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Today the nominees for the 2012 Americana Music Awards were announced at the Clive Davis Theatre in Los Angeles, with Lucinda Williams, Buddy Miller, and other artists performing before and after actor John C. Riley read the lists of nominees. The awards will be handed out September 12th at The Ryman in Nashville.
What immediately struck me as I watched the presentation being broadcast online was how overtly cliquish the Americana Music Association has become, or continues to be, as they narrowcast out awards to the same pool of networked-in, dramatically-familiar, and specifically-focused artists that all tend to know each other, and carry the same politics.
This is a difficult and conflicting conclusion to come to, because all of these artists, and the entities that make up the AMA are ones that I love, respect, and look up to. But they must be more worldly in their perspective to create legitimacy behind their product, their presentation, the term “Americana” in general, and these awards specifically.
The Americana genre is growing in leaps and bounds, and the AMA must grow and evolve with it. When it started out in 2002, it needed to keep its perspective narrow and its network strong so it did not become a flash in the pan or a fad term. There is nothing wrong with sustainability and attempting to grow slowly and smartly, but there can be issues with not attempting to grow at all.
Sure, up to this point there may have been little reason for the AMA to branch out, but after numerous grumbles over the last few years about an underserved audience and talent base, and the lingering question about what Americana actually is, something needed to happen. This feels like such a missed opportunity. As Americana continues to grow, it could put pressure on the CMA for example, and create channels for outreach to the scores of disenfranchised roots music fans left behind by the corporate music world. But instead we get many of the same names, names of the same people in different categories, many of the same names from years past, and names who know each other on a personal level, who’ve played in each other’s bands, produced and played on each other’s albums, and in the case of Steve and Justin Townes, are related.
No, nobody should be discriminated against just because they know each other or because of who their father is or because they’ve won before. And yes, there’s are some new names here. It is great to see the names in the Emerging Artist category, but why does the this category have fewer names than any other? I know there is a process of how these names are derived, but how does it hurt to add another name or two that could benefit from the spotlight an AMA nomination could cast?
Maybe the AMA doesn’t understand just how big Americana has become. Again, I can’t disagree with any of the names of the nominees here. The talent level is ridiculous and inspiring, and the decisions are without question difficult to make. And the AMA should be praised, not criticized for keeping their system sustainable and manageable. But we needed something new, a new category, more names, fresh names, a broader perspective, a better system for finding and evaluating emerging talent. Because in the end this list just comes across as a myopic perspective and tired, and that could create challenges to its legitimacy.
These comments are meant to be constructive, and are not just based on one person’s perspective.
Album of the Year
Here We Rest – Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit
I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive – Steve Earle
The Harrow & The Harvest – Gillian Welch
This One’s For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark – Various Artists
Artist of the Year
Justin Townes Earle
Emerging Artist of the Year
Deep Dark Woods
Song of the Year
“Alabama Pines” – Written by Jason Isbell and performed by Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit
“Come Around” – Written and performed by Sarah Jarosz
“I Love” – Written by Tom T. Hall and performed by Patty Griffin
“Waiting On The Sky to Fall” – Written and performed by Steve Earle
Instrumentalist of the Year
Duo/Group of the Year
Carolina Chocolate Drops
Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit
As first theorized here in late April, Gaylord Entertainment, the parent company of the iconic Grand Ole Opry and radio station WSM, has been sold to Marriott International for $210 million. On May 16th, the company allowed a “poison pill” to expire, making the possibility of a sale a reality. According to a press release by Gaylord about the sale, the company will retain its Grand Ole Opry holdings for now, however will be reorganizing into an REIT, or Real Estate Investment Trust, meaning Gaylord is no longer an autonomous, shareholder-owned entertainment company, but a real-estate holding, and a subsidiary of the Marriott hotel chain.
The theory behind the sale and restructuring of Gaylord is to better manage the current Gaylord business that has gone from a company that predominantly owned radio stations, newspapers, and entertainment outlets, to owning 5 huge hotel properties in Nashville, Orlando, Grapevine, TX (Dallas), National Harbor, MD, and Denver (scheduled to open 2014). By restructuring into an REIT, Gaylord will receive certain tax benefits, and will be able to run more efficiently in a larger hotel corporate structure.
“We are thrilled to be aligning with Marriott, an organization that consistently receives the industry’s highest praise among group customers and meeting planners.” says Gaylord CEO Colin Reed. “The REIT structure allows us to benefit from a more efficient tax structure, and establish a platform to grow our distinct asset base through organic growth of our existing portfolio and, in time, through strategic acquisitions. Moreover, we believe that by working with Marriott International, our shareholders will benefit from significant property efficiencies and corporate overhead reductions, as well as revenue synergies which include Marriott’s ability to attract and market to large group customers.
The press release from Gaylord about the sale expressly states the Grand Ole Opry and its real estate assets will remain assets of Gaylord.
Gaylord will continue to own and operate the Grand Ole Opry, Ryman Auditorium and other attractions as taxable REIT subsidiaries. Nothing will change at these iconic assets of the Nashville community, and Gaylord is fully committed to maintaining the legacy of these historic attractions.
However as Gaylord restructures into a real estate holding company over the coming months, an Opry sale could still be a possibility, if not a greater probably in the long term as the company continues to move away from the entertainment business.
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Barring a Grand Ole Opry sale during restructuring, this all could be bad news for friends of the Grand Ole Opry hoping for a return to the institution’s roots, or maintaining the roots that have been left in tact during Gaylord’s management regime. Becoming part of an even larger corporate structure, especially one not focused on entertainment, means even more focus of efficiencies and revenue, and less understanding of the Grand Ole Opry’s unique importance and place in the legacy of country music within the corporate structure The Opry finds itself in. The Opry’s business model was conceived nearly 85 years ago, and its viability depends on retaining certain values and traditions from that original structure that many times clash with today’s for-profit environment.
When Gaylord and Marriott talk about “significant property efficiencies and corporate overhead reductions, as well as revenue synergies…” this means The Grand Ole Opry could be be susceptible to even more rigorous oversight and revenue goals that do not reflect the institution’s original or core values. Even though Gaylord retains ownership in name of The Opry and its hotels in the larger Marriott structure, what Gaylord is selling is the rights for Marriott to manage Gaylord assets, including The Opry. And as Gaylord says in in the press release, it is not focused on entertainment as it restructures to an REIT, but is “focused primarily on group-oriented destination hotels in urban and resort markets.”
Furthermore for communities like Nashville, this restructuring will mean job losses as Gaylord trims the fat, and eliminates redundant positions Marriott can already manage. The Marriott press release from CEO Arne Sorenson mentions, “We will continue to focus on building careers for Gaylord’s “STARS”, whom we will welcome to the Marriott family,” but positions will be cut as the two companies merge and attempt to benefit from business synergy. This move also has specific effects on Gaylord’s Denver, CO property still under construction. According to Gaylord, the scope of this property will be scaled down during this process, two weeks after an $81.4 million tax incentive was approved by local officials for the already controversial project.
Last week it was revealed that in the June issue of the upcoming W Magaine, Miranda Lambert lets loose one mother of a backhanded compliment toward Taylor Swift, saying:
Taylor Swift is a pop singer. But she really helped country music. When she hit, I was thinking, Thank God Taylor’s out there to show people we’re not cheesy. Some people still think that country music is twangy and cheesy, and they pigeonhole us. But I thought if they’re looking for Taylor’s videos or songs, they might see or hear other people they like. If her fans are watching for her, they might like me too.
There’s really many things to unravel from this Miranda statement, including that she calls out Taylor for not being country, but then praises her for showing people country is not “twangy.” Isn’t the presence of twang what makes country country? And the lack of it is what makes country pop? Isn’t Miranda herself offered up many times as an example of country twang? It hearkens back to statements Jason Aldean made before the ACM Awards, about how he didn’t want people thinking country was hayseeds sitting on hay bales.
But more important is this question of how effective Taylor Swift is as a country music apostle, going out there in the world, turning crossover fans into country converts with her music. This certainly must be one of the theories behind the move announced today by the Country Music Hall of Fame to open a “Taylor Swift Speak Now: Treasures of the World Tour” exhibit on June 6th, running through November. Taylor just made a massive $4 million donation to the Hall of Fame for a children’s education center. The two couldn’t be related, could they?
But the Hall of Fame has already had a small Swift display up for a while, across from some of the biggest memorabilia the Hall boasts at the west end of the top floor. The idea is to engage the kiddos with someone they can relate to, and then maybe, just maybe, they may give some attention to all this old people, backwoods hillbilly stuff.
Is this theory effective? I don’t know. And the question embodies the underlying dichotomy of Taylor Swift. In one respect, she’s the country music savior we’ve all been waiting for. She writes her own songs, plays her own music, produces her own albums, respects herself, is a positive role model, and gives back to the community. As a product, she’s brought tremendous revenue to a struggling industry and genre. Bless her heart, she has inspired millions. And as pop, her music holds tremendous levity. But the problem still remains: Taylor Swift is not country.
Do we really think legions of her fans are going to gateway from her music to Waylon Jennings, or even Alan Jackson, or even Justin Townes Earle? And for as many people she may convert to the pop version of country, may she scare just as many away from the traditional side? What are the ratios here? For all the good she may do enticing young fans to the genre, is she chasing away the older ones?
