Browsing articles tagged with " Carrie Underwood"
Sep
30

Review – Carrie Underwood’s “Something In The Water”

September 30, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  93 Comments

carrie-underwood-something-in-the-waterAnd then there were two. This is the assessment most country music power brokers were forced to swallow when Taylor Swift made it clear she’d be moving on in her career without country, leaving only Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood as proven country music females who could actually release singles and have them be heard on the radio. And then Carrie Underwood recently announced that she’s with child. Though this isn’t a guaranteed nail in the coffin of a high flying country career by any stretch, it certainly bisects any plans she might have with a maternity leave, and many times this is proceeded by successful women in entertainment with a re-assessment of priorities more towards family, which is natural and healthy. It’s not up to Carrie Underwood or Miranda Lambert to carry the female torch in country music forever, it’s up to the industry to solve this riddle of why they can’t develop female talent to help them.

On Friday (9-26), Carrie Underwood made an appearance on the TODAY Show to make a big announcement. You had to be pretty dim to not know that a new album would be involved in the appearance in some capacity, but it was somewhat surprising to hear that it would be a Greatest Hits package instead of an album of completely new music. Carrie has only released four records since 2005, and her last album Blown Away was released well over two years ago. And with a little bundle of joy on the way and Greatest Hits: Decade #1 not hitting shelves until December 9th, this stretches out the calendar even more before a new original album from Underwood may arrive.

However Carrie also said as part of the announcement that some new music would be part of the Greatest Hits album, and on Monday (9-29) she released a brand new single called “Something In The Water.”

A wide, sweeping undertaking, “Something In The Water” sees Carrie Underwood carve out the sweet spot for her voice and make an inspiring and faith-based composition the vessel to illustrate the mighty ferocity of her God-given vocal prowess, along with instilling the moments with an elegance and grace that in unison swell to achieve one awe-inspiring performance height.

“Something In The Water” is purely pop country from a stylistic standpoint, but draws heavily from country’s Gospel roots and the ritual of river baptisms to create the compelling narrative at the song’s heart. Though the “something in the water” colloquialism is not wholly unique in this context, the content is nonetheless refreshing in the way it disregards all concern for trends or tropes and instead shows confidence in Carrie’s voice to carry a tune to the top levels of widespread appeal. Resolving with the verses of “Amazing Grace” intermixed with the song’s melody, “Something In The Water” traces a lineage directly back to the very primitive beginnings of country music, intertwining old roots among the song’s otherwise pristine and nouveau passages.

Carrie’s voice is so soaring and strong in this moment, it will comes across as polarizing to some ears, especially to those not used to such bold expressions as this in country music. That is one of the problems for country in 2014: with such a lack of raw talent and the vehicles to express it, when somebody does do something bold, it comes across as an oddity, as too much to take in, almost like it is a pompous attempt to overtly impress instead of sincere expression. In the pop world, this type of exhibition of talent isn’t just common, it is necessary. Pop and R&B can field an army of sensational singers, whereas country commonly leans on the services of Auto-Tune and talk-style phrasing to make up for a lack of natural aptitude. Carrie Underwood once again proves she’s one of the strongest singers of this generation.

“Something In The Water” will also be jeered as pure pop by many, but even with this assessment it still puts it in front of the garbled, directionless multi-genre hodgepodge presented by many of the genre’s top male stars. This is the true “anti Bro-Country” salvo country music has been lacking—one that doesn’t write its plan as the exact opposite of the scribblings in Bro-Country’s playbook, but one that blows the entire argument out of the water. Call it pop if you want, but the delineation the song truly strives for is “timeless.”

It is fair though to to assess that “Something In The Water” may be a little too perfect, a little too esoteric. It’s too much Celine Dion and not enough Oklahoma, while others will question if this rather unapologetic foray into non-secular material should, or can be valued with high regard in the commercial world. But true, openhearted fans of music will find the sway of “Something In The Water” hard to resist, and it should fare positively on country radio which is thirsty for female voices, and Carrie Underwood’s specifically.

Very, very powerful.

1 3/4 of 2 Guns Up.

Sep
16

Steelism’s “615 To Fame” Puts Sidemen in the Spotlight

September 16, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  8 Comments

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto: Don VanCleave

See, this is the kind of weird stuff we need more of.

If you have a strong penchant towards wondering about the untold stories of music’s most adept sidemen like I do, then perhaps you have already pondered upon Telecaster player Jeremy Fetzer and pedal steel player Spencer Cullum Jr. from seeing them on stage with artists like Caitlin Rose, Andrew Combs, and Jonny Fritz just to name a few. There they are doing their worst in the wings while the person whose name is on the poster soaks up the spotlight.

It was in a collaborative state with Caitlin Rose that I first noticed these two young men on stage together, and in my conniving brain I looked at the lanky Cullum Jr., all British and badass on the steel, licking it harder than a calico cat trying to unlodge a gob of Wrigley’s gum from its underbelly, and Mr. Fetzer looking like some damn modern incarnation of Joey Lawrence, all bushy eyebrowed and boyish, who could probably lay half the town’s female eligibles, and I imagined some scandalous love triangle being hatched between the two and Caitlin as they stood up on stage, kicking the crowd’s asses so effortlessly it seemed unfair. In truth it was probably all platonic, but for some reason the idea of sexual frustration permeating that lineup made the music sound that much better.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut here are Fetzer and Cullum Jr. striking out on their own, and I have to say I wasn’t particularly excited about this development when it first came across the wires. These two young men were so “instrumental” (hardy har) in the sound that Caitlin Rose cultivated on her formidable last album The Stand-In, I was completely unreceptive to any changes that might disrupt that chemistry.

What’s so great about sidemen is they don’t give a shit about being out front. But in the Booker T & the MG’s lineage, Steelism is very much a sidemen band. They could have thumbed through their beefy Rolodex of previous collaborators and solicited the vocal services of some of their semi-famous to famous friends. Hell, they’ve played behind Miranda Lambert before. A few weeks ago I was watching that dumb “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock” extravaganza on ABC, and there was Spencer Cullum Jr., all swaying his head as he played steel guitar for the Carrie Underwood / Miranda Lambert screech fest “Somethin’ Bad.” Yes, apparently that song has steel guitar. Somewhere.

But really where these two young twangers trace their nucleus back to is the East Nashville independent scene where they’ve played with just about everybody and established that they’re pretty much cooler than any of us could every be, at least judging by the list of their hip musician friends. But you won’t hear any famous vocalist contributions here. In fact you won’t hear any vocals at all. This is all about the instrumentation baby, so stoke your inner band geek and get ready for an innovative, yet influence-grounded exploration of composition and instrumentation that would be quite a stretch to classify as “country,” but still appeals to people with open minds who enjoy all music that shows reverence to the roots of modern sounds.

steelism-615-to-fameThe title 615 To Fame is not some out-front prediction of where this record might take this duo, it is in reference to how half the album was cooked up in a collaborative space in Nashville (whose phone prefix is ’615′) called Club Roar, and the other half looked to imbibe their tunes with the Southern sweat indicative of the Muscle Shoals vibe that they tried to capture at Fame Recording Studio with the Alabama Shakes’ Ben Tanner in the role of producer. The result is a multi-faceted and spicy record, that takes both an informed and inquisitive exploration into the bounty of sounds that lend to the diverse and rewarding American music experience, with a little British spy and Beatlesesque psychedelia from across the pond mixed in for good measure.

This stuff ain’t for everyone. This is for the vinyl nerds and the deep diggers of the music consuming populous who like to find that little offbeat project that their friends would never get, and listen to it too loudly alone on a random Saturday night. What surprised me the most is the depth of instrumentation Spencer and Fetzer enlisted for this endeavor, and the lengths they went to and the courage they had to put whatever they heard in their minds on these tracks instead of settling for what was close at hand.

When this project first started out, they were farting around with cover songs and such, and I was scared it would become some cheeseball hipster project that I would resent even more for jeopardizing the Caitlin Rose mojo. Instead it is expansive and joyous, though still probably a little too fey and a little too undefined for the average listener. But screw those average listeners, they shouldn’t be reading Saving Country Music anyway. 615 To Fame is totally in the spirit of Booker T & the MG’s Green Onions in the way it begins with the groove, but Steelism gets much more involved, adding layers of ideas and interwoven melodies.

So yes, I give you permission, even as a hardened country fan to enjoy this album. And I also give my papal blessing to Steelism, as long as Spencer Cullum Jr. and Brian Fetzer promise to continue to lend their creative juices in at least some capacity to headliners in the future, since this has resulted in some of the best music that has graced our ears in the past few years.

1 3/4 of 2 Guns Up.

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Purchase 615 To Fame from BandCamp

Preview & Purchase Tracks on Amazon

Aug
26

Free Music Now Seen as an Inalienable Right by Consumers

August 26, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  61 Comments

no-moneyFor a while, it looked like the 2015 Super Bowl Halftime Show might be the first in modern history to showcase a country music artist. Rumors had Carrie Underwood in the running to appear on what has become the most-watched musical performance of the entire year. A country music artist filling that slot only makes sense in the current music climate where country music is ruling the roost over all of the other genres, but in the end it wasn’t meant to be. Whether Carrie was ever considered, the three finalists for the coveted spot were announced as Katy Perry, Rihanna, and Coldplay, with the final choice to be announced soon.

But there was an addendum to the news of the three finalists that has sent some sectors of the entertainment world into a tizzy. Apparently the NFL is not willing to pay the eventual halftime performer for their services. In fact, the NFL expects the performer to pay them.

Though there is no question the exposure to television’s largest audience of the entire year carries with it a monetary value, the idea of an entertainer paying an entity to perform is a dramatic, and dangerous flipping of the paradigm that could have implications much farther beyond a 20-minute halftime show. It seems fitting that this paradigm shift would be presented with the backdrop of the NFL, whose coffers are the most flush of all professional American sports, while their greed appears to have no limit. Football players also don’t receive guaranteed contracts like many professional athletes, and can be cut at any time. It’s also the sport that sees the greatest physical toll endured by its players. In other words, the NFL is already drilled in maximizing profits, and minimizing the payout to their talent pool.

This system of not giving an equitable amount to the football industry’s most valuable asset—it’s players—is established in college. Public institutions, who are many times partially funded by tax dollars, profit in the millions, sometimes billions off of college football programs, while players receive no compensation aside from free tuition. It is expected of college football players and other athletes to play for free, despite the millions of dollars they bring in for the institutions.

And so it is slowly becoming for musicians.

Of course whomever plays the halftime show will receive tremendous exposure, but so will the NFL when non-football consumers tune in to see the halftime performance. So why is it imperative on the musicians to play the subordinate role and pay the NFL?

The underlying problem is that free music is quickly becoming seen as an inalienable right for all Americans, and all of the world’s consumers, if we haven’t reached that dangerous plateau already. And the even more dangerous step of expecting musicians to pay to have their music heard is becoming more of a reality every day—evidenced by this Super Bowl Halftime news.

As an example on the consumer side, on June 18th, T-Mobile announced that the company’s Simple Choice customers would now be able to stream unlimited music from Pandora, Rhapsody, iHeartRadio, iTunes Radio, Slacker, Spotify, and other services without it counting against their data service. “As a committed music freak, I’m personally outraged at the way the other guys are using the music you love to lure you into over-priced plans with sweet ‘promotional offers’ that quickly roll into higher prices or trigger those absurd overage charges,” said T-Mobile CEO and President John Legere. Music should be free of all that. Music should have no limits. So, beginning right now, you can stream all you want at T-Mobile from all of the top music services – data charges do not apply.”

But of course the problem is, music does have limits. At some point, somebody has to pay for it. Somehow, the capital spent to record, produce, and distribute music, and the artists, songwriters, and musicians who made the music, have to be compensated, and at a living wage. Music just can’t be free, but that is exactly what not just T-Mobile, but all wireless providers have in mind. And if the consumer won’t pay for it, then the artists eventually will.

