Browsing articles tagged with " Garth Brooks"
Dec
18

Equal Time – The Best in Mainstream Country Music in 2014

December 18, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  65 Comments

Independent music fans love to say “90% of what the mainstream does is crap!” Well then it would stand to reason that 10% actually has some value. And in the interest of pragmatism and inclusiveness that is vital to the charge of Saving Country Music, it is important to not ignore when Music Row and mainstream artists get it right, but to celebrate these moments and achievements in hopes it breeds more of the same in the future.

Mainstream albums are given an equal chance in Saving Country Music’s end-of-year tabulations, so much so that in 2012, a mainstream artist and former American Idol alumni in the form of Kellie Pickler and her album 100 Proof won Album of the Year. Though maybe a stretch to call it mainstream, the Big Machine-signed Mavericks also beat out everyone else with their album In Time in 2013. But 2014 did not see one mainstream album make the end-of-year lists, so in the spirit of equal time, here are some of the best albums in the mainstream in 2014.

And please, to the diehard indies and purists, please don’t complain why we’re highlighting these albums here. If you want to see what comes most recommended by Saving Country Music, please check out the Album of the Year Nominees, and the 50 Essential Albums List.

And please feel free to share what you believe was the best in mainstream country below.

Zac Brown Band – The Grohl Sessions Vol. 1

zac-brown-band-the-grohl-sessions“The Zac Brown Band finds themselves in a position that most any other band or artist would be lying if they said they weren’t envious of: owning their own label, calling their own shots, and nestled in a niche carved out in the music world where they’re beholden to no industry or radio play or sound to ensure butts fill the seats at shows. At the same time they’ve enjoyed the gracious support of the country music industry, while still openly admitting they veer much closer to the Southern rock side of things, giving the band the latitude to experiment and collaborate outside the genre while receiving much more interest than flack.

“The songs of The Grohl Sessions are marvelously complex, yet still with a heart, still with a pentameter that never stops beating, keeping the music in a pocket, and the ear enraptured. It is a fair argument to say that country hardliners regularly bemoan hip-hop treatments to songs, but when it comes to blending rock & roll into country, it is more often given a pass. The Grohl Sessions are certainly guilty of being way more rock than country, with elements of blues and Motown soul. But nobody ever accused Zac of being country, and just because it isn’t country, doesn’t mean it’s not good.” (read full review)

Caitlyn Smith – Everything To You

caitlyn-smith-everything-to-you(Note: Depending on your perspective, Caitlyn could either be considered mainstream or independent. But since she’s written songs for major heavyweights and works mostly within the Music Row system, we’ll consider her mainstream for this exercise.)

“When you talk about an artist known as a songwriter first, you tend to look for the strength in the lyric. But Caitliyn Smith is very much a multi-tool performer, and her vocals can rival any in country music’s top tier, and she’s a great musician as well. Her style is very sensible—country pop in the traditional sense, with rising choruses, juicy melodies, and familiar themes of love, loss, and hope. But similar to how Caitlyn Smith songs are the ones artists and managers gravitate toward when they’re looking for something with more body beyond a smash radio hit, instilled in all of Caitlyn’s work is a sincerity, authenticity, and the ends of country roots sticking out from the surface.

“2013 was considered by many to be the ‘Year of The Woman’ in country music from the concentration of forward-thinking and nourishing projects proffered to the public by females who could nip at the edges of the mainstream, but still find friendly ears in the independent world. Caitlyn Smith may be a year too late to be considered in that class, but she belongs with the other ladies of country music leadership trying to keep at least a modicum of respect in the genre, even if those women struggle compared with their male counterparts in chart performance and cash flow.”

(read full review)

Dierks Bentley – Riser

dierks-bentley-riserDierks Bentley’s Riser is an inspired, rising effort from stem to stern, with sweeping compositions that generally convey this uplifting, airy and expansive condition, despite a sorrowful and reflective tone beneath the surface. At the risk of sounding cliché, Riser was cut during an emotional time, bookened by the death of Dierks’ father, and the birth of his son, and this type of environment created a work that was somehow both secondary, yet keenly focused. He brought his personal life with him to the studio, and it is reflected even in some of the more commercial material, in a drive to make a project bigger than himself.

Is Riser good ol’ country music done the right way? Of course not. This is a country-inspired rock album. But it is a good one nonetheless that is well-made, inspired, heartfelt, and worth a Hamilton or heavy rotation from your streaming service of choice if you know what you’re getting in to.

(read full review)

Garth Brooks – Man Against Machine

garth-brooks-man-against-machine“The truth is, Garth was never going to live up to the lofty expectations many were foisting upon his re-entry into the country fold. Forget the naysayers who still can’t get over his high wire act at Texas Stadium or the Chris Gaines gimmick, there was some thought that Garth may be the only one left with the star power to reignite the spark of true country music in the mainstream once again, however ironic this may be given Garth’s history. But in hindsight, this was sort of like thinking Mike Tyson could still be heavyweight champion in the early 00′s, or that Brett Favre could still win a Super Bowl.

“The purists will pan it because it’s Garth, and the mainstream may mostly ignore it because Garth is such an unknown quantity to their youthful demo. And everyone will question the wisdom of releasing ‘People Loving People’ as a single or the somewhat silly cover art. But Man Against Machine is a solid Garth record, with some sappy moments, some rock and R&B moments, but mostly just good contemporary Garth country worthy of at least an open-minded listen.” (read full review)

Maddie & Tae - Maddie & Tae EP

maddie-and-tae-ep“Make no mistake, the emergence of Maddie & Tae is the result of tactical gaming of country music’s notoriously malleable masses by label types, but that doesn’t mean that the music can’t be any good. ‘Girl In A Country Song’ really didn’t help answer the question of, “Who are Maddie & Tae?” It exacerbated it. Were the hip-hop elements simply there for irony? Were these girls really influenced heavily by classic country as they said?

“So now the young duo has released a four-song EP, and all of a sudden a brand new set of parameters emerge. You do hear those classic country leanings in the songwriting. You hear fiddle solos and steel guitar by god. You hear two girls singing in close harmony with heavy twang about similar themes once championed by Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn. And you begin to realize that whether Maddie & Tae are a machination of Big Machine Records or not, their music truly is living up to the more traditional and tasteful approach they were touted as embodying when they first emerged.” (read full review)

Mary Sarah – Bridges

mary-sarah-bridges(Note: Could be considered mainstream or could be considered independent. But either way, it is a cool project that deserves to be highlighted)

Close your eyes for a second, and envision a world where a young beautiful bubbly female star—like Taylor Swift maybe—releases a completely traditional country album, not of her own music, but of some of the standards from country music’s sainted past, and not just by herself, but as duets with the very stars that made the songs popular in the first place; the same stars who are very much being forgotten in modern country’s obsession with youth. Think of the possibility of how this could open up an entire new world of music to listeners who are too young to remember where country music came from, ostensibly bridging the future and the past.

Now, open your eyes back up, and you’re ready to enter the world of Mary Sarah and Bridges.

(read full review)

Other Decent Albums

Eric Paslay -Eric Paslay

It’s real easy to lump Eric Paslay and his debut self-titled album in with the Bro-Country crowd because of singles like “Song About A Girl” and “Friday Night,” but a deeper listen to the project reveals a lot of depth of songwriting and some tasteful arrangement and instrumentation. A song like “Country Side of Heaven” isn’t too bad.

Jon Pardi -Write You A Song

Probably a little more fairly lumped in with Bro-Country than Eric Paslay, but still with much more to offer than most of the mainstream.

Tim McGraw – Sundown Heaven Town

Not a good album, but was surprisingly more good than bad from the Big Machine artist. (read full review)

Brett Eldredge’s Bring You Back isn’t completely terrible either.

Best Song – Carrie Underwood’s  “Something In The Water”

carrie-underwood-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.”

Very, very powerful. (read full review)

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And yes, if we’re talking about the top songs Florida Georgia Line’s “Dirt” deserves a mention.

Dec
15

Eric Church’s Huge Inflatable Devil Stirs Controversy

December 15, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  80 Comments

eric-church-devil-1Photo via Air Works

Spinal Tap, eat your heart out.

On Eric Church’s current arena tour, there’s been a special guest making a surprise appearance at each show—a giant multi-story inflatable devil that blows up and towers over the crowd with shimmering eyes and skin on fire. It is conjured during the rendition of Eric Church’s song “Devil, Devil (Prelude: Prince of Darkness)” off his recent album The Outsiders.

Nicknamed Lou C. Fer, the big blowup Satan was designed by a company called Air Works based in Amsterdam who specializes in “inflatables that don’t look like inflatables” and prefer you call their creations “air sculptures.” “LED lights make his burning eyes glow, and UV paint effects give him a fiery feel,” says the company about the particular air sculpture making an appearance on the Eric Church tour, but some are calling the air sculpture inappropriate for a country show, unethical as a symbol of Satan, while some feel it’s just downright tacky.

eric-church-devil-3When Eric Church’s tour made a stop Saturday night (12-13) at Birmingham, Alabama’s BJCC Arena, one concert goer was not impressed by El Diablo making an appearance. “From one of the biggest music lovers: Eric Church, you have some great songs and I have been around since your ‘Workplay’ days, however your concert in Bham tonight was disheartening,” said Allyson Protho. “A ginormous Satan…. No thank you…Children were at that concert… That should be enough said right there.”

The Alabama resident echoes the concerns others have voiced about the appearance of Lou C. Fer over a string of recent concerts based on religious concerns, and about an artist who’s name dropped Jesus numerous times in his songs, including the hit “Like Jesus Does.” But others have a problem seeing a big Satan prop that smacks of the heavy metal world make an appearance at what is supposed to be a country music show.

the-simpsons-spinal-tap-satanUnderscoring this point, an early 90′s episode of The Simpsons guest starring the fake metal band Spinal Tap featured the band worshiping a big inflatable Satan doll hovering over the stage. The scene was meant to illustrate how out-of-touch the band was by launching the menacing inflatable. Church’s deloyment of a massive Satan sculpture could also be compared to the now notorious moment Garth Brooks put on a harness and flew around Texas Stadium like Peter Pan. Though such theatrics might be welcomed in the rock world, they’ve been thought for decades as crossing a line in country, and even many of today’s country music mega concerts stop short of featuring such histrionics.

In fairness to Eric Church and Lou C. Fer, the devil in this instance isn’t being worshiped, he’s being offered up as a symbolic representation. Though hard to see in many of the pictures of the inflatable from concerts, the picture of the balloon outside in the daylight from Air Works clearly shows it’s wearing a “Nashville” belt buckle made of an upside down pentagram, symbolizing the greed and malfeasance of the country music business and Music Row. So unlike Spinal Tap, Eric Church isn’t attempting to prove how cool he is by allying himself with the Prince of Darkness, but putting himself in opposition to the evil country music scoundrels. This truth may not stave of a child’s nightmares who might attend one of these concerts and see the massive sculpture, but it definitely is a difference in representation.

However as has been pointed out about Eric Church before, it’s ironic that a man that works completely within the Music Row system, is signed to a major label, regularly performers and is honored at major country music award shows, has made millions of dollars within the mainstream system, and once called Taylor Swift a “dear friend” and collaborated with Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan recently, would attempt to pass himself off as an “Outsider,” or as the antithesis of the evilness of Nashville. One could make the case that Eric Church maintaining this stance is even more of a devilish maneuver than most of Music Row’s activities, and is simply an element of marketing. Other Nashville residents also may quarrel that the evils of mainstream country don’t blanket the entire city, and Eric Church’s should be more selective with his symbolism.

Most Eric Church fans in attendance seem to be impressed when the inflatable sculpture makes its appearance. After all, since they paid to get in, they’re more likely to sympathize with Church’s perspective on things. But just like Garth’s flight over Texas stadium, or Taylor Swift’s first CMA for Entertainer of the Year, or the time Ludacris rapped with Jason Aldean at the CMT Awards, Eric Chruch’s devil may symbolize not just Nashville’s evils, but yet another watershed move towards the erosion of what makes country music different from other genres.

Or maybe Eric Church is just carrying on the tradition of The Louvin Brothers.

Photo via Air Works.

eric-church-devil

Dec
10

Country Music’s Biggest Winners & Losers in 2014

December 10, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  87 Comments

winners-losers-20142014 has been a year of great flux in country music, with some legendary successes by independent artists and new mainstream artists, and the shuffling out of other artists and the fumbling of what once were legendary, high flying careers. Here’s a run down of the five biggest winners and losers in the greater country music world in 2014.

