Browsing articles tagged with " Miranda Lambert"
Sep
30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very, very powerful.

1 3/4 of 2 Guns Up.

Sep
23

Album Review – Lee Ann Womack’s “The Way I’m Livin’”

September 23, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  36 Comments

lee-ann-womackPhoto: John Scarpati

This isn’t just your average album release, or even your average album release from Lee Ann Womack. There’s a lot of moving parts involved here that make this album one to watch, and one to pay a little extra attention to. Lee Ann Womack has earned the listening public’s undivided attention already from her years of stellar contributions, but this one has a little more special meaning for Womack since it is her first release without a major label, and a release that helps rate of progress for both women and traditional country artists looking to revitalize their place to a wider audience.

The evolution of The Way I’m Livin’ was a little strange. Made with Lee Ann’s husband Frank Liddell (producer for Miranda Lambert, Eli Young Band, others), the album has been finished now for two years and just sitting on a shelf. While still signed with MCA Nashville, label head Luke Lewis told Lee Ann to make the album that she wanted, to pick the songs herself and not worry about any commercial concerns. And so that is what she did.

The choices of where to find songs to record in Nashville are endless, but Lee Ann took a unique approach, especially for an artist who has amassed as many industry trophies as she has over the years. Her litmus test was that the song had to be written with the intent of being performed by that writer. Think of the exact opposite of Music Row’s songwriting-by-committee approach. She wanted songs culled from inspiration. This resulted in Womack acquiring material from a list of artists that is mouth watering all to itself: Chris Knight, Bruce Robison, Hayes Carll, Brennen Leigh, and Mando Saenz just to name some of them. This isn’t a rundown of the songwriting credits from a major Nashville release, this is an All-Star guitar pull lineup in Austin, TX on a Saturday night.

“In the past, Merle and Willie and Hank would sing real lyrics about life,” Womack tells Dallas News. “But today’s Music Row records don’t talk about those subjects, at least not in a grownup way. That’s one reason all these songs spoke to me.”

And though The Way I’m Livin’ began on Music Row with a major label, that’s not where it ended up. After Womack wiggled her way out of her MCA Nashville contract, she ended up working with the independent bluegrass label Sugar Hill Records to finally release this album. Even though it might officially symbolize Lee Ann taking a step down from the top-tier level she’s enjoyed for most of her career, she seems perfectly fine with that. “Let’s face it. Award shows are not really about who was best,” Womack continues to Dallas News. “They’re about selling advertising. I’m grateful for the awards I have, but if you came to our house, you’re not going to see any of them out. You’re gonna see guitars and music everywhere, but not awards or platinum records on the wall.”

This is still Lee Ann Womack though, and don’t think the industry isn’t paying close attention. That voice is too powerful, and her fans are too loyal to ignore. The title track off this album was the very first single to be added to Cumulus Media’s NASH Icon network as an example of new music from a seasoned artist that the new radio format boasts as wanting to champion. Lee Ann Womack hasn’t been put out to pasture by any stretch. She’s the female that is leading the pack of artists left behind by country radio and trying to revitalize the market for more classic-sounding country, and The Way I’m Livin’ is just the album to do it with both country roots and relevancy embedded in its songs, and a salivating public who’s waited six years for new, original music from the singer.

lee-ann-womack-the-way-im-livinRecorded mostly live, The Way I’m Livin’ pins its eye to Lee Ann’s voice as its focal point, and never strays. You hear this emphasis immediately on the very first track “Prelude: Fly,” which leaves you inspired and primed for what lies ahead. The Way I’m Livin’ pulls from two primary influences: traditional country marked with loud and present steel guitar, and a more progressive “Americana” approach that has a lot of gospel and blues textures intermixed with a rootsy feel. God and Mammon are at war in The Way I’m Livin’ for the soul of the song’s protagonists more often than not, and though it would be a misnomer to label it a concept album, this battle is a recurring theme of the album, and one that illustrates the more true reality of things where good and evil are not always polar opposites separated by tremendous space, but side by side separated only by a thin membrane that temptation is always trying to pull you across.

This eternal pull and tug gives The Way I’m Living a vitality, whether it is portrayed in a gospel tradition like the song “All His Saints,” a more grounded atmosphere like in her take on Hayes Carll’s “Chances Are,” or the traditional country, folklore-style approach like on Brennen Leigh’s “Sleeping With The Devil.” These are story songs one after another filled with internal strife, and the arrangement present on The Way I’m Livin’ is truly masterful one track after another. There’s both a sparsity, and a robust presence to the instrumentation that makes sure nothing suffocates, and everything soars. There’s not a lot of layering that goes on here. You have your primary instruments only, and if there’s anything diverting your attention from Lee Ann’s voice, it is a singular lead instrument, usually a steel guitar set high in the mix that eventually gives way once again to Lee Ann. The song “Nightwind” isolates Lee Ann’s voice once again, and never on this album do you feel as if doubt or indecision filled what direction this record should take.

The Way I’m Livin‘s true country songs are slightly more backloaded towards the end of the project, but no matter where you start this album, it’s hard not to land on something to like. A few of the tracks came across as a little bit sleepy towards the center, and initially I was concerned that the song “Don’t Listen to the Wind” borrowed too much of the melody from the song “All My Tears” from Emmylou Harris’s Wrecking Ball album until I deduced both songs were written by Julie Miller.

Lee Ann Womack seems almost ethereal at this point in her career: timeless, and like an apparition of authentic country music who drifts above the rest of the genre’s singers and pickers as they slave away at their little songs and albums and daily deeds and dilemmas. Yet she still has that endearing element of the small town girl at home in the Texas pines, simply wanting to make a career out of what she would be doing if nobody was listening or watching. She’s an artist who has the freedom to truly do what she wants, while she still enjoys the attention of the industry, however muted it might be these days.

There may be a few more albums that are better than The Way I’m Livin’ that will be released this year, but none that are this good that will reach as many ears. Lee Ann Womack is a heavyweight for women, for hard country, and now for independent artists, and with this Sugar Hill release she releases and lands a haymaker.

1 3/4 of 2 Guns Up.

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Purchase The Way I’m Livin’ from Sugar Hill Records

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Sep
21

“Country Roads” Documentary Features Justin Townes Earle

September 21, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  9 Comments

country-roads-the-heartbeat-of-americaWhen it comes to country music documentaries, especially when they center around often-overlooked independent artists, European filmmakers don’t just have American filmmakers beat, the sad prognosis is that there’s just very few if any American filmmakers to compete with. For whatever reason, the collective will to raise the capital to chronicle American roots music exists in much greater numbers in the Old World than in country music’s place of origin. Country music ambassadors like the recently-passed George Hamilton IV planted the seeds of appeal for the authenticity of American country music and roots, and that desire has remain steadfast over the years, and manifested into material support for artists in both the performance and journalistic realm.