The problem with offering free music is both financial, and psychological. Like the T-Mobile CEO said above, if after six months of free music a streaming service or wireless provider begins to charge you, then it is perceived in the mind of the consumer that an injustice has somehow been done. However the true injustice was actually getting the music free in the first place. In the mind of consumers, it is now intuitive to them that music should be free. And as illustrated by the comments of  T-Mobile’s CEO, consumers feel they shouldn’t even have to pay for the data that music streaming racks up. “Music should be free of all that,” John Legere says, saying that he’s “personally outraged” that companies expect for consumers to pay for music. “Music should have no limits.” In other words, every single other data source that exists for smartphones, you should be charged for, and consumers are perfectly fine and understanding of that. Surfing the web, watching videos, downloading pictures—this all makes sense to be charged for. But music? Music should be free, completely free, meaning no charge for the data, and no charge for the music, for all people, and forever. And if not, then it is the consumer who is getting screwed.

Granted, people who use T-Mobile’s current unlimited music streaming plans still may have to pay Spotify, Pandora, or whomever they have a subscription with (unless they’re on a free, ad-based plan), but all of that could change with bundling. Wireless providers are getting into the music streaming game so they can offer the service directly on smartphone devices without consumers ever spending a dime on streaming itself. Consumers pay a flat monthly charge that includes everything the smartphone is capable of bundled together, including music streaming, and they never even see an itemized charge for streaming music on their bill.

The promotional deal for wireless plans is the portal to making music streaming absolutely free in the near future. With rabid competition and more companies getting into the streaming business by the day, companies are offering enticements to consumers like never before. What is the enticements the companies are offering to the artists? Exposure to their subscribers who number in the millions. Opt out of being included on their networks because you’re not happy with the payouts, and nobody will have access to your music.

Could we see a reality in the future where artists actually pay to have consumers listen to their music, instead of getting paid? In many cases, including with the Super Bowl Halftime Show, this is already the case. The anemic earnings many artists accrue from streamers like Spotify in no way realistically recoups the costs for producing the music. And as physical music formats continue to fall in market share compared to streaming, paying to have your music heard will become an even bigger reality for a wider swath of artists.

Deepening the problem is the formula companies like Spotify use to figure their payouts. The reason payouts for some artists are so low is because the formula Spotify uses will only become financially lucrative for artists if the company has a massive subscriber base. So as more companies get into the streaming business and their numbers are splayed across a wide variety of services, it results in the parsing of the music dollar even more. Even when the profits from Pandora, Spotify, and others are combined together, it in no way creates a living wage for many artists, even for artists with wide, established consumer appeal.

But back to the Super Bowl Halftime Show, and how this could be a significant game changer. The Super Bowl quandary presents two even more dangerous scenarios for the monetization of music moving forward.

The first is that the Super Bowl Halftime deals with the live context, which for many musicians big and small, is the last bastion for being able to make money from their craft. For larger artists, including ones that may some day find themselves eligible to play The Super Bowl, touring is the only true way to make money off of their music. Albums are simply part of the overall merch pool to help pay overhead. As sales and prices for physical and downloaded music plummet, concert ticket prices have held steady, and are on the increase for some artists. Consumers are incorrigibly stingy when it comes to paying for recorded music, willfully circumventing copyright law, or choosing the free option for streaming service before even paying a meager $5 to $10 a month for unlimited music, but they will regularly take to the secondary market and shell out three to four times the face value of concert tickets to see their favorite artists live. If venues, entities like the NFL, content providers, or God forbid, consumers, feel like there is no commercial value in a live performance either, like they currently do for recorded music, or if they begin to think the “exposure” is enough, this could further eat into the overall revenue stream keeping the music industry, and many artists afloat.

The second problem with the Super Bowl Halftime issue is it is starting at the very top levels of music talent, not vice versa as it was though the pay-to-play paradigm would first take hold. By insisting that exposure is payment enough to the very top of industry talent, it could set a trickle-down precedent that could affect the entire industry. Pay-to-play is nothing new in music for smaller artists, though it is still rare. Big music gatherings such as South By Southwest which transpires in Austin, TX every March ask for payments from artists to be considered to play an official showcase, and even if you’re not chosen, the money is non-refundable. Then if the artist does play, they are not compensated for the performance, with the idea the potential exposure to journalists and industry representatives is payment enough. Other entities practice similar tactics to entice free, or paying talent to their events.

And since so few people are paying for recorded music, the money the performer must pay for their equipment, musicians, overhead, travel, etc., and to the NFL, it may not be a worthy investment if the halftime performance simply simulates consumers to go to Spotify or Pandora to stream the artist’s songs at meager penny payouts per play.

Simple exposure is not an equitable form of payment, and asserting so puts music on a slippery slope. That is one of the reasons why performers and guests on late night talk shows get paid scale. Of course the exposure the artist gets is an important boost for them, but the exchange of money (roughly $540.00 for an American talk show) ensures that artists are not being taken advantage of.

The Super Bowl performance issue is mostly symbolic. What is very real is the perception by the American public that all music should be free, and the growing perception by many institutions who believe exposure is payment enough. It is also one of the reasons consumers are seeing diminished returns from the music industry. With less revenue, the industry does not have the wiggle room to take risks and experiment, and to develop upcoming talent. Instead they make the safe bet, switch out producers and DJ’s for true artists, and favor computerized music over costly side musicians.

Music is no different than any other sector of the economy. You get out of it what you give to it. The underlying problem is not Spotify, Pandora, or even the Super Bowl Halftime Show. It is the perception that music is a commodity not worth paying for, and the cost of that perception shows in the quality of the music consumers are served with today.

Aug
11

Sirius XM’s “Fresh Female Voices” Looks to Return Girl Power to Radio

August 11, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  34 Comments
Brandy Clark

Brandy Clark

The virtual disappearance of female country music stars on American radio is a dilemma that has now stretched out for nearly half a decade. Despite the efforts of many well-meaning taste makers in both the media and the industry to make sense of the problem and solve it, nothing so far has significantly penetrated the male blockade dominating country radio. When you take away Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert, and Carrie Underwood, there are no other female country stars who have received any significant chart success with songs since 2010.

Now the senior director of music programming at SiriusXM is looking to try and do something about the problem and hopefully create interest around some of country music’s undiscovered and worthy female talent. SiriusXM’s John Marks has launched a new feature on the satellite radio station’s major mainstream channel The Highway called Fresh Female Voices that three times an hour will feature female artists from both the up-and-coming ranks of the mainstream, and the independent music world. The feature will run all this week while John Marks monitors sales data and social network chatter to see if the program is having a significant impact and which female stars resonate the most.

Female artists who’ve been mentioned as part of the program include Brandy Clark, Sunny Sweeney, First Aid Kit, The Pistol Annies’ Angaleena Presley, Kelleigh Bannen, and Leah Turner. Fresh Female Voices will add an estimated 200 additional spins for female country acts beyond the coverage The Highway regularly gives to the women of country.

First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit

Interestingly, it was a similar John Marks program that is given credit to the rise of Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise”, and songs from Chase Rice and Cole Swindell before they were signed to labels. Marks hopes a similar fate awaits the ladies he’s looking to feature.

“It’s a fan question and an industry question that everyone is asking right now,” John Marks says. “Where is the female talent in country music?  With ‘Fresh Female Voices,’ we will be introducing our national audience to a wide variety of female talent that is out there right now working hard and trying to connect with fans.  We hope to be a conduit by exposing a wide variety of types and styles of country music – while spotlighting up and coming female country music talent.”

“We’re pulling in a wide swath of female talent to gather up what the listeners will respond to,” Marks tells Brian Mansfield of USA Today about the program. “For me, it’s turning into a quest to find the one that finally rings the bell for the country consumer.” 

Marks also says the problem isn’t male listeners dominating the country marketplace, it is female listeners not responding to female talent. “The females typically lead in not liking female talent,” he says. “The trick is going to be how you get the females to like the females.”

Fresh Female Voices marks one of the first programs specifically targeting the country listening audience on radio to try to solve country’s female problem, and one that can have a national impact because of the subscription service’s reach.

Aug
11

Kira Isabella Tackles Date Rape in “Quarterback”

August 11, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  50 Comments

kira-isabella-quarterback“Quarterback” is a song by female Canadian country star Kira Isabella; the first single from her upcoming Sony Music Canada release Caffeine & Big Dreams. It was released to the Canadian market on March 25th, and has performed fairly well, cresting Canada’s Hot Country Billboard songs chart at #10. Written by Rivers Rutherford, Bobby Hamrick, and Marti Dodson, the song tells the story of a young girl from the high school freshman class who is seduced by the star quarterback of the football team. After being disarmed by some sips of alcohol, the freshman girl ends up having unwanted sex with the quarterback in the back of a truck, complete with embarrassing photos being posted on the internet the following day.

The song was released to the American country market on May 19th, but did not fare well for a number of reasons, principally that Kira Isabella’s US radio promo company HitShop Records recently realigned to focus more on satellite and streaming options because the American radio climate is so difficult to promote singles in these days. But recent headlines and current events have created a resurgence of interest in the single. With its strong female voice and perspective, “Quarterback” could very much be considered another anti “Bro-Country” addition to the country music song landscape—a precursor to Maddie & Tae’s “Girl In A Country Song” if you will. Similarly, with a slew of high-profile rape events at country concerts, including one where many concert patrons apparently stood idly by and watched and took video and photos during a rape, and another where a woman was allegedly raped by multiple men, the merging of rape and country music has become a hot topic.

“Quarterback” was not written to tackle either Bro-Country, or country music’s recent rape problem though; it was meant to tackle the rape issue plaguing the scholastic sports environment in both high school and college, and the propensity for athletic programs and universities to institutionally look the other way when allegations are levied, especially when it comes to star players. The song was originally pitched to the American market and Carrie Underwood who almost cut it, but Carrie did not want her previous relationship with Dallas Cowboys’ star quarterback Tony Romo to lead to speculation that the song was about him.

“Quarterback” has a very Carrie Underwood feel it it—solidly pop country, but still substantive, with an very emotional quotient that allows the message to resonate deep in the listener. Kira Isabella does not have the voice of Carrie Underwood, but she fits herself into the song quite nicely, and the strings and other sonic accoutrements compliment the weighty drama of the story.

The video for “Quarterback” is also an asset. It includes just enough abstraction, and just enough realism to convey the story without coming off as too dramatic or objectionably preachy or sentimental, while still giving a strong illustration to the storyline. An interesting note, there are many elements of “Quarterback” that mirror those of Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me”, including the leading lady being in the marching band, the leading male being the star of the football team, and the video showing shots of the marching band girl in her bedroom. Obviously, the circumstances in “Quarterback” are a little different.

Some are touting “Quarterback” as if it could be revolutionary to country music. But if the song is going to pull off a revolution, it first must be heard. And the idea of “Quarterback” making a late game rally on US country radio at this point seems slim. And it’s not necessarily because stodgy radio programmers refuse to play a song denouncing date rape, it’s because the song really doesn’t have the push behind it at the moment from a major radio promotional outfit.

Charles Aaron of Wondering Sound wrote a great piece about “Quarterback”, asking, “Is Country Radio Ready for a Song about Date Rape?”, though he also seemed to let a personal agenda pepper the article, starting off by observing, “One of the most threatening things that a woman can do these days, it seems, is report a sexual assault, or to assert that there is a pervasive sexual-assault problem, or to push for schools to address the issue of sexual assault on campus, or to start a hashtag where women can tweet about being assaulted.”

I’m not sure if that’s really the case, even in the traditionally-conservative country music world. And I’m not sure that two high-profile rape incidents at country concerts recently constitute an epidemic just yet. Of course Charles Aaron was probably using at least part hyperbole, but it seems that country music is commonly painted with a closed-minded brush when the reality of things is a much different picture. Johnny Cash had a #1 hit with “Sunday Morning Coming Down” in 1970. Loretta Lynn released “The Pill” in 1975. And Kacey Musgraves has seen a couple of songs do quite well in country music despite controversial themes, principally “Merry Go ‘Round” and “Follow Your Arrow”. Sometimes people on the outside looking into country seem surprised country fans have the mental competency to even tie their own shoes.

In fact one of the most remarkable things about “Quarterback” is how it comes across as simply a story that is resonant and in many ways universal in its ability to be recognized as an eternal theme of American society. It is about date rape specifically, but generally it is about the doors that are opened by power and fame, and the doors that are closed by obscurity, illustrated on a yearly basis by the casting of American society by high school royal court popularity contests. The controversy in Musgraves’ “Merry Go ‘Round” and “Follow Your Arrow” was much more overt. “Quarterback” conveys its message with feeling in a narrative that is hard to not feel compassion for.

