Country Perspective’s Best Country & Americana Albums So Far in 2016

We’ve reached the mid-point of 2016, so it’s time to look back at the year so far for country music and Americana. Up first we take a look back at the best country and Americana albums of 2016 so far. There have been a lot of fantastic albums already this year and sonically there’s a lot of variety. It’s quite clear Americana is gaining a bigger influence, while in the Nashville pop scene they’re still completely bastardizing country music to the point of no return making the appearance of major label artists on this list shorter than last year. Another story that has helped define this list is artists experimenting with different sounds in the independent and Americana scenes, straying from their original sound. While some may think this indicates they don’t know what they want, I think it’s just the opposite, as artists clearly are tired of genre lines and being put into boxes.

The first albums listed are considered candidates for Country Perspective’s 2016 Album of the Year. Remember for an album to be considered for Album of the Year, it must receive a 10/10 score. Those won’t be the only ones listed below though, as all the highly rated albums so far will be highlighted. Remember too that it’s impossible for us to keep up with every single release and we do our best to cover the most albums possible. So please don’t be that person in the comments section that says something along the lines of: “This list is irrelevant because (insert album) isn’t on it” or “This list sucks.” Agree or disagree all you want, just be respectful about it. Not everyone has the same opinion, so keep this in mind.

So without further ado, the best country and Americana albums so far in 2016….

(Click on the album name to see the full review)

Album of the Year Candidates

Dave Cobb Super Compilation – Southern Family

Dave-Cobb-Southern-Family

After listening to Southern Family, you come away with a better understand and feeling of southern culture and lifestyle. It’s very easy to point out the problems that existed in southern culture in the past and the stigma this caused for the south is something that will remain with the culture for years to come. But it’s important to remember the redeeming qualities of the southern culture: family, friends, love, spirituality, home. All of these things southerners should rightly be proud of and point to as their defining qualities that make them great. This album celebrates southern pride with dignity and genuineness that should make any southerner smile. Cobb bringing together all of these artists who clearly understand southern culture, from both mainstream and independent realms, is not only a unifying moment for southern people, but country music in general. That’s something we can all appreciate.

Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth 

Sturgill Simpson A Sailor's Guide To Earth

There’s nothing else to say except Sturgill Simpson did it again. A Sailor’s Guide To Earth is another masterpiece from Simpson. If you’re looking for another copy of High Top Mountain or Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, don’t bother listening. If you’re a fan of music and you trust Simpson, strap in and listen to this album because you won’t be disappointed. You will however be surprised, as Simpson once again takes a different approach in the sound department. There are multiple outright country songs and every song has country elements in them. But there’s also Memphis soul and the Muscle Shoals sound that deeply influence the album. Not to mention there’s lots of string production and horns in many songs. Is it a country record? Well I can tell you Sturgill Simpson wrote, produced and performed an album of phenomenal music. I can say this is Simpson’s most cohesive and tight-knit album yet. Perhaps the best answer to this comes from the late great Merle Haggard: “Good. If it’s what they’re calling country, you don’t want to go near that shit.” And Simpson did exactly that. Simpson gave us something we never expected and yet exactly what we wanted and that’s art straight from the heart.

Chris King AnimalChris King – Animal

Chris King delivers a storytelling masterpiece with Animal. Looking at each song individually on this album, you have some pretty good songs. Put them all together and they all connect for one long, spectacular journey. It’s the journey of a man exploring love, discovery, overcoming mistakes, the unknown and ultimately what we’re all looking for in this crazy thing we call life. Most albums are just a collection of songs, not really all connecting with each other. Sure you’ll find a lot of albums with similar themes and tones throughout, but very rarely do you come across albums that connect from start to finish like Animal does. It should also be pointed out that production on this album is just as flawless as King’s songwriting. Producer John Ross Silva really nails the tone and sound on this album, as it properly reflects the changes in attitude of the main story told throughout. Everything on this album works together perfectly. Chris King shows us all what a true album sounds like.Animal is one of the best albums you’ll hear all year.

Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter

Margo Price Midwest Farmer's Daughter

Midwest Farmer’s Daughter is a callback to country’s honky tonk heydays mixed with some blues and rock n’ roll, creating a dynamic record, with each song grounded in country music. Overall I think Midwest Farmer’s Daughter is an excellent country album. Price’s vocals are great as she captures the solemness of the slower tracks, but has the appropriate bite and attitude on the rowdier songs. Margo Price has played on several of the late shows and performed on SNL on April 9. It’s still too early to tell, but given the recent success of Chris Stapleton, this could be a big album for country music. Margo Price’s Midwest Farmer’s Daughter is one of my favorite albums so far this year.

