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- Willie Watson on NPR's Mountain Stage
- Fader Interviews Lucinda Williams
- Chuck Mead on NPR's Mountain Stage
- Apple Reportedly In Talks with Majors for Cheaper Music
- Ricky Skaggs, Sharon White Release New Album "Hearts Like Ours"
- If You Missed It: Lucinda Williams on Fallon 9-30
- SXSW Probably Isn't Going Anywhere But Big Changes Loom
- Revisiting Cowboy Jack Clement, Country Music's Jester and King
- Audiobook Review: Tom T. Hall "The Storyteller's Nashville"
- Mac Wiseman Featured in The Wall St Journal
- Live Nation Moving Off of Music Row
- After SiriusXM Success, The Turtles Take on Pandora
- American Songwriter reviews new Sons of Bill album
- Cool Music Photos from New "Still Moving" Picture Book
- The Telegraph "Sturgill Simpson: Space Cowboy"
- Jambands Reviews Cory Branan's "No Hit Wonder"
- Zoe Muth at WAMU's Bluegrass Country
- A night in the life of Austin City Limits ringleader Terry Lickona
- Review: Sturgill Simpson At Leaf Cafe, Liverpool, UK
- Can the people Nashville hopes to attract afford to move to Nashville?
Lucinda Williams is getting ready to release a double LP called Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone on September 30th through her new label Highway 30 Records on Thirty Tigers. The 20-song release will see appearances by Tony Joe White, Ian McLagan, Bill Frisell, and the Wallflowers’ Jakob Dylan and Stuart Mathis. The album starts off with a song called “Compassion” based off a poem by Lucinda’s father Miller Williams, and also includes a cover of J.J. Cale’s “Magnolia.”
Lucinda Williams stopped down to talk to Rolling Stone about the release recently, saying in part, “I was on a writing binge, and we just kind of got on a roll. We actually ended up recording enough for three albums. So we decided, ‘What the hell, let’s break the rules and do a double album.’”
She also had some interesting things to say when asked if she pays attention to mainstream country much these days.
Oh, God, no. Are you kidding? No. It’s not the lack of talent, necessarily. It’s just the production on the albums ā I just can’t stand it. There’s that guy Jamey Johnson, he’s amazing. He’s great. And there’s a handful of ‘em. But I don’t know. Some of these girls now, you hear about them, and somebody says, “Oh, she’s really different. She’s really pushing the envelope and really edgy,” and all that. And I go, “OK.” I listen to it, and I go, “Really? This is edgy?”
Then Lucinda really took the gloves off.
Yeah. It’s like John Ciambotti once said: “Country music today is like Seventies rock without the cocaine.” You know? They need to come up with another name for it.
John Ciambotti was the bass player for the Bay Area-based 70′s rock band Clover, that among other accomplishments backed Elvis Costello on his debut album. Costello’s current rhythm section appears on Lucinda’s Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone.
Lucinda Williams rose into the national spotlight as the songwriter for numerous hits by more well-known female performers including Mary Chapin Carpenter whose rendition of “Passionate Kisses” won a Grammy Award for Best Country Song in 1994. Lucinda’s breakout success was her 1998 album Car Wheels On A Gravel Road produced by Steve Earle. She has released 11 total albums, including reissuing her self-titled album from 1988 earlier this year.
After his award-winning work with artists like Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, Jamey Johnson, and so many more, when you see the name Dave Cobb associated with an artist, it’s probably worth paying a little bit closer attention. And such is the case when it comes to burgeoning country artist Lucette from Edmonton, Canada, who just released her first single and video, and is about to release her debut album, Black Is The Color.
Lucette met producer Dave Cobb through a strange series of events. At a concert in Edmonton, she sang backup for an former American Idol contestant named Michael Johns, who incidentally died on August 1st after a blood clot formed in his ankle. “We became good friends from our mutual love of Otis Redding,” says Lucette of Michael Johns, andĀ Dave Cobb had worked as a producer for Michael Johns previously. But Lucette didn’t start working with Dave Cobb in the beginning. Instead she was working with big industry movers and shakers in Canada in the camp of legendary producer and songwriter David Foster. Lucette was being groomed for the big time, but the results were something she was not happy with. “It was a big, Celine Dion-sounding record. The music coming out of these other people, it was terrible. I can’t explain how inaccurate it sounded to my style and my interests.”
She was only 18-years-old at the time and was being presented with the biggest music opportunity of her life, but she was miserable with the results. So she confided in Michael Johns for guidance, who told her, “‘You have to talk to my friend Dave Cobb,’ and of course when I looked Dave up, he’d already produced half of my favorite records.”
Lucette then flew to Nashville and started working on a new record with Dave. She came to Nashville in 2011 with 20 songs ready to record, and ended up scrapping every one of them. “We wrote the album in three weeks, and recorded it,” she says. “Dave and I wrote half the songs together.” Lucette made subsequent trips to Nashville to complete the record, and it was finally finished last year.
The centerpiece of the project was a song called “Bobby Reid.” “Out of the songs I wrote, and the ones that we co-wrote, the ones we co-wrote definitely stood out. They had a certain vibe to them, and that’s where the Bobby Reid character was born. We wrote it in one night, and recorded it in one take the next day. And one song kind of changed the whole mood of the album. I was writing mostly 50′s and 60′s country, almost like Skeeter Davis, but this Bobby Reid character kind of changed the way that I write, and the way I think about music. I was 19 when I wrote that song.”
Dave Cobb was excited about the song as well, and saw it as the single off the album, and the one to target for a video. So Dave called up filmmaker Blake Judd, who dreamed up the concept of an old-school river baptism, and recruited his circle of musician contacts to help fulfill the cast, including Sturgill Simpson, and Col. JD Wilkes of Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers and the The Dirt Daubers. “At this point, Sturgill Simpson hasn’t even put out ‘High Top Mountain,’” Blake Judd explains. “Sturgill said, ‘Yeah, I like the song, I like Dave, and I like you.’ And then I called J.D. Wilkes and asked him if he wanted to reprise his role as a creepy preacher. So everyone converged in Greensburg, Kentucky in August of 2012, and we made the video.”
But the song “Bobby Reid,” the video starring Sturgill Simpson, and Lucette’s Dave Cobb-produced album almost never saw the light of day. Lucette’s management at the time was not fond of the old-school, dark Americana road she was going down. They believed Lucette’s future was in a more mainstream direction. “I met with four or five major labels. A few of them I went back to several times,” Lucette explains. “But there were several meetings with a couple of labels that led me to a lot of inner turmoil because they basically said, ‘This song has to be shorter. This song has to be longer. You have to cut this one.’ And then it came to the point where someone said, ‘You’re not going to be able to do this as a career.’”
But once again Lucette listened to herself instead of the industry, and saw that the work she did with Dave Cobb was the right direction. “I’m glad I went with my gut. I’m glad that I’ve had people in my life that kind of got my vibe and understood me enough to know that my record might not be a huge thing to a major label. But to the people that get it, I think they will really get it.”
Dave Cobb is one of those people that gets the young Canadian songwriter. “Lucette really brings out the dark side of American turn of the century folk when it seemed the world was gonna end, and breathes new light into it,” says Dave Cobb. “We had a blast making the record. I’ll never forget sitting in a booth right next ta her playin guitar and hearing bobby Reid coming through the headphones. It felt timeless.”
Lucette’s album Black Is The Color is set to be released on August 26th, and the video for “Bobby Reid” just debuted on CMT Pure.
On November 12th, artists from across the country and Southern rock world will be coming together to pay tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd in a unique way. Not your typical tribute concert, and not your typical tribute album, One More For The Fans! — Celebrating The Songs & Music of Lynyrd Skynyrd will be a combination of both ideas taking place on the stage of the famed Fox Theatre in Atlanta. 17+ artists and an all star band directed by producer Don Was will be celebrating the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd in the intimate space while camera crews roll to produce a multi-platform Lynyrd Skynyrd project to be released next year.
Using the 4,700-seat Fox Theatre as the backdrop for this tribute is symbolic. When Lynyrd Skynyrd cut their 1976 live album One More For The Road in the Atlanta venue, it was scheduled for demolition. The live album helped revitalize the venue, and the title of this tribute, One More For The Fans! is an homage to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s history with the historic venue.
Artists scheduled to perform as part of the concert include Lynyrd Skynyrd, Alabama, Gregg Allman, Jason Isbell, Jamey Johnson, Charlie Daniels, Warren Haynes, Peter Frampton, John Hiatt, Aaron Lewis, Govt. Mule, Robert Randolph, Blackberry Smoke, Cheap Trick, Donnie Van Zandt, and Trace Adkins. More performers are expected to be announced in the future, and surprise guests will also be part of the presentation.
One More For The Fans! was dreamed up by Kevin Wortman. Wortman, Ken Levitan, and Ross Schilling are acting as executive producers for the project. Tickets for the show will go on sale to the general public at 10 AM on Monday, August 18th.
Though there is no shortage of Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute albums floating around out there—in fact they may be one of the most tributed bands in history—to have the remaining Lynyrd Skynyrd members participate, along with such a star-studded lineup in the historic Fox Theater, One More For The Fans! might become the definitive Skynyrd tribute for the ages.