Working with German-based outfit Art Haus Musik, filmmaker Marieke Schroeder takes a deep dive into the American South and the artists at the forefront of the next generation in Country Roads, The Heartbeat of America. Making appearances during the 90-minute documentary are John Carter Cash, Caitlin Rose, her mother and songwriter Liz Rose, Woody Guthrie’s daughter Norah Guthrie, Kevin Costner, Papa Joe and the Carter Family Fold, The Ryman Auditorium, Robert’s Western World in Nashville and Brazilbilly, and most prominently, Justin Townes Earle in possibly the most intimate look at the 2nd generation performer we have seen to date. Other notables that make quick appearances include Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley, and Miranda Lambert in the capacity of The Pistol Annies, Amanda Shires, and Lisa Marie Presley. Stock footage of Johnny Cash and others is also used in the film.

Caitlin Rose

Caitlin Rose

Acting as a guide through both the explanation of the roots of country music and the streets of Nashville, Justin Townes Earle and many others try best to define “country” for a foreign audience in the film. If there was a second most-featured character in the film, it would be Woody Guthrie. From Earle’s deep study of the man, to the appearance of his daughter, to his influence on the music being made even today, Woody, and to an extent The Carter Family, become the centerpiece-in-spirit of the story. The Country Roads DVD also includes an entire Justin Townes Earle concert performed at Pace University on October 26th and 27th of 2012 called “The Spirit of Woody Guthrie.” The presentation doesn’t include Woody Guthrie songs, but instead features songs inspired by Woody’s musical legacy and performed by Justin.

Something else Country Roads affords for Americana music aficionados is intimate footage of Justin Townes Earle recording his 2012 album Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now, and the actual studio session where Caitlin Rose is singing her now highly-regarded Arctic Monkeys cover of “Piledriver Waltz.” This tells you that the film was shot roughly two-and-a-half years ago, and so in some ways you feel like you’re looking a little bit towards the past, though the film presents itself as being a relevant, here-and-now project, making for a slightly unusual sense of timing. Both Caitlin and Justin Townes Earle have subsequently put out newer music.

country-roads-justin-townes-earle

Justin Townes Earle

“This is one of our few untouched things in Nashville—RCA Studio ‘B’,” Justin explains in one portion of the film while standing amidst the heart of Nashville’s Music Row. “But then you just look around at all the crap that has been built around it. This is like the belly of the beast right here. This is where all the bad ideas are thought up. This is where all the bad country songs come from. This is where they’re all recorded. In all these buildings, this is where all the ‘geniuses’ that are thinking all the crap up and what they’re gonna do … It’s amazing to me that the people that work here now can hold their heads up, that they can walk these streets and think that if Hank Williams wasn’t here right now he wouldn’t whip their fucking ass.”

Country Roads is exquisitely shot, and does a great job capturing the dirty details of the South from a cinematic standpoint. The film is interspersed with rolling footage taken from the vantage point of a traveler on country roads, presenting both the most humble of existences in the form of outdated singlewides on stilts and backwoods cabins, to stately new upper class suburbs. Filmmaker Marieke Schroder, who in the mid 80′s lived in the United States in a school exchange and discovered the emotionalism present in Southern culture, makes stops along these roads to talk to common people: shopkeepers, the unemployed and retired, oyster fishermen dealing with the aftermath of the BP oil spill, and others. In these encounters you get a glimpse of the South beyond the music.

John Carter Cash

John Carter Cash

What the American audience and seasoned country music listeners should approach this film with is the understanding that at its core this movie is not made for them. It is made to be a primer to country music and the American South. The narration of the film comes across in the English version as quite presumptive about Southern culture and certain events, romanticizing the plight of the recent economic downturn and the depravity the South finds itself in, as well as getting other specific details a little off. For example, a couple of times the film says that Southerners now mostly hang out at gas stations. Though that may be true for some communities, that is not necessarily true for the entire Southern region. Some things may have been lost in the translation, while other broad generalities made in the narration may actually be a concise way to explain the complexities of the South to a foreign and unfamiliar audience.

What the established country music audience does get from Country Roads is a quite valuable and involved portrait of Justin Townes Earle, and a lesser, but still insightful glimpse at Caitlin Rose, John Carter Cash, The Carter Family Fold, and other important cultural players and institutions.

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Sep
16

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

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto: Don VanCleave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 3/4 of 2 Guns Up.

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Sep
11

When They Don’t Suck: Bad Country Star’s Good Album Cuts

September 11, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  56 Comments

jason-aldeanOne of the things that can be so frustrating for distinguishing country music fans is knowing many of country music’s current stars can do so much better. Many of them have sensational voices, and can write great songs when they set their mind to it. And many times you can hear examples of this when listening to their albums. The garbage that artists and labels release as singles these days usually constitute the absolute worst an album has to offer. When listening to the albums of even some of country music’s worst acts, you’re regularly surprised by the substance and the amount of sincerity they exhibit in some songs.

A few months ago Saving Country Music published and article called “Before They Sucked: Big Country Music Stars At The Start.” As a similar exercise, let’s look at some of the album cuts of the biggest stars, and see the kind of heart, and country-sounding material they’re capable of when they set their mind to it.

PLEASE NOTE: This is not a recommendation of any of these songs. This is simply an exercise to illustrate that returning more substance to country isn’t necessarily tied to recording different songs, it could simply be tied to releasing different singles. Florida Georgia Line’s recent single “Dirt” is an example of how a big mainstream act can have a chart-topping success with a song with substance if they just make the conscious choice to do so.

And this is just the very tip of the iceberg of examples. The truth is most any top tier country artist is going to have songs of substance on their album.


Brantley Gilbert – “That Was Us” and “I’m Gone”

Brantley Gilbert might be the best example of an artist who releases the most vile detritus as singles, but when you actually listen to his records, you are surprised to find songs that are not just serious and sincere, but that are downright powerful. Gilbert is the mainstream artist with a grassroots following. He’s one of the few mainstream artists left who can sell albums, primarily because his ultra-loyal fans know there are going to be some really deep songs there that the radio will never play. These songs are one of the reasons his fan base seems to be ready to jump off a cliff for him if he ordered it, and will argue for days how great he is.

Brantley Gilbert’s last album Just As I Am is culpable for two of the crappiest singles found on country radio today: “Bottom’s Up” and “Small Town Throwdown.” But there are also a couple of tracks that show a lot of substance and heart, and even capture Brantley breaking away from his mumbling singing style. “That Was Us” starts out feeling like you’re average four minute laundry list pablum, but it reveals itself as a waltz-timed memory trip that includes moments of vulnerability and even self-effacing honesty. “I’m Gone” is another one from Just As I Am that is driven by mandolin and steel guitar, and aside from a Richie Sambora guitar wank-off bisecting the song, it’s a good reminder that Brantley Gilbert is a songwriter that writes his own stuff, and can write in story form with very strong results.


