The Hodgepodge: Five Ways I Would Fix Country Radio

Alan Jackson

I don’t think it’s much of a secret how I feel about country radio. Anyone who has followed Country Perspective and The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music in particular know my distaste and at times outright anger towards country radio. At times they can get it right, only to screw up again. But one thing I have come to accept compared to when I first started to track country airplay charts is that I don’t entirely represent their target audience. As much as I want to hear Jon Pardi, Maddie & Tae and Eric Church get played on country radio, the person down the street simply prefers Luke Bryan and Sam Hunt. We all have different tastes and country radio doesn’t always deliberately play the worst music being released. Some people choose to listen to this music and I respect this choice, even if don’t understand it or agree with it.

But I think something all country fans can agree on, especially in light of what has happened so far in 2016, is there’s a clear lack of direction at radio and several other problems accompanying it. There’s a lack of traditional country music still, even if there has been some notable accomplishments by traditional artists on the airwaves this year. Most female artists continue to be ignored and older artists are still shunted aside. Not to mention there seems to be this never-ending chart clog, as every label desperately tries to push their new act so they can become established. That’s a lot of issues and it got me thinking of how exactly I would go about fixing this issues. And by fixing that doesn’t mean removing every artist from the airwaves I don’t like, as much as I would love to ban Sam Hunt from country radio. So after doing some thinking, I came up with what I believe to be five sensible solutions that would go a long way in helping fix country radio and turning it into something that can appeal to both traditional and modern fans.

  • Ban the On The Verge Program

iHeart’s On The Verge program looked like it could be a useful program at first for country radio. It seemed to promise to help up and coming, new artists at radio and give them a chance to make a successful career. Well after a couple of years of observing this program, I would call it an absolute failure. The only two acts to actually benefit from it and help them launch successful careers is Sam Hunt and Old Dominion. The rest of the artists chosen for the program haven’t really done much since being chosen. Even a quality artist like Cam has failed to produce a hit since “Burning House” was chosen for the program. Maren Morris is struggling right now at radio with “80s Mercedes” after “My Church” was chosen for On The Verge and she’s probably been one of the biggest breakouts recently in country music. It reminds me similarly of A Thousand Horses with “(This Ain’t No) Drunk Dial” stalling out after “Smoke” landed them a #1 hit. The latest On The Verge pick though has really exposed this sham of a program, Lauren Alaina’s “Road Less Traveled.” She isn’t a new artist by any stretch and has had plenty of time to establish a career. Alaina is undoubtedly a talented artist, but this is not the way you build her career up because I don’t see the followup to this netting her another hit and establishing her as a star.

The whole situation with On The Verge is very forced and inorganic. It represents a problem that has been plaguing country radio, which is why I would end it effective immediately. It’s not creating stars and it no longer serves a purpose. Why continue to run something that is ineffective and only strokes the egos of label executives? It’s just causing problems and getting the hopes of young artists and their fans. You can’t force radio and people to like a song, no matter how hard you push it down their throats. Speaking of which…

  • A Song Can Only Be On The Airplay Charts for 25 Weeks at Max

This solution is 100% directed at labels pushing the likes of Chase Bryant and Canaan Smith down our throats when nobody cares about them and their music. Just look at the chart right now and you can find songs that have been on it for over 30 weeks. As glad as I was to see Jon Pardi hit #1 with “Head Over Boots,” I cringe when I see it took over 45 weeks to reach this achievement (ironically it took exactly 11 months). Chase Rice infamously pushed a song for over a year to reach the top ten. This kind of gerrymandering bullshit needs to end and that’s why I would cap the limit for charting at 25 weeks. This gives labels just over six months to push their single at radio. After 25 weeks it must leave the chart and go recurrent. I think this is a good balance between giving labels enough time to push songs, as well as account for slower growing songs. It’s more than enough time to determine the true peak of the song. If this type of rule were to ever be implemented I could just see labels crying this is unfair because they can’t push their newest project for 40 weeks. And to them I say this: Perhaps this demonstrates how you shouldn’t waste time and money on artists that simply don’t connect (looking at you Curb Records).