The saga to save Nashville’s historic Studio ‘A’ and other Music Row landmarks sees another setback as Ben Folds says he’s being forced out of the space he’s spent over a decade renting and spent over $1 million on in rent and renovations. Because of raised rent of 124% from the new ownership, Ben Folds says he’s planning to vacate Studio ‘A’ by November. The building that resides at 30 Music Square West was officially sold on Monday (7-28) to Bravo Development, who immediately put the building back up for sale to other potential developers, and raised rents across the board for all the building’s tenants, including Ben Folds, and country artist Jamey Johnson.
Bravo Development’s assessment of the building is bleak, citing asbestos, bad plumbing and wiring, a leaky roof, and mold in the ducts. Though Bravo said initially it was their intention to attempt to preserve this historic studio even if the rest of the building was to be razed, theyāre now saying their main intention is to resell the property as soon as possible to someone else. Bravo stated right after the sale went through that increased rent to the building’s tenants was on the way.
The fight to save Studio ‘A’ is very much a centerpiece in the preservation fight for many of Nashville’s historic places as development encroaches on many of the city’s cultural districts, including Music Row where Studio ‘A’ is located.
Studio āAā was built in 1964 by Chet Atkins, and was originally called āRCA Victor Nashville Sound Studio.ā It was built was to have a big enough studio space to record the string instrumentation that found itself onto many of the country music recordings of the time. It has since been used for many legendary recordings in country music and many other genres.
You can find the entirety of Ben Folds’ statement below.
After closing on the purchase of 30 Music Square West, home of historic RCA Studio A (of which Iāve been tenant for 12 years) Tim Reyholds of Bravo Development in Brentwood TN has just informed us that our rent will be raised 124%. Haha, okay Tim, we got it, and weāre moving out as soon as our current lease runs out. That means we will be there until end of November. He is on public record saying he will not demolish the building, though Iām not sure how any studio owner could make bottom line with rent that high.
We have and will continue to send investors and planners his way who have ideas on how to both preserve the space, keep the studio working and make everyone the money they want. I will continue to raise public awareness of the grand history of Music Row that is threatened by hasty development. Today we did Morning Joe and an NPR segment on 360 will also air soon ā many more outlets to come. My hope is that all our efforts have given us a moment to pause and consider how Nashville might continue to grow, while also retaining the identity and culture that has made it Music City.
Since the rally was held at the studio on June 30, a group called Music Industry Coalition has formed, elected a Board, begun filing its official papers with the state, fashioned a mission statement and collected over 1500 members. Their mission is to give the working folks in the music industry a voice and to work with city officials on a plan for Music Row that allows our music culture to co-exist with new growth. I will continue to help them in any way I can.
Yeah, Iām sad personally, but I had a good decade plus run and will be recording as much of my new album as I can there before November, including with the absolutely incredible sextet yMusic from New York. The Nashville Symphony and I recorded my Concerto For Piano and Orchestra there recently. What other studio can handle 80-piece orchestras in one take?
This whole #SaveStudioA and #SaveMusicRow thing was never about me (or the former owners or Tim Reynolds) and thatās why the issue has resonated with people here and around the world who are concerned about retaining Nashvilleās identity, culture and music economy. Thanks for reading, and for the concern and effort! Itās working. Thatās all I got to say.
Man. If you want to make a live music DVD, get yourself a Southern rock band. And if you’re looking for a Southern rock band, you best be looking in the direction of Atlanta, GA’s Blackberry Smoke. These days you can find all manner of variations on the Southern rock theme, and there’s some damn good ones out there—folks mixing Southern rock with Motown soul, and Southern rock with surf, punk, and so much more. But if you’re looking for the band that defines what Southern rock is in the modern day world, Blackberry Smoke is your poison. They’re the guys taking the torch that was first lit by Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers, then was passed on to bands like The Black Crowes, and are doing one of the South’s most storied subgenres all manner of proud in making sure that sound is passed on to a new generation.
Just look at these bastards. They look like they could make the inside of a tour bus smell like steak and motor oil just by looking at it, or walk into a Southern buffet and bankrupt it in one sitting. These are some long-haired, burly, and badass dudes who drip nothing but cool and authenticity. Lead singer Charlie Starr’s mutton chops are longer than the Florida panhandle. And when all those pop country guys get up there on stage and start trading Stratocaster licks doing their best to be cool, a band like Blackberry Smoke is who they are trying to emulate. But it will never be as real as a Blackberry Smoke show.
Two years after releasing their last studio album The Whippoorwill to critical-acclaim, Blackberry Smoke is back with a double live album and DVD called Leave A Scar: Live in North Carolina. There’s a few ways you can choose to partake in this live experience: You can either hear it on a double disc CD set (or download), or you can get the DVD and watch and listen. Or you can do both. The DVD gives you the option to either watch the entire concert seamlessly, or see it with a series of background spots about the band. The background portions probably don’t go as in-depth as a full-fledged documentary, but offer great insight about the band, their families, their cars, their kids, and how they all fit into the band and help make Blackberry Smoke tick so well both on and off the stage.
Your tour guide is Blackberry Smoke front man and primary songwriter Charlie Starr. He introduces you to the two brothers: bass player Richard Turner and drummer Brit Turner, the latter who also acts as the band’s archivist and avid business man. Piano and organ player Brandon Still tells the story about being hired by Blackberry Smoke, and the only stipulation was he had to give up his ‘new wave’ X-wing keyboard stand for a psychedelic-draped piano stand to join. “I was like ‘You know what? We can get rid of the X-wing stand,’” Brandon recalls, and the rest is history. Brandon and lead guitar player Paul Jackson are good friends outside the band as you see on the DVD. “Brandon hangs out, and he’s like Uncle Brandon to Paul’s kids,” says Charlie Starr.
But the music is what we’re here for, and the performances on Leave A Scar: Live in North Carolina are as tight and entertaining as you would expect for a band who’s been going at it for going on 15 years. They’re beyond road-tested, and can play these songs in their sleep. A good mixture of Blackberry’s catalog is featured in this CD/DVD project, and aside from breaking into Memphis Minnie & Led Zepplin’s “When The Levee Breaks” in the middle of one song, it features all original Blackberry Smoke material.
Hard work and hard play isn’t just a marketing mantra for these guys and their fans. It’s the only thing they know, and that’s what comes through most evident on this project. Seeing some of the shots from the crowd and the fans singing along in the perfect-sized venue for this type of undertaking really captured the relationship and value Blackberry Smoke has with the fandom they’ve earned over the years. The project is keenly shot by Judd Films, with Neltner Creative supplying the cover art, and a great engineering feat by Logan Patton doing the live vibe justice and giving the recording the perfect amount of crowd noise to put you right there in the room.
Though I might still recommend to someone who has never heard Blackberry Smoke to start with one of their studio projects, Leave A Scar: Live in North Carolina is a treasure trove for the hardcore Blackberry fan, including bonus footage on the DVD that shows the band recording with Jamey Johnson and the recently-deceased country legend George Jones.
Blackberry Smoke likes to take their time between studio releases, which can be frustrating for some salivating fans. Leave A Scar: Live in North Carolina is the perfect thing to tide them over, and chronicle what one of the most important modern-day bands in the Southern music realm do on a nightly basis for appreciative fans.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
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The Jamey Johnson contract dispute that has kept the songwriter from releasing any new original material since his double album The Guitar Song in 2010 is not with his label as some have surmised, but with his publisher according to a new interview posted Wednesday (7-9) in The Nashville Scene. Though sometimes labels can function as publishers either directly or through subsidiaries, this is not always the case. Where a label is more concerned with releasing, distributing, and promoting music, a publisher deals more with the songwriting side of things like collecting royalties and distributing rights.
Johnson first let on that he was having contractual issues in February of 2013 āFinancially speaking, they treat me worse than they ever did the Dixie Chicks,ā Johnson told Rolling Stone. āI feel pretty used by the music industry, in that my contracts are written in such a way that I donāt get paid ā¦ I wish I could tell you that I am writing. Iām not. I wish I could tell you Iām gonna go home next week and record another album. Itās not likely to happen. We havenāt reached such a gridlock that we canāt continue to do work with them in the future. But we canāt do anything right now until that gets resolved.ā
Since then we’ve been left mostly in the dark about what specifically is holding Jamey Johnson down. When Saving Country Music contacted Mercury Records, they explained Johnson was no longer signed with the label. So where was the dispute? Did it still have to do with Mercury even though he officially wasn’t under contract?
Last week Johnson spoke to Peter Cooper of The Tennessean, and once again Johnson was quite vague about the situation. āIād have to contact three managers, and some lawyers and all kinds of people to come up with a reasonable answer for that,ā Johnson said about his situation, but didn’t say if it was because of the label, or the publisher. āContracts are hard to read. Attorneys are hard to get on the phone. But if youāre in a situation where youāre supposed to be making money and youāre not, buddy, itās up to you whether you quit or not.”
Now when speaking to Jewly Hight of The Nashville Scene, it was finally clarified that it is indeed a publishing issue.
“Youāre out of your record deal, but you still have the same publishing deal, right?” Jewly asked.