Justin Moore (w/ Miranda Lambert) -  “Old Habits”

Maybe a little too sappy for some, while others won’t be able to get past what they consider Justin Moore’s fake accent, but boil this one down at 212° F and you’ve got an old-fashioned country heartbreaker that could jerk tears from some of the most hardened mainstream country haters. Why in the hell wasn’t this released as a single instead of Justin Moore’s Mötley Crüe screech fest tribute? You have Miranda Lambert on the track who is a hot commodity, and a hell of a lot more feeling than anything we’ve heard from Justin Moore in a long time. I fail to see how this wouldn’t perform much better than “Home Sweet Home” which stalled out on the charts in the 30′s. Give this song a chance as a single, and mainstream country steps up its game immediately.


Blake Shelton – “Lay Low”

There’s a few songs on Blake Shelton’s Based On A True Story that are not nearly as bad as “Boys ‘Round Here.” Truth is, Blake Shelton has never defined the worst country has to offer, especially when it comes to his album cuts. It’s that his alligator mouth gets ahead of his hummingbird ass more often than not. Songs like “Do You Remember” and “Grandaddy’s Gun” get brownie points for effort, and so should “Lay Low.” What’s good about this song is it really revitalizes the mood of mid to late 80′s country before everything went Garth crazy. It’s smooth and laid back. It doesn’t say much, but what it does say fills the spirit with a warm, relaxed feeling. It reminds you of what country sounded like before … you know … people like Blake Shelton came along.


Trace Adkins

If you want an example of an artist with one of the greatest voices ever to grace the genre, and who threw his talents away by defining his career through stupid singles, look no further than Mr. “Honky Tonk Badonka Donk” himself. The simple fact is Trace Adkins has entire albums of songs that are way more substantive that what is symbolized by “Brown Chicken Brown Cow” and the other bull he’s released to radio. This guy once won the ACM for Best New Male Vocalist, and is a member of the Grand Ole Opry. His last album Love Will… is full of serious love songs, and as one would expect, it virtually flopped despite being arguably his most mature album yet. The Trace Adkins career arch is one that conveys that you may get hot with big singles, but you can also die by them when you become a joke to many listeners.


Jason Aldean – “Church Pew or Bar Stool”

Jason Aldean has never been a songwriter; he’s always been a pure singer and performer. But one thing he has done over his career is establish a theme surrounding his music of the small town identity that looks at the world through the simple eyes of the forgotten people in America’s heartland and hometowns. Songs like “Amarillo Sky,” “Water Tower,” and “Flyover States” speak very specifically to people forgotten by time and technology, and that struggle to find their identity in a challenging new world while still holding on to who they are.

We have to remember that Jason Aldean wasn’t a huge star until “Dirt Road Anthem,” and his label Broken Bow wasn’t a big deal until Jason Aldean. As time has gone on, just like so many stars who get overtaken by the Music Row machine, Aldean has backslid into chasing trends and losing touch with what made him unique when he first entered the business. But throughout his discography, you can hear the sentiment that gives a solemn assessment of lost America and its forlorn residents.

Sep
3

2014 CMA Awards Nominees, Picks, & Prognostications

September 3, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  46 Comments

cma-awards-001On Wednesday morning (9-3), the nominees for the 48th Annual CMA Awards were announced on ABC’s Good Morning America and through a CMA Live stream. The 2014 CMA Awards will happen on Wednesday November 5th on ABC, and will be hosted by Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood.

Leading all nominees with nine is Miranda Lambert. Dierks Bentely also turns in a strong showing with five considerations. And amongst the critic’s favorites, Brandy Clark comes in with two nominations, including for New Artist of the Year, and steel guitarist Paul Franklin also receives two nominations.

Though Taylor Swift has officially declared herself pop, she still rounds out the Female Vocalist category with a nomination. And despite officially retiring from touring this year, reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year George Strait shows up once again for the distinction.

The other curious takeaway from the nominations is Jason Aldean isn’t nominated for anything. After the year he’s had, this is nothing short of astounding. There is a story here somewhere, maybe doing with his infidelity, or with his label Broken Bow. The exclusion of Jason Aldean could set up as a big night for Luke Bryan.

 

Entertainer of the Year

Whether Taylor Swift would be included in this category was one of the biggest questions heading into these nominations. She’s been a perennial Entertainer nominee for the last half decade. There also seemed to be a slight chance we could see Florida Georgia Line here with the huge year they have had. In the end, Big Machine Records gets shut out, Miranda Lambert is the female representative, and King George shows up yet again, challenging the notion that last year’s win was a parting gift.

This is a two horse race. Luke Bryan has put together an incredible year, and has to be considered the front runner, but George Strait with his touring success can’t be ruled out. Remember at the ACM Awards earlier in 2014 when George got picked over Luke, members of the Luke camp erupted. This duel will be the big drama of the night.

Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert have no chance. Blake Shelton would be the dark horse.

  • Luke Bryan – Winner 
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Blake Shelton
  • George Strait – Another Potential Winner
  • Keith Urban

 

Male Vocalist of the Year

Blake Shelton has been a shoe-in for this distinction the last few years, just as his wife Miranda Lambert has been the shoe-in for the females. But Luke Bryan has to be considered the strongest in the field. If Luke gets locked out of the Entertainer of the Year, the pressure may be to give Luke Bryan Male Vocalist as a consolation prize. Eric Church and Keith Urban are not contenders. Keith is simply the name the CMA’s are using to fill out the lists this year. Dierks has put together a great run with Riser, and would be both the dark horse, and the critical favorite.

  • Dierks Bentley
  • Luke Bryan – Winner
  • Eric Church
  • Blake Shelton – Other Potential Winner
  • Keith Urban

 

Female Vocalist of the Year

Of course the CMA nominates Taylor Swift in this category despite her not considering herself country anymore, though hypothetically this is for the year that just passed—before Taylor made her pop declaration. And lacking any real candidates because of the exclusiveness of mainstream country music, the CMA taps Martina McBride again to fill the 5th spot. Country music is not developing female talent, and perusing this category annually proves this.

Miranda runs away with it.

  • Miranda Lambert – Winner
  • Martina McBride
  • Kacey Musgraves
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood

 

Album of the Year

Since Eric Church’s last album Chief swept this category at the award shows two years ago, he has to be considered a contender. But you just don’t feel the same momentum for The Outsiders. If label politics win out however, he may walk away with it. This is the award the Eric Church camp will be lobbying heaviest for.

But this all feels like it is setting up to be a big night for Luke Bryan, and Crash My Party is a front runner. Keep an eye out for Dierks Bentley too. This would be considered the critical favorite of the bunch. Sorry Keith, you’ve got no chance.

