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Okay look. Let’s establish something here right off the bat. Brad Paisley is the best guitar player in country music right now, hands down. He’s a cunning, brilliant lyricist, and a funny, creative guy and a naturally entertaining character who has put together a great country music career from his universal likeability that extends beyond the lemmings of the mainstream country format to reach many traditional and independent country fans.
But Brad Paisley is bored. And he’s been bored with country music for years now. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t love country. Brad is the savant of country music, but like the gifted kid in elementary school who when not challenged begins to lose focus or even lash out, Brad has fallen deeper into joke songs and gimmickry to keep himself engaged with country as time has gone by. He’s been boxed in by the rigid borders of the mainstream format. That’s not to say that “Accidental Racist” is a joke song. It is far from it except for the title. But aside from the obvious country rap arguments or the social commentary this song has already stimulated, this is Brad Paisley trying to keep his own music world interesting–a world where he’s mastered his instrument, won a CMA for Entertainer of the Year, and amassed as much wealth as any one man could need.
Listen to me. I don’t care what the intentions of this song are. And I’ll give you that some of its lines are well-written, including some of LL Cool J’s rapping parts. And I’m not just saying that as a positioning point. Lines like “Caught between Southern pride, and Southern blame” are hard not to feel. Brad does somewhat of a good job painting the dichotomy of the Southern experience, and the struggles and frustrations it embodies. But instead of mending wounds, “Accidental Racist” picks at scabs. And no, this is not a music opinion, this is simply an observation based on the reaction to this song that I’ve seen from various country fans and hip hop fans of many stripes and from many locales.
Because despite the optimism this song attempts to convey, “Accidental Racist” also conveys a level of judgementalism and reaffirmation of stereotypes that many people don’t appreciate. It seems to imply that if you’re a white man from The South, you have to work at not being racist. Just like if you’re a black Yankee, you have to work at not judging white Southerners. Even the title “Accidental Racist” comes across as an accusation. The term implies that you’re racist simply for being white and being born in the South. What an irresponsible accusation. And whatever happened to the idea of ignoring skin color? I thought that was the way we would end racism.
“Accidental Racist” is outside of what is relevant in music right now. Sappy racism songs went out of vogue in the 90′s. And it’s an oversimplification of the issue. Race in the United States is in a very fluid state at the moment. We have a black President. One of the largest concentrations of black Americans is in the South. If you’re white and living in Texas, you’re a minority. This is not 1991, and we’re not living in the shadow of the Rodney King trial. It doesn’t mean racism is dead, but in no way does it help to revert back to old platitudes and plays for emotionalism.
And frankly, I’m not sure I fully trust the intentions of this song. Why the gimmicky title if this is supposed to be such a ballad of complexity? Are we really trying to solve racism, or are we making a big splash to get people talking? And am I feeding this beast myself by writing these very words?
“Accidental Racist” is not just a country rap mix with controversial themes, this song is a play for an emotional reaction from the listener. Like Brad himself says in his song “This is Country Music,” “You’re not supposed to say the word Cancer in a song. But this is country music and we do.” And why does mainstream country music mention Cancer, children dying, troops dying, patriotic anthems, and other generic themes of emotional grandstanding? Because they’re easy, shallow tools to evoke an emotional response from the unguarded listener. They are the lyrical equivalent of the droning, catchy hip-hop dance club beat that can also be found in “Accidental Racist.” They are an easy, shameless, and shallow way to grab the attention of the teeming masses and their money.
And then we get to the whole country rap thing. After Jason Aldean’s huge country rap hit “Dirt Road Anthem” in 2011, 2012 was virtually void of country rap in the mainstream, and it seemed like it had been relegated to a small underground subset of country. But here in 2013 it has come roaring back to where you can now make the case it is the most dominant influence for male country music stars: Jason Aldean, Tim McGraw, Blake Shelton, and now even Brad Paisley–the last name on the tip of many traditional country fan’s tongues when they were asked to offer up a male radio star they could still respect. And “Accidental Racist” has done something no other country rap has done up to this point, not “Dirt Road Anthem,” not “1994;” it has awakened the ire of the hip hop community as well. Outside of country, this is the world’s first real interfacing with country rap, and as could be expected, they are appalled.
The way “Accidental Racist” is constructed, if you oppose it, then you’re a racist. This is the same accusation if you oppose any country rap. It also means you don’t want country music to progress, regardless of your true intentions, or how bad the song is you’re criticizing. “Accidental Racist” takes this dynamic to a whole new level. Brad Paisley wanted to make a country rap, and possibly to shield himself from criticism he added a theme tackling racism directly. But instead of shielding this song, the racism thread is where it went wrong. If Brad Paisley wanted a country rap hit, he should have just cut one. The walls separating country and rap have already been torn down, and he would just be keeping up with his mainstream country music brethren.
Do I think deep down in Brad Paisley’s heart he sees this all as marketing and that he doesn’t care about the whole racist theme at all? No, no I don’t. Anyone who tells you there’s no depth or wit in the lyricism is not listening to this song, or is too hung up with the whole mixing of country and rap to give it a real chance. I think in the genesis of this song was the heart of a good intention. But as the saying goes, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and it’s down that road that “Accidental Racist” steers country music, while having no effect on race relations in America.
1 3/4 of 2 guns down.
Just when we thought the American public was finally getting wise to the fact that country rap is a Cancer of Western Civilization, needing to be cut out and radiated like the grapefruit-sized, puss-filled tumor it is, here it comes roaring back like a raging case of bleeding hemorrhoids.
Blake Shelton’s “Boys ‘Round Here” is songwriting by algorithm and analytics, fashioning together words and sounds known to have the widest impact on mainstream radio’s weak-of-mind demo. The “boys” in the title of “Boys ‘Round Here” is fitting, because this song is rank immaturity. It’s the audio equivalent of sneaking out of your mom’s house to smoke pot behind a Pizza Hut.
This song starts off by violating your ear holes with the most horrid, chicken scratching “Red! Red! Red! Red!” sounds that Blake must have directly sampled from the soundtrack Satan himself uses to torture the souls stuck in eternal damnation. Instead of being rhythmic and catchy, the machine-gunning “Red! Red! Red!” bursts come at your face like a flying cocktail of nail and glass shrapnel from an improvised car bomb–like the nerve grating ticks of a touretts sufferer compounded by the onset of the mother of all Grand Mal seizures. Come on Blake, spit it out! Or for God’s sake someone shove a wallet in his mouth before he chokes on his own tongue.
You think I’m being harsh? Just listen…
Then the soul-less electronic 1′s and 0′s of a hip-hop beat kick in as the aggressively-cliche lyrics begin to flow from Blake’s brazenly overly-effected put-on Southern drawl. “The boys ’round here. Drinking ice cold beer. Talkin’ ’bout girls, talkin’ ’bout trucks. Runnin’ them red dirt roads out kickin’ up dust.” Are you shitting me with these lyrics? This stuff was cliche back when Charlie Sheen was having his public meltdown. Is this song the “leadership” from our Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year? Because I’d rather shit a knife than listen to this.
Oh, and it gets worse. “Backwoods legit, don’t take no shit. Chew tobacco, chew tobacco, chew tobacco, spit!” For those of you that don’t speak country rap, that roughly translates to, “Please Nashville, let me remain relevant despite virtually ignoring music for a career in reality TV!”
As much creativity went into making this song as does the making of a geriatrics’s bombed out adult diaper in the aftermath of a post-constipation bowel explosion. Oh, and the Pistol Annies are on this thing too? Well great. Screw me for hoping they had the heart to help return mainstream country to some semblance of substance, and here they are acting like the Staple Sisters for country music’s version of Satan.
And I seriously was a gnat’s eyelash away from praising Blake for finally fulfilling his Grand Ole Opry obligations a few weekends back and playing some free shows for his fans last week, including apparently some sets of classic country. But with this song we see that he was probably just attempting to preemptively curb criticism.
When Blake Shelton made his “old farts and jackasses” comments now some two months ago, I went out of my way to distinguish him artistically from the lowest rung of Music Row’s male talent like Brantley Gilbert, Jason Aldean, and Florida-Georgia. But after this song and his last single “Sure Be Cool If You Did,” Blake has dramatically lowered his standards to the level of a sub-par, genre-bending, trend-chasing, country-rapping, tasteless and directionless douche that’s no different than the other names on the tip of our tongues when asked who in Nashville is the absolute worst. It truly is a shame, because unlike Florida-Georgia Line or Brantley Gilbert, Blake Shelton is truly better than this.
Two guns way down!
I know a lot of folks are going to roll up on this review hoping to see a crime scene unfold, hoping that I show no mercy and draw blood on this embarrassment of American country music. But the truth is, I don’t have much to say about it. I’ve got no dry powder here. What could be said that hasn’t been said many times before to the point of being redundant, or that isn’t obvious to the clear-minded listener? And the truth is this song is bad, but it’s not awful. There’s nothing really offensive here. It’s more par for the course for today’s country music. It’s this, or Taylor Swift. That is what passes for variety for mainstream country music fans these days.
“The Only Way I Know” is the self-coronation of Jason Aldean, Eric Church, and Luke Bryan as the new male country music superstar triumvirate. Not entirely off base considering popularity, influence, and commercial success (though Blake Shelton might have something to say about that), this songs and these artists are a fairly spot-on illustration of where corporate country music is today. It’s hard to think that Jason Aldean could loosen his standards any more, but that’s the way his decision feels to include Luke Bryan in this collaboration. Meanwhile what happened to Eric Church being an Outlaw and a rebel? Wasn’t it folks like Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan he was calling out in his song “Lotta Boot Left To Fill?”
Get-ups, gimmicks… Pretty boys acting tough… And if it looks good on TV. It’ll look good on a CD. Shape it up, trim it down. Who gives a damn ’bout how it sounds? You say you’re the real deal. But you play what nobody feels.
Yep, pretty much sounds like what we’ve got here.