I don’t have any answers here. Taylor could be doing tremendous amounts of good, or she could be doing irreplaceable damage to country. Or her toll could be a complete wash. I think Taylor Swift has done tremendous good for society, culture, and music in general. But I think it’s important for all of us to question the effectiveness of Taylor Swift as a country music gateway drug, and what the lingering, long-term side effects of that drug could be.
Man I swear, every week there must be at least two of these albums coming out: Somebody and the Something Somethings, with a caricature cover of a fuzzy-faced dude in pearl snaps with trucks in the background singing songs about whiskey, honky tonks, breakups, and diesel. Every week they arrive at the Saving Country Music headquarters in their little padded envelopes to be piled up on my desk in various, loosely-labeled stacks, slowly reaching toward the ceiling like a diorama of some downtown scape; a physical representation of how there’s too much music right now and not enough listeners.
So what makes one of these albums worth checking out more than the others? It’s hard to say, but what I can say is that JP Harris and the Tough Choices‘ I’ll Keep Calling is one of the best of the breed. This is an excellent album, and remarkably so because there’s really nothing new here. There’s no reinvention of the wheel, no retro style to ride some trendy wave, no “progressive” elements to pander to the high-brow crowd. JP Harris’s voice is solid, but nothing special. The instrumentation is all appropriate, but maybe above average at best. I’ll Keep Calling has the same songs country music has been making hay with for over 50 years, so what makes it worth the extra fuss?
It’s how JP Harris separates himself from the crowd is by striking that difficult balance between being familiar, but not cliche. By being traditional, but not traipsing the same worn-out paths that lead to music parody. There’s no corniness here, no sarcasm. No song is bad. No single line falls flat. You can tell this album was patient, well-crafted. It’s all carefully put together and well-rounded until it becomes and excellent representation of what we all are talking about when we throw out labels like “real country.”
I would also label this music “traditional” as opposed to “neo-traditional,” meaning it harkens back 20 or 30 years instead of 50 or 60. There are some of those anachronistic call backs, like “Return To Sender” and “I’ll Keep Calling” referencing answering machines and such that the new school country crowd may scrunch their noses at. But the idea of calling an ex every night, fully knowing they will never answer, at the off chance maybe they will and just to hear that familiar voice on a tape recorder is a story that still can ring true to today’s heart and will eternally as long as heartache is a part of the human experience. You may not be able to find a pay phone any more, but something about a lonely receiver hanging down as is represented on the back cover of this album, still speaks to the heartache universal to the human condition.
This true, honky-tonk, hard country music, with a little Western swing and rockabilly mixed in. Songs like “Badly Bent” and “Cross Your Name” tell hard-nosed stories that don’t need heavy language to drive home their heartbroken themes, and the up-tempo “Take It Back” and “Gear Jammin’ Daddy” gives this album a good variety and spice that keep it engaging throughout. All of these songs could be labeled cliche, but they’re so good, it’s hard to.
Can a long-bearded boy from Vermont make real country music? Can songs about letters stamped “Return To Sender” and and shots of whiskey to drown sorrow still be relevant? If I’ll Keep Calling is any indication, the answer is an adamant “Yes!”
Two guns up!
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Legendary guitar player Doc Watson has died according to his representatives at Folklore Productions.
The 89-year-old folk and bluegrass guitar legend’s heath issues started on Monday (5-21) Bluegrass Today reported, after a fall at his home. No bones were broken, but the incident exposed other health problems. He was airlifted to the hospital on Wednesday, and late Thursday Watson had surgery to resolve an impacted colon where his entire colon ended up being removed. The procedure was declared successful and Watson was said to be “resting and responsive” afterwards, with Doc’s representative Mitch Greenhill saying, “He has regained some strength. The family appreciates everyone’s prayers and good wishes.” But after a follow-up procedure on Saturday, Watson’s condition never improved from “critical” and he remained in Wake Forest Baptist’s Intensive Care Unit. Doc Watson’s family was called to his bedside at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC on Sunday (5-27).
Monday morning (5-28) it was reported that Watson’s vital signs had improved slightly overnight after a “very rough Sunday,” though he continued to remain in critical condition in the hospital’s ICU.
Doc Watson has won 7 Grammy Awards over his career, and also received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004. The blind guitar player is best known for his influential flatpicking and fingerpicking techniques with the guitar, and his oral history of folk, bluegrass, and mountain music. He was born Arthel Lane Watson in 1923 in Deep Gap, North Carolina, going blind before his first birthday. He got the name “Doc” when a radio announced suggest the name Arthel was too unusual and someone yelled “Doc” out from the crowd.
Thoughts and prayers go out to Doc Watson and his family.
The long-awaited movie about the last days of Hank Williams called The Last Ride has finally been granted a theatrical release. It will begin to be shown in select theaters June 22nd, and in a series of historic theaters starting June 1st.
The movie was previously shown in 7 cities in late October of 2011, mostly around Arkansas where the majority of the movie was shot, and both director Harry Thomason, and Henry Thomas (Elliot from ET) who plays Hank Williams are originally from. At that time it was reported a wide release date would be granted sometime in January of 2012, but that release never came. The film will begin a tour of 10 historic theaters around the country (see dates below) as a partnership with Lou Reda Productions.
To make a small contribution to the restoration to beloved historic theaters around the nation, “The Last Ride” is partnering up with Lou Reda Productions and a number of historic theaters to allow an exclusive screening of the film before it opens widely. I seems appropriate that a film about a historic American like Hank Williams is being used to help restore an important piece of America’s heritage – its movie palaces.
The film will then be shown in New York, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Atlanta, and Austin, TX from June through August, with more cities potentially to be added soon.
On January 1st 1953, Williams was scheduled to perform in Canton, OH. Because of bad weather, he couldn’t fly as planned, and hired a college student Charles Carr to drive him. Hank suffered from chronic back problems, and had injected himself with morphine during the trip from Knoxville, TN and also was drinking alcohol. Hank Williams died of heart failure sometime that night with varying accounts of exactly where and when, though a gas station in Oak Hill, WV is given credit as Hank’s final destination. Hank was 29.
The Last Ride is not meant to be a historic portrayal of Hank’s final days, but focuses on the interaction between Williams and his young driver, played by Jesse James. Hank is not called by his real name in the movie, instead traveling under the alias “Mr. Wells.”
The movie seems to be going through the same distribution dilemma many small, independent films get dogged with these days. Two other movies that had strong musical ties, Bloodworth, starring Kris Kristofferson, Dwight Yoakam, with an appearance by Hank Williams III, and Last Rites of Ransom Pride, also starring Yoakam and Kristofferson, with score and screenplay contributions by Ray Wylie Hubbard both struggled to find distributions channels, leaving curious fans frustrated.
The Last Ride Historic Theater Tour:
||38 W. Franklin Street, Shelbyville, IN 46176
|June 1-3||Corning Opera House||710 Davis Ave, Corning, IA 50841||641.418.8037|
|June 1-7||ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks Campus||101 Founders Way, Bethlehem, PA 18015||610.297.7100|
|June 2||The Ellen Theatre||17 West Main Street, Bozeman, MT 59715||406.585.5885|
|June 2-3||7th Street Theatre||313 7th Street, Hoquiam, WA 98550||360.537.7400|
|June 7||McPherson Opera House||219 South Main Street, McPherson, KS 67460||620.241.1952|
|June 9||Sheridan Opera House||110 North Oak, Telluride, CO 81435||970.728.6363|
|June 15-18||Lincoln Theatre Foundation||313 W. Kincaid Street, Mount Vernon, WA 98273||360.336.8955|
||The Sherman Theater
||524 Main Street, Stroudsburg, PA 18360
|July 19-20||Carolina Civic Center Historical Theater||315 North Chestnut Street, Lumberton, NC 28358||910.738.4339|
The Last Ride Theatrical Release
|6/22/2012||New York||Cinema Village ONE WEEK ONLY||22 East 12th St., New York, NY 10003|
|6/29/2012||Los Angeles||Laemmle NoHo 7||5240 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601|
|7/27/2012||Phoenix||Harkins Shea 14||7354 E. Shea Blvd., Scottsdale, AZ 85260|
|8/10/2012||Atlanta||Lefont Sandy Springs 8||5920 Roswell Rd., Atlanta, GA 30328|
|8/10/2012||Austin||Regal Arbor 8 @Great Hills||9828 Great Hills Trail, Suite 800, Austin, TX 78759|
The Muddy Roots 2012 Schedule has been changed and updated. For the latest Schedule check out the 2012 Muddy Roots Field Guide.
Saving Country Music is pleased to bring you the official performance schedule for the Muddy Roots Festival 2012 in Cookeville, TN Aug. 31st-Sep. 2nd. It includes a whopping 10 new additions from the previously-released lineup, including Grand Ole Opry icon and Country Music Hall of Famer Little Jimmy Dickens, and Texas country music legend James “Slim” Hand. Along with California country godfather Don Maddox of The Maddox Brothers & Rose, and two great blues legends Robert “Wolfman” Belfour and L.C. Ulmer, Muddy Roots has the roots covered. Muddy Roots will have an unprecedented 5 artists perform who are in their 90′s!
The lineup additions also include two former members of the .357 String Band, Derek Dunn and Joe Huber, and musician/photographer/videographer Joshua Black Wilkins. And once again there will be a car show thrown by the Voodoo Kings, burlesque shows and a pinup pageant.
There will also be a STAGE 3 that will be a open mic setup where artists and bands can perform as well.