PLEASE NOTE: Calling someone either a “winner” or a “loser” in no way should be taken as a ringing endorsement or an absolute admonishment of any artist, organization, or the music they are a part of. It’s simply meant to illustrate the trends they’ve been a party to, and the decisions they have made in the last calendar year.


WINNER – Scott Borchetta

Scott Borchetta

The only question now is what slows Scott Borchetta down? It’s his Music Row-based independent label that is responsible for the biggest blockbuster album not just released in 2014, but in the last decade plus in Taylor Swift’s 1989, and that doesn’t even delve into the rousing success of Brantley Gilbert, Florida Georgia Line, and lot of his other artists in his expanding empire which now accounts for five total imprints and a ridiculous roster of commercially-successful talent. Add on top his recent partnership with American Idol which will bring Borchetta out of the shadows to become a prominent figure in pop culture, and we may be looking at the most powerful man in the recording industry, if not now than in the coming years.

WINNER – Sturgill Simpson

sturgill-simpsonWhat can be said about Sturgill Simpson that hasn’t already been said before? The man has been on an absolute tirade in 2014, defying all the odds for an independent artist. After releasing what has become one of the most universally critically-acclaimed albums in recently memory in Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, Sturgill played Letterman and Conan, was picked up on the Zac Brown Band tour, won Emerging Artist of the Year from the Americana Music Association, and now has been nominated for a Grammy. On his current headlining club tour, he’s selling out every single night and causing incredible local buzz. His next tour will have to graduate to the theater level, and we may even she Sturgill on a major label moving ahead, whether he wants to or not, simply to accommodate the demand. He’s still many steps from being a household name or receiving mainstream radio play, but he’s captured the imaginations of many fans as an artist who can take the independent spirit to a mainstream-caliber level.

WINNER – Brandy Clark

Brandy Clark

The reason Brandy Clark’s ascent is even more spectacular and promising than Sturgill Simpson’s is because she’s doing it within the Music Row mainstream system. She’s now signed to a major label, and is being named as a nominee for major industry awards like Song of the Year and Female Vocalist of the Year at the CMA Awards, and Best Album at the Grammy Awards. What she doesn’t have as of yet that fellow songwriter and critical darling Kacey Musgraves has is a presence on mainstream country radio. But with a major label now behind any future projects, this becomes even more of a possibility. And wherever you stand on the contentious “gays in country” issue, you can’t help but give Clark credit for integrating the format in the most passive and respectful way. And even more promising is that you get the feel Brandy Clark has years of upside potential ahead of her in the industry.

WINNER – Brantley Gilbert

brantley-gilbertWhat has Brantley Gilbert done right in 2014? Why would this Bro-Country knucklehead be characterized as a “winner”? Because while you weren’t looking he quietly has amassed the most loyal fan base in mainstream country music this side of Carrie Underwood, and has the towering sales numbers to prove it in an environment where such sales numbers were thought to be in the past for a second-tier country star. Brantley’s Just As I Am has sold over 640,000 copies. That’s more than the recent albums from Florida Georgia Line and Blake Shelton combined, or more than the albums of Keith Urban and Brad Paisley combined. Gilbert has sold nearly twice as many albums as Florida Georgia Line’s Anything Goes, 3x the amount of Blake Shelton and Dierks Bentley’s recent releases, and 4x the amount of Brad Paisley’s. Many gave sideways glances at their televisions when Brantley Gilbert was given the American Music Award for “Favorite Country Album,” but by definition, it was deserved. Brantley is the mainstream star with grassroots support, and with that kind of structure, he’s become country music’s great underrated commercial powerhouse.

WINNER – Sam Hunt

sam-huntIn an industry where launching a female artist seems nearly impossible these days, country music’s rising male talent faces the opposite problem of an overcrowded field at the top. But songwriter Sam Hunt, who decided to saddle up with Shane McAnally and attempt to become country music’s EDM superstar has done just that with the mega single “Leave The Night On” and surprising sales for his debut album Montevallo. Where another, more-established country artist in Jerrod Niemann attempted to go EDM with and have a very successful #1 single in “Drink To That All Night” to back it up, Niemann still only garnered album sales of 14,000 for his latest release. Meanwhile Sam Hunt saw a debut week of 70,000 sales, and subsequently has seen strong reception for his country/EDM concept, including surprisingly from many critics. A charmer who can actually speak well for himself who hit on an idea that however vomit-inducing for country music’s traditional listeners has resonated with the wider public, Sam Hunt has revealed himself right out of the gate as a long-haul country star we’ll be hearing about for years, like it or not.


LOSER – Garth Brooks

garth-brooksWithout question Garth Brooks has proved his touring muscle did not atrophy one bit during his nearly 15-year retirement. But what was supposed to be the biggest comeback in country music history has fallen completely flat in regards to album sales, radio play, and overall cultural impact. The selection of singles and the rollout of Garth’s new album was critical, and the momentum and intrigue surrounding his comeback couldn’t have been fumbled any more, resulting in sort of a “ho hum” reception from consumers. He can still sell out five consecutive concert dates in 30 minutes, but without any radio support for his new music, and his insistence on attempting to create his own trends instead of catering to the new era of media, he’s put himself at a distinct disadvantage. Take out the touring success, and right now it is “Machine” one – “Man” zero.

LOSER – Jerrod Niemann

jerrod_niemannIf you want a cautionary tale of what not to do with your country music career, look no further than this once critically-lauded artist who decided to go all techno and appears to be paying the price for his country music transgressions. When the EDM-landen single “Drink To That All Night” was cresting #1 on country radio’s Airplay Chart on its way to certified platinum status, it was all high fives in the Niemann camp. But since the release of the second single from his latest album High Noon called “Donkey,” Niemann has been hard to find. Where “Drink To That All Night” apparently walked right up to the line and titillated the country music public enough to become successful, “Donkey” crossed over it, and now the question is if Jerrod Niemann will ever be able to recover. His latest dreckish single “Buzz Back Girl” doesn’t appear to be making any buzz at all, stalling at #35 on Country Airplay. All the attention for “Drink To That All Night,” and the album High Noon only sold 14,000 copies upon its release. Those are Sturgill Simpson-like numbers with no major label, no name recognition, and no radio play. Subsequently High Noon has only sold around 60,000 copies at last count. Meanwhile the high-production video for “Donkey” apparently showing Niemann awe-struck by the size of his own genitals remains on the shelf.

LOSER – Blake Shelton

blake-sheltonForget that NBC’s The Voice most prominent judge has won the CMA Award for Male Vocalist of the Year for now five years straight, there has never been an artist who has been so quizzically ensconced as the face of the genre who has delivered so little in regards to commercial or critical success, or cultural impact. Shelton’s 2014 album Bringing Back The Sunshine might go down as the biggest dud of the year. As of this moment, it has only sold just shy of 208,000 copies. Compare this with Brantley Gilbert, who has never even been nominated for Male Vocalist of the Year, and has sold upwards of 640,000 copies of his latest release. And because of his commitments to The Voice, Blake Shelton’s touring revenue is also paltry compared to his peers. At this point, Blake Shelton is more famous for being famous, not for country music.

LOSER – The International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA)

IBMA-logoBluegrass. Sweet, wholesome bluegrass. One of the most inspiring, inclusive, sustainable scenes in not just country, but in the greater music world, with festivals, children’s workshops, prestigious awards, and worldwide appreciation for the artform. But somehow in 2014, this environment of togetherness and organization has been shattered by unbelievable turmoil in the IBMA’s Board of Directors. The not-for-profit first showed signs of problems when the board gave their Executive Director Nancy Cardwell a vote of “NO Confidence” and moved to replace her the very week after what appeared on the outside to be a very successful 2014 IBMA Awards and World of Bluegrass gathering in Raleigh, North Carolina in October.  Now there has been multiple resignations from the Board, many open letters back and forth to and from IBMA members as the drama that can fester in a music “scene” emerges for all the public to see in all of its confusing ugliness.

Bluegrass, and even the IBMA will be fine in the long-term, and maybe there were some systemic issues that needed to be addressed in the recent and ongoing turmoil. But from of all places, the bluegrass world gave us an example of what can happen when behind-the-scenes drama overrides the passion for the music.

LOSER – Brad Paisley 

brad-paisleyEvery artist faces that moment where their commercial relevancy begins to slip through their fingers, and 2014 was that year for Brad Paisley, and in a big way. Earlier in the year saw Paisley touring around with no name for his tour, no designs on the sides of his buses and semi’s, in a symbolic marker of his lack of direction in his undeniably-successful, but twilighting career. He came out of the gate with his new album Moonshine in the Trunk already complaining that of all things, the flack he received for the song “Accidental Racist” had somehow torpedoed his career, and the sense of bitterness from what is supposed to be mainstream country’s happy go luck superstar tarnished the sentiment of a man that won the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year just four short years ago. Sales for Moonshine In The Truck have been abominable for an established, mainstream star, coming in at 107,000 at last count. Every artist faces the eventual fall from prominence, but Brad Paisley’s has been especially precipitous.

Nov
25

Song Review – “Mom” by Garth Brooks

November 25, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  88 Comments

garth-brooks-momWhen it comes to Garth’s new album Man Against Machine, I’m not sure if it is possible for his singles strategy to be more ripe for second guessing. The first single “People Loving People” might as well have not even been released. In fact the case could be made that Garth would have been dramatically better off not releasing a single at all at this point. Now that his first song back has flopped, it’s going to make program directors even more reluctant than they were before to feature a 50-something, somewhat pudgy and out-of-touch star that’s an unknown quantity to most of their target demographic. American radio is already on rickety footing when it comes to the public’s attention span as their appetite for technological alternatives to radio continue to grow. To be taking chances on artists whose peak of relevancy was 20 years ago is a gamble, even if their name is Garth.

It’s unquestionable Garth Brooks has a capable team around him to promote his singles, but from the outside looking in it appears he’s surrounded by yes men who will ignore the data they have on his new songs and shoot whatever Garth is most enamored with at any given moment to country radio and hope it flies. Garth just needs to let people know he’s out there making music again with a sensible single that will get decent play; something beyond local headlines declaring he sold out half a dozen shows in six minutes. If Garth hasn’t played your town or you didn’t tune in for the awful American Music Awards, there’s little reason to know he’s back. Instead of letting radio do its job, Garth’s swinging for the home run ball on the first and second pitch, and like when he tried out for the Padres, he’s going down swinging.

No offense to “Mom,” or even “People Loving People.” These are not terrible songs in themselves. There’s just no sensibility to releasing them as singles. “Mom” is one of the few songs on Man Against Machine that actually resides in the sweet spot of Garth’s vocal range, where his bellowing low end can compliment the beginning of each phrase in a way that evokes memories of his early blockbusters. For my liking, I still think the song could be a half step lower, but unlike much of Man Against Machine that captures Garth in this pallid middle range, his voice is an asset in this song.

READ: Album Review – Garth Brooks’ “Man Against Machine”

You would have to characterize the instrumentation and approach to “Mom” as traditional. Fiddle, steel guitar, piano, and a slow, reflective rhythm looking to capture memorable, shiver-inducing moments all makes for something refreshing to hear on mainstream country radio, but only if they’ll play it. All the soccer moms that once were one of country’s mainstays have moved on to the AAA and adult contemporary format. 16-year-old boys with their fists pumping to Florida Georgia Line are going to find “Mom” about as fun as a 9 PM curfew. And no matter the appetite of Robin Roberts on Good Morning America and a studio full of shills crying alligator tears, this song simply doesn’t resonate unless you’re suffering from morning sickness.

The problem with “Mom” is it has that mawkish, signature-Garth over-sentimentality that just makes you want to vomit. Are the words themselves terrible? No. But the lyrical payoff’s potency is good for about one pass of the song, if you can’t see the “Mom” hook coming from a mile away, which most listeners will. Where it’s supposed to deliver people to this warm place, instead it instills this rainbow of conflicting emotions, and even weird thoughts of personhood and conception—somewhere a country song shouldn’t go. Some, if not many moms and children’s experiences with them are much less idyllic than is what is portrayed here. Yes, we all love our moms, but the sad reality is some of them are bat shit crazy, and others are completely unprepared for parenthood. What about the babies who get delivered into their arms?

In the mid 90′s this song would have wooed America, and it still will be effective on some of the daytime TV crowd. But today we’re too gripped with irony and sarcasm to let something so sappy and direct resonate widely, which in truth is probably a sad commentary in itself, but a true assessment nonetheless. Garth has compared this to his iconic song “The Dance,” but “Mom” comes nowhere near capturing the universal sentiment or depth “The Dance” does, not matter what decade your perspective is stuck in.

