The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music [Nov. 8]

Every week I take a look at the current top ten country songs on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and give each song either a +1, a -1 or a 0. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the current top ten country songs, with the highest possible score being a +10 and the lowest possible score being a -10. The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the current state of mainstream country music and determine if it’s improving or getting worse. To see the full list of hot country songs for this week, click here. Let’s take a look at this week’s top ten.

  1. Jason Aldean – “Burnin’ It Down” -1
  2. Sam Hunt – “Leave The Night On” -1
  3. Florida Georgia Line – “Dirt” +1
  4. Blake Shelton – “Neon Light” 0
  5. Frankie Ballard – “Sunshine & Whiskey” -1
  6. Carrie Underwood – “Something In The Water” +1
  7. Little Big Town – “Day Drinking” -1
  8. Maddie & Tae – “Girl In A Country Song” +1
  9. Keith Urban – “Somewhere In My Car” -1
  10. Luke Bryan – “Roller Coaster” 0

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: -2

The pulse remains the same at -2 despite a couple of changes. Chase Rice fell out of the top ten, which is always great to see. Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood’s “Somethin’ Bad” also fell out of the top ten. The two new additions are Little Big Town’s annoying “Day Drinking” and the bland pop country “Somewhere In My Car” by Keith Urban. So essentially two bad songs replaced two bad songs. The majority of the major releases in mainstream country music are now over, but there are two big events in November that will probably have an effect on the Billboard Top Ten Hot Country chart. First is the CMA Awards next Wednesday and the other big event is the release of Garth Brooks’ comeback album the following week. It’ll be interesting to see how big of an impact these two events will have on the charts.

 

Album Review – The Swon Brothers’ Self-Titled Album is a Rocky Listen

Source: mjsbigblog.com
Source: mjsbigblog.com

The music talent show, The Voice, has churned out a few country artists in recent years. They’ve all came from Team Blake (Shelton) of course. I’ve reviewed two of his proteges from the show already, Gwen Sebastian, who I feel has potential, and RaeLynn, who doesn’t exactly impress me. Today I review another from Shelton’s team, Zach and Colton Swon, the duo known as The Swon Brothers. I remember watching these guys on the show too and I thought they sounded pretty good on the show at the time. Looking back now I still feel the same. They performed a lot of great traditional country songs, including a heartfelt tribute to George Jones just after he died. I thought their performance of “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes” did justice to The Possum. So when they released their first single, “Later On,” I was pretty disappointed they went the pop country route because they proved on the show they could perform great country songs. Not only that, but they have likable personalities and seem like they’re genuinely nice people. So going into their first album on a major label (Arista Nashville) I wasn’t sure what I was going to get from The Swon Brothers.

The album starts off with “What I’m Thinking About,” a song about a man trying to hook up with a girl in the bar. Sigh. I swear every damn song from a mainstream male country artist today is about trying to have sex with a girl. This has a pop country sound and cliché lyrics. The same old shit, different day. Next is their minor hit single, “Later On.” Their biggest hit is a bro country song of course. It has all of the typical tropes you hear in bro country. It’s another song about trying to have sex with a girl. Nothing here you haven’t heard before. The vocals are decent at least. Two songs into the album and I’m beginning to wonder why I’m even listening to it.

“Chasing You Around” is thankfully a much better song. The song is about a woman who dumped a man, leaving the man wondering if the woman loved him or loved chasing him around. She dumped him out of nowhere and now he’s picking up the pieces. This is more of what I want to hear from this duo. It tells a story and conveys some emotion in the listeners. Their harmonies are good and it has a traditional country sound. Unfortunately the duo goes back to their bad side with “Songs That Said It All.” This song is a giant cliché. How many country songs have we heard like this in recent years? I’m tired of songs about songs. This isn’t necessarily bro country, but it’s certainly checklist country music. It’s also boring and completely forgettable.