Please Note: Dates, times, and performers are subject to change. There has been more space built in-between performances from last year to reduce the amount of performance overlap.
- Little Jimmy Dickens
- James “Slim” Hand
- Don Maddox of Maddox Brothers & Rose
- Robert “Wolfman” Belfour
- L.C. Ulmer
- Joshua Black Wilkins
- Derek Dunn
- Joe Huber
- Lone Wolf OMB
- Kara Clark
2012 Muddy Roots Schedule
Friday Aug. 31st
- 4:00 – Hardin Draw
- 5:00 – Owen Mays
- 6:00 – J.B. Beverly & the Wayward Drifters
- 7:00 – Don Maddox
- 8:00 – Little Jimmy Dickens
- 9:00 – Dale Watson
- 10:30 – Wayne Hancock
- 12:00 – James “Slim” Hand
- 2:30 – Johnny Foodstamp
- 3:30 – Filthy Still
- 4:30 – Lone Wolf OMB
- 5:30 – Husky Burnette
- 6:30 – Cashman
- 7:30 – Hooten Hollers
- 8:30 – James Leg
- 9:30 – Bianca 13′s House of the Rising Sun Burlesque
- 11:00 – Bob Wayne & The Outlaw Carnies
- 12:30 AM – Jayke Orvis & The Broken Band
- 1:30 AM – Viva Le Vox
Saturday Sep. 1st
- 11:30 AM – Peewee Moore
- 12:30 – Slim Chance & The Can’t Hardly Playboys
- 1:30 – Valerie June
- 2:30 – Sean Wheeler y Zander Schloss
- 3:30 – Rockin’ Kitty Pinup Pageant
- 4:30 – Last False Hope
- 5:30 – James Hunnicutt
- 6:30 – Calamity Cubes
- 7:30 – Joe Buck Yourself
- 8:30 – Goddamn Gallows
- 9:30 – ANTiSEEN
- 10:30 – Hillbilly Casino
- 12:00 AM – Reverend Horton Heat
- 11:15 AM – Hushed & Guilty
- 12:00 – Cutthroat Shamrock
- 1:00 - Pearls Mahone
- 2:00 – Joe Huber
- 3:00 – Dad Horse Experience
- 4:00 – Kara Clark
- 5:00 – Hellfire Revival
- 6:00 – Left Lane Cruiser
- 7:00 – Immortal Lee County Killers
- 8:00 – L.C. Ulmer
- 9:15 – Robert “Wolfman” Belfour
- 10:15 – Possessed By Paul James
- 11:30 – T-Model Ford
- 12:15 AM – Kittie Katrina w/ Syrens of the South
- 1:00 AM – Restavrant
Sunday Sep. 2nd
- 11:00 AM – DJ Vintage Rockabilly- Muddy Roots
- 11:30 AM – Voodoo Kings Car Show
- 12:15 – Reverend Deadeye
- 1:15 - Rachel Brooke
- 2:15 – The Defibulators
- 3:30 – Pinebox Boys
- 4:30 – The Defibulators
- 5:00 – Soda Gardocki
- 6:15 – Tom VandenAvond
- 7:15 – Ramblin’ Jack Elliott
- 8:30 – Joshua Black Wilkins
- 9:30 – Dr. Ralph Stanley
- 11:00 – O’Death
- 12:00 AM – Legendary Shack Shakers
- 10:00 AM – Sunday Services
- 10:15 AM – DJ Gospel Country
- 11:00 AM – Everymen
- 12:00 – Camptown Ladies
- 1:00 - Derek Dunn
- 2:00 – Sarah Gayle Meech
- 3:00 – Atomic Duo
- 4:00 – McDougall
- 5:30 – Pine Hill Haints
- 6:30 – The Dirt Daubers
- 8:00 – Special Guest
- 9:00 – Molly Gene Whoaman Band
- 10:15 – Slim Cessna’s Auto Club
- 11:30 – Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band
Over the years I’ve been a big Bob Wayne proponent, and to some folks he’s been a very hard sell. I’ve always counseled to look beyond the persona to the songwriting. With his new album Till The Wheels Fall Off, Bob Wayne frankly makes that task much harder. At the same time, he’s put out his most enjoyable album yet.
Since the beginning, there’s been two sides to Bob Wayne: the introspective songwriter side, and the “Hellbilly” side. In between are his storytelling songs that tend to draw from both worlds. Despite the bandana and salty language, what Bob is doing is not much different than what Johnny Cash did. Johnny didn’t shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die, or take a shot of cocaine before shooting his wife. It was a persona created to tell a story. Bob has maybe modernized some of the language and themes, but country music songs on the sinful life are a staple of the genre.
What he has done as his career has progressed is tip the scales from the more introspective material to the more hellraising material, and this is where he’s left some listeners scratching their heads. With his first few albums, songs like “Blood To Dust,” “27 Years,” and “The Final Walk” made it easy for the music brain to understand Bob, and then enjoy the hellraising songs right along with the crowd who may see a song like “27 Years” as too artsy.
But with Till The Wheels Fall Off, there are very few of those guideposts. Bob’s first album Blood to Dust was weighted in favor of the deep songwriting material. This album is skewed to the “hellbilly” side, giving detractors heavy ammunition to pass off the whole Bob Wayne presentation as a bad bit. Even some of the songs on Till The Wheels Fall Off that are presented to be deep, like the lead single “Get There When I Get There” is more ambiguous in nature than artistic. There’s little of that stone cold hard reality that tears at your heart like many of his previous offerings.
Does that leave Till The Wheels Fall Off vacuous or non-entertaining? Not at all. Not whatsoever. “Devil’s Son” may be the funnest song Bob Wayne has ever put out. And “Wives Of Three,” though on the surface a shallow and silly song, may be one of his best attempts at songwriting.
Let’s take “Wives of Three” as a case study. The first time I listened to this song, I hated it, saying to myself, “Come on Bob, you’re killing me out here!” Then I understood the genius behind it. This song is more David Allan Coe than David Allan Coe. It evokes a whole range of emotions, from creepiness and weirdness, to humor, to sincerity and true love. Most importantly to the success or failure of a songwriter, Bob is able to transport you to a scene where he’s standing in his childhood home with these three women, presenting them to his mother.
You can visualize the whole thing, his mother’s sense of shock and dismay, yet a creepy sense of pride, Bob’s sense of awkwardness and hope that this lifestyle will be accepted, and these three women that in a 3-minute song, Bob is able to present to where you can visualize them, their faces, their stories and motivations. It’s all bullshit that is totally believable and makes your mind explore the inner depths of morality, family, and love.
The words and persona are what everyone seems to focus on when it comes to Bob, but let none of that distract you from the fact that the instrumentation on this album is par excellence. Andy Gibson, Hank3′s steel guitar player and the engineer on all of Bob’s albums, along with an all-star cast of contributors put together an amazing album of music. From conjuring the spirit of Jerry Reed in “Ain’t No Diesel Trucks In Heaven” to the lonesome teardrop steel sounds in “Hunger In My Soul”, this album is a 10 out of 10 on how Bob’s vision was fleshed out.
Your feelings on Till The Wheels Fall Off are going to be based on taste even more so than on most albums. It is my job as a reviewer to divest personal taste for a more true judgement on the work. Do I personally like the strictly hellraising songs like “All Those One Night Stands” and “Spread My Ashes On The Highway”? No, no I really don’t. But I also recognize the appeal and the wit embedded in the songwriting, and won’t let them repeal my love for a song like “Hunger In My Soul”. But not all music is for everyone, and that’s okay. It is not fair to strictly base taste on calling something bad, and it is not fair to call someone’s tastes bad just because they are different from yours. Bob Wayne seems to drive home the importance of these points more than most.
Where I take some points away from Till The Wheels Fall Off is when measuring it against what I know Bob is capable of. He is capable of writing songs that can change people’s lives. If he changes someone’s life with this album, it may not be for the better. There are also issues with the continuity in his storyline. With some of his previous works, his sobriety is a theme, where in this album, it is the breaking of that sobriety. Is this true in Bob’s real life, or an extension of the persona? Either way it is okay, it’s the ambiguity in how you’re supposed to approach these songs that may be the issue.
Instead of just writing on the road, I think Bob needs to get in better touch with his inner dialogue through solitude, so the guideposts leading listeners to the realization of his songwriting prowess are more present.
But this is not a bad album. It is fun as hell. At times you are laughing out loud at some of the lines. Are we so uptight we can’t enjoy music for the visceral experience? Isn’t it fun to go on a vicarious exploration of the id through music and character? This is what Bob Wayne delivers in Till The Wheels Fall Off; an escape, a good time. Sure maybe we, maybe underground country has grown up from most of this behavior, but isn’t that the theme here, that Bob will never change, that he’s going Till The Wheels Fall Off? And there’s nothing wrong with siting back and watching his ride.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
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(This story has been updated)
Mississippi blues legend T Model Ford, who became a roots icon along with R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, and many other older blues artists from Mississippi through Fat Possum Records, has suffered a stroke. This is not the first stroke T Model has suffered, but the people around him were describing the always-jovial, 90+ years-old blues player’s spirits as “uncharacteristically low.” Since then his health and spirits have improved some.