No, this song is not terrible, and it’s not its fault that society these days is so bitter and full of angst that they can’t enjoy a song like this at least a little bit. It may do better than “People Loving People,” but I’m not sure if that’s saying much. Garth has a whole albums worth of songs—arguably all of the ones except the two he’s picked—that will work fine for radio, and one in “Tacoma” that could be huge. But the question is, by the time he gets to them, will everyone have grown tired of Garth 2.0?

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One Gun Up for a fairly well-written, traditional, and heartfelt song.

One Gun Down for sappiness, short-sightedness, and over-sentimentality.


More ABC US news | ABC World News

Nov
24

Garth Brooks Addresses the Waylon Jennings Feud

November 24, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  34 Comments

garth-brooks-waylon-jennings

The feud between country music Outlaw legend Waylon Jennings and country superstar Garth Brooks has been well-documented and talked about over the years. Though a lot of rumor and conjecture tend to cloud the conversation, we do know that Waylon’s dislike for Garth, who was coming up just as Waylon’s career was hitting a sharp decline, was very real. Whether the quote is real or not that is often attributed to Waylon about a certain type of foreplay and how Garth was the equivalent to pantyhose getting in the way of it, there was undoubtedly some animosity between the two country stars.

READ: The Waylon Jennings Quote About Garth Brooks – Real or Fake?

During an appearance late last week on Broadway’s Electric Barnyard show on Country 92.5 out of Connecticut, the DJ asked Garth point blank about the feud. One of the reason’s Broadway does such good interviews is because he asks the questions many other DJ’s are too scared to ask. But as opposed to getting angry, the artists usually find the questions refreshing after being asked about the same subjects over and over that only scratch the surface. “You know your stuff, I’m enjoying this,” Garth said to Broadway.

When Broadway asked Garth if he’d ever met Waylon or talked to him about the feud, Garth responded,

garth-brooks-waylon-jenningsNo, never met Mr. Jennings. And for some reason man, I guess I was the guy that he targeted. You know, it’s kind of weird because all the people [that are the reason] why I’m in the business, those people say the reason THEY were in the business was Waylon. So everyone loves him, he’s a legend, and I just kind of let it go. I never knew what to say.

Yeah, I was definitely the guy that he targeted (laughing). And it’s funny kinda being the non traditionalist then, and now everyone looks at [me] like, ‘Your stuff is as country as it gets.’ So that’s kind of a weird view. It was tough for me because he was a country legend and for some reason I was the guy that got the brunt of it. I never took it that personal. I just think he was addressing the different sound in country music and the changing of the guard. That’s tough for anybody to handle. The guy’s a legend and deserves nothing but respect.

The artists Garth appears to be referring to as the people who were inspired by Waylon that went on to inspire him would likely be big Garth influences Keith Whitley and Chris LeDoux.

Garth also talked about how his new single is going to be “Mom,” which he calls more traditional than some of the other singles he could pick from his new album. He also talked about up-and-coming performer/songwriter Caitlyn Smith who wrote one of the most critically-acclaimed songs on Garth’s new record, “Tacoma.”

“She’s the bomb. The thing that hurts her in town is that nobody can sing as good as she can. So it’s like, you hear her demos and you want your record to sound like that. But good luck. That girl’s talented.”

The Garth vs. Waylon debate is an ongoing one, and one of those country music discussions people love to take sides on. It will probably continue on as long as both men’s music does, but according to Garth, the feud was one sided. And then there’s the quotes from Waylon’s autobiography:

garth-brooks-waylon-jennings-001Of course, the next generation better not believe everything they hear. At this point, I’ve been accused of all manner of carousing. Mostly, it’s something that I might have done, or would have done, or couldn’t even imagine doing. Pretty soon it’s etched into stone. If I led the life that people think I did, I’d be a hundred and fifty years old and weigh about forty pounds …

The thing is, we’re in this together, the old, the new, the one-hit wonders and the lifetime achievers, the writers and the session pickers and the guy who sells the T-shirts. The folks that come to the shows, and the ones that stay at home and watch it on TNN. Those who remember Hank Williams, and those who came on board about the time of Mark Chestnut, who named his baby boy after me …

My friends. This town is big enough for the all of us.

Waylon Jennings

Listen to the Garth Brooks interview:

Nov
17

Man Against Machine: Garth Brooks Calls YouTube “The Devil”

November 17, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  64 Comments

garth-brooks

On Monday, November 17th when Garth Brooks appeared on Access Hollywood promoting his upcoming tour dates and the release of his new album Man Against Machine, he was pretty loose lipped about his hatred for certain elements of music technology, and how it has taken a lot of the power out of the hands of artists. This philosophy is what is behind the country singer refusing to release his music to iTunes and streaming services, and is the theme behind his “Man Against Machine” album title and opening track. Brooks has set up his own iTunes rival called GhostTunes which allows artists to sell their music however they want, including as whole albums or in bundle packages.

When Garth was asked what he thought about Taylor Swift’s public feud with Spotify, he responded,

I think a lot of people are going to start following. (If) music starts standing up for itself, it’s going to get a lot better. And you know guys, there’s some big friends of ours in music that we need to stand up to to. I mean, if iTunes is going to tell you how to sell your stuff, and it’s only going to go this way, don’t forget who’s creating the music and who should be doing the stuff. And I’m telling you, the devil? Nice people…YouTube. Oh my gosh. They claim they’re paying people a lot, but they’re not paying anything either. And people get millions and millions and millions of views and they don’t get squat. Trust me, songwriters are hurting, so I applaud Ms. Taylor, I applaud everyone for standing up for the songwriters because without them music is nothing.

Garth then talked about a meeting he had with YouTube where he tried to persuade them to completely remove anything having to do with him from the format. None of Garth’s music or videos can be found on the video giant, but live videos from concerts, etc. have made it on the service from his recent concert appearances.

You can’t get out of it. I had a sweet meeting with them. They were all fired up. They were the sweetest, and they’re all like twelve. They’re the sweetest kids. So young. And so I got the first question, “How do you get out?” And silence. You don’t. You don’t get out. Thanks for our wonderful someone judging on this one on the government. But yeah, it’s totally backward right now. But music, if the artists will just keep hammering away, unify, stick together, then music will become the king again, which is where it should be. Music should always be first.

YouTube has just launched its own subscription service to rival Spotify and other streamers, after a prolonged period of trying to negotiate for music rights from organizations representing independent artists and other publishers.

Whether it’s ultimately successful for Garth Brooks or not, he appears to be bound and determined to do music his way and fight against the current in the way technology is serving music to the public. But with Taylor Swift, and now Jason Aldean and Justin Moore pulling music from Spotify, Garth Brooks is no longer alone, and country is the genre emerging as the one leading the charge.

Nov
12

Album Review – Garth Brooks’ “Man Against Machine”

November 12, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  52 Comments

garth-brooks

There was a time when we believed that the Garth Brooks comeback album would be the biggest event in country music all year, if not in the last half decade or longer. Now sales projections have the album struggling to reach 150K units sold in its debut week (though who knows how GhostTunes will account), while Garth’s comeback single “People Loving People” is a dud that has already been declared “done” at radio. Meanwhile he’s setting record attendance numbers all across the country as part of his comeback tour, but maybe the music became an afterthought, at least to consumers.

The truth is, Garth was never going to live up to the lofty expectations many were foisting upon his re-entry into the country fold. Forget the naysayers who still can’t get over his high wire act at Texas Stadium or the Chris Gaines gimmick, there was some thought that Garth may be the only one left with the star power to reignite the spark of true country music in the mainstream once again, however ironic this may be given Garth’s history. But in hindsight, this was sort of like thinking Mike Tyson could still be heavyweight champion in the early 00′s, or that Brett Favre could still win a Super Bowl. At some point our greatest talents leave us all, if they don’t become out-of-style even if they’re still present in full force.

garth-brooks-people-loving-peopleChoosing to go with “People Loving People” as a lead single may have been the greatest single mistake of Garth’s career. Chris Gaines, eat your heart out. As Saving Country Music asserted amidst the song’s release, it would probably turn out to be the least country song of the entire project, and hearing the full Man Against Machine album now, this is most certainly true. The song left the country fans hoping for a triumphant Garth return crestfallen, and the rest of listeners just a little perplexed, despite not being a particularly bad song on its own autonomous merit. This was Garth being Garth—wanting to change the world with a song instead of simply putting something out there radio would play and help ease him back into the mainstream picture. Truth be known, Garth’s entire rollout has been wonky, with decisions easy to second guess.

But Man Against Machine is not all doom and gloom here. To begin with, forget whatever first impressions “People Loving People” may have given you; Man Against Machine is country. It’s Garth country no doubt, with a little bit of the arena rock attitude that he first brought to country, and a little soulful blue-eyed R&B with a country flavor mixed in. Getting even more specific, there’s a straight up Western Swing song on the album, and quite a few more songs that solidly fit in the true country style. There’s some overly sappy moments, like the sentimental song “Mom” which once again is very Garth. There’s also many well-written songs. Will Man Against Machine help save country music? You certainly don’t get that sense. But there’s still some good music here, and not much bad.

The opening title track of Man Against Machine is a maze of messages that can be read a number of ways, while the music itself is very much a hard-rocking and punctuated expression. Many are surmising that this song is a shot at Music Row and the country music machine. Others feel it challenges the drum machines and Auto-Tune that pervade popular country music, or that it is specific to his well-publicized battle with iTunes. Still others think it’s target and message is more global, that it’s showing concern for how technology is impinging on our lives.

But the genius of the song “Man Against Machine” is that it’s message can mean all of these things, or something entirely different depending on the perspective of the listener. Though the music might seem a little off-putting, or even arrogant to some listeners, the simple fact is “Man Against Machine” might be the best-written song on the album—on an album of well-written songs. The duplicitous meanings, the allusions to the classic John Henry story in country, lines like “Careful calculations details drawn down to design. Is it really for the better or a better bottom line,” and even the self-awareness of “‘Cause I’m a machine myself, but I’m one with a working heart,” make for a delicious riddle to unwind, and an inspiring message if one chooses to take it as such.

garth-brooks-man-against-machineYou can go back and forth about the objective or production of some of these songs, but the songwriting is somewhat hard to deny. Garth had his pick of the litter of material, and despite the lack of large singles on this album, the patience Garth exhibited vetting offerings, and the breath of the song selections, is impressive. The duet with wife Trisha Yearwood on a song Garth co-wrote called “She’s Tired of Boys” is quite striking, despite the schlock rock harmonized guitar lines and general adult contempo production. Again the production leaves something to be desired, but “Cold Like That” carries an advanced, almost esoteric message that challenges the listener—something refreshing and unusual from a mainstream country star.

“All American Kid,” “Wrong About You” and “Cowboys Forever” are just straight ahead solid contemporary country numbers that are hard to complain about, though they may not offer anything particularly new or exciting. The Western Swing “Rodeo and Juliet” is certainly the most surprising track on the album, and when I say “Western Swing,” I’m talking about Bob Wills at Cain’s Ballroom, and a smart, fun, and once again well-written song, and the 3rd of the album with a Garth co-write credit. Though there are multiple variances from the country theme on this album, there is also ample steel guitar, some fiddle, mandolin, dobro, and piano, and a list of respected musicians who appear in the liners such as Jerry Douglas and Bryan Sutton.

“Send ‘Em On Down The Road” is where Garth gets the recipe of sentimentality correct; something he measures out too syrupy on “Mom.” The song “Fish” once again features a fine songwriting performance, and a message that seems to ring deep for Garth and is lovingly delivered. Man Against Machine ends with a distinct R&B flavor, with “You Wreck Me” feeling like a stretch out of Garth’s style pocket, and potentially one of the album’s bids for radio play, but one that feels a little dated. Meanwhile the final track “Tacoma” is arguably the best vocal performance for Garth on the entire album. A challenging structure imagined by songwriters Caitlyn Smith and Bob DiPiero, Garth does a superb job re-imaging the song in his own image while capturing the compelling original sentiment.

The change in Garth’s voice may be the greatest takeaway of Man Against Machine. Where classic Garth was able to dip down into the lower registers and then drawl back up with such a meaty tone on all those early 90′s standards, today’s Garth is an animal of the middle register with a much more rigid range, making his voice more ordinary, despite his control and ability to emote passion certainly still being present.