The primary problem with “Quarterback” is the same problem with many modern-day country songs written by committee, which is they create non-linear scenarios for the performers of these songs to dwell in. One of the reasons the Outlaws of country music resonated so deeply back in the mid 70′s is because they understood that the songs they sung became extensions of the persona, whether that persona was true to themselves, or not.

Kira Isabella’s previous single before “Quarterback” was a song called “Blame It On Your Truck”. Released a full year before Maggie Rose’s very submissive “Girl In Your Truck Song” (another single beset with the shuttering radio promotions department), “Blame It On Your Truck” takes a very similar subservient female position, and ironically, in the back of a guy’s truck—the same setting where the “Quarterback” date rape scene occurs.

“I know you like the jeans I’m wearing, ’cause I can tell by the way you keep staring.
There’s a place we like to go way back in the woods, everybody think’s we’re up to no good…
 Don’t wanna think about it now, but my mama will be freaking out when I don’t make it home before 2 AM.
I’ll say it wouldn’t start or maybe we got stuck, I know my daddy he’ll be waiting up.
Let’s blame it on your truck.”

You get the sense that Kira Isabella is just singing the song put in front of her instead of drawing on inspiration to tell a heartfelt story. There’s nothing about her performance that would allude to this; it’s more a symptom of the country music system churning out songs through committee instead of doing their best to take a truly original human expression forged from inspiration and convey it to the wide masses. It would be a fair accusation against “Quarterback” to say that the song is simply pandering to the emotional vulnerability of the audience.

The unfortunate fact is “Quarterback” has little to no chance of being heard en masse, or even receiving any sizable radio play unless Sony somehow calls a cross-border audible and puts some promotion behind it. And who knows, with Kira’s new album coming out in a week, stranger things could happen. The story of “Quarterback” is a good one, and let’s hope it gets heard by more people. But let’s also hope that its moral doesn’t become even more poignant as this summer of seediness at mainstream country music concerts continues.

Jul
21

Women Going About Battling Bro-Country All Wrong

July 21, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  21 Comments

Carrie-Underwood-Miranda-Lambert-Somethin-Bad

Last year about this time, music periodicals left and right were falling over themselves to declare 2013 the “Year of the Woman” in country music. From Billboard, to NPR, to right here on Saving Country Music, the recognition of the creative leadership coming from female performers such as Kacey Musgraves, Ashley Monroe, Brandy Clark, Caitlin Rose, Lindi Ortega, Holly Williams, Kellie Pickler, and others was seen as one of the universal themes of 2013. Of course this theme paralleled one of the worst commercial performances by country’s females in history, seeing the virtual evaporation of women from the top of the genre’s main indices, and making the “Year of the Woman” a tale of two stories.

Music Row in Nashville may be dumb, but it’s not stupid. They saw the need to ramp up the female quotient to restore some diversity to the format. And here in the summer of 2014, we’re very much seeing the results of those efforts. And unfortunately, it’s not very pretty.

The first onslaught our ears were subjected to was the lamentable duet between two of country music’s most powerhouse females in Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert. An intriguing pairing, it was sure to get the attention of people even if the song was terrible, which it was. “Somethin’ Bad” was nothing more than a story-less banshee yawp taking two stars completely out of their element to try and show up the boys, and ended up denting the dignity of these artists as an obvious attention grab. It was the proverbial “Hey, look over here!” moment. And though the song did crest Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart for a very short period, it has since fallen, while stalling on the Country Airplay chart at #21. Even with a double shot of star power, “Somethin’ Bad” didn’t have nearly the staying power of many of Bro-Country’s biggest anthems, which quickly rise to the very top, and stay there sometimes for months.

Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert weren’t going to “out bro” the Bro-Country stars, and attempting to do so was futile. Besides, Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert were two of the three female names (along with Taylor Swift) who actually could still climb country’s charts on their own.

As strange as it may seem to characterize Underwood and Lambert as older stars since they still feel like fresh arrivals in the country scene in many respects, they are now both in their 30′s and are very much part of the established country music vista. Bro-Country has been mostly fueled by non-established male stars springing up left and right and landing monster hits. As soon as super hits from Luke Bryan or Jason Aldean begin to falter from a multi-month reign, there’s a Florida Georgia Line or Cole Swindell to back them up. Country music needed some girl power, and from some fresh faces if it was going to attack its female problem with full force. And that is just what we have seen over the last few weeks.

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Maddie & Tae

So now we have Maggie Rose and her tune “Girl In Your Truck Song” taking a submissive, pandering role to the Bro-Country phenomenon, hoping to ride the coat tails of the trend to a high chart rating. A new artist named Raelynn has a song out some are touting as being an answer to Bro-Country called “God Made Girls”. And leading them all might be Maddie & Tae from the Big Machine Records stable and what they hope to be a blockbuster in “Girl In A Country Song”.

All of these girls are very young, very cute, and very blonde, but do they deserve attention, and will they ultimately be successful? Though each artist and song deserves to be dealt with individually because they pose such variations to the Bro-Country backlash, they all are still taking the stance of referencing or utilizing the same approach as Bro-Country does in one capacity or another. It’s the “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude. Leadership is not seeing what someone else is doing and attempting to capitalize off of it, whether that be from a positive or negative stance. It is about blazing your own path and making others follow in your wake.

READ: Is Maddie & Tae’s “Girl In A Country Song” Anti Bro-Country?

One of the problems with the approach of these girls and their songs is they fail to recognize that Bro-Country is already very long in the tooth as a trend. Public sentiment is turning against Bro-Country in big numbers, and whether positive or negative in their take on the trend, by harnessing themselves to it these girls risk going down with the sinking ship. They may be very successful in the short-term, but if Bro-Country does a disappearing act like the disco or hair metal of country music, there will be collateral damage, just like there was in the disillusion of those trends.

Really, the most successful challenges to Bro-Country haven’t been coming from girls, but from men. Dierks Bentley was able to release an album and multiple singles that have shown surprising success amongst the Bro-Country landscape despite not giving into the trend himself. Same could be said for Eric Church. And as ironic as it may seem, Florida Georgia Line’s “Dirt”, which just became the most-added debut country single in country radio history, and has already landed at #1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, might be the most successful ANTI Bro-Country song yet, because it comes from one of the subgenre’s pioneers, and still works well within the styling of the trend while delivering greater substance. “Dirt” does what the women failed to do: offer a more subsnative alternative that still includes mass appeal.

The problem with country music’s females are not the songs. There are plenty of songs out there that challenge Bro-Country; not because they directly call it out, but because they illustrate how you can have substance in a song, and it still be engaging and relevant. But those songs aren’t being released to radio, or promoted heavily by their labels.

What the women of country music need to do is to continue to the leadership they displayed during “The Year of the Woman” and let the men come back to them in the implosion of Bro-Country, not try to beat them at their own game. If you released a song like Kacey Musgraves’ “The Trailer Song” to radio, you would have a Top 10 hit with a waltz-time tune that would also have the country world singing along and tapping their toes. This would illustrate to country consumers that they have females choices in country music too.

The women are doing nothing wrong. There’s no need to have a change of direction. There are plenty of women and songs already saving country music. We just have to let them.

Jul
1

Maddie & Tae’s “Girl In A Country Song” Anti Bro-Country?

July 1, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  44 Comments

maddie-and-tae

Could we be on the brink of a blockbuster country protest song?

I was going to start this off with a spirited dissection of just how Nashville’s Music Row is re-integrating the anti “bro-country” sentiment back into the country music industrial complex, just like they did with the “New Outlaws” in the earlier part of this decade, and make no mistake ladies and gentlemen, that is what is going on with this song, no matter the original intention of these two 18-year-old girls. But out of respect for these young ladies, and the song itself, we’ll leave a more in-depth exploration of those matters for another time (read more here).

Maddie & Tae are the first signees to Scott Borchetta’s Dot Records—the most recent imprint to his Big Machine Label empire (NASH Icons notwithstanding). Maddie & Tae were not signed to Dot because of a lengthy performance resume. The girl’s performance schedule has been very limited up to this point. They were not signed to Dot on the strength of a completed album. In fact their debut album is still in the writing phase. And it’s not because Maddie & Tae are making a big buzz in the social media world, or the music world in general. At the moment, the duo’s Facebook page only has 1,100 “likes” (though this will all change in due course, trust me). The reason Maddie and Tae were signed to Dot Records was off the strength of one tune, “Girl In A Country Song”, and that one song now has the duo being underwritten by country music’s biggest label, poised to take country music by storm.

Make no mistake about it, “Girl In A Country Song” will be a huge hit, because Scott Borchetta will make it that way. The pretty faces help, and so does the fact they they can write and sing a little bit—just exactly how much though has yet to be truly battle tested. But this one song is good enough apparently to give the duo a green light. Yes ladies and gentlemen, this is the brave new world of country music.

“One of the reasons we activated Maddie & Tae right now, it started with this song, ‘Girl In A Country Song’,” says Big Machine CEO Scott Borchetta in the duo’s EPK (see below). “I think we’re staring off Dot Records with an absolute heater. There is a gaping hole for a female act to come and re-engage teenage girls in the format. It really hasn’t happened since Taylor (Swift).”

In Rolling Stone‘s recent special country music edition, in the feature on Scott Borchetta, they capture Borchetta interfacing with the new duo. “Borchetta’s last meeting of the day is with Maddie and Tae, a perky blonde duo, both 18, signed to Big Machine publishing, who are about to become full-fledged label artists. Their label is excited about “Girl In A Country Song,” which pokes gentle fun at the genre’s stereotypes—but they need to finish writing the album.”

Maddie Marlow and Taelyn Elizabeth are from Texas and Oklahoma respectively. They met in 2011 via a vocal coach and originally were going under the name “Sweet Aliana“. Ahead of the release of “Girl In A Country Song”, they are saying most of the right things.

There are so many teenagers and duos, so many people trying to do the same thing,” says Maddie. “All of it’s about guys. We like to write about that, too. But what’s going to set us apart? We want to be intriguing but also put out songs with good messages.”

“We kind of like to shock people,” adds Taelyn. “We like to write a song that most people would never expect from two teenage girls. We make it modern but still really country. Hopefully, it catches on with people.” 

The two girls list their influences a Dolly Parton, Joe Dee Messina, The Dixie Chicks, Carrie Underwood, Lee Ann Womack, and Shania Twain, who they reinforce is “THE thing” in their ethos.

So what do we get when we finally get to hear this much ballyhooed “Girl In A Country Song”?

Sonically, we get a pretty straightforward pop country structure, with the sentimental banjo and mandolin present here and there, but not too loud or out front, as is the custom of the day. Rock guitar sets the rhythmic base of the song, and though the solo is handled by a fiddle (a scandalous decision these days), its tone is tinged such that it could almost be mistaken as a Stratocaster. The turntable scratches at the beginning could be serious, or could be mockery. It’s anyone’s guess at this point.

The girls sing with that saucy twang that starts purposely below the register, and comes up to meet the proper note, imbibed with lots of attitude a la Miranda Lambert.

The words to “Girls In A Country Song” are what have everyone riled, and undoubtedly are what have Scott Borchetta rubbing his hands together, envisioning this track co-written by the duo will strike at a nerve just at the time the bro-country wave has reached its peak.

I hear you over there on your tailgate whistlin’
Sayin’ “Hey girl,” but you know I ain’t listenin’
Cause I got a name and to you it ain’t
pretty little thing, honey or baby
It’s driving me red red red red red red redneck crazy

That’s right, Maddie & Tae are not just harping on “bro-country” per se, they’re specifically putting Blake Shelton’s “Boys ‘Round Here” (which has the same “red red red” cadence), and Tyler Farr’s creepy stalker song “Redneck Crazy” in its crosshairs. That’s a lot of guano-stirring for a couple of girls who likely wrote this song when they were 17.

Yes, “Girl In A Country Song” could very much be considered to fall in line with the long-standing country music tradition of protest songs, however playful, light, and potentially tongue-and-cheek as it might be. But let’s all just tap the breaks in saying this is “anti bro-country”. Are a couple of 18-year-old girls really looking to take on virtually the entire country music recording industry, even if Scott Borchetta has their backs? This song is being submitted to the masses because the bean counters at Big Machine think it can sell. That is in no way an attempt to belittle the sentiment and the inspiration instilled in this song by two girls, but let’s be honest.

