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

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

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

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

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

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

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

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

Throwback Thursday Song

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

Non-Country Suggestion

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

Tweet of the Week

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

A Chase Rice iTunes Review

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 10.06.13 PM

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

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music [June 27]

Each week I take a look the Billboard Country Airplay chart and grade the top 30 songs. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive either a +1, -1 or a 0. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the current top thirty country songs, with the highest possible score being a +30 and the lowest possible score being a -30. How do I determine if a song is rated a +1, -1 or 0? The rating it received on the site or myself will determine this. If it hasn’t been rated yet, then I will make the call. Songs rated between 7 and 10 receive a +1. Songs rated a 5 or 6 receive a 0. Songs rated 4 or lower receive a -1.

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the current state of mainstream country music and determine if it’s improving or getting worse. Let’s take a look at this week’s top thirty…

  1. Keith Urban – “Wasted Time” -1 (Up 2)
  2. Jason Aldean – “Lights Come On” -1 
  3. Carrie Underwood – “Church Bells” +1 (Up 2)
  4. Luke Bryan – “Huntin’, Fishin’ & Lovin’ Every Day” -1 (Down 3)
  5. Florida Georgia Line – “H.O.L.Y.” -1 (Up 3)
  6. Eric Church – “Record Year” +1 (Up 4) [Best Song]
  7. Thomas Rhett – “T-Shirt” -1 (Down 3)
  8. Kenny Chesney – “Noise” (Up 1)
  9. Jon Pardi – “Head Over Boots” +1 (Up 2)
  10. Chris Lane – “Fix” -1 (Up 2) [Worst Song]
  11. Dan + Shay – “From The Ground Up” (Up 2)
  12. Jake Owen – “American Generic Country Love Song” -1 (Up 2)
  13. Sam Hunt – “Make You Miss Me” -1 (Up 3) 
  14. David Nail – “Night’s On Fire” -1 (Up 1)
  15. Frankie Ballard – “It All Started With a Beer” +1 (Up 3)
  16. Justin Moore – “You Look Like I Need A Drink” +1 (Up 1)
  17. Kelsea Ballerini – “Peter Pan” 0 (Up 2)
  18. Kip Moore – “Running For You” +1 (Up 2)
  19. Brad Paisley & Demi Lovato – “Without A Fight” +1 (Up 2)
  20. Zac Brown Band – “Castaway” (Up 2)
  21. Tucker Beathard – “Rock On” -1 (Up 2)
  22. Blake Shelton – “She’s Got A Way With Words” -1 (Up 6)
  23. Dierks Bentley & Elle King – “Different For Girls” -1 (Up 2)
  24. William Michael Morgan – “I Met A Girl” +1 
  25. Big & Rich (feat. Tim McGraw) – “Lovin’ Lately” +1 (Up 2)
  26. Jennifer Nettles – “Unlove You” +1
  27. Billy Currington – “It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To” +1 (Up 3)
  28. Brett Young – “Sleep Without You” -1 (Re-Entered Top 30 This Week)
  29. Drake White – “Livin’ The Dream” 0
  30. LoCash – “I Know Somebody” -1 (Re-Entered Top 30 This Week)

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: -3

The pulse dropped two spots this week.

Songs That Dropped Out of the Top 30 This Week:

  • Blake Shelton – “Came Here to Forget”
  • Tim McGraw – “Humble and Kind”

Songs That Entered The Top 30 This Week:

  • Brett Young – “Sleep Without You”
  • LoCash – “I Know Somebody”

Song I Predict Will Be #1 Next Week:

  • Jason Aldean – “Lights Come On”

Biggest Gainers This Week:

  • Blake Shelton – “She’s Got A Way With Words” – Up 6 from #28 to #22
  • Eric Church – “Record Year” – Up 4 from #10 to #6
  • Three Different Songs Moved Up Three Spots (the entire chart shifted pretty much)

Biggest Losers This Week:

  • Blake Shelton – “Came Here to Forget” – Out of the Top 30
  • Tim McGraw – “Humble and Kind” – Out of the Top 30

Songs I See Going Recurrent & Leaving The Top 30 Soon:

  • Thomas Rhett – “T-Shirt”

On The Hot Seat:

  • David Nail – “Night’s On Fire”
  • Jennifer Nettles – “Unlove You”

Next Four Songs I See Entering Top 30:

  • Cole Swindell – “Middle of a Memory”
  • Brothers Osborne – “21 Summer”
  • Old Dominion – “Song for Another Time”
  • Thomas Rhett – “Vacation”