Man Against Machine is a strong performance from a mainstream artist coming off a 12 year hiatus, but you don’t hear the song that could be the commercial blockbuster or game changer that this album would need to put itself in front of the wider consciousness. They will find some singles on this album that country radio in 2014-2015 is more receptive to, while country’s impending format split might also aid Garth’s return. But radio may be salivating more for a new single if the first one had been better received. Now they may be more suspicious.

The purists will pan it because it’s Garth, and the mainstream may mostly ignore it because Garth is such an unknown quantity to their youthful demo. And everyone will question the wisdom of releasing “People Loving People” as a single or the somewhat silly cover art. But Man Against Machine is a solid Garth record, with some sappy moments, some rock and R&B moments, but mostly just good contemporary Garth country worthy of at least an open-minded listen.

1 1/2 of 2 Guns Up.

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Man Against Machine is Available Digitally through GhostTunes

Purchase Man Against Machine from Amazon

Nov
3

Album Review – Taylor Swift’s “1989″

November 3, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  77 Comments

taylor-swift

“This site’s called savingcountrymusic.com. Why are you talking about Taylor Swift? She’s not country. She never was. Now she’s even saying she isn’t.”

Well guess what, tough titty. This is my damn website, and if I want to talk about Taylor Swift, I will. And guess what, you’ll probably read about it.

It’s true that Taylor Swift has officially left country, and the majority of the country music media needs to ween themselves off the Taylor Swift click bait and recuse themselves from running features on every Instagram picture she posts. But I can make the case that when it comes to this specific album, 1989, it is the most relevant, most important album released in country music in the entirety of 2014, let alone in music overall, and for a host of reasons, even though it’s not country. Thinking otherwise is vanity, and ill-informed, to the point where it would be almost irresponsible not to broach the subject of this album, and the potential repercussions it could have on the country genre at large.

For starters, if you trace  back to the origination point 1989, it will lead you to the corporate headquarters of Big Machine Records—an independent label located at 1219 16th Ave South in a portion of the City of Nashville known by locals as Music Row, aka the mother brain of the country music industrial complex. Not to mention that said Big Machine Records also happens to be up for sale according to reports that first surfaced the third week of October, and have subsequently been stoked anew, and specifically name this album, 1989, it’s success, and the success and contract status of Taylor Swift as linchpins to the entire deal.

taylor-swift-album-coverBut let’s not bog down in business jargon and behind-the-scenes details. The reason 1989 is important to country music is not in lieu of Taylor Swift declaring herself and this album pop, it is because of it. Country music isn’t mad at Taylor Swift for leaving the genre, they’re mad because she blew their cover. Of course she’s not country, and never has been. Nor is the majority of what is clad in country clothing. It just happens to be that Taylor Swift is the only artist with the balls to say it, and the balls to admit she wants to make pop music. Oh my heavens, what a shock! Meanwhile the rest of country is syncing up banjos with drum machine beats, and singing about getting high in the bathrooms of downtown clubs. Say they’re not country though, and they’ll admonish you as a closed-minded purist, and claim what they’re doing is “evolution.” If nothing else, give Taylor Swift some damn credit for being honest with herself and her fans. That’s one big monkey off her back … at least for now.

But genres aside, 1989 has already revealed itself as transcendent from a commercial perspective. I don’t know if it’s even possible for us to quantify what kind of feat this album has achieved by selling more albums in a week than any other project in a dozen years. When you factor in the unchecked flight from physical product and now even downloads that is absolutely ramrodding the music marketplace into a downward spiral, this feat is nothing short of miraculous. Would this be the equivalent of selling 2.5 million records on debut in 1989—the year the album is named for? Three million? More?

The decision to not make 1989 available on Spotify proved to be a smart one, as 14-year-old girls all across the country crashed their local Target stores to obtain their copy. Remember the Taylor Swift op-ed from the Wall Street Journal and her fearful plea? “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free,” she said. “In mentioning album sales, I’d like to point out that people are still buying albums, but now they’re buying just a few of them. They are buying only the ones that hit them like an arrow… It isn’t as easy today as it was 20 years ago to have a multiplatinum-selling album…”

Unless you’re Taylor Swift.

Why is Taylor Swift’s 1989 relevant to a country music website? Because it is relevant to any music website, because we very well may be looking at the very last American album sold in a physical form that permeates the entire population. Vinyl collectors will tell you, if you crash any given pile of records, whether at a garage sale, a thrift store, etc., you always see the same revolving titles: John Denver’s Greatest Hits, Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass for example. It’s uncanny, and doesn’t matter where you are in the country. It’s because everybody bought those records. Or at least the people that bought records did. 1989 may be the last record of that lineage, and the only person or album that might have a chance at besting or repeating this deed would be Taylor Swift in two years when she releases her next one. It was Taylor Swift’s last album Red that 1989 broke the record for a debut week initially, until the tally of 1989 sales started to reach past 1.25 million, and we had to go all the way back to 2002′s The Eminem Show to find a peer. That is an illustration of how Taylor Swift truly is the artist of a generation, even before factoring music’s dramatic sales slide. And the fact she accomplished all of this after declaring herself no longer country is a footnote worth not glossing over.

taylorswift-1989polaroid-02How did she do it? The Spotify embargo helped, but she also did it by showing love to the physical format. The cover of Swift’s 1989 is fairly nondescript, but purposely so, and you can almost squint and tell how over time it could become iconic with its retro attitude. But it really was the little treats Taylor Swift put inside each package that made her many fans and even passers by decide to go physical. In each package is a card that enters listeners into a sweepstakes for a chance to meet Taylor Swift. A Willy Wonka golden ticket so to speak. It also comes with a little package that says “Photos” that includes 13 cards, or mock Polaroids of Taylor Swift, each numbered as part of a bigger sequence, with the lyrics to songs scribbled in Sharpie on the bottom.

This all gives a physical representation to the incredible amount of social traffic Taylor Swift generates. It’s something tangible that separates her from the virtual stars of today. Like the spinning cover of Led Zepplin’s III‘s original album cover where you could change what’s peeking through the windows, it shows imagination, and effort.

The problem with 1989 though is that it is just not a very good album. Country, or not. The analogy employed for Taylor Swift albums by this country music critic for her previous releases was that of an Italian food critic sent to a Chinese restaurant, and asked to judge the Chinese food … as Italian food. Clearly the result would be a failing grade, and that is what Taylor Swift received, regardless of how good the music was as pop. But judging it as pop music specifically, it was hard to not admit that the music had its moments, and its depth and value.

1989 has some depth too, and some value here and there, but overall you feel like you’re getting the worst of all those older Taylor Swift albums—the unabashed pandering to the public at large in smash singles, and some of the self-ingratiating sentimentality—all condensed into one. There are respites, and as Taylor Swift says herself, this is the most cohesive album she’s ever made sonically, and that may be true. But I’m not sure that is something to be boasting about when this is the result.

Taylor Swift’s 1989 could have been great, and you get a sense that it almost was. The idea of this retro, 25-year throwback perspective personified in new music is probably a worthy one. That 25-year marker is thrown around regularly as the measurement of when music of the previous generation reaches its apex of emotional virility and maximum memory response in its listeners. Before the 25-year window, the music feels unfashionable. Beyond it, and it feels outmoded. 25 years is the sweet spot, and that is why country music is seeing a revival of its “Class of ’89″ artists like the recently-unretired Garth Brooks, and Alan Jackson who is going on a 25-year Anniversary tour.

25 years ago was a big time in country music, or at least the time of a big freshman class. But what about pop? 1989 was the year of Milli Vanilli. The 80′s were already an era of music that would be called lost by some, and laughable by others. Why does a lot of commercial country today sound like bad 80′s hair metal? Why did Taylor Swift’s Big Machine record label release a Mötley Crüe tribute album this year? Because it hits on that 25-year sweet spot. But hair metal and Milli Vanilli were godawful, just like much of 80′s music.

If you wanted to look for what has withstood the test of time from the 80′s era of pop, you look to New Wave, and one hit wonders. Yes, this was the era when synthesized music took hold in earnest, but it was also the time of tantalizing melodies and arrangement—guilty pleasures for Audiophiles and ear worms galore for the masses. And we’ve already seen Taylor Swift tap into this retro music magic, and rather successfully ahead of the 1989 release.

Jack Antonoff

Jack Antonoff

A song like “Enchanted” from Taylor Swift’s 2010 album Speak Now has that 80′s synth pop thing going strong. On 2012′s Red, a perfect example of this is the song “Starlight.” And the single that preceded this album called “Sweeter Than Fiction” that appeared on the soundtrack of the film One Chance also found Taylor Swift revitalizing the New Wave vibes that marked some of the best moments of 80′s pop, and doing it with Jack Antonoff as producer—the guitar player for the band Fun, and the man who also co-wrote and produced two songs for 1989, including one of the lead singles, “Out of the Woods.”

Listening to “Sweeter Than Fiction” and some of Swift’s other synth-pop songs from the past, you though that if this was the direction 1989 took, the results could be quite tantalizing. Taylor has proven to be adept at re-imagining the 80′s. But I hate to say, this album did not take that direction, really whatsoever. If “Sweeter Than Fiction,” or even “Starlight” or “Enchanted” were included on this album, they would immediately become the best tracks by far. One of the surprising things about 1989 is how much it resides solidly in the here and now, startlingly so. There’s not really any retro vibe. Instead we get Max Martin/Shellback smash single formulas, a fairly lackluster, unimaginative, and disappointing performance by Jack Antonoff, and only a few songs that really simulate any intrigue to the discerning ear.

1989, just like the year itself, is sort of a bore. The cohesiveness of the album eliminates any spice or suspense. The modes of production are transparent, and the melodies are rendered powerless by rhythmic seizures, excessive repetitiveness, and poor decision making in the composition. This album is just kind of a mess in places, guessing at what might make a song a smash hit instead of doing the inspiration justice.

It’s been the assertion by Saving Country Music that all popular music is slowly transitioning to simply being noise scientifically formulated to stimulate the highest possible dopamine response in the brain. Swedish hitmakers Max Martin and Shellback—who joined Taylor’s team at the behest of Scott Borchetta during Red—are the precursors to this impending era. They were responsible for Red‘s three huge pop hits, but like Taylor accurately picked up on, their compositions came out of nowhere on that album, like interjections to the listener, and hurt her overall effort, regardless of the success of the songs themselves. She avoids that same mistake here, but unfortunately she does it by enacting this Max Martin/Shellback composition-by-formula across the board on these 13 tracks.

Whatever the original melodies to these songs were, we’ll never know. Taylor herself has probably forgotten them already. I have little doubt most of the words are her own. But then she brought them into the studio, was asked to sing them a certain way, and then they were summarily dumped into a sound file, cut and pasted like text from a Wikipedia page into a student’s history report, and then used as the producers wished to craft what they believed would be infectious patterns for mega hits. The result is that any and all inspiration behind the songs has been scrubbed from the performances. Taylor Swift’s words and voice are just another sonic elements to fit into a pre-arranged composition optimized for mass consumption. The curly-haired awkward girl sitting in her bedroom writing down her feelings while playing her acoustic guitar was not only lost in this process, she was murdered.

What’s the most shocking about this is that we can expect this kind of behavior from the music cretins like Max Martin and Shellback, who along with Joey Moi and other producers are really at the heart of destroying American popular music. But Jack Antonoff of Fun, and Ryan Tedder—the OneRepublic frontman who also co-writes and produces a couple of songs on this album—seem so eager to play ball with this formulaic approach. This was possibly the fatal flaw of bringing in Max Martin on not just as a songwriter and producer, but as the executive producer of the project. Everything was exposed to his corrupting mandibles, aside from maybe the song “This Love” that Swift did with her long-time original producer Nathan Chapman.

Max Martin

Max Martin

In fact the guest producers do such a poor job and this album is such a lowering of the bar overall, the songs that shine the brightest are arguably the ones Max Martin and Shellback had the heaviest hand in—a complete role reversal from Red. Even Imogen Heap’s contribution on the final track “Clean” feels tired, forced, and unimaginative. However, this is nothing close to praise of the Swedish pair. It’s just happens to be that a few of the songs they didn’t completely suffocate the melodies or ruin the songs with rhythmic pap, though many of them they still did.

The song “Style” works well as a modern pop song, and the theme about being classic and above style trends is really smart, while the song also conveys the story of a passionate romance. The other standout of the album is “How You Get the Girl.” Despite being hamstrung by the annoyingly-rhythmic confusion at the beginning of the song, it rallies to evidence one of the most catchy moments on an album that is curiously lacking in them for a pop project. “This Love”—the only solo write by Swift on the entire album and produced by Nathan Chapman—is alright, but is a little too flat and Enya-like to hold the attention for very long, even though for once on this album you get the sense you’re listening to something very personal.