Dori FreemanDori Freeman – Self-Titled

I’ll be surprised if there’s another debuting country or Americana artist in 2016 that shows more promise than Dori Freeman. This debut album from Freeman blew me away upon the very first listen. In fact I had to play it several times over because only hearing it once wasn’t enough. Freeman’s vocals are crisp, pure and undeniably Appalachian. She was born to sing and very few possess her talent. The songwriting is top-notch and I couldn’t pick out a flaw in the instrumentation and production choices. This album excels and thrives in every area. You can pretty much call it flawless. It’s an album that every true country and Americana fan needs to hear. Dori Freeman is a name you need to know. This is one of the best albums I’ve had the privilege to write about on Country Perspective.

Aubrie Sellers – New City BluesAubrie Sellers New City Blues

The debut album New City Blues from Aubrie Sellers proves that she is a very talented artist who is poised to make a lot of great music for years to come. Never before have I heard a debut album from an artist take so many creative risks. Sellers mixes country, bluegrass, Americana and rock like she’s been doing this for decades. There’s nothing safe about this album, from the lyrics to the production. While Sellers may sound just like her mother Lee Ann Womack, she proves to have her own style and more than enough talent to step out of this shadow and make her own name. New City Blues can feel like a bit of a slog to get through at 14 songs and many songs will take multiple listens to fully grasp. But I assure you it’s well worth your time to sit down and listen to this album over and over.

More Highly Recommended Albums

Flatland Cavalry – Humble Folks

Parker Millsap – The Very Last Day

Robert Ellis – Robert Ellis

Darrell Scott – Couchville Sessions

The Honeycutters – On The Ropes 

Randy Rogers Band – Nothing Shines Like Neon 

Loretta Lynn – Full Circle 

Carter Sampson – Wilder Side 

Sierra Hull – Weighted Mind 

Caleb Caudle – Carolina Ghost 

Addison Johnson – I’m Just A Song

The Cactus Blossoms – You’re Dreaming

William Michael Morgan – William Michael Morgan EP

Wheeler Walker Jr. – Redneck Shit 

Ryan Beaver – Rx 

The Lumineers – Cleopatra

Sunny Ozell – Take It With Me 

Robbie Fulks – Upland Stories 

Speedbuggy USA – South of Bakersfield 

Harvest Thieves – Rival 

Waco Brothers – Going Down in History 

Album Review – Waco Brothers’ ‘Going Down in History’

Waco Brothers Going Down in History

Many people are well aware of the rise of pop country in the 1990s that dominated radio and mainstream attention. The likes of Garth Brooks, Lee Ann Rimes and Shania Twain led the charge. But meanwhile a counterculture movement broke out in response to it and that was alt-country. The name most associated with alt-country of course is Steve Earle, but another group who made their name at the same time were the Waco Brothers. The five-piece band is based out of Chicago, unsurprisingly part of the Chicago-based Bloodshot Records. They’re made up of Dean Schlabowske, Joe Camarillo, Jon Langford, Tracey Dear and Alan Doughty. For the first time in 11 years, they’ve released a formal studio album, Going Down in History. And they certainly live up to their reputation of a hard rocking country band who know how to make entertaining music.

You get a great taste of the Waco Brothers’ country meets punk rock style on “DIYBYOB.” It’s country in sound, but punk rock in nature. Being the group’s first studio album since 2005, it’s a nice introduction for new fans who may just be finding out about this alt-country group. The crunchy guitar riffs that rear it’s head throughout “We Know It” will instantly be a crowd favorite at live shows. How could a fun song like this not be entertaining? “Receiver” is a gritty rocker about life and death. The infectious guitar riffs in this song will certainly get you bobbing your head as you listen to it. The same can be said of the following song “Building Our Own Prison.” The song is a commentary on the current state of the country and how they see things playing out. It’s one of those songs on the album where it’s definitely more rock than country, but it’s a reminder of the band’s versatility.

