The Hodgepodge: What I’d Like to See From Country Music in 2016

A new year brings forth the desire to reflect upon the past year. What went well, what went poorly, what can we learn, and how can we improve. That’s sort of the universal mindset for most of us in early January, and that’s the mindset I’m going to use for this first Hodgepodge of 2016. Last year had quite a bit of buzz worthy events in country music from Keith Hill’s comments regarding females on radio to Chris Stapleton’s rise and triumph at the CMAs. But instead of looking back at the year that was 2015, I want to approach this as how can we build on what happened in 2015 to make 2016 a great year for country and Americana music.

These aren’t predictions or theories of what I think may happen. These are merely my hopes for what I’d like to see happen. This is how I’d like to see country music (primarily mainstream country music) move forward in 2016. I realize some of these hopes may be outlandish and not as realistic as others given the culture of country music right now. The overall goal of this first Hodgepodge is to get a discussion moving about country music in 2016.

More Traditional Country Music on Radio

The success of Chris Stapleton as 2015 came to a close should not be taken lightly. Stapleton’s Traveller was released to critical acclaim, and his three CMAs in November proved traditional sounding country music still had popular appeal. Kacey Musgraves continued her commitment to traditional country music with Pageant Material. While her sophomore album didn’t quite have the same success as Stapleton this year, Musgraves still has some popular appeal maintaining a steady headlining tour in support of the new album. And, of course, Sturgill Simpson has signed on with a major label and may release an album this year.

Traditional newcomers like Mo Pitney, Jake Worthington, and William Jake Worthington EPMichael Morgan have released singles and EPs that have impressed critics. Jana Kramer found success with her single “I Got The Boy”, a ballad that calls back to the sounds of 90s country. And The Dixie Chicks, one of the top acts in country in the past 15 years, has announced a reunion tour which could result in new music. I hope more and more artists with a traditional leaning style come out of the woodwork, including full length albums from several of the aforementioned artists. The demand for more traditional country music is high, and the supply appears to be growing. I’d like to see more traditional country music on the radio, especially if Stapleton’s “Nobody to Blame” charts well.

A Radio Split

The mere fact that Billboard has recently added a new country chart solely dedicated to radio play (the Hot Country Songs chart takes streaming and digital sales into account) tells me that radio is still an important media source even in this digital age today. If traditional country music does gain more popularity while singers like Sam Hunt, Luke Bryan, and Kelsea Ballerini continue to spew pop garbage onto country radio, I think the argument for radio split could be reignited. Putting traditional singers on their own format with newcomers and legends alike will allow fans to listen to that music on radio without having to wait for “Break Up in a Small Town” and “Home Alone Tonight” to play first.

Bigger Spotlight on Americana and Indie Country

Dave Cobb winning a CMA award for Chris Stapleton’s Traveller was huge. Cobb has produced many critically acclaimed albums for artists like Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell. Those two artists have gained more popularity in their own independent music world. And as Saving Country Music suggested, Miranda Lambert dating indie rocker Anderson East could lead to more eyes on the indie music side of things. 2015 saw many non-mainstream artists have number one albums and earn new fans. Even Kacey Musgraves pushed her new music to Americana radio. Americana radio could grow this year, giving these true artists a much deserved audience increase.

137650_4657More Females on Radio

In the wake of Keith Hill’s tomato comments, we saw Kelsea Ballerini get a number one single. Newcomer Cam peaked at number 2 with “Burning House” on the Airplay Charts, and Carrie Underwood had a few singles find some great, if still underwhelming, chart success. Mickey Guyton’s “Better Than You Left Me” received more radio adds upon its release than any other artist ever. More awareness was brought to the disparity between male and female artists in regards to radio play, and I hope 2016 continues the trend of bringing more females onto country radio. There’s a talented pool of women who are ignored.