Other songs like “All You Had To Do Was Stay” would have been good, buy why, why choose to put some ridiculous banshee yawp enhancement on the final “stay” of every phrase to take a perfectly fine pop song and make it polarizing? “Wildest Dreams,” “I Wish You Would,” are just okay, and don’t even get me started with the album’s lead singles: “Shake It Off,” “Out of the Woods,” and “Welcome To New York.” These songs are just bullshit. “Out of the Woods” can’t be saved by the inclusion of a personal narrative because it is simply caustic to the ears with its rhythmically disjointed repetitiveness. “Bad Blood” is downright annoying. The entire project is so racked with poor rhythm decisions, repeated words and sounds, Shellback loading up Taylor Swift’s voice in a memory bank and playing it back on a MIDI controller like a Moog, it’s just objectionable to the ear in many places. 1989 is the worst album Taylor Swift has every made.

But how about the words, is there any redemption here? Sure, maybe. But once again we’re asked to praise Taylor Swift the songwriter when her words have been buried beneath layers of synthesizer beds and over-production that screams out for the predominant attention, while the lead single of the album is built around the vacuous “Players gonna play, and haters gonna hate” über cliché of our era. If Taylor Swift wants respect as a lyricist, she needs to put the material out front that flatters these attributes, not that refutes them. Yes, there are some good lines, and good sentiments on 1989‘s lyrical set. But we’re not seeing Taylor Swift evolve. When she was fifteen, we were amazed at the maturity and self-awareness she embedded in her cute little pop songs. Now you’re starting to wonder if and how her fame has stunted her emotional development.

That doesn’t mean songs like “Wildest Dreams,” “This Love,” and “I Know Places” don’t have a little something. But songs like “Blank Space” and “Bad Blood” come across as immature and self-indulgent. Let’s not forget that Taylor Swift is still only 24. But where before she was a 15-year-old writing as a 24-year-old, now it feels like she’s a 24-year-old writing as an 18-year-old in segments of this album.

Where does 1989 rate when it comes to the great pop albums of this generation? It’s fate is probably secured in being considered top grade simply because of its commercial performance. Hell, the City of New York has already named Swift their “ambassador” for the next two years based off of 1989‘s lead song and Swift buying and apartment in Manhattan. But I’m sorry to say, “Welcome to New York” as a song offers nothing. At all. 1989 held up against Lorde’s Pure Heroine, or Adele’s 21, or even taking a further step back and looking at Nelly Furtado’s Loose for example, and you feel like it would be patently unfair to compare those projects to what Taylor Swift has offered up here. It’s more on par with Ke$ha’s Animal—simply a collection of digital production performances and studio magic with some flashes of fair writing.

Swift seems to think that to loosen the bonds of country, she had to completely go away from instrumentation. Virtually the entirety of 1989 was sequenced on Mac computers, and you can feel that in the results. Yet you listen to where the rest of pop music is headed, and you see it beginning to favor instrumentation more and more, like the standup bass in Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” that has consistently bested Swift’s “Shake It Off” in the charts.

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There are some decent moments on this album, and I don’t want to downplay this opinion. And I would be interested in hearing the songs that did not make the cut, as I’m sure there were many fleshed out in the studio that we’re not getting a chance to hear.

But it’s over. That young girl with big dreams and an acoustic guitar sitting on the edge of her bed writing silly little heartfelt songs that became America’s sweetheart has become just a franchise name for dubious-intentioned producers to do with what they will. Max Martin finished the job in 1989 he started on Red. The fact that Taylor Swift still writes most of her lyrics is simply a facade that she has complete control over what is transpiring, misleading not just her fans and the public, but more disappointingly, herself. The problem with money and success is that you can always have more of it, and this is usually where the compromising of principles occurs, trying to best records you’ve already broken. When you attain goals by reaching outside yourself, the losses are greater than the gains.

1989 does not represent the year Taylor Swift was born, it represents the moment her music died as a form of her original expression.

1 1/2 of 2 Guns Down.

Nov
2

Machine Beats Man in (another) Garth Brooks Stage Fall

November 2, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  23 Comments

garth-brooks-man-against-machine-001If 2013 was the “Year of the Woman” in country music, 2014 may go down as the “Year of the Fall.” Along with a troika of notable tumbles by Luke Bryan in 2014, Garth Brooks has now bit it on a couple of occasions during his comeback tour. It first happened on Friday, September 5th as his “Garth Experience” was just getting under way in Chicago. The 52-year-old entertainer took a spill and stopped himself only inches from going off the edge of the stage like his hat did. Then this Friday during his Halloween show in Lexington, KY at the Rupp Arena, Brooks took another tumble, but this one involved some extenuating circumstances.

Garth’s stage setup on the tour has more gadgets than a Swiss Army knife. It breathes fire, shoots lasers, belches smoke, has retractable video screens, endless lights, and a glowing “orb” as a centerpiece. Apparently another feature of the stage is some sort of conveyor belt-type device, or a couple of them running opposite ways that work like a suped-up people mover at an airport, rushing Garth from one side of the stage to the other.

While in the midst of singing his cover of Aerosmith’s “Fever” from his 1995 album Fresh Horses, it appears Garths loses his footing on the one conveyor belt, making him accidentally put his foot on the other conveyor belt running the opposite way, and ends up sending him careening out of control. Luckily he recovered quick enough to strike a pre-planned Run-D.M.C. crossed-arm pose with his fiddle player to finish the song.

Earlier that morning, Garth was in Nashville giving music press and industry insiders a sneak peak at his new album Man Against Machine scheduled to be released on November 11th. “Anybody who knows us knows we’ve never named an album after a song, but for some reason this is how it’s been for us since the start of thinking about coming back into music. A lot of things have changed and it’s all up hill,” Garth said. In this instance, it appears the machine won out against man.

Oct
28

Caitlyn Smith Steps Out of the Shadows with “Everything To You”

October 28, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  5 Comments

caitlyn-smithPhoto: Spencer Combs

Mostly known by industry types as a songwriter whose pen to paper has resulted in some very memorable cuts, including the recent Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers duet “You Can’t Make Old Friends,” one of the most recognizable songs from ABC’s drama Nashville called “Don’t Put Dirt On My Graves Just Yet,” and even some songs from bigger names such as Jason Aldean and Lady Antebellum, Caitlyn Smith steps out from the songwriting shadows to release a seven song EP full of wide ranging emotions, slickly-penned sentiments, and spectacular vocal performances worthy of wider attention.

When you talk about an artist known as a songwriter first, you tend to look for the strength in the lyric. But Caitliyn Smith is very much a multi-tool performer, and her vocals can rival any in country music’s top tier, and she’s a great musician as well. Her style is very sensible—country pop in the traditional sense, with rising choruses, juicy melodies, and familiar themes of love, loss, and hope. But similar to how Caitlyn Smith songs are the ones artists and managers gravitate toward when they’re looking for something with more body beyond a smash radio hit, instilled in all of Caitlyn’s work is a sincerity, authenticity, and the ends of country roots sticking out from the surface.

Though it may be a stretch to call this Everything To You EP traditional, the amount of banjo on this album is surprising, and really comprises the sonic base for a few of these songs. And I’m not talking about the six-string version of the banjo with a Stratocaster head stock and flames painted down the side, these are songs bred from inspiration, not formula, even if a few songwriting hands were employed before calling them finished. Fiddle and mandolin float in and out as well, as does some heavier guitar riffs when the composition calls for it. But really the focus of Everything To You is squarely on Caitlyn, her songs, and her voice, which is where it should be, and this is where this album will build its greatest consensus amongst listeners with country sensibilities.

caitlyn-smith-everything-to-youEverything To You starts out with the driving “Fever” with its two-part chorus and towering requests for Caitlyn to immediately hit top-register notes and nail them, which she does with ease. This leads into the more subdued and acoustic “Dream Away”—an empowering testament about sticking to your dreams; something Caitlyn can speak about from the experience of being a small town girl from Minnesota desiring to be a songwriter and now singing along to some of her co-writes on the radio.

“Wasting All These Tears” takes a more somber pitch, almost like a jilted Taylor Swift song from earlier in her career, then the autobiographical “Everything To You” immediately shifts gears to a more happier tone. “Grown Woman” finds Caitlyn evoking the common “I’m a woman, hear me roar” attitude we’ve been hearing often from mainstream women, while the yearning and wrenching of “Novocaine” cuts at the listener’s emotional stability. The album ends with the thankful and sweet “All My Lovers” about Caitlyn finding her way to her husband.

Though Everything To You never turns you off, it never really takes any chances either, or sails into the uncharted waters beyond the familiar harbors of co-write country. The songs all seem to authentically emanate from Caitlyn’s life story and this feels like a very personal album, but you can’t escape the feeling that you’ve heard a version of some of these songs before. Slick arrangements, production, and instrumentation make Everything To You accessible, though not necessarily challenging. However Caitlyn Smith and Everything To You very much embody the idea that there are artists out there with mainstream-caliber chops who if just given a chance could shift country in a more substantive, and even sustainable direction.

2013 was considered by many to be the “Year of The Woman” in country music from the concentration of forward-thinking and nourishing projects proffered to the public by females who could nip at the edges of the mainstream, but still find friendly ears in the independent world. Caitlyn Smith may be a year too late to be considered in that class, but she belongs with the other ladies of country music leadership trying to keep at least a modicum of respect in the genre, even if those women struggle compared with their male counterparts in chart performance and cash flow.

Before Garth Brooks decided to go with “People Loving People” as his first single after coming out of retirement, another song on his new album called “Tacoma”—written by Caitlyn Smith and Bob DiPiero—was scheduled to be the return single. Only stands to reason “Tacoma” will be released as a single eventually, and with the timely release of this EP, it very well may deliver an extra bit of interest to a well-deserving and hard working songwriter with a voice worthy of much more than the audience listening song pitches on demo tapes.

1 1/2 of 2 Guns Up.

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Purchase Everything To You on iTunes

Oct
23

New “Iconic” Hank FM Signals Important Moment in Format Split

October 23, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Podcasting/Radio  //  42 Comments

101.5-hank-fm

The signs continue to point towards the country music radio format officially splitting in two, with Top 40 country, and “Icon” country covering music from as far back as the 80′s vying for equal share of the country music listenership. The primary impetus for the split has been Cumulus Media’s NASH Icon radio network. As the second-largest radio station owner in the United States, the Cumulus influence is already causing landmark rifts on radio, with their new NASH Icon station in Nashville beating Clear Channel’s powerhouse WSIX.

But if country radio is truly going to split in two, it is going to take the participation of local and regionally-owned radio stations all across the country adopting the new format. Remember, it wasn’t NASH Icon and Cumulus who launched the first radio station under the new proposed format. It was 103.9 The Hawk out of Louisville, KY, that began by calling itself GARTH-FM. Now another local radio station has switched to the new country format, and the verbiage accompanying the format change shows just how much sway NASH Icon is having on country radio land.

101.5 Hank FM out of Dayton, OH, owned by Alpha Media, announced on October 16th it would be switching formats to “iconic hit country music from the 90’s, 80’s and 2000’s” that promises to “differentiate itself by playing the iconic artists absent from Dayton radio—musicians that made country music popular—such as Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, George Strait, Reba McEntire, Shania Twain and Brooks & Dunn.”

“101.5 Hank FM is being launched because we miss the ‘golden era’ of country music and we know that a lot of people in Dayton do too,” says the station’s Program Director, Brad Waldo.

“The wise decision to add Hank FM in Dayton becomes part of the foundation to help increase our value as a cluster in the market,” says Alpha Media Executive VP of Programming, Scott Mahalick. “The Icons of Country format connects us to a passionate and underserved audience that continues to grow.” 

The Portland, Oregon-based Alpha Media owns a total of 70 radio stations across the country, and is just the type of mid-sized radio company that could play a critical role in eventually splitting country radio in two. And yes, one can’t help but notice the use of “Icon” in their communication about the changeover, signaling that this may eventually be the terminology that gets adopted for the new format, since “classic” (one of the original terms used) never felt like a good fit for a format the doesn’t venture past 1980.

One big difference between Hank FM and NASH Icon is that Hank doesn’t play any new music, making it more enticing for classic country fans. NASH Icon affiliates still play many new singles from country’s current Top 40 artists.