The simple fact is country protest songs in 2014 are almost as cliché as the songs they’re chiding. We have clichés calling out clichés, and soon we’ll have protest songs calling out all of the protest songs. and is this truly a protest song, or should it be considered more an “answer” song in the old school country convention, where a female (or male) artist takes a song and writes a playful rebuttal? The true “anti bro-country” songs aren’t saucy ditties like this one from Matty & Tae, and it’s certainly not Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood’s “Somethin’ Bad”. It is Kacey Musgraves’ “The Trailer Song“. It is First Aid Kit’s “My Silver Lining“. These are songs with true originality, with story, and from major label artists whose best songs have no excuse not to be released to radio. Bro-country won’t be defeated by being attacked, or by being one-up’d by employing the same shallow tactics. It will be defeated when it is ignored, when alternatives that resonate deeper are offered and bro-country blends into the background as the hyper-trend it is. By getting behind this song, the industry, or at least Scott Borchetta, is signaling they believe bro-country’s relevancy arch is getting long in the tooth.

This is a cute little song, but I hate to place too much of a burden on it by loading it up with what some country fans want from it. What Maddie & Tae will truly become in the country realm is yet to be determined, and with girls this young, we all have to be careful and respectful of what our words, wants, and wishes might do to their original visions and dreams.

In the Rolling Stone feature on Scott Borchetta, the part about Maddie & Tae concludes, “When the pair seem eager to defer to the company’s wisdom, Borchetta gently chides them, ‘We’re activating this because of your vision,’ he says, his expression grave. ‘Don’t lose it.’” This speaks to Borchetta’s long-standing principle to dole out more artistic freedom than most of his Music Row comrades. And I would concur with his sentiments. These girls are so young, who knows where things will go. But as for “Girl In A Country Song”, I think without question, it is headed straight to the top. And it’s somewhat empowering and resonant sentiment along with it.

1 1/4 of 2 guns up.


To listen to “Girl In A Country Song”:

You can listen to it in the background of the EPK below, or ….

You can either try by Clicking Here, or by pasting the following url: mms://206.53.211.116/verifiedwma/2034521.wma into you Windows Media Player, Real Player, VLC Player, etc.

NOTE: The song might sound strange, especially in the beginning because it has been protected from re-recording. Hang with it.

As soon as a proper copy has been made available, it will be posted here.

“Girl In A Country Song” is set to be released to radio on 7/21 according to Windmills Country.


Lyrics first transcribed by Farce The Music.

Girl in a Country Song
(Written by Maddie (Marlow), Tae(lynn Elizabeth Dye), and Aaron Scherz; 
Performed by Maddie & Tae)
 
Well I wish I had some shoes on my two bare feet
And it’s gettin’ kinda cold in these painted-on cut-off jeans
I hate the way this bikini top chafes
Do I really have to wear it all day?
(Yeah baby)
 
I hear you over there on your tailgate whistlin’
Sayin’ “Hey girl,” but you know I ain’t listenin’
Cause I got a name and to you it ain’t
pretty little thing, honey or baby
It’s driving me red red red red red red redneck crazy
 
Being the girl in a country song
How in the world did it go so wrong?
Like all we’re good for is looking good for
you and your friends on the weekend, nothin’ more
We used to get a little respect
Now we’re lucky if we even get
To climb up in the truck, keep our mouth shut, ride along
And be the girl in a country song
 
Well, shakin’ my moneymaker ain’t ever made me a dime
And there ain’t no sugar for you in this shaker of mine
Tell me one more time you gotta get you some of that
Sure I’ll slide on over, but you’re gonna get slapped
These days it ain’t easy being that…
 
Girl in a country song
How in the world did it go so wrong?
Like all we’re good for is looking good for
you and your friends on the weekend, nothin’ more
We used to get a little respect
Now we’re lucky if we even get
To climb up in the truck, keep our mouth shut, ride along
And be the girl in a country song
 
Yep, yep, yep
 
Aw naw,
Conway and George Strait
Never did it this way
Back in the old days
Aw naw,
We ain’t a cliche
That ain’t no way
To treat a lady
 
Like a girl in a country song
How in the world did it go so wrong?
Like all we’re good for is looking good for
you and your friends on the weekend, nothin’ more
We used to get a little respect
Now we’re lucky if we even get
To climb up in the truck, keep our mouth shut, ride along
Down some dirt road we don’t even wanna be on
And be the girl in a country song
 
(Spoken)
Yeah baby
I ain’t your tan legged Juliet
Can I put on some real clothes now?
 
Aw naw
Jun
17

The Worst “Country” Songs of 2014 So Far

June 17, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Down with Pop Country  //  89 Comments

florida-georgia-line-luke-bryan-this-is-how-we-roll

WARNING: Language

The middle point of 2014 finds so called “bro-country” in full throat, with its death grips around the neck of the country music genre and threatening to throttle the very life out of it with no prayer for resuscitation. As you can expect, the assailants are the usual suspects of putrid country music specimens selling out to the lowest common denominator for commercial success. Here are your worst “country” music songs of 2014 so far.


Florida Georgia Line (w/ Luke Bryan) – “This Is How We Roll”

“Like one of those stationary rides in the front of Wal-Mart for toddlers, ‘This Is How We Roll’ makes a lot of noise, has a bunch of flashing lights, bumps up and down a little bit, but in the end, goes absolutely fucking nowhere. The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers soundtrack has more sincerity, depth, and nutritional value than this explosion of diarrhea in country music’s bikini cut man briefs.

“An environment of sexual perversion and sheer stupidity permeates ‘This Is How We Roll’ and its respective video from stem to stern, including a scene near the start of the video with a dollop of hussies having consensual sex with a Kenworth. I sure hope these chicks have their Tetanus records in order. And then of course we have Tweedledee and Tweedledum from Florida Georgia Line riding on top of the semi like Teen Wolf, with the same display of doltishness and disconnect with self-awareness many mid 80′s movies like Teen Wolf were horrifically beset with.” (read full rant)


Jarrod Niemann – “Donkey” 

“‘Donkey’ is an uprovocated ass raping of the ears, and if any Niemannites come here preaching to me the virtues of this song because ‘country music must evolve,’ I will personally take a pair of donkey balls and use them to tea bag each and every one of their bedroom pillows when they’re not looking. “Donkey” isn’t just bad, it defines the catastrophic trainwrecking of the entire human evolutionary timeline. 800,000 years of homo sapien progress brought to a screeching halt because one pudgy douchebag wants an arena-sized “country” career before his pubes turn gray. “Donkey” is a harbinger for a dark age for arts, entertainment, and intelligence that humankind is on the precipice of plummeting headlong into.

“The worst song ever? I’m tired to doling out this distinction only to have to offer a revision every six weeks when some other pop country asshole finds a new gradient for rock bottom, but Jerrod Niemann’s EDM-encrusted, braying ass certainly deserves to be in the discussion for that most disgraceful of honors.” (read full rant)


Tim McGraw – “Lookin’ For That Girl

“What kind of fresh hell has Tim McGraw unearthed here? Apparently the once high-flying country star has been inadvertently inoculating himself with inebriating bronzer agents from his incessant chemical tan treatments that have now seeped into his blood stream. And combined with an undiagnosed eating disorder that has rendered McGraw’s figure to that of a 55-year-old Venice beach female body builder succumbing to a lifetime of melanoma, Tim has robbed precious nutrients from his gray matter, stupefying him into such an absolute scientifically-infallible vacuum and void of self-awareness that physicists want to employ it to see if it is the ultimate key to tabletop fusion. ‘Lookin’ For That Girl’ isn’t a cry for relevancy, it is a barbaric yawp, a banshee scream, a cacophonous ode to the onset of monoculture and wholesale mediocrity.

“The icing on this urine-drenched urinal cake topped with cigarette butts, spent gum, and used inside-out prophylactics oozing their venereal slurry out on the diarrhea-infested floor is the fact that through the entire drum machine-driven song Tim McGraw is singing through an Auto-tune filter turned to 11. T-Pain, eat your top hat-wearing heart out. I’ve been saying for years now that Tim McGraw is more machine than man, but not even I could have predicted this unmitigated rejection and headlong flight from anything analog or authentic. Hell, why do we even need a human to sing this fucking song? We should just have one of those iRobot floor cleaners sing it. At least that way it would be on hand to swab up the hurl this monstrosity will invariably evoke from enlightened music listener’s disgruntled guts. And like an iRobot incidentally, ‘Lookin’ For That Girl’ will also freak the everliving shit out of your dog.” (read full rant)


Jake Owen – “Beachin’”

“What’s going on here folks is now that Kenny Chesney has been put out to pasture by the country music powers that be, somebody has to step up and fill the void for swaying, stupid, sand between the toes sonnets of suburban escapism for 40-something women with skin Cancer on their shoulders to hold their Corona Lights high in the air to and scream ‘Whoooo!’ while breathing in the smoke of their Home Depot citronella tiki torches … Now Jake Owen and others are stepping up to fill this void of what apparently is a must-have staple of the American country music radio dial.

“As much as hearing even the opening stanza of a corporate country beach song can make a distinguishing music listener pucker harder than trying to down a cheap Mexican beer without lime or salt, Jake Owen and ‘Beachin’’ makes this exercise even more excruciating by featuring him rapping, yes, rapping the verses … yo yo. And to this end, Owen delivers what has to be the worst white boy rap performance that has ever been proffered to human beings for public consumption that isn’t meant to be taken as ironic. I guess his voice is supposed to be all low and sexy, but the ultra-monotone and lifeless pitch makes Charlie Brown’s teacher sound like Loretta Lynn. Is the term ‘Beachin’’ supposed to be a lyrical hook that delivers some sort of payoff? Because it’s about as unfulfilling as Daytona Beach when you’re dreaming of Cancún.” (read full {semi} rant)


Cole Swindell – “Chillin’ It”

“Cole Swindell is the most not-having-any-bit-of-soul-or-culture human being I think I have ever observed on God’s whole creation. He’s the human equivalent of a piece of bleached white bread with the crust cut off, served with a glass of room temperature tap water. He’s more milk toast than Caspar, and more boring than a bowl of vanilla. It’s like a thermonuclear holocaust of culture and personality-scrubbing destruction swept over Cole Swindell while he was swimming in the very fissile material of the root detonation agent, leaving a man that is so vacant of anything interesting or distinguishable that he is the utmost purified and scientifically-verifiable essence of Miriam Webster’s unabridged definition of ‘generic’ that could ever be procured as an example or proffered as evidence.

“’Chillin’ It’, just like Cole Swindell himself, is the refined, filtered, and homogenized version of something that was rapaciously trite and disappointing to being with. The first thing that pops in your head when hearing ‘Chillin’ It’ is that it’s pretty blatantly Florida Georgia Line’s ‘Cruise’ version 2.0. Except somehow, inexplicably, Swindell discovered how to do them even one worse by engineering something so aggressively vapid that labeling the song ‘bad’ even seems to bestow this spiritless, prosaic waste of effort with more personality and distinction than it actually contains or deserves.” (read full rant)

NOTE: Was released officially in 2013, but didn’t rise to prominence and become a multi-week #1 until March of 2014.


Brantley Gilbert – “Bottom’s Up”

“In this the season of giving, can we all at least come together as one, regardless of sex, race, orientation, creed, religious, political or social status, or cultural background, and swallow our collective differences, hold hands in the common bond of humanity in a rising chorus of hosannas, and all universally decree that Brantley Gilbert is the biggest douche ass to ever suck air on planet Earth?

“Such a gift from heaven it has been to not have Brantley terrorizing us with new music for a good long while. But apparently Brantley was just resting up, refining his putrid exploration into the very innermost reaches of human vanity and self-ingratiation to then unleash upon his trashy fans with the sweet residue of methamphetamine glistening on the edges of their inflamed nostrils, the purest form of raging narcissism ever witnessed in Western Civilization in the construct of his new diarrhetic single ‘Bottoms Up,’ and it’s accompanying video.

“At one point in the video, three women are surrounding Brantley, rubbing their hands all over him. But these girls aren’t copping a feel, their feverishly searching for Brantley’s beleaguered genitals that have taken the form of two acorns flanking a Vienna sausage that then fled up into his abdomen like a rodent scampering into its hole—the result of a tireless regimen of prolonged steroid abuse; hence the nonstop, headlong pursuit of this song and video to compensate and dramatically oversell Brantley’s manly prowess and masculine superiority.” (read full rant)


Dishonorable Mention:

Jun
9

Southern Accents Make a Comeback in Country, But Are They Real?