Mainstream Country Music Defining Itself/Gatekeepers

The term “country music” is rather arbitrary these days. You have club songs like “Beautiful Drug” and R&B inspired pop songs like “Break Up in a Small Town” sitting in the top 30 of the Country Airplay chart, alongside truer country songs like “Nobody to Blame.” It doesn’t matter what the song sounds like, if it’s labeled country, it’ll be played on country radio. It’s this type of saturation of musical forms which should drive a split. But if the radio split does not happen, country music is in desperate need of a gatekeeper to tell Sam Hunt to take his shitty pop music out of Nashville and onto top-40 pop radio.

Fair Payouts from Streaming

This is more concerned with the music business as a whole, but something that’s important in this day and age. Apple Music, Amazon, Pandora, Spotify and others are growing the availability of online music streaming. We’ve seen several complaints about the low artist payouts that come from Spotify play counts. If music continues to trend toward online streaming options and away from standard radio, then these companies need to find a better way to compensate the artists whose music is played on these services. Or music listeners just need to suck it up and pay $12 for an album if they want to listen to the music uninterrupted.

Upcoming/Recent Music Releases

Josh covered the upcoming album releases earlier this week, but here are few known coming single releases:

  • Trace Adkins’ “Jesus and Jones” goes for radio adds on January 19.
  • Old Dominion’s newest single for radio is “Snapback”
  • Cole Swindell’s newest single is called “You Should Be Here.”
  • Drake White has a new single out called “Livin’ The Dream.” Zack’s first post for Country Perspective will be a review for the song published tomorrow.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Yesterday’s Wine” by George Jones & Merle Haggard. “Yesterday’s Wine” was written by and originally recorded by Willie Nelson in 1971, but I’ll admit that I like Jones & Haggard’s cover better. The song is great, and Blackberry Smoke even has a cover which they recorded with George Jones and Jamey Johnson.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week


Twenty One Pilots – Blurryface. I listened to a lot of Alternative Rock music over my Christmas vacation and heard “Stressed Out” quite a bit. I hadn’t listened to Twenty One Pilots at all before then, but I was intrigued and liked their album Blurryface. The album was released early last year, but it’s a good one to revisit.

Tweet of the Week

Hard to argue with that.

Two iTunes Reviews That I Don’t Understand

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The top review was left under Chris Stapleton’s Traveller. I don’t understand how you can listen to Chris Stapleton sing and think his voice is the worst thing ever.

The second review was for Old Dominion’s Meat and Candy. The worst album of 2015 deserves some more hating on. I don’t understand how you could possibly compare Old Dominion to Alabama.

Both reviews are just absurd.

Note from the author: I’m happy to take the reigns of The Hodgepodge back from Josh after a short hiatus last year. The end of 2015 was insanely busy for me at work and at home (all good things!). But things have calmed down for now and I’m glad to have more time to write again. 

I omitted the “This Day in Country Music History” for this week. Was this a category you enjoyed to read when I wrote The Hodgepodge last year? If so, I’ll gladly bring it back. If not, I’ll come up with something else to add to the feature. Thanks!

Album Review – Courtney Patton’s ‘So This Is Life’ Shines a Light on Relationship’s Darker Corners

Courtney Patton is still relatively new to the country music scene, but she’s made a quick impact. Her simple, observant writing steeped in descriptive, effective imagery as earned herself a large fan base. Her musical arrangements are simple, yet beautiful; relying on an acoustic guitar, fiddles, and a steel guitar. As Courtney told Ken Morton Jr. Country music to me is simple stories with beautiful words with a simple melody and beautiful arrangement.” Patton’s follow up to her 2013 debut album, Triggering a Flood, comes after a time of life’s changes. Her parents have divorced and remarried others, and Patton herself has gotten married to fellow Texas singer/songwriter Jason Eady. The varying emotions that stem from those events make their way into the songs on Courtney Patton’s new album So This Is Life.

