums, Something More Than Free is better because it flows better as a whole, thematically and sonically. I know people will disagree.

Of the others that hold up to a 10/10, I know there’s only three of them that some people would disagree. While Traveller being at 14 songs is not ideal and detracted from it in people’s minds, it ultimately doesn’t hurt the album’s overall quality in my opinion. Houndmouth may never put out a better album than Little Neon Limelight again, especially in light of the news of Katie Toupin departing from the band earlier this year. Her vocals were a big reason why I loved that album. As for Whitney Rose’s Heartbreaker of the Year, it just does such a great job of standing out and taking risks while remaining rooted in country. It’s why she won our Female Artist of the Year award.

9/9

Tami Neilson – Don’t Be Afraid 

Sam Outlaw – Angeleno 

The Malpass Brothers – Self-Titled

The Lone Bellow – Then Came The Morning 

Thoughts: So now we get to the albums where they didn’t hold up. Don’t Be Afraid ultimately doesn’t hold up for me because it just doesn’t follow the emotional punch of its title song all the way through the album. Angeleno was a big favorite in a lot of circles, but I just don’t get the same feeling as I did when I first listened to it. It just doesn’t sound as good hearing it back now, but it’s still a great album. The Malpass Brothers are an act I really enjoy, but giving 10/10 to an album mostly full of cover songs wasn’t the right choice. Then we have one of the big surprises for me of 2015 and that’s The Lone Bellow’s Then Came The Morning. A lot of people missed this one because it was a January release. It’s still a really really good album, but it just doesn’t make the cut in my mind for a 10/10, although it’s close.

8/8

Maddie & Tae – Start Here

Jonathan Tyler – Holy Smokes

Dwight Yoakam – Second Hand Heart

The Mavericks – Mono

Banditos – Self-Titled

Thoughts: This is where I know I’m ruffling feathers and people won’t like my downgrading. But I remind you this is just my opinion and not the end all be all. We’ll start with the elephant in the room: Maddie & Tae’s Start Here. I’m a big fan of this duo and that’s one of the things that ultimately clouded my final grade. There’s arguably no other act in mainstream country I want to see succeed more than these two. So I gave Start Here a grade it shouldn’t have received. There’s a lot of really good moments on the album, but it doesn’t follow that through on all of it’s songs. “Your Side of Town” is one song that brings it down, as well as “Right Here, Right Now” and “No Place Like You” for just not being memorable songs. I still say their best album will come when they finally get fed up of the games you have to play on a major label and leave to make their own records on Thirty Tigers.

My fandom also clouded my judgement on Second Hand Heart and Mono. Dwight Yoakam is a living legend and The Mavericks are perhaps one of the most underrated acts in music. Both delivered really good albums with some fun songs, but they’re just not 10/10 albums. Both needed more serious songs on the album to merit it. I enjoy Jonathan Tyler’s Holy Smokes and even bought it on vinyl, but I don’t know what I was thinking giving it 10/10. Maybe it was the summer heat? Ditto for Banditos’ self-titled album. Just a case of me going overboard.

Oh and one last thing. I wanted to give you what I considered a ranking of the top 20 albums of 2015. I think this will also serve useful to those who have just found the site and are looking for great music. These are albums you can’t go wrong with and you can’t go wrong with any of the ones I mentioned above too. My top 20 ranking is all albums reviewed, not just what I reviewed. If you have any questions about this, feel free to ask below.

