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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course on the flip-side…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upcoming/Recent Country & Americana Releases

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

Throwback Thursday Song

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

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

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

Tweet of the Week

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

The Perfect Steven Tyler Album Review

Steven Tyler Sucks

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

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

  1. I agree with a lot you say, but I’m surprised you say that Maddie & Tae are being treated by radio like Kacey Musgraves. Kacey has publicly spoken out on country radio where as Maddie & Tae haven’t. I do think it’s possible for Maddie & Tae to get another hit off their sophomore album, mainly because it’s so rare for acts to get multiple hits off an album. Take a look at acts like Canaan Smith, Michael Ray, A Thousand Horses, and Cam, all rookie acts who only got one hit off their debut albums. Maddie & Tae are liked by radio enough to where I think they’ll be fine (“Shut Up & Fish” had a really fast start before research destroyed it).

    I also believe that female acts would have more of a shot if labels loaded themselves up with female acts. Although Maren Morris is off to a really fast start with “80’s Mercedes” so she looks to really break out even more, and Runaway June are off to a promising start.

    I also had no idea Kelsea Ballerini’s boyfriends Dad was the head of the label. I guess that explains why an act like Kellie Pickler left, decided to take her talents elsewhere. That is a prime case of its more about who you know, not how talented you are.

    I believe mainstream country music is in a slightly better spot than this time last year. We have a lot of critically acclaimed songs on the chart (“Holding Her”, “Outskirts Of Heaven”, “Are You With Me”, “Lipstick”, and “Vice” all come to mind) and there’s a lot less outright garbage on the chart (“Fix”, “I Know Somebody”, “Tuxedo”, “Long Live Tonight” “Seein Red” “A Little More Love” “Long Live Tonight” and “Move” are the only songs that deserve a 0 out of 10) last year there was so many 0/10s I honestly lost track.

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  2. 2016 may have been weak thus far, but upcoming this fall, we have Reckless Kelly, Whiskey Myers, Matt Woods, Justin Wells, Cody Jinks, and Ags Connolly coming out with new albums

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  3. You mentioned Maddie & Tae being Musgrave’d. I’ve been listening to Start Here quite a bit this week, and wondering, now that Sierra has flopped, (which honestly surprised me) where do they go from here? Do they get back in the studio and sell out and try to make it big? Do they return to the studio and make another album similar to Start Here and probably not sell many, seeing as how they don’t have a huge following of album buyers, or widespread/enthusiastic critical acclaim? I don’t know how well Start Here sold. Or do they release another single from Start Here? Waitin’ on a Plane? Right here right now? I want to see them succeed, but I just don’t know where they go from here.

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    • They’re already working on new music and I would expect a new lead off single in the fall or winter.

      The fact is there is no momentum from Start Here so they shouldn’t bother with another single. I think it’s entirely possible for them to bounce back with the second album, who knows about quality but I have confidence they will make great music.

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    • Your concerns for Maddie & Tae are definitely valid and a sentiment I share. It’s honestly hard to say where they go from here. I don’t think though they will sell out and try to make it big. Despite their young age, they seem pretty focused on making the music they want to make. In particular Maddie’s interviews convince me they won’t cave. Start Here didn’t have great sales, but for a new act this wasn’t too surprising. I think Scott Borchetta’s confidence in Maddie & Tae will dictate whether another single gets released from Start Here. I have to imagine it has waned at least some.

      Personally my prediction for a while has been radio would eventually stop paying attention to them (which is what is happening). Borchetta’s power and influence, along with their incendiary lead single, got them off to a great start. Radio was basically forced to pay attention like they were when Musgraves broke out with “Merry Go ‘Round.” Once the hype died down for Musgraves, they could kick her to the curb like they wanted to do from the beginning. The same is happening with M&T. So I think they end up trotting out one more single (probably “Right Here Right Now” or “Smoke”) and it’ll flop just like “Sierra.” Then some time will pass before we get a press release announcing the duo and Big Machine have parted ways amicably. Maddie & Tae will then latch on with some label like Sugar Hill Records and distribute via Thirty Tigers.