  • The Top 30 on Both Mediabase & Billboard Airplay Charts Must Contain At Least 10 Songs with Female Artists

Now this solution and the next one are bound to be controversial, especially since I just said that you shouldn’t force music on the charts. But hear me out. Tomato Gate did absolutely nothing to improve the standing of women being played on country radio. A bunch of words and think-pieces have been churned out, yet no viable solution has been put on the table. Having the same three female artists in the top 30 is not enough progress. So in my opinion the only way you reverse the discrimination of country radio against women is to implement a rule like this one. Radio programmers aren’t going to willingly change their ways, so you have to force feed it down their throats so they will comply. Women deserve a fair chance and this is the only way I can think of them getting it. Notice I say it doesn’t have to be songs by solo female acts, but it simply must have a female artist on the song. The reason I word it like this is because major labels aren’t equipped at the moment to have ten female solo artists on the radio. They simply aren’t enough to be pushed, but by implementing this rule it would force them to sign more female talent and more importantly push them to radio when they’re guaranteed to have a chance. Now I realize not all of these pushed female acts would connect with audiences and if they don’t, they simply fall out of the top 30 in favor of a new one. Nothing would be forced.

  • The Top 30 on Both Mediabase & Billboard Airplay Charts Must Contain At Least 2 Songs by Artists 45+ Years Old

While women have been the victims of sexism and misogyny at country radio, the other big problem country radio has always had is ageism. As soon as an artist gets older, they casted aside and ignored by country radio. This is bullshit. Alan Jackson, Reba and George Strait are all still making music and want to be played on country radio. There’s plenty of people who still want to hear them on country radio. I say they should still be getting played and this rule would force radio to continue to consider these senior acts. Why should Chris Lane be getting played over George Strait when Strait can outsell and outperform him in his sleep?

  • The Implementation of a Quality Assurance Panel

This last one is pretty self-explanatory, but might also be the most important. I would establish a Quality Assurance Panel for country radio. It would consist of ten people whose job would be to vote on whether or not a single should qualify for country radio. In other words, is the single country enough for country radio? This would eliminate pop carpetbagging and outsiders hijacking the format. It would also still allow for pop country songs, which many people enjoy and wouldn’t be taken off the airwaves. A strict checklist would have to be met for the song to get passed by the panel (instrumentation, lyrics, etc.). So while I’m not banning Sam Hunt off the airwaves, a quality panel would force him to either start making country leaning songs or get the hell out and go to pop radio. Kelsea Ballerini would be forced to incorporate more country elements into her music too if she wants to stay on country radio.

For the fun of it, I decided to apply my hypothetical solutions to the current chart. Here’s what the top 30 would look like after removing all songs that would fail to be on the current chart and applying my rules:

  1. Dierks Bentley & Elle King – “Different For Girls”
  2. Cole Swindell – “Middle of a Memory”
  3. Jason Aldean – “A Little More Summertime”
  4. Zac Brown Band – “Castaway”
  5. Miranda Lambert – “Vice”
  6. Tim McGraw – “How I’ll Always Be”
  7. Old Dominion – “Song For Another Time”
  8. Florida Georgia Line (feat. Tim McGraw) – “May We All”
  9. Brett Eldredge – “Wanna Be That Song”
  10. Chris Stapleton – “Parachute”
  11. Jerrod Niemann & Lee Brice – “A Little More Love”
  12. Chris Young (feat. Vince Gill) – “Sober Saturday Night”
  13. Carrie Underwood – “Dirty Laundry”
  14. Chris Janson – “Holdin’ Her”
  15. Josh Turner – “Hometown Girl”
  16. Michael Ray – “Think A Little Less”
  17. Trent Harmon – “There’s A Girl”
  18. Craig Campbell – “Outskirts of Heaven”
  19. Eric Church (feat. Rhiannon Giddens) – “Kill a Word”
  20. Eli Young Band – “Saltwater Gospel”
  21. Runaway June – “Lipstick”
  22. Mickey Guyton – “Why Baby Why” (“Heartbreak Song” is not country)
  23. Easton Corbin – “Are You With Me”
  24. Darius Rucker – “If I Told You”
  25. RaeLynn – “Love Triangle”
  26. Ashley Monroe – “Dixie”
  27. Toby Keith – “A Few More Cowboys”
  28. George Strait – “Goin’ Goin’ Gone”
  29. Maddie & Tae – “Sierra”
  30. Margo Price – “Hurtin’ On The Bottle”

Let me know in the comments what you think. These are all hypothetical solutions and are closer to fantasy than reality. If you have any ideas you would like to add I would be glad to hear them.