It will take some time for the new “Icon” format to shake out and reveal exactly what it will sound like after all the dust settles, and seeing different stations take variations on the same theme is probably a healthy thing, as program directors across the country monitor ratings and see which approach is working best and what their local market wants to hear. As we have already seen with NASH Icon, not only is the format faring well, it is also attracting new listeners to country radio, or re-engaging old ones, meaning it’s not just simply cannibalizing the stations that already exist, growing the country music pie that much more.

It’s also worth pointing out that the moniker “Hank FM” is not foreign to country music. Numerous more traditionally-oriented radio stations use that name, including 92.1 Hank FM in North Texas, and 98.3 Hank FM in Savannah, GA.

Hank FM is just one station, but once again we see the new idea of older country music taking hold on the airwaves.

READ: The Best & Worst Case Scenarios For The New Classic Country Format

Oct
15

Counterfeit Concert Tickets on the Rise in Country Music

October 15, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  17 Comments

luke-bryan-ticketsWith the rise in popularity of country music recently comes a rise in both the demand and prices for concert tickets. And with so many sold out shows and high-priced tickets comes the opportunity for counterfeiters to take advantage of fans looking for entry to see their favorite artists. Counterfeit concert tickets are on the rise in country music, and fans are being taken advantage of more than ever before as they resort to the secondary market and rely on sites like Craigslist to get tickets.

27-year-old Geoffrey Dean Minton from Tampa, Florida is currently sitting in the Hillsborough County jail on $20,000 bail after being arrested on Tuesday (10-14) on six counts of grand theft, eight counts of possessing forged documents, and two counts of communications fraud. The charges stem from a sting local police set up after Minton sold at least two separate parties counterfeit tickets to Luke Bryan’s concert at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on Sept. 28, according to tampabay.com.

Both parties who purchased tickets from Minton on Craigslist took pictures of his drivers license and noted his license plate during the purchases that were originally set up through a Craigslist ad. “If these are fake, I’m going to find you and you’re going to pay for this,” Chris Vazquez, one of the frauded patrons told Minton at the time of the purchase. Sure enough, when Vazquez arrived at the Luke Bryan concert, just like another concertgoer Marvin Mendez who purchased four tickets from Geoffrey Minton for $400, they were told they were counterfeit.

This prompted Tampa police to set up a sting for the Jason Aldean concert on Oct. 10th at the same Tampa venue. Officers arrested Geoffrey Minton in a CVS parking lot where he set up a meeting with a local ticket broker as part of the sting. He was found with eight counterfeit Jason Aldean concert tickets in his car. Police know of an additional five victims of Geoffrey Minton’s counterfeiting, but think there could be as many as a dozen.

Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean have been country concert counterfeiter’s favorite artists, due partly to the fact that their sold out shows send floods of fans looking for tickets on the secondary market that are willing to pay top dollar.

On Saturday, September 6th, West Springfield, CT police arrested two men for allegedly selling counterfeit tickets to the Luke Bryan concert at Hartford’s Xfinity Theatre. At the time, the concert was sold out. A man sold a family four tickets for nearly $700. Since the tickets were made of card stock, were perforated, and had bar codes, the family wasn’t worried. But with the sophistication of today’s counterfeiter’s, seeing is not always believing.

This summer’s tour with Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line also faced counterfeiting issues. On August 29th, a New York City man by the name of Cy Ismeal Rivera was arrested at a mall in Albany, NY for selling fake tickets to the Jason Aldean / Florida Georgia Line concert at Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Police contacted the man on Craigslist and offered to purchase six tickets. When they met the man at the local mall and confirmed the tickets were counterfeit, they arrested him on charges of first-degree “scheme to defraud.”

The Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple Sr. later posted on Facebook, “Attention!!! This is a warning to those of you who feel the need to jump on those $10 buses and travel from downstate to the Capital District to try and prey upon us ole’ country folk here in upstate…..our investigators will find you just like we did today when your friend travelled up here to sell my investigators fake tickets for Jason Aldean. Dozens of people have been scammed to date, and we now have the subject responsible!”

On May 28th, three people were arrested in Farmville, North Carolina for selling counterfeit tickets to a Luke Bryan concert in Raleigh on June 7th at the Walnut Creek Ampitheatre. Greenville, NC residents Michael Corrigan, Martin Luna Jr. and Russell Brooks were charged with obtaining property by false pretense and felony conspiracy.

In September of 2013, four people were arrested at a hotel in Green Tree, NY for selling fake Luke Bryan tickets to a concert at the First Niagara Pavilion. According to Green Tree Police Chief Bob Downey, the counterfeiters were selling tickets at a price of $300 for two, and $600 for four. After one group of individuals bought counterfeit tickets from the sellers on Craigslist and realized they’d been duped, they arranged to purchase more ticket and brought police with them. Four men from the Bronx were arrested. “Some of the equipment that we found in their possession was indicative of a counterfeit-making operation,” Police Chief Downey said. A total of 20 people were believed to be scammed in the operation.

Scalping and scamming are symptoms of the high demand for country concert tickets at shows that sometimes sell out within a matter of minutes. Eric Church has been actively taking on scalpers during his current concert tour, warning them “Don’t even mess with us.” Meanwhile the desire to keep ticket prices down and make sure everyone gets a seat is the strategy behind Garth Brooks’ current world tour where he’s played as many as eight concerts in the same location, including multiple concerts on the same day. The idea is simply to to flood the market with tickets so scalpers and scammers have limited demand. Because of this, the price for Garth tickets on the secondary market has been staying closer to face value for many of the concert stops.

In March, Ticketmaster posted a notice to fans of how to spot counterfeit tickets. “With many high-demand shows throughout the summer, it’s important for us to remind you about counterfeit tickets,” the ticket selling giant said. “We have heard heartbreaking and devastating stories from fans that didn’t make it into a big show and were turned away at the door with counterfeit tickets. We don’t want this to happen to you!”

Oct
14

Song Review – Toby Keith’s “Drunk Americans”

October 14, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  45 Comments

toby-keith-drunk-americansForget that now the last six Toby Keith singles in a row very heavily involve drinking— that’s “Beers Ago,” “Red Solo Cup,” “Hope on the Rocks,” “I Like Girls That Drink Beer,” and “Drinks After Work” for those of you counting at home—this is a song with a message dammit!

I can just hear this thing playing in the background as superimposed stomping Budweiser Clydesdales go trailing off into the ether, while the foreground fills with a Dallas Cowboys fan and a Washington Redskins fan hugging it out in slo mo while their brats burn on the tailgate-sized barbecue during an instant replay television timeout. Because no matter what our differences, no matter our disparate backgrounds, our differing beliefs, our skin color, sexual persuasion, or even our choice of headgear, we can all come together and enjoy the splendid beauty of American over-consumption and the chronic addictions it breeds.

“Drunk Americans” from a musical standpoint is a swaying sea chanty of a pub singalong whose catchiness and anthemic nature is questionable enough to make you wonder if its desired effect of getting an entire bar room singing in unison will ever be realized, let alone if radio programmers will give it any more than a strong sniff simply because of whose name is attached to it. Hats off for the inclusion of banjo and even accordion in this song, but “Drunk Americans” is still songwriting by committee and formula, relying on the often-trodden out trope of juxtaposed opposites shoved together to create contrast that however witty in places, still feels a bit tired, to where not even a key change 2/3rds of the way through really gives you hope that this song will stick in any significant way in the craw of the American zeitgeist. Then again this is America, and as has been proven time and time again, success can be bought.

This song is not bad. There’s certainly worse. But what makes it a little difficult to stomach is this idyllic, hopeful picture it paints of the American reality that is so far off the mark, it is the equivalent of taking your bar dart, aiming for the bullseye, but landing it in the eye of some unlucky patron stumbling out of the men’s room. Sorry, but America is as polarized, untrusting, and closed-minded of its fellow citizens as it has ever been in its history save for The Civil War, especially when disturbed minds become even more lubricated by the aid of alcoholic libations. America in the fall of 2014 is the virtual equivalent to a bar brawl—from the suburbs of St. Louis, to state houses, to football stadiums, to country music concerts. We’re all pissed off at people who are different from us.

toby-keith-red-solo-cupI understand that the hope is a song like this will open people’s eyes and inspire them to set aside differences, but the deep problem here is that this song is acting like this is the current reality, as opposed what should be yearned for. Yes, reactionary polarization is tearing the American ideal apart at the seams, and anyone who attempts to take up a contrary position to this trend should be commended. But attempting to veil this message in alcohol, like the spoon full of sugar to help the medicine go down, is both transparent and ineffective. We hate each other, and instead of truly working to resolving this issue, “Drunk Americans” simply reminds us of the fact that we’re a 50/50 nation scribbling Hitler mustaches on any one who may disagree with us, and seeking out media that simply reinforces our one-sided reality-tunneled perspectives. And let’s not forget our raging alcohol problem.

“Drunk Americans” was written by hot independent/traditional songwriting commodity Brandy Clark, and her regular sidekick and songwriting genius Shane McAnally, along with Bob DiPiero. Brandy says about the song, “You see that title and you think, ‘Oh, it’s a drinking song,’ which it is, but I hope that people can listen to it and see that it’s really an American song.” That is, unless you’re an American that doesn’t drink, which is roughly 1/3 of the population, many of which had previous problems with the sauce, or are banned from doing so by edict from the bench. That is what’s so great about the classic version of the country drinking song. By looking at both sides of the drinking coin, not just the party time aspect, country music truly built a universal consensus in the listener through shared experiences. Now country music has become a vehicle for the same polarization this song attempts to decry.

The approach of this song feels somewhat like “Follow Your Arrow” 2.0, or a different version of Garth’s misguided “People Loving People.” It is trying to save the world through song, so it’s hard to fault it too harshly. But how about simply feeling a human emotion, and then expressing that through song without the taint of rewrites and tweaks over Skype sessions to craft a song into something commercially accessible? Whatever soul this song has feels drained, the chorus and melody feel a little flat, and unfortunately I’m just not hearing the catchiness it would take to even be a big commercial hit.

“Drunk Americans” tries to be sobering, but it’s kind of just a drunken mess.

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1 1/4 of 2 Guns Down.

READ: Drunk Toby Keith Blows Show in Indianapolis

Oct
13

Ryan Adams: “I Do Not Like Fu!$ing Country Music”

October 13, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  99 Comments

Ryan-AdamsIt has been a long-standing theory here at Saving Country Music that when country music became hyper commercialized in the 90′s with artists like Garth Brooks and the rest of the “Class of ’89,” it was young punk rockers that picked up the authentic spirit of country music and kept it alive. Whether it was the gang of artists that revitalized Lower Broadway in Nashville like BR549, Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers, and Joe Buck, or the Bloodshot Records gang with The Old 97′s, Neko Case, and Whiskeytown with front man Ryan Adams, this was where it felt like the soul of country music resided when it was abandoned by Music Row.

Ryan Adams was one of the unquestionable leaders of this punk-infused country music “insurgent country” conquest, and that is why it was so disconcerting to read recently that apparently he not only does not like country music, but he apparently never has, never really cared about it even when he was playing it, and certainly doesn’t want anything to do with it now. And no, this is not some indictment of what mainstream country music has become and wanting to distance from it. This is a straight up, unequivocal repudiation of any association with what country music is or has ever been.

The quotes come from a lengthy feature on Buzzfeed that was published in early September ahead of the release of Ryan Adams’ self-titled 14th studio release, but was brought to the attention of Saving Country Music by Country California in their weekly quotation roundup.

Here’s the Ryan Adams quote:

There’s this wrong idea about me being identified with things that are Southern or country. I do not fucking like country music and I don’t own any of it. I watched ‘Hee-Haw’ as a kid with my grandmother, I only like country music as an irony. I liked it when I would get drunk … I suppose playing country music felt like learning how to build a beautiful bookshelf or something. There was a certain amount of honesty that had to be there and it had to hurt. I loved the discipline of that. It reminded me of the challenge of playing punk rock. But me playing country music … it was a false face. It was style appropriation.

Granted, Ryan Adams made an entire career of being a petulant, drug-infused, self-destructive wing nut, making purposefully-stupid career moves, and mouthing off to crowds and firing band members in an attempt to grow his legacy by leaving a wake of destruction. But most, if not all of that appears to be behind him now, and we have no other recourse than to believe this is the sober-eyed truth of Ryan’s sentiments towards country music.

So the next question is, what is a country music fan, or a Ryan Adams fan that likes country music, including the country music he once made, supposed to feel about this new insight? I would tend to agree that later in his career, including with his latest album, that people have attempted to equate Ryan’s music with country, or at least alt-country, when there’s really no solid sonic basis for it. But his quotes offer up such revisionist history that I can’t help but think I will never be able to enjoy those Whiskeytown releases and his early solo stuff with the same zeal now that he’s let it be known that it was all done as “irony,” and that apparently when it comes to country music he doesn’t own “any of it.”