One of my favorite songs on Going Down on History is “All or Nothing.” It tells the story of a man trying to make a woman see his way of thinking and how things could work out between them. He wants “all or nothing,” but it’s not going to happen. I love the gospel-tinged feel given by the organ in the background of the song and adds an almost anthem-like feel to the song. “Had Enough” is one of the hardest rockers on the album. It’s the type of song you want to put on after a long day of work and crank the volume to 11 as you get some anger off your chest. The title kind of says it all. This is followed by “Lucky Fool,” which is about a man who proclaims how lucky he has been to have this woman in his life. But now she wants to walk out and he pleads for her not to leave. I love the sense of urgency in the vocals, really selling how crestfallen the man is to lose this woman in his life.

The album’s title track is another song that tackles life and death. It’s one of those songs where you have to interpret for yourself what they’re getting at, which I can not only say about this song, but many songs on this album. For those who like music with concrete themes, you might not like this song. But for those who want music that makes them think, I think you’ll enjoy this song. I can say the same about “Devil’s Day.” But one thing I enjoy more about “Devil’s Day” is the guitar play, which draws me into the song. Going Down in History closes out with “Orphan Song.” It’s a honkytonking song about camaraderie and friendship. The fiddle play is great throughout, along with the piano play mixed in with the band’s consistently solid guitar play. It really ends the album with a bang and is definitely one of the standouts on it.

The Waco Brothers’ Going Down in History is an entertaining album that may not blow you away in the lyrics department, but most certainly instrumentation-wise. After listening to an album from the Waco Brothers you will most likely come away with the conclusion that they would be best heard live and I would agree. If the Waco Brothers are ever in your area, I would recommend seeing them because I can imagine all of these songs better in a live environment. They’re meant to be heard in a crowd full of people looking for a fun time. The Waco Brothers are the perfect live band, capturing the energy of a rock band and the sensibilities of a country band. Going Down in History is a fun album that you can throw on and connect with from the first listen.

Grade: 8/10

 

Country Perspective’s Best of Country & Americana Music – February 2016

Best of February 2016

Time to take look at the best of February! I can’t believe how fast that month flew by. If you’re not familiar or just started reading the blog, here’s the drill: Each month all three of us writers will take a look back on the month that was and share our thoughts on the music that was released and some of our favorites. Below that will be a Spotify playlist of all the songs we enjoyed. If you’re a fan of Spotify and use it, we have good news as we have a Country Perspective Spotify page. You can check it out and subscribe here. So let’s talk about the month of February!

Josh 

While February may be the shortest month on the calendar, it was not short on great music from country and Americana. The month kicked off with a bang with the release of the self-titled debut album of Dori Freeman. The Virginia artist absolutely blew me away with her brilliant voice and songwriting. From the very first listen I knew I was hearing something special. It’s really hard to pick favorites on an album like this one, but “Ain’t Nobody” and “Fine Fine Fine” were the standouts. The stripped down approach to “Ain’t Nobody” pays off in spades, as Freeman will enthrall you with her voice. On “Fine Fine Fine” you get a firsthand taste at Freeman’s sharp and witty lyrics. If you haven’t heard this album yet, I suggest you go listen to it.

As for the rest of the month, Charles Kelley and Vince Gill delivered above average albums with some nice moments on each. On Kelley’s The Driver, “Leaving Nashville” is hands down the best on it, as Kelley paints a perfect picture of the struggles of the up and coming artist on Music Row. The legendary Gill shines a few times on his new album Down To My Last Bad Habit, most notably on “I Can’t Do This” and “Sad One Comin’ On.” Another artist who impressed with a self-titled debut album was Addison Johnson, who’s all-around traditional approach makes for an enjoyable listening experience. And finally an album that we have yet to review, but plan on reviewing really soon that caught my eye is Caleb Caudle’s Carolina Ghost. It’s a damn fine album and I urge you to check it out and our review of it too.

Derek

Once again, February brings forth a good collection of country music, with Dori Freeman coming away as the month’s best hidden gem. Her self titled debut album was excellent, and her song “Ain’t Nobody” stands as the month’s best song in my opinion. The acapella delivery with the finger snaps is perfect and unique. The other stand out album to me was Addison Johnson’s I’m Just a Song. The traditional country arrangement of the album sounded great, with top-notch songwriting. “My Last Song” and the album’s title track were my favorites on Johnson’s album.