“Yes, maāam, I do,” Jamey responded. “In an earlier interview last week a good friend asked me a question, and I responded with the wrong answer. He was referring to my record label contract. Iāve already reached an agreement with Mercury Records that gave me what I wanted ultimately, which was my freedom. I just wanted the ability to go, and they gave that to me. They also gave me the ability to come back, if I decided I wanted to come back. To me, that looks a lot like a revolving door, and thatās what I wanted. But most importantly, I wanted to be able to leave. If I canāt leave, then whatās the point in coming back? My appreciation to Mike Dungan [UMG Nashville Chairman/CEO] and the whole team at Mercury Records for allowing me that ability to come back after I leave. They couldāve slammed the door and locked it and said, āMan, enough.ā
Jamey Johnson’s publisher is EMI Music Publishing in Nashville. Johnson was signed by music publisher Gary Overton after being introduced by producer and songwriter Buddy Cannon in the early 00′s. Johnson rose through the ranks of country music first as a songwriter, penning the big hit “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” that put him on the map in 2005. Also in 2005, he singed a recording contract with BNA with the help of Buddy Cannon and Gary Overton, but was later dropped when his album The Dollar performed poorly. Eventually Johnson moved on to Mercury.
The news explains beyond Johnson’s sincere love for Hank Cochran why his last album was a tribute to the late songwriter, and not an album of original material. Jamey didn’t have a problem delivering a new album to Mercury, he had a problem publishing new music through EMI under the same unfavorable conditions.
While we still don’t know the specifics of what is causing the contract dispute between Jamey Johnson and EMI Music Publishing, we finally know who specifically is on the other end of the conflict. Jamey Johnson may have been coy this whole time about who was to blame because he didn’t want to bad mouth his publisher publicly, or speaking out against the publisher directly may put him in violation of his contract, or may hurt his chances of receiving a fair solution through the legal process. Johnson could be tongue tied, whether legally or self-imposed.
Whether Jamey Johnson is able to speak or not, his fans still can. And many are—frustrated that one of their favorite artists is being robbed of some of his most productive years, and is not being fairly compensated for his songwriting work.
Ahead of a benefit in Nashville that Johnson will play Wednesday, July 9th at Marathon Music Works for the Nikki Mitchell Foundation for pancreatic cancer, the songwriter let it be known that he’s still not writing, and there’s no resolution to his label issues in sight.
“When I get ready to write, I’ll write,” Jamey Johnson told Peter Cooper of The Tennessean succinctly. “Until then, like Hank Cochran said, I’m living for a song.”
Jamey’s last album was a 2012 tribute to the late Hank Cochran, who was recently named the Country Music Hall of Fame’s newest inductee under the songwriting category. But his last album of original music was the double LP The Guitar Song released way back in September of 2010. For someone primarily known as a songwriter, the screeching halt to Johnson’s output has created an unwanted vacuum in the listening habits of many of his fans.
Johnson first explained that he was in the midst of label problems in February of 2013. āFinancially speaking, they treat me worse than they ever did the Dixie Chicks,ā Johnson told Rolling Stone. āI feel pretty used by the music industry, in that my contracts are written in such a way that I donāt get paid … I wish I could tell you that I am writing. Iām not. I wish I could tell you Iām gonna go home next week and record another album. Itās not likely to happen. We havenāt reached such a gridlock that we canāt continue to do work with them in the future. But we canāt do anything right now until that gets resolved.”
In January Johnson spoke about the matter on stage in St. Petersburg, FL, but instead of clearing things up, it seemed to further complicate the matter.
āLast time we did a show without a record deal was ā06. Tonightās our first show without a record deal. And somehow weāre still on the same label. We just didnāt have nowhere else to go. They set it up where now we just donāt have to stay. And hereās one for all of our friends back at Mercury Records in Nashville, Tennessee.ā
In May, Saving Country Music reached out to Johnson’s label to see if his contract status could be determined, and Mercury not only confirmed that Johnson was no longer signed to the label, but the lady who answered the phone had no idea who Jamey Johnson was.
Peter Cooper in Wednesday’s interview with Jamey wasn’t able to ascertain anything more from Johnson. “I’d have to contact three managers, and some lawyers and all kinds of people to come up with a reasonable answer for that,” Johnson said. “Contracts are hard to read. Attorneys are hard to get on the phone. But if you’re in a situation where you’re supposed to be making money and you’re not, buddy, it’s up to you whether you quit or not … We play our instruments, and we have our time, and when we’re done we go visit with people until everybody’s too tired to talk anymore, and then we leave. Then we come back and do it again the next time.”
In other words people, don’t hold your breath.
Willie Nelson, who just released his latest record Band of Brothers on June 17th though Sony’s Legacy Recordings, has crested at the very top spot on Billboard’s Country Music Album’s chart, landing at #1. It is Willie’s first #1 in 28 years, since his 1986 album The Promiseland. It is also his second-best showing ever on Billboard’s all genre Billboard 200 chart, coming in at #6. Band of Brothers is only the third time Willie has cracked the Billboard 200′s Top 10. He came in at #2 with Always On My Mind in 1982, and his last album, a duets project To All The Girls came in at #9. Willie sold roughly 37,000 copies of his new album to land the top spot.
Willie Nelson now has a total of ten #1 records to his name in an unprecedented country music career. He joins a resurgent crowd of country music greats who’ve had renewed chart success recently, including Dolly Parton’s May release Blue Smoke. It gave Dolly her first Top 10 on the Billboard 200 of her entire career when she came in at #6. She also charted at #2 on the Country Albums chart. Johnny Cash’s posthumous release of his lost album Out Among The Stars also saw surprising chart success, debuting at #1 in country, and #3 on the Billboard 200.
Band of Brothers is Willie’s fourth album with Legacy Recordings, all of which have been produced by Buddy Cannon. The album is the first from Willie in 17 years to feature mostly self-penned, new material, and also features a duet with Jamey Johnson on Billy Joe Shaver’s song “The Git Go”, and contributions from Vince Gill and Bill Anderson.
Why all the surprising chart success for older country music artists in 2014? It’s partly because the fans of older country music stars actually buy albums instead of streaming them online, or just downloading individual songs. This makes older artists more lucrative for labels, and allows the artists to outpace their much younger competition on the charts. Once again with Willie hitting #1, it proves that country music’s older artists can deliver when they’re given a chance, even without any radio play.
Let’s face it. Willie Nelson could take his sweaty, old man-smelling headband off, slingshot it out to center stage, and it would still be more enriching than what most of modern country radio has to offer. Simply the tone of his voice immediately puts the inertia of nearly a century of noble contributions to country music behind whatever he does. A few plucks of his guitar “Trigger,” and the woody tones can can make you break out in bone-deep shivers. Just the visage of Willie—the Pocahontas braids and the folds of wisdom feathered by white whiskers enveloping one of the world’s most respected faces—commands immediate reverence, and a warm feeling usually reserved only for the proximity of close family.
Band of Brothers finds Willie Nelson once again united with producer Buddy Cannon for their fourth offering on Sony’s Legacy Recordings imprint. Where the first album Heroes felt like a significant retrenching for Willie, the subsequent Let’s Face The Music & Dance and To All The Girls felt a little more forced in their premise, though undoubtedly delivering some fine music. Band of Brothers comes across much more like an inspired, purposeful effort, with the point being to showcase the 81-year old’s continuing proficiency as a songwriter—the skill that got him into all of this country music nonsense in the very first place. Though Willie has written and recorded many original songs recently, this is the first album in some 17 years that finds his own handiwork featured in the majority.
And where Willie’s last two albums were a little more refined and light, which can only be expected from such an aged performer, Band of Brothers has some piss and vinegar to it; some balls, and even some bawdy, bellicose language. In many respects this is a hard, true country album in the material, if not exactly in the tone, which finds Willie sticking close to his established sound: light drums, his own leads, and Mickey Raphael’s familiar harp fleeting in and out.
Though the rhetoric around this album is about how much of it Willie wrote, the contributions mark many of the album’s most noteworthy moments. While some of Buddy Cannon’s albums can be a little too collaboration happy, Band of Brother’s sole duet is on the Billy Joe Shaver-penned song “The Git Go”, where Jamey Johnson shows up to sing a few lines. This troika of country music talent makes the rendition well worth your attention, and the smoky, lounge-like take on this song does the original justice. Shaver also shows up in the songwriting credits for “Hard To Be an Outlaw”, which features a straight up country protest line in the second verse.Some super stars nowadays, gets too far off the ground Singing about the backroads, they never have been down They go and call it country, but that aināt the way it sounds Itās enough to make a renegade want to terrorize the town Ā
You combine this with the adulterous sentiment of “Wives and Girlfriends,” the very entertaining and adventurous “The Songwriters” by Gordie Sampson and Bill Anderson, and the S-bombs Willie drops in the Dennis Morgan-written “I’ve Got a Lot of Traveling To Do,” and you’re surely made aware that Willie still has plenty of fire left in him.