  • Crash My Party, Luke Bryan – Winner
  • Fuse, Keith Urban
  • Platinum, Miranda Lambert
  • Riser, Dierks Bentley – Other Potential Winner
  • The Outsiders, Eric Church – Other Potential Winner 

 

Song of the Year

“Follow Your Arrow” would be the winner that would have the media agog over its liberal message in what’s considered a conservative environment, but that subplot may never have a chance to materialize. Fairly wide open field here, but let’s all hope Dallas Davidson doesn’t walk away with any hardware. “Automatic” and “I Hold On” would be the two songs that balance the critical and commercial success a Song of the Year usually needs to win, but if the CMA wants to make a statement, “Follow Your Arrow” may just prevail. There weren’t five better songs out there in country music?

  • “Automatic,” Nicolle Galyon, Natalie Hemby, and Miranda Lambert 
  • “Follow Your Arrow,” Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, and Kacey Musgraves
  • “Give Me Back My Hometown,” Eric Church & Luke Laird
  • “I Don’t Dance,” Lee Brice, Dallas Davidson, & Rob Hatch
  • “I Hold On,” Dierks Bentley & Brett James 

 

Single of the Year

Boy, the CMA’s and mainstream country music are really showing just how bereft they are by these song nominations.

  •  “Automatic,” Miranda Lambert
  • “Drunk On A Plane,” Dierks Bentley
  • “Give Me Back My Hometown,” Eric Church
  • “Meanwhile Back At Mama’s,” Tim McGraw featuring Faith Hill
  • “Mine Would Be You,” Blake Shelton

 

New Artist of the Year

Very cool to see Brandy Clark’s name here, and simply her nomination has to be considered a victory. But she has no chance. Thomas Rhett has been pegged as one of the next country superstars for a few years now, and his pedigree may be enough to best Kip Moore and Cole Swindell, who are the other strong contenders.

  • Brandy Clark
  • Brett Eldredge
  • Kip Moore
  • Thomas Rhett – Winner
  • Cole Swindell

 

Vocal Duo of the Year

Who, who, and who? Once again mainstream country proves how top heavy their talent is, and how terrible they are at developing new acts when it comes to trying to round out these categories with artists that are deserving of such a distinction. The world will end before anyone but Florida Georgia Line walks away with this.

  • Dan+Shay
  • Florida Georgia Line – Winner
  • Love & Theft
  • Swon Brothers
  • Thompson Square

 

Vocal Group of the Year

Good to see the Texas scene represented here (at least to some degree) with Eli Young Band. Zac Brown should win it, Lady Antebellum doesn’t have a chance since it’s an off-year for them. Little Big Town is the reigning champion, and there seems to be a lot of energy behind them lately.

  • Eli Young Band
  • Lady Antebellum
  • Little Big Town – Winner
  • The Band Perry – Other Potential Winner
  • Zac Brown Band – Other Potential Winner

 

Event of the Year

Cool to see names like Vince Gill, Paul Franklin, Dolly Parton, and Kenny Rogers show up, but in the end there’s probably only two strong contenders. “We Were Us” would be a dark horse, but its rise and fall on the singles charts was pretty fast. “Somethin’ Bad” shouldn’t be nominated for anything and would be an embarrassment if it won, which it very well might.

  • “Bakersfield,” Vince Gill & Paul Franklin
  • “Meanwhile Back At Mama’s,” Tim McGraw featuring Faith Hill – Winner
  • “Somethin’ Bad,” Miranda Lambert duet with Carrie Underwood – Other Potential Winner
  • “We Were Us,” Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert
  • “Can’t Make Old Friends,” Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers

 

Music Video of the Year

So, so blah. So many great videos out there, and we’re nominating “Somethin’ Bad” and “Drunk On A Plane”?

  • “Automatic,” Miranda Lambert, directed by Trey Fanjoy
  • “Bartender,” Lady Antebellum, directed by Shane Drake
  • “Drunk On A Plane,” Dierks Bentley, directed by Wes Edwards
  • “Follow Your Arrow,” Kacey Musgraves, directed by Honey & Kacey Musgraves
  • “Somethin’ Bad,” Miranda Lambert & Carrie Underwood, directed by Trey Fanjoy

 

Musician of the Year

Good to see Paul Franklin land two nominations this year. Normally this is the hardest category to forecast, but you have to feel like Franklin is the front runner for 2014.

  • Sam Bush, mandolin
  • Jerry Douglas, dobro
  • Paul Franklin, steel guitar – Winner
  • Dann Huff, guitar
  • Mac MacAnally, guitar
Aug
22

Album Review – Sunny Sweeney’s “Provoked”

August 22, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  26 Comments

sunny-sweeney

When perusing the bereft landscape of mainstream country music and searching for a female performer with some substance and an independent spirit who could possibly still raise a blip at the highest levels, Sunny Sweeney is one of the first names to come to mind. It’s not too hard to envision the Texas native making a splash in the mainstream because she has done it before. In 2010, her single “From A Table Away” made it all the way to #10 on the Billboard charts—a feat for any woman in this particular country music climate. Of course it helped that Sweeney had Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Records behind her at that time. Sweeney was one of the very first Big Machine signees along with Taylor Swift, and when Borchetta opened up the Republic Nashville imprint, Sweeney was the label’s inaugural artist.

These days the particulars of Sunny Sweeney’s business dealings are much different. Her latest album Provoked was released through Thirty Tigers—the same independent, champion-of-the-little-guy distributor that artists like Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell use. But Sweeney’s sound still remains very much steeped in that space that can find consensus amongst both mainstream fans, and traditional/independent fans from leanings that are traditional, expressive, yet still accessible to the wide ear.

Just like Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musggraves, Sunny Sweeney is an east Texas girl at her core, and no matter what Nashville does, it’s never possible to completely quiet those jangling spurs or smooth out that accent. Sweeney though, compared to Miranda and Kacey for example, seems to have held onto her decidedly Texas style even more so over the years. She very much fits that mold of the Texas country artist that got big enough to be recognized by Music Row, but always felt just a little too authentic to do much more than experience that world from the outside looking in.

sunny-sweeney-provokedAt the same time, Sunny Sweeney also has some quickly-identifiable fingerprints of the industry in her sound. Sometimes it feels like instead of hearing three chords and the truth, you’re hearing three professional songwriters and a hook. It might still be a hook that is hard to escape the appeal of, but the formulas and tropes find their way into the female side of country music too, and there’s a few of those overt moments on Provoked. The album’s two beginning tracks—”You Don’t Know Your Husband” and “Bad Girl Phase”—strike at that female answer to Bro-Country vein in portraying the sassy, non-behaving female quite directly.

“Front Row Seats” is a sensational track on this album, superbly written and pointed in its message, but it still plays very much to this Kacey Musgraves anti-conformist formula that the success of “Merry ‘Go Round” has given rise to. A song like “Sunday Dress” shows that when it comes to the women in country, ‘mama’ is the female version of the men’s ‘tailgate,’ and disobeying her wisdom is expected on an album at least a few times. From another perspective though, many of these trends and tropes are hot right now, and Sunny’s contributions overall are just a little more thoughtful, and little more developed, and a little more country than most of her country peers who’ve seen mainstream success.