Upcoming/Recent Country & Americana Releases

  • Tomorrow the following albums will be released:
    • Dwight YoakamSwimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars…
    • Reckless KellySunset Motel
  • Next week the legendary John Prine will release his duets album For Better, or Worse
  • William Michael Morgan will release his debut album Vinyl next week too
  • Wayne Hancock will be releasing a new album titled Slingin’ Rhythm on October 28

In Memory of Windmills Country

Country writer Grady Smith brought to us the unfortunate news this past week that beloved country writer, chart analyst and all-around wonderful person Windmills Country (real name Devarati Ghosh) has passed away. Her loss will be greatly felt throughout the country music insider community, as her kindness and insight was second to none. I know she influenced several of my best posts on this blog and inspired me to take on many challenging topics. While I never met her in real life, her advice and presence will be forever felt. May she rest in peace.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Born on the Bayou” – I’ve been digging into CCR’s catalog lately and they’re probably one of the most unsung acts of the 60s and 70s in my book. The way they blend soul, R&B and that swampy rock sound is infectious and memorable. You really can’t go wrong with any of their music.

Tweet of the Week

Yep! Also ties into last week’s Hodgepodge.

A Spot-On Review of the New Jason Aldean Album

all-of-aldeans-songs-sound-the-same

I’m still unable to listen to the new Aldean album, but I don’t have any plans to do so when I can anyway. According to people I trust on country music opinions, they all echo this above review: every song sounds the same. Based on what I’ve heard on the previews and Aldean’s track record, I’m not surprised. After all you don’t want to get too “songwriter-y.” Aldean is such a meat head.

The Hodgepodge: Five Thoughts on Country & Americana Music Right Now

Thumbs Down

Derek is busy dealing with some stuff this week (don’t worry there’s nothing wrong, he’s just a little too busy to write), so I’m stepping in this week to write the Hodgepodge. It was good timing too, as I have multiple things on my mind I would like to discuss at the moment regarding the current states of country and Americana music. There was no way I could pick just one topic, so I’ve decided to do a little state of the genre type address on some topics I feel are pressing and need addressed. So enough pleasantries and let’s get to the talking points, starting with the most prevalent on my mind…

1. Country & Americana Music are Down in Quality in 2016

This seems to be the consensus amongst not only you the readers, but the industry as a whole. I agree with this sentiment, to an extent. There hasn’t been as much quality music being churned out this year compared to recent years. This is true not only for mainstream/popular country, but in the independent and Americana scenes too. But I see people talking like there’s a complete lack of quality and this just isn’t true. I think the issue people are getting mixed up here is genre qualifications and quality standards. No two albums exemplify this more than Sturgill Simpsons’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth and Robert Ellis’ self-titled album. Here you have two artists that have been consistently identified as country artists by the fans and are pretty popular too. They then both release albums that are sonically different from all of their previous releases. It’s a departure from their usual sound and as you know music fans don’t always react well to change. People are calling these albums bad because they’re not fitting their standards of genre qualifications. It’s not evaluating the actual quality of the music for what it is, but rather arbitrarily dismissing them for not meeting their sonic standards. This is flat-out lazy on the part of listeners and reviewers employing this train of thought. I will never dismiss quality music just because it doesn’t fit what I wanted. If its quality, it’s quality. I don’t give a shit if it doesn’t fit the genre I wanted it to fit. Of course I’ve already laid out this thought process on my review of Keith Urban’s Ripcord.