  1. Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free
  2. Whitey Morgan – Sonic Ranch
  3. Chris Stapleton – Traveller 
  4. Turnpike Troubadours – Self-Titled (This one has gotten even better for me upon more listens)
  5. Wade Bowen & Randy Rogers – Hold My Beer
  6. Don Henley – Cass County (Still can’t believe the drummer for the Eagles made a top ten country album of the year)
  7. John Moreland – High on Tulsa Heat (This one has really grown on me)
  8. Blackberry Smoke – Holding All The Roses
  9. Houndmouth – Little Neon Limelight 
  10. Whitney Rose – Heartbreaker of the Year
  11. Eric Church – Mr. Misunderstood (Still not giving this a 10/10, Church fans. So don’t ask)
  12. The Lone Bellow – Then Came The Morning
  13. Sam Outlaw – Angeleno (This placing will get more complaints than you realize)
  14. Brandi Carlile – The Firewatcher’s Daughter (I hate myself for giving out 9.5/10 grades at one point)
  15. Cody Jinks – Adobe Sessions (Most under-the-radar debut of 2015)
  16. Gretchen Peters – Blackbirds
  17. Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material (Deserves a lot more credit than it received)
  18. Corb Lund – Things That Can’t Be Undone (Also deserved more credit)
  19. Tami Neilson – Don’t Be Afraid
  20. Will Hoge – Small Town Dreams (I always forget about this one, which is dumb)

Just missed the cut: James McMurtry’s Complicated Game, Tony Furtado’s The Bell, Justin Townes Earle’s Absent Fathers and Jami Lin Wilson’s Holidays and Wedding Rings.

The Hodgepodge: Why I Put So Much Stock into Songwriting

Will Hoge solo at ACM @UCO Performance Lab, Oklahoma City, OK. December 4, 2015
Will Hoge solo at ACM @UCO Performance Lab, Oklahoma City, OK. December 4, 2015

After finally listening to Sturgill Simpson’s interview with Marc Maron on the WTF Podcast and listening to Guy Clark for the past day or more, I’ve been thinking a lot about song lyrics and songwriting as a whole. Clark was a masterful songwriter. It’s a shame to hear about his passing as he joins a long list of music legends lost in 2016. Do yourself a favor and explore Clark’s catalog if you haven’t yet.

As a music fan, lyrics are what draw me into a song (which is why I catch myself focusing on the song’s content more than anything when reviewing music). I’ve always enjoyed reading poetry, and love dissecting songs with abstract lyrics. I also enjoy writing stories on my own time. And while it’s been over a year since I’ve worked on a screenplay, I’m still constantly crafting stories in my head. I say all this to show how I’ve essentially conditioned myself over the years to look at the stories and words used to communicate the messages of songs.

That’s not all that goes into a song obviously, but lyrics are the first thing I notice, and the part of the song I typically hold in a higher regard. The beauty with songs, and poetry in general, is the typical sort nature of the format requires skill to convey details in a short amount of time. This is why the laundry-list type songs work in popular country. Bonfire, moonlight, beer, and trucks set the scene. It’s enough generic detail for the mindless listener to easily fill in the blanks to his or her own party. But in well-written songs, one line or one specific word can convey emotion or provide detail that a different, lesser word or line could not. The example at the front of my brain is “The Funeral” by Turnpike Troubadours. The entire song deals with a rebel son, Jimmy, returning home after a while for his father’ funeral. It’s clear he’s the black sheep of the family and there’s quite a bit of tension in the song’s subtext. In the final verse, there’s a line that says “he knew his daddy’s .38 was in that trunk buried deep, and it’d find its rightful owner once his mama was asleep.” To me, the word “rightful” hammers home the narcissism and selfishness the rest of song builds up about Jimmy.

The main problem with Music Row is how desperate these songs seem to stay relevant with the younger demographic. Building whole songs off pop-culture phrases like snapbacks and “said no one ever” or maintaining buzzwords to add a self-imposed legitimacy to a song. As evidenced by a majority of the singles from the past five years mainly, it’s become monotonous with the same kinds of songs, settings, actions being sung and written.

