October proved to be a solid month of country music releases across the board. A couple of mainstream releases from Nashville, two impressive debut records, Canadian Country Music, and Red Dirt Country all contribute to my top ten list this month. It’s nice to have representation of great songs from many of country’s sub genres on a list like this. I could easily have any of my top four songs in the top spot this month; they’re all excellent songs.
“Low All Afternoon” by Hailey Whitters – I ended up choosing this as my top song over the other three simply because I was blown away listening to this song the first time. It’s a third person narration of a woman who’s struggling to move on after her love decided to end their affair and settle down with his wife. Whitters’ lyrics and rhyme schemes are spot on and her vocal delivery is the icing on the cake. “Low All Afternoon” is one of the standouts from Black Sheep.
“Fat and Merry” by Jason Boland & The Stragglers – Boland’s newest album, Squelch, is full of political and social commentary and “Fat and Merry” is my favorite of the bunch. A sarcastic delivery making fun of the suburbia lifestyle combined with a fun, upbeat country production full of fiddles. The lyrics get the point across without getting too far. It took a few listens for this song to grow on me, but “Fat and Merry” has become one of my favorites this year.
“This Damn Memory” by Jake Worthington – Jake Worthington caught a lot of attention on The Voice because of his traditional country approach to the competition, and his long-awaited EP only proves his dedication to making traditional country music. As Josh said, “This heartbreak ballad has everything you want in a country song from the sharp lyrics to the thick pedal steel guitar play.“
“One More Hell” by Hailey Whitters – Hailey Whitters wrote this song about coping with the passing of her brother. The personal nature of the song is evident throughout the whole track. Whitters’ lyrics strike a chord that allow the listener to share in the sorrow and confusion of the situation – that’s what great writing can accomplish. “One More Hell” is a quiet, powerful song.
“The Girl You Think I Am” by Carrie Underwood – Carrie Underwood rarely digs into personal songs like this, but this song from a daughter to her parents is a touching song. I think every child wants their parents to be proud of who they’ve become and can connect with the slight vulnerability and doubt that this song brings. My favorite song off Storyteller.
“Heartland Bypass” by Jason Boland & The Stragglers – A love song about finding freedom on the road with a fitting driving production, the parts work together wonderfully. The country instrumentation of steel guitars and fiddles are great on this song, and Boland’s baritone is excellent on this track.
“Washed-Up Rock Star Factory Blues” by Corb Lund – I love the rock ‘n roll blend with country on this song’s production. The guitar lick is fascinating. The unique story of a singer returning to his old factory job work great here, too. Corb Lund is a great writer, and only a great writer could make a subject like this work in a four-minute song. This song stood out the most to me from Things That Can’t Be Undone.
“Christmas in Huntsville” by Jason Boland & The Stragglers – A traditional country tune with an ironic upbeat production underneath some dark lyrics. The story details a man’s last day on death row before he dies as an innocent man for a crime he didn’t commit. This song stood out to me after my first listen of Squelch. Storytelling at it’s finest.
“Choctaw County Affair” by Carrie Underwood – A song written by Jason White, this is sharp murder ballad that Carrie sings so well. I personally think her vocals are great on this track and the production work well to help tell this murderous tale.
“Sunbeam” by Corb Lund – As commenter Curt pointed out to us, Corb Lund wrote this song about the passing of his niece. It has a great bluesy production and is simply a beautiful song.
“Seven Spanish Angels” by Stoney LaRue – In a solid month of releases, I opted not to include any songs off LaRue’s cover album Us Time, but this Willie Nelson cover he sings with Cody Canada is excellent.
“Holy Relic Sale” and “Do You Love Me Any Less” by Jason Boland & The Stragglers
“Church Bells” by Carrie Underwood
“That’s When” by Jake Worthington
“Black Sheep” and “Late Bloomer” by Hailey Whitters
If you’ve been following this blog for a while or even just a little bit, you can deduce that I’m not happy with the current state of mainstream country music. How many weeks in row now has the Pulse been in the negatives? I’ve lost track. One discussion I’ve seen pop up from time to time is how mainstream country music got to be such a laughing-stock. For those who would argue otherwise, there are stats that back up my claim that people are hating mainstream country music more and more (kudos to Saving Country Music for bringing this data to light). Traditional country fans have been warning for years that trend chasing would catch up to genre eventually and turn fans against them. I warned against it months ago. Now we’re starting to see some true backlash to the genre’s decision-making.