Some have been accusing this of being a country rap song. I’m inclined to respectfully disagree. The verses feature talking and not singing, but they don’t feature the type of cadence that usually connotes rap. As I’ve pointed out before, spoken word and rap are not always the same. You also don’t hear the same hip-hop references to things like booming speakers, or the Ebonic/urban jargon or purposeful mis-speaking like in Tim McGraw’s “Truck Yeah,” Blake Shelton’s “Sure Be Cool If You Did,” or Florida-Georgia Line’s “Cruise.” This song is simply the generic arena rock approach to popular country music that happens to include speaking parts, possibly to benefit from the popularity of the country rap trend, but technically not part of it.
It’s not really a typical “laundry list” country song either, where countryisms are rattled off like rounds from a Howitzer. It has some of those elements, and make no mistake, the lyric “full throttle” is no less cliché these days than “pickup trucks” and “ice cold beer.”
Some critics have tried to glean a message from this song and Jason Aldean’s music as a whole, but they’re missing the point. Aldean isn’t trying to say anything here, he’s simply trying to release a song that will be commercially successful. It happens to be that the message of the song itself is a pretty straightforward story of people from the country working hard and pushing themselves. Aldean doesn’t deserve praise for this because he didn’t write the song. Nonetheless, the lyrics are not terrible.
Jason Aldean has been successful enough now that he doesn’t have to chase the trends, the trends chase him. He’s been making the same generic arena rock and calling it country for many years now, and just happens to find himself as the beneficiary of the flight from substance in popular country music. He’s a shallow man, and this appeals to a shallow world. But “The Only Way I Know” is not Jason Aldean’s worst, nor is it country’s.
1 1/2 of 2 guns down.
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Since music no longer holds any intrinsic value to the American consumer and they’d rather steal a song than have it be sold to them for less than a pack of gum, merch, MERCH is where all the money is now. Major labels manufacture merch in the textile industry’s version of puppy mills somewhere in southeast Asia, and then mark it up 700% at the arena concert you paid $185 from a scalper to get into. You can expect pilling fabric and peeling graphics after the 3rd wash, but that’s okay because 7 cents of each sale goes to the artist you love.
Here’s some country music T Shirts you won’t see for sale anytime soon.
If you’ve found you’re eyeballs affixed to these very words, you’ve likely found yourself at some point trying to explain that you like country, but not that type of country. Once certain artists get to the very top of country pop, they seem to lose all self-awareness and begin to make fools of themselves, and by proxy, the genre that holds the same name as the music we love. It never ceases that when quotation mark “country” takes center stage, true country fans get embarrassed. He are some of the worst offenses.
Ironically, KISS is still the most country band on the stage. And where is that one dude’s hand? (with Lady Antebellum at the 2012 ACM Awards).
Don’t panic folks! No endangered cheetah’s were injured in the making of Shania’s outfit, just the integrity of country music!
A hip-hop artist rapping with Jason Aldean at the 2011 CMT Awards? That’s Ludacris! (hardy har, har!!)
Nothing says country like suspending yourself over a stadium of 70,000 people. Eat your heart out Sandy Duncan! (Garth at Texas Stadium circa 1993).
Just take a moment to sit back and really contemplate what the dude on the left is wearing. (Taylor Swift)
Does it really matter if Tim McGraw was trying to be funny or serious? (for the launching of “McGraw” cologne)
I have no idea what is going on here, or what is supposed to be going on. And frankly, I’m not sure I want to know. (Sugarland)
Yeah, there were no warning signs before Blake Shelton’s recent quotes. None!
Jimbo Mathus has the authenticity that every other music artist covets. They root through vintage shops in their city’s hipstertown trying to score vintage duds. They spend egregious amounts of money on antique music gear, fiddling with knobs and pedals trying to evoke that right tone. They strike their poses on stage and sing from the gut. And still Jimbo Mathus is cooler and more authentic when he first wakes up in the morning with his hair a mess, standing on an old unswept linoleum floor in his stained paisley boxers, rubbing the eye boogers off his face.
Nothing rivals authenticity, and by definition, nothing can simulate it. Only Jimbo Mathus, whose bones were cast in the mud of Oxford, Mississippi can make authenticity look so effortless, while at his core being a helpless music geek with a fake front tooth and wiry frame wanting to be heard.
Possibly known best as the front man for the legendarily-eclectic Squirrel Nut Zippers, he holds his own against the Brian Setzers and Wayne “The Train” Hancocks of the world when it comes to resurrecting vintage American sounds and presenting them to the present-day ear. Yet with the on again, off again nature of the Zippers, and Jimbo’s propensity to move from blues, to country, to rock as smoothly as a Navy Seal deftly slipping from air, to sea, to land through a theater of battle, Jimbo keeps from being pigeon-holed as the “king” of anything by being and adept at everything. He’s more of a witches brew of influences, where black meets white, country meets blues, and roots meets rock. Mix it all together with some toil and trouble, and the result is a concoction of some mean, potent shit straight out of the filthy American South.
With White Buffalo, Jimbo Mathus captures more sweat in the recording than anything this side of Sticky Fingers. His previous album Confederate Buddha had some remarkable tracks, but like the contrasting characters of its title, the album at times felt like it was searching for its narrative. With White Buffalo, Jimbo and the Tri-State Coalition struck a cohesion that allowed the songs, the players, and the album to be so well-blended, like the edges of all the autonomous parts were melted together until there was no beginning or end. The album not only captures the live sound in the recordings, the recordings sounds alive.
White Buffalo is a journey through the South. And no, not in Jason Aldean’s king cab with air conditioning and buckets seats, but in an old beater with panty hose and coat hangers procured for spare parts. With song titles like “Hatchie Bottom” and “Fake Hex,” you know you’re in for an interesting trip, and you’re glad to have a local as your guide.
The song themes are eternal, and Jimbo’s blue collar approach to songwriting and composition is absorbing. “Hatchie Bottom” speaks about the warmth of home. “In The Garden” and the witchey “Run Devil Run” are infused with the Southern theme of sin. “Tennessee Walker Mare” works like an answer to Jimmie Driftwood’s “Tennessee Stud” covered by so many country greats over the years.
And don’t ask me what is going on in the careening “White Buffalo.” It plays out like the soundtrack to a high speed car case involving a candy apple blue El Camino with bullet holes in the door and a half-naked Catherine Bach stretched out across the bench seat, but apparently it’s about an actual white buffalo named Tukota that lived near Tupelo. As Jimbo explains, he doesn’t have to go too far from home to find compelling themes for his songs.
Jimbo Mathus came up as a neo-traditionalist when grunge was all the rage. Now that roots are all the range, he comes across as a bluesy Southern rocker. In between he’s rubbed elbows and collaborated with Buddy Guy, and the North Mississippi All Stars. In the end it’s not a genre that defines him, but the state of Mississippi, yet his music is a treasure the whole world can appreciate.
Two guns up.
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The Mono-Genre Theory in short states that all popular music is coalescing into one big genre where influences and styles from country, rap, rock, blues etc. coexist without any true lines defining their differences. As the mono-genre forms, micro-genres pop up, and the popularity of independent music rises as disenfranchised consumers seek out choice. The good thing about the formation of the mono-genre is the breakdown of musical prejudices. The bad thing is the death of contrast and diversity in popular music, a lack of choice, and the bleeding of regional influence out of popular music.
In recent years when the end-of-year sales numbers are released by Nielsen Soundscan, it has revealed evidence of this mono-genre coagulation. 2012 was no different. NPR even got in on the game, calling 2012 The Return of the “Monoculture.” Every genre except for the two super-genres of rock and country saw sales decreases in 2012.
- Alternative – down 4.3%
- Christian/Gospel – down 3.4%
- Classical – down 20.5%
- Dance/Electronic – down 12.0%
- Jazz – down 26.2%
- Latin – down 17.6%
- Metal – down 0.3%
- New Age – down 12.9%
- R&B – down 10.2%
- Rap – down 11.4%
- Soundtracks – down 5.2%
Rock sales were up 2%, and country sales were up 4.2%.
With all these declining numbers, it may seem like the music industry is still in the tailspin that plagued it in music’s lost decade of the 2000′s, but overall music sales were only down a very moderate 1.8% in 2012. 2011 will go down as the year the music industry finally righted the ship and stabilized from the fluidity the move to digitization caused. 2012 may go down as the year that a lack of substance stalled this upward trend.
(chart from Glorious Noise)
Rock has always been the most dominant American genre in regards to sales because it is America’s “catch-all” term for music. But as time goes on, country is acquiring some “catch-all” attributes as well, accounting for sales from artists that sonically are much more akin to mainstream arena rock than country. Meanwhile looking into the sales numbers for rock, many bands at the very top could just as well be called country, and are considered country, Americana, or “roots” by many fans and industry types. Babel by Mumford & Sons was 2012′s 4th best-selling album and artist, with 1,463,000 units sold. Sales by other Americana artists like The Avett Brothers and The Lumineers also accounted for rock sales despite their heavy roots influence.
Within the mono-genre theory is the idea that aside from rock, the two most dominant sonic influences in its formation would be country and rap. However rap sales were significantly down in 2012, bucking the trend of being one of the few areas of strength during music’s decade-long decline. Similarly, unlike 2011 when Jason Aldean’s country-rap “Dirt Road Anthem” was the best-selling single in all of country, 2012 did not see either a dominant country-rap single, album, or artist. Rap is still asserting itself as an influence in country, but may not be finding the commercial strength it needs to stick. 2012 mono-genre songs like Tim McGraw’s “Truck Yeah” underperformed to expectations, never cracking Billboard’s Top 10 on the country chart.