The next song, “Pray For You,” is about a man who’s praying for a friend to get through a rough patch. It does a decent job of telling the story and painting the situation in the listener’s head. I felt the lyrics were just a little bland and again cliché sounding. The pop country sound did nothing for me either. “Breaking” is one of the four songs on this album that I would consider good. The song is about a man deeply in love with a woman, even when she’s breaking his heart. He can’t shake his love for her. The instrumentation is more stripped down in this song and allow the brothers’ harmonizing to shine. This is a good love song with emotion. Not bad at all.

The duo follows this up with two absolute duds. Of course these will probably be their next singles and skyrocket into the top ten in the charts. One song is called “95.” I knew before I even heard this song it was about a hot summer day and 95 would reference 95 degrees outside. Unfortunately I get no reward for being absolutely correct or listening to this boring, brotastic song. Vapid, shallow lyrics that degrade women litter it throughout. What a terrible song! “Pretty Beautiful” sounds more like a bad R&B song instead of a bad country song. The Swon Brothers go above their range in this song by a long shot. They should never go this high with their voices. If I wouldn’t have known better I would’ve thought it was another Usher song that everyone would have to ignore. I can’t take this song seriously. The brothers attempt being serious with “Colder” and they do okay. Sonically I’m puzzled as how to describe it. It kind of reminds me of Eric Church’s album. The theme of this song isn’t quite clear either. It’s a heartbreak song I guess. This song comes off weird to my ears and I actually have trouble finding words to describe it to you. That isn’t a good thing.

After these three songs, I’m not expecting much out of the last two songs. Sure enough the duo does a complete 180 and give me a complete surprise. After the bizarre sound of “Colder” they follow it up with a traditional country sound in “Same Old Highway.” The man in the song is used to going down the same old highway and seeing the same old faces, including the woman of his life. But she’s gotten tired of the same old stuff and has ditched him and the same old town. Finally a realistic look at small towns! The duo’s harmonies shine and this is easily one of the best songs on the album. Yet they top themselves again with the final song, “This Side of Heaven.” Out of nowhere this fantastic song blows me away. The song takes a realistic look at life and how much hell we can experience on “this side of heaven.” The lyrics in this song are heartfelt, sincere and real. Carrie Underwood comes in on the second half of the song and elevates it even more. This is one of the best songs I’ve heard from mainstream country music in 2014 and is a dark horse for Country Perspective’s Song of the Year.

It’s unbelievable how up and down this album goes. One minute I’m furious and ready to throw my computer out the window. The next minute I’m praising the duo for their strong harmonies and traditional country sound. It’s astounding. You can tell one part of the album is for commercial purposes and the other is music they truly want to make. In the commercial part they’re trying to be a Florida Georgia Line copycat. We already have one Florida Georgia Line and they’re destined to flame out eventually. If you’re reading this Swon Brothers, head my advice: go with your heart and make traditional country music. You’ll stand out a lot more this way and get more respect in the process. Don’t chase trends and just make good music. I think The Swon Brothers have the talent to make great country music and I hope they don’t use their talents instead for crappy commercial music. This album has some truly good songs and bad songs that make me cringe. My recommendation: check out the four good songs and avoid the rest of the album.

Grade: 4/10

A Trip Back In Time: What Was Country Music Like in 2005? (Part One)

At the beginning of my Ray Scott review, I mentioned the first time I came across him was on a Totally Country album. It was Totally Country Volume 5 to be exact and it was released in February 2006, so it was music that popular in 2005. There was actually one more Totally Country album released after volume five, which I also own. I owned four at one point too, but I lost it along the way. Anyway the reason I wanted to go back and look at this greatest hits type CD from nine years ago is to see how different country music sounded then compared to now. Let’s take a trip back in time and see what it was like in 2005-2006 country music.