T Model was admitted to Greenwood Leflore Hospital in Greenwood, MS over the weekend after suffering a stroke, or possibly a series of strokes. According to T Model’s wife Miss Stella, initial tests indicated some serious blockages, and T Model was to undergo angioplasty and start physical therapy. However, because of his age and general health, angioplasty was taken off the table. Since then his health “…has improved a bit and has regained partial use of his right hand and can walk a bit using a walker,” according to family friend Randy Magee. Today, (Wednesday 5-23) family friend Roger Stolle reports that T Model was scheduled to be discharged from the hospital and sent to a physical therapy facility closer to his home.
Family friend Randy Magee visited T Model Ford at King’s Daughter’s Hospital in Greenville, MS yesterday, 5/25 and reports:
T says he’s doing fine folks. He had just come from physical therapy and his lunch came shortly afterwards… let’s just say loss of appetite IS NOT among T’s problems. He showed me that he could move his right arm, hand and fingers, but confided that he couldn’t remember how to play his guitar. He was telling me that he’d forgotten how to sing and a speech therapist came in to start working with him. I gave Stella some cash that some friends from the Netherlands sent for T and left him with the therapist as he already had a room full of family there.
T Model Ford, born James Lewis Carter Ford is the last surviving blues man from the original crop of artists the label Fat Possum Records sought out to make records of and preserve their sound beginning in 1992 from the North Mississippi region. He regularly tours with the Seattle blues band GravelRoad, and is scheduled to play this year’s Muddy Roots Festival. T Model’s actual age is unknown, though it is thought he was born sometime between 1921 and 1925. He recorded 5 albums for Fat Possum from 1997-2008, until moving to Alive NaturalSound Records. T Model’s sound along with the other North Mississippi blues legends has been given credit for inspiring the sounds from artists like The Black Keys and Scott H. Biram.
The Ford family is seeking donations to help with expenses. Information on where to donate can be found below. The Saving Country Music donate button has also been activated in the top right column of the site, so folks wishing to donate through paypal can do so there.
SEND DONATIONS DIRECTLY TO BANK:
424 Washington Ave
Greenville, MS 38701
OR MAIL CARDS, CHECKS, ETC. TO HOME:
443 South 7th Street
Greenville, MS 38703
When Mike Curb first set up shop in Nashville, he had a strategic advantage over his competition: he was local, and he was independent. One of the reasons many major label country artists have such weak control over their music compared to artists in other genres goes back to how the major labels moved into Nashville during the advent of commercial country. Since most of the record labels were based in New York or Los Angeles and owned by larger parent companies, the Nashville offices were managed from afar, with tight controls on cost and content.
Mike Curb didn’t have to work with these restrictions, and this enticed a bevy of talent to his roster. Hank Williams III, maybe Curb Record’s biggest opponent over the years says this factored into him signing with the label even in the late 90′s, with his manager Jack McFadden telling him, “Shelton, I want to deal with Mike Curb because he’s in Nashville more than he’s in California or New York.”
Yesterday Tim McGraw announced in a press conference that he had signed with Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Records after a 20-year career and protracted legal battle with Curb. The symbolism and significance surrounding the signing was striking, and spoke to the titanic shifts that are rearranging the country music landscape in Nashville at this very moment.
McGraw and Borchetta initially signed the new deal at Nashville’s Greyhound bus station to symbolize the new beginning. Tim had arrived as a young man from Louisiana with a suitcase and guitar in hand some 20 years before by Grayhound. One of the first people in the music business McGraw was to meet in Nashville was Scott Borchetta’s father, Mike. Mike Borchetta was the man responsible for signing Tim McGraw to Curb Records.
The press conference announcing the new deal was held at the Country Music Hall of Fame, an institution decorated with the Mike Curb name, as are many Nashville landmarks. Holding the presser there was almost like holding it in the belly of the beast, with Borchetta openly criticising Mike Curb, saying that Tim’s first album would be entitled Greatest Hits 4, humorously referring to the incessant greatest hits releases Curb was comically known for towards the end of McGraw’s contract. Soon the Curb name may not be as synonymous with the Hall Of Fame as the one of “Swift”. Taylor Swift, the first artist Borchetta signed in 2005 when he started Big Machine just made a $4 million dollar donation to The Hall of Fame for a new education center, eclipsing any single donation ever made to the institution previously, including any from Mike Curb.
The theme of the McGraw/Borchetta press conference seemed to be the freedom of the artist, with Borchetta insisting that Tim would be able to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants; a trademark of Big Machine, and the big criticism of Curb. For 15 minutes, it seemed the Mike Curb approach to the music business was on trial, and found guilty. “It’s time for Tim to take over,” said Borchetta. “This is about music. It’s music business. That means music comes first. And that’s what we’re gonna do.”
And that may not be where the grenade lobbing stops between these two Music Row demigods of Curb and Borchetta. Borchetta left the idea very open, if not hinted that Big Machine would be willing to release competing singles from McGraw’s new material to counter the singles being released by Curb from McGraw’s final album Emotional Traffic that Curb delayed for years, and only decided to release after losing in court. “It’s going to be sooner than later,” Borchetta said about McGraw’s new music. “It’s going to take a nation of millions to hold us back.” This could create a country radio dog fight between Curb and Big Machine to a caliber Music Row has never seen.
Just like Hank3, Lyle Lovett, Hank Williams Jr., and the majority of other artists leaving the Curb label, there was a dramatic sense of relief in the face of Tim McGraw. From the music of Hank3, to the cover of Lovett’s last release with Curb, the Curb Record’s restrictionary approach to their artists has become an indelible artifact of the country genre in this time period, one that the future will be able to reflect back on, to an era when artists were forced to sometimes wait half a decade to get their music to their fans.
But that era is coming to a close. Mike Curb is no longer the Titan of Tune Town. His roster is depleted, his relevancy is waning, and with Tim McGraw joining a stable that includes Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts, and The Band Perry to name a few, it is hard not to label Scott Borchetta and Big Machine as the most dominant label in Nashville, and in all of country music right now. In no uncertain terms, Tim McGraw was a massive, maybe historic acquisition.
Scott Borchetta and Big Machine Record’s success speaks to two things: talent evaluation, and freedom for the artist. Artistic freedom is one of the cornerstones Big Machine is built on, and where much of their success is derived from. In a copycat business in a copycat town, it is encouraging to think that Big Machine’s success and Curb Records’ failures will breed a new era of artistic freedom throughout Music Row.
However similar things were likely said about the rise of the independent, and locally-based Curb Records. Money and power are very effective at eroding values over time. And Big Machine holds no values or promise for the forces fighting for the purity and integrity of country music itself. Looking up and down the Big Machine roster, it is hard to find any true country music at all. How ironic it is to finally see artistic freedom trending upwards on Music Row, yet true country music being left out of that trend in favor of country pop.
Make no mistake about it, there is a new king on top of the country music hill, and his name is Scott Borchetta.
This upcoming June 15th would have been Waylon Jennings’ 75th birthday. The Littlefield, TX native died in 2002 from complications with diabetes, a disease he battled for years. Waylon fans have been celebrating Waylon’s birthday in informal “Waylon bashes” for years, from back porch picking sessions to full blown concert events in and around Waylon’s birthday. This year, The Waylon Fund, an extension of the TGen Foundation that is searching for a cure for diabetes is bringing a national focus to Waylon’s birthday bashes by organizing these various Waylon tributes into a national benefit.
From Nashville to New York, from Detroit to Seattle, fans will be getting together to raise funds for diabetes research and to pay tribute to one of country music’s biggest Outlaws. From Billy Don Burns to Shooter Jennings, from Rachel Brooke to Jackson Taylor, bands and artists will be giving of their time to help out a good cause.
“We have a built-in Waylon fan base here who are happy to support a progressive diabetes research fund in his name,” says Dana Armstrong the local organizer for the Waylon tribute scheduled for June 17 at the Yucca Tap Room in Tempe, AZ. “We have held Waylon tribute nights in the past, and if we can raise awareness and some funds for TGen in this way, I know we will have a good time doing it. Waylon’s music and pioneering spirit have always been influential to Valley Fever, and you’ll see that in a lot of the bands that play here…”
Support for The Waylon Fund from the 8 different tributes around the country happened organically. The idea started when one of Waylon’s relatives in his hometown in Littlefield contacted TGen to see if the birthday bash they were planning in nearby Whiteface, TX could go to benefit the foundation. Soon volunteers and organizers were popping up all over the country, ready and willing to help with the cause, including Muddy Roots that will be throwing the birthday bash in Nashville at Robert’s Western World, and the 3-day Honky Tonk Throwdown in Detroit.
And if you can’t make it to one of these benefits, you can do the next best best thing: put on a Waylon record and donate online.
Current List of Waylon Bashes benefiting The Waylon Fund:
Whiteface, Texas – June 16, 2012
The Rowdy Johnson Band
William Clark Green
Jackson Taylor and the Sinners
Sergio and the Outta Luck Band
- Billy Don Burns
- Chelsea Crowell
- Clark Patterson
- Rachel Brooke
- Bull Halsey
- The Orbitsuns
- The Howling Diablos
- Horse Cave Trio
- Paul Lamb and the Detroit Breakdown
- JJ and the BTs
- Crooked Little Reasons
- Alison Lewis
- Ryan Dillaha
- Afternoon Round
- Desolation Angel
- Pat V & The Detroit 3
- Matt Dmits
- Switchblade Justice
- Bixy Lutz
Tempe, Arizona – Valley Fever Country Music Night
Yucca Tap Room – June 17, 2012
Seattle, Washington – High Dive – June 15, 2012
The Outlaws (a Waylon tribute)
Jeff Fielder’s Redheaded Step Children
Plus special guests!