      TL;DR I don’t think Maddie & Tae will have another hit at radio under the current conditions and aren’t long for a major label, eventually going the independent route.

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        • I know, but that’s the reality for traditional acts, especially traditional women acts on major labels. Personally I think Maddie & Tae would thrive going the independent route and would be better off. And the music would be even better too since they no longer have major label executives pressuring them.

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      • I think it’d be cool if they went the route that Chris Janson and Easton Corbin seem to have. After having a big hit with the first singles from their albums, their second singles flopped, so they decided to release the best song on the album instead, Janson with ‘Holdin’ Her’ and Corbin with ‘Are You With Me.’

        That would mean that Maddie & Tae would put out ‘After the Strom Blows Through,’ which would probably flop, but would hopefully get some critical notices.

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        • But “critical notices” are not paying the bills. Easton Corbin sold 60.000+ copies so far (Source: Roughstock – About To Get Real). “Are You With Me” is not setting the charts on fire. Don’t think Mercury Nashville is happy
          & guys like Billy Currington or Caanan Smith are not selling better.

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        • This is torwards Olar.

          I genuinely believe Maddie & Tae care more about making quality music than hitting it big. Would they like the latter yes. But they seem to care more about quality music.

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      • As depressing as it truly sounds, I think Maddie & Tae’s mainstream glory days are already behind them! =(

        I don’t see them ever coming back on the airwaves without selling out and letting Music Row do their worst to them (which, given the tenacity in their interviews, I don’t see them doing). I do think they’ll likely maintain a cult following beyond radio and should have no problem finding a way to continue making records, but those banking on another hit are probably setting themselves up for disappointment, in my eyes.

        *

        Really, what hasn’t been talked about hardly is how rough a patch both the Big Machine Music Group and Broken Bow have hit lately.

        Big Machine may be enjoying some measure of success presently with Florida Georgia Line and Tim McGraw’s current career hits, as well as Thomas Rhett’s current stardom. But outside of that? They’re still struggling across the board. They’re already on the defensive when they have nothing Taylor Swift-related to push. They can’t figure out what the hell to do with Cassadee Pope, Drake White, A Thousand Horses, Danielle Bradbery and The Cadillac Three. Justin Moore and the Eli Young Band are no longer the hot commodities they started off as. They completely botched Steven Tyler’s once-anticipated country solo album. Even the Zac Brown Band have become uneventful midway into their current era.

        And this is the first time I can ever recall Broken Bow having a pretty lousy year since………………well…………………….ever! It used to be Jason Aldean was the only artist keeping the lights on there but, as he exploded in popularity, they were successfully able to expand their rosters and also form Stoney Creek Records. But 2016 has really been the first full year they have been struggling significantly. Dustin Lynch is the only other name garnering hit singles on their main imprint, but his current popularity just seems to scream “Placeholder!” to me in how uneventful and interchangeable his releases have been between mediocre sales. Randy Houser is the only name on Stoney Creek who has enjoyed consistent recent success, but now his momentum has shattered in a big way with “Song Number 7” failing miserably and “Chasing Down A Good Time” likely to fare even worse due to the crowded charts. None of the Red Bow artists seem capable of persuading their executives to release an album to save their life right now. Granger Smith may very well be a reliable flagship artist for Wheelhouse, but his current single “If The Boot Fits” is certainly doing nothing to inspire confidence. The way it’s looking, Broken Bow Records will all but certainly wind up one of the Losers of 2016 on the year-end Winners and Losers summary.

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    • Sierra was an idiotic choice for a single, expecially right after Shut Up and Fish failed. Sierra is a great song, but its lyrival approach was too similar to the one they used in Shut Up and Fish. Moreover Sierra does not appeal to mainstream pop country fans nor to traditional country fans, and it’s too country for country radio. Whoever decided to release it as a single is an absolute idiot. No Place Like You should have been released instead: it had a summer radio friendly sound and they had never released any love song, it could have been a top 20 hit for them. But Sierra’s flop will probably kill their career.

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  4. Radio charts about to get even more crowded with HOLY looking like a several week #1 (I’d guess), plus new singles to be added soon from Luke, Keith, and Carrie.