Where Band of Brothers shines brightest however is in the introspective song “The Wall”. As was said in the song review, isnāt it interesting how we look upon Willie Nelson as such a saint of not just music or country music, but of the nation and world, and here he is releasing a song that instead of reveling in his accomplishments and resting on his laurels, catches the 81-year-old country legend looking back upon his past mistakes, self-deprecating and pensive, yet understanding how those mistakes made him the man he is today. Though some aspects of Willie’s recent Buddy Cannon pairing seem like taking it safe—like Cannon showing up as a co-writer on all of Willie’s original songs for this album, almost like it was mandated by Sony or something—the production of “The Wall” spreads its wings, and the song benefits from it.
The opening song “Bring It On” is quite good too, and fresh-feeling, with Willie puffing his chest out, inviting a good challenge. “I Thought I Left You” shows that classic love songwriting is still running thick in Willie’s blood, and is rivaled by Vince Gill’s “Whenever You Come Around,” which was a worthy inclusion, despite a rough beginning in Willie’s vocals. The album’s theme song, “Band of Brothers”, rekindles that old “On The Road Again” sentiment of camaraderie.
Having seen Willie Nelson numerous times recently, the case could be made that a slippage of skills is slowly starting to catch up with him, which can only be expected. And some of those moments get captured on this album. Though Buddy Cannon never seems to completely wow you, he’s consistent. This really is a great collection of songs, despite some soft patches, and a few well-trodden paths that are tough for holding the attention. However incrementally diminished his skills might be, Willie Nelson shows a lot of spirit, a lot of fight in Band of Brothers, and any swan song seems far off.
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1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
Many of mainstream country’s big stars came to Nashville with the best of intentions. They had a sincere love of country music, a belly full of talent, and big hopes to make music their way and ascend the country music ladder with their integrity still in tact….
…and then the Music Row machine did it’s worst.
When you look back at some of the early songs, early albums, and even the early image of some of country’s biggest current stars, it can stimulate downright culture shock. Of course styles change naturally over time, but many of these artists came from small towns and had simple dreams. But the problem with money and fame is that you can always have more of it, and next thing you know, they become shells of their original selves.
Below are some illustrations, not necessarily listening suggestions, but examples of some of the dramatic changes we have seen in some of country music’s biggest artists since their start.
Blake Shelton – “Austin”
With long hair hanging down past his shoulders and a cowboy hat, Blake Shelton and his first single and first #1 hit “Austin” from 2001 seems light years away from the rapped verses and hip hop beat of “Boys ‘Round Here.” Not an exceptional song, but one that has a sincere story, steel guitar, and shows that Blake Shelton did have a soul once upon a time and didn’t mind singing a song for the “Old Farts & Jackasses.”
Luke Bryan – “I’ll Stay Me”
With his baseball cap facing the right way and a goofy smile, Luke Bryan from the small town of Leesburg, GAĀ made his way to Nashville, and after penning big songs for Travis Tritt and Billy Currington, signed with Capitol Records Nashville in 2007 and released an album called I’ll Stay Me. Yes, let’s not let the irony of that title escape us. Bryan wrote or co-wrote all of the songs on the album, compared to his latest album Crash My Party that has only two co-writes from Bryan in the entire 13 tracks. Though there is certainly the early leanings toward a laundry list style of lyricism on “I’ll Stay Me,” it also has a lot of sincerity and a pretty authentic country flavor.
Jason Aldean – “Amarillo Sky”
Before Jason Aldean became the mainstream champion for country rap with “Dirt Road Anthem” and became one of the Godfathers of laundry list country with its caricaturist portrayals of rural life, he put out a song called “Amarillo Sky” on his debut, self-titled album in 2005, releasing it as a single in 2006. Instead of clichĆ©s about dirt roads, beer, & trucks that mark Aldean’s current offerings, “Amarillo Sky” tells a pretty authentic story about the struggle of American farmers, while the video featuring real sons of farmers does it one better. The song was written in part by Big & Rich.
Jerrod Niemann – “Good Ride Cowboy”
Jerrod Niemann has become the poster boy for the gentrification of country music with his EDM-laced radio superhits like “Drink To That All Night”, but can you believe that he once co-penned a tribute to Chris LeDoux cut by Garth Brooks called “Good Ride Cowboy”? Neimann actually had Garth record three of his co-writes, and had Jamey Johnson and Neal McCory record his songs as well. “Good Ride Cowboy” wound up at #3 on the Billboard charts in 2005. Below Niemann can be seen sporting an actual cowboy hat instead of his signature club-hopping fedora. Where did you go wrong Jerrod?
Brantley Gilbert – “What’s Left of a Small Town”
When Brantley Gilbert started out in country music, you wouldn’t even be able to recognize him compared to today. Brantley Gilbert ver. 2014 is all attitude with his ball cap pulled down over his eyes, singing country rap songs in a complete vacuum of self-awareness, but as many long-time Gilbert fans can attest, back in the day he wrote and sang some very sincere country songs, while being known to pay homage to the roots by playing many country classics. His first album released in October of 2009 called Modern Day Prodigal Son gave many hints to the bro-country king Brantley would become, but it also had a few really sincere songs, including one called “What’s Left of a Small Town”.
Sugarland – “Tennessee”
Remember when Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles actually had a Southern accent, Kristian Bush had a cowboy hat instead of an outfit pattered off the leprechaun on the Lucky Charms box, and they had a third member that looked like a 40-something female volleyball coach? Yes, it was 2004, and light years away from “Stuck Like Glue.” Oh how I would have loved to be a fly on the wall during that uncomfortable meeting at Mercury Records when some suit demanded Jennifer lose her twang, and the band lose their third wheel.
Ā Florida Georgia Line
….oops, they started bad and stayed there.
Fans of Lee Ann Womack have been waiting not-so-patiently since 2008′s Call Me Crazy for new music from the multi-Grammy and multi-CMA Award winner, and on September 23rd they’ll finally get their wish. After years on major labels, Womack has teamed up with renown label Sugar Hill Records (Don Williams, Marty Stuart) to release The Way I’m Livin’ this fall. The record will be produced by Lee Ann’s husband, Frank Liddell.
As exciting as the news is about the new album from a new label, the list of songwriters she’s slated to draw songs from makes the prospects of The Way I’m Livin’ even more enticing. Contributors include Chris Knight, Hayes Carll, Bruce Robison, Buddy Miller, Roger Miller, as well as Neil Young, Mindy Smith, and Mando Saenz.
āI wanted songs that talked about how life really is, the raw spots, the tough places, the meltdowns and messy parts,ā says Womack. āHard, sad, roughā¦ all the stuff people pretend doesnāt exist! Because once you embrace that, you can figure out what to do; or not do! I live to sing great songs that tear holes in life ā just show living for what it is … And knowing these songs were written to be performed, not pitched, sets a bar! Every songwriter wrote intending to singāem, to tell these stories, show these postcards, and you can feel the way they built the characters! Bringing that to music was just so incredible for everyone on the sessions.”
“Lee Ann wanted something wide open,” says husband and producer Frank Liddell. “So we immediately tracked the record with a handful of sides, just six people, and the rest of it with four people. So itās a very sparse record and hopefully her voice is wide open and right in the middle of it. Thatās our focus. We didnāt get too worried about songs or what she needed to say. We just took a bunch of great songs weād amassed over the years and went into the studio. Weāve always gotten along real well song-wise.
The next album from Lee Ann Womack has been a much-rumored process. She released a single called “There Is A God” in October of 2009 that was supposed to be part of an upcoming album, but the album never came. Womack was also said to be working on new music in February of 2010. No word if issues with her previous label Mercury Nashville stalled previous attempts at new albums, but upon signing with Sugar Hill, Womack said, “I was looking for the right home for this record. I knew I wanted a label where passion for music and artistic integrity drive the decision-making.”
Musical contributors to the album include steel guitar player Paul Franklin, Matt Chamberlain on drums, Glen Whorf on bass, guitar player Duke Levine, and acoustic guitarist/pianist Mac McAnally.Ā
After Lee Ann found great commercial and critical success with her signature song “I Hope You Dance”, the Jacksonville, TX native has struck a decidedly more traditional note lately, and considering the label and list of songwriters for The Way I’m Livin’, fans can anticipate more of the same. Lee Ann also recently contributed to Jamey Johnson’s Hank Cochran tribute, singing a duet with Johnson on the song “This Ain’t My First Rodeo”.
From Lee Ann’s previous album:
Sturgill Simpson has arrived ladies & gentlemen, thanks to the resounding critical success of his new album Metamodern Sounds of Country Music that has permeated just about every corner of the independent roots music culture. From NPR, to The New York Times, to Billboard, to important periodicals in Europe, wherever you turn, someone is singing the praises of the Kentucky native.
This resounding success has made some, if not many, wonder where does Sturgill Simpson go from here? Just how big can he get? Could we possibly hear Sturgill Simpson songs on mainstream radio? Could we see him get a nomination from the CMA? Could Sturgill Simpson and Metamodern Sounds be the artist and album to save country music? Without a doubt he’s that one artist this is resonating, right here, right now, and unlike other artists that have done so recently such as Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson is decidedly country, potentially giving him the ability to be considered for attention by country music’s largest institutions.