Houston, Texas – Firehouse Saloon – June 16, 2012
Nashville, Tennessee – Robert’s Western World
June 17, 2012 – 6-10 p.m.
The Silver Threads
Special guests to be announced
New York, New York – The Wayland – June 15, 2012
(More info coming soon!)
Crestview, Florida -Don’s Ice House
June 15-16, 2012
(more details coming)
When an artist rises to such other-worldly status as the one Willie Nelson enjoys, you’re never really sure when listening to a new album if there’s actually some real substance behind the new music, or if you’re simply so wooed by the legacy and mere sound of the man’s voice that he could sing a shopping list and you’d love it.
America experienced this sensation first hand during the Super Bowl this year when Willie’s signature warble showed up in a random Chipotle commercial. It was Coldplay’s song “The Scientist” Willie was singing? Who cares, it was Willie, and we get to relive that moment when that same song caps off his latest record, Heroes.
Popular media has been portraying Heroes as Willie’s pot opus. He initially wanted to call the album “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” for the album’s second track featuring Snoop Dogg among other guests. I’ve said my peace about how I hope Willie Nelson’s legacy is remembered for more than marijuana, but as a song, the “Roll Me Up” title track runner-up is a really fun, witty vintage Willie song. But let’s not bury the lead here about the best thing Heroes has to offer, which is a full scale collaboration between Willie and his singularly-talented son Lukas Nelson, who appears so much on this album, he really should get his name in small type somewhere on the front cover.
As I said in my review of Lukas’s latest album, he is the offspring most rich with Willie blood, with top-shelf guitar playing abilities all his own to boot. If you want to know what a rock & roll version of Willie would be, look to Lukas. Close your eyes when Lukas is singing, and you can almost see Willie, with Lukas’s natural, high-register tone, and perfect pitch and control that doesn’t ape Willie, but evokes his memory. You put these two men together in a song, and it’s a country music audiophile’s orgasm. It is a super-pairing employing skill, legacy, and a cross-generational storyline into a sublime musical experience.
But the Willie/Lukas collaboration is not by far where Heroes stops giving. From a songwriting perspective, this album has some amazing compositions, from the eloquent to the witty, from writers as far ranging as Eddie Vedder, Fred Rose and Bob Wills, to Tom Waits. Once again Lukas shows up prominently in the songwriter notes, contributing three songs himself.
Some have said this album lacks focus. I say it scores points for variety and freshness. From the heart-wrenching songs of love sung by the Lukas/Willie pairing like “The Sound of Your Memory” to the fun, yet poignant and uplifting “Come On Back Jesus (and pick up John Wayne on the way)”, the album touches on all the moods you want to hear from Willie. I’m so glad they decided to roll with with the Heroes title for this release; a much more classy choice that gives an extra shout out to Billy Joe Shaver in the only song Willie wrote by himself on the album.
Where the album may come across as too busy or unfocused is the amount of contributors to each composition, and to the album as a whole. Lukas, Jamey Johnson a couple of times, Kris Kristofferson, Snoop Dogg, Merle Haggard, Ray Price, Billy Joe Shaver, Willie’s other son Micah, the omnipresent and overexposed Sheryl Crow, they all appear, and this doesn’t even mention all the musicians. Sure, many of these names we love, but there’s too many of them, diverting focus from any one pairing or performance. At times in this album you want to clear the room and just hear Willie, for the same reasons he can single-handedly make a Coldplay song sound like a masterpiece (the Coldplay song is the only one on the album where Willie rides solo).
It’s Willie’s nature to invite anyone and everyone into the process, and his big heart is one of the reasons why we love him so. But at some point you reach a limit with collaboration, especially since Willie likes to sing in such an unusual, off-tempo pentameter that makes him not the best duet partner, and because this album is in no way presented as a “duets” release. I love the cover of Heroes though. Willie’s inspiring and calming countenance speaks countless words and stories, and the plaintive cover allows his visage to speak for itself without interruption or embellishment. It recollects to the etching on the front of his magnum opus Red Headed Stranger.
This album is good both because it is Willie, and because it is good. After years of navigating through a gray area in his career and having to dabble with some record labels probably less able to do a Willie release justice, he’s back with the same company who released Red Headed Stranger, and back to making albums worthy of the world stopping down to pay attention to.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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On Tuesday (5-22-12) Bob Wayne will be releasing his brand new album through People Like You Records called Till The Wheels Fall Off, and Saving Country Music is excited to premier for you the EPK introduction video for the album.
It was shot at the house of Andy Gibson, Hank Williams III’s steel guitar and dobro player, and the man who recorded Till The Wheels Fall Off and all of Bob Wayne’s albums.
When I recorded my first album Blood to Dust, I had about 30 songs written to choose from.” Bob tells Saving Country Music. “The next two albums I recorded were a lot of older songs that I had in the bank. Then with the Century Media release of Outlaw Carnie we made kind of a “best of” album. I can tell you this, this album is EXACTLY where I’m at right now in life!”
…or on Amazon.
What escalated the potential sale of The Opry from a theory to a very real possibility was a procedural vote earlier this week by Gaylord shareholders to let what’s called a “poison pill” in the company’s bylaws expire, making a takeover of Gaylord by another entity a real possibility, if not inviting it to help bolster Gaylord’s sagging stock value that dropped 33% last year. Gaylord has posted two straight years of losses, and is potentially looking to raise capitol to continue to expand its hotel and resort business.
How The Grand Ole Opry could factor into a potential sale is how it could be spun off and sold separately from Gaylord’s resort holdings. Gaylord’s core business is its 5 resorts and convention centers in Nashville, Orlando, Grapevine, TX (Dallas), National Harbor, MD, and Denver (scheduled to open 2014). Many of Gaylord’s big shareholders are holding companies that own other hotel chains, including its biggest shareholder, TRT Holdings, which owns the Omni and Host hotel chains.
As Saving Country Music explained when asking if the Country Music Hall of Fame should take over The Opry, “If you take away the real estate and tourist component from The Grand Ole Opry, the Opry franchise sticks out like a sore thumb in the current Gaylord Entertainment business structure.”
If Gaylord is sold to a larger hotel holding company or otherwise forced to split its assets, this makes it even less likely that Gaylord will keep control of The Grand Ole Opry, especially if the sale is to TRT Holdings. As Nikhil Bhalla an analyst at FBR & Co. told Bloomberg, “The aim would be to realize synergies between Omni and Gaylord. You’ll have a larger portfolio of hotels and you can trim down the corporate overheads to manage both.”
Saving Country Music also theorized on April 30th about a partial Opry sale:
Gaylord is probably less likely to sell its Opry real estate assets of The Grand Ole Opry House and The Ryman since real estate is Gaylord’s new core business, but these properties could be split, or leased to The Hall of Fame or another entity as part of the sale of WSM and The Opry radio show.
According to Chris Jones, an analyst at Telsey Advisory Group in New York, this is a very real possibility…
Instead of seeking a buyer for the whole company, Gaylord could sell its assets while still maintaining managerial control over them. You could do a partial sale or a sale of a single asset whereby Gaylord would hold onto some form of a management contract of the facility.
This scenario would allow Gaylord to retain ownership of the real estate assets of The Grand Ole Opry House and The Ryman Auditorium, while still selling The Grand Ole Opry as a radio business along with its flagship station WSM in Nashville.
Whatever may or may not happen with Gaylord Entertainment and The Grand Ole Opry, the time is right for restructuring and selling assets. Gaylord stock is valued at a 28 percent discount compared to other hotel owners according to Bloomberg, and even though Gaylord has posted losses over the last couple of years, the company’s net income is expected to triple this year to $36 million as the economy improves. Gaylord’s stock has risen 43% this year, yet still remains grossly undervalued according to most analysts. It sits at roughly $34 a share, while analysts believe it would be worth $45 a share in a sale, giving Gaylord the capitol it needs to complete its Denver resort, its new Nashville Theme Park, and continue its resort expansion.
Gaylord CEO Colin Reed on a May 8th conference call said to shareholders, “Over the last six months, we’ve been looking at all options available to the company to unlock value…Over the last 12 months, our stock price has traded substantially below its true value.”
Gaylord Entertainment has owned The Grand Ole Opry since 1983. The company’s need to post profits for its shareholders has put it in occasional conflict with country music fans who expect country music’s oldest institution to stay in line with the traditions of the genre instead of chasing current fads to keep the public engaged in a business model that was originally constructed in 1925. Earlier this week, a new Gaylord venture was announced, a drama scheduled to air this Fall on ABC called Nashville.
ABC has announced that a new TV drama called Nashville has been picked up for their Fall season. The show intimately involves Nashville’s mainstream music scene, with former Friday Night Lights actress Connie Britton portraying an aging country star trying not to be overtaken by the up-and-coming young starlet Hayden Panettiere from NBC’s Heroes. The pilot was written by Callie Khouri of Thelma & Louise fame and shot in Nashville last month.
A look at the trailer for the series seems to hint that Nashville will follow a similar story to the 2010 country music movie Country Strong starring Gwyneth Paltrow, though Nashville may even get more specific and more salacious, with the young Hayden Panettiere nailing anything not tied down, and producers mentioning Auto-tune out in the open. The themes and characters look like they could have been ripped out of a Dale Watson song or a story on Saving Country Music.
