The Hodgepodge: It’s Impossible to Choose One Defining Song for a Genre

I stumbled upon a New York Times article this week that made a big claim about rock music. The author basically says that when our grandchildren’s grandchildren look at rock music, the only name that’ll matter is Chuck Berry. Not Springsteen, Zeppelin, the Stones, or The Beatles, but Chuck Berry. I’m not saying he’s wrong about Berry being a figurehead and representative of rock music, but rock’s different styles don’t warrant such a narrow-minded claim. Yes, “Johnny B. Goode” is an excellent song and Chuck Berry fathered rock music like Hank fathered country. The author says Berry made simple, direct, rhythm based music, which best exemplifies rock music. He’s not wrong, but I think it’s wrong to pigeon-hole the genre into one song.

The big part of his claim comes from the fact that when NASA sent Voyager I into space, they included a mix record which included “Johnny B. Goode” on the track list – the only rock song on the list. So this got me thinking, is it possible to narrow down country music into one song that best represents the genre over the 70+ years of artists and songs who’ve done so much? I’ll argue that you need a Mount Rushmore of songs, not just one, because even country’s best songs and artists had different styles that are all country music.

Take “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” arguably the best country song of all time. Listening to the song with its grand crescendo and a faint steel guitar, it’s vastly different from Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” a song electric guitars and simple percussion beat, also argued to be the best country song. Both songs sound way different, yet they’re both country music, and they’re both great representations of the genre. Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings couldn’t be more different in their sounds, yet both artists not only exemplified the Outlaw movement, but country music as a whole. Waylon’s rock sound is more in line with Cash’s style, but even then, the two artists are distinctly different.

The Bakersfield Sound has its own unique flair different from the aforementioned artists, yet Merle Haggard and Buck Owens are just as influential to country music. Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette don’t exactly sound like Kitty Wells, but all of their music is a big part of country’s history. Many of these styles stem from Hank Williams, and all these styles are equally important to country’s roots. These are the styles that have influenced many of today’s Americana and Country stars. The early generation brought out singers like George Strait, Reba, and Alan Jackson, who have gone on to influence the likes of Kacey Musgraves, Sturgill Simpson, Cody Jinks, and pretty much everyone we’ve reviewed here.

The point is I think it’s impossible to simply try to find one song or artist to represent a music genre rich with history and talent. Country, Rock, Rap, and every other genre has their top-tier of artists who’ve gone onto to influence the genre. At the end of the day, one can always trace the history back to the root of the genre, which is never a bad option to choose as a genre head. But dismissing Waylon or Merle as a defining artist of country music because their sound was not Hank’s country sound is blasphemous, as is dismissing rock’s eclectic history because it’s not as simple and rhythmic as Chuck Berry.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • On July 8, Mark Chesnutt’s new album, Tradition Lives will be released.
  • David Nail’s Fighter will be released the following week on the 15th.
  • At the end of the month on July 29, Lori McKenna’s The Bird & The Rifle will be released.
  • Shovels and Rope recently released a new single called “I Know.” Their new album Little Seeds will be out October 7.
  • Southern rockers/Texas Country band Whiskey Myers are working with producer Dave Cobb on their new album, Mud. The first single from the album is “Lightning Bugs and Rain.”

Throwback Thursday Song

“False Accuser’s Lament” by Jason Boland and the Stragglers. I’ve been listening to a lot of Boland lately, and this song has jumped up my list of favorites from him. “False Accuser’s Lament” can be found on Rancho Alto, one of Boland’s best albums in my opinion.

Non-Country Suggestion

Velvet Portraits by Terrace Martin – an album mixed with Jazz, Hip Hop, and R&B, Velvet Portraits is a diverse album. It’s a fun listen though, with the relaxing Jazz instrumentals and hip hop lyrical deliveries on the others. It’s different, but worth the listen.