The CMA has a songwriters’ series where the songwriters from the major labels get their chance to sing the songs they wrote for singers like Tim McGraw, Jason Aldean, Kenny Chesney, and more. It’s a chance for these songwriters to share their stories as to how they come up with the songs. Yet with so many songs of the same nature, you get boring stories of how three guys in a room manufacture a hit. For instance, Luke Laird shares the same kind of story for how “American Kids” was written and how “Take a Back Road” was written. Essentially it’s a song that came out of how they all grew up. While it’s great for the songwriter to have the spotlight for a moment, it’s also a little disappointing when it’s a mediocre song with no special story.

Compare that to hearing Wendell Mobley sing “There Goes My Life.” While he doesn’t share the story of the song at the show, the story of the song makes his soulful performance that much more powerful. Mobley fathered a daughter while only in high school, and that daughter passed away at just one year old. Outside of the back story, “There Goes My Life” is still a great, well-written song. And I’m not saying every songwriter needs to sing the song they wrote about one of their worst moments in life, but I think it’s disappointing to hear something like “this is how me and some other guys grew up, so we just put random phrases together that rhymed.”

It appears that we’re on the brink of some more meat in songs produced on Music Row. Going back to the level of maturity from 10/15 years ago will take some time. The labels won’t go from 0 to 60 right away, but it seems that they’re slowly making the move toward maturity…or so they say. Even with a deeply personal, religious song on If I’m Honest, Blake Shelton has still recorded an immature revenge song in light of his divorce from Miranda. The leaked lyrics for “She’s Got a Way with Words” are mean-spirited, but what else can you expect from Blake?

At the end of the day, it’s been the constant immaturity from the songs that’s continued to turn me off from mainstream country and helped me further appreciate Americana, Red Dirt, select Texas Country, and independent singer/songwriters. For the most part, the songs are written from a place of honesty and vulnerability that I have the utmost respect for. As a music fan, there’s honestly nothing better than sitting in a listening room with a great songwriter on stage, aided only by an acoustic guitar (or piano), and pouring his/her heart out while singing their songs. I know that’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s something I think every music fan should experience. With the rate that Nashville has gone for the past decade, it’s an experience you’re more likely to find outside of the mainstream realm of country music.

Upcoming/Recent Country & Americana Releases

  • The Honeycutters’ On The Ropes will be released tomorrow.
  • Dierks Bentley’s Black will be released on May 27th.
  • Also released on the 27th is Yarn’s This Is The Year.
  • Maren Morris’ highly anticipated debut, Hero, will be released in two weeks on June 3rd.
  • First we had Hold My Beer Vol. 1, now we get Watch This! Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers will release a live acoustic album from their Hold My Beer and Watch This tour. Watch This will be released June 3rd.
  • Lori McKenna will release The Bird & the Rifle on July 29.

Throwback Thursday Songs

I don’t have a non-country suggestion this week, so I’ll include some extra Guy Clark songs here. Seriously, go listen to him.

Tweet of the Week

It’s starting to seem that way.

A Nightmare iTunes Review

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 6.56.30 PM

A review praising Cole Swindell’s new album and hoping that he attains Luke Bryan’s superstar status. Cole Swindell is already basically Luke 2.0, but I hope that doesn’t evolve any further.

The Hodgepodge: RIAA Certification, Streaming, and the Changing Face of Music Consumption

On Monday February 1, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) changed how the organization will certify albums and singles. The change reflects digital streams of songs and albums for an artist in addition to sales. Prior to the change, an album or song was certified Gold when 500,000 copies were sold, Platinum at 1,000,000, and Diamond at 10,000,000. With the change, the RIAA will take into account both video and audio streaming, and have decided that 1,500 streams is equal to 10 song sales or one album sale. Simple math then tells us that 750 million streams alone will earn an artist a Gold certification.

With the adjusted certification process, 17 albums achieved Gold or Platinum status on February 1. Three of the 17 albums were country albums: Brett Eldredge’s Bring You Back (Gold), Miranda Lambert’s Platinum (Platinum), and Sam Hunt’s Montevallo (2x Multi-Platinum).