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  5. “I don’t know how well Start Here sold.”
    “Start Here” sold 103.800 copies (Source: Roughstock – 7/12).

    Quality 2016:
    2016 is not the turn-around-year (so far). Dierks Bentley, Maren Morris, Keith Urban or the new David Nail album. “The Fighter” is a good album…but not country. Sturgill Simpson was a disappointment. The majority of americana stuff is boring to death (my very personal unpopular opinion).

    Independent Country & Americana Acts:
    There is a Luke Bryan or Jason Aldean. There is no reason to listen to the 1001 guys who sound like Bryan or Aldean. But there is always a place for quality. Spending your time on twitter or facebook is one thing. You better spend yout time writing songs or on a stage. Since country radio is playing the same Chase Bryant song for 12 month…don’t think country radio is waiting for you.

    Mayor Labels & Radio:
    Very unhealthy relationship. Things must change. But not with the current label & radio heads.

    Female Artists:
    Underwood, Morris, Ballerini & (maybe) Runaway June. That’s it right now. Jennifer Nettles…ok. Demi Lovato, Elle King & Pink (duet with Kenny Chesney on his next album) will reach the Top 10 sooner or later. Brandy Clark, Kacey Musgraves, Cassadee Pope, Lauren Alaina & a couple of other artists are fighting for airplay. Miranda Lambert…who knows.

    Informed Fans:
    “Support your favorite artists and tell your friends too.”. Yes!

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  6. The way I look at it is that the worst of 2016 (so far) hasn’t been as bad as any year since 2013……………….but, at the same time, there haven’t been as many albums that have blown me away either like was the case in 2014 and 2015. (“Southern Family” may be the first album I’ve given a 10/10 in quite a while, but besides that, there have hardly been any 9/10 albums to my ears and not as many 8/10 releases either.)

    So what I perceive is a sort of anti-climatic lull, or a flatline in peak quality. There is certainly an abundance in palatable, enjoyable and genuine material this year, like Dori Freeman’s self-titled effort or Parker Millsap’s “The Very Last Day” or, say, Michaela Anne’s “Bright Lights and the Fame”, and even a few mainstream efforts like the new David Nail album “Fighter”…………………..but they all can’t help but seem a notch or two down from the ridiculously competitive bumper crop of top-notch releases the previous couple of years. The non-mainstream releases cited are mostly solid for how well-produced, intimate and vocally mesmerizing they are………………but the songs themselves don’t exactly blow me away either like “The Bird Hunters”, “David”, “Over The Red Cedar” or even “Whiskey On My Breath” did. Conversely, “Fighter” has multiple gut punching moments that I dare rate among the best individual songs so far this year (“Home”, “Fighter”, “Old Man’s Symphony”)………………..but with even better production could have been rendered even more exemplary.

    *

    As for how radio is greeting newcomers, I think the problem is due to the perceived abbreviated attention span of the average consumer than ever before, countless entertainers and their labels have shifted into self-preservation mode where the rule of thumb is always having something on the radar even when your album isn’t ready for release.

    It seems almost everyone has a current single on the airwaves and, with that, you’re going to see anomalies like as many as thirty charting singles going unbulleted in a single week. And one trend we’ve been witnessing as of late is artists releasing second and even third singles from a project before it is even officially released. “Ripcord” was already well into the promotion of its third single, “Wasted Time”, when that hit stores. Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line will already be deep into the pushing of their second singles by the time their albums come out. Chase Bryant STILL doesn’t have a full-length effort announced and he is following up two (highly-manufactured) Top Ten hits. This is the kind of release strategy you typically expect in the rap and Rhythmic formats (as in releasing what is originally billed as a “single”, but doesn’t do that much and is later labeled a “street single” or “promotional single” and the cycle continues until one has a breakout hit as a newer artist or a monster hit as an established one, then finally release the album).

    When that happens, and you’re also pitted against singles from up-and-coming or second-tier entertainers who are being pushed to upwards of fifty weeks…………………how do you stand out? The chart competition has seldom been THIS brutal, and it has gotten to the point even entertainers who sell albums like A-listers including Brantley Gilbert are vulnerable in terms of standing at radio.