June 9, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  53 Comments

justin-mooreTime was in country music when the Southern drawl was going the way of the dinosaur. I know, strange to think because of how pronounced Southern accents are today and since they’re usually considered part and parcel with country music. But in the mid to late 00′s when soccer moms were country’s most coveted demographic and artists like Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, and Rascal Flatts were ruling the roost, the Southern accent began to lose its prominence and be seen as unsavory by an industry trying to soften its image and appeal more to a pop-oriented crowd. Strong Southern accents were discouraged in country’s sippy cup era.

Nowadays it is a much different story. Southern twang is back in a big way baby, as bro-country dominates the format, and female performers try and turn up the sass to compete. As opposed to trying to apologize for their Southern roots, today’s country artists can’t shut the hell up about them, regularly reinforcing all things country in laundry list form with elongated drawls. This has seen the rise of the Southern accent once again, but along with it, questions about the authenticity of some of the performer’s twang.

Miranda Lambert, one of country’s leading ladies, seems to have the ability to accentuate or turn off her Southern drawl depending on the mood of the song she is singing. There is little doubt listening to the Lindale, TX native talk that her Southern accent is real. The question is if she enhances or diminishes it in an unnatural way when she sings, and if so, does that diminish the authenticity of her music or the performance?

Tyler Hubbard of the band Florida Georgia Line has one of the most pronounced Southern accents when singing of any popular country music artist today. From Monroe, GA, once again you just have to hear Tyler speak to know his Southern accent probably isn’t a put on. But is it unnaturally bolstered in Florida Georgia Line’s music? Interestingly enough, much has been made about the other member of the duo, Brian Kelley, not singing lead much at all. Whether it’s the way the songs were written or the way their producer (Joey Moi of Nickelback fame) arranged them, it was quickly identified that Tyler’s twang was the money maker, not Brian Kelley’s more normalized tone.

Big Machine artist Justin Moore from Arkansas may have the most accentuated Southern accent of them all, almost caricaturist compared to even some of his most twangy peers. Once again it makes one wonder if it’s faked until you hear him talk and his accent is just as pronounced, if not more than it is in his music. He would be an interesting person to ask about another concern facing the Southern twang, which is non Southerners all of a sudden sporting an accent once they get behind a microphone and start singing country music. This is exactly what radio station DJ Broadway from Country 92.5 in Connecticut did in a recent Justin Moore interview, and the conversation quickly veered toward how people think Justin Moore is sporting a fake twang.

“It seems like everyone, once they get to Nashville they have an accent, whether they’re from Michigan or Arkanasas, it doesn’t matter where they’re from,” Broadway observed to Justin Moore. “Does that drive you mad? Do you ever turn you head and go, ‘You were just talking to me, you’re from Michigan and that’s where you were born and all of a sudden you’ve got a Southern accent? Where did that come from?’”

Justin Moore replies, “People have said in my career that mine’s fake. But I mean, you and I have known each other for what, seven years or something? I mean I feel like going, ‘If you think I talk redneck, go hear my mom talk.’ I don’t have the time or the energy, or whatever has the thought process out there for people who have said that mine’s fake. Why in the world would I want to talk fake for the rest of my life?”

But a few will probably still believe that Justin Moore is faking it, probably because other performers without native accents will probably continue to employ it in their country music. Why? Because the Southern accent is a hot commodity in country music right now, and we can probably expect things to get even more twangy and drawn out from here.

Jun
3

Album Review – Miranda Lambert’s “Platinum”

June 3, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  49 Comments

miranda-lambert-platinumAs sad as it is to turn on the radio and hear what country music has become, it is even more sad to zoom out in your mind to a broader perspective and understand that what we’re hearing in mainstream country now is what will define country music for a generation: laundry list songs perpetrated by pretty boy entertainers, pock marked by rap phrases and EDM elements. Right next to the post-war rise of the Grand Ole Opry and Hank Williams, the bluegrass age, Countrypolitan, the Outlaw era, and the Class of ’89 will be this most unfortunate epoch of country music’s storied history that will have to be explained to future generations as either a dark age, or where the story of true country music ends.

The exception though, the counterpoint will be the females of the genre that did their best to offer an alternative, and leading them all in prominence is The Pink Pistol, Miranda Lambert. With four consecutive CMA’s for Female Vocalist under her belt and counting, she is the feminine face of country music for this current era. Few have been able to nip at the heels of the bros on the charts and in tour stats like Miranda, save for Taylor Swift who has become a consensus for the generation’s crossover success instead of a true, country-centric entertainer.

Miranda Lambert’s career arc up to this point sketched out a gradual softening of her edgy, “light shit on fire in scorn” style that won her praise for her candidness, strength, and countrified nature earlier in her career. This trend tends to be the destiny of most any artist if they want to continue to ascend the country ladder instead of stall, and by Miranda’s last album, the aptly-titled Four The Record, she had all but abandoned much of the rough-hewn style that was her original signature. Her new record Platinum, though maybe not violent or vengeful, certainly is edgy, and may not be ill-equipped to carry the marker of being called a retrenching of her early style, at least in ardent nature of some of the subject matter.

It seems when modern country artists attain the highest reaches of the genre, albums tend to not carry any underlying themes, but are simply aggregation points of singles and album cuts. And since “synergies” must be optimized for releasing singles and for tour considerations, the track lists are stretched out to 16 or so songs to compensate for the multi-year gaps in releases. This makes commenting on the albums as a whole as if they are an attempt to summarize an artist’s life or their current creative expression in a given period, instead of just a collection of songs meant to fulfill expectations of targeted demographics, a little bit silly.

On cue, Platinum really doesn’t have any root or theme. You may hope for one, or think that the one word title might allude to delving into some exploration of the human condition, sort of like what Taylor Swift did with Red—using the color as a jumping off point to expound on the virility of human emotion. Instead Miranda’s “Platinum” title track is simply about the hue of a hairstyle, and the color she hopes this album achieves from the RIAA—superfluous, materialistic, shallow things that don’t really hold any deeper meaning. Unfortunately, there’s no “Over You”.

Along with blond hair, which is referenced on this album numerous times, alcohol is mentioned in most of the tracks, including what may look like the title of a gospel-inspired song, “Another Sunday In The South”. Even before this album was released, some wondered how so much salty language ended up on the track list, including “Old Shit” and “Gravity Is A Bitch”, which for all intents and purposes, constitute two of the four “traditional” country tracks the project boasts. Yeah, doubtful you’ll be sending either of these to the old folks back home for their listening pleasure. The 3rd traditional country track, the Western Swing tune “All That’s Left” recorded with The Time Jumpers, is done so straight-laced, you might as well be listening to Asleep At The Wheel. But it is thrown into the middle of the track list almost like a token gesture to the red meat country crowd, like a penance for the album’s ill language and some of its sonic misdeeds.

Though you may think the song “Smokin’ & Drinkin’” that Miranda performs with Little Big Town would be one of Platinum‘s hellraisers, it actually comes across as the country equivalent of yacht rock, with softened edges and an 80′s adult contemporary string bed. When Miranda’s vocal track starts, bolstered by stacked harmonies from the Little Big Town team indicative of Bee Gee’s-style “How Deep Is Your Love” range proximity, it was a laugh out loud moment for this listener, exacting an animatronic effect upon Miranda’s voice fit for a Tron soundtrack.

“Little Red Wagon” is all attitude and immature histrionics, though I’m sure some females will get a kick out of it. Similar to the Carrie Underwood collaboration “Somethin’ Bad” (read full review), it feels like a feudal attempt to joust with bro-country by bringing the level of discourse down to their banal latitudes.

“Priscilla” finds one of Platinum‘s few personal moments for Miranda, but like “Bathroom Sink” which devolves into Miranda channeling Lita Ford, the song feels more like a vehicle to vent and reference mundane everyday moods and artifacts without any real story or message being conveyed beyond complaint.

“Babies Making Babies” is Miranda’s version of the Kacey Musgraves small town disillusion thread, and though Lambert’s overly-inflected drawl tends to hold this song back, it is deftly written and fairly country, making for one of the album’s better tracks. “Holding Onto You” gives Platinum one of its few understated moments; refreshingly sedated with an inviting, Motown feel, while “Hard Staying Sober” is the album’s “three chords and the truth” moment with bold steel guitar and Miranda’s sweet vocal spot being found where her alluring Southern drawl is present, but not hyped. By the time the song goes double time, you’re checking to see if anyone’s looking and cutting a rug in your living room.

Along with “Hard Staying Sober”, the album’s first single “Automatic” is another rich takeaway (read full review), reminiscent in a more warm and positive way despite the by-gone forlornness of the theme, with the tasteful chords pulling at your emotions.

Platinum commits some sins that are unfortunate, but not at all unexpected from the genre’s top female artist, but then atones for them with other worthy offerings until overall the scales are tipped slightly to the good. You’re never going to get the bold strike, the heavily-thematic sonic or lyrical opus you want from an artist like this, which would be the only way to truly engage the adverse forces in country music and attempt to wrangle control from their grips. So you just hope to get more good than bad, and that is what Platinum delivers.

Big Takeaway Tracks:

  • “Automatic”
  • “Hard Staying Sober”
  • “All That’s Left (with The Time Jumpers)”

Big Throwaway Tracks:

  • “Little Red Wagon”
  • “Smokin’ & Drinkin’ (with Little Big Town)”
  • Somethin’ Bad About To Happen (with Carrie Underwood)
  • “Platinum”

1 1/4 of 2 guns up.

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Purchase Platinum from Amazon

The Good:

The Bad:

May
28

Jamie Lynn Spears in “The Journey” EP

May 28, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  16 Comments

jamie-lynn-spears“So, Brittney’s little sister wants to be a country music star after getting booted off Nickelodeon ’cause she got knocked up at sixteen.”

This is the conclusion most high-nosed country music snobs can come to upon hearing that Jamie Lynn Spears has bent her back to the pursuit of a country music career, without even having to listen to a peep of her music. At first notion, the premise of Jamie Lynn Country seems so flimsy and transparent, it’s darn near a forgone conclusion that it can be nothing more than bubble gum and choreography.

Then when Jamie released her first single, the co-penned “How Could I Want More” in November 2013, many high-nosed music snobs had to spread mustard on their presumptive words and eat them. Not that “How Could I Want More” was Song of the Year material or anything, but it made one pause and consider for a moment that for all we knew, Jamie Lynn Spears could come out as one of these critical country music females like Kacey Musgraves or Ashley Monroe, and impress with weighty composition and artistic merit.

Or maybe releasing “How Could I Want More” ahead of an album was simply a way to diffuse critics, and creep onto the right side of the country music gatekeepers. After hearing Jamie Lynn’s full EP The Journey, the latter may not be a bad theory.

READ: Jamie Lynn Spears Surprises w/ “How Could I Want More”

“How Could I Want More” certainly defines the The Journey‘s critical apex. Otherwise, the album starts off with two very commercially-oriented and formulaic offerings. As true as the story behind “Shotgun Wedding” might be for teen mom Spears, aside from a few moments of lyrical wit, the EDM-enhanced, banjo-backed intro and the predictable chorus make any enjoyment about as lasting as the joy in most forced marriages. “Run” is also fleshed out with oft-trodden cadences and sonic tropes; the somewhat interesting chorus progression notwithstanding.

“Mandolin Summer Sun” is all rhythm, and the hook and melody feel very forced. While the last song, the sedated “Big Bad World”, finally offers some of the same intimacy and vulnerability we hear in “How Could I Want More”, and Spears finally allows the listener to connect with her through story.

Really, there may not be enough here with The Journey to truly make any hard and fast determination about Jamie Lynn Spears the country singer, not just because we’re only given five tracks for insight, but also from a feeling of ambiguity or lack of direction in this release that leaves more questions than answers. Does Jamie Lynn Spears want to be known as a singer like Carrie Underwood? A songwriter like Taylor Swift or Kacey Musgraves? Is it all about the entertainment factor? What is her overall style or message? The Journey doesn’t really go very far in answering any of these queries. This could be on purpose, using this EP like a weather balloon simply to gauge public sentiment to see if the younger Spears is worthy of being picked up by a major label (The Journey was released independently on “Sweet Jamie Music”), or what style or songs will work for her moving forward.