I think we all need to take a douse of realism, while at the same time understanding that Sturgill Simpson becoming something bigger than just a mid-level club act is very realistic if the right things fall into place. But there is a long, long way to go, and a lot of the talk surrounding him at the moment is sort of like playing fantasy football. In the long run, for an artist like Sturgill to reach the CMA level, a lot of specific watermarks must be reached, and it’s imperative on his fans, and Sturgill himself, not to set unrealistic expectations that can end up deflating the positive momentum he’s created. So in the end, a “Let’s just do the best we can, and see where this goes” mentality is probably the most wise course of action. Though someone who might read artcles on savingcountrymusic.com on a regular basis might see Sturgill Simpson’s name everywhere they turn and think this thing is in the midst of something historic, out in the big scary world, he’s still very much an unknown. For now.
But you also can’t discount the magic of music when it is matched up with the right moment for the world to hear it. That’s how all great movements in music start, by one person doing something the world has a great hunger for. And can anyone disagree that a hunger for someone like Sturgill Simpson exists in country music right now? As silly as the notion may seem to some, the indelible part of the country music mythos that hopes for a savior to come and return balance to the genre is a very real force all to itself, and carries its own weight and momentum.
It’s also worth pointing out that Sturgill Simpson isn’t the only one who deserves credit for what is becoming a meteoric rise. Some very wise moves have been made in marketing him, and how his music has been released. Normally, releasing albums less than a year apart is frowned upon these days. For Sturgill, this move was fortuitous. Just as the High Top Mountain‘s cycle was losing steam, here he comes with an album that regardless of where he goes from here, will be looked back upon as a landmark; as an important moment in his development. Now Sturgill has all the momentum at his back, and that, along with an excellent management team, has allowed Sturgill to reach far beyond what we normally see from independent artists that may feel very intimate to us because we’ve seen them in half empty barrooms, or heard their music before anyone else.
Sturgill’s manager Marc Dottore (also Marty Stuart’s manager), has been able to get him in front of big audiences at the Opry, on The Marty Stuart Show, and opened up many doors not normally accessible to independent artists. Sturgill’s booking agent got him on some big tours opening for Dwight Yoakam. And Sturgill and his band have been pounding the pavement, playing strange tour runs that are not always intuitive when they’re drawn on a map, and that take a toll on the band’s personal lives and sanity, but in the end got him in front of the right people to have an impact. There are a lot of talented country artists, and a lot of artists like Sturgill that have worked very hard. But Sturgill, his band, and his management team and publicists didn’t just work hard, they worked smart. And that, just as much as Sturgill’s talent, the appeal of the music, and the fortuitous timing of it, lent to where he is today.
Could Sturgill Simpson Be Picked Up By A Major Label?
Could he? Sure. Since he’s signed with new school distribution company Thirty Tigers, Sturgill still retains his rights, and the freedom to do whatever he wants with his music, whether it is the music on Metamodern Sounds, or music he makes in the future. This is one of the specific reasons Sturgill decided to go with Thirty Tigers, despite being offered other deals by other labels before High Top Mountain. And there’s precedent here with other artists. Chase Rice, one of the writers of Florida Georgia Line’s blockbuster song “Cruise”, started out as a Thirty Tigers artist, releasing music through the label before making a partnership through Columbia Records in March to distribute his EP and his “Ready, Set, Roll” single.
Speaking of Florida Georgia Line, they have a somewhat similar story, where they made an EP called It’z Just What We Do that after it went crazy, landed them a deal with Big Machine Records. Much of the music from that EP ended up on their first major full-length release.
But let’s be realistic. Do we really think real deal Sturgill Simpson is going to sign with a major label that would more than likely mean handing over the rights to his songs, and potentially artistic control? Granted, this isn’t always a pitfall of the major label world. There are some artists that with the right leverage power have been able to negotiate contracts in their favor that didn’t include all the traditional trappings of a major label deal. But unless it is perfect, Sturgill Simpson isn’t going to take it. Sturgill is a peculiar, cantankerous individual; an idealist that isn’t motivated by fame and money beyond wanting to provide for his family.
So the next question would be is, would the combination of Thirty Tigers and Sturgill’s current management structure be able to handle some major meteoric rise that would result in the gross equivalent of a major label deal? It’s kind of hard to know, but simply asking the question may be getting way ahead of ourselves.
Could Sturgill Simpson Be Nominated for a CMA Award?
Not to throw cold water on anything, but shaking my magic ’8′ ball, what I’m coming up with is “not likely”. Maybe in the future, when Sturgill has taken a few more steps, and his name recognition is such that the wider industry is paying more attention. But for now, Sturgill must conquer the Americana and independent ranks. He may very well do that with Metamodern Sounds, and this may create the gateway to greener pastures. But we can’t take this happening as a given.
One benefit he has over artists like Jason Isbell or Justin Townes Earle who’ve both had big success in Americana, is that Sturgill Simpson is purely country. This means hypothetically that the sky is the limit, unlike with Americana.
But the CMA, and especially the ACM are set up to promote the country music industry, just as the Americana Music Awards are set up to promote the Americana industry. And right now, Sturgill Simpson isn’t part of that industry. He may play country music, but that doesn’t immediately make him a contender, let alone visible to the CMA voters, even though he may technically qualify. What would put him on their map is strong, prolonged commercial success along with his critical acclaim: solid showings on MediaBase and Billboard charts for sales and plays.
The other thing he would need to do to be considered by the CMA is to have mainstream radio play. And with the climate these days at mainstream radio, where it realistically takes sometimes $500,000 to $1 million dollars to promote a single, especially from an unknown artist, that possibility may be the most out-of-reach for Sturgill. Besides, I’m not sure Metamodern Sounds contains any “single” material for modern-day radio.
However there is hope that a critical darling can crack through all the commercial hurdles that hold many artists out of the CMA process. Though Kacey Musgraves resides on a major label, appreciate that without even one Top 10 single to her name, she walked away with the Album of the Year trophies at both the Grammy Awards and ACM’s this year. When faced with overwhelming consensus about a critical favorite, whether it’s Musgraves’ Same Trailer, Different Park, or Jamey Johnson’s That Lonesome Song, industry awards will step up to at least dole out nominations to these projects. An Americana Grammy for Sturgill is a very real possibility, but remember last year they completely snubbed Jason Isbell, who by all accounts was the clear favorite going in.
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More realistically, Sturgill Simpson just needs to eat what’s on his plate, and focus on growing his name recognition. Sturgill will continue to focus on touring, and creating a fan base that can support him at the club level. That will open up the possibility for bigger opening slots, and more exposure.
We have been at this crossroads before, where an artist feels like he’s on the brink of blowing up and rising to the mainstream level. In 2008 when Hank Williams III was riding off of huge momentum from a critically-acclaimed and commercially-successful release Straight to Hell, it looked for a minute that he may break through the walls of the mainstream and completely shake up the industry. Williams had been touring like crazy for a half decade. He had all the momentum at his back. When his next album came out, Damn Right, Rebel Proud in 2008, it debuted at #2 on the Billboard charts. Williams had climbed nine rungs up a ten rung ladder, and he had done it his way, fighting against his label to win creative freedom, and finding success despite a lack of radio play.
But Damn Right, Rebel Proud was a step down in quality from his previous releases, and Hank3 proceeded to take 18 months off of touring. Subsequent releases charted decently as well, but he never reached the same heights. Hank3 had been right there, right at the precipice of breaking through, and for whatever reason, lost the drive, lost the momentum, had pushed himself too hard, and had to step back.
Hellbound Glory, also finding great critical acclaim, landed the opportunity to open for Kid Rock on an arena tour, and it looked like the doors would finally start opening for them. And some doors did. But a year later, Leroy Virgil had not a single member in his band that had been around for the Kid Rock tour, and in many respects landed right back where he started. Jamey Johnson reached the very top of the industry, penning #1 songs and being nominated for big awards. But then a label dispute stopped him in his tracks, and it’s been nearly four years since he’s released an original song.
Whether the fault of the artists or others, the ninth rung of that ten rung ladder has been where these artists have stalled, one after another. And the dream, the promise of returning the balance back to country music stalls with it. Whether it’s artists losing their hunger, being hindered by the industry, or never really having a chance to begin with, the dream wasn’t fully realized. It wasn’t played out to its last, exhaustive breath. But with Sturgill Simpson, we have another opportunity.
And if something magical does happen with Sturgill Simpson, we shouldn’t see it as a shot from nowhere. George Strait just won Entertainer of the Year for both the CMA’s and ACM’s. Kacey Musgraves has been winning awards left and right. Both traditionalism and substance are resonating again in country music, despite however buried they may appear by bro-country.
The most important thing is that Sturgill Simpson keeps on growing, and that the independent community does what they can to help foster that growth. Sturgill Simpson said it best when he posted the day of the release of Metamodern Sounds:
I have said it many times and I will continue to say it, as it is the truth and I whole heartedly believe itā¦guys like me and the countless others others out there attempting to offer an alternative are not capable of change. We are not the catalyst of change. You guys are. We can only do our best to make the best records we are capable of but it is up to you the listener to have your voices heard. This is the only road to the true change that a lot of you I talk to at shows are seeking. If you connect with something that moves you it’s up to you to share it/burn it/ steal it/ give it away. As long as it finds and connects with as many people as possible that is all we wish for.