Meanwhile country dominated the top tiles and artists for 2012, with Taylor Swift coming in as the 2nd-highest selling album and artist, and Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Lionel Richie, and Carrie Underwood all securing top 10 spots; the first time country has accounted for 5 of the top 10 spots in the history of SoundScan tracking. It’s also worth noting that Taylor Swift’s blockbuster Red was only given 10 weeks at the end of 2012 to tally up sales for the genre.
|2012 Top Ten Selling Albums||2012 Top Ten Selling Artists|
(Combines All Album Sales)
|Title/Artist||Units Sold||Artist||Units Sold|
|1||21 / ADELE||4,414,000||1||ADELE||5,167,000|
|2||RED / TAYLOR SWIFT||3,107,000||2||TAYLOR SWIFT||4,062,000|
|3||UP ALL NIGHT / ONE DIRECTION||1,616,000||3||ONE DIRECTION||2,978,000|
|4||BABEL / MUMFORD & SONS||1,463,000||4||MUMFORD & SONS||2,149,000|
|5||TAKE ME HOME / ONE DIRECTION||1,340,000||5||JUSTIN BIEBER||1,897,000|
|6||BELIEVE / JUSTIN BIEBER||1,324,000||6||JASON ALDEAN||1,855,000|
|7||BLOWN AWAY / CARRIE UNDERWOOD||1,203,000||7||WHITNEY HOUSTON||1,789,000|
|8||TAILGATES & TANLINES / LUKE BRYAN||1,105,000||8||MAROON 5||1,540,000|
|9||TUSKEGEE / LIONEL RICHIE||1,071,000||9||CARRIE UNDERWOOD||1,497,000|
|10||NIGHT TRAIN / JASON ALDEAN||1,024,000||10||LUKE BRYAN||1,432,000|
Once again the sales numbers hint that the mainstream music public seems to be yearning for substance. While super hits like Goyte’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” and Psy’s “Gangnam Style” dominated the download numbers, Adele’s 21 was the best-selling album in 2012. That’s right, an album that was released in February of 2011, and was 2011′s best-selling album, retains its crown in 2012 as the industry continues to labor to find legitimate titles and artists that can deliver both substance and commercial viability.
Of course physical sales were down once again, with CD sales declining 13%. But vinyl continued its upswing, accounting for 4.6 million in sales, breaking the previous record of 3.9 million in 2011. Even more interesting, 67% of that vinyl was purchased at independent music stores. These numbers parallel the point that the mono-genre’s formation will cause a flight to independent music by independently-minded consumers seeing choice.
Looking from a broad perspective, the 2012 music sales numbers continue to corroborate the theory of the formation of a mono-genre, with the one important addendum being the possible decline of the rap influence, and the rising dominance of the country and roots influence; a trend that promises to be carried in part into 2013 by the continued commercial success of Taylor Swift’s Red.
Yes, Aaron Lewis, the ultra-emotional singer from Staind that done “gone country” a couple of years back has a new album called The Road, and I have to say, this was not nearly as bad as I was expecting.
Aaron Lewis busted onto the country scene like a ruptured colostomy bag with his gawd awful single “Country Boy” late in 2010. Going back and reading my review, I wasn’t impressed. Then last Spring Lewis released the lead single from The Road called “Endless Summer” that wasn’t much better, name dropping Jason Aldean among other atrocities.
So I wasn’t giving The Road much of a chance until my inbox began to fill with messages from folks swearing this album had something. So reluctantly, like a dog contritely contemplating its own fresh vomit, I gave it a timid sniff. Next thing I knew my nose was buried deep in The Road.
Fundamentally, this album suffers from similar issues as Arron’s first two singles. As a country music outsider, Lewis seems to rely too much on songwriting formulas, and tends to get political on your ass in a way that comes across as pandering to demographics instead of a byproduct of sincere songwriting. But beyond those transgressions, and the “Endless Summer” single that’s clearly a play for radio attention, The Road is a hard country, steel guitar, half-time, waltz beat, honest-to-goodness honky tonk album with some surprisingly good moments.
I can’t believe I typed that last sentence, but it’s true. The Road sucks in the real country listener with the first two tracks “75″ and “The Road” that are just good, straightforward honky tonk road songs with no pretense, no transgressions, just simple music with an honest message. Then of course The Road hits a speed bump with the awful “Endless Summer,” but that song is so bad you can just write it off completely and move on.
An important thing to remember is just because a song is real country, doesn’t mean it is real good. Most of the songs on The Road are solidly real country from a sonic standpoint, but there are still some misses. “Red, White, and Blue” has a classic country sound, but it’s sullied by a really formulaic approach to the lyrics. They’re full of bravado about how poor his grandparents were and how he’s the offspring of people who fought in the military. But all you can think is that devoid of any true country or military cred himself, Lewis is attempting to supplant that cred from his ancestors.
In the end an otherwise well-crafted song is relegated to a braggadocios, glorified family portrait with Aaron looking like the one that broke the traditions instead of carrying them on. A similar feeling pervades “Granddaddy’s Gun,” that would be a very warm story about a family artifact if Arron didn’t use it to interject his political views.
Subtly of message is not a skill that Aaron Lewis possesses. “State Lines” also has some unhealthy, self-indulgent bravado as Lewis endeavors to write his own history instead of living it and writing compelling stories from it. That’s one of the differences between rock and country Aaron has yet to decipher, that bragging is for butt rock, while country is the format of aw-shucks. Ironically, his classic country style and sound make this discrepancy more obvious. If he was playing laundry list “new Outlaw” country pop, then he’d just be following the herd. Here, his novice approach to country lyricism is glaring in spots.
But its impressive in others, like “Lessons Learned” that despite name dropping Johnny Cash, displays a lot of depth in songcraft and vocal range. A past gripe about Lewis has been his droning monotone voice in both his country and Staind material. But I’ll be damned if The Road doesn’t give rise to Lewis showcasing some remarkable and refreshing vocal dexterity and range on a number of occasions. Something else refreshing about his voice is there’s no put-on Southern accent at all. At times the music and lyrics beg for it. But to Aaron’s credit, he abstains.
“Anywhere But Here” is another selection that shows curious, refreshing depth, though this is chased by “Party in Hell” that otherwise would be a fun, rocking end to the album if it wasn’t for the incessant name dropping in it. Waylon, Whitley, Haggard, “No Show”, Jimmy, Janis, and on and on.
Despite the forays into depth and the deep tie to the roots of the music in The Road, Arron Lewis proves he’s still green to the genre. From a broad view, it’s best put that it is a classic country album with mainstream country lyrics. But The Road also has something that is typically neglected in many modern albums: a theme. To have a universal thread to run along the backbone of the songs always makes an album greater than the sum of its parts, and Aaron employs this well in The Road.
I’m going to eek out a positive review here, meaning I don’t recommend this album, but if someone told me they loved it, I wouldn’t argue with them either. Worth a sniff maybe, but Aaron Lewis still has to grow as a lyricist if he seriously wants to be considered a true country artist. At the same time, kudos to him for the growth displayed on The Road. I’ve been hard on this dude over the years, and it’s good to see him at least make beginning motions in the right direction.
1 1/4 of 2 guns up.
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The term “douche bag” is a fairly recent construct of English slang that as time goes on seems to be trending towards being generally overused. To be a true douche bag you have to be completely devoid of the self-awareness of what an image-driven, shallow-minded dumbass you are being. If you had any doubt in your mind–if the positively awful, both misogynistic and metrosexually-stimulated songs from Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan hadn’t clued you in already–then this should leave no doubt in your mind that these two knuckleheads don’t just fit the term “douche bag,” they define it.
And it’s not just that they got matching tattoos, but that they were for the hunting-oriented “Buck Commander” product line they mutually endorse. Yes, they both simultaneously sold out by selling off square footage of their skin in a publicity ruse.
Nashville Gab first deduced that the two men had sent out matching tweets on Monday (12-17) depicting their inking escapade that according to the photos, had a voyeuristic troupe of cammo-clad fans watching on. Looks like Luke donned and camouflage scarf and makeup for the photo shoot too. I guess they were out of lipstick and eyeliner: his preferable war paint when he goes out “hunting.”
No word yet on the date or location of the wedding.
The Country Music Anti-Christ Scott Borchetta has decided to unleash a new wave of pestilence on the human eardrum, this time in the form of the glorified boy band Florida Georgia Line.
Originating from the Republic Nashville imprint of Big Machine Records, the duo consisting of Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley met while attending the Mike Curb College of Music at Nashville’s private and exclusive Belmont University. I know, right? Doesn’t get more country than that! Apparently they were both enrolled in the “How To Be A Upper Middle Class Douchebag But Pretend To Be A Country Boy And Filch Rednecks Out Of Their Hard Earned Money, 101″ class. They made eyes across the classroom, and afterwards discussed their mutual desire for world music domination over $175 haircuts, manscaping, and colonics. Next thing you know, Florida Georgia Line is born.
Florida Georgia Line is a horrible combination of Rascal Flatts pretty boy hyper-pop, and designer jeans Jason Aldean “backroad” laundry list bullshit. They are everything bad about quotation mark “country” in 2012 combined into one big stuffed crotch sandwich.
Punctuating how pathetic “Cruise” is, is the fact that these two dudes apparently don’t know how to use punctuation. The first line of the song goes, “Baby you a song,” instead of, “Baby you’re a song.” But what else can you expect when the title of their EP is It’z Just What We Do. Yes, it’s one of those albums, blurring the lines between Ebonics and idiocracy, produced by Joey Moi of Nickelback fame. I swear, sometimes these rants just write themselves.
Somebody should tell the Doogie Houser-looking Brian Kelley that if you want to play electric guitar, you actually have to PLUG IT IN. Actually strike that, we don’t want to hear this hack-ass Ken doll-looking douche nozzle struggling to finger the most basic chords. His best chance of locating a G-string is if it was riding up his bandmate Tyler Hubbard’s ass. Looks like Tyler Hubbard likes to rock the dog tags, but just because he wears dog tags and plays with his privates doesn’t mean he has any army cred.
Sorry for being rude Tyler and Brian, it’z just what I do.