Sweeney also strikes out on some limbs, and in moments let’s her traditional influences shine through unapologetically. The gem of this album might be the swing-timed “Find Me.” It is so aching, so brilliant in the way it builds tension both in the story and sonically until Sunny has swept you up in a wave of emotions. Like all but two of the songs on Provoked, “Find Me” is co-written by Sweeney, and feels like a very personal expression. The only true cover on the album is Randy Weeks’ “Can’t Let Go” which has been done many times by many artists, maybe most notably by Lucinda Williams, but Sweeney really nails her version, with the song seeming to be custom-made to fit her Southern twang, and the half-time beat highlighting the chorus being the perfect call in the arrangement.

“My Bed” with Will Hoge is another Provoked highlight, and is a good example of how Sweeney also translates well into the more progressive, Americana-style of production that a few of the album’s tracks veer toward. And though the sassy, non-behaving female formula was decried above, the final track on the album, “Everybody Else Can Kiss My Ass” is just too damn fun, the lyrics too good, and the steel guitar too hot to give it anything less than two guns up.

Sunny Sweeney has a very sweet, very alluring natural tone to her voice, but it has always felt like she stops her phrasing a little too short, as evidenced on Provoked in the song “Second Guessing.”

In the end it is not Sunny Sweeney’s super heartbreaking sentimentality, or her high caliber songwriting that makes her stand out in the crowd. It is her practical, pragmatic, bridge-building approach to country music for all that stays true to her nature that has you rooting for her no matter what the color of your country music stripes.

1 1/2 of 2 guns up.

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

Purchase Provoked from Sunny Sweeney

Preview & Purchase Tracks on Amazon

Aug
11

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

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

Brandy Clark

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

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

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

First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit

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

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

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

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

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

Jul
22

Man Dies in Dumpster At Jason Aldean Show in Cleveland

July 22, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  23 Comments

coryy-barron-jason-aldean-concertTragic news out of the Cleveland area as a 22-year-old man named Cory Barron who went missing on Friday, July 18th during a Jason Aldean concert at Progressive Field, was found by a landfill worker in New Russia Township, just outside of Cleveland on Tuesday (7-22). The man’s body was in a dumpster that had been transported from the ballpark. The Lorain County Sherriff’s Department responded to the landfill and identified the body as the missing man. The young man still had his ID and ticket stub on his person when he was discovered.

Local investigators are looking into the possibility that the concertgoer fell down a trash chute that led to the dumpster. The chute was located near where the Fremont, OH native had tickets to the concert. According to workers, the man would have fallen five or six stories down the chute to reach the dumpster. What the man was doing by the chute, how he gained access to it, or if any foul play was involved has yet to be determined. The cause of death has yet to be determined pending an autopsy by the Lorain County Coroner’s Office.

An intense search operation that involved the FBI was commenced the day after Friday’s concert when Cory Barron went missing. He was last seen at around 9:30 PM after leaving his assigned seating area to meet up with friends in another section of the ballpark. Cory never returned, and Saturday morning a missing persons report was filed. A search then commenced, including by air and watercraft in the area. The entire ballpark was searched three times with no clues, and surveillance video found nothing suspicious.

Florida Georgia Line, Miranda Lambert, and Tyler Farr also played at the concert.

On Tuesday night after the news of Cory Barron’s death was made public, Jason Aldean said on Twitter, “My sincere condolences go out to Cory Barron’s family and friends. My heart is heavy for you all and you are in my thoughts and prayers.”

The Cleveland Indians, whose home is Progressive Field, also said, “The Cleveland Indians are saddened by the news of Cory Barron’s untimely death and wish to extend their sincere condolences to the Barron family and friends. We are cooperating with the authorities in their investigation and do not have additional comment at this time.”

 

Jul
21

Women Going About Battling Bro-Country All Wrong

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

Carrie-Underwood-Miranda-Lambert-Somethin-Bad

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

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

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

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

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

maddie-and-tae-001

Maddie & Tae

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jul
1

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

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

maddie-and-tae

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 1/4 of 2 guns up.


To listen to “Girl In A Country Song”:

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

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

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

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

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


Lyrics first transcribed by Farce The Music.

Girl in a Country Song
(Written by Maddie (Marlow), Tae(lynn Elizabeth Dye), and Aaron Scherz; 
Performed by Maddie & Tae)
 
Well I wish I had some shoes on my two bare feet
And it’s gettin’ kinda cold in these painted-on cut-off jeans
I hate the way this bikini top chafes
Do I really have to wear it all day?
(Yeah baby)
 
I hear you over there on your tailgate whistlin’
Sayin’ “Hey girl,” but you know I ain’t listenin’
Cause I got a name and to you it ain’t
pretty little thing, honey or baby
It’s driving me red red red red red red redneck crazy
 
Being the girl in a country song
How in the world did it go so wrong?
Like all we’re good for is looking good for
you and your friends on the weekend, nothin’ more
We used to get a little respect
Now we’re lucky if we even get
To climb up in the truck, keep our mouth shut, ride along
And be the girl in a country song
 
Well, shakin’ my moneymaker ain’t ever made me a dime
And there ain’t no sugar for you in this shaker of mine
Tell me one more time you gotta get you some of that
Sure I’ll slide on over, but you’re gonna get slapped
These days it ain’t easy being that…
 
Girl in a country song
How in the world did it go so wrong?
Like all we’re good for is looking good for
you and your friends on the weekend, nothin’ more
We used to get a little respect
Now we’re lucky if we even get
To climb up in the truck, keep our mouth shut, ride along
And be the girl in a country song
 
Yep, yep, yep
 
Aw naw,
Conway and George Strait
Never did it this way
Back in the old days
Aw naw,
We ain’t a cliche
That ain’t no way
To treat a lady
 
Like a girl in a country song
How in the world did it go so wrong?
Like all we’re good for is looking good for
you and your friends on the weekend, nothin’ more
We used to get a little respect
Now we’re lucky if we even get
To climb up in the truck, keep our mouth shut, ride along
Down some dirt road we don’t even wanna be on
And be the girl in a country song
 
(Spoken)
Yeah baby
I ain’t your tan legged Juliet
Can I put on some real clothes now?
 
Aw naw
Jun
21

Miranda Lambert Punched That Nickelback Dude in the Face

June 21, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  39 Comments

miranda-lambertThe rumors of a drunken interlude between Miranda Lambert’s knuckles and the face of Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger have been lurking out there for a couple of years now, transferring mouth to mouth amongst the unclean masses like an unwelcome oral herpetic strain. Nothing had ever been confirmed though, leaving a few to speculate that the whole incident was mere urban myth, maybe implanted amongst the populous to perpetuate Miranda’s bad girl image. Well now the public can wonder no more.