The album starts off with the heartbreaker “Little Black Dress.” The violins are present along with Patton’s acoustic guitar. The song’s subject packs a black dress and prepares for a night on the town, hoping to find some comfort in the arms of a stranger. Maybe she’s hoping to fall in love; maybe she’s hoping not to attach feelings to the one night with him. Regardless, the night ends with her alone, after he leaves, feeling heart-broken. “War of Art” feels a bit more personal. In this song, Patton wrestles with the conflicting desires of being a stay at home mother/wife and fueling her passion for playing music on the road. The steel guitar and accompanying production give the song a feeling of forward movement, giving her internal debates a slight sense of urgency.

“Her Next Move” deals with a woman who vies for attention from her husband. She consistently threatens to leave town and end the relationship, but her constant game of crying wolf no longer worries her husband, as he knows she’ll never act on her words. One night stands are the explored again in “Need for Wanting.” Here a woman is alone in the bar conversing with a man. She knows the man’s intentions, as she says “you look like a lesson I learned long ago.” This country ballad makes it clear that if they do end the night together, it’s nothing more than that night.

Relationships of a husband away from his wife are explored in the next two songs. “Twelve Days” is a song Patton wrote early in her marriage with Eady. The traveling musician is back on the road and the listener hears the wife’s side of their many conversations. From her telling about her local show, to asking if he brought his coat for the cold northern weather. It’s a beautiful song of a wife coping alone while she misses her husband, and both Josh and myself included this on our lists of best songs from June. On the flip side, “Killing Time” deals with a husband who is carted off to jail for stealing money. This is a more upbeat country song where the husband knows he has screwed up, and she’s left waiting for his sentence to end.

Courtney Patton sings of a woman who messed up in the relationship on “Maybe It’s You.” This woman left her man for a little bit and feels guilty about her actions. It could be the actions themselves that cause the feelings, or it could be the comfort at home and forgiveness from her husband. The simple production of the acoustic guitar and slight percussion and violins work wonderfully on this song. Another late night rendezvous is the subject of “Sure Am Glad.” This mid-tempo song finds both the man and the woman sleepless in their own homes. They both are lonely and vulnerable, and while his knock on her door was unexpected, his arrival is welcome.

The title track is a brutally honest exploration of how life can disrupt relationships. Youthful dreams of fairytale marriages are abandoned as a young mother and father work to make ends meet. As time goes on and more children are in the picture, he works long days and she’s left to tend to the home and all the chaos of raising children. It’s not the life either of them planned, and when separately dealing with this life has taken its toll, divorce is the only answer they find. It’s a heartbreaking song, but so vividly told and sung by Courtney Patton. “So This Is Life” is why people refer to country music as three chords and the truth.

The theme of loveless marriage continues on the next few songs. “Battle These Blues” deals with a husband who drinks too much and stays out too late. A common subject for females in country music, and the woman in the song is left heartbroken, unsure of how to handle this season of life. However, “Where I’ve Been” finds the woman of the marriage being the night owl. Life at home isn’t pretty, and she feels unloved by her husband. In order to fill the hole in heart he can’t, she takes to the nightlife, presumably being unfaithful. Though she’ll be ready to drop this lifestyle when he’s ready to begin again, as long as he doesn’t ask where she’s been. Finally, the album ends with “But I Did,” a song that feels like a Courtney Patton autobiography. It’s song that details the values she’s inherited from her parents while having her own free spirit. She’s always been a dreamer with a love for playing music who follows her dreams with blind faith.

So This Is Life couldn’t have a more appropriate album title. The songs detail relationships of all kinds: happy and sad marriages and temporary flings with strong women and weaker women. It’s a personal album where Courtney Patton has dug into her soul with a few songs that could be direct snapshots from her life. These songs are delivered with eloquent lyrics and vivid images and a vocal delivery that matches each mood beautifully. The musical arrangements, as beautiful as they are, sometimes drag the album. There’s a bit of monotony among some of the songs’ productions. So This Is Life is a songwriters album: the focus is on the stories that Patton has penned. It’s a darker album simply because it tosses a spotlight on real moments that most would want to avoid in songs. However, country music’s legacy wouldn’t be what it is without songs like the ones found here. Courtney Patton’s So This Is Life is real; it’s honest; and it’s as heartbreaking as it is beautiful.