But before we figure out how mainstream country music will regain people’s trust, I wanted to figure out how it has gotten to the state its in currently. After all you can learn a lot about the future if you look to the past to see what mistakes were made and how to avoid them again. I’ve seen a lot of theories and ideas thrown around as to when mainstream country music began to slip and I’ve thought a lot about each of them. But none of them represent what I feel was the turning point of this genre. Many love to argue that mainstream country music began it’s down turn upon the dawning of the Garth Brooks era. While the pop country of Garth and Shania Twain certainly didn’t help, I’ve found that during their heyday that they were more the exception to the rule instead of the norm. Look throughout the 90s and I think many would agree with me that the quality of country music for the most part was overwhelmingly good. I certainly spent more time listening to country radio than skipping over it like I do now. (This is all subjective of course)
The point where I think mainstream country music started its downward spiral was on March 10, 2003. That was the infamous day where country super group Dixie Chicks denounced the war in Iraq at a concert in London. I’m not going to get into this situation too much because of the political nature and my preference to avoid politics on here. I’ll just leave you with this quote from country icon Merle Haggard:
I don’t even know the Dixie chicks, but I find it an insult for all the men and women who fought and died in past wars when almost the majority of America jumped down their throats for voicing an opinion. It was like a verbal witch-hunt and lynching. Whether I agree with their comments or not has no bearing.
I believe this is the starting point that set off the events that led to today’s state of country radio. First let me give you an idea of how important and big this was for the Dixie Chicks and country music. Up until 2003, the Dixie Chicks won four Grammy awards, 10 CMA Awards, six Billboard Music Awards, two American Music Awards and eight ACM Awards. Their 1998 album Wide Open Space Spaces sold over 10 million copies and was certified platinum 12 times. Their 1999 album Fly sold over 8 million copies and was certified platinum 10 times. The only country artists to ever sell this many albums or more are Garth Brooks, Kenny Rogers, Patsy Cline and Shania Twain. So when country music fans, radio stations, award associations and artists ran the Dixie Chicks out of the genre, they ran out the top act in country music. Throughout the course of music history has another genre blackballed their top artist like country music did to the Dixie Chicks.
So all of a sudden there’s a giant void at the top of the genre, since the Dixie Chicks haven’t had a significant presence in the genre since they were blackballed. This brings us to the next point, which is the rise of Toby Keith, who had a public feud with Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines over his single “Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue (The Angry American).” Maines called the single “ignorant” and said it “makes country music sound ignorant.” A couple of months after the incident in London, Maines wore a t-shirt to the ACM Awards with the acronym “F.U.T.K.” While Maines’ manager said it stood for “Friends United in Truth and Kindness,” many believed it stood for “Fuck You Toby Keith.” Keith went on to win Entertainer of the Year over the Dixie Chicks, despite the Dixie Chicks’ latest album outselling Keith’s latest album by a wide margin.
The Dixie Chicks’ spiral downwards allowed Toby Keith’s stature rise to new highs. The blatant patriotism he injected in his songs from the early 2000s onward and still puts into his music to this day, let him be the anti-thesis to Dixie Chicks. The swell of patriotism in the United States after 9/11 caused country artists to inject more references to country pride and freedom into music and led to it becoming one of the most used clichés in country music. Toby Keith was the poster boy for it. Also it’s kind of ironic that an indifference over political ideas and 9/11 that led to more patriotism in country music gave rise to politicians liking country music more. This explains why you see Presidential candidates talking about why they love country music so much and incorporate it into their campaign. Remember this next time you complain about it.
So Keith rises to new heights. From 2003 onward, he won three American Music Awards (one before 2003) and four ACM Awards (three before 2003). He sold more records than ever before and had several badly written singles go to top 15 at country radio, including doozies such as “Get Drunk and Be Somebody,” “High Maintenance Woman,” “Get My Drink On,” “She’s A Hottie,” “American Ride,” “Every Dog Has It’s Day,” “Made In America” and “Red Solo Cup.” That last one is on my list of worst country songs ever. All of these bad songs had lots of success on country radio and in my opinion were apart of the dumbing down of country music throughout the 2000s. Instead of well thought out lyrics with heart and meaning, we get pandering to patriotism, references to getting drunk and classifying women solely by their looks.
What’s significant about all of these singles I cite above is they all precede or happen around the years 2011-2012. Why is this significant? This leads right into the bro country era, the successor to the checklist era of Toby Keith. Checklist country like Keith’s music evolved into bro country. In 2011, Luke Bryan released “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” as a single. It went to #1 and launched Bryan into superstardom. In 2012, Florida Georgia Line burst onto the scene with their mega-hit “Cruise.” Bro country becomes a huge trend and the rest they say is history. Bro country had a good run from 2011-2014 before now being replaced by the R&B, pop stylings of Sam Hunt.