From a business standpoint for the RIAA, this is a good move to keep with the changing tide of how consumers are listening to their music. Streaming is only growing and it’s important for music groups like the RIAA and Billboard to stay relevant with their reporting. However, reactions to the change have been mixed. Country artists are loving the news. One big challenger of the new rules is Top Dawg Entertainment’s, CEO Anthony Tiffith. TDE is the label for Kendrick Lamar, whose critically acclaimed album To Pimp a Butterfly has now been certified Platinum due to the inclusion of streaming. Tiffith tweeted that he won’t acknowledge the certification until old school album sales earn the album its Platinum rating.

One theory I have for the push back could be due to the low streaming payouts to artists/labels vs physical/digital album sales. Last April, The Guardian published an article with an infographic breaking down artist payouts among various streaming services in comparison to standard album sales. The infographic is organized to show how many units must be sold or streamed in order to achieve a monthly minimum wage income.

For instance (based on the numbers on the linked infographic), for an artist signed to a label to earn a monthly minimum wage from Spotify with a $0.0011/stream payout, there would need to be 1,117,021 streams for a monthly wage. At that rate, $1,228.72 is earned each month. And looking at RIAA’s rule of 1,500 streams per album sale, a streaming total of 1,117,021 is equal to about 744 albums sold (rounding down). By comparison, 744 albums sold per month via iTunes will earn a signed artist $1,711.20. And 744 albums per month sold physically in a retail store will be $2,053.44 for a signed artist.

Now these aren’t concrete numbers as to how streaming services directly compare to actual sales. Keep in mind that the numbers on the graphic are 10 months old, and the math I applied based on RIAA criteria may not be direct snapshots of how a company like Spotify may pay out an artist. Some of the numbers gathered from the article were assumed or generalized numbers based on typical business practices between labels and artists.

What this does give us, however, is a small baseline in which to judge a service like Spotify, arguably the most popular streaming service, in regards to actual album sales. I can understand a label CEO being against the inclusion of streaming in regards to albums sales when payouts from streaming are lower than album sales.

With the RIAA accepting streaming, it further solidifies the consumption mode of music, giving more importance to the notion of fair payouts. Streaming services are not going away, and as more and more music associations and organizations restructure themselves to include streaming, streaming needs to continue to fine tune itself to be accepted across the board. Streaming has a lot of push back from the music industry because they see the technology as a threat. But even cassettes scared the music industry back in the day.

For those against streaming, one bright spot is the resurgence of vinyl records. The growth of vinyl is nearly double than the growth in streaming subscriptions. Vinyl’s growth, aside from the novelty aspect, shows that consumers want physical copies of their music along with digital files. Never before have there been this many outlets to consume music. CDs, vinyl, digital downloads, radio, and streaming. Streaming’s skyrocketing popularity cannot be overlooked.

Like it or not, on-demand streaming has immersed itself into our musical culture. The impact streaming can have for an independent or budding artist is crucial. However manufactured his rise was, Kane Brown’s internet popularity earned him a deal with Sony. Maren Morris’ EP was an online only release, now she’s also signed with Sony and is getting the iHeartMedia On The Verge treatment.