Grade: 8/10

Album Review – Jamie Lin Wilson’s ‘Holidays and Wedding Rings’ is a Solid Debut Album

Jamie Lin Wilson has thrived under the radar in the Texas country music world. She’s been part of two groups: Americana rockers The Gougers, and the all female country quartet The Trishas. Wilson has appeared as a backing singer or duet partner for several Texas country acts like Robert Earl Keen and Turnpike Troubadours, and she’s also co-written with other songwriters like Jason Eady. Outside of all those projects, Wilson has managed to release a solo EP called Dirty Blonde Hair. Now five years later, Jamie Lin Wilson has her first full length solo album release with Holidays and Wedding Rings.

The album opens up with the up-tempo country tune “Just Like Heartache.” The song describes how heartache can hit you hard and keep you down despite how hard you try to move on. Being in the arms of another won’t fix it, but the company is nice until the worst has passed. Wilson’s smooth, unique voice moves nicely through the song and shows why a solo album is necessary. She continues to explore heartache in “She’ll Take Tonight.” Here, our female character searches for a nicer man than she’s used to, but she’ll continue settle for the man of the night until the right one finds her. The mid-tempo instrumentation and mix of various guitars give the old topic a fresh sound.

Jamie Lin Wilson shows some great storytelling chops over the next few songs. “You Left My Chair” was inspired by an old photograph: a rundown house with overgrown weeds in the yard. Co-written with Jason Eady and Adam Hood, the trio pen a story about a woman who returns to the old, abandoned house she built presumably after a divorce to find her favorite chair still there. Wilson sings the ballad wonderfully. Up next is a duet with fellow Texas singer, Wade Bowen. Together the pair wrote “Just Some Things,” a heartbreaking song about two lovers both in an affair. The duo sing the respective parts of the cheaters, who both regret and feel distressed after betraying the ones they love. As hard as they wish things could be different, they know what they did was wrong and can’t be undone. The duo perfectly describe their actions as “running for the edge and thinking you’ll fly, knowing damn well that it’s suicide.” That simile is heart wrenching, and this song is what country music is all about. Both Wilson and Bowen are fantastic on this cheating song.

Photo by Modern Trade

“Moving Along” acts almost as a follow-up to Wilson’s side of the story in “Just Some Things.” The marriage is over in “Moving Along,” and as the song progresses, Wilson sings of how strength and confidence in being alone grows as time moves along. However, she does miss little things like “Holidays and wedding rings” (The album’s name comes from a line in this song). The upbeat production to the song works well to aid the journey aspect of the story. Jamie Lin Wilson tries her hand at a murder ballad in “Roses by the Dozen.” Her man yells at her after she sins badly in their relationship and she retaliated by killing him. His dead body lays underneath a rose-bush. Wives/girlfriends murder their male partners has become quite the cliché for female acts over the years, and the production alongside Wilson’s voice do not do enough to help the song feel fresh.

Relationships are explored a little deeper starting with “Seven Year Drought.” The entire song is a metaphor for a marriage in a bad dry spell. Wilson will fight to the end or until it eats her alive. The couple hopes and waits for something better to come their way. However, the relationship in “Yours and Mine” couldn’t be any happier. The bluegrass inspired country tune describes a couple who have pride and joy in the life they’ve built together. It may not be the most glamorous lifestyle, but it’s their life and that’s what makes it beautiful. “Whisper on My Skin” uses great imagery to depict a man who is in a bad spell in his life. She’s been in that lull of life, and she needs her husband in her life now. She describes the little things she finds joy in like a sun shining through the window on their bed, her favorite picture of them, and their intimacy. She does her best to encourage him in this spell of life. The production is excellent in it’s less-is-more approach with a lone guitar strum aiding. The vocals are more on the forefront on this track than any other on the album.