The album begins with Miranda Lambert’s “Kerosene,” her first hit single and the song that launched her career. It was later certified platinum. While this song does have a traditional country sound, this would be the base for pretty much the majority of Lambert’s hit songs. A song about a woman who found her man cheating or doing something wrong, with veiled threats from the woman or in this case a blatant threat. I really don’t like the violent undertones in these type of songs, as they’ve pretty much become cliché with Lambert. Nonetheless I would take this song over some of her more recent material.

The second song on the album is Gretchen Wilson’s “Homewrecker.” Once again it’s another female country song about cheating and veiled threats. While Wilson is pretty traditional with her music, this song in particular annoyed me because it was overplayed so much on radio. Yes at one point I was annoyed by a song by a female being played too much on the radio. Things have definitely changed in nine years on country radio. Wilson has disappeared from country radio, although she’s still signed with Big Machine and Scott Borchetta.

Up next is a fresh-faced Dierks Bentley’s third ever single, “How Am I Doin’.” This song reached #4 on the country chart and it was his third top 20 hit. Bentley was still a newcomer at this time, but he was well on his way with this great start to his career. Today he’s one of the biggest stars in country music and most of the time is making great country music. Even his most annoying hit, “Drunk on a Plane,” isn’t as bad as the worst songs in the genre today. If only the G6 line was removed from the song, I would’ve maybe liked it. Anyway “How Am I Doin'” is an upbeat heartbreak song and it’s the type of song I would love to have back on country radio. But alas there are no tailgates.

This is followed by a song I’m sure most country fans are familiar with, Big & Rich’s “Comin’ To Your City.” This was another song that was killed by being overplayed on the radio. But disregarding that this song isn’t that bad. It’s a fun song that isn’t offensive to the ears lyrically or thematically. As I said in my recent Big & Rich review, I have no problem with the duo. Sara Evan’s “Suds in the Bucket” is up next, a pop country song I don’t mind. This was one of the handful of songs that reached #1 for Evans. This came during her peak years of her career, from the early 2000s to the mid 2000s. Just like Gretchen Wilson and other female country artists, she has been swept aside by country radio. I hate you bro country.

Now the next artists on this album you may have forgotten about. It’s Van Zant and their biggest hit, “Help Somebody.” Do you remember these guys? To refresh your memory, the duo is made up of brothers Donnie and Johnny Van Zant. Their brother is the late Ronnie Van Zant, the former lead singer in Lynyrd Skynyrd. The duo started out in southern rock, just like Lynyrd Skynyrd, but shifted to country music in the mid-2000s. They signed with a major label, Columbia Records, and they put themselves on the map with their first single, “Help Somebody.” It would be the biggest and only top ten hit for the duo. This was followed up with “Nobody Gonna Tell Me What To Do,” which peaked at #16 on the country chart. After this the group slowly faded out from mainstream country music and I completely forgot about them until I came across this CD. They’re still active today, but haven’t released an album since 2007.

 

I’m sorry I have to bring up this song now, but if I have to hear it again you’re going to have to hear it again also. Cowboy Troy’s “I Play Chicken With The Train” was one of the first hick-hop songs to rear its head in the mainstream country scene. That’s because of his association with the MuzikMafia, headed up of course by Big & Rich. The duo sings the chorus of this song and this is not one of their better moments in their career. Now I know Big & Rich weren’t being serious when they introduced hick-hop into their songs and it was meant to be a joke. Unfortunately there were people who heard this and thought this should be turned into a serious thing. Now hick-hop is common in country music. Thanks a lot John and Kenny! You should have known Nashville loves these type of horrible ideas. I’m not placing whole blame on the duo, but they certainly shoulder some of it and it’s a reason why some people can’t listen to their music. Listen if you dare:

 

Montgomery Gentry’s “You Do Your Thing” is next. This was back when the group still actually made decent country music with southern rock influence. In fact this duo was quite popular during this time and received regular airplay throughout the 2000s. This song is about minding your own business and doing what you want. A simple, but good message. Fast forward to today and you can tell this group is a shell of its former self. They released a song called “Titty’s Beer” a few years ago and that was when I lost all respect for them. I’m not going to link that monstrosity of a song because I don’t hate my readers.