Slowly we are seeing the industry adapt to streaming’s popularity. RIAA’s move to include streaming in album and single certifications is just another step in the long road ahead. I don’t think RIAA’s current rules are an absolution (nor do I think they’re perfect), and we may see them further adjusted to improve how the organization looks at streaming. Labels and radio are slowly looking into streaming and internet trends to capitalize on what’s popular with consumers. This is only the beginning of the music industry’s adaptation to streaming, and we may in fact be on the brink of a year in which we see major shifts in response to streaming’s popularity. There’s quite a bit to still work out on both ends of the spectrum, but I think major changes are on the horizon.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • The following albums are all being released tomorrow:
    • Dori Freeman‘s self-titled album
    • Lucinda Williams’ The Ghosts of Highway 20
    • Charles Kelley’s The Driver
    • Freakwater’s Scheherazade
    • The Infamous Stringdusters’ Ladies and Gentlemen
  • Addison Johnson‘s I’m Just a Song EP will be released on February 9th.
  • Cole Swindell announced his second album, You Should Be Here, will be released on May 6th.
  • Dreamer: A Tribute to Kent Finlay will be released on March 2nd, exactly one year after Finlay’s death. Finlay was a songwriter in Texas and owner of the Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos. He is credited with jump-starting the careers of George Strait, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Randy Rogers. Rogers will duet with Sunny Sweeney on the album, along with James McMurtry, William Clark Green, and many others covering Finlay-written songs in his honor.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Luckenbach, Texas” Waylon Jennings. Is there a better opening lyric than “The only two things in life that make it worth livin’ is guitars that tune good and firm feelin’ women”?

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

“Bullet with Butterfly Wings” Smashing Pumpkins. The Smashing Pumpkins just announced a new tour this week. A friend in high school made me a mix CD of her favorite Smashing Pumpkins songs and still listen to that mix quite a bit. I love this song.

Tweet of the Week

Stout’s record, Dust & Wind, was self recorded and released last September. You can listen and purchase to the album on Bandcamp.

YouTube Comment of the Week

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 10.57.21 AM

This was commented on the video of Jason Isbell’s performance of “Flagship” at the Grand Ole Opry. I completely agree with this! Isbell performed the song with his wife, Amanda Shires, playing her violin and providing great harmonies. Click on the link for the video of the performance.

Album Review – Randy Rogers Band’s ‘Nothing Shines Like Neon’

Randy Rogers Band Nothing Shines Like Neon

If you asked me to list the ten artists in 2015 in country music who had the best year, Randy Rogers would be near the top of this list. His collaboration album Hold My Beer Vol. 1 with buddy and fellow Texas country artist Wade Bowen was one of the best of 2015 and reminded everybody just how great these two are at making music. It felt like many country fans had forgotten about them, especially after their less than stellar stints on major labels in Nashville for the last few years. But now both have returned to their roots in Texas and are wholeheartedly pursuing the music they want to make.

Rogers is back with new music again in 2016, with his own Randy Rogers Band. The group is made up of Rogers, Geoffrey Hill (guitar), Jon Richardson (bass guitar), Brady Black (fiddle) and Les Lawless (drums). It’s been three years since they’ve released an album of new music. Combined with the intriguing details that have been revealed in the months leading up to this new album (being produced by the well-known Buddy Cannon and the announced collaborations most notably), it’s something many country fans have been anxiously anticipating to hear. Rogers and the band promised that this new album, Nothing Shines Like Neon, would be full of traditional country music. And after listening to this album several times, I can say they wholeheartedly lived up to this promise.

The album begins with the easy-going “San Antone.” It’s an ode to Texas and how proud they are to be back home in Texas after trying their hand in Nashville for the past several years. It’s sort of their re-introduction as a Texas country band and an appropriate opener for the album. Plus it’s quite catchy and features plenty of fiddle and steel guitar. But this is something I can say about the entire album. This is followed by the romantic ballad “Rain And The Radio.” The song is about the power being out and a couple being together in the darkness of their house. I know some listeners will express concern this song is too much like the romantic slow-jams on country radio the past few years, but I don’t think this is in that territory. This song is sincere in its romantic intentions and implies it’s more than quick fling, but rather an honest, loving moment between two people. That being said it is one of the weaker songs of the album, although not a bad song in any way.

“Neon Blues” is your classic drinking song about a woman trying to drink her heartbreak away. The woman isn’t in any mood to talk about it, but rather continue to put back shots to dull her pain. After you hear this song a few times, you’ll undoubtedly catch yourself humming it randomly as I’ve found out (this is a good thing). One of the standouts of Nothing Shines Like Neon is “Things I Need To Quit.” It’s about a man realizing a list of habits he needs to quit, most importantly a woman from his past he can’t let go of. He knows he needs to move on and quit waiting around for her to come back because it’s never going to happen. The songwriting on this song is great and really captures the feelings of someone experiencing this well.