Tweet of the Week

Wheeler Walker, Jr. is a great follow on twitter if you don’t mind some profanity on your timeline. As streaming continues to rise, labels getting songs on “featured playlists” on Spotify or Apple Music will be the new way of getting on the charts.

A Chase Rice iTunes Review

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Chase Rice’s new single, “Everybody We Knows Does,” is the same generic BS from every other generic bro before him. After his letter apologizing for “Whisper,” I expected at least something that shows a little effort in a follow-up single, but I was mistaken.

The Hodgepodge: Community Chat and Q&A

I’m embarrassed to say, but I have no muse or ideas for a Hodgepodge this week. I look at mainstream country, radio in particular, and it’s the same old rehashed mess that’s been around for a while. Americana continues to be home to great albums worth checking out. Nothing has really popped up in the past week to comment on.

The news of Zac Brown’s presence at a Palm Beach drug bust was swept under the rug rather quickly. Perhaps more fallout or news may surface in the near future, but for now it looks like Zac got nothing more than 15 minutes in the shameful spotlight. The star-struck police tried to keep him out of it, and Zac responded via social media admitting he was there, but only for a short time before the raid occurred.

All in all, this has just been kind of a dud week. There’s a couple local Red Dirt music events on the horizon in town that I hope I can attend and comment on in the future, and I’m planning my next historical snapshot piece. So I hope that in the coming weeks I can bring some good posts for you all to read and enjoy. But for this week, I’ll leave it open for discussion and entertain any questions you may want to ask.

Upcoming/Recent Country and Americana Releases

  • Sundy Best will release a live album tomorrow called It’s So Good Live. The 24 song project was recorded live at concert in Louisville.
  • Martina McBride‘s Reckless will be released on April 29.
  • Lonestar will also release a new album on April 29 called Never Enders.
  • Zac Brown Band‘s “Castaway” will go for radio adds on April 25.
  • Chris Stapleton‘s next single “Parachute,” officially goes for adds on May 2.
  • The Honeycutters will be releasing a new album on May 20 titled On The Ropes.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Golden Ring” Tammy Wynette and George Jones. When it comes to duets in country music, Tammy Wynette and George Jones are a marquee pairing, not to mention that they’re both great vocalists. This 1976 duet may be their most famous duet, and also hit number one on the charts.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week


PJ Harvey’s The Hope Six Demolition Project. English rocker PJ Harvey gets quite political with her ninth studio album. While the lyrics may be off-putting to those who either don’t agree with her message or don’t care for politics in music in general, Harvey’s excellent folk rock music style is still ever-present on this album. Overall, PJ Harvey is an underrated musician, and I’d suggest listening to any of her music.

Tweet of the Week

Perhaps they’ll be a day when the good ol’ boys club of country radio is broken for another all female top 5.

An iTunes Review for a Bad EP

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This past week, I made the unfortunate discover of Elizabeth Lyons’ song “Luke Bryan.” Yes, she sings a song about her love for Luke Bryan. It actually exists. In fact, she has an entire EP full of songs for immature teenage girls with titles like “Girls Like Shoes, Bags, & Boys.” It’s like a clone of RaeLynn. I’m all for more women on the country charts, but we need Maren Morris and Kacey Musgraves, not Elizabeth Lyons or RaeLynn.

The Hodgepodge: Tracking the Real Evolution of Country Music

Original image created by our friends at Farce the Music
Original image created by our friends at Farce the Music

Before I dive into today’s topic, I just want to take the opportunity to express how excited I am to take over The Hodgepodge. In its short life, this weekly column has become a favorite feature to our readers. I always looked forward to reading Josh’s thoughts on whatever country music topic he tackled. I hope that I can continue to bring the excellence to this feature that Josh did week in and week out. I’m thankful that Josh passed this onto me, and I’m excited for his next great idea to take form and be delivered out through the site.