“Cruise” is about cheap girls and expensive trucks, set to a straightforward rock song with the ever-present pop country dead giveaway: the token banjo. Tyler and Brian think they’re picking up all these chicks because of their pimped-out ride, but the truth is most of these sweet little fraulines haven’t said no to a man since puberty. And unfortunately that “lift kit” on their Chevy won’t raise their IQ’s out of the sub-par percentiles or increase the potential of their laughable, dwarfish manhoods brought on by more metabolics than Manny Ramirez gulped down during the steroid era. It also won’t make me overlook that Florida Georgia Line’s vocals have all the tell-tale earmarks of Auto-tune embellishment.
And what is this yellow shit they’re tossing around towards the end of the video? It’s never a good idea to wallow in anything yellow and powdery. Piles of raw pollen? Sulfur? Powdered eggs? Powdered AIDS? Hell screw it, let them play around in it and let’s hope it brings a demise to this awful, puss-filled abscess of American corporate culture.
This is the #2 song in country music for the 2nd straight week folks. We’ve got a lot of work to do.
Welcome to country music Florida Georgia Line.
Two guns down!
In early October, a 92-year-old retired engineer named Bobby Hogg passed away in the little town of Comarty, Scotland. The death was significant because Mr. Hogg was the last speaker of a local dialect called “Comarty fisherfolk” that now only exists in a few brief audio clips. Many of the villages of northern Scotland have distinct dialects, and as time goes on, they become lost forever as elders pass away and the younger generations slowly drop their native accents in place for the more common pronunciations.
When President Obama won re-election last Tuesday, he said in his speech that what makes America strong is not that it has the greatest wealth in the world, or because it has the strongest military, or because its culture is the “envy of the world.” Obama cited America’s diversity, and the bonds that hold that diversity together as the reason the United States remains the most powerful nation on the planet.
But where the greatest diversity of culture exists in America, especially when it comes to dialect and musical styles, is in the rural states and counties; that red area that Obama didn’t take in the election. Cities and suburbs are much more likely to be gentrified to the more common American culture spread by popular media and entertainment than rural areas are, obviously with some exceptions.
In fact when you look at the culture of America’s rural areas, it’s is usually lampooned by the rest of the country’s culture, especially the dialect. “Rednecks” and people from the country have been a mainstay of comedic fodder for over 50 years. And now, entities like CMT, who are supposed to be for people of the country, by people of the country, are themselves formulating television series around making fun of “rednecks” in shows like Redneck Vacation and Redneck Island.
Meanwhile the negative connotations in media about redneck culture are making many people in rural areas flee from their native habits to adopt customs more indigenous to urban locales, giving rise to country rap with artists like Colt Ford. Jason Aldean’s country rap “Dirt Road Anthem” was the best-selling song in country music last year for example. At the same time, the power of pop country is causing similar gentrification in suburban and urban zones as it encroaches into areas it is not indigenous to either.
I’ve always found it perplexing how Americans generally look at the varying cultures of the rest of the world with interest and appreciation for their diversity, but seem to be unwilling to do so in their own country and community. Our differences are something that need to be resolved, whether by promulgating our political or religious beliefs on other people, or trying to promote our products or culture to people who it might either be foreign to or downright unhealthy for, usually for the purpose of financial gain.
Similarly there is a demonstrative focus on preserving rare or endangered animals and plant species, or historic buildings or artifacts. We will stop the whole of human progress for concerns over an endangered strain of the titmouse. But those rednecks living out in the rural part of the county need to understand that the old-school agrarian life is gone and they better contemporize or risk being branded closed-minded. Yes, many racist, judgmental customs should be a thing of the past, but not at the sacrifice of what makes these people and their customs unique.
When the American South was populated, many times by native Scots and Irish that brought their folk instruments and musical learnings with them, a vibrant tapestry bloomed all across the Southern region with distinct musical dialects representing the geographical and genealogical makeup of the areas where they were founded. As people moved West during the gold rush and the Depression, they carried their musical cultures with them that then intermixed with the landscapes and labor they found there, giving birth to even more individual musical dialects.
Many of these varying styles and dialects would come together at institutions like the Grand Ole Opry, and this in part was how the big umbrella of country music was formed. But the differences in styles was something that was always celebrated instead of something that was attempted to be resolved to increase the economic potential of the music. They understood that the loss of the diversity may result in long-term decay of the musical format, even though it may garner short-term financial gain.
Ironically, it is not the mainstream, nationally-focused musicians that say they want to destroy the diversity in American music. Many go out of their way to tell you how country they are, citing very specific artifacts of rural life to prove it, many times to take the sting away of the actual music itself being more rooted in rock or hip-hop modes. It is the roots-based musicians who do not have the benefit of the country genre’s industrial machine that tend to speak out and say that genres don’t matter any more; artists in the loosely-defined “Americana” world.
Meanwhile radio may be the the most-obvious place where our differences are disappearing. When Clear Channel cut hundreds of local positions at stations in rural media markets last year in favor of nationally-syndicated programming, this also disproportionately effected the rural/red zones that are so rich with cultural diversity. Just like rainforests and wild areas around the world that are held back from development in conservancies cited as being vital to ecological and economic sustainability, America’s rural areas as robust cultural generators are just as important in sustaining the overall health of the greater cultural landscape.
Things are always evolving, changing, and coagulating together, and wringing your hands over it in some respects is foolish. At the same time, if the “melting pot” theory of how America became the greatest nation on the planet is true, then there’s nothing more important than protecting that diversity for the long-term preservation of the world’s greatest economic engine and mouthpiece for freedom. And this would also be true in protecting the diversity of any country or region for them to live up to their greatest potential.
In other words, the destruction of America’s distinct musical dialects is not just a musical problem.
So here are some specific thoughts on the songs of Taylor Swift’s album Red. This is meant to be an addendum to the more broad album review posted, so please read that first or in addition to this for the context of these reviews. I reserve the right to write more in-depth song reviews of any of these songs, especially if/when they are released as singles, but these are some general thoughts.
As a general thought on the songs overall, I thought there were too many of them. If you are going to release an album of 16 tracks (and there’s even more bonus tracks), they need to be solid. Instead, Red has some fat, diminishing attention from the stronger tracks. The 3 songs produced by the super pop duo of Max Martin and Shellback (“22″, “I Knew You Were Trouble”, and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”) could have been eliminated all together, and this in itself could have elevated Red dramatically.
And yes, for those too lazy to navigate over to the main review, it goes without saying that none of this is “country.”
1. State of Grace
Excellent beginning track, well picked and placed. As I said in my broader review of Red, the album’s best asset is its ability to set mood, and this song is an excellent example of that, and does an excellent job setting the mood for the entire album. “State of Grace”, along with the song “Sad Beautiful Tragic” later on are the best pieces of evidence that Taylor Swift is not your standard pop fare. You would never hear anything like this from Katy Perry. Parts of the song are downright chordy (musician’s jargon for chord changes that aren’t intuitive).
Two guns up.
For a pop song, “Red” regales the listener with tremendous depth of composition. The structure of the song gives Taylor’s verses freedom from rhyme so she can pick the most potent words instead of worrying with pentameter. At times the lines of the verses are too long for the music, meaning Taylor must start singing early. But instead of sounding like a mistake, the uniqueness of this structure draws you in, makes you pay closer attention to the lyrics. There’s a guitar solo folks! And it it’s not half bad. Not technically impressive, but tasteful and appropriate to the mood, which leads you into a half-timed chorus which is where if this song hasn’t reeled you in yet, hook pierces flesh.
The vocal/electronico “la da da da” parts in the chorus are a little too obvious, but do their job of making this song catchy throughout. Lyrically “Red” is more mature than the pre-schoolish “ok class let’s match colors with moods” theme that presents itself on the surface. That is the base, but from there the song evolves to be about the biting pain of wanted love not allowed to progress to its fruition. For the first time from Swift, there’s a sexual dynamic to a song, however mild and veiled.
The goal of any songwriter is to make you feel the same emotions they were when they were in the throes of the inspiration of the song, and this is what Taylor does in “Red.”
Two guns up.
This is probably the song on Red that I’m most interested in hearing the back story on or an explanation for, though we’ll probably never get it, or at least never get it in an honest form. It’s a fairly sexual song, or at least as sexual as Taylor Swift is willing to get to this point. Your imagination can run wild with “Treacherous”, and that’s what makes it work. The drug-like shot of endorphins the body emits when it knows it is about to do something either wrong or dangerous is where this song dwells, and Swift puts you right back there in that experience we’ve all felt at one point. Once again, her ability to conjure up mood is a strong suit.
Two guns up.
This is the worst song Taylor Swift has ever released in her career, and unlike some of her early songs that reeked of immaturity (because she was young at the time she wrote them), this one has no excuse. Taylor Swift knows better now, and she still did it. Just like with the 2nd worse track on this album, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” that she says she wrote it to be purposefully annoying, Taylor Swift may try to play off this track (and the other ultra pop tracks on the album) as irony, but don’t buy it. This is an obvious attempt and pop and R&B radio play.
The greatest sin of this song is Taylor is not being herself. We all know Taylor isn’t a party girl. She’s gone out of her way to make that point about herself many times. If she wanted to do a song just for fun, like say “Stay, Stay, Stay” or even possibly “Starlight” it would be one thing. But we know Taylor Swift and she’s not some club jumper. This song is out of her element, and honestly, embarrassing. And unfortunately, this is one of these tracks where the awfulness bleeds over to the other tracks, diminishing them and the whole Red project by proxy. This song might make her lots of money, but in the long run it will be an albatross around her neck, weighing down her attempts to appeal to both commercial viability and substance, and certainly will be a huge turnoff to the traditional, and even moderate country crowd.
This is club music parody that will even piss off the club music crowd. It feels like her answer to country rap.
Two guns way down.
5. All Too Well
Swift teams back up with co-writer Liz Rose–the woman who co-wrote many of Swift’s early hits from her first two albums–for the longest song on Red, and one I can’t find much fault in, but one I just couldn’t get in to. We’ll see if this song grows on you, but for the moment it’s pretty nondescript. I do like how Swift’s story builds out from a scarf still kept by an ex-lover.