The biggest difference between Country Strong and Nashville will be that the TV version dramatizing country music’s eternal culture war will have to fill hour-long segments for a whole season. Old vs. young, twang vs. pop may be explored with greater detail than ever before, though many times television dramas as they age (hospital dramas for example) tend to veer away from the hard information that creates their setting, and focus more on love threads and side stories between characters.
It will take the airing of the show to really flesh out what Nashville‘s impact will be on the greater country music world, but just from watching the trailer it is safe to say that country music’s culture war has gone mainstream, a development that has been evolving for a while now. The idea that country’s aging talent is being unfairly pushed aside and its roots being neglected for the crossover flavor of the month is no longer a fringe, underground idea. It now goes without saying, and to Nashville‘s similarity to Country Strong, it may even be cliche.
This also speaks to the commercialization of the anti-Nashville sentiment. A few years ago, Music Row and Nashville’s major labels saw this anti-Nashville trend growing, and to commercialize it and reintegrate those fans they launched a new generation of “Outlaws” with songs complaining about pop stars and how nothing on the radio is country anymore, in songs that ironically sound way more like rock and originate from the same labels as the pop country performers do. Nashville could be the television version of anti-Nashville monetization. That leads us to who the big money is behind the Nashville series: Gaylord Entertaiment.
Gaylord is the owner of The Grand Ole Opry (which is featured prominently in the pilot) and many other core Nashville country music and non-music institutions, and reportedly is a big producer and financier of Nashville. Anyone concerned about what impact this series may have on country music and the city of Nashville should focus in on this relationship first.
The Grand Ole Opry stage is one of the biggest theaters in the country music culture war, with constant battles being fought over who deserves stage time and membership to country’s most important institution. It could be argued that without the drama Gaylord has already created through its management of The Opry, the Nashville series would not be possible. It seems only appropriate that the initial conflict between the series’ two main characters in the pilot happens at The Opry. Instead of answering or resolving the issues many country fans and performing artists have with the way The Opry is run, they appear to be using it as plot for a television show.
It is in the portrayal of the cultural divide that polarizes country music where it will be deemed if the Nashville series’ impact will be positive or not on country music, on The Grand Ole Opry, and on the city of Nashville. It appears from the pilot that a mayoral race is involved, so Nashville’s political dynamic will be part of the drama as well. As someone who grew up in Dallas, I can attest to how a single television series can create very strong, and sometimes very negative stereotypes about a city and its people that sometimes takes generations to erode and unwind afterwards.
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UPDATE 10/09/12: Scott Borchetta and his Big Machine label continue to empire build in Music City. They have signed an exclusive deal with ABC to market the music from Nashville.
“Music has to feel organic, appropriate and authentic when it is paired with on-camera visuals,” said Scott Borchetta in a statement about the deal. “When I saw the pilot for ‘Nashville,’ I knew instantly we needed to be part of it. Not only does our partnership make sense given how closely the show reflects the nature of the music business, but the show’s talent has created some incredible music.”
The music on the show is being produced by industry powerhouse T Bone Burnett. Some of the original songs for the series have been written by The Civil Wars, Lucinda Williams, and Elvis Costello.
Saving Country Music will be keeping a close eye on Nashville.
A couple of weeks ago, the great 2012 American Idol country music hope Skylar Laine got booted off the show for singers that conform more to America’s ideal hyper image. But there’s still hope for young Skylar. Carrie Underwood aside, it is usually American Idol runners up that tend to go on and make it big in music, and according to an interview with The Boot, that’s Skylar Laine’s intentions. However if she’s going to make it big, it won’t be with pop country music.
Like her musical heroes, Skylar also knows exactly what she wants her music to sound like — “really country,” she insists. “I don’t want to be pop at all. I want steel guitar, honky-tonk songs, real country music. What it really is. Talking about guns and all that kind of stuff.”
Guns, huh? Hopefully her anti-pop stance doesn’t hinder her chances of finding a record deal, but in all likelihood it probably will.
Another American Idol alum Kellie Pickler released an album 100 Proof in January that was also pretty anti-pop to the delight of many traditional country fans and critics (including this one). 100 Proof was in the vein of about 1 in maybe every 20-25 albums or so that Music Row lets slip through that actually has a lot of substance, and for whatever reason the label lets the artist have say so in the direction. Another example of this rare, but every-so-often phenomenon was Dierks Bentley’s bluegrass-heavy Up On The Ridge from the summer of 2010.
These albums are heavily ballyhooed by fans and critics alike, but when it comes to sales, chart performance, and award show accolades, they tend to receive a big pass by the industry. A&R folks struggle to find singles. The one or two singles that do get released get held up by radio program directors who scrunch their noses at them for being too country or too artsy. Meanwhile hardcore traditional country fans, and independent and Americana fans see the names “Dierks” or “Pickler” and refuse to give it even a whiff, for understandable reasons, relegating the project to country music no man’s land.
Yet you go on to iTunes and Amazon and the few fans that do connect with these projects leave glowing reviews. Kellie Pickler fans, Keillie Pickler fans are bellyaching now that country radio isn’t about country any more, that it has all gone pop, and it’s unfair they won’t play Pickler’s 100 Proof album. And meanwhile on Music Row, the suits are shaking their heads saying, “I told you so.”
In the war to restore balance back to the mainstream country format, where both pop and traditional country music and demographics are represented, there is nothing more important than creating support around these few traditional or progressive country albums that Music Row does let slip through. A lack of support for these albums only validates the major label’s prejudices about them, making future albums like these even less likely, and making it less likely labels will be searching for more traditional or progressive up-and-coming talent.
Unlike artists like Phish, or Tom Waits, or Hank3 who can build success with grass roots instead of traditional radio support, artists like Kellie Pickler and her fan base are completely unfamiliar and ill-equipped to offer support if it is not being given by mainstream outlets. The grassroots-savvy independent fans tend to steer clear. The mainstream fans tend to be too passive to offer substantive support. And the album struggles.
Music Row is a copycat business in many ways. Whatever works will be tried again, and whatever doesn’t, won’t. And if these traditional country albums from Music Row do not produce results, the reign of pop in country music will only strengthen.
Tonight the double Grammy Award-winning song will be featured in the series finale of “Glee” on Fox. In 2011, and over the last 18 month period, more people have come to Saving Country Music trying to find out who Taylor Swift’s “Mean” is about than have come here for any other topic, partly because of the outside chance the song is about me, The Triggerman, writer for Saving Country Music, and partly because some are dissatisfied with the answer of Bob Lefsetz, the far and away frontrunner in pop culture for the subject of “Mean”.
Since the song has become an international anti-bullying rallying cry, thousands of students have come here looking to research the song on mandatory school assignments. College students have written theses on the song. It has created its own cultural phenomenon and environment and mythos intermixed with our society’s most intimate struggles with criticism and bullying, as the almost daily stories of suicides and assaults remind us the significance and seriousness of the issue.
Since Saving Country Music’s coverage of the song has been limited to the context of criticism and conjecture, I though I would lay out all the facts about the song once and for all to see if we can discern who “Mean” is about. Please feel free to leave your feelings on how this is a fruitless, egotistical endeavor below, punctuated by your best Carly Simon jokes.
The Two Top Candidates:
This music lawyer turned critic/guru is by far the most recognized inspiration for “Mean” by popular culture. Bob was a big proponent of Taylor Swift over the years, specifically for her savvyness with social media, and her ability to connect with her fans, and her willingness to give free songs away to entice new fans and created loyalty throughout her fan base. Bob Lefsetz has been around for many years, and is most famous for publishing The Lefsetz Letter, an industry periodical that talks about the music business and trends. He came into more notable, public prominence for being on the right side of the issue dealing with the digitization of music and MP3′s. For years he warned the industry that digitization was the direction music was going, and the industry’s slow response and subsequent revenue losses made him look like a genius.
In February of 2010, after Taylor Swift famously bombed a performance on The Grammy’s with Steve Nicks, Bob Lefsetz came out against Taylor, saying:
…did Taylor Swift kill her career overnight? I’ll argue she did…In one fell swoop, Taylor Swift consigned herself to the dustbin of teen phenoms.
In many ways, Bob Lefsetz took the point for the post-2010 Grammy criticism of Taylor. When confronted with whether “Mean” was about him, Lefsetz seemed dismissive and not committal when analyzing the lyrics:
Doesn’t sound like me. Then again, didn’t I ultimately lead the charge about her vocal flaws after her Grammy appearance? …Well “Mean” isn’t quite “You’re So Vain” and I’m not quite Warren Beatty, not by a long shot… And only insiders would know who I am.
The Triggerman of Saving Country Music:
(And yes, admittedly it’s dumb I’m writing this about myself. Get over it.)
The very distant runner up to Bob Lefsetz in the public consciousness, the sole proprietor of Saving Country Music has challenged Taylor Swift very hard over the years, writing many negative reviews about the up and-coming country star for not being country, and not being able to sing. After the CMA Awards in 2009, he declared that country music was dead at the hands of Taylor Swift, and that “She won Female Vocalist of the Year, and she can’t even sing.”
This opinion was backed up after Taylor’s 2010 Grammy performance with Stevie Nicks in an article entitled “I Told You Taylor Swift Can’t Sing”.