From the bottom of our hearts, thank you all for everything YOU have done and are collectively doing to make our dreams come true. It goes without saying that I am about as sick of hearing/talking about me as I have ever been in my entire life. With that said, we are anxiously looking forward to taking this show on the road for the rest of our lives.
Sturgill, Kevin, Miles, & Little Joe
Isn’t it interesting how we look upon Willie Nelson as such a saint of not just music or country music, but of the nation and world, and here he is releasing a song that instead of reveling in his accomplishments and resting on his laurels, catches the 81-year-old country legend looking back upon his past mistakes, self-deprecating and pensive, yet understanding how those mistakes made him the man he is today.
Willie Nelson’s next album Band of Brothers is set to be released June 17th, and his latest original song in a legendary, if not unparalleled songwriting career is simply called “The Wall.” Band of Brothers breaks from Willie’s recent output of albums of mostly covers by including nine Nelson-penned tracks as part of the 14-track album. The covers include Billy Joe Shaver’s “The Git Go” (a duet with Jamey Johnson), Vince Gill’s “Whenever You Come Around”, and “Songwriter” by Bill Anderson and Gordie Sampson. As with the last few Willie Nelson releases, the producer duties are being handled by Buddy Cannon.
Like the words, the chord selection of “The Wall” helps give rise to memory and reflection, and shows that Willie has lost little in his ability to convey a feeling in his advanced age. Long-time harmonica-playing compatriot Mickey Raphael adds the color to the composition, as does the familiar tone of Willie Nelson’s nylon string guitar in a rather stripped down track whose beat is kept with simple brushes that rest at the beginning of the chorus to give the song an extra little emphasis. Though Willie’s voice can sometimes be hit or miss in the live setting these days, it is as strong as ever here, holding that singular tone that looms so large in the ethos of classic country fans.
Where Willie Nelson’s two 2013 albums with Legacy Recordings—Let’s Face The Music and Dance, and To All The Girls…—felt somewhat like side projects, with little truly new material, Band of Brothers is already beginning to look more like 2012′s Heroes— Willie’s first with Legacy Recordings, and an album that very much felt like a retrenching.
The accompanying video for “The Wall” works counter-intuitively from the song, running down a list of all of Willie’s biggest accomplishments as Willie reflects, “I took on more than I could handle. I bit off more than I could chew, I hit the wall. I went off like a Roman candle. Burning everyone I knew, I hit the wall.”
With no discounts for age or sliding scales because of his legendary status, Willie Nelson’s “The Wall” still captures the heart and stirs the memory, and makes for quite an enjoyable piece of music.
Two guns up.
It has been since September of 2010 that fans of CMA Award-winning country music star Jamey Johnson have heard new music from the singer and songwriter. His critically-acclaimed double album The Guitar Song has had to tide listeners over for a protracted period, from an artist that before had been quite prolific. Johnson did release another album in October of 2012, but it was a tribute album, Living For A Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran.
Since then fans have been in a fog about when new music could be expected from the Alabama native, or even the nature of his label status. Then in an interview with Rolling Stone published February 10th, 2013, Jamey Johnson spelled out in specific detail that he felt he was getting a raw deal from his long-time label, Mercury Records Nashville.
āFinancially speaking, they treat me worse than they ever did the Dixie Chicks,ā Johnson explained to Rolling Stone. āI feel pretty used by the music industry, in that my contracts are written in such a way that I donāt get paid. Itās time for us to regroup and itās time for us to look at these contracts. The problem is, I donāt trust any of the people that Iāve worked with so far. I believe theyāve all hidden the truth from me or lied to me or deceived me in one way or another. Because the end result is that no matter what they said or did or what they said they did, I didnāt get paidā¦ As a musician I never studied music law. I canāt even read the contracts Iāve signed. But Iām fairly sure they donāt say what I thought they said.”
Beyond The Dixie Chick’s public blackballing from country music after making disparaging comments about then President George W. Bush, they also were part of their own contract dispute, and claimed they didn’t get paid properly for their music. Jamey also explained that the ordeal had put a damper on his desire to write songs.
Well, I wish I could tell you that I am writing. Iām not. I wish I could tell you Iām gonna go home next week and record another album. Itās not likely to happen. We havenāt reached such a gridlock that we canāt continue to do work with them in the future. But we canāt do anything right now until that gets resolved.
Well apparently it has been, though initially the nature of that resolution still left us with more questions. While playing the Mahaffey Theater at the Progress Energy Center in St. Petersburg, FL on January 17th of this year, Jamey Johnson said to the crowd,
“Last time we did a show without a record deal was ’06. Tonight’s our first show without a record deal. And somehow we’re still on the same label. We just didn’t have nowhere else to go. They set it up where now we just don’t have to stay. And here’s one for all of our friends back at Mercury Records in Nashville, Tennessee.” (video below)
After the remarks, Jamey launched into the Waylon Jennings song, “Freedom To Stay.”
Jamey’s remarks would seem to allude that he’d stayed with the label, but also that he’d left it. Or that maybe they had restructured his deal so he could leave, but he decided to stay anyway. The comments seemed to create more questions than answers—more questions there had been before. But maybe that was Jamey’s intention.
So Saving Country Music, wanting to get to the bottom of Jamey’s contract status—called Mercury Records. This is a rough sketch of how the phone conversation went.Hello this is Trigger from Saving Country Music. I’m calling to see if I can ascertain the contract status of Jamey Johnson. Jamey who? I don’t know who that is. Jamey Johnson? I don’t know. Does he or she work here? Jamey Johnson. Is that a new artist or something? Won a CMA for Song of the Year? Wrote “Honky Tonk Badona Donk”? (going for the least common denominator in desperation) Huh. I’ve never heard that name. The rest of the staff is in a meeting. I will have to find out for you.
About 5 minutes later I receive a phone call back from Mercury Records Nashville.No. Jamey Johnson is no longer signed with us. So he didn’t restructure his deal or anything? He’s not signed to the label whatsoever? No. He was here, but he’s no longer signed with us. That’s all the information I can give you.
So there you go. Jamey Johnson has been stricken from the consciousness of Mercury Records Nashville and has moved on. Though this is no guarantee there’s new music coming from him, this certainly moves him one step closer.
Jamey’s remarks about his contract status can be seen at the 28:55 mark in the video below.
Jamey. Jamey Johnson. Yeah, hey man, it’s your old pal country music here. Sorry to bother you like this out of the blue and everything, but it looks like I’ve kind of gotten myself into a mighty big pickle. Generally speaking I’m one of those proud people that doesn’t like to ask for anything from anybody. But honestly man, I need your help. Now I understand that you’re in some sort of contract dispute or something, and that’s usurped a lot of your desire to write new songs and release new albums and everything. Trust me when I say, I know how rough these disputes can be. Ever since I started in this music business, intrusive and unethical label practices have been stultifying the creative process for many of the artists flying my flag, generally wreaking havoc on their freedom and artistic expression, not to mention how many people are getting hosed on the accounting side of things.
I can only imagine the kind of anger and heartache you’re dealing with, but man, I need you. And I need you something fierce. Over the last couple of years … well hell, really for the last twenty some odd years, but especially the last couple, stuff has really been going downhill. I turn on CMT, and if there aren’t frat guys urinating on themselves in some reality show, or some inbred passed out face first in a vat of gravy, then it’s Florida Georgia Line rapping in some hip hop song while motorcycles go flying through the air and explosions go off in the background, while Luke Bryan is non stop pelvic thrusting the poor, innocent air in front of him. It’s like some wild ass circus Jamey, I’m telling you.
And then you turn on the radio, and somehow it gets even worse. I thought Florida Georgia Line was bad, but now there’s a half dozen bands that are more like Florida Georgia Line than Florida Georgia Line is. Have you heard of Chase Rice, Jamey? If you haven’t, don’t waste your time, trust me. You should see this dude’s Twitter feed. It’s like an instruction manual for duchebags, but I digress. Oh! And then the other day I was listening to the radio, and Jerrod Niemann … you remember Jerrod Niemann? I mean he used to not be that bad back in the day. But he’s gone through some kind of mid life crisis or something, and the dude sounds like he’s got an EDM DJ stuck up his ass. He was on there talking about “riding his donkey to the honkey tonkey” and I just about hurled my Taco Bell waffle taco out the truck window. Yeah I know, I shouldn’t be eating that garbage, but I won’t lie, I was curious … I mean I know back in the day me and you got a big chuckle when Trace Adkins cut your “Badonka Donk” song, but hell, that was just parody. By the way, you still got that bass boat you paid for with those royalties? I saw the pictures on MySpace; it was a beauty. Ha, MySpace. Man we go way far back.