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  7. 1. This is a tough one. I myself have only given out four 10/10’s on my blog. They are, in order they were reviewed…

    Chris King – Animal
    Dave Cobb – Southern Family
    Robert Ellis – s/t
    Luke Bell – s/t

    If I’m being honest, I jumped the gun on two of them, but I’m not saying which too.

    I do think it’s hard to say whether or not this has been a weak year for music though. A lot of people say that 2015 was a weak year for music, and ironically that’s the first year I really dived into the greater Country/Americana world. Sure, I had heard a bulk of great projects in 2014, but not enough to make any fair judgments (hell, maybe Metamodern wouldn’t have been my album of the year for that year. I don’t know).

    No album has connected with me this year quite as much as Gretchen Peters – “Blackbirds”, but I didn’t really expect anything to since that album was a true 10/10 for me. My pick this year is a two horse race and to be honest, I do have a “favorite”.

    That being said, I would argue that we have had an abundance of great albums this year (great meaning “not excellent”, but still damn solid). I think No. 2 has to do a lot with No. 1 honestly. I think some blogs have been wasting time trashing stuff like Steven Tyler, Randy Houser, Keith Urban…etc when there truly is some amazing stuff out there (note, I am not placing blame on CP or any other blogs,. Actually, I am honestly pretty happy that you guys stopped covering every single bad song and album out there. I had to for my sanity! I’m just introducing a point for context.)

    The problem with this amazing stuff is that, as noted above, it’s extremely rare to find. And to be fair, we all only have two ears, and we can only hear so much.

    I guess overall I’m just not sure I can ever declare a year a “weak” year of music just because the biggest stuff isn’t quite as good as other years. For all I know, someone could have made the best damn album there ever was, but if they don’t do squat to promote it, who’s really to blame? Us bloggers or them?

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    • You make a solid point, especially in your final and penultimate paragraphs.

      I listen to a lot of great music at street fairs and festivals here in Portland that will never find its way to radio or, sometimes, even record stores. The Lonesome Billies is an awesome local group here, as is Jaime Leopold & The Short Stories. Sometimes all I need is to go out to Sauvie Island, head on over to Krueger’s Farm, sit on a haybale and indulge in their summer-long Thursday Night Concert Series and my roots music sweet tooth will be more than satisfied.

      *

      That said, I acknowledge it may just be, because I’m significantly more a lyrics-over-instruments listener, that my perception of there being few albums that blow me away stands as such.

      Of course, when reviewing mainstream country/”country” releases, my approach will differ because you have to think more in the vein of populism, technical songwriting, melodic muscle and factors like those. That’s much less important when reviewing music outside the mainstream: where much more of an impetus is placed on questions like “How is this more than just a song?” or “What does this say about rural America?” or “How might this change someone’s life?…………….in addition to the aesthetics of the production and how close to the dirt we stand upon the music reflects our roots.

      Some might think I’m pig-headed in how rare I dole out 10/10 reviews, and I get that. Just as I think others may be too liberal in what they consider 10/10, but can’t fault them for that either. With me, 10/10 albums are albums I can see, in equal measure, being masterful artistic bodies of work in their own right that also feel timeless in their relevancy and can be placed in a time capsule due to their ability to channel populism as much as intimacy. That’s what “Southern Family” accomplishes in a way Luke Bell’s excellent album, for instance, doesn’t quite. So Bell’s album would be a still amazing Strong 8 to a Light 9 to me.

      But even when it may seem like I’m harder to impress compared to most because of how I only give 10/10 reviews once in a blue moon, that’s actually hardly the case. It’s just I’m trying to think of how to juxtapose a certain mastery of work that I’m passionate about from other exquisite works I’m passionate about. And while there hasn’t been much of the former this year in my opinion, there has been no shortage of the latter. There never has been. =)

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  8. As far as 2016 being a weak year for country/Americana, so far I agree, but little more than half way through 2016 I can’t indict the entire year quite yet. Though I couldn’t really care less about genre (I know exactly two genres, music I like and music I don’t), Elizabeth Cook and Bonnie Bishop have really strong albums in the country/Americana category, along with others mentioned above.