In Rolling Stone’s country music special edition issue, Miranda’s hubby Blake Shelton spills the beans about how during Miranda Lambert’s 27th birthday party at a bar, she indeed planted a knuckle sandwich in Kroeger’s supple, Canadian cheek. “People always try to pop off or call her bluff at bars,” Shelton said in a smuggish, self-important tone (probably). “One of them—I don’t want to say the guy’s name—but he’s the lead singer of a very popular rock band. His initials are C.K.”

Despite the cowardice move by Shelton to not call Chad Kroeger by name (but make the hint so obvious we’d be idiots not to know) the quote finally confirms the long-swirling rumors.

Apparently Kroeger wanted Miranda to take a shot with him at the birthday party, and when Miranda politely refused and Kroeger wouldn’t shut the hell up about it, she punched him in the face for impinging on her special princess day. Then Blake had to step in to make sure Kroeger didn’t get roughed up any further.

Whether the Nickelback singer was there by request or his own behest was not divulged in the details. Of course Koreger and Nickelback have special ties to country music now that the band’s long-time producer Joey Moi has moved on to Florida Georgia Line and Jake Owen to help craft only the most awful odes that have gone on to define the bro-country era.

Just wait for the Nickelback country record. We all know it’s coming.

Maybe Miranda will be willing to lend a wallop to Kroeger then. We can only hope.

“People always try to pop off or call her bluff at bars,” the singer says of Lambert. “One of them — I don’t want to say the guy’s name — but he’s the lead singer of a very popular rock band. His initials are C.K.”Read More: Did Miranda Lambert Get in a Bar Fight With Chad Kroeger? | http://tasteofcountry.com/miranda-lambert-chad-kroeger-bar-fight/?trackback=tsmclip
“People always try to pop off or call her bluff at bars,” the singer says of Lambert. “One of them — I don’t want to say the guy’s name — but he’s the lead singer of a very popular rock band. His initials are C.K.”Read More: Did Miranda Lambert Get in a Bar Fight With Chad Kroeger? | http://tasteofcountry.com/miranda-lambert-chad-kroeger-bar-fight/?trackback=tsmclip
“People always try to pop off or call her bluff at bars,” the singer says of Lambert. “One of them — I don’t want to say the guy’s name — but he’s the lead singer of a very popular rock band. His initials are C.K.”Read More: Did Miranda Lambert Get in a Bar Fight With Chad Kroeger? | http://tasteofcountry.com/miranda-lambert-chad-kroeger-bar-fight/?trackback=tsmclip
“People always try to pop off or call her bluff at bars,” the singer says of Lambert. “One of them — I don’t want to say the guy’s name — but he’s the lead singer of a very popular rock band. His initials are C.K.”Read More: Did Miranda Lambert Get in a Bar Fight With Chad Kroeger? | http://tasteofcountry.com/miranda-lambert-chad-kroeger-bar-fight/?trackback=tsmclip
Jun
18

Saving Country Music’s Best Songs of 2014 So Far

June 18, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  80 Comments

hellbound-glory-lvCompared to albums, making picks of songs is such a tough, arbitrary business. This year seems especially tough, not because the field isn’t strong, but because many of the best moments are coming from unlikely sources, including a cadre of cover songs that despite the spirit of the “Best Songs” approach being about original compositions, seem almost criminal to omit.

PLEASE NOTE: “Best Songs” are not those catchy tunes you can’t take off of repeat, they’re songs that can change your life; legitimate Song of the Year candidates. No order to the list below was intended or should be implied, aside from the first nine highlighted songs being considered strong candidates for Saving Country Music’s “Song of the Year” consideration in six months, though any of the songs listed come highly recommended, and could rise through time to become a contender. Time, as always, is the greatest judge of music. And please feel free to leave your opinions and suggestions about what the best songs of 2014 so far are down below.


Hellbound Glory – “Streets of Aberdeen” – from LV

Hellbound Glory’s Leroy Virgil continues to be America’s most undervalued songwriter, and someday the rest of the world is going to wake up to that fact. While Virgil is known most for his strong wit, weaving moments in songs that touch your heart and funny bone at the same time, this exploration of more in-depth storytelling by Leroy was a big success. And only appropriate that the song and video was cut in Aberdeen, in a building with ties to the story. (read more)


Don Williams  – “I’ll Be Here In The Morning” – from Reflections 

Townes Van Zandt and Don Williams team up to deliver one of the most disarming performances so far of 2014, taking a timeless composition, and bringing it to life again through an immortal voice. The warmth this performance coveys is astounding, and as can be seen in the video, it was recorded live. Great song from a great album. (read review)


Sturgill Simpson – “The Promise” – from Metamodern Sounds

It has been my working theory that Sturgill Simpson is not being challenged enough in music, and this can lead to moments of aloofness, almost boredom from the burgeoning artist. Taking a song from 80′s English new wave one hit wonder When in Rome and turning it into a traditional country song of this caliber was certainly a challenge, and one Sturgill accomplished with flying colors. It deserves to be considered right beside 2014′s original offerings.  (see video premier on NPR)


Melody Williamson – “There’s No Country Here”

Though country protest songs can feel like a dime a dozen these days, 15-year-old Melody Williamson did it right, and the striking message coming from such a young artist became a viral phenomenon in the first part of 2014.

“As I always say, it won’t be websites, organizations, or awards that will Save Country Music, it will be songs. And Melody Williamson proves why this is true once again with ‘There’s No Country Here’.” (read review & see studio version)


Matt Woods – “Liberty Bell” – from From Brushy Mountain

The question going into Matt Woods’ new album With Love From Brushy Mountain was if he could he match the magic he evoked in his song “Deadman’s Blues” that went on to win him Saving Country Music’s Song of the Year in 2013. The answer turned out to be “yes,” and the best evidence might be this soul-wrenching song that matches “Deadman’s Blues” punch for punch.


The Secret Sisters – “Lonely Island” – from Put Your Needle Down

You’d be hard pressed to find another song that showcases the beauty of harmonizing sisters so exquisitely. If “Lonely Island” was recorded 50 years ago, it would be a standard of the country music song book today. It is simply a masterpiece.


Willie Nelson – “The Wall” – from Band of Brothers

No favoritism or bias being shown here to a legendary artist. Willie Nelson has truly written his best song in years.

“Isn’t it interesting how we look upon Willie Nelson as such a saint of not just music or country music, but of the nation and world, and here he is releasing a song that instead of reveling in his accomplishments and resting on his laurels, catches the 81-year-old country legend looking back upon his past mistakes, self-deprecating and pensive, yet understanding how those mistakes made him the man he is today.” (read review)


Sturgill Simpson – “Turtles All The Way Down” – from Metamodern Sounds

A polarizing song from its seeming questioning of faith and drug laws, “Turtles All The Way Down” speaks to the very core of what the Sturgill Simpson experience is all about: a forward-thinking, challenging approach to enhancing the senses by marking a crossroads between traditional country and a progressive approach.