The next two songs on this album are Craig Morgan’s “Redneck Yacht Club” and Keith Anderson’s “XXL.” These are the two songs that made me buy this album. Yes, I know what you’re saying to yourself. “What the hell, Josh?” In my defense I was a teenager and the lyrics for these songs appeal to teenagers. I’m sure you’re not proud of your music tastes when you were younger too. That’s one of the good parts of growing up. You grow out of immature lyrics and terrible songs, moving onto the grown up music. Both “Redneck Yacht Club” and “XXL” were the forerunners and templates for bro country today. Novelty sounding songs with checklist lyrics that appeal to the lowest form of thought. These were big hits for both artists and neither are relevant today. I call that a win. Someday we’ll be able to say the same of bro country artists today.

 

This is part one of the article. Check back next Thursday for part two!

A Letter to Fanboys and Fangirls of Pop-Country

To the Fanboys and Fangirls of mainstream pop-country,

What you all call “country music” is nothing more than a mislabeled pop/hip hop/rock hybrid of music, or also called a mono-genre. To start, I’m going to give everyone the dictionary definition of “country music”:

“A style and genre of largely string-accompanied American popular music having roots in the folk music of the Southeast and cowboy music of the West, usually vocalized, generally simple in form and harmony, and typified by romantic or melancholy ballads accompanied by acoustic or electric guitar, banjo, violin, and harmonica.”

Alan Jackson Public Domain

You’ll notice nowhere in that description does it mention computer generated beats and grooves. You know, the sound of the “music” in Jason Aldean’s “Burnin’ It Down” or pretty much everything on Sam Hunt’s debut album. And don’t give me any of the BS about how “country music must evolve.” No, that’s just your bogus, political excuse to make you feel better about the bad music your precious artists’ record. George Strait and Alan Jackson were more than happy, they were damn proud to record country music along the lines established by Cash, Jones, and Haggard. Did we forget what Sam Phillips told Johnny Cash in Walk The Line?  

“If you was hit by a truck and you was lying out there in that gutter dying, and you had time to sing *one* song. Huh? One song that people would remember before you’re dirt. One song that would let God know how you felt about your time here on Earth. One song that would sum you up. You tellin’ me that’s the song you’d sing?… Or… would you sing somethin’ different. Somethin’ real. Somethin’ *you* felt. Cause I’m telling you right now, that’s the kind of song people want to hear. That’s the kind of song that truly saves people. It ain’t got nothin to do with believin’ in God, Mr. Cash. It has to do with believin’ in yourself.”

Whether or not that’s an authentic quote, it absolutely sums up music, regardless of genre.  Anyways…

Florida Georgia Line’s recent album release, Anything Goes, has been heavily criticized. Trigger at Saving Country Music declared it the worst album ever; it received the first ever “0” rating for an album here on Country Perspective, and FGL fans lashed out. The go-to argument for many of these fans was “if you don’t like it, don’t listen to it.” Here’s the problem with that argument, though. We can’t help but listen to it; it’s on country radio. I listen to country because I don’t like pop or hip hop music. When I’m driving to work, I don’t want to listen to One Direction, Nicki Minaj, or Imagine Dragons. I want to listen to country music. You know, real country music like Alan Jackson, George Strait, Wade Bowen, Will Hoge, most of Dierks Bentley, early Zac Brown Band, Kellie Pickler, Sunny Sweeney, Holly Williams, and the list goes on.

However, when I play “country” music stations today, I hear the same regurgitated pop/hip hop/rock hybrid songs that are grossly mislabeled as country music. With the exception of “Dirt”, tell me what aspects of Anything Goes qualify it as country. The only thing “country” about “Sun Daze” is the mention of Haggard in the first verse. It’s not country music. None of the rest of the songs come close to that definition above. And how can you honestly defend Cole Swindell, Chase Rice and Sam Hunt as “country” when they don’t bring anything remotely country to the table?