With this point aside, I think the better way to describe country and Americana music in 2016 is that there hasn’t been enough quality music that reflects the roots and sounds of the genre. There’s a lot of different sounds and influences being experimented with right now. I think mainly it’s a lot of artists trying to find a way to stand out while also trying to satisfy their own creative itches. I also stand by my point that a lot of artists are tired of being put in genre boxes. As Robert Ellis sings on “Elephant,” how can you call it art when you’re sticking to a dotted line? I have faith that things are about to improve, especially in the month of August where there are several potential album releases that could be album of the year contenders.

I think there’s a bigger problem though facing artists that is rearing its head in 2016. Both in mainstream and independent scenes the competition for eye balls has never been greater, which makes these problems so concerning…

2. Too Many Independent Country & Americana Acts are Failing to Stand Out/Get Their Name Out There

Many up and coming acts love to look at the likes of Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton as inspirations for their own path to success in music. They love to think they too can replicate the paths they took and be household names just like them. I get a lot of pitches every single week of starry-eyed, hungry and ambitious artists looking to have their music featured here right on the blog in the hopes that they can get enough promotion to stand out and be “discovered.” But here’s the problem I see: they don’t do enough to stand out. It’ll be good music, but it does absolutely nothing to stand out and be different from the crowd. Keep in mind I get pitches from all over the world, not just in the United States. As an independent artist you have to remember you’re going against thousands of other acts in the same position as you. If you want to be recognized and featured on blogs like mine, you have to do everything you can to be unique while also producing genuinely great music. It’s easier said than done. I may be coming off sounding like a pompous ass, but that’s not my point. If I featured and reviewed everything pitched to me, I would never get any sleep. Readers would be driven away by the lack of quality standout music. It’s my job to feature the very best not only to keep my sanity and keep readers’ attentions, but because somebody has to be a gatekeeper for quality. This means I have to turn down upwards of 90% of what is pitched to me.

Then of course there are artists out there who do make great enough music to standout and get featured on my blog, but they simply don’t do enough to grow their fan base and stand out even more. This could be due to lack of a web presence, social media presence and/or touring presence. It’s maddening to watch talented artists who have a chance to really break out squander opportunities before their very eyes and be stuck in the same position for years. Just being featured and getting critical acclaim on blogs like mine isn’t the end all be all to get your name out there. It’s 1% of the things you need to do to grow.

Of course on the flip-side…

3. Major Labels Have Become Too Reliant on Radio to Break Out New Artists

This comes after I had a lengthy and constructive conversation with Christopher Baggs the other day on Twitter. For those unaware, Baggs is a country music chart tracker and industry insider who is very knowledgeable when it comes to these subjects. I highly recommend following him if you don’t already. Anyway our conversation begins after he pointed out how this week on the aircheck chart that 30 of the top 70 songs did not move up or lower in position from the week before with their bullet along with no recurrent. On top of that there’s a very crowded release schedule. This is obviously a big problem. To see the full conversation between us, start at this tweet (click on the date to see the full conversation):

We both agree that right now the labels are on a very dangerous path that could potentially hurt all parties involved. Anyone who follows the Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music knows that there are a lot of songs being pushed way too long on the chart and overstaying their welcome. Chase Rice’s “Gonna Wanna Tonight” spent over a year on the chart! Major labels are taking a boom or bust approach to breaking new and lower level acts via radio and this in turn is delaying new albums from these artists. The Cadillac Three have spent several years on Big Machine and are just now releasing their first album under the label in August. This is all because labels are hell-bent on making singles work and this is just short-sighted. With all of the technology and resources at their disposal there’s no reason why they can’t find other ways to break these artists out and get their names out. I don’t understand why these labels just can’t accept that sometimes a song is not a hit and move on. If a song spends 20 weeks in the 30s to 40s on the chart without hitting the top 30, that should be a sign that this song is just not going to work. But every label has seemed to adopt this boom or bust attitude, so now we’re about to find out what happens when you try to put 100 gallons of water into a 20 gallon bucket (it’s not going to be pretty),