The common argument used among pop country fans to defend their favorite artists’ new crappy songs is that “country music must evolve.” And I’ll be up front about it, I agree. Despite what Darius Rucker may think, I don’t want music released today to sound like Hank Williams Sr. If I want music that sounds like Hank Williams, than I’ll play my Hank Williams’ Very Best Of two-disc collection. And Hank Williams is important because he was country music’s first big superstar with his first hits coming in the late 1940s. Taking a look a country music’s trail through history, one can see that there’s been quite the musical evolution over the almost 70 years.Willie

Johnny Cash could be considered the next big star after Hank Williams, with Cash pushing Hank’s country sound and adding a little bit of rock and roll to it. From there, we see the outlaws come in and further push away from the Nashville Sound, with Waylon Jennings blending even more rock and roll with country, and Willie Nelson providing more jazz and folk into his country-style. While neither of these two hit widespread acclaim until the 1970s, they kept pushing their sound throughout the 1960s until the Nashville suits caved for them.

During that time, George Jones found his first wave of success with “White Lightning” in 1959, and Merle Haggard found his footing with the Bakersfield sound in the mid-1960s. And while these men made their marks, ladies like Kitty Wells and Patsy Cline were breaking ground for females in the genre with hits in the 50s and early 60s. Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette broke through in the late 60s and 70s, continuing to challenge the men and become country legends in their own right. In the 1970s, Conway Twitty emerged on the scene with his country music, while Charlie Daniels and Hank Williams Jr. continued the rowdy country and southern rock blend with Waylon. These men rode high into the 1980s, where George Strait, Randy Travis, and Keith Whitley began their careers, sticking to more traditional, smoother sounds of country music. The mid 1980s also found Dwight Yoakam working outside the norm, establishing his hillbilly rock form of country. And how can we forget Reba McEntire blasting through the 1980s and 90s, becoming one of the most successful female artists in country music.

I know this is a basic overview, but as we can see thus far, we have the narrow country path paved by the likes of Hank, Cash, Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, George Strait, Randy Travis and Keith Whitley. Hank Williams and Johnny Cash also planted a bit of rock and roll roots, which were further grown by the likes of Waylon Jennings, Charlie Daniels, and Hank Jr. This rock path was a little off the country path, but their roots were the same, and they were headed in the same direction.

The Class of 1989 opened up more doors and carved new paths for country music, primarily due to the rousing success of one Garth Brooks. Alan Jackson’s emergence that same year continued down the pure country path; a path which artists like Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, and Brad Paisley started on, and continued until relevancy began to fade and cries for attention got louder. However, Garth veered off the path and opened up more pop doors for country music. The country music path through the late 1990s and early 2000s was a little wider and continued to grow, but there were still songs rooted from the music of the heroes singers today love to name-check. That is until Jason Aldean took a hard left turn and brought popular country on a whole new path, devoid of any roots from 1940s.

The success of rap country in “Dirt Road Anthem” opened up a new can of worms and possibilities for country music. Rap, pop, R&B, and rock are all the sounds you hear nowadays on country radio. Gone are the roots planted by Hank, the Possum, and Johnny Cash. Now we have Keith Urban and Jake Owen releasing pop songs, Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan further pushing hip-hop influences into country, and Jason Aldean’s slow jams. All the while, they defend their messes of songs by claiming “country music must evolve.” A loose defense their fans quickly echo.

The problem is that these songs don’t evolve the country sound, they abandon it. The electronics of “Burnin’ It Down” and pop beats of “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” carry no sounds that in any way resemble the musical stylings established in the genre of country music. Whereas, singers like Whitey Morgan, Chris Stapleton, Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark, and Gretchen Peters (just to name a few) are keeping country roots alive, while adding modern Americana twists to the traditions of Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. And perhaps there is no greater example of a country song using modern-day elements than Sturgill Simpson’s “Turtle’s All The Way Down” or “It Ain’t All Flowers.”