Now I know some of you are wondering why I failed to mention the rise of Taylor Swift happening. Well I believe Swift had no bearing on the most popular trends of the genre. Other acts and labels figured out quickly they could not replicate Swift’s music. And pop country is something that had existed in the genre for years. Swift had nothing to do with checklist country nor bro country, despite her music also bringing the quality of the genre down. She has left country music now and is in the genre where she belongs, which is something I respect her a lot for and wish her the best.
So as you can I see I believe that the blackballing of Dixie Chicks is what led to country music becoming the laughing-stock it is today. Just think for a second if that incident in London doesn’t happen. The Dixie Chicks were really just hitting their stride and showed no signs of slowing down. They could have went on to become one of the biggest acts in country music history. They were so popular that they crossed over into pop and alt-country with their music. The Dixie Chicks were a group that appealed to casual fans and hardcore fans. If the Dixie Chicks stick around they continue to release quality music and in the process dilute the presence of checklist country music at country radio. Toby Keith doesn’t become as big of a deal. Bro country maybe doesn’t become a thing and therefore R&B country doesn’t become a thing. This is all speculation. We will never know how much of an impact Dixie Chicks could have made on country music. But at the end of the day the dismissal of the Dixie Chicks from country music ultimately hurt the genre.
Upcoming/Recent Country Music & Americana Releases
The Voice alumnus Jake Worthington will release his self-titled debut EP tomorrow.
Chris Janson’s next single being sent to radio is “Power of Positive Drinkin’.”
After weeks of speculation, it’s confirmed that Maddie & Tae will be releasing “Shut Up & Fish” as their next single.
Stoney LaRue will release an album he calls a “tribute to his fans” tomorrow called Us Time.
Carrie Underwood will be releasing her new album Storyteller next Friday.
Great Music Currently at Country Radio
The very best of country radio right here in a nice playlist. 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.
Throwback Thursday Song
Eddie Rabbitt – “Drivin’ My Life Away” – Now here’s a classic song many forget about. Some might consider this song “too pop,” but I don’t care. I enjoy it and it’s the perfect traveling song.
Non-Country Suggestion of the Week
Father John Misty – “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment” – I’m pretty sure Derek recommended this in The Hodgepodge before, but I’m going to do it again. You need to check out Father John Misty’s album I Love You Honeybear. It is my favorite album of the year across all genres. Above is my favorite song from it and he just released this video for it. A little warning: his videos can get weird and NSFW, so proceed at your own volition.
I promise I didn’t write this (my username on there is CountryPerspective). But when I saw it I knew it would go perfectly with this Hodgepodge. Beating a dead horse is a good summation of the last decade or so of Keith’s career.
Yesterday, Steven Tyler and Kelsea Ballerini announced the nominees for the upcoming CMA Awards. Some nominations came as no surprise to anyone (notably the Entertainer of the Year category, Vocal Group of the Year category, and the trio of Carrie, Miranda and Kacey at the top of the Female Vocalist category). Other nominations like Chris Stapleton for Album and Male Vocalist of the year are pleasant surprises. I can’t say I’m too surprised to see his name under New Artist, but that nonetheless is a welcome nomination as well.
The one category that draws ire from me, however is the Song of the Year nominees:
“American Kids” (Rodney Clawson, Luke Laird, Shane McAnally)
“Girl Crush” (Liz Rose, Lori McKenna, Hillery Lindsey)
“Like a Cowboy” (Randy Houser, Brice Long)
“Like a Wrecking Ball” (Eric Church, Casey Beathard)
“Take Your Time” (Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne)
Three of the five (“Girl Crush”, “Take Your Time”, and “American Kids”) are also nominated for Single of the Year. The other singles up for grabs are “Talladega” and “I Don’t Dance.” I find it very odd that none of Carrie’s two recent eligible singles “Something in the Water” and “Little Toy Gun” are nominated in either category, especially Song of the Year. Song of the Year is an award that celebrates songwriting and story telling in country music.
“Something in the Water” and “Little Toy Guns” had great chart runs, continuing Carrie’s trend of most of her singles getting to the top three of the airplay charts. “Something in the Water” has been certified platinum and “Little Toy Guns” gold. Both songs feature some fantastic storytelling and songwriting. It’s an insult to country music that two successful, well-written singles are overlooked for Song/Single of the Year while Sam Hunt’s stupid talk-sing pop song and Kenny Chesney’s boring checklist song are nominated for both. I know that the CMA, for whatever reason, have no love for Carrie Underwood, but this is a huge injustice to her music. The mere fact that neither song got at least one nomination is appalling and further exemplifies how the establishment of country music in Nashville continues to abandon its roots in favor of “cool pop music.”