Spears herself has said she’s “trying to figure out what the exact sound” is she wants to go with, and some of the material on The Journey sounds downright dated, like female pop country from the mid to late 00′s. Reading up on the album, you find out “Shotgun Wedding” was likely written in 2008 or 2009, giving it a good half decade to grow stale.

Even in 2014 though, half baked and dated material still bests most of what is coming from mainstream country males, and it’s only fair to grade The Journey among its peers. “How Could I Want More” is pretty good, “Big Bad World” is not half bad, and the other three tracks are pretty forgettable, but not offensive.

End Diagnosis: Inconclusive. Like with most EPs.

One Gun Up. One Gun Down.

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Preview & Purchase Tracks from The Journey

May
20

Jake Worthington & The Great Reality Show Hype

May 20, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  35 Comments

jake-worthington

Have you ever heard of Justin Guarini? How about Diana DeGarmo? Blake Lewis, anybody? Or how about Lee DeWyze? Does Dia Frampton ring a bell with anyone? Anyone?

Dia Frampton was a contestant on the inaugural season of NBC’s reality singing contest The Voice. Frampton, like all of the other names listed above, was either a runner up, or a winner of either The Voice or American Idol. And there’s an infinite list of other indistinguishable names from where these names came from: singers that reached the very heights of reality show competition, only to fade back into the unknown masses once the next season kicked off. Reality singing show nerds might be laughing at me right now, knowing all of these names, and the styles and stats of each artist. And so maybe to them, I’m the one who needs to fade back into the unknown masses. But even those people should hang with me for just a second more.

Not to pick on poor Dia Frampton, but let’s just take a look back at what happened to her after she made it onto The Voice finale, and almost won. In December of 2011, Dia released an album called Red through Universal Republic Records. How did the album do? It reached a peak of #106 on the Billboard charts. The album’s lone single “The Broken Ones” didn’t chart at all. But in reality, that’s not bad compared to the actual Season 1 winner of The Voice, Javier Colon. His album peaked at #134 on the Billboard charts. In fact Javier, who had his own successful music career before The Voice, released an album way back in 2003 that made it to #91 on Billboard—43 spots better than the album contracted to him after his big reality show win.

Of course for all these types of anecdotal stories about reality show winners, there are success stories such as Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson, and to a lesser extent, artists like Kellie Pickler and Scotty McCreery. But many of these big stars came from the first few seasons of American Idol, while many other finalists and winners have completely dropped off the map or have taken to starring in other reality show competitions, or reprising B-level acting roles to attempt to keep the momentum of their big reality show win rolling.

And this brings us to the matter of the young, fresh-faced finalist on The Voice, Jake Worthington. Jake finished 2nd and has captured the hearts and imaginations of many traditional country fans by wearing a big cowboy hat, and singing Keith Whitley songs on the show every chance he got, along with songs from Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams Jr., and others throughout the competition. Hey, that’s great. Great for this kid, and great that good, real country music is being exposed to the masses through him. But how many times have we been through this exercise with one of these reality show contestants, wondering if they are the ones that will rise out of the unclean masses to save country music with big reality show exposure?

I’m not saying it couldn’t happen. Jake Worthington seems like a really good kid, and good on Blake Shelton for shepherding him to the top level of the competition, and doing so while letting him keep his voice and style instead of swaying him in a more pop direction. But the reason that The ‘X’ Factor was canceled, the reason that American Idol has seen dramatically-declining ratings, and The Voice has remained stagnant, is because these competitions cannot consistently deliver winners that truly are American Idols, or that truly define “The Voice” of a generation.

Producers try to shake up the production, they shove more star power into these shows than the viewer can compute. ABC, despite the writing on the wall that with so many of these singing shows, they’re cannibalizing each other, is still starting their own competition come next season. But these shows are not delivering on their promise to the American public of delivering stars that they will then see selling out arenas, and performing on the Grammy Awards. That is why the singing reality show model is losing steam.

Opportunity is only what you make of it, and regardless of what the marketeers of these shows try to sell you on, the simple fact is nobody has the power to anoint a star. The winners themselves must still rise to find themselves, must still figure out a way to connect with the public at large. Some stars have done this like Carrie Underwood. Many haven’t like Javier Colon.

Let’s not overlook that it says a lot about the appeal of traditional country music that an artist like Jake Worthington even made it as far as the finals of The Voice. Everywhere you turn there’s people preaching to you that nobody wants to hear traditional country anymore, and it can be argued that Jake Worthington’s coach, Blake Shelton, has been one of the loudest champions of this sentiment. But whether it is Shelton changing course by seeing the blossoming of Jake Worthington right before his eyes, or the American public letting their voice be known by voting for Worthington, George Strait winning Entertainer of the Year at both the CMA and ACM Awards this last year, or even the recent announcement that Big Machine Records is partnering with Cumulus to reintegrate classic country artists into the fold, everywhere where traditional country is given a chance, it proves that it’s appeal and resonance with the American people is not on the wane as many would have you believe.

And don’t discount Mr. Worthington just because his path led through a reality show. At this point, with artists like Dan+Shay being nominated for awards before they’ve even released an album, and previous reality show contestants like Kellie Pickler putting out albums like 100 Proof that end up becoming the best country music has to offer in a given year, the most important question to ask is not where the artist came from, but what they accomplish with the opportunity they’ve been given.

Jake Worthington’s success, and the renewed interest in traditional country that might bestow, has much less to do with The Voice and where he placed, and much more to do with Jake Worthington, and if he has the stuff to speak to people’s hearts, and the guts to stick to who he is as an artist.

Our job is to help him.

May
18

Review – Miranda Lambert & Carrie Underwood’s “Somethin’ Bad”

May 18, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  117 Comments

carrie-underwood-miranda-lambert-something-bad“I got a real good feeling something bad’s about to happen” is the lyrical hook of Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood’s much-anticipated duet “Something Bad” which is set to appear on Miranda’s new album Platinum, and was just released as a single. And when the duo debuted the song on the 2014 Billboard Music Awards Sunday night, something bad did happen.

Much talk and hand-wringing had preceded this collaboration in the weeks after it was announced, and in the weeks leading up to its debut on the Billboard Awards. But the performance had many fans of both artists wondering just what the hell they were seeing and hearing transpire on the MGM Stage in Las Vegas. Ahead of the performance, some were calling this collaboration historic, legendary, and overdue. The idea was that the current dominant style of music known as “bro-country” had so corrupted country music’s airwaves and relegated virtually all country female performers to a lower class, it needed an antidote, a power-packed one-two punch of country music female stardom that could show the boys that the women of country mean business. But instead we got flailing hair, screamed lyrics, and a loss of melody that made the song and performance smack of some 80′s era mashup between Aerosmith and Joan Jett.

Miranda Lambert & Carrie Underwood to Battle Bro-Country with “Something Bad”

In lieu of the duo battling bro-country with the brawn of their sheer star talent and doing what they do best, which is wowing audiences with singing prowess and powerful lyricism, Carrie and Miranda stole plays straight out of the bro-country coloring book and descended into vapid and story-less rhythmic superfluousness complete with unnecessary gesticulations and other showy nonsense that illustrated how amateurish and under-practiced they are at being really bad.

miranda-lamber-carrie-underwood-001“Something Bad” is buoyed by a fun-enough and catchy “wo-ow-ow” chant that garnered some sympathy clapping from the Billboard Awards crowd and will certainly earn the studio version a few fans, but the machine-gun, pseudo-rapped Aerosmith-esque verses were anemic from their lack of substantive material. The song has a goodly amount of awkward, empty space in the middle of it for some reason, and even if all the elegance hadn’t been drained from the vocals, the key chosen and the style of the song in no way complimented either lady’s natural strengths, and made the tone and character of their performances virtually interchangeable.

With “Something Bad” it is a scenario where two big sums equal something much less than their individual parts. In fact the song offers the scary prospect that in the face of continued low-performing results from country music’s women, they will be forced to not only cross genres like is done in this rock-like and rap-like mono-genre mess, but also cross chromosome lines and start having to ape the boy’s adolescent behavior to buy attention. “Something Bad” felt like when the sweet girl next door tries to play the slut to land her beau, and smears the lipstick and stumbles in her high heels. Sure, Carrie and Miranda looked ravishing, but it was hiding a really, really bad hair day.

The studio version reveals a little more production value, but just about the same level of disappointment.

You’ll get ‘em next time girls. But this one was more rough than a peanut patty goober side up.

1 3/4 of 2 guns down.

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May
18

Lambert & Underwood Battle Bro-Country w/ ‘Somethin’ Bad’

May 18, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  42 Comments

miranda-lambert-carrie-underwood

UPDATE: Read the review of the song and Billboard Performance.

Who would have envisioned this ever happening a few years ago? Not that Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood have been at each other’s throats over the years or anything, but for the last half decade or so, Miranda and Carrie have defined the polar opposites of mainstream female country in many respects. Miranda is the rough-edged, hard-scratch Texas girl ready to squeeze triggers and light shit on fire if provoked, while Carrie Underwood is the more refined and elegant American Idol winner with world-class pipes. High-caliber voice vs. high-caliber pistol. And though nothing but cordiality has reigned between the two publicly, their opposing polarities have created an unspoken friction, if only between elements of their fan bases.

Yet here they are, joining forces to release a duet called “Something Bad” as part of Miranda Lambert’s new album Platinum due out June 3rd, and debuting the song on the Billboard Music Awards. “Singing with Carrie Underwood is very, very intimidating,” says Miranda Lambert to the AP (see below). “She’s an amazing vocalist, I’m a big fan of hers, and asking her to do this was nerve-racking. I sent her an email, this long, blobbing email about if she wanted to sing on the record, it could be cool, but maybe she didn’t want to, if she liked the song, but she didn’t have to like the song. When I sent it I thought, ‘This sounds ridiculous.’”

Ridiculous or not, Carrie Underwood accepted, and “Something Bad” came into being. But the next question is, why this pairing, and why now?

Despite what the duo may or may not say or allude to publicly, “Something Bad” has one primary purpose: to break through bro-country’s stranglehold on country music. That is what this is about. The bro-country phenomenon has lasted for too long, and the pairing of country music’s two top females (Taylor Swift notwithstanding) may be the only way to break the bro-country monopoly. “Something Bad” is the symbolic, “We are the women of country, hear us roar!” statement. Yes ladies and gentlemen, war makes strange bedfellows.

miranda-lamber-carrie-underwood-001Both the Lambert and Underwood camps are no doubt hoping this will be a big hit, and it’s no accident the Billboard Music Awards are also involved. The last time Miranda made it to the top of the Billboard charts was with another duet, when she paired up with Keith Urban in the song “We Were Us.” But that success was fairly short-lived. “Something Bad” is meant to be a statement against the male oligarchy. Even the day before the Billboard Music Awards, Miranda Lambert posted a photo to her Instagram account saying, “Welcome country’s new duo … Oklahoma Texas Line” with her and Carrie pictured in matching Thelma & Louise T-shirts, making a not-so-slight allusion to the bro-country extraordinaires Florida Georgia Line, and the “take no prisoners” attitude of this song.

“Two girls from Texas and Oklahoma that are living their dream right now,” Miranda continued to the AP. “We’re really rocking in country music, and we’re coming together as a force … If you’re sitting on the front row, you might want to scoot back. It’s a force, you know what I mean? It just feels exciting to me … It’s been too long since two girls in our genre have come together like that, especially in a song that’s kind of in-your-face. I’m excited, and I’m hoping that she’ll come to the dark side, and blow something up, or set something on fire in the video or whatever.”

The pairing does raise concerns that Miranda may be persuading Carrie Underwood to the dark side of female country music, and not just figuratively. As a song on Miranda’s upcoming record and not Carrie’s, “Something Bad” features Miranda in the driver’s seat, calling the shots. And for a while now, Carrie seems to have been somewhat following Miranda’s dominating style of these “woman scorned” revenge songs that in some respects are the female version of bro-country—using song formulas that swap beer, trucks, and tailgates, for smashed taillights, cat fights, and bonfires fueled by old boyfriend’s mementos, however less frequent and better-written as they happen to be.

