The Endless Music Odyssey, Vol. 1: Hot Country Knights, Wade Bowen & Randy Rogers, and more

The Hot Country Knights deliver even more than I expected with their debut album The K is Silent. You can spend a lot of time analyzing all of the puns and hilarious references (some time will be spent on this of course). But in my opinion the best thing to sum up about this album can be found in the music video for the lead single of this album, “Pick Her Up.” In this clear parody of bro country (as well as 90s country too), the video opens with the modern country male concert goer in his flannel shirt and vest. It’s a little detail, but it struck me because of it’s accuracy because this is literally how the vast majority of guys I see at concerts dress. At The Cadillac Three concert I attended back in February (what will highly likely be my one and only show in 2020), pretty much every dude at show looked like the guy in the music video.

Now to why I point this out and to me it’s symbolism for modern country. Every thing looks and sounds the same just like the listeners who consume it. I don’t mean this as a shot at these listeners or anybody at all, nor did Dierks Bentley and his band mean to make this some sort of symbolism. But for myself I couldn’t help but make the connection. I just found it fascinating how so much of popular modern music makes things so cookie cutter to the point even the listener is a cardboard cutout. It shows the cascading effect art and culture can have on people. As the saying goes, you are what you eat.

Back to the Hot Country Knights and the video, they give the guy a 90s makeover (or 80s?) and set him up with a souped up truck to impress his date. It’s completely corny, out of style and yet brimming so much with the personality that lacks in country music today. It doesn’t feel like calculated marketing and it’s just being itself, which easier said than done in today’s world. Yes, this album goes on to point out how even 90s country was formulaic in it’s approach and relied on copy and paste imagery for songs. But it was fun and didn’t take itself so seriously, yet it could also find balance with serious songs occasionally too. It felt natural and had an accessibility about it that could resonate with the average person because it didn’t try so hard to be cool or appeal to certain demographics. Of course I will fully admit too that nostalgia makes me see things slightly through rose-colored glasses. But it’s the fun-loving spirit of this album that resonates mostly with me and how it’s not afraid to go “out there” and be a little weird and kooky.

The features on this album are perfect with Travis Tritt and Terri Clark each shining brightly in their roles. “Asphalt” is non-stop chuckles with it’s non-stop ass-based references (and another hilarious music video). “Moose Knuckle Shuffle” actually makes me want to dance and do the Moose Knuckle Shuffle while also doing a perfect parody of the line-dancing phase of the 90s. The highlight of the album for me though has to be “Then It Rained.” At first I was like wait a minute this is familiar and then I realized it was a dead-on take of Garth Brooks’ “The Thunder Rolls” and I absolutely lost it. It’s quite “Seinfeldian” as my friend Zack at The Musical Divide perfectly puts it, with it’s take on the average boring moment followed by rain. This type of humor is right up my alley. The best line is “I ordered up a hot dog and a glass of chardonnay/Somewhere I thought I heard George Strait/And then it rained.” It’s just so randomly hilarious!

The album’s title track rhymes whiskey with whiskey, which feels like the ultimate meta reference to how asinine modern country songwriting can be at times while also referencing how critics like myself can never help ourselves in pointing things like this out in reviews. “Mull It Over” is both funny and manages to incorporate a mullet reference right under your nose (while lines throughout reference the hair style too). “You Make It Hard” is the ultimate dick joke song. Finally you have “The USA Begins with US,” which casually and flawlessly mocks the absurdity that is so many patriotic country songs and how some artists inauthentically pander so hard with the USA stuff in their music (think songs like “Chicken Fried”).

While this was just a “casual” side project for Dierks Bentley and his band, you can tell a lot of love and work went into this fun idea. And I hope this isn’t the last we’ve heard of the Hot Country Knights, as the cornier, fun side of country music is something we need again. Speaking of more fun country music, Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers returned with another collaboration album, Hold My Beer, Vol. 2. The first addition got high praise from yours truly and I flipped when I saw the news that they were coming back with another edition in May.