Kirsty Lee Akers – “Take Me Back”

A timeless sentiment that Kirsty Lee revitalizes in an excellent performance that highlights her unique and inviting voice. This is one of those songs that you get lost in, and makes you take stock. Your sense of perspective is changed after listening.


Other Great Songs:

• Charlie Parr – “I Dreamed I Saw Paul Bunyan Last Night” – from Hollandale

• Jason Eady – “Whiskey & You” – from Daylight & Dark

• Bob Wayne & Elizabeth Cook – “20 Miles to Juarez” – from Back to the Camper

• Red Eye Gravy -”Hard Livin’” – from Dust Bowl Hangover

• Dierks Bentley – “I Hold On” – from Riser

• First Aid Kit – “Cedar Lane” – from Stay Gold

• Miranda Lambert – “Hard Staying Sober” – from Platinum

• Karen Jonas – “Thinking Of You Again” – from Oklahoma Lottery

• Zoe Muth – “Mama Needs A Margarita” – from World of Strangers

• John Fullbright – “Write A Song” – from Songs

• Eric Church – “Dark Side” – from The Outsiders

• Parker Milsap – “Truck Stop Gospel” – from Parker Milsap

• Willie Watson – “Mexican Cowboy” – from Folk Singer Vol. 1

Jun
17

The Worst “Country” Songs of 2014 So Far

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

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

WARNING: Language

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


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

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

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


Jarrod Niemann – “Donkey” 

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

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


Tim McGraw – “Lookin’ For That Girl

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

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


Jake Owen – “Beachin’”

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

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


Cole Swindell – “Chillin’ It”

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

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

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


Brantley Gilbert – “Bottom’s Up”

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

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

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


Dishonorable Mention:

Jun
9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jun
8

George Strait’s Final Concert Shatters Attendance Record

June 8, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  25 Comments

george-strait

King George Strait played what is expected to be his final show as a big ticket touring musician to a packed audience at Dallas Cowboys’ stadium in Arlington, TX on Saturday night, and the event that saw people travel from all over the world to witness, and drew some of country music’s biggest names in support, shattered previous attendance records for an indoor concert. A head count of 104, 793 attendees was taken, roughly 5,000 over the stadium’s listed capacity of 100,000, and breaking the previous record for an indoor concert of 87,500 held by a Rolling Stones show at the Superdome in New Orleans in 1981—the same year Strait released his first hit “Unwound”.

The George Strait concert was the final show in his 60-date farewell “Cowboy Rides Away” tour that embarked on the road January 13th, 2013 for a show in Lubbock, TX. Showing up to support George was an impressive list of performers, especially since the date competed with the big night of Nashville’s CMA Fest at LP Field. The show included Jason Aldean, Kenny Chesney, Eric Church, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride, Lee Ann Womack, Sheryl Crow, and Asleep At The Wheel. Alan Jackson and George Strait reprized their CMA Award-winning duet “Murder On Music Row” from 2000 on the custom-built stage that sat in the center of the field. “It’s still appropriate,” the duo said about the protest song.

Other performances included George Strait and Vince Gill covering George Jones’ song “Love Bug” as well as “Does Ft. Worth Ever Cross Your Mind”, Martina McBride and George sang duets on “Golden Ring” and “Jackson”, Miranda Lambert joined in for “How ‘Bout Them Cowgirls”, and Alan Jackson also sang “Amarillo By Morning” with night’s man of honor. At the end of the concert, everyone took the stage, including Ray Benson from Asleep At The Wheel to sing “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” and finish up with “The Cowboy Rides Away”.

George Strait performed 584 shows since 1990 that grossed more than $405 million, had 44 Number One hits on Billboard’s country chart, and sold nearly 70 million records. But as Strait promised when first announcing the tour, this doesn’t mean he will stop recording or playing shows upon occasion. It will just be the end of the long haul stadium/arena tours. “Like Arnold Schwarzenegger says, I’ll be back,” Strait said before the final song. There was also a film crew shooting the whole event that saw tickets spike to an average of $688 in the secondary market.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am to be here tonight,” said Strait from the stage. “It’s just been on my mind since we started this tour two years ago, and finally it’s here tonight. We broke a record for the most people, ever. Really? Why wouldn’t we, huh?”

Jun
3

Album Review – Miranda Lambert’s “Platinum”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Takeaway Tracks:

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

Big Throwaway Tracks:

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

1 1/4 of 2 guns up.

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -

Purchase Platinum from Amazon

The Good:

The Bad:

May
18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 3/4 of 2 guns down.

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May
15

Almost Every Major Country Artist Now Has Same Talent Agency

May 15, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  50 Comments

w-m-eOkay, not every major country music artist, but darn near. And no, this is not exaggeration. In fact when you look at the names that all fall under the same talent agency, it’s downright astounding.

Just think about this for a second: Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean, Eric Church, Brady Paisley, Miranda Lambert, and Rascal Flatts are all now managed by the same exact talent agency. That is pretty much every single top tier country artist at the moment aside from Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood. And that’s just the start. The Band Perry and Jerrod Niemann are also managed by them. So are Dierks Bentley and Justin Moore.

In fact there a total of 128 mainstream country acts that fall under this same talent agency. It’s virtually everyone. It would be easier to name of the artists who are not on their roster. They even manage many of the big names in Texas country like Granger Smith, the Randy Rogers Band, and Josh Abbott. The have legacy acts like Hank Williams Jr., Vince Gill, and Kenny Rogers. They have Southern rock artists like Whiskey Myers and Lynyrd Skynyrd. They even manage independent-minded performers like Jamey Johnson and Robert Earl Keen.

Who is this mega talent company that barely anybody’s heard about?

The company is called William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, or WME for short. It is a talent agency that represents artists for concerts, tours, and appearances among other management tasks, and they have been acquiring managers of numerous artists and consolidating them under their umbrella for the past few years until they now have a virtual monopoly on mainstream country touring talent. For example in 2010, WME brought on board the 360 Artist Agency run by Joey Lee, and with him, the artists Miranda Lambert, Lee Brice, and Lee Ann Womack. Earlier this week, the agency brought on Kevin Neal, who brought along with him Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean, and Colt Ford among others.

WME Headquarters in Beverley Hills

WME Headquarters in Beverley Hills

WME, which has offices in Beverley Hills, Nashville, New York City, London, Miami, and Dallas, also has a big stake in managing TV and movie actors, sports personalities, and even writers. But their ability to consolidate virtually all of the talent in country music in one place, especially when it comes to the very top of the genre, is virtually unmatched in the recording industry.

WME also manages artists from other genres. They are the talent agency for the red hot Pharrell, as well as Snoop Dogg and Rihanna. But there is not genre they have such a tight grip on, or any talent agency has a grip on, like WME has on country.