In November of 2011, right before the CMA Awards, The Triggerman publicly reversed course on Taylor Swift, saying “We Were Wrong About Taylor Swift” partially from the success of “Mean” and her resiliency for taking criticism:
We were wrong about Taylor Swift. I was wrong about Taylor Swift. We were blinded by our prejudices. When Taylor Swift first came on to the scene, she sang cheesy teenage pop songs, and we chastised her for it, when in truth, she was doing what all the great songwriters did over the years: write what they knew about, what inspired them.
He continues to assert that Taylor Swift is not country and continues to have pitch issues, but recognizes her impact on music, and her role as a positive role model.
What We Know:
The lyrics to “Mean” seem to leave one very inconclusive on whom the song might be about. At times it seems to be about me, at other times about Bob Lefsetz, but as Bob Lefsetz points out, the lyrics seem to jump all over the place, to possibly talk about high school bullies or love interests. The same could be said for the “Mean” video (see bottom). In all likelihood, though the song may have a singular inspiration, it was written to touch on the bullying and criticism issue in general, and like many songs, may have lyrics written to flow with the pentameter and rhyming of the song instead of to be hints to its target.
The two most in-depth interviews with Taylor about the song dispel many of the rumors and urban myths that “Mean” is about a high school bully, a friend or family member, or some other close associate of Taylor’s, or Kanye West who famously interrupted her MTV Awards speech. In the EPK preview for the song, she clearly lays out that it is about a critic, and specifically a male critic, and specifically one that “crossed the line over and over again.”
…there is a line that you cross when you start to attack everything about a person. And there’s one guy man, who just crossed the line over and over again, and just being mean, and just saying things that would ruin my day.
In an interview with Jay Leno in January, she re-iterated these points, and went on further to make the very important point that she came in contact with this critic through “Google Alerts.”
A lot of people think that I wrote it about being bullied in high school, and when the song went out in the world it kind of became that. But I actually wrote the song about a critic that kept giving me really bad reviews…And then there’s like the scathing review, that’s kind of past constructive criticism and is more into “I hate you” territory.
…and I don’t read any of my Google alerts any more.
For those that may not know, Google Alerts emails users when a certain list of keywords comes up on the internet. For example, many artists and their publicists will tag their names in Google Alerts to monitor for new reviews and news. Taylor is notorious for being a tech savvy, socially engaged artist.
From its inception, Saving Country Music has been dedicated, if not obsessed with optimizing its Google exposure as a way to find new readers. We don’t know for sure if the negative reviews Saving Country Music was publishing were the ones crossing the line “over and over again”, but make no mistake, if Taylor had Google Alerts activated, SCM’s Taylor Swift articles would have shown up prominently in her inbox. And up to this date, no other critic has been found that consistently criticized Taylor enough to be characterized as “over and over”, or one that behaved in a manner to be characterized as “crossing the line” consistently.
The information in these interviews seems to significantly discredit Bob Lefsetz as the inspiration for “Mean”. First, Bob did not criticize Taylor Swift over and over. He only criticized her heavily once after the 2010 Grammy’s and in subsequent follow up, and then it is questionable to characterized that he “crossed the line” at any point. Also, since Bob Lefsetz lets his thoughts be known through an email mailing list (though now there is a WordPress outlet as well), and since Taylor and Bob did have somewhat of a professional relationship beforehand, it is very difficult to see how Taylor would be alerted to Bob’s criticism through Google Alerts.
“I Thought You Got Me”
Supposedly most or all of Taylor Swift’s songs are about somebody, and in the liner notes of her album Speak Now she highlighted certain letters in the song lyrics to gives clues about who her songs were about. The hint for “Mean” spells out “I Thought You Got Me.” This, along with the line “with your switching sides” from the song itself seem to point squarely at Bob Lefsetz as the “Mean” muse with little or now wiggle room, and contrary to the information Taylor has conveyed in interviews.
Since Bob Lefsetz had been a big proponent of Taylor Swift for years and then switched to a harsh critic after the Grammy debacle, only he is in the unique position to “switch sides.” The “switch sides” lyric could be explained away as simply word play to put together a rhyming lyric, but “I thought you got me” is pretty definitive.
“But the cycle ends right now.”
When Taylor Swift bombed her vocal performances on the 2010 Grammys, I wrote the article“I Told You Taylor Swift Can’t Sing”. If any one SCM article inspired “Mean”, it was this one, but instead of just being outright mean, the intention of the article was to humanize Taylor and offer sympathy. The article was about what I characterized as the “vicious pop cycle,” where average talents are built up by the pop industry, only to be torn down:
People across the board are now tearing down Taylor because she can’t sing, but this is the same public that made her the biggest artist in country this year, and now in ALL of music with her “Album of the Year” Grammy win. This is the vicious pop cycle, and sorry, but FUCK YOU, I won’t participate.
…the mass public overly glorifies an otherwise average talent to make themselves feel “inspired,” and then when the fall starts for their starlet, it is meteoric, and fueled by the jealous, narcissistic hunger of the pop public, tearing that person down with all their spite, sinking their nails into their flesh and feeding like animals off their destruction to fill their vacuous egos. It is a sick, pathetic, and all too predictable cycle that I will not participate in.
Well the pop cycle has started, and soon the words “Taylor Swift” will be a punch line to jokes, uttered by those same “fans,” while Taylor the person is onset with personal demons.
The line in “Mean” that goes “But the cycle ends right now” sticks out in the thematic pentameter of the song, and seems to fit more as an answer to my post-Grammy article.
About Both Bob Lefsetz and The Triggerman?
In the end, both Bob Lefsetz and I were wrong about Taylor Swift. Bob opined that Taylor Swift’s career was over after the 2010 Grammy’s, and after reading Bob Lefsetz’s prognosis, I concurred. Since then Taylor has gone to become one of the biggest things in music in the last decade.
As for “Mean”, in my heart of hearts, after stepping back and looking at all the evidence, I truly believe it is about both Bob Lefsetz and I. That is the only way the conflicting evidence can be resolved. It is Bob’s “switching sides” and my “crossing the line over and over again” that combined to inspire the song.
Of course, since Carly Simon once wrote a song about how thinking a song was written about you is being vain, (whether doing this is truly vain or not, especially if it is true), it is always a difficult slope to walk when trying to convince yourself or others that a song is or is not about you. I will admit, there is a little egotistical part of me that is somewhat proud that something I did potentially went to inspire a song that has made a massive cultural impact and won two Grammys.
However that is countered in great measure by the realization that if it is true, I am a de-facto poster boy for the modern American bully, am blamed by proxy whenever bully incidents and suicides get brought up in the news, am a cultural pariah for being an antagonistic asshole, and the asshole millions of little girls envision when they sing “Mean”into their shampoo bottles in front of their full-length mirrors in the morning. These are things no right-minded person who be proud of or willing to embrace.
It is especially unnerving since I feel my take on Taylor Swift was completely mischaracterized. I never called Taylor Swift a “bitch”, I never crossed a line of calling her out on a personal level, though admittedly, everybody’s lines are in a different place. And specific to my post 2010 Grammy blog, I was invoking the very first principle of Saving Country Music, “People First, Then Music,” in an honest concern for Taylor Swift as a person, anticipating a downward cycle that never occurred.
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This all speaks to the greater dialogue in society about bullies. Laws are being passed, schools are being put on lock down, children are killing themselves and each other because of the perceived actions of bullies in modern culture. However the lesson from Taylor Swift’s “Mean” is how criticism, pain, bullying, bad days and bad feelings can be the inspiration for some of mankind’s greatest achievements. Criticism and bulling can motivate us, and make us better people. It may not be the bullying that is causing the problems, but how we are willing for that bullying to be perceived. Can anyone truly say a world without bullying would be a better place?
If you are being criticized or bullied, take that criticism and learn from it, be inspired from it and make something good out of it. That is the lesson of Taylor Swift’s “Mean”, regardless of whom it is about.
It would be the utmost of conceit to think that the Turnpike Troubadours are regular readers of this lowly internet outpost, and even if they were, that they’d heed any advice thrown their way by its overly-opinionated, obsessive proprietor. But I’ll be damned if many of the things I was hoping to hear from them that I iterated in my review of their last album materialized in this their third release, Goodbye Normal Street.
Call it a maturing or a coming into their own, but this album marks the most solid offering from this Oklahoma-based band yet, and a defining of their sound, their place in the music world, and as a band that music world should pay more serious attention to.
Goodbye Normal Street starts off a little deceptively, with two heavy, hard country songs that may hint this is the new direction they’re going in when in truth they’re just getting your attention. “Gin, Smoke & Lies” with its Queen-esque “We Will Rock You” opening beat and banjo lead-in let you have fair warning not to expect your usual sweet and safe mainstream fare from this release. “Before The Devil Knows Were Dead” builds out from the sharp wit of the title line to become a tribute to mortality with an approach that waxes towards an almost Hank3, Johnny Hiland-style heavy handed guitar solo.
After two soldier-themed songs “Southeastern Son” and “Blue Star”, the album settles in with the style of material you might more be expecting from the Troubadours, yet Goodbye Normal Street is more consistently boss throughout, devoid of some of the valleys of their previous offerings.
When you sit down and try to define it, one of the big differences between mainstream and independent music, or music that people listen to actively, and music people listen to just because it is there, is the presence of a love dialogue. Mainstream music usually works with very catchy, very transparent love themes that are easy to pick up on and identify with, while independent music tends to work more with internal dialogues, struggles and personal experiences, and worldly observations. Love songs can come across as so sacharrine to advanced music listeners, while traditional heartbreak songs about being “oh so lonesome” can be so cliche.