While I really enjoyed this album for the most part, I unfortunately have to point the huge flaw in this project before getting to what I enjoy. And I have to point it out first because I was enjoying it so much upon initial listens and then I finally did my “deep” listen of it. The huge flaw I discovered was “Her.” Now I know I pointed out above that music today should have a more casual nature about it and not be so overthought. But it’s hard not to come away from “Her” as anything but disappointing. A song about a guy getting his friend drunk and stealing his girl away is just not something I can get behind, no matter how “fun-loving” it tries to come off. This song is no different than the horrible Old Dominion song “Break Up with Him.” It’s just in bad taste all-around and unlike Ashley McBryde’s new album Never Will, this song doesn’t try to view the flawed characters as neutral or bad actors, but rather quite the opposite.

So after making this discovery it felt like I had just eaten a piece of delicious chocolate cake only for the chef to come up to me afterwards and whisper in my ear that there was a fly baked into it. Nevertheless, the rest of this album is the kind of fun traditional country I can get behind and put on repeat. While there are no true highlights that resonate with me like on the first volume, there was still several fun moments. “Rodeo Clown” is an hilarious song about a guy being left by his woman for a rodeo clown. While it’s an embarrassing and sad thing for the guy, it’s quite a funny image from the outside looking in. While at first “Rhinestoned” and “Speak to Me Jukebox” felt a bit on the nose, I’ve ultimately come to really enjoy these little homages to country music and previous standards that so many country listeners enjoy.

“Am/Fm” is admittedly a bit too close to the very songs these two mocked with “Standards,” but damn if it isn’t admittedly catchy too. So I can understand anybody who decidedly falls on either side of the fence with this song. “Let Merle Be Merle” can kind of come off a bit tone deaf upon first listen of the chorus, but I realized upon more listens the message is really about letting people be what they are. Particularly with country music the song is saying to let the past be the past, don’t try to be the next Haggard. And these are messages I can get behind. “Ode to Ben Dorcy” surprised me as I was greeted by the welcoming voice of Waylon Jennings. And I found the song to be even more cool when I read about the origins of it, as it pays tribute to the long-time roady who supported so many artists.

“Mi Amigo”, even with the nice feature of Asleep at the Wheel, is a bit generic and forgettable. “Warm Beer” is a bit cliché, but I’ll admit I can enjoy it too for it’s easy-going nature. “Hold My Beer” is definitely better and is the kind of song that encapsulates the entertaining, buddy-buddy personalities of Bowen and Rogers. I wish “Her” could have been replaced with another song like this one. Or another song like “This Ain’t My Town,” which I would have to pick as the best on the record. It’s a poignant commentary on the gentrification of towns like Austin and Nashville, stripping away the soul and characteristics that made the places once resonate with the city’s original residents who now feel like strangers. It’s a nice balance also with the fun moments on this album, much like how “El Dorado” served on the first volume.

Hold My Beer, Vol. 2 is a really solid album that shines for the most part, despite the flaws. Although I would be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to make an observation of this album and The K is Silent. Each album shares multiple writers (Jon Randall, the Beavers brothers), despite the fact that some Texas Country supporters will insist that Wade and Randy’s album is much more authentic and country. But I would make the argument that these albums are essentially the same, as each have the same fun attitude and themes throughout.

The only difference is packaging and marketing. One is trying to be “serious” and the other is a “parody.” But you could argue both for well both. The point I’m ultimately trying to make here is how hung up in perceptions us listeners can have when it comes to music and the perception we think we give by listening to a certain type of music. Really at the end of the day it’s just a matter of how it makes you feel and if you enjoy it. The other stuff is just noise artists, labels and industry people trying to suck you into this fake us vs them plot to sell more music and tickets. And unfortunately this fuels the divides that exist in music too. In the words of the Doobie Brothers, just listen to the music and you can’t go wrong.