And I guess that’s why I’m writing you. Look man, back in the late 00′s, you were the best thing going. You were what I needed: substance with commercial appeal. Hell I even got you a bunch of those stupid industry awards, and for a moment there it looked like you could be the next real deal thing in country music. Hell forget looking like it, you were the next real deal thing! And that’s why we need you back man. We need to get you back in this fight. We need to get you back in the ring, even if just to keep these other losers honest. I mean, who else we got that has already proven they can get the industry behind them without selling out? Who can write a song like Jamey Johnson? Who’s got all that country credit for serving in the Marines and doing all that time in honky tonks, and hob nobbing with Hank Cochran? Hey, did you see Hank just got an induction for the next Hall of Fame class? See, it ain’t all bad out there. There’s still hope. There’s still something to come home to Jamey. And though all the country dudes are a bunch of douche nozzles, there’s a lot of women doing some great stuff out there these days. Have you caught a whiff of Kacey Musgraves yet? Dynamite Jamey, I’m telling you (and just between you and me, some dynamite legs on that young dame too, whoa!).
Still though, George Strait is retiring, or at least he’s gonna try to, and we need someone to step up. Come on man, you should be in the prime of your career. I don’t blame you for wanting to step back. I don’t blame you if you don’t want to be involved in all the mainstream hoopla anymore. And it’s not like you’ve stopped performing and are living on Mars. You still contribute greatly to keeping it real. But hell, just start writing some songs. Get back in the game. Participate at least. Give us something we can throw in the face of Dallas Davidson to tell him and his songwriting-by-formula buddies to take a long walk off a short pier.
You’re not friends with Dallas? Are you? Well anyway…
Most importantly man, and not to get all sentimental on your ass, but I’m just a little worried about you. You know, you put out those first few albums, and we got used to a new Jamey Johnson album every couple years. And not to jump on you man, but sometimes when you have a talent such as yours, it’s a shame to see it go to waste. So tell me where I need to be. If there’s some label riding your ass, some suit with his thumb on you, tell us the scoop and we’ll be your air support. Let’s rattle some cages. Let’s blow some houses down. You’d be surprised what a bunch of pissed-off rednecks can accomplish when we’re all moving in the same direction. Let’s get mobilized. Let’s get this thing figured out.
Because we’re here for you brother. We want to see you prosper. And most importantly, we need you.
Yours truly, and always grateful, even if you never write another song in your life,
I first want to congratulate you as the President of the Academy of Country Music for the continued success of your storied institution, and your ability to extend the ACM’s as a viable and vibrant forum from which country music can be promoted to the masses in an engaging and exciting presentation that stops down America on an annual basis to celebrate what your institution deems is the best talent country music has to offer.
It is in the spirit of wanting to keep the viability and the storied nature of the ACM’s in tact that I write you to address a concern that I, as well as other country music writers and fans have voiced over the eligibility of Big Machine Records artist Justin Moore for the New Artist of the Year award at the 49th Annual awards set to transpire in a month from now.
Please don’t let it come across that I am assuming or alluding that you are not aware of your own rules, because I’m sure you are more aware of the ACM rules than anyone, but it is clearly stated in your voting criteria that artists are not eligible for the New Artist of the Year distinction if they have sold 500,000 copies of a previously released album according to Nielsen Soundscan. Unfortunately Justin Moore, one of the three remaining nominees for New Artist of the Year, has no less than two such albums that have crossed the 500,000 sales threshold: Justin Moore from 2009 with 550,000 copies sold, and Outlaws Like Me from 2011 with 577,000 copies sold, at last count.
I understand you are aware of this concern and specifically addressed it as Saving Country Music and others had asked you to do. And though your statement does help us in establishing both that the Academy of Country Music is aware of this issue, and what the official stance on this issue is by you as the President of the ACM, unfortunately it doesn’t go any further in resolving it.
You told Music Row Magazine, “This decision is in line with our criteria, and the Boardās right to be flexible in our efforts to be inclusive vs. exclusive of a young artist who has had budding success.” But unfortunately, with all due respect, the decision is not in line with your criteria, and though the decision might be inclusive of Justin Moore, it is exclusive of other artists who are indeed eligible under the Academy of Country Music’s eligibility rules that were drafted by the ACM itself.
As for “the Board’s right to be flexible,” I presume you’re referencing the provision in the voting guidelines that states, “The criteria and voting procedures are set forth by the ACM Board of Directors in accordance with the bylaws, and may be amended from time to time as the Board deems appropriate in the best interest of Country music.” However this rule only grants the Board the ability to amend the rules, not break the rules. As Saving Country Music and others have stated throughout the transpiration of this eligibility matter, the Academy of Country Music has every right to amend their own rules, and I and others have encouraged the Academy of Country Music to do so if it sees an issue with the stated criteria for the New Artist of the Year category.
But no such rules changes have been implemented. Furthermore, the Board of Directors for the Academy of Country Music set the precedent for amending rules before announcing nominees in 2009 when the amount of copies an artist must sell to be eligible for the Album of the Year category was reduced to 300,000 so that Jamey Johnsonās critically-acclaimed album That Lonesome Song could be included in the nominations. More importantly, the ACMās also delayed the announcement of the Album of the Year nominees in 2009 while you and the Board of Directors finalized the rule change, making sure you did not violate your own rules by announcing their nominees too early.
What’s even more concerning in regards to precedent is the one that will be set if the Academy of Country Music Board of Directors unilaterally breaks its established rules instead of amending them, which will happen if the Justin Moore nomination is etched in stone by not resolving it before the awards ceremony on April 6th. Even worse could be the precedent if Justin Moore wins.
What bestows the honor behind the Academy of Country Music trophy is the prestige the ACM has built into the awards over its 49 years of history. The rules behind the awards are the very foundation of the institution and of the awards themselves; they are the framework from which the ceremonious credence in an otherwise inert trophy is bestowed, regularly bringing recipients to tears upon receiving it.
But all of this can be called into question, and the weight with which the awards are regarded diminished if the rules are ignored. And this issue is not just about one specific nominee or recipient in one given year. If the rules are disregarded, that decision could become effusive, and impinge on the integrity of the awards in their entirety, including awards given out in the past and future. Murmurs of block voting and label impropriety have swirled around the ACM Awards for years, and not just from spurious sources and industry gadflies such as myself, but long-term, trusted journalists like radio personality Jimmy Carter, and previous recipients of ACM Awards themselves.
And beyond the rules specifically, Justin Moore, in my opinion and in the opinion of many others, does not pass the ‘eyeball test’ as a ‘New Artist’. If he did, and it was the rules that seemed to be either unfair or non useful, instead of the clear action of breaking of them, then maybe some consensus could build behind making an exception. Ironically, if there is any consensus between the ACM Board, and many of the voices of concern for the rules oversight, it is that Justin Moore, with his clear commercial success, probably does deserve some sort of distinction from the Academy of Country Music in 2014. But it shouldn’t come at the sacrifice of a clear and transparent rules regime put in place to make sure nothing unethical transpires in the process, or the spirit of the ‘New Artist’ award of giving a hand up to a new artist instead of locking one out by including an established artist, which the inclusion of Justin Moore ostensibly does.
Furthermore, with the financial windfall an artist receives for being nominated or winning an Academy of Country Music Award, and the rules oversight in this particular case being both obvious and unprecedented, I think it is fair to ask if there wouldn’t be any legitimate legal grievances by the parties that were replaced by Justin Moore’s illegitimate inclusion in the New Artist category, and/or his potential win of the award.
And so, with nothing but the ACM Awards’ best interests in mind, I plead with the Academy of Country Music to second guess your nomination of Justin Moore for New Artist of the Year. How you wish to resolve the matter specifically is not my place to say. Whether you disqualify Justin, amend the rules in a way that somehow resolves why the amendment wasn’t made before the nominations were announced, or make some other distinction for Justin Moore to be eligible for, something must be done. And if nothing is done, then I and others, as is our journalistic duty, must call into question the legitimacy of the awards themselves.
The ACM Awards have gone 49 years without allowing their rules to be violated. Let’s try to make it 50.
Kyle “Trigger” Coroneos
Former Hootie & The Blowfish frontman turned country artist Darius Rucker was on sports personality Dan Patrick’s radio show Tuesday (3-4), and had some interesting things to say about who the new torch bearers are for country music’s Outlaw legacy. Outlaw artists like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, David Allan Coe, and Johnny Paycheck shook up the country music world in the mid 70′s by re-instituting a harder country sound and taking back control of their music, and now according to Darius Rucker and Dan Patrick, the new Willie and Waylon is Luke Bryan and Eric Church.
The Darius Rucker interview starts out with Dan Patrick giving some playful ribs to Rucker about his lack of country music bad boy credentials. “I mentioned at the end of last hour that, you know, Luke Bryan’s the new bad boy, and Eric Church is the new bad boy in country,” said Patrick. “Darius Rucker can’t be a bad boy ’cause he was the lead singer of Hootie & The Blowfish. Right? No matter what …. How can you be a bad boy? You know you can’t be Tim [McGraw], you can’t be Hank Williams. You know, you were Hootie & The Blowfish.”
“That’s funny but true,” Rucker responds, laughing. “You’re absolutely right. I’m always going to be country lite, there’s nothing I can do about that … Brad [Paisley]‘s not a bad boy. Rascal Flatts, they’re not bad boys. Not everyone can be a bad boy. You know, that’s cool.”
Then Dan Patrick asks, “But there’s so much money in country now that can you be a bad boy and be crazy like Waylon and Willie used to be?”