As depicted in the evolution diagrams like the one above, the theory of evolution argues that humans evolved from primates. Why? Because we share many visual characteristics and mannerisms with one another. Regardless of your beliefs, it’s not an illogical argument. The similarities between humans and primates help the argument make sense. But you aren’t going to say that a shark evolved from a gorilla because that doesn’t make sense. Saying that the pop music infecting country radio and Nashville is a true evolution of country music is like saying that Jaws is a truly evolved form of King Kong. It doesn’t work and it sounds stupid.

The point is country music has evolved, but you won’t hear the evolved country music coming out of Nashville. Most of what’s “country” nowadays are pop blends of rap, rock, and hip hop with generic images of dirt roads and southern pride to make listeners believe its country.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Luke Bryan’s Kill The Lights is due out August 7. Bryan recently revealed the track list for his new album, which includes 6 Luke Bryan co-writes, and a duet with Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild. All in all, the album contains 13 songs, with 27 total credited songwriters (16 and 29 including the Target edition). And as expected, Dallas Davidson has a few songs on the album as well.
  • Brandy Clark has recently announced she’s working with producer Jay Joyce for her next album. Clark hinted that it’ll be something of a concept album. She plans to release a single this fall, with the album released early next year. This is an interesting combination with Clark being a critical darling for her traditional country sounds, while Joyce has faced criticism on our site for his overproduced messes like Little Big Town’s Pain Killer or Eric Church’s The Outsiders.
  • Jerrod Niemann will be releasing a new single called “Blue Bandana” tomorrow.  This is likely a single to kick off a campaign for a new album.  Many will remember that Neimann earned Country Perspective’s Worst Song of 2014 Award with “Donkey.”  With July being a slower month, there’s a good chance we’ll have the time to review it, assuming there’s something worthwhile to say about the song (good or bad).
  • The Turnpike Troubadours have debuted a song called “Down Here” off their forthcoming eponymous album.
  • Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free and Alan Jackson’s Angels and Alcohol will be released July 17.  Both albums are available to stream on NPR First Listen.  You can expect both albums to be reviewed.
  • Ashley Monroe’s new album, The Blade, will be released July 24. We will have a review on this album when it’s released.

Throwback Thursday Song

“It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” by Kitty Wells.  With today’s discussion of evolution, it seems appropriate to jump back to the beginning stages of country music. In 1952, this tune not only gave Kitty Wells her first number one country song, but it was the first number one song for a female country singer! The lyrics are full on girl power calling out men for their reckless ways and ruining relationships. In the 1950s, this was a song with a message that was way ahead of its time.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week


Grateful Dead. This past weekend, the Grateful Dead played a 3 night stand at Chicago’s Solider Field: the place where the band played their last show with former front man, the late Jerry Garcia. This weekend’s Fare The Well reunion shows came 20 years after the passing of Garcia, and 50 years since the band’s formation. The band’s notoriety comes from their constant touring with devoted fans, “Deadheads,” following the band from show to show. The Grateful Dead are considered one of, if not, the most influential jam band of all time. American Beauty, released in 1970, is arguably the band’s best studio album (though the other 1970 album, Workingman’s Dead, is pretty great as well, and also more country influenced). However, it’s their live shows more than their studio albums that secured the Dead’s legacy.

Tweet of the Week

Double Zing!  Women are just as underrepresented in the sports’ world as they are in country music.  It’s a harsh reality, and Grady Smith has been one of the many who’ve been outspoken against Keith Hill’s comments.  Grady Smith, columnist for The Guardian, is always a treat on Twitter. You should follow him if you don’t already. Also, congratulations to the U.S. Women’s National Team on their World Cup victory!

iTunes Reviews That Will Make You Shake Your Head

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The first review was left under Kacey Musgraves’ Pageant Material. According to this reviewer, the album isn’t country music and that is what’s wrong with our society. If I had to guess, I’d bet this reviewer thinks “Kick the Dust Up” is the most groundbreaking country song since Florida Georgia Line’s “Sun Daze.”