Hot Country Knights – The K is Silent – Strong 8/10

Wade Bowen & Randy Rogers – Hold My Beer, Vol. 2 – Light 8/10


And more…

  • After enjoying the Hot Country Knights album, it actually prompted me to re-listen to Dierks Bentley’s The Mountain. And I’m glad I did. Originally I was in the very small minority of not enjoying the album. But now you can count me in the camp of liking it. I’m not sure why I originally didn’t enjoy it, and while I wouldn’t put it as one of Bentley’s best (such as Modern Day Drifter, Riser, Up on the Ridge), it’s a really solid album full of great messages that deal with overcoming fears, anxiety and finding love. “Burning Man” is the perfect opener and the Brothers Osborne are the ideal feature for this type of song. The album’s title track feels like a good summation of this album, “You Can’t Bring Me Down” is an uplifting anthem and “Son of the Sun” is where you can really tells Dierks lets his inspiration from Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives’ Way Out West shine through. And his collaboration with Brandi Carlile on “Travelin’ Light” is so enjoyable. I’m not sure I’ll ever warm up to Black, but The Mountain is an album worthy of recommendation from yours truly now.
  • Run the Jewels is dropping RTJ4 on June 5 and I am pumped! All three albums they’ve released have been great (RTJ2 in particular is one of the best albums of the past decade), so I’m quite confident that this will be another can’t miss record from the dynamic duo of El-P and Killer Mike. I got even more excited when I saw the all-star features list for the album, including the likes of 2 Chainz, Zack De La Rocha, Pharrell Williams and Mavis Staples. I’ve only listened to small snippets and plan to not listen to any of the full songs before the album to go in completely blind. Needless to say this is an album that on paper has a great shot of making my top albums of the year list.
  • I just reposted my review of Kenny Chesney’s great Songs of the Saints album. But unfortunately his new album is right back to the generic garbage I’ve come to hate from him. I didn’t even make it halfway through before shutting it off. It’s a shame how his mediocre stuff is what always ends up as hits while his better material never seems to resonate with listeners as much. Then again when you condition your audience into coming to concerts to get blackout drunk and trash venues up, it’s not really that surprising I guess.
  • I recently started to explore the discography of the Carpenters and I wish I would have done so sooner. Their melodies are gorgeous and Karen Carpenter has to be one of the most underrated artists of all-time. It’s a shame her life was cut so short. Close To You is the standard recommendation with this duo and for good reason, as I enjoy it front to back. The love songs like “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “They Long To Be Close To You” easily standout thanks to the beautiful voice of Karen and their different take on the cover of “Help” holds up right next to The Beatles.
  • I gotta say I’m not a fan of the COVID-19-inspired songs being released. It’s bad enough to be profiting off a deadly virus, but then the songs themselves are so boring and uninspiring. I don’t really think anybody needs another reminder of it either. Country music in particular seems to be releasing the most songs about the topic and it reminds me so much of immediate post-9/11 country music. Luke Combs has the most popular song with “Six Feet Apart.” It’s just decent and for me it’s starting feel like all of his songs have the same cadence and feel about him. They just sort of blend together, so I hope he plans for more variety in future songs. Brad Paisley though has released the worst with “No I in Beer.” It’s so lazy, the pandering is tacked on at the end and it feels like a watered down conglomeration of his past songs. Please start doing better, Brad.
  • I don’t really pay a lot of attention to country radio nowadays, but I glanced through the chart the other day and I was happy to see LOCASH’s “One Big Country Song” is rising up the charts and becoming a hit. I’ve never been a big fan of the duo, but this song really caught my ear when I heard it last year. While the topic of the song is quite overused in country music, LOCASH manages to pull it off thanks to the fun, singalong nature and the catchy guitar licks.

Thanks for reading the first edition of The Endless Music Odyssey! This will be not necessarily a weekly feature, but a regular feature for sure. I will still do regular reviews when I have a ton to say about the album, but otherwise my thoughts will be in this feature. Josh’s Jukebox Journal will still be a feature and I plan to reveal at least one more feature very soon. I hope you enjoy my new approach to writing as much as I do! As always be sure to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments below!