Make no mistake, “Something Bad” is not just another song. This is Miranda and Carrie taking a baseball bat to bro-country’s pretty little souped up 4-wheel drive, and it will be fun to see just how this attempt to crash the good ol’ boy party at the top country’s charts will be received.

May
5

Brad Paisley Files $10M Lawsuit Against Sony Music

May 5, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  36 Comments

brad-paisleyBrad Paisley is the latest big name country star to get in a fight with his record label, and this one involves a sum of $10 million Paisley is looking for as reparations from Sony who allegedly has been cooking Brad’s books for years, short-changing the singer and guitar player for royalties. And Paisley isn’t alone when it comes to such claims against Sony.

The lawsuit filed on March 31st and first published by Radar Online, spells out how Sony has been using fuzzy accounting to underpay Paisley. A similar lawsuit was also filed by Paisley in December of 2011, only to find out that a clause in Paisley’s contract precluded the performer from being able to see the complete accounting records for songs he had written between 2002 and 2006. The amended lawsuit submitted by Attorney Andrew Coffman to the Supreme Court of the State of New York says in part,

Throughout the course of this litigation Paisley has learned the details of the matter in which Defendant violated Paisley’s rights under the terms of the agreements of the two parties. For instance, the proposed Amended Complaint sets forth specific areas of underpayment which were previously unknown to Paisley including, but not limited to underpayments based on improper retail to wholesale price conversions, improper use of wholesale prices to calculate royalties, improper calculations of returns, improper calculations of when escalation royalties should have applied, the improper deduction of free goods from Paisley’s royalties, and failure to report all sales on Paisley’s royalty statements.

Brad Paisley signed his first contract in 1997 with EMI, which eventually became and Arista Nashville contract—a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sony. In February of 2002, Paisley’s contract was extended. In 2006, an accounting firm hired by Paisley found that the accounting for Paisley’s royalties between September 1st, 2001, and December 31st, 2005 by Sony “were not accurate.” When the accounting firm asked for additional records from Sony to complete the third-party investigation, Sony first said they would comply, but then after a prolonged, 3-year delay, refused to turn over certain records needed for the audit. Additionally the Paisley lawsuit says he objects to “each and every royalty statement issued by Sony for the royalty periods from January 1, 2010 through the present.”

Brad Paisley is not alone in suing Sony over underpayed royalties. In late February of 2014, 19 Recordings, the company behind the contracts of all of the American Idol winners, including Brad Paisley’s long-time CMA Awards co-host Carrie Underwood, also sued Sony for $10 million, claiming once again that the way the company calculated its royalties was unethical, and against the artist’s standing contracts.

Despite Paisley’s standing feud with Sony, it hasn’t put a dent in his album output. He recently released a new song “River Bank” that is the first single from a currently-untitled upcoming album.

Apr
4

iHeartRadio Country Festival Caused Major Conflict with ACM Awards

April 4, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  7 Comments

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On March 29th, Clear Channel Radio threw their inaugural iHeartRadio Country Festival in Austin with many of the genre’s biggest mainstream acts performing, including Carrie Underwood, Jason Aldean, and Luke Bryan. Apparently behind-the-scenes, the festival caused a big stir with artists, managers, and the Academy of Country Music, whose own big event, the 49th Annual ACM Awards, is set to transpire on Sunday, April 6th on CBS.

According to the New York Post, the iHeartRadio Country Festival was originally set to be taped live in Austin, and then air on television April 5th—the day before the ACM Awards. This plan did not sit well with many in Nashville.

“A lot of people in Nashville are upset,” a source told The Post. “The iHeartRadio Country Music Festival was going up against the Academy of Country Music Awards, so they pulled it.” Another source states, “Managers and artists in Nashville were very supportive of the [ACM] and were horrified [about the conflict]. They were aggressive in letting Clear Channel know that.”

The iHeartRadio Country Festival was eventually streamed on CMT.com the day of the festival, though in the initial press release for the festival, NBC was listed as a primary sponsor of the event. NBC is also the only one of the four major American television networks that does not host a major country music event, and it is where iHeartRadio is airing their upcoming music awards show on May 1st. ABC has the CMA Awards that happen every November, and recently Fox began broadcasting the ACA Awards. CBS not only broadcasts the Academy of Country Music Awards, but has very intimate ties to the ACM.

Review – Inaugural iHeartRadio Country Festival

A spokeswoman for Clear Channel said to The Post, “When we realized how crowded the country music calendar was this spring, we decided to give some space between the dates because, at the end of the day, we wanted to do what’s best for the artists.”

The issue shines a spotlight on just how crowded the country music landscape is becoming as nearly every major media outlet in America looks to cash in on the rising popularity of popular country music. This invariably will create even more conflict in the midst of a country media arms race.

Mar
30

Review – Inaugural iHeartRadio Country Festival

March 30, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  19 Comments

iheart-country-festival-2014

Saturday night was Clear Channel Radio’s inaugural iHeartRadio Country Festival in Austin, TX at the Frank Erwin Center—a mid-sized arena that the University of Texas uses for baskeball games, and that serves as the city’s largest indoor concert venue. The festival was the first major event in the new country music partnership between Clear Channel and CMT in their bid to make a multi-platform country music media empire. As Clear Channel was broadcasting the event through many radio stations and their iHeartRadio app, CMT.com was streaming the event online, and taping segments for future television programming. This type of collaboration is what we can expect as country media coagulates into huge companies duking it out for your attention. Clear Channel had their top personality, DJ Bobby Bones, as the emcee of the event, and CMT’s big star Cody was working the backstage area.

In typical Austin fashion, the event and live feed started 12 minutes late. Though iHeartRadio was touting the experience as a “festival”, the outdoor, multi-day and multi-stage discovery of new music that usually accompanies the music festival experience was swapped for a very structured environment centered around the most familiar names in the format, and instructional diatribes on the virtues of Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio app: the company’s seemingly sole plan for pulling out of their $300 million-plus quarterly loss tailspin. Of course making this plan a perilous one full of risk is the fact that every day the music streaming marketplace gets even more crowded as competition grows and the march of streaming startups and other companies looking to get into the streaming business seems endless.

Florida Georgia Line's guitarist, symbolizing the rock bent of this "country" festival.

Florida Georgia Line’s guitarist, symbolizing the rock bent of this “country” festival.

The show opened with a shrill, cacophonous screech of legions of teenage girls driven mad by visions of Luke Bryan’s ass shaking in their heads, but first they would have to fight through Eric Church and his prog rock extravaganza. It was fortuitous of the festival’s organizers to put Church on first, because the festival’s corporate-driven demo definitely wasn’t home field for Eric’s “Outsider” message. His set would be the first and last time the festival crowd would be regaled by anything that couldn’t be labeled as “formula,” though it did set the tone that the night would be a rock show and nothing but, and a country show in name only.

Following was Jake Owen who started off with his stalled, Cadillac Three-penned single “Days of Gold,” and later had the 10,000-head Frank Erwin Center crowd singing in unison to a “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” rap he broke into in the middle of his song “Barefoot Blue Jean Night.”

The quizzical Dan + Shay taking the stage was the best opportunity for the sold-out crowd to drain their bladders in anticipation of the headliners, as they witnessed one of the most forced anointment’s of a country music super duo the format has ever seen. Despite their slick presentation, the iHeartRadio festival crowd was in no mood to sit through songs they’d never heard before. Dan + Shay made the rookie mistake of taking their whip to the crowd too many times with their “Let’s hear you make some noise!” pleas that grew less and less effective through their abbreviated and generally boring set. It was just too early in their career arc for them to attempt to fill a slot like this amongst the other big names. Lady Antebellum fared much better with songs readily familiar to a crowd whose alpha and omega of music are defined by Top 40 country playlists.

Florida Georgia Line

Florida Georgia Line

As arguably the hottest band in “country” music, Florida Georgia Line was well-received by the capacity crowd. Like master assassins who can choose their poison, the duo could call on any number of current blockbuster radio hits to ingratiate the crowd to their pop rock cologne-spritzed and wallet chain-draped show. “Thank you for helping us change country music history,” is what Tyler Hubbard said leading into their rendition of the longest-running #1 in the history of country music, “Cruise”. It seemed appropriate that they hadn’t “made” history, but completely “changed” the perception of what country music is by moving it so far in the pop direction and integrating so many hip hop elements into the format that they now feel like regular country fare.

Florida Georgia Line was the moment the astounding sameness of country music’s top mainstream acts became palpable. Where the traditional “festival” setting is driven by diversity and discovery, the lack of surprise is what this crowd was looking for. Florida Georgia Line’s radio tracks are slick a well-produced, but their live show was a little jarring, with pitch issues and too much energy spent on emitting enthusiasm instead of delivering good vocal performances.

Hunter Hayes showing off fresh stubble in a pre-fest interview

Hunter Hayes showing off fresh stubble in a pre-fest interview

Hunter Hayes, though certainly not rising to be considered in any way a highlight, did offer something a little different than the other performers preceding him on stage. Though his songs that cast him in submissive roles to his female counterparts, and a song decrying bullying were gut-wrenchingly, and sometimes downright objectionably sentimental in nature, at least he was singing from the heart, and had a message to deliver beyond naming off a laundry list of countryisms. Nonetheless, his set came across as calculating, safe, and left the distinguishing music fan wanting. But it was different, and at this point in the presentation, that was enough to label it refreshing.

With Taylor Swift burning her iHeartRadio chit during the 2012 pop version of this festival in Las Vegas, Carrie Underwood was tapped to be the female country powerhouse of the event. In a lineup of entertainers, Carrie distinguished herself as a singer, but of course she ran through a condensed set of her top singles that left little room for anything truly country or truly refreshing. Great voice, ravishing legs, and good sense of dynamics made her one of the more engaging acts of the night though.

You could tell when Jason Aldean took the stage why even though radio might be smiling greater on an act like Florida Georgia Line, there’s definitely a difference between a seasoned headlining performer, and the young pups still finding their way in how to perform for a crowd. The music? Of course it was terrible, but Aldean had a command that was only matched on the night by Carrie Underwood. While the younger stars had to sweat out their stage presence through sheer energy, Aldean was an efficiency of movements, hitting all the notes and bringing home solid renditions of his most popular songs. Where some top mainstream performers you may simply look at quizzically of why someone could like what they were doing, despite the music, you understood why Aldean is considered one of the very top male performers in the country format right now.

Luke Bryan represented the other end of the spectrum. Though his set was diverse and had a few attempts at heartfelt, deep moments, his booty shakers were all about his moves on stage, and by the time the next verse came around you got poor pitch, and too much breath in the microphone from a tired performer. Ironically, during Bryan’s “Rain Is A Good Thing” was the very first time the entire night that a traditional instrument (besides a couple of mandolins buried in the mix and mostly for show) made an appearance, when a fiddle found its way out of the case. There was also a steel guitar on the backline, though it was more seen than heard.

iheartradio-country-music-festival

Having seen the presentation of iHeartRadio’s Las Vegas festivals, the Austin installment looked dark, and difficult to get a sense of depth or perception for those watching at home. The Frank Erwin Center is a somewhat cavernous, dim space, despite the modest seating capacity. Unlike some newer arenas, it is more round instead of oval, not really making it conducive to stage shows where fans on the wings feel far away. The crowd seemed somewhat less engaged and enthusiastic than you would expect from a mainstream show, and even the people in the front rows seemed a little too far from the stage to facilitate the type of interaction that many mainstream performers are now used to on tour—slapping hands as they strut across stage and yell “Come on, put your hands up!” The risers didn’t reach out into the crowd, and the stage presentation seemed a little cramped and unimaginative. But other mainstream concert tropes like allowing the crowd to finish lines to songs, and the calling out of “What’s up Austin!” dozens of times—despite likely half the crowd not even being from Texas—certainly made a nauseating amount of appearances on the night.

Was the event a success? Since the goal wasn’t necessarily to make money or even show off country talent, but to raise awareness of the iHeartRadio streaming option among country fans, that question is probably best answered by Clear Channel. But the presentation was relatively smooth once it got started, they didn’t really fall behind time (remember the Green Day blowup at the last iHeart fest?), and the performers did their thing as expected. Both Clear Channel & CMT can sit back and evaluate how successful their attempt at cross company synergy was, and iHeartRadio got their product in front of a new segment of fans.