This has left a void for the love song in much of independent music, and this is where the Turnpike Truboadours and songwriter Evan Felker have found their niche. Sharp wit, self-reflection, specific references to characters and situations in an almost Townes or Robert Earl Keen-like storytelling approach imbibes this music with a freshness and engaging nature, revitalizing the old-fashioned love and heartbreak songs in the modern, independent context. “Good Lord Lorrie” gives us all a situation and characters to relate to. So does “Wrecked” and “Empty As A Drum.” The slow, heart-wrenching “Gone, Gone, Gone” may very well be a Song of the Year candidate. “Good Lord Lorrie” may be a runner up.
The Turnpike Troubadours make songs about love cool to listen to again. This is also their ace-in-the-hole, what makes them a band that could break out. They were also very patient with this release, waiting well over 2 years since their last album to let the songs come to them and the groove to materialize before heading into the studio. This band has such good momentum, there no need risking it for some arbitrary desire to present new music on an annual basis.
I’m not sure why I want to be so hard on the Turnpike Troubadours, especially since I like them so much. But as much as this album gives, I still feel like their best music is still ahead. As they get older, they’ll have to rely on even stronger songwriting and even a more defined style as opposed to the energy their live shows are punctuated with today, and this will likely be reflected in their studio work. Even with the strides Goodbye Normal Street takes to defining their sound, I still hear some searching for what the true Turnpike Troubadour sound is.
But I think you’d bee a fool if your a fan of good country music to pass this one up.
Goodbye Normal Street says goodbye to the silly love and heartbreak song formulas that saddle corporate FM, and says hello to how love songs and sad stories in country music should be.
Two guns up!
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As frequent readers of Saving Country Music will attest, over the years we’ve christened fun little nicknames for some our favorite pals of pop country. If you ever wondered where these names came from and why, here’s the explanation behind some of our favorite terms of antipathy.
Tim McGraw and his plastic hat were the first to cross a big line with cross marketing in country music, beginning with his signature line of poof poof, and stretching all the way to Ken dolls (with a matching Barbie for his celeb wife Faith Hill) and now a new line of headphones of all things. Look out Dr. Dre! McGraw is unafraid to show his metrosexual side, and has blazed trails for both the marketing of a country music name, and the threshold of effiminacy the country music public is willing to put up with from their male stars. Yes, Tim McGraw: the trailblazer that gives a new meaning to toilet water, and the purveyor of country music’s version of yacht rock.
He’s the godfather of country rap who stole both Hank Jr. and Sheryl Crow’s dignity, and apparently is also responsible for convincing Arron Lewis of Staind to get into country music. We’d call him the king of trash, but he would take that as a term of endearment, so hopefully this nickname conveys the scuzzy, soiled fedora, eyelids at half-mast, twice-baked, incest-with-a-second-cousin-next-to-a-muddy-lake, greesy-haired burnout that Kid Rock is. Just like a wet cigarette, he is both tacky and disappointing.
Affliction and Tap Out T-shirts, $180 designer jeans with manufactured rips and Gothic crosses embroidered on the ass pockets, offensive amounts of Axe body spray quaffed over glistening and exquisitely-tanned and waxed bare chests contoured by only the best metabolic steroids money can buy, this is the Brantley Gilbert target demographic. Pull your baseball cap down tight over your eyes, wear your shirt two sizes too small, act too cool to complete your sentences, and buy a penis pump under an assumed name and you too can be a country music douche just like Brantley Gilbert. He is the Nickelback of country music.
Oh how beautiful the irony is that the man with the big tough domestic truck endorsement plays guitars painted with the Ford logos and American flags that are in fact made in Korea. According to my buddy at the Seoul food restaurant down the street, “Takamine” is Korean for “big fat American sellout.” Who is the country star with the highest income in all the genre? Not Taylor Swift, not Lady Antebellum or Rascal Flatts. No, it’s Toby Keith, primarily from his Ford Truck endorsement. It’s a good thing those Ford Trucks have best-in-class payload to haul all that money to Toby Keith’s house, and the tons of pride and dignity they get from Toby in return.
As the former DreamWorks executive turned founder and CEO of Big Machine Records (originally started with The Ford Truck Man Toby Keith), he’s the primary person responsible for the success of Taylor Swift and Justin Moore, the two most responsible parties for the erosion of the terms “country” and “Outlaw” respectively. Sure, country has always had pop in its ranks, but Taylor is where it became acceptable to use country terms and outlets for music that was pop and pop only, and opened the door for acts like Lady Antebellum and Lionel Richie. Same goes for Justin Moore and his Outlaws Like Me album (possibly the worst album ever) that jumped the shark for the “Outlaw” term.
Ironically, Borchetta and Big Machine are one of the few labels that actually extend a measure of creative freedom to their artists and have become one of the most successful label models on Music Row. But make no mistake, Scott Borchetta is where country music lost control of the purity of its terms.
Colt Ford – The Country Music Grimmace
Preying on the low self esteem and pandering to the least common denominator, Colt Ford has made a million dollars while admittedly having no skill, no talent, and not even taking himself or his music seriously. Appealing to like-minded souls who possess his same specific lack of skills and overweight body type, he peddles the most gratuitous version of filth to disenfranchised cultural frontrunners in America’s rural areas. No vertical stripes can save him, his morbidly-obese, pear-shaped body is proof that country rap is a cause of obesity.
This album is not the worst album ever put out in country music, and to be truthful, it’s not even close. With the advent of country rap, “New Outlaw” country, and the laundry list approach to country music in general, pop country now finds itself in a bit of a haven from the harshest of criticisms.
What Lionel Richie’s Tuskegee album does hold the distinction of being is country music’s most embarrassing album put out to date. Never before for any album or artist has country as a community taken such a complicit, submissive role in an artist’s transition from pop.
From mainstream country media outlets covering this album incessantly from conception to release, from the 2011 CMA Awards giving Lionel an eternity in award show time to promote an album months from coming out, to the ACM Awards giving him a full hour-long special that was no more than an infomercial and mawkish tribute to a man that country music owes nothing to, to the country music talent that lined up to let Lionel use them to perpetuate this country music transition, Lionel Richie’s Tuskegee is the biggest ruse ever perpetrated on the people of country music.
But as I pointed out when declaring that Lionel Richie was not country, Lionel Richie isn’t using country music, country music is using Lionel Richie, because mainstream country music is embarrassed about…well… being country. And Music Row’s obsessive need for increasing sales and appealing to new demographics has made them short-sighted to the effect of what an aging pop star with pop songs being branded as country could do for the long-term of the country music brand.
Tuskegee is simply a rehash of Lionel’s Greatest Hits album, and this isn’t meant as a reductive statement, it is simply the truth. The album simply takes all of Lionel’s old hits from the heyday of his career and re-brands them by pairing the songs up as duets with pop country stars with minimal, if any attention paid to reinvigorating or differentiating the original compositions or approaches.
This album is positioned as a “tribute” to Lionel’s hometown of Tuskegee, AL, but the name is as far as this tribute goes, and just like with the music itself, it comes across as transparent, skin deep attempt to appeal to the country demographic without delivering on substance.
There is some country music instrumentation on this album, some soft pedal steel and such. But they are conveyed not as essential elements of the music, but as overlay to pop compositions that are balanced out with the use of synthetic pop elements as well. In an ironic twist in the current country music landscape, country artists who want to transition into the crossover market tend to eliminate all steel, fiddle, and banjo from their music. But when a Lionel Richie or a Darius Rucker decide to transition from pop, they will use a little steel or banjo to attempt to veil the truth that the music is indeed more indicative of the previous genre they’re jumping from.
With such heavy star power on this album, you would expect to be able to distinguish who Lionel’s duet partners were without consulting the liner notes. But this music is so soft, so produced and pallid, it is difficult to tell the difference between Tim McGraw’s and Rascal Flatts’ contributions, or Shania Twain’s or Little Big Town’s. About the only contributions that were easily distinguishable were from the oldtimers like Kenny Rogers and Willie Nelson, and from Jennifer Nettles from Sugarland because of how grossly she over-sings on top of the pitch.
This music is not bad for what it is. Lionel Richie wrote or co-wrote most of these songs, and in their time and place, they are well-written, heartfelt songs that speak to everyday people and their emotional struggles and lives. I can see where this album would find appeal. Tuskegee is music for people that don’t listen to music. Lionel came to his success by talent, not by mistake or subversion.
However now in an attempt to rekindle his success, Lionel is resorting to subversion. Do we really need almost identical compositions of the same songs in a music world already beyond glutted with material? Why not try to make these songs country by introducing some waltz beats for example? Add some contrast and creativity to this album. At this point, the popularity of Tuskegee‘s previously-released material can only keep other artists and projects more deserving of attention farther down.
And make no mistake, Tuskegee is a monster of the country music world, and the music world in general. It has already been certified platinum, been #1 on both the country and overall charts, and it’s hard to argue that so far in 2012, it is not the biggest, most important release in country. It is not out of the question that in November, Tuskegee and Lionel Richie, whose already said he wants to make another country album, will be up for major accolades at the 2012 CMA Awards.
All these accolades are an embarrassment for an album that in the end offers virtually nothing new to the music public. This approach is not how the music industry will resolve its financial woes, it is what caused them.
Two guns down.
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