The second review is for Kelsea Ballerini’s The First Time. Soccer986 defends this album claiming that though it sounds pop, if you listen to acoustic versions of the songs (you know, taking out all the pop instrumentation and pop music effects) than the songs sound country. Seeing as acoustic guitars have been in country music forever, you could probably make AC/DC sound country if you played “You Shook Me All Night Long” on an acoustic guitar only. That’s a terrible defense for pop “country” music.

One last note.  I’m going to interview a small town country radio DJ  for a Hodgepodge in the near future.  If you have any questions you’d like to ask a country radio DJ, feel free to submit in the comments below.  I can’t make any promises they’ll all be asked or answered, but you never know!

Album Review – Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen’s ‘Hold My Beer, Vol. 1’

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Collaborations and duets are pretty common throughout the history of country music. From Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard (who are reuniting for another album again this year) to George Jones and Tammy Wynette to even super collaborations like The Highwaymen, country music has plenty examples of great pairings. In recent years though collaborations have been fewer and farther in-between. The few collaborations that have taken place were only for one song and usually terrible (Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan; Gilbert, Rhett and Moore). So when I heard two great Texas country artists in Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers were teaming up for a full album, I got pretty excited. These two always seem to deliver and putting them together just seems perfect. The name for the album, Hold My Beer, comes from the name they call their tour when they play together. They call it the “Hold My Beer and Watch This” tour, which started out as an acoustic tour in smaller places where it was just them two playing without their respective bands. It’s now obviously become bigger, just like their own careers. So does their first collaboration deliver?

100% yes! Hold My Beer kicks off with “In The Next Life,” where the duo reflects back on their respective careers in their early days, as well as some standout moments. They joke around a little bit throughout, but you can definitely sense their camaraderie and how much they appreciate what their careers have given them. They’re also really great friends, which makes for excellent chemistry that is palpable to the listener. It’s really a great song to start the album because it sums it up so well. The honky-tonk “I Had My Hopes Up High” tells stories of hitching rides from various characters over the years. It’s an amusing song and I like to think the two drew from their own experiences for the characters throughout the song because I could easily picture it. This has a lot of potential for an entertaining music video too and I hope the two make one for it. The steel guitar layered throughout is just icing on the cake.

The duo tackles heartbreak in the ballad “’Til It Does.” It’s a very real song that paints the picture of heartbreak quite well in the listeners’ heads. The song perfectly describes heartbreak as something you don’t really see or feel until it happens. The instrumentation is perfect and couldn’t be more traditional, which is awesome. This is a personal favorite of mine on Hold My Beer. The first song released from Hold My Beer, “Good Luck With That,” is up next. It’s a lighthearted and fun song about situations where you get angry and tell someone off when you probably shouldn’t have done it. The two examples cited are telling off your “certified S.O.B” boss and telling your wife she can’t tell you what to do. As one says to the other in the song, “good luck with that.” This is the kind of song in a perfect world gets played on the radio all summer long.

Bowen and Rogers sing about dealing with hangovers in “It’s Been a Great Afternoon.” After raising hell the night before, they’re feeling it the next morning. But as they say they simply nurse it through the morning and rebound right back up in the afternoon. Notice the difference between this song and most mainstream country songs: consequences. This song actually cites the consequences of drinking your ass off. It’s another fun song that’s great to play while grilling out this summer.

“Standards” is the standout of the album and the song everyone will talk about the most from Hold My Beer. It’s rightly being praised too, as it’s a brilliant country music protest song. Now I know country music protest songs have started to become cliché themselves, especially coming from Texas country artists. What makes this one so great though is the fact that it’s not in your face, but rather has a matter of fact, cool attitude. A country label big wig tries to get Bowen and Rogers to record a song about a dirt road, but they refuse at his every attempt because it’s just not for them. As they say, “I don’t have hits, I’ve got standards,” a statement that means so much. This is a top contender for Country Perspective’s 2015 Song of the Year award.