4. Female Artists Still Aren’t Given a Fair Shake 

I’ll keep this one short and simple. It’s over one year after Tomato Gate and not a damn thing has changed in regards to female artists at radio. The only female acts that can get consistently played at radio are Carrie Underwood (an established star) and Kelsea Ballerini (a pop artist that has a label behind her willing to throw obscene amounts of money into marketing because her boyfriend’s dad runs it). Jennifer Nettles will be gone from the chart soon. Miranda Lambert will get a nice initial run with “Vice,” but I highly doubt this song reaches the top of the chart. Maddie & Tae have appeared to be Musgrave’d by programmers. All the while labels continue to pigeonhole their new female acts into two categories: straight pop or throwback country. Of course things aren’t exactly great for female artists in independent scene either. Just like in popular country, male artists get far and away more attention than female artists at festivals. It doesn’t help also when critics like myself stick our feet in our mouth and call them great female artist when we should just say great artist like we do for male artists (I saw an artist point this out and it made me realize I’m guilty of this on occasion). Just overall we could do better on giving female artists a fairer shake and opportunities.

5. Despite all of these issues, I think fans are becoming more informed than ever.

I think slowly but surely more and more country fans are realizing they can’t rely on mainstream media and radio to get their country music fix. They’re taking to the Internet and discovering great artists on their own and through blogs like this one. It may not be that noticeable, but I can truly sense that people are no longer accepting the status quo that has been presented to them. If enough fans become informed and call the bullshit out, that’s when real change and progress gets made. Support your favorite artists and tell your friends too.

Upcoming/Recent Country & Americana Releases

  • As far as I’m aware there are no major releases on our radar this week. But next week the following albums will be released
    • Lori McKennaThe Bird & The Rifle
    • Hillary Scott – Love Remains
  • In two weeks Alan Jackson will release the box-set Genuine: The Alan Jackson Story digitally. It was released last year exclusively in a physical format at Walmart. As someone who owns it, I highly recommend it if you’re an Alan Jackson fan.
  • Also on August 5 Cody Johnson will release his new album Gotta Be Me.
  • Dolly Parton will be releasing a new album on August 19 titled Pure & Simple.
  • Amanda Shires announced she will be releasing a new album titled My Piece of Land on September 16.
  • On September 30 the legendary John Prine will be releasing a new duets album called For Better, or Worse. The female talent featured on the album will be staggering and expansive, including the likes of Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Help Me Make It Through The Night” by The Highwaymen – Country’s greatest supergroup performs the classic Kris Kristofferson tune together. Just hit play and enjoy.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

“Let The Storm Descend Upon You” by Avantasia – I’m not usually a big metal listener, but I instantly loved symphonic metal group Avantasia upon first listen. Their entire new album Ghostlights is highly recommended from yours truly, but my favorite on it is hands down this song. It’s a whopping 12 minute epic! But I assure it’s fantastic. This is probably one of my favorite songs of 2016.

Tweet of the Week

This is in reference to a recent interview Granger Smith had with The Boot, calling Texas the minor leagues. And this tweet is pretty damn funny (funnier than anything Earl Dibbles Jr. has ever done).

The Perfect Steven Tyler Album Review

Steven Tyler Sucks

There’s no chance in hell we’re reviewing the new Steven Tyler album because it is all kinds of awful. This iTunes review here sums it up pretty well (although I’m not sure if I agree on the Run DMC version of “Walk This Way” being bad). Tyler is nothing but a trend chaser desperately trying to cling to the spotlight.

The Hodgepodge: Revisiting Radio Programming Issues and the Tomato Problem

Keith Hill’s comments on females at country radio took the country music world by storm last year. Just to quickly refresh your memory Hill said “The tomatoes of our salad are the females.” This was in the context of calling males the lettuce and encouraging radio program directors to take females out of rotation in order to maximize ratings. As I’m sure you remember, reactions to Hill’s comments were fierce. Josh’s response in The Hodgepodge took a look at the larger, underlying issue of the lack of overall quality on radio.