1 1/4 of 2 guns up.
Of the Max Martin/Shellback-produced songs, this is probably the one that is most palatable, and the one that probably started out as something much better in raw song form than the dance club Frankenstein it turned into. Swift has gone out of her way to say that she is not a party girl. I’m sure we’ll get an explanation about how this song is supposed to be ironic at some point, but I’m getting tired of that being the stock excuse every time an artist that wants to be known for substance releases a cash cow song.
I may catch hell for saying this, but I think this song has a little something. What does it have? I don’t know because I can’t quite put my finger on it through the awful production. But I think Taylor might be trying to speak about the shallowness of the young 20′s party life we’re all sold as being so glamorous through popular culture. But instead, Martin/Shellback make “22″ a purveyor of it.
1 1/2 of 2 guns down.
7. I Almost Do
A good song, though probably a filler track on the album. Not from a sonic standpoint, but from a songwriting standpoint, this is one of the more “country” songs on Red in the way it works out from a lyrical hook. The problem is the “I Almost Do” hook really doesn’t bite like it needs to to make the song memorable on an album the contains such wild mood swings and contrast, and the music isn’t much help. But there’s nothing wrong with “I Almost Do”, and Taylor does a good job communicating that unsettled frame of mind when you’re not quite over a lover, but you’re beyond the point of knowing it will never work.
1 1/4 of 2 guns up.
The 2nd-worse song of the Shellback/Max Martin-produced tracks, and probably the 2nd-worse song Taylor has released in her career. Don’t buy into the idea that this song is bad to be ironic, it’s just bad. And releasing it as the lead single was another unfortunate miscue.
“We Are Never Getting Back Together” is as saccharine as any Taylor Swift selection, and rivals any of her songs for being the most pop. From an artist that has shied away from voice enhancements and digital treatments, there’s something automated going on here, though I’m not confident enough to level the charge of Auto-tune. “We Are Never…” is ultra-catchy, I mean I was humming this dumb thing hours after Taylor’s fluffy presser had gone off air; so catchy that any type of redeeming creative content in the song is rendered benign.”
1 1/2 of 2 guns down.
9. Stay Stay Stay
See now, if this was Red‘s fun foray into the pop world, what a completely different feel the whole project would have had. This is a silly song, but that’s okay. Taylor is 22-years-old and doesn’t want her music to be all doom and gloom. This is the first of two songs (Starlight being the 2nd) that I hear a lot of 80′s pop influence in. I was under the impression that the ship had sailed on the whole 80′s resurgence, but either apparently I am wrong, or apparently Taylor is keeping it alive. Some people will complain that there’s nothing country about it, and that goes without saying. The bass guitar and song structure are fun.
1 1/4 of 2 guns up.
10. The Last Time
There is a long-standing tradition of duets in country music, and I think it is very telling that for both the duets on Red, Taylor reached out to the rock world, and to the British Isles; about as far away as you can get from country without being obvious. This may be just as solid as a piece of evidence that Swift’s heart is truly not into country as anything. This is what she listens to, Snow Patrol and other bands like them, not the contributions from country, or the greater American roots world. Nothing against Gary Lightbody, or even this song. It’s a solid contribution to Red, and a great duet. Lightbody is tasteful in the way he comes in and compliments Swift’s style and her ability to set mood instead of trying to make his own mark. It may be a little bit too emotional and moody, but it’s one of the better tracks on the album.
It’s also fair to point out that Swift has a pretty good track record when touring to pick openers from the 3rd, or even 4th tiers of musical acts on their way up the ranks, instead of trying to find acts just below her that may bolster the ticket. I think that came into play with her duet pairings as well. A duet with Jason Aldean, or Big Machine’s new toy Tim McGraw may have garnered more American interest in this track. But instead she went with a dark horse, though it may be one that will help her open up new commercial avenues in the European market.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
11. Holy Ground
This is a pretty innocuous track with an obvious background vocal track meant to make the song catchy, but instead it just comes across as rehashed from another popular songs whose name is on the tip of your tongue. Another filler track that could have been left off, but certainly not as evil as some of Red‘s other offerings.
One gun up, one gun down.
12. Sad Beautiful Tragic
Possibly the best song on the album, and possibly the best song ever by Taylor Swift.
Two guns up!
13. The Lucky One
Songs on the emptiness of the celebrity lifestyle like this have been done so many times before, but this is not a bad version of it, and a song outside of the regular Swift grooves of writing about love.
1 1/4 of 2 guns up.
14. Everything Has Changed
A mild track that relies too much on catchy phrasing in the chorus and doesn’t really do the duet concept justice. Near the end Taylor is forced to go way above her comfortable singing register, and even though she pulls it off, it feels strained. With some exceptions, Taylor does a good job on Red–a better job than she did on Speak Now–of staying in her vocal comfort zone and not exposing her vocal weaknesses through composition. How many stories have you read recently about Taylor singing out-of-tune? This is a demon she’s mostly slayed, but with this song, she gives a slight reminder of her vocal limitations.
One gun up, one gun down.
Not as evil as the Shellback/Max Martin tracks on Red, but a close runner-up that is only saved by some of the retro elements and creative layering Swift and long-time producer Nathan Chapman cram into this confusing song that seems part dance club soundtrack, and part Pat Benatar 80′s revival routine (especially the way Swift inflects the way she says “moooved”). There seems to be a love story here, but the music sort of distracts you from it. You’re not sure if you’re supposed to just feel the groove and start dancing, or pay close attention to the words. It stars off sounding like pacifier-sucking glitter club music, until Taylor’s acoustic guitar comes in and she starts singing about the summer of ’45. Then you feel like you’re transported to a discotek circa 1984 blasting power pop. Did I hear a little Rush “Tom Sawyer” synth too?
I don’t know, it sure is catchy. I’m not sure if this is another instance of music producers run amuck, or if Taylor and the producers were as confused as the song sounds like they were to find a clear direction for her demo track. Just as the 2nd song on an album is almost always reserved for what the label believes to be the album’s best song, the next-to-last is usually reserved for the weakest, and that’s probably where “Starlight” belongs.
1 1/2 of 2 guns down.
“Though on the surface this song is positive and about renewed love, Taylor Swift still gets her characteristic jabs in at old flames: “He didn’t like it when I wore high heels, but I do.” “He always said he didn’t get this song, but I do.” “I think it’s strange that you think I’m funny cause he never did.” But overall, it portrays the seldom seen, other side of Taylor Swift in a sweet little song that works, but probably isn’t a world beater or a mega hit waiting in the weeds.
“Many are wanting to tout how country “Begin Again” is. But let’s be honest, it’s only country when compared to Taylor Swift’s other works. On that sliding scale yes, with some steel guitar and mandolin (though fairly down in the mix and dilluted with strings) this is the Johnny Paycheck of Taylor Swift’s lexicon. But in the grand scheme of things, it is still solidly pop country.”
1 1/4 of 2 guns up.
Just when you thought you’d seen it all, a feminine products company out of North Carolina called “Ocean Breeze” announced Thursday they are launching a new line of products pandering to the country world. Yes, country music is officially going….there.
“In answer to the amount of douches making their way these days playing country music, we thought we’d launch a signature line of douches to cater to our country clientele,” explains Ocean Breeze representative Yolonda Frankenfurter. “We’re huge country music fans here at Ocean Breeze, and we wanted to pay tribute to some of our favorite country music personalities by putting their mugs on our products.
This ain’t your grandmother’s douche, so to speak. Put the fiddles, steel guitars, vinegar and water mixes, and bulky, awkward applicators away. Our new country line features hip fragrances and stylish applicators for the new generation of country fans to show their country music pride.”
For the man that likes to get in touch with his feminine side, and touch his feminine side in a feminine way, comes “Luke: The Douche For Men…and Women.” Confused? Then “Luke” is the right douche for you. Curious? Then “Luke” is DEFINITELY the right douche for you. Like writing the words to the Star Spangled Banner on your hand, it’s our secret.
The heavy duty, industrial-strength selection from the country douche line. Consider it the fire hose of feminine products, the howitzer of hygiene. Comes in two scents: “Dirt Road Rose,” and “Country Rap Raspberry.” Oh, and it can be used as an enema as well! Recommended for women who like to hit on married men in hip LA night spots on the Sunset Strip.
For the distinguishing, upscale, urban consumer, or white trash riff raff that wish they were, we offer “Gilbert, by Brantley.” It’s the douche that’s too cool to communicate in complete sentences, even if it could construct them. Its like Affliction T-shirts and Axe body spray for the other half. Comes in a sleek bottle in a “Richie Sambora guitar solo” scent.
Upcoming Country Music Douches by Ocean Breeze:
- “A Hint of Trace” by Trace Adkins
- “The Douche Shooter” by Shooter Jennings (feat. Bucky Covington)
Texas Country music star Aaron Watson just released his 11th album Real Good Time on October 9th, and on the album the Amarillo native makes a good, healthy jab at the “country rap” phenomenon infecting country music’s airwaves. Jason Aldean, Tim McGraw, and the rest of the laundry list country rap crowd are lampooned by a song that is so well written in the country rap vein, the only way you know it’s not the real deal is the disclaimer in the song’s title that reads in total, “My Contribution To Ruining Country Music Country Song! Ha!”
Watson told the story behind the song when performing it live this summer as part of the Nutty Brown Cafe / KVET free concert series in Austin.
Something about a dirt road? Yeah. And then there was a trend where a few of them were rapping. And I said we need a spoof. I need a spoof song, you know what I’m saying? I recorded it with my good buddy Sam. And Sam said, “If you want to have a spoof, a little tongue and cheek, you’re gonna have to rap.” I said, “Sam, I don’t think I can do it.” But I rose to the occasion, or I lowered myself to the occasion. And this is not an honest to God attempt to ruin country music like everybody else. It’s the worst song I’ve ever written, I’m admitting that.
