When it came to determining the winner for Group or Duo of the year, the main factor we took into determination was impact. All five groups we nominated delivered quality music and carry a dedicated fan base, but which of the five made the biggest impact to Country and Americana music? Maddie & Tae’s Start Here left quite the impact on mainstream country. Start Here is a great album and showed that Maddie & Tae are poised to take a position of leadership in country music, but this is just the beginning for the duo. The fact remains that they have room to grow and certainly have the potential to improve, build off Start Here and be the female leaders of country music that the Dixie Chicks were once upon a time. However, there was one other pair whose traditional country music album release left a bit bigger impact. Country Perspective’s 2015 Duo of the Year is Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen.
Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen’s Hold My Beer album was a career defining album for each Texas singer. In a time where Texas country musicians continue to let the new Nashville sound influence their music more, blurring the line that once separated Texas country from the rest of the genre, Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen showed leadership expected from two of the genre’s most well-known names.
Rogers and Bowen both dabbled their feet on a mainstream label, while not entirely abandoning their roots in the process. After failing to make a mainstream impact, they’ve both returned to independent labels for their new music. Rogers and Bowen said country music can still be country music and proved it with Hold My Beer. From traditional country heartbreak in “Til It Does” to fun protest with “Standards;” from covers of country greats like Merle Haggard to originals celebrating friendship, Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen let their talents speak for themselves. And even though “Standards” was rightfully named Song of the Year, “El Dorado”, the five-minute chronicle of a dying cowboy, may be the album’s best song. Randy & Wade are established enough in the genre where their decisions carry more weight than newcomers. In respect to their position in the genre, this leadership in the fight for traditional country music cannot go unnoticed.
Randy Rogers has been hard at work this year with his own band recording new music. He has promised that the band’s new album due out next month will continue his delivery of traditional country music. This year Wade Bowen also appeared on Jamie Lin Wilson’s debut album in a traditional country duet about lovers regretting their affair. Hold My Beer doesn’t appear to be an anomaly, as both Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen seem poised to continue bringing traditional country music to the forefront of the genre.
Determining song of the year comes down to a few key attributes within the song. The song should tell a story with confidence and consistency in its approach. The lyrics need to be evocative and connect with the audience. The musical production should match the writing in its confidence and nuance. The artist singing the should deliver the material in a way to reach the desired effect of the lyrics. There were a few songs Josh and I narrowed this category down to. Songwriting was our main focus and we felt there were strong candidates in that regard. Ultimately, there was one song that stood out to us not only with the above criteria in mind, but also due to one final attribute: impact. To us, there was one obvious choice for Country Perspective’s 2015 Song of the Year…
“Standards” by Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen caught the attention of the country music world. When Hold My Beer was announced, I think the general assumption was that the album was going to be a snapshot of Rogers & Bowen’s collaborative acoustic tour. But when the duo debut the first single from the project, everyone was surprised not only by an original song, but a well-written country protest song. A song steeped with fiddles and steel guitars, fun word play and double meanings in song’s hook, and two singers delivering the song with a fun, light-hearted attitude. “Standards” took the country world by storm in April and has maintained its impact through the year.
Protest songs about the establishment of Music Row are commonplace in independent country music circles. Many of the songs come from a place of anger or resentment against Nashville. What makes “Standards” stand out among the crowd is that it comes from a place of acceptance and confidence in one’s music. “But it ain’t me, so I shook my head and that’s all there is to that” sings Bowen to end the first verse. “Don’t get me wrong I want to hear my songs on country radio, but it’s gotta feel right standing here singing them at the show” the duo sings in song’s bridge. Both Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen spent some time on a major label, but now they’re both back making their music independently. They sing the song from a place of experience and assert their place in country’s world while only slightly dismissing the Nashville establishment.
Rogers and Bowen’s confidence in their music is due to the fact that they know their songs have a longer shelf life than a Nashville hit song. They have fans who swarm their shows happy to hear any song the bands will play. As they say in the song “I don’t have hits, I have standards.” Standards meaning a timeless collection of country songs, and standards meaning that they won’t sell out to sing a dirt road song simply to have a top ten song on Billboard. Seven words full of rich meaning that not only connect with their audience, many of whom dislike Nashville and love the subtle jab, but the song also connects with their peers in the independent country music world.
As mainstream country continued to push away from the country sound, “Standards” feels more relevant each day. “Standards” has all the makings to be a country music standard. As great and well written as the other Song of the Year finalists are, “Standards” made an impact that wasn’t matched. This song and its lyrics perfectly describes the independent country music circle and those fighting the good fight for quality and country in our music. Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen dropped the defining song of 2015. “Standards” is a song that’s built to last and could very well maintain relevancy for years to come.