 

Now if you like Florida Georgia Line, fine. I won’t judge you, I have no problems with people’s taste in music; you like what you like. I don’t care if you are one who likes “Burnin’ It Down” or “Leave the Night On.” Music is meant to be enjoyed, and who am I to tell you how to have a good time. But let’s not call it country when there’s nothing country about it. That’s why country music blogs like Saving Country Music and Country Perspective listen to these albums and review them; we care about country music. When we turn on the radio or look at the charts, we want to hear and see actual country music. I’ll give credit to Taylor Swift, she’s declared herself pop because the music she’s making is pop music. “Out of the Woods” has more country elements than “Burnin’ It Down”, yet we don’t listen to it or review it because she’s properly labeled it as pop. Lady Antebellum have always had a glimmer of country elements in their music. But their recent album, 747, is from start to finish adult contemporary pop music. Since it’s labeled as “country” music, we look at that album from the lens of country music. From that lens, the album is terrible because it’s not country music; it’s pop music. Now if the album was classified as a pop album, and I reviewed 747 as Lady A’s first official pop album, I guarantee you that I’d have given that album a favorable review. But the producers are trying to pass off the music as country when there’s nothing about the songs to earn that classification.

Yes, we are hating on Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean, Chase Rice, and everyone else who tries to say their hybrid music is country. We hate because their generic, mislabeled pop music is taking attention and potential airplay away from talented, pure, soulful country music that truly deserves to be heard. Look at the artists Josh and I have given high praise to on this site: Sturgill Simpson, The Secret Sisters, Sunny Sweeney, Lucette, Old Crow Medicine Show, Angaleena Presley, and Jason Eady to just name a few. These artists play country music, or a true “evolved” form of the simplistic blues of Hank Williams. If Florida Georgia Line want to avoid all the backlash, then stop pretending to be country. Call yourself a pop duo and move on. Your fans can rest easy, and country music purists can rest easy. If this NASH Icons project takes flight and finds a national audience for artists who wish to play the traditional styles of country music, then this debate will die. But until such a time, we will not rest easy, and we will not stop hating on your precious pop music. These guys have no respect for the genre and it’s history, and neither do many of their fans. To reiterate Waylon, “I don’t think Hank done it this way.”

Sincerely,

Derek

PS:

 

PPS:

Album Review – Sam Hunt’s Montevallo

Hunt Montevallo

We’ve arrived folks. This trend of letting outside musical influences like hip hop and EDM creep into country music has been a slow process, but with each mainstream release we’ve been subjected to more and more pop/hip hop influenced beats and rhythms in lieu of our beloved country sounds of banjos and steel guitars. And now Sam Hunt has a full-length album released via MCA Nashville. Sam Hunt, a co-writer of hits like Kenny Chesney’s “Come Over” and Keith Urban’s “Cop Car”, brings a slew of hip hop/EDM inspired pop songs on his debut album, Montevallo. This album is terribly mislabeled. For whatever reason, Music Row thought it’d be okay to slap a country label on an album and artist who brings no country elements whatsoever to the table.

To me, this seems like the type of album an established artist, with several hit albums, would release as an experimental album or a way to push personal artistic boundaries, like Garth Brooks’ Chris Gaines debacle or Martina McBride’s R&B cover album, Everlasting. Instead, Montevallo is a debut album from a brand new artist who the powers that be are trying to push-off as the next big thing in country music. What we’re given is a choppy mashup of EDM inspired music with bits and pieces of country culture spliced in to justify its mislabel. With all that said, amidst ten vastly overproduced songs and awkward spoken word portions, Hunt shows glimpses of some strong songwriting capabilities and even a few moments where his voice shines as a singer.