Another song I think was vastly overlooked for the Song of the Year category was Tim McGraw’s “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools.” A song that is true country music and that had an impressive chart run among a dreck of pop songs, it’s surprising that “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools” didn’t get a nomination. When you look at songs that have won Song of the Year in the past, Tim’s song and Carrie’s two songs fit right in with the slower tempo songs that rely on a raw emotion to draw in listeners.
In a just world, all three singles alongside “Girl Crush” and Jake Owen’s “What We Ain’t Got” would have been nominated for Song of the Year, making for an intriguing list and a must-watch category (controversy aside). Instead we have to put up with the fact that the CMA have traded timeless quality and roots in one of their most important categories for songs that are hip today and forgotten tomorrow. The only positive we can take from these two categories is if Sam Hunt goes home empty-handed, but that’s only a moral victory at best.
Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases
The Damn Quails released their second album last Friday on September 4th. I’m bummed I overlooked it in this section until now, but the crowd-funded Out of the Birdcage is an album well worth your time. We should have a review for it soon.
Tami Neilson has released a new song and video from her upcoming release Don’t Be Afraid.“Lonely” is a song Ron Neilson, her father, at began writing but never finished before his death in February of this year. Tami and her brother Jay finished the song in his memory.
Turnpike Troubadours will release their fourth studio effort on September 18th.
Tim McGraw has tweeted a date without any reference “11-6-15.” Being a Friday, this is 100% a date that will coincide with new music, most likely a new album. I’m sure more details will be revealed over the next two months.
Today in Country Music History
In 1957, Johnny Cash’s first album, Johnny Cash With His Hot and Blue Guitar, is released.
Lynn Anderson records “Rose Garden” in 1970.
Today’s Country Music history facts come courtesy of RolandNote.
Throwback Thursday Song
“Rose in Paradise” by Waylon Jennings. Also on this day in 1986, Waylon recorded this song at Groundstar Labs in Nashville. This is simply a great country song and shows a nice vocal range for Jennings. While I think Chris Young and Willie Nelson’s collaborative cover of this song is also great, Waylon’s original will always be the best version of the song.
Non-Country Suggestion of the Week
The Arcs Yours, Dreamily, This is a side project for The Black Keys singer and guitarist Dan Auerbach. Auerbach teams up with multi-instrumentalist Leon Michaels for this experimental rock album. Yours, Dreamily, has a good pace and rhythm over the album and features some excellent harmonies and instrumentation.
Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan, and Cole Swindell walk into a college football game…..
An iTunes Review That Makes Me Smile
This review was left under Maddie & Tae’s Start Here.The album received high praise here, and this reviewer seems to be in agreement with us. Also, you have to love any opportunity to call out Sam Hunt, Florida Georgia Line and Chase Rice for their trashy pop music.
Red Dirt/country artist Stoney LaRue was taken into custody on Monday after allegedly shoving his girlfriend down the stairs. According to Oklahoma City police, this is how the events transpired:
The victim told officers that Phillips and a friend were out drinking and didn’t come home until 4 a.m.
As the victim was getting ready for work a few hours later, she told authorities that her hairdryer woke Phillips up, which sparked an argument.
According to the arrest affidavit, Phillips threw the woman’s makeup bag, curling iron and other items down the stairs.
The victim told authorities that as she bent down to pick up some of her stuff, Phillips allegedly pushed her from behind, which caused her to roll head first down the staircase.
According to Oklahoma News 9, LaRue and his girlfriend having been dating now for three years and have lived together for two of those years. Police also said that LaRue’s girlfriend had scratches and scrapes on her left leg and knee, as well as scratches on her back. LaRue has been arrested on domestic violence charges. He was in Oklahoma City because he had a concert on Saturday.
If there are any updates on this story, I’ll be sure to add them to this post.
Stoney LaRue’s girlfriend tweeted the following this morning:
I want to apologize to my family, my friends and my fans for the recent circumstances that have come to light. I am going to take some time to work on myself. I will be entering an intensive and extensive program, and I appreciate your thoughts and good wishes for me during this trying time. Please check my website and Facebook page for updates on my upcoming tour dates, but most importantly, I appreciate your support during this time.
We have reached the end of 2014 and over the course of the year we’ve reviewed a lot of great country music. So in case you just found the site or don’t remember all of the great country albums we’ve reviewed, you’re in luck. Here are the links to every album we rated an 8/10 or higher over the course of the year. These are the albums we give a solid recommendation or more for you to listen to. Keep in mind this site started in May, so we won’t have every single great album. For example we never got around to reviewing Dierks Bentley’s album or Don Williams’ album, two albums that would have definitely made this list. So if there are albums missing that you love, they were most likely not reviewed. Others of course may have not been rated high enough to make it. I’m also including our album of the year candidates in case you missed those too. One more thing: only albums are included, no EPs. So without further ado here are Country Perspective’s most recommended albums of 2014.