Album Review – Run The Jewels’ ‘Run the Jewels 3’

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Run The Jewels is hands down one of the best acts in hip hop music today. I remember coming across the duo pretty much by accident as I saw everyone talking about them and specifically their new album at the time Run the Jewels 2. From the very first listen of that album I was completely hooked to them. Of course I then went back to their first album and loved it too. You won’t find a much better duo in music than Killer Mike and El-P. These two are just a perfect fit for each other’s styles. Both just absolutely attack the music and bring 110% intensity to each second of the song. Not to mention their incorporation of metal, rock and other genres’ influences into their sound really makes them appealing to all music fans. As for the themes they tackle, nothing is off-limits. They can make you laugh (El-P in particular always drops some funny lines), but also offer thoughtful critical commentary that will inspire you to think deeper like on “Early” on RTJ 2. So after the masterpiece that was Run the Jewels 2, I was eager to hear how they would follow it up with Run the Jewels 3. And once again one of the best in hip hop deliver big.

One of the things you notice right away from the opening song “Down” is Run the Jewels 3 has a distinctive sci-fi, futuristic-like influence throughout it. This is combined with the duo’s usually heavy bass anchored sound. That rapid delivery that made me instantly love this duo is really exemplified on “Talk to Me.” The lyrics come at you like a firing machine gun and the deep bass line really gives the song punch. The album’s third single “Legend Has It” really shows off Run The Jewels’ swagger in both their delivery and lyrics. “Call Ticketron” features a really catchy synthetic beat that won’t be leaving you for a while after you hear it. Another excellent artist and rapper in Danny Brown joins RTJ on “Hey Kids (Bumaye)” and instantly became one of my favorites on the album. The contrast in Browns’ unique delivery and the duo’s heavier delivery play off each other well and I definitely wouldn’t complain about these three doing more songs together. The best moment on the album is when Killer Mike and El-P once again tackle police violence and society’s reactions to them with aplomb and intelligence on “Don’t Get Captured” and “Thieves (Screamed the Ghost).” Specifically on the latter the duo imagines all of the victims of police and system brutality rising from the dead and calling out the injustice committed against them. It’s the injustices of this system that not only cause needless deaths they explain, but riots and protests too.

A dystopian, chaotic future is imagined on “2100,” as Run The Jewels warns us that if the hate in the world continues we’ll all pay the ultimate price and that we need to come together to find peace. Run The Jewels drop one of their best beats I’ve ever heard from them on “Panther Like a Panther.” Electric bongo drums are the main instrumentation giving the song an eerily slick sound. One thing that needs pointed out is this album has some noticeable jazz influences in places, most notably on “Thursday in the Danger Room” where jazz musician Kamasi Washington plays saxophone. This song is about the duo both reflecting on deaths of close friends and not being able to ever really accept it, never letting their memory go. Killer Mike and El-P disappoint their mothers with their life choices on “Oh Mama.” The horn line really gives the song great energy. It should also be noted El-P hilariously blurts out, “Notice me, senpai!” The album really closes out with a bang in “A Report to the Shareholders/Kill Your Masters.” The duo takes aim once again at the evils of society, specifically the masters in part two of the song who ruin the lives of everyday people. A special guest also shows up by the end to take the song to an even higher level, but I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t heard it yet.

Run The Jewels delivers to the masses another fantastic record in Run the Jewels 3. I wouldn’t quite put it on the same exact level as Run the Jewels 2, as that album is a future classic in my mind and will be hard to top. But man do they come damn close in equaling it here. I’ll admit I wasn’t completely sold on the whole sci-fi sound at first, but after a couple more listens it really sank in. The production is near flawless and compliments the lyrics perfectly. As always Killer Mike and El-P drop awesome bars that will be sticking with me for a while. It’s really early, but I doubt there will be many hip hop records coming close to equalling or topping Run the Jewels 3 in 2017.

Grade: 9/10

 

Recommend? – Absolutely Yes!