Randy Rogers Band team up with the talented Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski on “Look Out Yonder.” This is another song that demonstrates just how far and how great this band has become over the years. Perhaps a self-reflection song for Rogers, it’s about a man returning home to his family and how he’s been many things over the years, but has always had the best intentions in mind. The instrumentation and production are light-weight, which is quite beneficial the song. This really lets the lyrics shine and tell the story at hand, allowing the listener to connect with the song and experience their own feelings with it. For many this will probably be their favorite song on Nothing Shines Like Neon.

Following this is “Tequila Eyes,” a song about a woman drinking tequila to drown her sorrows away, but as her friends explains it can only hide her true feelings for so long. It’s a solid drinking song with some great fiddle play and slightly catchy lyrics. Nothing Shines Like Neon is at it’s most fun and exciting on “Taking It As It Comes.” Rogers duets with the Texas country music icon Jerry Jeff Walker and their voices go together perfectly. Walker hasn’t missed a beat after all these years. The instrumentation is fantastic, blending piano, fiddle, steel and electric guitar throughout. It’s just one of those songs where you just can’t help to move your feet and sing along with it.

There are a lot of really good songs on this album, but none are better than “Old Moon New.” It’s a tender love ballad about a man nervously trying to profess his love to a woman through various ways. Whether it’s his love letter that he knows has a “thousand clichés” or the eleven red roses he gives her just to shake it up from the usual number, he knows the love he feels for her. He knows there’s nothing new being done under the old moon that night, but she makes it feel new when she’s with him. It’s such a refreshing and enjoyable take on the romantic, moonlight, country ballad that has been tainted in recent years. This is the type of song I could have easily seen Alan Jackson and George Strait cutting back in the 90s, with the genuine lyrics and heavy steel guitar and fiddle.

“Meet Me Tonight” is your classic “ex regret” song, as a man reaches out to a woman from his past to meet up with him tonight to rekindle a lost love. But it’s not going to be successful, as it’s just a failed relapse out of desperation. This song has the misfortune of following the best one on the album, but you shouldn’t overlook it. Jamey Johnson joins the band on the next song, “Actin’ Crazy.” Johnson did a lot of cool collaborations with fellow country artists in 2015 and to start off 2016 he’s part of another. It’s another really fun song and features the best and most witty line of the album when the duo utters, “The rent is high as Willie.” That definitely made me chuckle. Randy Rogers Band did one hell of a job picking guest artists for this album and it’s reminder that more country artists need to do fun collaborations like the ones on this album.

Nothing Shines Like Neon is capped off with “Pour One For The Poor One,” another strongly traditional country song with plenty of fiddle and steel guitar. A man has had his heart-broken after professing his love for a woman and she responds by leaving in the middle of the night. Now he’s stuck on a bar stool and asking the bartender to continue to poor out the drinks for his “poor, pitiful” self. Once again the band captures the feeling of heartbreak perfectly.

The year 2016 is quite young, but I can say with certainty that Randy Rogers Band has released the first great country album of the year with Nothing Shines Like Neon. It’s an album full of entertaining and engaging traditional country music that is sure to wet the whistle of any country fan. Randy Rogers Band does a fantastic job of balancing serious songs and fun songs. I was most impressed by the depth of the serious songs, one of the few small concerns I had coming into this album. I always knew they could make entertaining, fun songs, but to make as great of love ballads as they did on this album it demonstrates to me how much this band has grown. This is a big step forward for Randy Rogers Band and reminds everyone that they’re still one of the best in the Texas country scene. Traditional country music doesn’t get much better than it does on Nothing Shines Like Neon.

Grade: 9/10