I think you can make the argument that there hasn’t been much improvement on either front: female representation or quality. Looking at The Pulse from June 13, 2015 (published the same week as the previously linked Hodgepodge), there were two solo females on the charts in the top 10: Carrie Underwood (7) and Kelsea Ballerini (8). One female duo with Maddie & Tae at 24, and a female led group at 10 with Little Big Town. Also in the top 10 were two songs with female harmonies (“Wild Child” and “Diamond Rings & Old Barstools”). The overall pulse that week was -14. Compare that to yesterday’s Pulse with two solo females in the top 10: Carrie Underwood (1) and Maren Morris (10). Maddie & Tae again at 23, and then Cassadee Pope in a duet with Chris Young at 12. The pulse sits at -10.

That’s fairly even, if you ask me. In the latest issue of Country Aircheck, Lance Houston from iHeartMedia station WBWL in Boston sort of echoed Keith Hill’s comments and took it a step further. Now, before I move on, I just want to clarify that I’m not trying to restart a controversy or blow this up into something it’s not. His comments are interesting, and I think they’re worth commenting on. Houston approaches programming from balancing the logs of who is singing the song. “If you’ve got two females back to back, you don’t have a balanced log given the format’s small percentage of female music. The goal should be to make the most balanced log possible. The same thing goes with other [artist characteristics]; you don’t have a balanced log if you have three or four male duos in a row.”

From a business and programming standpoint, I completely understand that approach. You have A (female solo), B (male solo), C (female duo), D (male duo), and E (bands). In an ideal world, radio has an even distribution of A, B, C, D, and E, without ever repeating letters. But here’s the kicker from Houston’s comments: “given the format’s small percentage of female music.” The representation of A is low, and B is extremely high. Looking again at yesterday’s Pulse of the top 30, here’s the distribution: A (2 songs), B (21 songs), C (1 song), D (2 songs), E (3 songs), and we’ll classify Chris Young & Cassadee Pope as F, a Male/Female duo (1 song). So in reality, you take what you’re given and distribute the choices in the most even possible way.

Given the fact that there aren’t many female artists available for radio to choose from, we don’t get much female music on the radio. Maren Morris is a newcomer who could build on a successful run after a top 10 debut single. Carrie Underwood will release a new single soon to follow “Heartbeat” at number one, Kelsea Ballerini’s “Peter Pan” is on its way, and Miranda Lambert is working on new music. Jennifer Nettles, Cam, Brandy Clark, Martina McBride, and Brook Eden all have songs in the bottom half of the top 60.

It’s a slow process, but we could see more females impacting radio. It’s possible, given the recent success of Cam, Kelsea Ballerini, and now Maren Morris. I think the outcry after the tomato comments could have influenced this, but we have to understand it’ll take time. We’re coming off the bro-country era. Programmers can’t just flip the switch and go 50/50 distribution between males and females. But labels can up their rosters to include more females, or even make way for non-music row artists to be played.

Just last year, quality albums from Whitney Rose, Lindi Ortega, and Hailey Whitters provide some great music to choose from. Kacey Musgraves, Ashley Monroe and Lee Ann Womack are familiar faces who get ignored. Aubrie Sellers’ debut album is excellent. I’d be okay if she got a chance from nepotism, like Thomas Rhett did, if it meant hearing Sellers on the radio. I’d also argue that the aforementioned females would also up the quality of music on the charts if they’re given the chance.

Unfortunately, the business side may not pave the way for the quality side of music. We may never see the day of high female representation on the charts, and it pains me to say it. As much as I’d like to see it, the label attitudes of the label executives would have to drastically change. I have a better chance of getting a country record deal than that happening. And as radio slowly slips away for other outlets, this whole conversation may be a moot point someday. But until that day comes, I hope the winds of change blow in the direction of a higher female representation on country radio. I think the demand is there, and the supply is certainly available.