    Also, there have been some really strong rock albums put out this year by DOROTHY, The Struts, The Wild Feathers, The Amorettes, The Temperance Movement and Rival Sons.

    Of course, the elephant in the room is that nothing I listen to gets played on mainstream radio.

    For my blog, I don’t rate anything, but what I spotlight has to meet a certain threshold; one skipworthy song/album. And I don’t even bother with singles for the most part, they can be deceiving (see: Maren Morris). Even with that as my barometer, I’ve still featured 13 albums this year.

    So, yeah, my $0.02.

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  9. I got an email from Amazon today with this nugget:

    “Customers who have shown an interest in country music might like to know about Steven Tyler’s new album, ‘We’re All Somebody from Somewhere.'”

    And I want to know how much they got paid for that, because my most recent music purchases from Amazon were from Bob Wills, Randy Rogers/Wade Bowen, Radney Foster, Jason Boland, and Merle Haggard.

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  10. You talk about female artists still not getting a fair shake, and reading through the Maddie & Tae conversation above I thought this: how do guys like Chase Bryant/Rice get mediocre songs treading water in the middle of the top 30 for year, yet Maddie & Tae can’t keep “Shut Up and Fish” on there long and it’s dropped the first sign of struggle. Big Machine is arguably the biggest label in Country Music and could easily influence the charts to give M&T the long stay (not that I’d necessarily want to see that).

    So is it a Male vs Female mentality that influences those decisions from the label? Like the first failed single from Maddie & Tae is a self-fulfilling prophecy to the label that women don’t sell as well as men so they drop it and move on? It’s not like either Chase song was a good investment in keeping them “relevant” on the charts. If it doesn’t sell & connect on radio then it doesn’t sell, I get it. But it’s just curious to me that several males get a chance at long life for struggling single vs a much more promising act like Maddie & Tae.

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  11. Yeah… This year sucks. It’s not quite as bad as when bro-country was hitting its peak, but it’s still pretty bad. I can only think of 3 albums I bought: “Southern Family”, “Fighter”, and Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen’s live album. Most of the Americana acts are good, but not memorable (which is a shame, because I really wanted to get into Americana this year…). Most of the mainstream acts are shoveling out mediocre songs with no substance. And, of course, the worst thing to happen… The continued meteoric rise of Kane Brown.

    On to Maddie & Tae. Barring a big push from Big Machine (which I don’t see happening) three things could happen. A: they could release a radio-friendly song like “Smoke” and see what happens. B: They could start work on a second album. Or C: they could still try to make their music, but when Big Machine doesn’t see the money rolling in, they cut Maddie & Tae.

    So what happens? I honestly don’t know. Their first mistake was releasing “Shut Up & Fish” in the middle of winter. Following that with “Sierra” was another awful choice, because all their singles up to this point have had the exact same tone and style. Releasing “Smoke” in the fall would probably be a good idea, but if that flops, Big Machine will give up on them, and there’s a good chance it could flop. You could always start work on a second album, but if their lead single doesn’t become a hit, they’re screwed. Basically, if they don’t get a hit soon, there’s going to be a falling out between Maddie & Tae and Big Machine, and they could be gone. Where will they go? Who knows. At this point, Maddie & Tae’s future is riding on their next single choice. Of course, if Smoke becomes a hit, Big Machine could use that as leverage to try to influence them to make more radio friendly songs like Smoke. Obviously, Maddie & Tae are set on making the music they want to make, so who knows what’ll happen? Maybe either way there’ll be a falling out between the two. And what else are they going to release besides Smoke? I don’t see any other potential singles making even a dent on radio. Maybe starting work on a second album would be a good choice, considering that if Smoke does become a hit, there aren’t any other radio friendly songs on Start Here, and it would kill the momentum that Maddie & Tae would have.

    Also, I’m curious to see how David Nail will do. I loved “Fighter” on first listen aside from the production on some tracks, and the first 3-4 tracks seem tailor-made for radio. I wonder if they take a chance and release “Fighter”, “Home”, “Babies” (probably not), or “Old Man’s Symphony” (almost certainly not). It’ll be interesting to see what gets on radio.

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