Note: I’ve been throwing around an idea for a revamped and what I believe to be an improved scoring format for the Pulse. Under this format the scoring would work like this: each song would be assigned a +4, +3, +2, +1, 0, -1, -2, -3 or -4. This is how I would determine the score assigning:

10: +4

9: +3

8: +2

7: +1

5-6: 0

4: -1

2-3: -2

1: -3

0: -4

I think this new format would better distinguish the level of quality on the chart, as at the current format treats every quality and bad song the same. This new format would show varying degrees of quality in both bad and good songs. The highest possible score under this new format would be +90 and the lowest would be -90. If you’re wondering how this new format would score the current chart, the pulse would be -14. There would be zero +4 songs and only one +3 song (“Record Year”). On the opposite end of the spectrum, there would be two -4 songs (“Fix” and “I Know Somebody”). Let me know in the comments what you would think of this new format, as I’m highly considering implementing it.

 

As always be sure to weigh in on this week’s Pulse in the comments below. 

Album Review – Rachel Allyn’s ‘Next Year’s Girl’

Rachel Allyn Next Year's Girl

Hailing from The Garden State of New Jersey, meet artist Rachel Allyn. Her career started at age ten in dive bars throughout the state, where her parents would take her to take part in karaoke contests. She grew up listening to a variety of artists that have shaped her including Shania Twain, the Beatles and Elvis Costello. Now she cites her influences as Jason Isbell, Kacey Musgraves and Chris Stapleton. It’s quite a list of artists to take influence from to shape her music. When Allyn is asked what she calls her music she labels it Americana Country. Furthermore she says, “As long as it’s meaningful, I don’t care what anyone wants to call it. Country music, Americana music and alt-country music, however you want to define each of them, all come from the same place. They were all born of the same kind of storytelling and I feel like they’re all converging again. This is a really exciting and interesting time for country music, and consequently, for myself as an artist.” With that in mind I dove head first into her third album Next Year’s Girl. After thoroughly listening to it, I find Americana Country is a perfect descriptor of the album.

The album’s title track is an upbeat, steel guitar-driven commentary on female artists in country music. Themes explored throughout the song includes the emphasis on looks, how only one female artist per year is seemingly allowed to shine and how female artists need to stop allowing the industry to pit themselves against each other. While it could be a little more fleshed out, the song gets it’s point across. It should also be noted that this song was written as a response to Elvis Costello’s “This Year’s Girl.” “Crash Hard” is about a heartbreaker of a woman who never let anyone into her life. That was until she came across a man she falls in love with and doesn’t want to let go. She says if he leaves her, she’ll be crashing hard as a result. It’s a solid song, although it drags just a tad too long.

The soft “No Second Chances (Tennessee),” is about a woman dealing with an ex boyfriend and her ex-home of Tennessee. She’s moved on to a new place and new man, but both are trying to pull themselves back into her life. Her ex boyfriend never treated her right and Tennessee tore her apart and she desperately pleads for both to stop calling her. It’s a really well written song and a highlight of the album. “Perfect” is about trying to keep a relationship together. The woman pleads to the man to stay and work through their issues together, arguing they’re better together. It’s a solid song with fun and decidedly country production.

Perhaps my favorite of Next Year’s Girl is “After All (The Bird Song).” The song is centered on a bird in a cage, which sits in her cage silently. Her owner wonders why the bird has lost it’s voice and doesn’t want to sing, so this prompts the owner to sing to the bird. The bird finds it’s voice again and sings it’s songs it used to sing again. On surface the story seems to be about the bird, but really it’s about losing confidence in life and finding that courage to be you again. Backed by some lingering fiddle and steel guitar, I would call this the best track on the album. Written in response to Kacey Musgraves’ “It Is What It Is,” “Going Through The Motions” is an organ-backed tune about realizing what you lose when you let go of a relationship. A woman realizes after her man has left that she realizes she misses the “going through the motions” part of the relationship and having someone to sleep with at night. While the production is a little busy, it’s a solid song. The album closes out with “For What It’s Worth.” Allyn covers the Buffalo Springfield song (written by Stephen Sills) superbly and certainly does it justice. It’s a bit jarring hearing such an old song from a young artist, but then again I hear a lot of old soul in Allyn. The instrumentation really shines on this song too, especially the organ play towards the end.

Next Year’s Girl shows that Rachel Allyn is an artist who should be on more people’s radars. She knows exactly where she wants to go with her music and her songwriting is engaging, personal and vibrant. The production and arrangement of the songs on this album are great too. The main sound this album appears to go for is a soulful Muscle Shoals meets traditional country sound. It works well and suits Allyn’s voice. Female Americana and country artists have really shined in 2016 and Allyn is yet another example you can add to the ever-growing list. You don’t hear very many country/Americana artists from New Jersey, but this is one New Jersey Americana artist you need to hear. Rachel Allyn steps up to the plate and hits a home run with Next Year’s Girl.