Or maybe it’s one of the best. When you’ve been writing real, heartfelt country music for the last dozen years, switching gears and going the other way and doing it with such wit and insight on how the other side of the music world works takes quite a measure of creativity and fortitude. Stupid bloggers like me can peck away at keyboards all day preaching to choirs, but the artists that fans look up to have the power to persuade, or in this case, point out the obvious that what is being sold to many country folks is a false bag of goods.
Aaron Watson is one of the good guys. Writing and performing a song like this takes guts.
Two guns up!
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When Billboard announced new rules on how the songs on their “Hot 100″ country chart would be tabulated, it caused a tizzy amongst folks who pay attention to these sorts of things. But the average Joe fans out there may have a little trouble understanding why the issue is something they should care about, and how it could negatively affect the music they enjoy. Make no mistake about it, I and many other folks who keep an eye on music charts as part of our jobs believe that these new rules could cause the largest wholesale power shift to superstars that music has ever seen, while sending the already existing trend of genres coagulating into on big mono-genre into hyperspeed.
There are many losers in the new Billboard format, and what I have been struggling with since they were announced is to name the winners. On the surface, they are the superstar names like Taylor Swift and Mumford & Sons, but at the same time the new rules take away the power of these artists to control the amount of attention their music receives over time. The new rules render the the music “single” virtually irrelevant since they include digital download data for songs that haven’t been released in single form.
Below are detailed explanations of how the new Billboard chart rules could affect you as a music fan.
As Fans of Major Country Music Stars with No Crossover Appeal
Not just small, up-and-coming artists will be affected by the new rules. Huge, major country music mega-franchises are feeling the effects already. Taylor Swift songs rocketed up the charts to #1, #2, and #10 when the rules were implemented, while Miranda Lambert’s latest single “Fastest Girl In Town” for example went for #9 to #16, Jason Aldean’s “Take A Little Ride” went from #1 to #5, and Toby Keith got knocked out of the Top 25 all together.
If the new rules hold, you can almost guarantee labels and artists will begin to produce more “crossover” songs to take advantage of the revised format, meaning more pop-oriented country songs, more pop songs that call themselves country, and more non-country artists “going country” to take advantage of the new rules.
Meanwhile artists as far ranging as George Strait and Alan Jackson, to Justin Moore and Brantley Gilbert will have trouble getting their singles to attain chart success. Only artists with crossover appeal, or top tier superstar artists who can really drive digital sales will get any advantage from the new format, and will likely completely monopolize the chart with most or all of the songs off a new album once it is released, just like Mumford & Sons is doing in rock right now (see below), and Taylor Swift will do in a couple of weeks when she releases her new album Red.
It is a very real possibility that upon Red’s release, Taylor Swift will own every single top spot on Billboard’s country chart. Literally she could have #1 thru #16 sewed up because of the amount of downloads the songs and album will receive upon release.
Mainstream artists still in the developmental phase of their career can pretty much kiss goodbye any chance of having a breakout single rocket up the charts. The top of the charts will be so locked down with crossover artists, and the middle of the charts filled with names that used to be at the top, it will be nearly impossible to break through. The one exception seen on the charts so far is Florida Georgia Line’s song “Cruise”. Florida Georgia Line, like Taylor Swift, is signed to Big Machine Records, clearly one big winner under the new rules, at least on the surface.
As Fans Of Independent/ Underground Music
I bristle at the idea that none of this matters to folks who don’t listen to the radio or mainstream music, that this is a bunch of hubbub not worth caring about because their favorite bands don’t have a shot on the charts anyway. That’s like saying you don’t care that 20% of the country doesn’t have jobs because you do. If you are a fan of music, and music being better than worse, then these rules will effect you. Sure, not everybody needs to get exercised over the issue or get involved if that’s not their thing, but to get annoyed that other people are or to act like the issue is irrelevant is an exercise in musical elitism.
Everyone has a right to good music, and every artist with true artistic talent has a right to make a living off that music. Fair, equitable charts are one tool to help make that possible. Charts that pander to incumbent superstars and crossover material get in the way of talent development and discovery by both fans and industry.
And the truth is, Billboard’s charts do matter to many of independent/underground fans’ favorite artists. When Hank Williams III’s Damn Right, Rebel Proud debuted at #2 on Billboard, upstaging albums from Taylor Swift and Darius Rucker, this was a huge victory for underground country. Red Dirt albums from folks like Cody Canada and Jason Eady have recently received chart play, and the elevated name recognition from both fans and industry the accolade conveys. Maybe one of the best feel good stories in country music in 2012 is Will Hoge’s song “Even If It Breaks You Heart” that became a #1 hit for Eli Young Band. This song and many others written by honest, hard working, and relatively obscure songwriters will likely never get the recognition they did before under the new format.
The royalties a small-time songwriter can receive even off of one song can set them up for life. It can take a struggling artist from being poor and having to work part-time jobs, to being able to make moderate living off of music. It can also take a musician already making a moderate living off of music to the point where they can afford to raise a family, pay for health health insurance, own instead of rent their home, etc. And I don’t want to hear anyone say they want their favorite artists to stay poor so they continue to write good songs. Being poor should be a choice for an artist to make if they decide that is where they draw their inspiration from, not some benevolent state-of-being foisted upon them by the industry.
The fight might not be yours and that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean the fight is not worth waging to make the overall music world a better place.
As Fans of Rock, R&B/Hip-Hop, Latin, & Other Genres
That’s right, the counting of crossover radio plays isn’t just affecting country, but other genres as well. You thought Taylor Swift benefited from a chart boost under the new rules? Rihanna’s song “Diamonds” went from #66 on the R&B/Hip-Hop chart before the changes, all the way to #1. Why? Because it is being played on pop radio too.
And the same monopolizing of charts that we see in country with Taylor Swift is happening in the rock charts, only worse. Mumford & Sons have the #5, #10, #11, #12, #13, #14, #15, #19, #20, #21, #22, #23 songs on the rock chart right now. Literally every song on their new album Babel is charting. This is based on the strength of digital downloads, but only one of the songs, “I Will Wait” has actually been released as a single.
As Fans of Taylor Swift
Oh, so you think that Taylor Swift is the big winner under this new system? In some respects she is, but in others this brings the country pop princess under renewed scrutiny.
First off, Taylor Swift doesn’t need the additional attention having multiple songs at the top of the country charts brings her. She’s already in the public eye, enjoying the utmost exposure any artist will ever get from media. Her new album Red will be the best-selling debut in 2012, trust me, and probably by 200,000-400,000 copies.
So what does Taylor Swift’s chart success bring her? Additional scrutiny. What are the two big knocks on Taylor Swift? That she can’t sing and she’s not country; the latter already at the top of public debate because she released a succinctly pop song and another “dub-step-inspired” tune off her new album. Taylor Swift doesn’t have to worry about creating exposure for herself, she has to worry about managing the exposure she’s already getting, lest that exposure turns into overexposure, backlash, and burnout of her brand. The new system doesn’t allow her to do that because it takes away the power of the radio single.
Numerous times in the past, Taylor Swift’s career has been diagnosed with overexposure. This happened with Taylor shortly after the 2010 Grammy Awards; the whole off-pitch singing situation with Stevie Nicks that led to her panning by critics across the country and her writing the song “Mean”. Afterwards, even the “Country Music Anti-Christ,” Taylor’s label owner Scott Borchetta admitted she was over-exposed, and was happy she was headed to Australia for a tour, and then on a hiatus from the public eye.
The Australian dates had been planned all along, but it actually worked out great…as far as the talking head of Taylor Swift, that one’s gone into hiding for a little bit, at least on this continent.
Another overexposure moment happened in September of 2009 when Kanye West accosted Swift at the MTV Awards. Just in August, Spencer Cain of StyleCaster asked if Taylor Swift has become overexposed from her previous episodes and her recent headlines for dating an 18-year-old Kennedy son.
When Taylor Swift’s new album Red is released and every single song charts under the new Billboard protocols, it could cause massive negative exposure to Taylor Swift’s career. Meanwhile the benefits Taylor Swift receives from her chart success are only parliamentary, etching her name as the best-selling songstress of this moment in time, but not effecting her sales, or her success overall.
(This story has been updated with a statement from Jason Aldean-see below)
You know, I normally would steer clear of stories like this. But the fact that every time I’ve headed down to the general store for provisions for the Saving Country Music hideout over the last month I’ve had Jason Aldean’s sparking photoshopped teeth whiter than the wind-driven snow starring back at me from a People Magazine cover story showcasing the country singer’s “softer, romantic side” and his “daddy skills,” I thought it would be apropos to point out that TMZ just caught Aldean red handed cheating on his wife.
Aldean, who was performing this weekend in Southern California was snapped at a prominent bar on the Sunset Strip holding onto the hips and kissing former “A.I.” show contestant Brittney Kerr right out in the open. As People Magazine points out, Aldean married his high school sweetheart Jessica Ussery in 2001, and they have two daughters, ages 9 and 5.
And I don’t want to hear anyone say this is the first “country” thing that Jason Aldean has ever done. True, cheating songs are a common theme in country music, but cheating is also against everyone’s values no matter where you’re from, or who you are. This incident is unfortunate, and I feel sorry for Aldean and his family that this information is being dealt with in the public eye, but what’s even more sickening is how the pop machine tried to sell this guy to us as a family man just this month, while millions of country music fans are looking up to him as the highest-selling star in the business right now.
I hope Jason Aldean and his family can work though this difficult time amicably, but I also hope that people realize what a sham they are sold regularly through popular media, on checkout stands, smattering the public airwaves in ridiculous entertainment shows, and on the internet. We all make mistakes, and don’t for a second look down your nose at Aldean and think you’re better. But that is why instead of painting idyllic scenes full of perfectitude that are inevitably going to let us down, the approach should be honesty.
Jason Aldean is up for Entertainer of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, and Single of the Year at the CMA Awards in a month, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the People Magazine cover story was part of a propaganda machine attempting to influence votes. Well see if this illumination of Alden’s true colors does any damage to his chances.