While a little lack-luster, Vince Gill’s Down to My Last Bad Habit was still an enjoyable listen. Gill’s voice sounds great on the album, but it’s the tribute song to George Jones, “Sad One Comin’ On” that sits on the top-level of that album. The Infamous Stringdusters’ ensemble album, Ladies and Gentlemen, is also an album worth checking out from the last month. The bluegrass band brought in guest vocalist for every track, including Lee Ann Womack for “I Believe.” It’s always a treat to hear Womack sing. Also, Celia Woodsmith’s “Old Whiskey Bottle” with The Infamous Stringdusters is an excellent song from February.

Zack

Much like January, February was a fantastic month for country music. The year is still very young, and yet we already have found a formidable album of the year contender with Dori Freeman. Her self-titled debut album was filled with wonderful songs such as the modern-day “Sixteen Days” with “Ain’t Nobody,” the Dolly Parton-esqué “Tell Me,” and the wonderful “Lullaby.” If the rest of the albums in 2016 are even half as good, then we’re in for a great year of country music. Then we had the excellent country gold collection from Addison Johnson titled “I’m Just A Song.” Honestly my only complaint with this album is the length. It’s that good. And though Charles Kelley didn’t make a great album, The Driver still had some excellent cuts like “Southern Accents” and the brutally honest “Leaving Nashville.”

Although we haven’t reviewed them yet, I also quite enjoyed the latest albums from Wynonna & The Big Noise, as well as the Waco Brothers. Neither are exactly strictly country, but the former has some great blues moments while the latter is a fantastic slice of alt-country. My favorite track from Wynonna’s was “Jesus and A Jukebox,” while my favorite track from the Waco Brothers is “We Know It.”

With new releases from Loretta Lynn, Chris King, Margo Price, and Dave Cobb’s super project coming this March, I honestly think the number of album of the year contenders is going to skyrocket. And we’ll certainly be better for it.

The Hodgepodge: A Historical Snapshot of Kris Kristofferson

Kris_Willie_Waylon
From left to right: Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson & Waylon Jennings

“Renaissance Man” may be the perfect way to describe Kris Kristofferson. Kris attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. He was a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army. He was an athlete in high school running distance, playing rugby, football, and was a Golden Gloves boxer. After leaving the Army in 1965, Kristofferson was offered a teaching position at West Point. After the offer came through, Kristofferson says, “I was in Nashville for two weeks on leave between assignments. I just fell in love with the music community that was going on there.” With all those accomplishments and a wealth of high-end opportunities on the horizon, Kris decided to take a different path and remain in Nashville. Call him crazy, but he took a job as a janitor at Columbia Records, intent on finding success as a singer and songwriter in country music.

It took a few years, but Kris Kristofferson eventually found success in Nashville with his songwriting. Roger Miller gave him his first break when he recorded one of Kristofferson’s most well-known songs, “Me and Bobby McGee.” The song was written upon request by Monument Records’ Fred Foster who gave Kris the title “Me and Bobby McKee.” (Bobby McKee was a secretary in the building). But Kris misheard Foster and thought he said “McGee.” Kris found inspiration from the film La Strada and composed the lyrics to one of music’s best songs (in this writer’s opinion).

After Miller recorded “Me and Bobby McGee,” it was Johnny Cash’s recording of “Sunday Morning Coming Down” that thrusted Kris Kristofferson into spotlight. “Sunday Morning Coming Down” was awarded song of the year at the 1970 CMAs. Recognition continued for Kris with his second album Silver Tounged Devil and I being released in 1971, along with some more songwriting nominations for “Help me Make It Through The Night”, “Me and Bobby McGee” and “For the Good Times.”

Kris’ more poetic style of writing didn’t fit in with the Nashville Sound and style that was popular in the 1960s and 70s. He was proud of his writing style and story telling and didn’t waver for anyone, an attitude which rightfully positioned him with the Outlaws alongside Waylon and Willie. And along with Cash, those Outlaws formed the supergroup The Highwaymen and recorded Highwayman, an album whose title track remains one of country’s more famous songs.

When it came to writing, Kris says, “I’ve always felt that it was my was my job to tell the truth as I saw it, just the same as Hank Williams did and the way Bob Dylan did. It was important to me and I think I probably antagonised [sic] some audiences.” Kristofferson had stories to tell and love for music. His devotion to that mindset and attitude trumped everything else. “I was so in love with the thing I was doing, I wasn’t conscious of really not being very successful like the rest of my family was.”