But the brave new world of music consumption has yet to find a true pecking order, and nobody knows whose streaming options will find their way to the top, or even survive. Clear Channel is betting big on iHeartRadio and country music, and we may look back at this festival as the moment iHeartRadio solidified its hold on the country consciousness, or as a needless gargantuan expenditure that eventually led to Clear Channel’s demise under a mountain of debt.

Time will tell.

Mar
29

LL Cool J to Host ACM’s Special Tribute to the Troops

March 29, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  31 Comments

ll-cool-jDon’t call it a comeback! LL Cool J’s been here for … well …. he’s never really been here in country music whatsoever, except for that ill-advised pairing with Brad Paisley in “Accidental Racist” that captured the American zeitgeist for about 48 hours—catching hell from Saturday Night Live and Stephen Colbert in parodies—before being summarily forgotten and heavily suppressed in the public consciousness like the jarring memory of a childhood tragedy. But he’s back now! … to host this year’s ACM special slated to pander to country music demographics to promote CBS’s Fall lineup …. I mean salute America’s military.

LL Cool J, along with CBS’s NCIS: Los Angeles co-star Chris O’Donnell, are scheduled to host the April 7th “ACM Presents: An All-Star Salute to the Troops” that will be taped the day after the ACM Awards, and be aired on May 20th. Luke Bryan, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, George Strait, Merle Haggard, Carrie Underwood and Lady Antebellum are all scheduled to perform.

The rapper turned actor has also been the host of the Grammy Awards in previous years, and has done a fine job in his emcee duties. But the question is, was there not a country music personality that would be better suited for this special? With all the talk swirling around the ACM Awards and their desire to showcase as much talent as possible for the labels backing their enterprise, why not show off the comedy stylings of some country star that could use a lift out of the shadows, or at least that would be better suited for the event? Is Bubba in Birmingham really going to become an NCIS: Los Angeles lifer just because he saw LL Cool J introduce Tim McGraw before he performs some schlocky tribute? Do rap shows reach out to country stars to showcase them at their award shows or televised specials? Why does country music always feel the need to apologize for itself by rubbing elbows with stars of other genres to say, “Hey, we can be cool too!” instead of presenting what is cool about country itself?

It’s great that the Academy of Country Music has decided to shy away from shamelessly promoting Lionel Richie albums like they did some years back, and actually pay tribute to something that deserves it. (By the way, what rock has Lionel been hiding under recently? Yeah, that was a two-hour television investment poorly spent.) But is the point to promote country and support the troops, or try to hand out political payoffs to media partners?

Mar
27

Why The Best Fan Vote for the ACM’s Is No Vote At All

March 27, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  22 Comments

The Academy of Country Music Awards have always been surrounded by accusations of block voting, vote swapping, and other manipulations of the system at the hands of country music’s major labels, as label representatives work to ensure the artists, songs, and albums they want to push get rewarded. There’s been so much talk about it over the years and plenty of indirect evidence that it almost goes as understood that behind-the-scenes political gaming of the system is how the ACM’s wheels are greased.

The ethics and transparency of the ACM system has been under extra scrutiny this year with the revelation that New Artist of the Year nominee Justin Moore is undeniably ineligible by the ACM’s own stated rules, yet the ACM’s are unwilling to do anything to rectify the situation. With The ACM Awards less than two weeks away and nothing being done about the Justin Moore issue, it sets up an interesting scenario if he ends up winning, with fans and representatives of the other two New Artist nominees–Brett Eldredge and Kip Moore—having a legitimate beef with why their artist was overlooked for a nominee who should have been disqualified.

The ACM’s New Artist of the Year, just like their Entertainer of the Year, is presented to the public as a fan voted award, though the final winner is actually chosen by a combination of fan votes and the “professional membership” of the ACM’s. Unfortunately for fans though, just how much their vote counts is not revealed, the results of the fan votes are never published, and the exact ratio of fan votes to professional votes that is used to choose the eventual winner is not public knowledge, if there is a dedicated formula for picking the winner to begin with.

It must have been that “professional membership” quotient that resulted in Luke Bryan’s shocking win for Entertainer of the Year in 2013, because there’s no way the PR machine of Taylor Swift and legions of team Swifty fans armed with cell phones could ever be out dueled by any other artist, especially Luke Bryan at his prominence in early 2013.

The announcement of Luke Bryan as Entertainer of the Year came as a shock to fans, industry, and media alike. Luke Bryan wasn’t even considered a front runner for the award by most pundits entering the show. It certainly shocked Saving Country Music, and I said as much on the ACM live blog at the time. Today also called it “shocking” and a “huge upset.” If anyone was going to upstage Swift, it should have been the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year, and The Voice personality Blake Shelton. Without sly maneuvering behind-the-scenes, it’s hard to see how Luke Bryan would even have a chance in a vote where fan votes were part of the equation.

Exacerbating the heartbreak for Taylor Swift’s fans was the fact that later on, the ACM’s actually announced Taylor Swift as the winner on their website.

taylor-swift-2013-acm-awards-entertainer-of-the-year-winner

The error (or truth when it came to the popular vote) was discovered on May 12th, 2013 and later changed, but not after it sent conspiracy theories swirling that the ACM’s had given Taylor, and the millions of fans that had taken of their time to vote for her on a daily basis leading up to the awards, a raw deal. Of course the thing about a conspiracy theory is you don’t actually have to prove anything, you just have to create doubt. But that’s exactly what the ACM’s did, and have done in their voting system by ostensibly ruling all of the votes cast by fans irrelevant when they chose Luke Bryan as the eventual Entertainer of the Year winner. If the ACM’s wanted to refute this, they could do so by releasing the 2013 vote tallies through a reputable accounting house showing where Luke Bryan ended up in the standings, or an explanation of how the system declared Luke Bryan the winner. But of course they won’t.

So the next question is, why would any fan vote for the ACM New Artist or Entertainer of the Year this year? Their votes didn’t count for the Entertainer award last year, and this year, the front runner for New Artist of the Year isn’t new, and isn’t qualified to receive votes by the ACM’s rules. The whole fan voted element to the ACM Awards seems to be more about creating attention for the awards, and generating traffic for ACM’s web properties. The nominees make videos prodding the fan bases to vote, even though the results may not matter. Some are also asking why Australia was added this year to the countries eligible for voting. As one of the few artists that has focused on the Australian market, this might work out well for Taylor Swift … if those votes actually count.

Then there is the issue if fans should be voting for the ACM Awards in the first place. Kenny Chesney, who won the ACM’s Entertainer of the Year Award four years straight, had some pretty damming words about the ACM’s allowing fans to vote in 2008—the first year the ACM’s allowed fan voting for Entertainer of the Year, and the last year Kenny Chesney won the distinction. In a press conference after the ceremony, Kenny said:

It is an industry complaint that I have. That’s all. I’m so excited to stand up here tonight, and that’s important for everybody to know. I’ve got to choose my words wisely here. I think it’s important to know that I do think the fans should be a part of this awards show. I really do. But I’m probably one of the guys in the audience that didn’t think it should be for Entertainer of the Year. The Entertainer of the Year trophy is supposed to represent heart and passion and an amazing amount of sacrifice, commitment and focus. That’s the way Garth [Brooks] won it four times. That’s the way I won it. That’s the way [George] Strait won it … and Reba [McEntire] and Alabama all those years.

I think it’s a complete disrespect of the artist — what they’ve lowered us to, to get Entertainer of the Year. … Because of that, it really diminishes the integrity of the music that we’re making and how much work goes into it. That’s what really matters. That’s what Entertainer of the Year really is. It’s not about flying somebody to some shows and giving free songs away — and giving this and that — and seeing how hard you can push people’s buttons on the Internet. As much as I love the ACMs and what they’ve done for my life, that’s how I really feel about it.. And I can say that because I won tonight.

I’m honored to be up here for four years in a row to tie Garth’s record, believe me. I may not ever win it again, but I know I’ve achieved this. I just think we all need to be careful how we give this award away in the future. … If somebody stands up here in the future, they should do it because they sacrificed a tremendous amount.

The lack of transparency in the ACM’s system, the fan voting, and the woeful disregard of the rules they do have in place, is eroding the integrity of the awards not just amongst grumbling, disenfranchised traditional country fans and industry gadflies, but amongst fan bases of big, mainstream names like Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood (whose fans feel like she’s continually snubbed), and Entertainer of the Year alum Kenny Chesney.

The question country music fans, the industry, and the ACM’s themselves should be asking is what will happen first: more transparency and stronger adherence to the rules by the ACM brass, or a lowering of the integrity of the awards to a point where their ultimate relevancy comes into question long term?

And as far as voting for New Artist of the Year and Entertainer of the Year through the ACM system, the best thing a concerned country music fan who wants to put the music first could do is not vote at all, and have their voice tallied as one that desires more transparency, more fairness, and a better adherence to their own rules by the Academy of Country Music.

Feb
19

Pop Country Clothing, Furniture, Food & Paint Coming from NASH

February 19, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  39 Comments

nashSaving Country Music has been sounding the warning bell that the big story of 2014 will be the formation of two gargantuan media companies that will absolutely dominate the country music landscape and encapsulate everything from radio, television, print and online media, and social network channels. The Country Music Media Arms Race is being fought by the two biggest radio station owners in the United States: Clear Channel and Cumulus, and during this week’s Country Radio Seminar, we are starting to get some of the specific details of the plans these future massive media companies have, and to say their plans are expansive is an understatement.

Cumulus Media is #2 on the radio ownership totem pole, and to attempt to hopscotch their rival Clear Channel, they are planning massive expenditures, acquisitions, and ventures to push the recognition of their big country music brand: “NASH”. NASH and NASH-FM is the brand of Cumulus’s 70+ station syndicated Top 40 pop country network. We already knew that Cumulus had recently acquired a 50-percent interest in the 17-year-old, 500,000+ circulated Country Weekly magazine to re-brand it as NASH. Now in some recent reports, the beans are being spilled about the extent of just how far Cumulus is hoping to push the NASH brand.

Some of their plans are obvious. Since their rival Clear Channel has now partnered with CMT, Cumulus and NASH are looking for their own television partner, potentially Great American Country or GAC, or re-branding the Destination America and American Heroes cable channels owned by Discovery Communications. Also, after Clear Channel’s streaming service iHeartRadio announced a country music festival in Austin, Cumulus and the NASH brand are looking into doing a festival and/or concert series, as well as a radio-based award show with Dick Clark Productions—the same production company behind the Academy of Country Music Awards, or ACM’s.

But the Cumulus plans go even further than that. Here is a run down of some of the things Cumulus has planned for their pop country NASH brand:

Restaurants

In the vein of Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill chain, or Rascal Flatts’ recently-announced plans for a chain restaurant, NASH wants to open a fleet a family-friendly fern bars to help establish their brand in certain important markets and locations. You could enjoy some Taylor Swift fried cheese, or a Brantley Gilbert blooming onion.

Paint

Yes, you read that right. Apparently NASH wants to get into the home improvement game. This move isn’t unprecedented. Big corporate brands such as Martha Stewart and Ralph Lauren have dipped their stir stick into the pain business to help solidify their corporate brands in the past, but a radio network? How about a nice Tim McGraw taupe to spruce up that breakfast nook?

Clothing

Again, not completely unprecedented since you have big artists like Jason Aldean enjoying a big endorsement deal from Wrangler, and Taylor Swift peddling Keds. Some artists also have their own specific clothing lines. Country music and popular culture is a very visual medium, and being able to sell consumers similar clothing to what they see their favorite artists wearing is shrewd business.

Furniture

Maybe the strangest of the ideas Cumulus is looking into, the company apparently wants to leave no stone unturned, and wants to bring the NASH brand right into people’s homes so they won’t forget who to consume their country music through; a little hard to do when you’re watching NASH TV from your Carrie Underwood signature NASH microfiber couch, muching on NASH leftovers from the night before in a room painted in your favorite NASH colors.

- – - – - – - – -

Cumulus and their NASH brand is out for nothing short of absolute cultural immersion, with the vehicle being the widespread and growing appeal of popular country music. Pop country is seen as very safe and marketable because of its well-liked and clean image. And if Cumulus has its way with NASH, it will become one of the most recognized brands in the United States in the coming years.

Your move, Clear Channel.

 

Del Maguey
Old Soul Radio Show
Lucette
Elam McKnight

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