Album Highlights: Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost) [feat. Tunde Adebimpe], Hey Kids (Bumaye) [feat. Danny Brown], A Report to the Shareholders/Kill Your Masters, Panther Like A Panther (Miracle Mix) [feat. Trina], Talk To Me, Legend Has It, 2100 (feat. BOOTS), Thursday in the Danger Room (feat. Kamasi Washington)

Bad Songs: None

Wallpaper: None


As they’ve done with all of their albums, you can download Run The Jewels 3 for free at their official site by clicking here.

The Hodgepodge: Streaming Is Proving To Be Too Much of a Good Thing

Spotify

I make my return to The Hodgepodge! And this isn’t just a one-off appearance either, as I will be taking it over for the rest of the year. You’re probably wondering what’s up? Well Derek has a lot on his plate in the next month and I’ve got a few ideas that I’ve been wanting to write about, so this felt like the right thing to do for both of us. Don’t worry you’ll still see Derek around, as you’ll be seeing more reviews from him in the next month instead of The Hodgepodge. Derek has been doing a fine job with The Hodgepodge and will return to writing it in 2016. So what’s on my mind…

Streaming is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Of course I’ve discussed this before in The Hodgepodge. The first Hodgepodge column ever touched on it. So I wanted to revisit it now after I’ve had a lot more experience with a variety of streaming services. What inspired me to write this post was the following tweet I saw weeks ago:

For those unfamiliar with Zac Wilkerson, he’s an artist from Amarillo, Texas who’s music is a combination of soul, country and folk music. He’s an independent artist who doesn’t have a large following. So you can see how Spotify screws him and other independent artists over. Only $310 for over 60,000 streams is ridiculously low and is not enough to financially support anyone. To give you an idea between the difference of money between streaming and buying an album, let’s divide 63,640 by 1500. According to Billboard, 1500 streams equal one album sale. The result of the above equation is about 43 albums sold. The average album costs $12. So multiply 43 by 12 and this gives the amount of money made from the sales, which is $516. It’s not a huge increase from the $310 made from Spotify, but this is just a very basic comparison that doesn’t factor in many variables and other factors involved here. Did the people who stream Wilkerson’s music go onto buy an album from him? Or even merchandise or concert tickets as a result of discovering him? Unfortunately this is something that we can’t determine.

So the obvious downside of streaming is less money for the artist. The other downside of course is streaming is eating into music sales badly. According to Nielsen/Billboard data, digital song sales have gone down 10.4% and on-demand audio streaming has ballooned up 74% to 58.6 billion plays in 2015. Vinyl sales have once again increased this year, up 38.4% in sales. Also it’s worth pointing out that CD album sales are trumping digital album sales. So it’s a tale of two schools of thought in 2015: the casual listener who uses Spotify, Apple Music or some other streaming service and the traditional listener who prefers a physical media. There are a lot more streamers though than physical media purchasers. It’s the clear dominant preference of the average listener right now.

You could make a big argument that streaming has become so popular because the quality of music is down and people are reluctant to trust the music marketplace. But that involves a lot of opinions and it’s an argument that will just go round and round. I prefer to point out something more factual: streaming is simply too convenient. For $9.99 month you can get all the music you want from Apple Music, Spotify or Google Play. Spotify sweets it up even more by offering new users three months up front of Spotify premium for only 99 cents. These streaming subscriptions allow you to download unlimited music for offline play as long as you continue to pay a monthly fee. If you download just one album and you listen to it, you’re already getting your money’s worth. It’s ridiculously friendly to customers and inherently unfair to artists who aren’t named Katy Perry or Taylor Swift.

After years of dismissing streaming, I gave into streaming this year even, as I subscribed to Google Play music. It’s kind of important to have this as a music reviewer though. Do you really think I’m going to buy Luke Bryan albums to review them? This is where I point out the good side of streaming, which is discovery and quality control. I’ve discovered numerous new artists via streaming and I never would have been able to find them without streaming. Buying blind is something I was never a fan of and streaming allows me to listen to the music before deciding if I want to purchase the album. So when an artist puts out a bad album now, you can stream it instead of buying it and wasting your money. Of course this isn’t possible with Garth Brooks albums, as he’s an old man who refuses to get with the times and is forcing his crappy GhostTunes down everyone’s throats. But you get the point with the good side of streaming: it allows you to be a smarter customer and expands your music collection with easy discovery.