Kristofferson exemplified an Outlaw not because he put up an over-masculine facade or sang songs about being a tough bad-ass, but because he blazed his own path to stardom and success. Kris Kirstofferson didn’t go down the Chet Atkins’ trail of corporate regurgitated country music. He did it his own way, and that’s why he was considered a country outlaw. Kris Kristofferson’s influence on country music holds steady even today. Next month, there will be an all-star tribute show in Kris’ honor. Taking place on March 16 at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, The Life & Songs of Kris Kristofferson will feature Willie Nelson, Eric Church, Rosanne Cash, Ryan Bingham, Jamey Johnson, and several others performing Kristofferson songs in honor of Kris’ musical achievements and legacy for country music.

There’s much more to Kris Kristofferson’s legacy. He has a rich history and story about the work he put in and the people he met along the way. For instance, Kristofferson famously landed a helicopter on Johnny Cash’s lawn in his early efforts of getting songs recorded. While Cash wasn’t home at the time of the landing, it nonetheless shows the lengths he went to get his music noticed. His resiliency to make his dream come true is inspiring. Kris Kristofferson put his blood, sweat, and tears into his music and took the long road to find success. The work paid off and he will forever stand as one of country music’s most influential trailblazer.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Tomorrow, Waco Brothers’ Going Down in History will be released.
  • Carolina Ghost from Caleb Caudle will be released tomorrow as well.
  • Granger Smith’s album Remington will hit the shelves March 4.
  • An album I am very much looking forward to: Margo Price’s Midwest Farmer’s Daughter will be released on March 26.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Sunday Morning Coming Down” Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson: Both Cash and Kristofferson have recorded the song, but does it get any better than these two singing the song together? Also, you can tell how proud Kristofferson is to sing his own song alongside Johnny Cash.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Janis Joplin. Sticking with the Kris Kristofferson take over, I suggest you all go listen to Janis Joplin, a singer I could endlessly listen to on shuffle. She and Kristofferson dated for a while up until Joplin’s untimely death. Janis Joplin also recorded “Me and Bobby McGee” for her excellent album, Pearl, which was released posthumously. Janis Joplin also recorded “Piece of My Heart” as lead singer of Big Brother and the Holding Company. That song was later recorded by Faith Hill in 1994.

Tweet of the Week

That’s enticing, but I probably still wouldn’t join Tidal for that either.

A LoCash iTunes Review

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 11.51.00 AM

I’ve only heard “I Love This Life” from the radio, but this review tells me everything I need to know about LoCash, and what I know is I don’t want to listen to them if they’re taking notes from Florida Georgia Line and Sam Hunt.

The Hodgepodge: A Country Perspective Roundtable Discussion on Viral Stars & Digital Streaming

Two weeks ago I wrote about how streaming is affecting music as it continues to grow and garner more validity in the music industry. As I wrote that piece, I came up with another idea of expanding on the idea of viral and digital music stars getting signed to major labels, like Kane Brown and Maren Morris. Similar to how reality shows like American Idol and The Voice were a go-to spot for musical discovery, I theorize that with the turn of digital music consumption, digital success and “going viral” could be the next way for labels to find new artists.

So instead of just writing about my ideas, I’ve recruited both Josh and Zack to join me in a discussion of this theory. Starting from the theory of scouting the digital world for new stars and building from there, we discuss how that could change radio, how success could be measured, and how sustainable this may be. So please read on to view our discussion and continue in the comments below!

—————

Derek: Good afternoon, fellas! To kick off this roundtable, I pose this first question. I think that viral video stars could be the future pool for labels to discover new singers to sign. Do you agree?
Josh: I definitely agree with this, as I think country music is slowly realizing that they need to embrace the digital world more. They have to know they can’t keep relying on radio when other genres don’t even care about the format. Kane Brown and Maren Morris are two new acts that didn’t need radio to get noticed.
Zack: I believe that’s the case. No matter how manufactured it may or may not have been, there’s an unfortunate reality that someone like Kane Brown is now a major label star. Of course, as Josh said, perhaps we can get someone good out of it like Maren Morris. It remains to be seen how long of a shelf life these artists have, but I do believe that this could be the future.