Montevallo kicks off with a slower song called “Take Your Time.” This song is about Hunt, more or less, just wanting to interact with this girl at a party. At first it’s just talking, but as the night progresses Hunt is smitten and wants to blow her mind (if you catch his drift), but the song is just about his thoughts and not necessarily him acting on them. The melody is fairly friendly with a noticeable piano and light guitars, and if you can look past Hunt’s spoken word verses, the writing here isn’t half bad; Sam Hunt does a great job describing the dynamic between a guy and girl in this type of situation, and he sings the chorus rather well in my opinion. It’s one of the better songs on the album, which isn’t saying much. Next up is “Leave The Night On.”  This song is so pop radio friendly. The rest of this album makes it look like an actual country song.

“House Party” is about bringing the party to a girl who doesn’t want to leave and go out. This song is upbeat EDM rock with guitars and DJ Beats, and is really about a large, let’s get loud, house party. Following that is “Break Up in a Small Town” which is a terrible song. Spoken word, rapping, and trying to appease to a country audience by setting in a small town make it awful. Sam Hunt has his niche of music and doesn’t really stray too far from his style. However, “Break Up in a Small Town” is one of those times he does stray in order to try to connect with a country audience. The other time he strays is in the next song, “Single for the Summer.” This song may help Florida Georgia Line focus in bro-country as pseudo-rap/pop tunes about being horny dudes. Hunt was dumped, but hey it’s summer! So let’s forget about her because there are girls in bikinis and hot, naïve rich girls around me, and I’m single. In this song, Sam Hunt says the following line, I kid you not: “I’m out creepin’ till the sun comes up.” These country bros finally have some self-awareness!! Also, this damn song tries to sound country with a steel guitar sound popping in the mix. No, Sam Hunt. Just stop trying to be country. Stop.

Next up is “Ex to See.” Get it, “ex to see” sounds like “ecstasy.” Boy, that Sam Hunt is a clever one with those double entendres. No, this electronic drum driven song is all about him feeling like crap because this girl he likes is only using him to piss her ex-boyfriend off. However, Sam Hunt follows this up with “Make You Miss Me.” There’s some piano and string instruments in the mix, and Hunt writes a compelling story about a girl who basically has ADD and gets bored with new toys/songs/boys quickly and dumps them when she’s tired of them. Sam Hunt says he’ll be good enough to make her miss him. The writing on this track is actually pretty good with lines like “Keep a slipknot in the strings you attach.” And the best part is there’s a female backing vocalist on this track who provides some excellent harmonies behind Hunt’s voice. I actually kind of like this one. It’s not a country song, but I think it’s an okay pop song.

After this is Hunt’s take on his big Keith Urban cut, “Cop Car.” Sam Hunt’s version is much more EDM influenced and subdued than Keith’s pop country hit. Personally, I think it’s a well-written song with an interesting story, and I actually liked Keith Urban’s version, so I didn’t really mind this one either. Hunt’s production fit well behind it. Next up is “Raised On It” which is even more summer pop than “Leave The Night On.” This song kind of reminds me of Jake Owen’s “Beachin’” in the fact that they’re both bad summer songs with rapping/spoken word. The last song is “Speakers.” This song is about having sex in the bed of a truck. Though, to Hunt’s credit, this song describes how it looks and feels in the moment rather than just another truck bed party song. But the chorus feels rushed and it’s rapped/spoken, and I wasn’t getting into this one.

Overall, this album just doesn’t do it for me. I hate that this is marketed as country because it’s not country music at all. Each song is way overproduced and takes away from the listening experience. I can’t connect to the story and lyrics with Sam Hunt’s choppy transitions from spoken word to singing in verses without any sort of rhyme or reason. Montevallo is a full-fledged pop/electronic album that doesn’t belong in the same conversations as debut albums from this year like Jon Pardi’s Write You a Song or Eric Paslay. In fact, it doesn’t even belong in a conversation about country music. Sam Hunt has some good lyrics and writes with some substance at times. Quite frankly, there are some moments here where the electronic production works behind the songs.  But overall to call Montevallo a country album is insulting to the genre.

Grade: 1/10