What about those landmark Ryan Adams collaborations with Willie Nelson? Ryan produced and performed on Willie’s 2006 album Songbird. How about the Lost Highwaymen performance? Was that all for irony? Don’t you think that when you produce a Willie Nelson album and play country and alt-country for a dozen years it is a little unfair to get angry at people if they associate you with it? To say you like country music only as an “irony” alludes that you believe that it’s not only not right for you, but that it is an inferior art form.

And it’s not just the country music fan inside of people that is disappointed by these revelations. How are we supposed to take any of Ryan Adams’ music seriously? Certainly there can be some irony in music without it completely losing its authenticity, especially in country music. But these Ryan Adams quotes, these are fighting words. This isn’t just clicking delete on the Ryan Adams block in iTunes, these are quotes that merit serious consideration of crossing swords with this dude as a country music fan. I don’t think I’ve ever seen as an inflammatory indictment of country coming from a former proprietor of it, ever. There are rappers out there that have more respect for country music than what Ryan Adams evidences in these quotes.

And apparently this isn’t the first time Ryan Adams has articulated his hatred for country music. “I hate country music, always have,” Ryan said on his blog in April of 2008. “…I cannot stand country music one bit.”

“I hate HATE country music. I always have,”

Read More: Ryan Adams Slams Country Music Mecca | http://theboot.com/ryan-adams-slams-country-music-mecca/?trackback=tsmclip

I understand if Ryan Adams wants to disassociate himself with country music or wants to clarify that his music shouldn’t be considered it. But don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. Ryan’s close approximations of country music is what put him on the map, and it seems like he should have a little more respect for the music that made him, and the fans that enjoy it.

I feel like I’ve been stabbed in the back.

Oct
4

Dissecting Garth’s “Man Against Machine” Cover & Quote

October 4, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  53 Comments

garth-brooks-man-against-machineOn Friday (10-3) Garth Brooks unveiled the cover art and title to his first album in 14 years called Man Against Machine set to be released on November 11th through RCA/Pearl, and almost immediately the cover and accompanying quote had the country music populous buzzing. Garth strikes a much different pose on the Man Against Machine cover than we’re used to from him, almost like the image you would see of a wrestler right after he switches from the good side to the bad—all in black with a tough and defiant countenance. Even more interesting is the quote offered up with the album announcement.

“Music has always been a reflection of where mankind is at the time.  For 14 years, I have watched heart and soul, dreams and individualism, fighting for their very existence in a world of increasing technology. This album is a reminder to all those who dream, work, and fight for what they believe; do not give up your vision.”

So wait a second here, what exactly is Garth Brooks saying?

Ever since Garth Brooks began hinting at his comeback, country music pundits have been hypothesizing about what type of impact Garth’s return could have on the music. Would he be the one to save country music by returning a more traditional sound to the top of the mainstream? And wouldn’t this be ironic since many finger Garth as the one who started country music on its downward spiral? Garth has already iterated that he won’t be chasing trends like Bro-Country or hick hop. But maybe he does have lofty plans for his triumphant return beyond simply re-starting his career. The Garth quote certainly seems to allude to this. But it also seems to allude to a much deeper, and more difficult charge.

Embedded in this Garth quote and in the very title and cover art to his new album seems to be a belligerent war cry against the technology which has sent the entire music industry, not just country, into an economic tailspin, sapping the revenue that recorded music can generate, and tying up courts in endless rights cases that ultimately will decide the future of how music is monetized, if it is allowed to be. In other words, Garth Brooks with this proclamation isn’t just looking to save country music, he’s looking to save music in general.

Technology and the advent of music downloading and now music streaming has created a dilemma of historic, and potentially momentous proportions as the industry teeters on solvency and struggles to figure out how to sustainably monetize streaming. Even with the meager revenues music is generating, massive companies like Apple are looking to re-negotiate rates even lower for music. What is Garth’s plan for solving all of this? His GhostTunes alternative to iTunes has been laughed at by many technologists, but it remains uncertain if Garth is truly wanting to change the music buying paradigm with the new technology, or simply to offer a digital alternative for his own music specifically without all the trappings of iTunes (the inability to sell albums cohesively, and the ability to bundle products).

It may be November 11th before we learn the full breath of Garth Brooks’ plans, or at least how successful they are. But in the meantime the cover for his new album presents its own curiosities and discussion points, principally, what the hell is going on here? Garth seems so out-of-place within himself—even for Garth. He’s always been flattered with his face on a cover, but the image presents this weird, almost anachronistic vision that is in opposition to the ball cap and hoodie Garth we’ve gotten used to over the last dozen years, and makes even more of an oddity out of the song he chose for the album’s lead single “People Loving People” which sets its eyes on world peace (but can’t even crack the Top 20 in country radio play yet).

garth-brooks-man-against-machine

1. Sunglasses — What seemingly every aging celebrity who refuses to face their own dwindling time on earth dons as if it’s ageless armor.

2. Goatee — The dead giveaway of the average white male trying to be edgy.

3. Crossed Arms —  We’ve all seen Garth Brooks lately, and his 14-year retirement has made him somewhat doughy. Yet he crosses his arms here, and his forearms look like Popeye’s, and his pectoral muscles look toned. We know better, Garth.

4. UnderArmour-Style Stretch Shirt — Please. Garth Brooks doesn’t need to be sporting anything with over 40% Spandex material content.

5. Phiten Necklace — Regularly seen being worn by professional baseball players, Phiten claims to be able to liquify titanium and infuse it into their nylon necklaces, giving athletes and everyday individuals physiological benefits such as improved strength, dexterity, faster recovery time, and mental clarity. Though the claims of the necklace maker have never been proven through scientific study, many users swear by the health accessory’s benefits. Phiten necklaces have become a favorite of Garth recently (even stimulating this fake story from SCM about Garth’s hope of their powers).

6. Menacing Cogs & Sprockets in the Background — Almost like they’re coming to get Garth, and Garth is standing tough.

7. Mud-Spattered Font — To again project this tough guy image.

8. Big Black Cowboy Hat — The only thing that feels appropriate to both Garth, and a country album cover.

Is Garth Brooks, Garth Brooks, really trying to present himself as some anti-industry tough-skinned rebel rouser, or dare I say, a country music Outlaw? Especially after years of being one of the most commercially-centric music artists the world has ever seen? Or is something else entirely going on here, where instead of fighting the industry (i.e. “The Machine”), Garth is actually fighting for the industry by trying to return its ability to monetize its products, and the “Machine” is technology that has eroded those revenue channels and rewarded the public with free music? Or is it something in-between, where Garth sees both the plight of the industry, and the artists who’ve fallen under one of the most authoritarian regimes country music has ever seen because of the constrains the technology paradigm has put the industry under? Is Garth Brooks calling out the “Machines” such as Auto-Tuners and electronic drum sequencers that have blighted the country music landscape with digital intrusions?

Whatever the case may be, and we’re sure to find out soon enough, once again Garth appears to be a little off when it comes to the presentation. The album cover just presents Garth as slightly out of touch to the styling and sensibilities of today. It’s very late 90′s feeling, done in a wrestling motif. And it bolsters the concern that Garth may be surrounded by yes men who don’t have the guts to give him the constructive criticism he needs like saying, “Garth, how about you go with a little bit more understated cover, and let the music speak for itself?”

If nothing else, Garth Brooks and Man Against Machine promise to be nothing but interesting.

READ: Album Review – Garth Brooks’ “Man Against Machine”

Sep
8

Garth Brooks Falls on Stage In Chicago

September 8, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  33 Comments

garth-brooks

“And the thunder rolls…”

We’ve all been wondering how rusty Garth Brooks would be after 13 years of retirement, and if he would try to emulate the young pups once he was back on the stage. Well Garth Brooks looked a little shaky when he took a spill over the weekend during one of his many comeback shows in Chicago, doing his best Luke Bryan rendition of losing his footing while bounding off a riser, going into a Garth Brooks chub roll that he tried to make look like a football drill or commando maneuver before stopping himself mere inches from falling off the ledge. Garth may have not gone over, but his black cowboy hat did. It was later recovered by a fan, who must have really had to contemplate the eBay value of the concert score before willingly submitting it back to the country superstar.

The fall happened on Friday, September 5th as the 52-year old plays a series of shows in Chicago stretching out all the way to September 14th as part of his “Garth Experience” World Tour. Of course Garth was too cool to acknowledge the fall, and instead brushed himself off and kept right on with the concert. Garth may have to get used to the new reality of playing concerts with 50,000 video cameras holstered to the belt of his fans. He’ll be fine, but we’ll have to see how well the aging Garth holds up as time goes on. Many of his Chicago dates include two shows a night—a tall order for a freshly unretired performer who’s AARP eligible.

Luke Bryan has seen his own series of stage falls in 2014.

Sep
4

What Is Garth’s GhostTunes, And Is It A Game Changer?

September 4, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  35 Comments

ghost-tunes

At a press conference on September 4th in Chicago ahead of the very first concert of Garth’s world tour and his official comeback from retirement, he announced that he was going digital, and doing so by launching his own digital company. As one of the last holdouts to the iTunes generation, Garth’s music couldn’t be found in either a downloadable or streamable form anywhere on the internet. The 3rd best selling artist in the history of music insisted that he did not want to piecemeal his material out in individual songs, but wanted to sell his music digitally as entire albums out of respect for the album concept. This insistence on special treatment compared to every other artist already dealing in digital is what made Garth unwilling to work with iTunes, Amazon, or anyone else.

Now that all changes. Garth has launched GhostTunes LLC, which allows the artist to select how their songs or albums are sold. Just like iTunes, artists can choose to allow consumers to buy individual songs if they want, or they can choose to only make their music available as cohesive albums. GhostTunes also touts the ability for artists to bundle music together in a manner not seen by major digital retailers, meaning if artist’s so choose, they can sell two albums, three albums, or their entire discography together at a discounted price. Maybe they take seven songs from seven different albums, and offer them as an EP. Offer a live DVD with two separate albums. They can also bundle digital albums with physical albums, or other merch like T-Shirts, stickers, etc.

garth-brooks-bundleFor example, as a promotional deal from Garth Brooks and GhostTunes, Garth is making his entire career’s work available for one price. Eight studio albums, a double live album and DVD, and two new digital albums not even released yet are being made available to the public digitally for $29.99. Compared to the sticker price of 12 albums from comparative digital retailers, that is a steal. Of course, if you already have Garth’s CD’s, you’ve been able to burn them into iTunes or your digital music program for years. And since the music listening paradigm is already shifting dramatically away from downloads to digital streaming, at some point all downloads may lose their intrinsic value. Still, from the regularly dollar-driver Garth, this digital package seems like one hell of a deal.

Something else GhostTunes touts is the ability to purchase music, and listen to it immediately (meaning, without having to go through the time {or the data allowances} to download it), and it will immediately show up on your respective music devices in a derivative or hybrid of cloud technology. This makes GhostTunes sort of a cross between a download store like iTunes, and a streaming service like Spotify. Rights deals have already been signed, and GhostTunes already gives consumers access to millions of songs.

All of this sounds interesting, and GhostTunes is offering just enough wrinkles in their service to delineate themselves from the competition, including offering more flexibility to musicians which in turn might entice more hardcore fans and Audiofiles to the format, but is GhostTunes truly a game changer in digital music?

Releasing all of Garth’s music digitally is most definitely a game changer. As part of Garth’s announcement of going digital, GhostTunes erected the biggest virtual billboard any small-time technology company could ever imagine. The sheer volume of people coming to check the format out and pick up their Garth bundle is going to create the momentum to make GhostTunes a player in the digital music space if nothing else happens subsequently. But who is this all about? Is this about Garth Brooks the artist finally figuring out a way to release his music digitally, or is this about Garth Brooks the GhostTunes founder launching a forward-thinking digital music company that can make the rest of the industry offer more choices, and service artists better?