Derek: Yes, more & more we could see digital popularity translate into a major label signing. What do you think that could hold for the future of radio and its importance and/or necessity? Already, we’ve seen a radio powerhouse like iHeartRadio facing [high debt] and a negative cashflow, despite having dozens of stations nationwide. If Spotify/Youtube/Apple Radio popularity = success, I think we may very well see some sort of change with the traditional radio.
Josh: I think it will be part of what renders radio to eventually be a useless format. It’s sticking around for now. But with streaming on the rise, country music and all genres have to embrace it. It’s clearly the most popular way to consume music amongst fans, so labels and artists need to go where the fans are at. It will take time for this to have a full effect though.
Zack: I’ve always thought it was interesting that we live in an age where you can browse the Internet and discover and listen to artists on your own time through your own platforms, and yet radio is still the most popular way to discover music. I think eventually steaming and digital popularity will eventually overtake radio, but I’m not fully certain. Country radio hasn’t exactly always been one step ahead with these types of things.
Josh: Well one reason country music has stuck with radio is because it has always been the least dependent on technology. It’s a rural based genre, so it’s make sense to stick to radio for all these years. But now with every other genre embracing technology, they’re forced to do the same soon.

Derek: True, country has always been a step behind other genres in terms of music discovery. I think maybe the label execs on music row have been trying to hold onto some sort control on how their artists’ success is perceived. We’ve seen labels devote tons of time and money manipulating charts to manufacture a #1 or leaving a song on the chart for nearly a year before finally giving up on the song (Chase Rice, Chase Bryant). I wonder if streaming popularity could prevent that sort of control of the successful narrative. And, I agree, Josh. It’s funny how country will hold onto THAT tradition, but not a musical tradition.
Josh: I don’t see why it would. As Trigger pointed out at Saving Country Music, Kane Brown manipulated his streaming numbers via some well positioned connections. No different from country labels doing the same thing at country radio. And yes that is funny. They’re not good at picking the proper traditions to keep.
Zack: That’s why it makes me happy to see a label like EMI just pull a song like Eric Church’s “Mr. Misunderstood” in favor of his new single, “Record Year.” It was obviously not going to do much more. There’s other artists like Chase Bryant as you said before that are still hanging around on the chart when their song should have died months ago (and at a lower peak position).
Josh: Well that demonstrates how much of a real star Eric Church is. He doesn’t need country radio. It really needs him though. Church sells tons of records and sells out venues. A top 15 peak does not hurt him at all. Whereas Chase Bryant is entirely dependent on radio because he’s irrelevant otherwise. Really Bryant is still irrelevant. I’ve never met a Chase Bryant fan.

Derek: That’s a good point on Kane Brown. His team definitely led a sketchy campaign to show his “popular appeal” to a major label. So, if radio does eventually fall into obscurity, what will be the advantage of getting on a big label? It seems to be that big label = radio exposure. Especially with streaming services having low payouts, what do you guys think the future looks like in this regard?

The only big advantage I see to that popularity is concert attendance. Eric Church, as you said
Josh, doesn’t need radio, and he can sell out almost any venue he’d choose to play in. Obviously streaming popularity could translate to higher attendance, but that’s not a guarantee.
Zack: True, and that’s the sad part. Young artists nowadays have to not only rely on the radio for support, but also have to often compromise their sound to get there. If the lead single fails, then forget it. I’m not saying that Chase Bryant is a good example of this, but think of someone like the Brothers Osborne, a band who has stated their disdain for the sameness of the genre multiple times. Their debut album, “Pawn Shop” however had songs in the same vein as the ones they criticized. Why? Because they need radio.
Josh: Well as independent and Americana artists have proven over the last couple years, you don’t need major labels to have success and therefore don’t need country radio either. Jason Isbell is perfectly happy on his own label doing his own thing. And he had the #1 album in country, Americana, folk and rock last year. Sturgill Simpson would have stayed independent for his entire career if Atlantic didn’t give him exactly what he wanted. They gave him what he wanted because they needed him a lot more. These independent artists make themselves. They do the hard work that the label doesn’t have to do and that is make them a star.
So I believe in the future major labels will not matter. And this scares the crap out of Music Row.
Derek: That’s a good point. Sturgill and Isbell are perfect examples of independent artists making their own success and will be more sustained as time progresses. People appreciate a trailblazer and a leader, and not a copy cat.
Maren Morris EPZack: Excellent point Josh. Heck, even mainstream outlets like The Boot and Taste Of Country are covering independent acts nowadays. With Texas and Americana acts gaining and more exposure (including some of them outselling major label acts), I don’t believe that major labels will matter in the future.
One has to remember that Kane Brown’s rise only continues to grow because people think it’s cool to like him. Maren Morris at least impressed people with her sound

Derek: People do think it’s cool to like Kane Brown, and that’s because of narrative painted by those outlets. Major publications will continue to publish PR fluff to create buzz. But if you don’t have a radio station playing a song 15 times a day, will people still think they have to like said song because radio plays it?
Josh: Well I don’t think Kane Brown is going to breakthrough at radio and the reactions I’ve seen online about his music from non-fans hasn’t been that positive. It’s going to a take a lot of PR spin I think. But then again all his label has to do is wave the On The Verge wand and he’ll be rising in no time.