Upcoming/Recent Country Releases

  • Southern Family is finally released tomorrow. I’ve listened to it on NPR First Listen, and I enjoyed it. You’ll see Josh’s review soon.
  • William Michael Morgan releases his debut EP tomorrow as well.
  • Maren Morris announced that her debut album, Hero, will be released on June 3.
  • Randy Houser‘s next single will be “Song Number 7.” We will review the single, but not Fired Up. 
  • Kenny Chesney is trying to be cryptic on social media to get fans excited for an upcoming announcement. Most likely, on March 24, Chesney will give us details on some new music, be it a single, album, or both.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Leave the Pieces” by The Wreckers. The Wreckers, made up of Jessica Harp and Michelle Branch, had a short life in country music. One successful album in 2006 yielded two top ten hits: “My, Oh My” at #9 and this song as their only number one. I’m a big fan of this song and I wish we could have had more music from this duo.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Ray LaMontagne Ouroboros. LaMontagne’s newest album was produced by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James. It’s a heavier, psychedelic-like album calling back to a classic rock approach to music production. Just like old vinyl, the album is broken into two parts, emulating the need to flip the record over. The production over shadows LaMontagne’s signature vocals, but it’s still a good offering from this rock singer-songwriter.

Tweet of the Week

This is a great picture of Sturgill and Merle.

Two Randy Houser iTunes Reviews

RH1 RH2

As I said, we’re not reviewing Fired Up as a whole because its way too long and overrun with the same, low quality crap. Though this first review would have you think otherwise. I’d argue that the album is full of filler.

As for the second review, that comparison to Toby Keith is hilarious! Sharing it with Josh, he agreed that it’s an accurate comparison given that both singers are talented, yet put out clichéd music. But this person’s reasoning? HA! If Houser didn’t put out 17 songs of radio pandering bull crap, then I’d agree. “Like a Cowboy”, or most of Houser’s first couple albums is the kind of country music that’s good. You don’t sell out like this to get “earned” recognition.

Review – Breelan Angel’s “Rhinestone World”

Breelan Angel Rhinestone World

One of the biggest stories over the last year in country music and really over the last few years, has been the treatment of female country artists in mainstream country music and country radio. It came to a head with Tomato Gate in 2015 and woke up many people to the ongoing problem. While there wasn’t any huge “revolution” where an angry mob formed and went on the offensive against country radio, it most certainly created a sense of urgency in female country artists to make sure their voice is heard and treated with the same respect as male country artists. It certainly caught the attention of Breelan Angel, an up and coming country artist from Texas. Tomato Gate was clear inspiration behind her new single being pushed to Texas radio, “Rhinestone World.”

“If there was ever a song I ultimately wanted to dedicate to women around the world, this is the song. The theme of this song is to be you no matter what anyone else is telling you to do,” Angel said. “In the music business especially, there is a standard for what we should look like, act like, be like and some are okay with that, while most women I meet, are not.”

Recorded live from The Living Room, Angel picks up her guitar and simply belts out what she sees as the truth with “Rhinestone World.” She sings about how the country industry and country radio wants her hair to be higher, her skirt to be higher and to flirt with people in the front row. It’s pretty easy to believe, especially after the story that just came out about Katie Armiger saying she has went through this very thing with her former label. Angel goes on to sing about how they’ll then take credit for you becoming an overnight success, which again is hitting it right on the nose. The real kicker line comes in the chorus, when Angel sings, “They’ll stick a for sale sign in the yard of your soul.”

It gets even better when she cites many of the great female country artists like Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette went through the same problems (calling Dolly a “dumb blonde,” telling Tammy to “dream on” and suggesting Loretta not sing about “the pill”). Keep in mind this is just Angel playing her guitar to back these excellent and sharp lyrics. “Rhinestone World” is literally three cords and the truth. And that my friends is country music at it’s very core. This is even more honest and in your face than Kacey Musgraves’ “Good ‘Ol Boys Club,” what I thought would be the most critical callout song against the industry and country radio.

It takes absolute guts and tenacity for Breelan Angel to record a song like “Rhinestone World.” And yet it shouldn’t because the industry shouldn’t be like this. Sadly that’s the world we live in. But it’s also a world with an artist like Breelan Angel. Country music needs more honest and forthright music like this song. Many artists in Angel’s position wouldn’t dare to look at a song like this one because they’re so hellbent on being famous and the next big thing. Angel shows she is not worried about these things and is just being herself. The country protest song is an overdone trope, but I assure you this song is anything but. I’ll be surprised if we hear a better protest country song in 2016 than “Rhinestone World.”

Grade: 10/10