In GhostTunes’ infant stages, it’s hard to tell what effect it might have, but the inherent trouble for GhostTunes the company is that digital downloading is already next to antiquated. Garth has been retired so long, he missed the evolution of not one, but two music delivery mediums, and streaming is where everything seems to be headed. In the short term, with the slightly older demographic Garth appeals to, many of which are still trying to get used to iTunes, the GhostTunes format may still be appealing…for a while. But eventually GhostTunes would have to figure out how to compete in a non-download environment. Giving consumers the ability to listen to music right after purchase without downloading it is a start, but where does it go from there?

ghosttunesHowever, there may be the perfect little niche in the digital music marketplace for GhostTunes to thrive. As Saving Country Music has pointed out in the past, there exists a desire from both consumers and artists to create a more sustainable digital environment for music. You don’t have to go far to find story after story about how the payouts from streamers like Spotify and Pandora are abhorrently low, and do not create a sustainable environment for musicians. GhostTunes, with its cheaper, quasi-streaming ability could be a potential solution; if not in its current form, then in whatever form it may take in the future.

When you really look at it, GhostTunes is a “for the artists, by the artists” type of digital format. Though most artists and independent consumers may naturally see someone like Garth Brooks as the enemy, the idea he built GhostTunes around was to give artists more control—something that was lost in the advent of iTunes. GhostTunes still has to prove its relevancy in the marketplace to survive. But it might be a good start. GhostTunes might also challenge the bigger streaming companies like iTunes, Amazon, or even some of the streamers, to augment their formats—allowing artists to offer songs only in the album format, or bundled with physical merch. Some other formats like CD Baby and BandCamp already allow such bundling, but GhostTunes could take this practice mainstream.

Something else to consider is the future is not totally etched in stone for Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and other streamers. None of these companies have been able to show sufficient enough profit to convince the public of their long-term viability. iHeartRadio’s parent company Clear Channel is sitting under a mountain of debt and continues to turn in quarterly deficits. These streaming companies and subsidiaries are predicated on what they might do in the future, not the profits they are making now. And meanwhile Congress and many artist advocacy groups are looking into trying to increase payouts companies like Pandora music give to artists and songwriters, which could eventually disrupt their streaming model and put them out-of-business, or limit their growth.

In the end, there’s a good chance GhostTunes will be small, and remain small. And it seems like Garth Brooks would be just fine with that. In the press conference Garth said, “What we’re trying to show the rest of the industry is that you can do this for any artist and we want you to do this for any artist. It’s a beautiful format that is young, it’s flexible, it’s small. I want to stay small because I don’t want corporate wagging the tail of the dog.” But its effect on how we all consume music may be much greater depending how the digital music wind blows in the coming years.

READ: Why NPR Should Offer a Streaming Music Service

Sep
4

ISIS Hears Garth’s “People Loving People,” Lays Down Arms

September 4, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  39 Comments

garth-brooks-isisRadical Muslim terrorist organization ISIS has been conducting a brutal and bloody holy war in the Middle East in recent months, complete with genocide and mass slaughter as it attempts to form a cross-border caliphate in Syria and the northern portions of Iraq. The organization’s campaign of terror has included the decapitation of two American journalists in recent weeks in an attempt to deter American airstrikes against their strongholds, and to instill global fear about ISIS’s brutality and reach.

But where airstrikes, drone attacks, and diplomatic resolutions in recent weeks failed to weaken the resolve to the radical ISIS Islamists, the release of Garth Brooks’ first single since his 13-year retirement called “People Loving People” has apparently landed the resoluteness of ISIS a fatal blow. Reports out of northern portions of Iraq and Syria currently under ISIS control are of desertions in the thousands by ISIS fighters after they heard Garth’s song touting the virtues of love and peace.

Apparently the supreme leader of the organization, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is a big Garth Brooks fan.

“Yeah, back in the 90′s it was more of a guilty pleasure at first, and then when he started flying out across stadiums like Peter Pan, and then the whole Chris Gaines thing—I mean seriously, what the hell was that?—I was like ‘Bye bye Garth,’” says al-Baghdadi. “Really, I’m an old-school country fan. Love me some Waylon.”

But like many older country fans, as modern country music has become more pop and even rap, al-Baghdadi’s feelings on Garth began to turn around. “Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan, are you kidding me? That crap’s unfit for human consumption. Compared to that garbage, Garth is as old-school country as it gets, and when I heard he was finally releasing a new single, I couldn’t wait to hear it.”

Apparently Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi put out a directive across the entire ISIS communications network to broadcast the song to the caliphate and all ISIS fighters as soon as it was released. By all accounts, it was a big hit with both the brass, and the rank and file of ISIS. “Let’s face it, it’s catchy as hell, and with a good message,” says al-Baghdadi. “Though damn, why did they have to bury his vocals so much in the mix? Trying to make out the words is like trying to subjugate a town of ethnic minorities with one arm tied behind your back.”

After hearing “People Loving People,” al-Baghdadi says he’s a changed person.

“You know, just like many of my ISIS fighters, the message of Jihad was drilled into by brain for 20 years in the most radical of Middle Eastern madrases, and was then solidified by spilling the blood of infidels for many years in battle. But I’ll be damned if Garth Brooks didn’t make me see things differently. ‘People Loving People’ is just so simple and eloquent, and really relevant to this day and age.”

According to The Pentagon and commanders of the Kurdish Peshmerga army in control of parts of their semi-autonomous region in Northern Iraq, pockets of ISIS resistance still exist. But instead of dropping bombs on the remaining ISIS positions, a plan is being put in place to continuously broadcast Garth’s “People Loving People” in those regions to weaken the remaining strongholds. “We’re still working out rights with Garth to be able to legally broadcast it in a public forum,” says Pentagon spokesperson Herold Frankenfurter. “He wants to make sure it doesn’t compete with his upcoming concert appearances, and Garth refuses to release the individual track to us digitally. He insists we have to wait for the entire album to be released.”

Sep
3

Song Review – Garth Brooks’ “People Loving People”

September 3, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  89 Comments

garth-brooks-people-loving-peopleSo here it is; Garth’s first single since 2007′s “More Than A Memory.” But more importantly, it is the first real single since he retired in 2001—representing a new album, and a new era for one of the biggest music stars the world has ever seen. And with this new song, the world is who Garth courts as his audience.

Initially Garth’s debut single after retirement was slated to be a song called “Tacoma.” RCA even took out full page ads in country radio trade periodicals and at one point scheduled a release date for the song as July 28th. Then for wherever reason, all of those plans got scrapped in just one example of how Garth’s triumphant return has been beset with stops and starts.

One of the reasons Garth may have decided a switcheroo was in order for his new single is because of the topical nature of the subject matter in “People Loving People.” With the globe, and many communities in the United States in such disarray—with beheadings, sectarian violence, civil war, and civil rights issues dominating headlines—the song is certainly current. And it sees Garth slide into the role many upper-echelon superstars have championed during times of turmoil over the years by attempting to show some leadership from the entertainment world when a leadership vacuum seems to exist from our elected leaders and in the world stage at large.

This isn’t the first time Garth Brooks has tried his hand at settling world tensions with his music. Garth once used his “We Shall Be Free” song in the wake of the Rodney King beating and other world events to upstage the entire Super Bowl. But in releasing “People Loving People,” Garth doesn’t do himself any favors with his many detractors, or the people who were hoping Garth’s return would also herald the return of country music that actually sounded something like country. It is unlikely that “People Loving People” fairly represents what folks can expect from Garth’s new album. If the song “Tacoma” was selected as the first single, as it almost was, it probably would have represented a much more country-sounding offering. But Garth decided piggy backing off of current events, and releasing a song that would have a greater impact on country radio and the world stage at large was a more ambitious and pragmatic move, and he’s probably right.

Garth’s altruistic desires with this song will resonate deeply with some, and come across as dubious to others who will accuse him of opportunistic mawkish grandstanding covered in sappy icing. Here is Garth once again demanding to be the center of attention. But taking a sincere look at the lyrics and message, and without lacing the assessment with any personal slants about Garth’s previous motives, “People Loving People” is not badly written, or wrong in its message or its ambition. This song is inspiring, and says something a lot of people should probably hear. At the same time, as an exercise in intellectualism, it is a little innocent and short-sighted. Of course all people should love each other, but that’s a little hard to hear when someone has just slaughtered your family, or beheaded one of your countrymen. As much as love is inherent in the human design, so is justice.

Beyond weighing this song against much heavier subjects usually not appropriate for the realm of music entertainment, “People Loving People” doesn’t really capture Garth in his ideal element. Nor did “We Shall Be Free.” The key of the song is higher than where Garth’s voice settles into its sweet spot—where he can dip into those low bass notes, and quickly drawl back into the higher register to squeeze the emotion out of a lyric. Think of “The Dance,” or really any of Garth’s bigger hits. The lead guitar answering Garth during the chorus’s “Wow oh oh” portion feels a little dated. Garth is a passionate performer, and though in the mind’s eye you can see him singing the hell out of this song live, that emotion and energy is not really endowed on this recording. Sometimes you can’t even really understand the words, and this is on a song that is built upon them.

Though I don’t question the sincerity of Garth’s approach with this song, many will. But releasing “People Loving People” right now is quite savvy, and with production that leans heavily towards pop rock, it will be a good way for Garth to warm up to the new environment in country radio that is very much focused on the non-country here-and-now.

“People Loving People” will do moderately well on radio, while consumers hungry for new Garth music will make it rocket up Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. That is, if it is released digitally. Detractors will seize upon the opportunities the song affords them, while many others across genre lines and international borders will find a message that they are thirsting for. Ultimately, “People Loving People” presents a mixed bag, and leaves the notions of exactly what we might get out of Garth 2.0 fairly ambiguous.

In the end, “People Loving People” is very, very Garth.

1 Gun Up for an ambitious song with a good message.

1 Gun Down for fairly unimaginative and non-country production, a lackluster vocal performance, and potential commercial opportunism off of current events.

- – - – - – - – - – -

Aug
30

George Strait, Willie Nelson & Garth Brooks Make Poll of Favorite Artists

August 30, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  30 Comments

garth-brooks-george-strait-willie-nelson

Harris Interactive has just released a new poll that queried the American public about their favorite music artists, musicians, and bands, and some noteworthy country music names made the list. When pollsters asked for unprompted responses to the question, “Who is your favorite singer/musician or band?”—George Strait was the 5th highest answer, and the highest amongst country music stars. Garth Brooks also made the top 10, coming in tied for 7th with The Eagles, Celine Dion, and Neil Diamond.

Willie Nelson also made the top of two of the lists broken down by demographics, even though he did not make the top 10 overall. Willie was the favorite artist of “Mature Adults” (69 or older), and was tied with The Beatles for the favorite musical artist amongst Republicans (despite Willie’s left-leaning politics). The Beatles came in #1 overall in the poll, right in front of Elvis at #2.

What is even more interesting for country music fans is who is not on the list, and who slipped off the list since the same poll was conducted the last time in 2010. Four years ago, Tim McGraw was #5, Rascal Flatts was #8, and Alan Jackson was #9. None of these country artists made the top 10 again. In 2010 George Strait was #7 in the poll.

With all three of the country entries into this year’s poll being more classically-oriented artists, and none of them being current stars (where is Taylor Swift in this poll?), it speaks to the continued appeal of older country artists and classic country music we’ve seen in similar studies by Edison Research, and in the move to split the country format to give more radio representation to older artists.

The younger artists that made the top 10 of the poll were Beyoncé at #3, and Bruno Mars at #6 who was potentially boosted by his recent Super Bowl appearance.

The Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between July 16th and July 21st, 2014 among 2,306 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

TABLE 1

FAVORITE SINGER/MUSICIAN/BAND

“Who is your favorite singer/musician or band?”

Unprompted responses

Base: All adults

2010

2014

Beatles

=3

1

Elvis Presley

=3

2

Beyoncé

*

3

Led Zepplin

*

4

George Strait

7

5

Bruno Mars

*

6

Neil Diamond

*

=7

Eagles

*

=7

Celine Dion

1

=7

Garth Brooks

*

=7

DROPPED OFF OF LIST IN 2014

U2 (was No. 2), Tim McGraw (was No. 5), Lady Gaga (was No. 6), Rascal Flatts (was No. 8) and Alan Jackson and Frank Sinatra (both ties for No. 9)

TABLE 2

TOP MUSICIAN AMONG DIFFERENT GROUPS

AMONG:

2014

Men

Beatles

Women

Beyoncé

Millennials (18-37)

Beyoncé

Gen X (38-49)

Metallica

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Beatles

Matures (69+)

Willie Nelson

Republicans

Beatles/Willie Nelson

Democrats

Beatles/Bruno Mars

Independents

Beatles

East

Beatles

Midwest

Bruno Mars

South

Beatles

West

Beatles

Parent of child under 18

Bruno Mars

Not parent of child under 18

Beatles

 

 ***See Complete Harris Poll***

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