Grade: 8/10

Song Review – Cody Jinks’ “I’m Not the Devil”

Cody Jinks I'm Not the Devil

In 2015 a great crop of fresh faces in country and Americana arose on many people’s radars. Hands down one of the best artists to emerge amongst this group was Cody Jinks. While it was his fourth album, Jinks’ 2015 album Adobe Sessions felt like the awaited breaking out of the next big star in the independent country scene. The album is full of traditional country, plenty of steel guitar and ballads on life and love. It was released in January, which worried me that people would overlook it and forget about it as the year progressed. That definitely wasn’t an issue, as you the readers reminded me throughout the year how much you enjoyed the album. So now Jinks is prepared to release the follow-up album on August 12, titled I’m Not the Devil. The album title track was just released though and it picks up right where Adobe Sessions left off.

A few sobering guitar licks play in the song as Jinks utters off the first line, “I’m not the devil you think that I am.” It’s a dark song where Jinks sings of a man who is ruminating over the mistakes he’s made in his life and a loved one he has hurt with his actions. He argues he’s not the devil and that he’s just a man who’s made mistakes, although he says that’s no excuse. He vows that he will change and try to make amends. I imagine once we hear the entire album this song will sound even better, but just alone it shows the kind of emotion behind Jinks’ music. Jinks wrote the song with fellow traditional country artist Ward Davis, as he told Rolling Stone in an interview:

“The album was pretty much done. The album title had been decided. On a hunch, I flew my buddy Ward Davis out to the studio to take a stab at writing together. A few hours after he arrived and an incredible amount of beer consumed, we were recording ‘I’m Not the Devil’ and in turn renaming the album.”

This song along with the rest of the album was recorded at Sonic Ranch Studios in Tornillo, Texas. If that name “Sonic Ranch” rings a bell, that’s because this is where Jinks’ buddy and touring mate Whitey Morgan recorded his 2015 album of the same name. That album of course was one of the year’s best. If I’m Not the Devil is as great as that album, then I for one am excited to hear it. “I’m Not the Devil” is an example of why so many independent country fans are flocking to Jinks. The instrumentation and production are arranged very well and complements the lyrics perfectly. It’s the perfect teaser to get people excited. There are a lot of traditional country artists this year experimenting and drifting from the traditional sound (which hasn’t been entirely bad). Cody Jinks on the other hand is sticking to the genre’s roots and making fantastic, pure country music.

(Also that cover art is amazing!)

Grade: 9/10

Country Perspective’s Worst Country Artist Rankings [Summer Update]

Earlier this year Country Perspective launched the first ever Worst Country Artist Tournament on the blog and it was a smashing success. There was tons of engagement from you the readers, who seemed to enjoy it quite a bit yourselves. We had some upsets, some good discussions and a run-in from Blake Shelton fans. At the end of it all Sam Hunt was crowned the winner of the tournament and declared Country Perspective’s 2016 Worst Country Artist. The second annual tournament won’t be until next year, but until then I thought we could keep the fun going by having some occasional bracketology updates if you will.

Every few months or so I’ll rank the 32 artists who would make the tournament if it was held at this moment, along with who’s in and who’s out. The methodology for choosing the tournament is the same, but with a few added considerations. Your feedback in regards to seeding and the results of the tournament this year are also factored in, along with a little bit greater emphasis on what the artist has done as of late. So if an artist has released a bad album or single lately, it’s going to affect their standing. Same as if they would release something good. So without further ado here would be the current field and seeding as of this moment, with their previous seeding in the tournament in parenthesis.

  1. Sam Hunt
  2. Thomas Rhett
  3. Cole Swindell (#6)
  4. Old Dominion (#5)
  5. Florida Georgia Line (#4)
  6. Kane Brown (#9)
  7. Luke Bryan (#3)
  8. Chase Rice (#10)
  9. Keith Urban (NR)
  10. LoCash (#13)
  11. Dustin Lynch (#14)
  12. Blake Shelton (#15)
  13. Granger Smith (#27)
  14. Kelsea Ballerini (#8)
  15. Brett Eldredge (NR)
  16. Randy Houser (NR)
  17. Chris Lane (#25)
  18. Rascal Flatts (#21)
  19. Jake Owen (NR)
  20. Jason Aldean (#11)
  21. Chase Bryant (NR)
  22. Canaan Smith (NR)
  23. RaeLynn (#16)
  24. Dan + Shay (#12)
  25. Brantley Gilbert (#7)
  26. Jana Kramer (NR)
  27. Joe Nichols (NR)
  28. Kenny Chesney (#19)
  29. Dierks Bentley (NR)
  30. Tyler Farr (#23)
  31. Steven Tyler (#32)
  32. Tucker Beathard (NR)

