The implosion of the rock genre, especially on radio, has made country a haven for rock stars looking to keep their careers relevant, ultimately spreading the cancer of declining careers to the country format as well. If Steven Tyler’s move to country had anything to do with inspiration or influence, you won’t hear much of it on this new record.
Canada has long proven a good hunting ground for unheralded talent, and many times when the subject of Canadian country bands come up, so does the name of the Moncton, New Brunswick-based outfit The Divorcees. Around for some ten years now with multiple albums under their belt, they’re much-appreciated by the country fans of New Brunswick.
One of the big questions for country music in 2016 is if Florida Georgia Line and other Bro-Country acts will be able to extricate themselves from their destiny of being shuffled into the dustbin of history as the Nickelbacks of country, or if they will show up with some more depth to at least delay the inevitable.
Frankie Ballard is right there. On the brink. Just a few little tweaks away from being something really cool in the country space that’s missing and necessary; someone with a classic cool factor like Dwight Yoakam had when he burst onto the scene.
Calling Tradition Lives a traditional country record stops short of telling the full story. What really defines Mark Chesnutt’s first record in six years is one song of heartbreak after another. Tradition Lives is a full blown breakup album the likes we haven’t heard in country music and beyond in many years.
The only thing I hate about this book is that I didn’t write it, and I didn’t think of the idea first. Who did write it and did all the incredible research was Renae Johnson, also know as Renae the Waitress on the RFD-TV traditional country show ‘Larry’s Country Diner.’
If “Humble and Kind” had no business on country radio (yet it ended up at #1), then “How I’ll Always Be” is a downright coup d’état. It’s not the lyrics of the song that make it a marvel of modern American country radio. It’s the music of “How I’ll Always Be” that makes it so unique and welcome for mainstream country radio.
Whenever you find an artist who doesn’t fit in the stereotypical mold of what we expect certain music artists to be, that’s when you know you’ve found someone with true passion because they’ve had to overcome those stereotypes and sideways glances when it might be easier to just fold and move on to something else.
You can almost overlook Craig Morgan if you’re not careful. He’s not been cutting records nearly long enough to consider him some kind of elder or legend in country music. He’s had a few significant hits and noteworthy records over the years, but it’s not like he was a perennial chart topper even in his heyday in the mid oughts.
These guys exude a good time. The second song on the album laments “Sad Bastard Music” and reminds folks the best way to mend a broken heart is to get back on the horse and on with life. It’s a reminder that music doesn’t always have to be deep to be good. It just doesn’t always have to make you feel stupid for listening like so much of the mainstream fun-loving material.
Luke Bell has a bright future in music … if he wants to. And that might be the biggest question remaining. This self-titled debut will be all brand new to most, and by the grace of some really amazing songs, his audience will continue to swell. Keeping his authenticity and voice will be the challenge.
It says a lot about where country music is, and where Wheeler Walker Jr. is going, that his show at Austin’s new Grizzly Hall was one of the most highly-anticipated country shows in Austin in months. Bloggers, radio DJ’s, and even Texas country artist Sam Riggs turned out to see what all of the hype was about surrounding the country’s newest raunch artist.
There are now so many versions of standards from the American country, bluegrass, and old time songbook, it is an art and discipline in itself to find ways to squeeze new life out of old songs, and one so few have mastered. It’s fun for artists to play cover songs, but it’s rare that it results in anything exceptional or original for the audience these days.
Brad Paisley’s old enough to be Demi Lovato’s father, but let that be no object to them singing a song together about makeup sex. Demi Lovato has no business in country, and we know where this is all headed. Surprisingly though, “Without A Fight” is not as terrible as one would suspect.
If country music is ever to be saved, it’s not going to be by the hands of just one artist. Chris Stapleton can win all the awards he wants, but without a more broad movement represented by multiple artists doing well, and real inroads into country radio, progress remains mostly symbolic. That is where someone like Jon Pardi comes in.
As was said in reference to the Best Albums of 2016 So Far, it has been fairly slim pickings for the first part of the year for finding music that really touches the heart, and has the fortitude to last beyond the calendar year. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions, and 2016 already boasts a number of serious, gut-punching songs.
Austin Lucas, Brandy Clark, Chris Stapleton, Dori Freeman, Dry Up or Drown, Evan Webb and the Rural Ramblers, Heaven Sent, Jeff Shepherd, Lew Card, Lydia Loveless, Parker Millsap, Ryan Scott Travis, Since You've Gone to Heaven, Someday, The Cactus Blossoms, Wrong Side of the Dream
At the 2016 CMT Awards, when they needed someone to walk out to center stage and give an all-too-brief, but nonetheless meaningful tribute to Merle Haggard, they chose Dierks Bentley for the task. Why? Because of all the attendees present at that made-up awards show, with the exception of maybe Chris Stapleton, nobody else had the street cred.
Don’t think of the foul-mouthed escapades of Wheeler Walker Jr. (there’s not a cuss word on this record), the parody efforts of Cletus T. Judd, or the protestations of some angry underground country band. The Golden Ponies do offer their own commentary on today’s country, as well as adult humor about drinking and dipping with the ladies.
After careful consideration of “Big Day in a Small Town,” it feels fair to say that this effort by Brandy Clark and producer Jay Joyce is worthy of being considered right up there with a very select few others as one of the best mainstream country music albums released in the last two or three years, and arguably trumps Clark’s previous effort that was also well-received.
With no disrespect meant to the albums highlighted here, which represent the exception and not the rule, 2016 has begun where the second half of 2015 left off, where it feels like country and roots music across the board is out of ideas, and the search for music that truly enlivens the spirit is becoming harder. Nonetheless, there are still some excellent albums out there worth highlighting.