Jason Aldean released a statement Sunday night admitting to acting inappropriately, and apologizing to fans.
Hey Guys – I wanted to talk to you directly, so you were hearing the truth from me and not just reading allegations made about my personal life on gossip web sites.
The truth is that I screwed up. I had too much to drink, let the party get out of hand and acted inappropriately at a bar. I left alone, caught the bus to our next show and that’s the end of the story. I ultimately ended up embarrassing my family and myself. I’m not perfect, and I’m sorry for disappointing you guys.
I really appreciate being able to work through this privately with my family and for all your continued support.
When I first proposed the theory that all popular music was coalescing into one big mono-genre where even the two traditionally polarized genres of country and hip-hop would be living side by side, even I didn’t think the conversion would happen so quickly and be so indisputable. Looking at country music, the top albums, the top songs, and the top artists all have ties to the merging of all popular music. It is truly a man bites dog world out there in music these days. Here’s 7 signs the mono-genre is here.
The King of Country Rap Colt Ford’s latest album was released August 7th and debuted at #1 on the Billboard country charts, unprecedented for an artist who receives relatively no radio play and is not a huge concert draw. Sometimes albums in their debut week will cause an anomaly in the charts, starting off really high but then falling precipitously weeks after, but Declaration of Independence has remained in the Top 10 now for over a month, currently sitting at #7 on Billboard. At some point, radio will have no choice but to quit ignoring Colt.
When the reigning Entertainer of the Year for both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music releases a song and the other version is the country one, this is a pretty good sign country music is losing its autonomy. While the country version of “We Are Never…” is falling on the charts, debuting at #13 on Billboard and sliding now to #19, the “pop” version has done something no other song had done from a country artist since 1980: stay on top of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for 3 weeks straight. Kenny Rogers’ “Lady” was the last one to accomplish this feat, a song written by Lionel Richie (see below). And don’t forget Taylor’s “Both of Us” duet with rapper B.o.B.
Rap or country, city farm, it don’t matter who you are
It’s one thing to have an artist known for country rap to gain acceptance, or to have a pop star whose always been more pop than country go even more pop. But when a bona-fide top-tier country music franchise comes out with what is ostensibly a rap song that name drops Lil’ Wayne, talks about “subs pumpin’” and being “up in the club,” there’s no question major genre line blurring has gone mainstream. “Truck Yeah” is like the mono-genre National Anthem.
It’s old news that Aldean’s country rap “Dirt Road Anthem” co-written by Colt Ford was the best-selling song of 2011, but the song is not done making headlines just yet. “Dirt Road Anthem” was certified triple platinum in June, is up for Song of the Year at the CMA Awards in November, and Aldean is also a frontrunner for the CMA’s most coveted trophy: Entertainer of the Year. His upcoming album reportedly includes another country rap, and it’s hard to dispute that Jason Aldean is anything but a country music mega-star, with billing just as high as Taylor Swift, if not higher. It was his milktoast, softcore version of country rap that made the genre-merging music mainstream.
Lionel Richie proved that a non-country artist with non-country songs on a non-country album of all previously-released material can use country infrastructure and avenues to release an album and it can go on to be a massive blockbuster success. Tuskegee was the best selling album for the first half of 2012, not just in country, but in all of music. It had sold 912,000 copies by mid July, and has since been certified platinum. Much of this is the fault of the Academy of Country Music running an hour-long special on Lionel earlier in the year; a gesture not extended to any other country artist.
This may seem like a subtle thing, but the symbolism is significant. Country music and the CMA’s seem to be perpetually wanting to apologize for their countryness these days, and how better to do that than to move the CMA announcement to the most metropolitan part of the country? Meanwhile the Grammy’s, paying homage to the increasing importance of the country music super-genre, are announce their nominations where the CMA’s should be: in downtown Nashville.
The Grammy’s might also paying tribute in part to Nashville’s burgeoning independent scene. Depending who you talk to, Nashville is considered the epicenter of independent music, existing right under the nose of Music Row with little acknowledgement or regard. The Grammy’s recognize the indie world as one of the fastest-growing segments in music. Remember, the mono-genre is not just about all popular music becoming one, but how micro-genres and independent music will increase as mainstream listeners search for choice.
The more mainstream music consolidates, the more independent music will increase due to the listeners falling through the cracks and becoming disenfranchised with the lack of choice and diversity. Mainstream artists will also be enticed to the independent world by the lure of creative freedom and a more attentive, engaged audience. According to Nielsen SoundScan, independent sales are up 61% since 2006 to a record $26.2 million annually. Spotify is also reporting an increased payout to independent labels.
A few days ago, CMT launched a new format and website called CMT Edge with the intent of covering artists outside the norm of mainstream country music. Since then I’ve been asked many times what I think of it, and my stock answer has been that I don’t exactly know what I think of it yet. The venture is still in its infantile stages, and it will take time to determine just what CMT Edge will be, and the impact it will have.
Having said that, I see no reason at this point not to stay positive about it. It’s always good to have more avenues for good music to reach people. As I always say, I want good music to get popular, and popular music to get good. Any sense of ownership or desire for exclusivity anyone might feel with the independent music they love and worry that CMT Edge might erode that exclusivity is being silly and selfish. So far, they’ve featured artists like Sara Watkins, The Avett Brothers, Trampled by Turtles, and JD McPherson among others. They also appear to intend to use CMT Edge to cover older country artists like Dwight Yoakam and Patsy Cline; both who’ve been featured already.
If you look at the categories of the 11 features posted on CMT Edge so far, 8 of them are labeled “Americana”. I don’t think it’s coincidence CMT Edge was launched the same week the Americana Music Conference is going on in Nashville mere steps from the CMT headquarters. Americana is growing, and CMT would be fools to not try and tap into that market. Make no mistake that CMT, which is owned by Viacom, would have never launched this venture if they didn’t think there was a profit to be made, and that there’s demand for the content.
So what is the possible downside to CMT Edge? It could possibly take attention away from independent media outlets, especially ones in the Americana world like No Depression, Paste, or possibly in some small respects Saving Country Music. But again, more outlets for good music is generally a good thing, and if these outlets feel threatened, they should step up their game. And I doubt CMT Edge will dig as deep as many of the current independent outlets do. As much as bands like Trampled by Turtles and The Avetts are on the outside looking in when it comes to mainstream country coverage, they are also very successful bands making good livings playing music. To stay profitable, CMT Edge will stay with established acts who simply don’t fit comfortably in the mainstream country world. Don’t expect Hellbound Glory and Jayke Orvis to get features soon.
My biggest concern is in the underlying subconscious labeling of acts that could come with CMT Edge coverage. Some may see a band being featured on CMT Edge as an implication that they are a smaller tier, second rung act. By not putting these acts beside country music’s biggest names, but below them through an outlet meant to cover the “edge,” there’s the danger of typecasting these artists as cut-rate. It’s always been a belief of mine that the top tier independent talent deserves equal-billing with country’s top names. If just given a chance, an artist like Justin Townes Earle could possibly score just as high as Jason Aldean with the public. Consumers just need to be given that choice. CMT Edge in some respects kicks the “more choice” can down the road instead of confronting mainstream country’s issue of a lack of new talent entering the genre.
Mainstream country lacks a legitimate farm system. And once an artist is cast as Americana/Independent/Underground, etc. they’re usually beholden to those avenues for their music till eternity, many times facing low ceilings of success and no chance of mainstream radio play or media coverage. Meanwhile in mainstream country, there’s few artists working the traditional program, going from honky tonks, to clubs, to theaters, to eventually the arena and a major label deal. Instead, new country talent is culled from the safe, easy avenues of reality TV programming, or professional Nashville songwriting circles. This has left country creatively bankrupt, as the most-creative and brightest talent flocks to Americana because they don’t want to be labeled as “country” because of the non-creative, commercial stigma.
Americana may have a lower commercial ceiling than mainstream country, but it continues to find some very legitimate traction, and seems to be building in stature and infrastructure each year. NPR is now offering Americana a big radio outlet, festivals are forming and growing that appeal to the Americana crowd, and small to medium, sustainable music entities like Thirty Tigers, Bloodshot Records, Dolph Ramseur (the man behind the Avett’s success and the Carolina Chocolate Drops) are beginning to create real organization behind the Americana idea, and are even having success getting their artists on programs like The Late Show with David Letterman, and Jimmy Kimmel Live.
What does this all have to do with CMT Edge? Clearly the independent side of the music world is growing, and CMT doesn’t want to be left in the dust. As all popular music continues to coalesce into one big “popular” mono-genre, music that is indefinable by genre and/or appeals to micro-sects of people is expanding. Whether it is Americana, classic country artists, neo-traditionalists, or punk-country, appeal for independent music is increasing, and CMT Edge is proof of that. Is CMT Edge commercial exploitation of this music? We’ll have to see, but there’s no indication that is what is happening at the moment.
As much as I think that much of CMT’s reality programming perpetuates negative country stereotypes and that its parent company Viacom is generally a negative force in the media marketplace, there’s nothing from CMT Edge so far that irks me. So let’s stay positive about it, work as a music community to attempt to steer it in a positive direction, and be glad that better music is catching on and continues to find new outlets.
What a banner year it has been for bad songs in country music. After 2011′s “Red Solo Cup” by Toby Keith and Jason Aldean’s country/rap “Dirt Road Anthem” the bar has been raised for how low you must go to get attention for your twilighting music career. I’m sure there’s even worse songs out there, but all of these selections were actually released as singles; put out there for mass consumption. Put a clothesline clip on your nose, a paper bag on your knee, and dive in…if you dare.
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5. Pontoon – Little Big Town
Little Big Town does its level best to shipwreck country music by jettisoning off any and all country roots and twang and inviting on board the most unabashed pop culture imagery and materialism in this stupid summer lake song. The only time a pontoon like this should make an appearance in country is when a bass boat is trolling by and its redneck occupants drop trow and moon these martini-sipping elitists. The eardrum-raping “tings” that make up the idiotic hook for this song sound like the noise that Satan would evoke when perpetually pulling out your pubic hairs one by one as the punishment for eternal damnation.