“Yeah man, we’ve still got those guys,” Rucker says. “You know, Jamey Johnson, he’s a bad boy that’s for sure, and he’s doing well. You know, like you said Luke and Eric, Eric’s probably the closest we got to Waylon & Willie I think.”
This was not the first time Darius Rucker has made interesting statements on the Dan Patrick Show. In November of 2013, Darius said on the show that he thought he deserved a Grammy nomination for his cover of the Old Crow Medicine Show / Bob Dylan song “Wagon Wheel” or quote “country music’s screwed.” Dan Patrick and Darius Rucker are good friends, going back to the time when Darius was winning Grammy Awards with Hootie & The Blowfish.
You can see the entire interview below.
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On February 5th, Saving Country Music posted an article detailing why Valory Music Group artist Justin Moore should be disqualified from the ACM Award’s “New Artist of the Year” category for which he is nominated along with seven others. Stipulated clearly in the Academy of Country Music’s rules, artists who’ve sold over 500,000 copies of any previously-released album are not eligible for the “new artist” award. Justin Moore has two such albums: Justin Moore from 2009 with 550,000 copies sold, and Outlaws Like Me from 2011 with 577,000 copies sold.
Saving Country Music was first tipped to this oversight of the rules by Windmills Country on Twitter, who on February 5th appeared on Connecticut Country 92.5′s “Electric Barnyard” radio show to discuss the rules oversight. What happened next was an acknowledgement by Justin Moore’s label Valory Music—an imprint of Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Records—of the apparent rules violation, and apparently an effort to suppress that information. This leads to further questions of why the Academy of Country Music continues to not address this issue, and other potential improprieties clouding the ACM nomination process.
After Country 92.5 posted the audio of Windmills Country’s appearance on the station’s website, they were contacted by The Valory Music Group and asked to take the audio down as can be seen in this Twitter thread.
So the next question is, “Why?”
Accusations of block voting, vote swapping, and other behind-the-scenes gaming of the Academy of Country Music nomination and voting process have been around for years. In 2011, country radio personality Jimmy Carter spoke specifically on how labels decide which artists they want to push through the ACM’s, saying:
Itās crazy political. . . You have to just say, āOK, these awards are what they are. Theyāre bragging rights, theyāre an infomercial for the record label.ā And like I was told off the record yesterdayā¦that Miranda Lambert got all those nominations because the record label had to decide. Are they going with Carrie Underwood this year, or Miranda Lambert? Both are on the same label. They figured it would help Miranda more than it would help the career of Carrie Underwood.
Once again Miranda Lambert leads the 2014 ACM nominations with seven, despite not having released an album in over 2 years. But the Justin Moore eligibility issue specifically might be the first time a label and/or the Academy of Country Music have been caught red-handed showing favoritism to a particular artist; the first concrete evidence of impropriety in the nomination and voting process of one of the industry’s biggest awards.
Valory Music and the ACM’s may hope that this issue just blows over, but the removal of the Windmills Country audio has arguably exacerbated it, and fed the suspicion some country fans have surrounding the awards process. If there is an explanation for the discrepancy between Justin Moore’s eligibility and his nomination, the fans of country music have yet to hear it. And if there is no explanation, the Academy of Country Music and its label partners are allowing the legitimacy of these awards to be called into question.
The eligibility rules for the awards are written by the Academy of Country Music, and there’s no reason they cannot change them if they see fit. If the ACM wanted to nominate Justin Moore for the 2014 awards cycle, they could have written out the 500,000 copy provision, or increased the amount of copies in the rule for Justin Moore to maintain his eligibility. Furthermore, the Academy of Country Music has a history of doing this very thing. In 2009, the ACM’s reduced the amount of copies an artist must sell to be eligible for the Album of the Year category to 300,000. The reason for this was so that Jamey Johnson’s critically-acclaimed album That Lonesome Song could be included in the nominees. More importantly, the ACM’s also delayed the announcement of the Album of the Year nominees that year while they finalized the rule change, making sure they did not violate their own rules by announcing their nominees too early.
Out of the respective entities in this issue, Justin Moore might be the least culpable. As he said in November of last year, his exclusion from award shows up until this nomination, including not being asked as a performer or even a presenter, has been quite curious when compared to his overall commercial impact in the genre.Ā At the same time, his exclusion speaks to the collusive nature of country music’s top awards, and the narrow cast of names country’s awards continually draw from.
As unfair as it might be that Justin Moore has been excluded from the awards show process, as Windmills Country points out in their own article on the subject, it is even more unfair to the truly “new” artists that got excluded from this year’s nominee list because of the inclusion of established artists like Justin Moore and Lee Brice. The issue is especially exacerbated because of all the concern with country music’s inability to develop new female talent. Only one female artist, Kacey Musgraves, is included in the category, as the lack of female representation in country music has been making major periodical headlines left and right.
If the Academy of Country Music wants to keep a level of integrity around their awards and the process of determining nominees and winners, this Justin Moore eligibility issue must be addressed in a public manner. If there is an explanation, if a rule change needs to be made, then make it. Until then, it is fair, if not imperative on the country music community to question the legitimacy of the ACM’s nomination and voting process, and thus, the awards themselves.
Slain Outlaw country music artist Wayne Mills will be remembered in a new exhibit at The Hank Williams Museum in Montgomery, Alabama called “Alabama Outlaws” to be unveiled in special ceremony on Sunday, February 9th, 2014. The ceremony is free and open to the public, and will transpire between 1 PM and 4 PM. It will be attended by Wayne’s widow, Carol Mills, and his young son Jack.
The exhibit will feature many personal items from Wayne Mills, including Wayne’s signature hat, his cowboy boots, and his Alabama football jersey. Mills was from the small town of Arab in northern Alabama, and aside from being a noted musician and performer, played football for the University of Alabama.
The artifacts to be put on display at the Hank Williams Museum were personally collected from the stage display at Wayne’s funeral on December 8th, 2013 by another Alabama country music artist, Jamey Johnson. The Montgomery native personally delivered the items to the Hank Williams museum, and the performer has also offered space in his display at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville to showcase Wayne’s legacy. Wayne Mills and Jamey Johnson were close friends, and had played shows together the week of Wayne’s killing.
Wayne Mills was gunned down on November 23rd, 2013 at the Pit & Barrel bar in Nashville while attending an after hours gathering. Chris Ferrell—the owner of the Pit & Barrel—faces 2nd Degree Murder charges in the case. The 44-year-old singer and songwriter was once a mentor to Jamey Johnson, as well as to CMA Entertainer of the Year Blake Shelton, and American Idol winner Taylor Hicks, and had over 15-plus years of touring experience. Mills received the Guardian Award from the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame a month before his death to recognize his āhard work and unwavering commitment to their music and their fans and best exemplify the tradition of those who came before.ā
On March 2nd, The Outlaw Music Association will be holding a Wayne Mills Benefit at The Limelight in Nashville.
Aaron Lewis may know a little something about what country isn’t. He spent the first 16 years of his music career as the emotionally-distraught and misanthropic frontman of the alternative rock band Staind before deciding in 2010 to record a “country” EP. The project was released in 2011, and included the single “Country Boy” that despite the participation of George Jones and Charlie Daniels, still felt like what Aaron Lewis had been doing with his acoustic shows for over a decade, except for trying to brow beat the listener into buying into how country he was.
2012 saw the release of Aaron’s second single, “Endless Summer,” which along with other misdeeds, name dropped Jason Aldean of all people. It was looking like Lewis was falling right in line with the procession of other country music outsiders fleeing to the country genre in the twilight of their careers to find commercial strength. But when his full-length album The Road was released in late 2012, it was actually a pleasant surprise to hear just how country and non-commercial it was.
While talking to The Marion Star in Ohio ahead of an upcoming show, Aaron decided to let his disdain for the direction of country music be known.
“I think thereās enough beer on the beach, partying on the tailgate, driving around in a pickup truck, moonshine songs,” Lewis said. “I think that everything has been pretty well beaten to death. And Iāll opt for my usual … making sure the song has emotion and feeling and means something… I donāt know what it is that country radio is playing these days. Iām really not quite sure. Thereās a song out right now thatās a big single for a big act, and at the very end of the song you can hear a banjo come up in the mix for four measures. And youāre like, ‘Oh, thereās the country aspect of it. Now I get it.’ But that is not country music, Iām sorry.”
Lewis also says he doesn’t like to be lumped in with Kenny Chesney when he mentions he plays country.
“Itās funny because people hear Aaron Lewis and country they often think Kenny Chesney when they should have thoughts of Jamey Johnson and David Allen Coe. Itās country like Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, George Jones and Johnny Cash … I almost even like the fact that Iām having all of this success without the machine really embracing me. And Iām not sure that it would have been as valuable to me as an artist to have the very first song I ever delivered to country go straight to the top of the charts and never have to work for it, so I never had to start out in the honky-tonks and where it should start. And man, Iāve sold out every honky-tonk place in the last few years and itās where it should start. I believe in building a foundation and then building your house on top of that.”
Maybe Aaron is bitter because the country industry didn’t embrace him, or maybe he’s come around to the side of dissent for other reasons. But despite where Aaron Lewis and country music began or where it eventually may be going, at the moment he seems to be making the effort to understand that making country music means embracing more than just the name.
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