Streaming is obviously proving to be too much of a good thing. There isn’t any balance here, as the customers are reaping all the rewards and artists aren’t reaping enough from it. That’s not to say customers shouldn’t be getting a lot out of it, as they’re the lifeblood behind every artist. The customer/listener should be the priority. But if the artist isn’t making any money, there isn’t any music for the listener to consume. So here’s my solution to this ongoing problem: limit the amount of streaming. It shouldn’t be taken away completely, as I believe it has its place in the music industry. Instead let’s just put a cap to how many times you can stream an album and songs before you have to purchase it. Bandcamp, my personal favorite streaming service, has something similar in place right now:

By default, fans can play tracks on Bandcamp only a few times in full, after which they get a dialog prompting them to buy. As the artist, you can up this limit, or remove it entirely, from your Profile page (you of course always get unlimited plays of your own tracks, but for the curious, here’s what the purchase prompt looks like). When a fan makes a purchase, they get unlimited streaming via the free Bandcamp app for Android, iOS and Sonos, an optional download in a variety of high-quality formats including lossless, and of course the satisfaction of directly supporting an artist they love.

This is a great idea that is fair to the artist and listener. Make it to where an album can only be played, let’s say six times before the listener can no longer stream it. Also the option to download songs for offline listening and paying a monthly fee to keep them in your library should be banned, as this is just too much for the listener. They must be forced to buy the album after so many streams if they want to keep listening. By doing this the listener still gets plenty of streams to determine whether or not to buy the album, while the artists will get more sales. Artist discovery would still exist too. This is a win-win for everyone involved. I plead to the streaming companies and the artists to heed my advice and make the music environment an even better place for all involved.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Jason Boland & The Stragglers will release their new album Squelch tomorrow.
  • Corb Lund will release his new album Things That Can’t Be Undone tomorrow.
  • Toby Keith will release a new album tomorrow titled 35 MPH Town.
  • Jana Kramer will be releasing her sophomore album thirty one tomorrow.
  • The Voice alumnus Jake Worthington will be releasing his self-titled debut EP next Friday. Based on what I’ve heard from it so far it’s very good.
  • Alt-country band The Yawpers will be releasing a new album on October 30 titled American Man.
  • Josh Abbott Band announced they’re releasing a new album on November 6 titled Front Row Seat.
  • The Band Perry will be releasing a new album on November 20 titled HEART+BEAT.

Great Music Currently At Country Radio

You know I spend so much time (rightly) ragging on all the crap on country radio at the moment. But I realized I need to spend more time promoting the good at country radio too, even if there isn’t a lot of it. So a new feature I’ve added here to The Hodgepodge is a playlist of the songs I consider good currently at country radio. In order for a song to be added to the list, it must currently be in the top 60 of the Billboard Country Airplay chart, so this will be updated weekly. So check it out below!

Throwback Thursday Song

“I Will Always Love You” – Dolly Parton – I’ve been listening to the new Don Henley album a lot and of course as I said in my review of it that my favorite song on it is the duet with Henley and Dolly Parton, “When I Stop Dreaming.” This made me want to listen to more music from Dolly and one of my favorites from her is this song. Everybody loves to say this is Whitney Houston’s song and it isn’t. This is Dolly’s song and she does it best and I will argue this with anyone. I also discovered Dolly sang this with Carrie Underwood a few years ago and you can see that here. Listen to both, as the first one is not only Dolly performing it, but explaining the story behind the song.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

“Born to Shine” – Big Grams, Big Boi & Phantogram featuring Run The Jewels – One of my favorite groups in all of music and my current top favorite in hip-hop Run The Jewels is featured throughout this song, so I checked out this entire album from Big Gram, Big Boi & Phantogram. I didn’t like the album, except for this because it’s Run The Jewels and everything they touch is gold. I can’t wait for RTJ3.