Derek: What will On The Verge’s influence be if radio dissolves? Truly, if people only stream, how will success be judged? Sure, reports to Billboard and a streaming chart may exist, but will a chart like that influence plays on an Apple Radio station, or Spotify radio? For instance, if I choose to play Country Spotify Radio, am I likely to hear more songs than others based on these potential streaming charts?
Josh: If radio dissolves, On The Verge will still give artists a nice boost in sales I think. It clearly has influence amongst fans. If people only stream, I think sales will be a bigger determining factor of success. Specifically album sales will judge success. If you can sell albums in today’s environment, it’s a pretty big deal. Just look at Adele. Potential streaming charts could influence what songs you hear. But it wouldn’t matter because the listener ultimately has the power to choose what they want to hear. That’s one of the biggest pros of streaming. No more middle men like radio programmers.

Derek: I agree, streaming has allowed independent artists to have more exposure because it’s an open medium for listeners to choose from. I think you’re right that album sales will be the big indicator of success.
Zack touched on this earlier, but if viral discovery is the next avenue for getting signed, how sustainable will that be for a musical career?
Zack: I think it depends on the artists honestly. As I’ve noted before, Kane Brown only rose because of who he is, whereas Maren Morris rose because her sound resonated with fans. Kane Brown will probably have his 15 minutes sure, but overall I feel that if the music is what’s truly driving the viral popularity, then artists might be able to mold an actual career. It’ll be interesting to see.
Josh: It depends on the talent of the artist. Maren Morris has the talent to back up her huge viral success. Kane Brown does not. If you want to see a good comparison model for this, go look how winners and high finishers of American Idol and The Voice have fared after the show. Carrie Underwood went on to be a huge star. Fantasia and Reuben Studdard have faded into obscurity. The smoke and mirrors that is artificial pushes and PR fluff will let you be big for a short period of time. Talent will let you have a long and memorable career.

Derek: I’m in full agreement with you both.
Carrie Underwood is a star for a reason, and that same level of talent will dictate the longevity of the career for future potential stars.
Derek: Any final thoughts?
Zack: 2016 is definitely an exciting time for country music and with everything transpiring, I’m definitely excited to see what the future holds for the industry.
Josh: The future of country and Americana is quite bright. Talent will finally be the ultimate determining factor of success. In other words, what it should have always been in the first place. Really it’s always been like this, but now everyone is seeing it. And that bodes well for the quality of future music.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Austin Lucas‘ Between The Moon and the Midwest is due out tomorrow.
  • Lake Street Drive‘s Side Pony will also be released tomorrow.
  • A new album from the Waco Brothers called Going Down in History will be released on the 26th.
  • Loretta Lynn‘s new album, Full Circle, will be out March 4.
  • Billy Currington‘s new single will be “It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To.”
  • Caleb Caudile‘s Carolina Ghost will be released on February 26th.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Fancy” by Reba McEntire: I heard this song on the radio the other day, and it’s been stuck in my head ever since, which isn’t a bad thing! Reba recorded this and released it as a single in 1991. The song is a cover of Bobbie Gentry, who wrote and recorded the song originally in 1969. The striking difference between the two is that Reba and producer Tony Brown took a darker approach to the song’s production, fitting in with the Southern Gothic lyrics.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week


VINYL: Music From The HBO Original Series – Vol. 1: This first edition of HBO’s Vinyl soundtrack is an excellent collection of music. A great mix of classic rock songs, old covers, and new songs like Sturgill Simpson’s “Sugar Daddy.” Vinyl’s soundtrack is a great callback sound to 60s and 70s rock n’ roll!

Tweets of the Week: Grammy Edition

Instead of having one tweet followed by a random review, I’m going to post several of my favorite tweets from the Grammys.

On Luke Bryan singing Lionel Richie’s “Penny Lover.”

And Some Tweets From Sad Sam Hunt Fans.

No, don’t drag Kanye into this.

Because Chris Stapleton also didn’t release an album in 2015… Also, Montevallo was released in 2014.