“El Dorado” is a cowboy ballad that puts you in a Western state of mind. From the instrumentation arrangement to the vocals of Bowen and Rogers to the lyrics, the song does a great job of creating a Western feeling in the listener. I would also like to point out not just on this song, but the whole album I enjoy the harmonies of the two. Their vocals compliment each other well. The next song, “Hangin’ Out in Bars,” is what it says it’s about. The song is about a man who’s been spending all of his time in bars after his lady left him. He’s been trying to drink her memory away, but his friends think it’s going too far and even the man himself thinks he’s going a little crazy. It’s a brilliant drinking song and once again Wade and Bowen show how drinking songs are supposed to be done.

Bowen and Rogers aren’t so serious in “Lady Bug,” a song about having bad luck and praying for good luck to come. This bad luck comes in the form of a drought, the taxman “sniffing around” and the fields not producing many crops. The man in the song wishes for a lady bug to land on him or finding a four-leaf clover, as both are considered signs of good luck. It’s a simple song that’s easy to enjoy. Hold My Beer concludes with “Reasons to Quit.” This song originally appeared on Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard’s famous collaboration album Pancho & Lefty. Bowen and Rogers covering this song on their own collaboration album just feels so right. It’s right in their wheelhouse and fits the overall theme of this album. This is one of the quieter songs on the record, as the duo laments the fact that their reasons to quit their bad habits are getting bigger with each day. This is an appropriate final song on an album with quality music from start to finish.

Hold My Beer is simply put a fantastic album. There are no down moments in this album and it holds the listeners’ attentions the whole way through it. The rich and traditional instrumentation makes you want to listen to every song over and over again. I don’t think you can find too many pairs that would gel better than Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers either. This is a perfect example of why I want to see more collaborations in country music. On this album this two great artists in their own right came together and produced something amazing. I like how the full album name is Hold My Beer, Vol. 1. because that means this is the first of hopefully many more collaboration albums from these two. I definitely recommend buying this album. It’s a must-own for fans of country music.

Grade: 10/10

Country Perspective’s 2014 Song of the Year Is…

Selecting just one song as the top song of a year is never an easy task. Each artist is different, and many different artists have delivered quality songs worthy of being crowned as the song of the year here at Country Perspective. There were three songs that Josh and I ultimately had this narrowed down to for song of the year. Sturgill Simpson’s “Turtles All The Way Down” defined the best country album of the year with its use of classic country sounds with some modern electronic effects to create a truly unique, and equally great, country song. Karen Jonas’ “Oklahoma Lottery” stood out with her haunting delivery of a family stricken by the hardships of a drought. A topic that’s hardly brushed upon in country music, Karen sells the story and captures the appropriate mood with an incredible blues influenced country production. However, those two songs didn’t quite measure up to the third option. Josh and I both agreed that Country Perspective’s 2014 Song of the Year winner is Tami Neilson’s “Cry Over You.”

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Tami Neilson has been compared to Patsy Cline, and rightfully so. She has a strong, captivating voice that grabs your attention from the first note. Her new album, Dynamite!, was another favorite album this year, and this song is the standout of that album. On “Cry Over You,” Neilson covers a great area of vocal notes: dropping to the lower spectrum during the verses and soaring to the higher end on the chorus. More importantly, she comfortably and impressively hits every note she touches. Tami doesn’t stretch herself in an attempt to add extra, unnecessary emphasis. From the first listen, I was sold on this vocal performance.

What makes “Cry Over You” stand out the most from its counterparts is the timeless musical production behind Tami. There’s no attempt to modernize the sound here. “Cry Over You” is a simple, historical recreation of the sound that made country music great. The song could have been released 60 years ago and still not sound out of place. Patsy could have sang this song, so could Tammy Wynette, Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn, the list goes on; simply put: “Cry Over You” is timeless, it’s universal, and it’s brilliant. Tami Neilson deserves every accolade she’s been awarded; she continues to release music at the best quality, and “Cry Over You” is the best example of top-notch quality music.

 

Congratulations to Tami Neilson for recording and releasing “Cry Over You”: Country Perspective’s 2014 Song of the Year!