Tweet of the Week

Drunken Martina is the best and if you’re on Twitter, the account is a must-follow. Also it was so great to see Rhett get outsold by Strait and Henley. Quality wins again!

iTunes Review That Rocks

Great Strait Review

Now here’s someone who gets it. I love this review even more because it’s someone who says they aren’t even a country fan and they know Strait is the real deal. This is why Strait is one of the all-time best.

Thanks for reading and be sure to weigh in below! 

The Hodgepodge: Who Can Step Up and Be A Leader in Country Music?

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:

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Garth Brooks

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.

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Sturgill Simpson

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.

Adele 21

Adele

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…

Scott Borchetta
Scott Borchetta

Scott Borchetta

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.

Other Possible Candidates:

Chris Stapleton – Stapleton has been involved in the mainstream for years as a writer and finally just released his debut album Traveller, which is fantastic and highly recommended. It has received critical and fan praise. It reached #2 on the Billboard Top Country albums chart. Mainstream artists know and respect him. But how much sway does his words have right now? If he experiences a meteoric rise in 2015 like Sturgill did in 2014, then we can seriously revisit the possibility of Stapleton being a leader in the genre.

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 Musgraves revealed 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

I second this!

An iTunes Review That Will Make You Smile

Kelsea Ballerini Sucks

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: countryperspective@gmail.com.

That’s it for the Hodgepodge this week! Be sure to sound off in the comments! 

My Five Favorite Non-Country Albums of 2014

Here at Country Perspective we talk about country music of course. We review it, analyze it, present it and listen to it. Except today we make an exception. I’m going to talk about what I considered the best outside of country music. Contrarian person: “But this is country blog! I don’t care about non-country music!” Okay that’s cool. Don’t read this. If you’re still here thank you. Now let me ask you a question: Do you only eat one type of pie? No you don’t because that’s stupid. I enjoy eating a variety of different pies. Chocolate, apple, cherry you name it. Even though I love country music, I would go insane if I just listened to one type of music. I listen to all types and I’m not exaggerating. Now keep in mind too my “rules” for country music aren’t the same for other genres. For example, vulgarity is a much bigger part of hip-hop than other genres. But one universal rule for all genres in order to have good music: great lyrics with meaning and depth. So without further ado my five favorite non-country albums of 2014.

Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2

rtj2

 

Where has this hip-hop duo been all of my life? I never heard their first album and still haven’t. I heard a lot of hype about them on social media, so out of the blue I gave their album a listen. From the first listen I was absolutely blown away. This album hits you in the face from the first song and keeps throwing flurries in your face until the album ends. After all the album starts out with the ear grabbing shout of, “I’m going to bang this bitch the fuck out!” It’s vulgar, offensive, controversial and I absolutely love it. It’s definitely NSFW. El-P and Killer Mike were meant to make music together. My favorite track on the album would have to be “Blockbuster Night Part 1” because everything in this song works perfectly together. The final lyrics of the song really put an exclamation point on it.

This is really an album you have to hear for yourself because there is just so much to breakdown in it. This album tied with two other albums as my favorite of the year (the next album I’m getting ready to talk about and the other one you’ll know on Monday). Not only that, but this is probably my favorite hip-hop album I’ve ever listened to. It’s a damn shame this wasn’t nominated for a Grammy because it’s better than all of the Grammy nominations for Best Rap album.

The War on Drugs – Lost In The Dream

War-On-Drugs-Lost-In-The-Dream-608x608

 

The Philadelphia-based band composed of lead singer Adam Granduciel, David Hartley, Robbie Bennett, Charlie Hall, Joe Natchez and Anthony LaMarca have dazzled critics and fans everywhere with this album. Unless your name is Mark Kozelek, then you’ll probably love this album. Granduciel shows that he’s a musical genius with such a deep and complex album like Lost In The Dream. I mean who starts an album off with a nearly nine minute song? Most of the songs on this album are over five minutes long. It’s going to take you a while to listen to it, but trust me it is well worth it. Don’t listen to it in chunks either because this album is a journey and is meant to be listened to in full from start to finish.