I hear mention of “motorboating” but unfortunately none of the sea hags in Little Big Town are endowed fully enough to pull the trick off. No, it’s not the choppy water, it’s this song that is making me want to blow chunks overboard.
4. Drinking Side of Country – Bucky Covington & Shooter Jennings
Shooter takes the ‘O’ out of country and pulls a Benedict Arnold by teaming up with pop country also-ran Bucky Covington (aka “The Nickeback of Country Music”) in this positively awful pop song. Not even Kenny Chesney has stooped to this level of music vapidness in his otherwise vapid career. Shooter has his Kool-Aid-drinking apologists selling out every one of their principles to defend their country music savior while he ca$hes in by the elevation of his cult of personality.
Want to know how pop this video is? It got 1 million hits in one day, more hits than any video Shooter has ever received during its entire lifespan. As we all know, sex and shitty music is what sells to the masses, and that’s what Bucky and Shooter deliver here. Oh and let’s not forget they changed the “Outlaw” lyric in the song so Shooter wouldn’t look like a hypocrite.
But all of this is forgivable, because hey, Shooter kissed my ass when I met him once.
I’m still waiting for someone, anyone to explain to me exactly what the hell “Drinking Side of Country” actually means. Anybody?… Anybody?…Bueller?
3. Somethin’ ‘Bout A Truck – Kip Moore
You know your song is lame and unimaginative when Mother Goose is suing you for royalties and mechanicals. There’s something about a truck? There’s something about some pop country douche in a backwards baseball cap ripping off the nursery rhyme “Hole in the Bottom of the Sea” accompanied by Richie Sambora-style stratocaster guitar that makes me want to insert a corkscrew into my earhole and start turning.
Apparently this song is about getting laid by some shallow chick. “On one occasion, [my car] broke down, so I asked my dad, ‘Pop, I need your truck.’ He said sure, so I took it to pick her up … It was like I picked up a whole other human. She was vibrant and all about me; she was all over me from the beginning of the date.”
But the girl that night discovered what the girl in the red dress in the video soon will: Kip Moore has no penis.
2. Corn Star – Craig Morgan
Yes my friends, this song actually exists, and was even released as a single. How do you out cornpone your corny competition? Make a pun about corn and insert into a sexually-charged urbanism (aka the Honky Tonk Badonka Donk songwriting formula). I can just see songwriters Jeffrey Steele and Shane Minor high fiving each other in the BMI building on Music Row, hoping this is the hit that takes them out of the cubicle farm to the corner office. But they’re not laughing with you, they’re laughing at you for buying into this worthless piece of drivel.
If you think “Corn Star” is funny, then the joke’s on you.
1. Truck Yeah – Tim McGraw
“Truck Yeah” picks up where Jason Aldean’s country/rap “Dirt Road Anthem” left off, blurring the lines between country and rap until you’re left with “crap”. Worst country song ever? Well see, we’re still early in “Truck Yeah’s” life cycle, but McGraw’s undeniable sellout moment and cry for relevancy debuted as his best single ever and is slowly making its way up the charts.
“Rap or country, city/farm, it don’t matter who you are…Are you one of us?”
All hail the death of variety, diversity, and contrast in popular American music!
That’s right ladies and gentlemen, your hero, the lord of underground roots, the savior of independent music, Shooter Jennings, is releasing a duet single and video with the most pop-ity pop of pop country uber douches, the “Nickelback of Country Music”, American Idol’s Bucky Covington. The song is called “Drinking Side of Country” and all indications is that it will suck hard enough to send a golf ball through a garden hose.
For those of you who have no idea who Bucky Covington is (and I would like to think that is the majority of the Saving Country Music readership) you could make a serious case that he is one of the worst artists pop country has ever seen, from numerous perspectives. The only difference between Bucky and Jason Aldean is people actually listen to Jason Aldean. There’s nothing more failed than a failed pop country star, and that is what Bucky Covington is.
Last week folks were in a tizzy because Jason Aldean dropped the tidbit that he simply listens to Nickelback. Ha! Bucky has him beat by 1000 miles. In 2010, Bucky Covington actually recorded and released an entire Nickelback song, “Gotta Be Somebody.” And no, this was not just as some demo bonus track, it was a full fledged radio single with a big budget video. Watch, if you dare:
The world first learned about Bucky Covington’s flowing locks of highlighted hair and his Dirk Diggle mustache when he was a contestant on American Idol in 2006, finishing 8th. Since then he’s been slaying America with his bland and generic take on the most formulaic of pop country and garnering tepid commercial success. He’s also pretty notorious for being dumb. In April of 2010, he recounted a story to The Boot about actor Billy Bob Thorton, proving just how dumb he is:
I went to his house and hung out drinking lukewarm Coronas. This guy is the epitome of cool. We were talking movies and music, and he brings up the movie ‘Sling Blade,’ and I said, ‘Were you in ‘Sling Blade’? That was a great movie!’ And he thanked me. I asked who he was in ‘Sling Blade,’ and he said, ‘Carl.’ I said, ‘That’s the main character!’ I didn’t even know he was in it! But actually technically that’s a huge compliment to an actor, that I watched the movie, and I didn’t know it was [him]! And he wrote the dang movie as well!
Bucky also has a twin brother, Rocky, and together they like to do stupid shit and then lie about it to the cops. In 1998 they were arrested for hit and run, leaving the scene of an accident, resisting arrest, giving fictitious information to a police officer, and driving with a suspended license. Brother Rocky was in a car accident and had a suspended license at the time, so he dialed up Bucky who raced over and told the 5-0 that he was actually the one driving. The cops sniffed it out, and eventually they confessed. Then in July of 2011 they both were charged with grand theft for stealing $1,500 from the cash box at a Florida show. The charges were later dropped from lack of evidence.
Shooter Jennings has been trying his little heart out to earn scene points with the “roots” underground after his glam rock, industrial rock, and mainstream country projects tanked. So why now is he buddying up with Bucky Covington? Because of corporate politics and cross marketing. Both Shooter and Bucky are signed to Entertainment 1 Records, which ironically is one of the biggest hip-hop labels in the world. As much as Shooter wants to talk a big game about how corporate music sucks and he’s for the little guy, here he goes trying to re-cultivate his mainstream legitimacy. Or even worse, he’s doing it because he wants to.
But I don’t blame Shooter for pairing up with Bucky Covington. That is what he should be doing. When it comes to country, Shooter has always been a mainstream artist with mainstream songs. Where he doesn’t belong is acting like he fits into anything that is related to underground roots music. He doesn’t record DIY. He releases his music through big corporate labels. And up to 18 months ago, he admits himself had no idea underground roots music existed.
And no, Kellie Pickler’s name is not relevant here. Apparently she has a cameo in the Shooter/Bucky duet video and she used to be an American Idol pop country product too. And yes, I’ve grown very fond of her last album 100 Proof, but nobody is saying Kellie Pickler should do a duet with Hellbound Glory or headline the Muddy Roots Festival. That would be out-of-context, just like anything Shooter has to do with “underground” country. And if this Bucky Covington business doesn’t make you realize that, then you have been completely duped by the Shooter Jennings cult of personality.
And sure, Bucky Covington could’ve had a change of heart about his music just like Kellie Pickler did, but this duet song “Drinking Side of Country” is an old song Bucky released in 2010. It’s not new. It’s a stupid laundry list country song, and even worse, he named drops “Outlaws” in the song. Yes, Bucky Covington, Bucky Covington is talking about Outlaws, the same thing Shooter Jennings called out in his song “Outlaw You”. The hypocrisy is so incredibly-thick and undeniable around this song, but we’ll deal with the actual content of the song in due course, trust me. Meanwhile check out Bucky’s effeminate moves in the original version of “Drinking Side of Country” that make Luke Bryan look like a lumberjack:
And for all the folks that will say, “Gee Trig, why you always gotta be so negative?” I have no choice in this matter. My hand is being forced. When some artist who is touting themselves as a product of the underground/independent world cuts a duet with Bucky Covington filled with hypocrisy, or points a tank at the Country Music Hall of Fame, or promotes a Waylon song turned into a rap song, or buddies up with The Moonshine Bandits, I have no choice but to put as much distance as possible between those actions and myself.
I don’t think that Shooter is without talent. He has some good songs, and I recognize he is trying to do some things to help promote smaller bands. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And furthermore with Shooter, it’s the disingenuousness, it’s the talking out of both sides of his mouth, it’s the wanting it both ways, it is the Svengali-ing of independent artists by acting like he has any means to help them “make it” when really he’s using them to be promoters of his cult of personality. It’s the manipulation. And I’m sure Shooter will say, “Let me explain”, just like he says every time he makes a dumb move in his career.
Sure, Shooter has gotten some scant play in dark recesses of the dying corporate radio world in severely off-peak hours for some artists. This whole cross-exposure back scratching scenester bullshit isn’t outreach, it’s simply people trying to prove how cool they are to each other. Shooter doesn’t have the power to increase the exposure of any act any more than anybody else. And since he is a wickedly-polarizing character (who likely will even become more polarizing after this Bucky Covington mess), for every fan the Shooter Jennings name may bring to an artist, it scares away two more.
And no, “Hey I met Shooter, and he seems like a nice guy,” is no excuse for his endless string of bad decisions and overt hypocrisy.
There is no Shooter/Triggerman rivalry. He is an artist and someone rying to further his career, and I am a writer whose charge it is to tell the truth the way I see it. And right now, the truth in my eyes is that Shooter has no compass, no principles, will do and say whatever he thinks he has to to create support and traction in his career. And that has always been the case with Shooter, throughout his career, along with coming very close to stealing ideas and personas. Shooter cutting a pop country laundry list song with Bucky Covington is him jumping the shark, and showing his true colors.
But I’m probably just jealous.
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