“Nighttime Blues” is a similar song to “She’ll Take Tonight.” The only difference is the character here is a man who’s using one night stands to help get over a broken heart. The production is more upbeat on this song; the country instrumentation is fabulous on “Nighttime Blues.” For my money, “Here Tonight” is the best song on the album. The song tells the story of a woman who is expecting to die by the end of the night. She’s joined by her family: her favorite child, a new granddaughter and her husband. The dying woman reminisces over her life and makes sure she lets her present family know how much she loves them. The song takes a celebratory approach to the end of long life, and how her family is her light. The album ends with another celebratory song called “Old Oldsmobile.” This mid-tempo song tells us of a married couple who just learned a third baby is on the way. To celebrate and feel young again, she yearns for them to breakout the old Oldsmobile for a picnic lunch, reigniting the youthful, lustful spark of their love and life together.

Holidays and Wedding Rings is a solid debut album for Jamie Lin Wilson. She has a haunting, beautiful ring to her voice that helps her stand out among other solo female acts. Her writing is sharp with vivid descriptions making these real life stories stand out. Fans love country music for the honest, everyday songs that are written and sung, and that’s exactly what you’ll find here: a variety of life’s ups and downs, reasons to celebrate and reasons to ache. The musical variety from track to track also help each song find a place on the album. Jamie Lin Wilson is sought after from her peers for a reason. She has the whole package as a country singer-songwriter, and Holidays and Wedding Rings is a great showcase of Wilson’s talent.

Grade: 9/10

Review – Kristi Hoopes’ “At Least It’s Something” is a Great, Mature Debut Single

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Kristi Hoopes is a young, budding singer-songwriter hoping to make it big in country music. She was able to record her debut single, “At Least It’s Something” at RCA Studio A in Nashville after winning a songwriting contest through Lyricord, a social songwriting app. However, Kristi has been a performer pretty much her whole life, and has won awards from the Colorado Country Music Association and North American Country Music Association International. And here’s the kicker: Kristi Hoopes is 17! In her young singing career, Hoopes has accomplished quite a bit, and it’s only the beginning for her.

“At Least it’s Something” is decidedly country in sound and subject manner. It’s an acoustic, slow tempo song with a prevalent fiddle and a bit of a steel guitar ring within the chorus. In fact the fiddle leads the instrumental solo of the song. It might be just a tad over produced in some areas, but overall the production and instrumentation of this song is excellent. It’s not a pop country anthem; it is a tried and true country heartbreak ballad.

Hoopes sings of a broken relationship. He said he’ll always love her and then he left. She’s left holding onto the hurt and the pain caused from the relationship’s memories. These painful memories come and go, and she knows that the pain here means that there was something in the relationship that was true and real. “Something in the way you kissed me and the way you whispered sweet nothings all night. But holding onto memories won’t bring you back to me, hurting’s better than nothing; at least it’s something.” Emotions make us human. Good or bad, emotions make us real. The songwriting in this song is quite good, and not only tells of this heartbreak well, but shows great maturity, especially for a teenager.

My only minor complaint with the song lies in the vocal performance. There aren’t much, if any, vocal inflections throughout the song. To me, some of the emotional triggers of the song get lost because it isn’t sung with the same despair and pain that the lyrics depict. However, that’s not to say Hoopes is a bad singer. Just the opposite in fact, she has a wonderful voice. I would have just liked to hear her sell the feelings more with her vocals. Overall though “At Least it’s Something” is a great debut single for Kristi Hoopes. It’s the type of mature, reflective music that country radio needs more of. You can’t ask for much more in a debut single, and I can’t wait to hear more music from Kristi Hoopes.