As for my favorite track, it would be a toss-up between “Red Eyes” and “An Ocean in Between The Waves.” It really depends on my mood. I will say though my favorite line is in “An Ocean in Between The Waves.” It’s the brilliant line of “In my finest hour, can I be more than just a fool?” It’s such a simple line, yet it means so much. I will admit it can be hard to pay attention to the lyrics at times because the instrumentation is just so damn good. The amount of detail and thought behind each sound is unbelievable. This is the kind of album you put on right before you go for a long drive.

Rival Sons – Great Western Valkyrie 

Rival-Sons-great-western-valkyrie

 

Along with The War on Drugs, Rival Sons proved to me that rock music isn’t dead. Behind country music, I would say rock music is my favorite. But in recent years I drifted away from the genre just like I did with country music. When I came across this group’s album and listened to it, they made me believe in rock music again. They also taught me that you can’t rely on the mainstream to guide you to the best rock music (just like country music). Great Western Valkyrie is the perfect blend of the classic rock throwback sound and modern rock influences. The album opens hot with “Electric Man” and really sets the tone for this album. There are several highlights on this album, from the loud and in your face “Open My Eyes” to the more subdued and tender “Belle Star.”

I was really surprised that very few “best of” albums list didn’t mention this because to me it’s easily one of the best rock albums I’ve heard in the last five years. This album was also shorted by the Grammys, but hey the Grammys suck most years and at least they stayed consistent. I know I appreciate Rival Sons’ Great Western Valkyrie and many other do too. Thank you Rival Sons for also restoring my faith in rock!

Weird Al Yankovic – Mandatory Fun

If you don’t like Weird Al Yankovic, you don’t like to laugh. In a world full of too much political correctness and super serious people, Weird Al is here to remind us it’s okay to laugh while listening to music. I not only got plenty of laughs from Mandatory Fun, but I was impressed by Weird Al’s lyrics and style choices. He also took a unique approach in promoting the album, as he released eight music videos over eight days all in different places the week he released the album. The music videos make the songs even better of course. One song in particular where the video makes it even better is “Foil,” which goes from talking about keeping food fresh to conspiracy theorists and aliens (that reminds me that Sturgill Simpson and Weird Al should make a song together).

My two favorites though on the album are “Word Crimes” and “Jackson Park Express.” The first, “Word Crimes,” is a song the world didn’t know it needed until they heard it. It blows the song it parodies, Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” out of the water in terms of lyrics and content. It sends a message that many people need (how to write like a human being) and it also takes a nice little jab at prima donna Prince. “Jackson Park Express” is a nine-minute, bizarre journey on a bus (sounds like an episode of Seinfeld) where a man goes from irrational to just plain creepy with his thoughts about a woman sitting across from him. It’s one of Weird Al’s best original songs ever.

Who would’ve thought when Weird Al started his musical career in 1976 that we would still making music after all these years? Keeping being awesome Weird Al and congrats on your first #1 album!

Pentatonix – PTX, Vol. III

A capella music! I told you I listen to everything. When I discovered Pentatonix last year I was enamored by them. How could they be so damn good while using zero instruments? Keep this in mind when listening to their music. If you had some unknown person off the street who had never heard this group’s music before they would have no idea there is no instrumentation involved because they do such a great job replicating the sounds with their mouths. And when they bring in instruments (usually the great Lindsey Stirling with her violin), they still knock it out of the park.

I usually like their covers of songs even better than the original versions of those songs. That’s the case again with their covers of “La La Latch” and “Rather Be” on PTX, Vol. III. The harmonies on “Rather Be” really blow me away, as you’ll find after listening to their music that harmonies are their biggest strength. Their original music doesn’t impress me as much as their covers yet, but they’re slowing getting there I think. My favorite original song off the album is “Standing By,” which shows off the group’s softer side. I think this A capella group will only get better with time.

Honorable Mentions:

Lindsey Stirling – Shatter Me 

The Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways 

Schoolboy Q – Oxymoron

(12/23) Late Addition: Hozier’s Self-Titled Debut Album