Out From Last Year: Hunter Hayes, Danielle Bradbery, The Cadillac Three, Lady Antebellum, The Band Perry (disqualified), Michael Ray, Justin Moore, Easton Corbin, Darius Rucker, Billy Currington

First Four Out: Justin Moore, Michael Ray, Clare Dunn, Drew Baldridge

Next Four Out: David Nail, Cassadee Pope, Eli Young Band, Gary Allan

Notes:

  • The top two seeds are the only ones that remain the same, despite Thomas Rhett making a great case to be #1. The only reason I barely give Hunt the top spot still is because he’s the reigning champion, currently has a bad single at radio and still the most hated amongst you the readers.
  • Cole Swindell and Old Dominion have now moved into the top four seeds, replacing Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line respectively. Swindell knocked off Bryan in the tournament and has released two bad singles this year, along with a bad album. Old Dominion’s “Snapback” is one of the worst songs of the year. Bryan just released his first not completely terrible single in a good while and the hate has seemed to fade a little for him as a result. Florida Georgia Line released the mediocre “H.O.L.Y.” Their new album is expected in August and if it’s terrible, then they could re-take Old Dominion.
  • Kane Brown and Chase Rice both move up in the standings after really strong showings in the tournament. Brown has released two terrible singles and an EP this year, while Rice has released two bad singles himself. You told me Rice was underseeded in the tournament, so here you go.
  • There are multiple new artists that enter the standings, but none higher than Keith Urban. He didn’t even make the tournament, but now he’s a #9 seed after releasing one of the worst country albums of 2016 with Ripcord. And if he releases the Pitbull song off the album to country radio, he could rise higher.
  • LoCash is under-the-radar bad, but they still crack the top ten with releasing yet another horrible single. Dustin Lynch moves up since he’s made it clear he has no interest in being a country artist or releasing quality music. Blake Shelton was upset in the first round by Justin Moore in the tournament thanks to Shelton’s obnoxious fans voting in droves. So he moves up in the seedings, aided by his mediocre singles and album.
  • Granger Smith’s big jump might surprise many of you, as he’s easy to forget. But keep in mind he’s had two bad singles recently and a terrible album in Remington released earlier this year. Kelsea Ballerini is reluctantly dropped in the standings, with “Peter Pan” not being terrible.
  • Brett Eldredge and Randy Houser enter the fold. Eldredge releases nothing but vanilla singles, while Houser released a ridiculous 18 songs long album earlier this year. Not to mention both artists seem checked out and content to churn out mediocrity.
  • Chris Lane moves up based off hate for one song that made many of you vote him deeper than I expected in the tournament. I still feel once “Fix” has had its 15 minutes, Lane will disappear. Jake Owen debuts since he seems content to churn out generic pop country. Jason Aldean takes a big drop down to #20 because he’s released one mediocre single this year and didn’t fare that well in the tournament. With a new album later in the year though, this could definitely change.
  • Both Canaan Smith and Chase Bryan debut right around where they should stall on the airplay chart after being on it for 55 weeks. RaeLynn only drops because she hasn’t released anything new this year, although I hear her new single is not bad. Dan + Shay drop despite releasing a bad album. The lead single is decent though and their peers have released worse music.
  • The biggest tumble is Brantley Gilbert, who hasn’t really done much in 2016. The only single was not outright terrible and you the readers made it clear I overseeded him in the tournament. So he drops like a rock. Jana Kramer enters the standings since she’s decided to go back to releasing terrible singles, while Joe Nichols enters because he’s clearly stopped trying with his music.
  • Kenny Chesney falls, but his new album coming soon could change this. Dierks Bentley unfortunately has done enough in 2016 to get himself into the top 32. Two horrendous singles and a sub par album are hard to ignore and it sucks to see him fall this damn low in quality. Rounding out the top 32, Tyler Farr just barely hangs in thanks to the bombing of his latest single. Steven Tyler moves up a spot by virtue of releasing one of the worst songs this year, but since it didn’t make any impact the gain is minimal. There’s always his upcoming album that could help his case. Finally, Tucker Beathard gains the last spot based on having the worst vocal performance I’ve heard in a song this year. He probably won’t last though, as “Rock On” will go recurrent soon after a mediocre run on the charts.