Grade: 8.5/10

Album Review – Gretchen Peters’ Blackbirds is a Dark, Poignant Tale of Life

For nearly twenty years, Gretchen Peters has been thriving behind the scenes of Nashville. She found early mainstream success as a songwriter, with Faith Hill cutting Peters’ “The Secret of Life” and Martina McBride recording the award-winning “Independence Day.” While she didn’t quite break through the mold, she continued to write and record. In fact, Gretchen Peters was inducted into the Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in October 2014. Now Peters is back with her eighth studio release. Blackbirds is the dark tale of life’s hardships. Gretchen Peters sings songs of death and broken hearts, but the reality grounded in each tale add an ironic sense of beauty to the darkness the album holds.

One of the things that stood out to me the most with this album was the production of each song. Whether it’s a slowed down piano ballad or a more upbeat rocking song, the instrumentation and production add to each and every song’s story and mood. Peters took the production reigns for Blackbirds alongside the album’s guitarist Doug Lancio and pianist Barry Walsh. The title track starts the album off with a haunting, heavy guitar lick production. It’s a murder ballad about killing an alcoholic, probably abusive, father. “Blackbirds” rightfully sets the tone for the whole album from the dark production to the biting lyrics, and Peters’ vocals are equally as haunting. “Pretty Things” is a heartbreaking tale of a woman who hates her beauty because everything materially beautiful eventually falls and is ruined. It’s presented from a view-point of a self-fulfilling prophecy where she believes her outer beauty won’t last.

“When All You Got is a Hammer” details the life of a war veteran back home dealing with PTSD. This has a more rocking, groovy production to the song. This is one of the better written songs on the album, in my opinion. Read the chorus: “they show you how to shoot and they show you how to kill.  They don’t show what do to with this hole you can’t fill.  So you dwell in the darkness of your soul like Jonah in the belly of a whale.  And all you got is a hammer, and everything looks like a nail.” Also, Jason Isbell provides some harmonies on this track, which is a nice addition. Following this song is “Everything Falls Away,” which is a despairing piano ballad about trying to move on after a loved one passes away.

“The House on Auburn Street” is another ballad track. This songs deals with the childhood home of the narrator burning down. Gretchen Peters sings how the town gathers around while the firefighters work to put out the flames, and she reflects on her life living and growing up in the house. The stripped back production and vocals add to the nostalgia embedded into the lyrics. “When You Comin’ Home” is a song about a woman pining for her man to return home. Jimmy La Fave adds vocals in this duet where the couple has grown apart, with lines about the physical home falling apart as a metaphor for the broken relationship.

“Jubilee” is perhaps the best song on the album. Told from the point of view of a person on their death-bed, this song focuses on final thoughts and gearing up to go to heaven. This is a beautiful, gospel like song, with a piano driving the song and excellent vocals from Peters. Also, “Jubilee” features one of the best lines I’ve heard in a song. “My body’s broken, but not my soul. You know it’s love and only love that’s made me whole.” It’s simply a beautiful song. “Black Ribbons” deals with a family in New Orleans trying to survive while hurricanes continue to pound the city. The man has too much pride in the house he built to move, and his fall seems to come in the form of losing his family to the storm.

“Nashville” is an acoustic tune about going home after leaving the one you love. Peters sings this from a first-person point of view. The song is quite introspective with Peters comparing her reckless actions to a train speeding down a mountain or a violent storm on a summer day. “Cure for the Pain” is another heartbreak song about watching a loved one dying in the hospital. The song moves from an angry, helpless perspective to acceptance of the inevitable. Peters’ vocals on top of an acoustic guitar shine on this track; she sells the pain of the situation well here. Blackbirds concludes with an acoustic version of the title track.

Overall, Blackbirds is dark and heartbreaking, but there’s an ironic beauty to the darkness. Gretchen Peters is a seasoned, award-winning songwriter. Her writing on Blackbirds is top-notch; with scenes and feelings described perfectly within each song while still driving the story forward. And as I mentioned before, the production on each track adds even more to the mood of the songs. Regardless of how dark the album may be, the consistency and focus put into making every aspect work in conjunction pays off. Blackbirds is a fantastic album.

Grade: 10/10

If you don’t do Spotify, you can listen to the album here off Soundcloud.