So why does any of this matter?

Because when you have the same entity in charge of virtually everyone, you run the risk every monopoly runs on an industry. In the last few years, we’ve seen the gross consolidation of power in the recording industry, and in country specifically, into the hands of a few huge entities, especially in the touring realm. Virtually every concert now is promoted by AEG or Live Nation. If you want to purchase a ticket, you have one option: Ticketmaster …. which is owned by Live Nation. And since nearly every single artist that exists in the higher ranks of touring in country music has the same talent agency, the vacuum of competition can, and does foster a stagnant, incestuous environment. It also gives them dramatic advantage over other agencies, to the point where smaller, independent agency are forced to concede to them or go out-of-business. Why do we see the same concert pairings over and over? Why do the same artists seem to always be at the top of the genre? Why do the same artists get nominated for the same awards and get all the radio play? Because they all fall under the auspices of the same few companies.

Here’s the country roster for WME:

38 Special
Adam Sanders
Ashliegh Lisset
The Band Perry
Big & Rich
Blake Shelton
Blue Sky Riders
Brad Paisley
Brent Cobb
Bri Bagwell
Brothers Osborne
Bush Hawg
The Cadillac Three
Caitlyn Smith
Casey Donahew Band
Charlie Worsham
Chris Lane
Chris Stapleton
Chris Young
Chuck Wicks
Cole Swindell
Colt Ford
Craig Campbell
Dani Flowers
Danielle Bradbery
David Fanning
Dean Alexander
Diamond Rio
Dierks Bentley
Drew Baldridge
Duck Dynasty (The Robertson Family)
Dustin Lynch
Dylan Scott
Easton Corbin
Eric Church
Eric Paslay
The Farm
Florida Georgia Line
Frankie Ballard
Gary Allan
Granger Smith
Gretchen Wilson
Hank Williams, Jr.
Hayden Panettiere
Hudson MooreJackie Lee
James Otto
Jamey Johnson
Jason Aldean
Jerrod Niemann
Joe Diffie
Joey Hyde
John King
John Rich
Jon Pardi
Josh Abbott Band
Josh Kelley
Josh Thompson
Josh Turner
The Judds
Jukebox Mafia
Justin Moore
Keith Anderson
Kelleigh Bannen
Kenny Rogers
Kix Brooks
Kristen Kelly
Kristy Lee Cook
Kyle Park
Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers
Laura Bell Bundy
Leah Turner
Lee Ann Womack
Lee Brice
Lindsay Ell
The Little Willies feat. Norah Jones
Lonestar
The Lost Trailers
Luke Bryan
Lynyrd Skynyrd
Mark Chesnutt
Miranda Lambert
Mo Pitney
Montgomery Gentry
Natalie Stovall & The Drive
Neal McCoy
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
The Oak Ridge Boys
Parmalee
Pat GreenPistol Annies
RaeLynn
Rachel Bradshaw
Randy Houser
Randy Montana
Randy Rogers Band
Rascal Flatts
Reba
Robert Earl Keen
Rodney Atkins
Ronnie Dunn
Ronnie Milsap
Rose Falcon
Roy Clark
Sara Evans
Scotty McCreery
Sheryl Crow
Smithfield
Steven Lee Olsen
Stoney LaRue
Sunny Sweeney
The Swon Brothers
Terri Clark
Thomas Rhett
Thompson Square
The Time Jumpers
Tracy Lawrence
Trick Pony
Trisha Yearwood
Tyler Farr
Vince Gill
Wade Bowen
Weston Burt
Whiskey Myers
William Michael Morgan
The Willis Clan
Wynonna

Apr
9

Eric Church Taps Dwight, Brandy Clark, Brothers Osborne for Tour

April 9, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  50 Comments

brandy-clark-eric-church-dwight-yoakam-tour

Eric Church has just announced the details and dates for his upcoming “The Outsiders” World arena tour, and he will be tapping some worthy talent to open for him during dates that will start on September 11th in North America, and run through December (see full dates below).

Actor, Bakersfield throwback, and West Coast country music legend Dwight Yoakam has been named as the primary support for The Outsiders Tour. Though one could make the argument that with Dwight’s standing in country, he should be the one headlining tours, the pairing has the potential to expose the work of Dwight—whose been flying under the radar and pursuing acting more in the last few years—to a new generation of fans.

Songwriter Brandy Clark, the woman behind many songs from Kacey Musgraves and the recent ACM-winning Miranda Lambert tune “Mama’s Broken Heart”, will also be offering support on selected dates. Known previously for her behind-the-scenes work, Brandy Clark broke out as a critic’s favorite with her debut release in 2013 12 Stories.

Another critical favorite that is looking to create more noise is the uprising duo Brothers Osborne, also offering support on certain dates. Brothers John Osborne and T. J. Osborne are signed to EMI; the same label as Eric Church.

Hard rock group Halestorm will also open selected dates.

Eric Church The Outsiders Tour Dates:

Sept. 11 | Bossier City, La. | CenturyLink Center*

Sept. 13 | St. Louis, Mo. | Scottrade Center*

Sept. 16 | Minneapolis, Minn. | Target Center*

Sept. 17 | Des Moines, Iowa | Wells Fargo Arena*

Sept. 18 | Omaha, Neb. | CenturyLink Center*

Sept. 25 | Louisville, Ky. | KFC Yum! Center*

Sept. 26 | Charleston, W.Va. | Charleston Civic Center*

Sept. 27 | Greensboro, N.C. | Greensboro Coliseum*

Oct. 9 | Grand Rapids, Mich. | Van Andel Arena*

Oct. 10 | Cleveland, Ohio | Quicken Loans Arena*

Oct. 11 | Pittsburgh, Pa. | Consol Energy Center*

Oct. 16 | Charlottesville, Va. | John Paul Jones Arena**

Oct. 17 | New York, N.Y. | Madison Square Garden**

Oct. 18 | Philadelphia, Pa. | Wells Fargo Center**

Oct. 23 | Manchester, N.H. | Verizon Wireless Arena**

Oct. 24 | Uncasville, Conn. | Mohegan Sun**

Oct. 25 | Uncasville, Conn. | Mohegan Sun**

Oct. 30 | Knoxville, Tenn. |Thompson-Boling Arena**

Oct. 31 | Memphis, Tenn.| FedExForum**

Nov. 1 | Tulsa, Okla. | BOK Center**

Nov. 13 | London, Ont. | Budweiser Gardens**

Nov. 14 | Hamilton, Ont. | FirstOntario Centre**

Nov. 15 | Ottawa, Ont. | Canadian Tire Centre**

Nov. 20 | Green Bay, Wis. | Resch Center

Nov. 21 | Peoria, Ill. | Peoria Civic Center***

Nov. 22 | Evansville, Ind. | The Ford Center***

Dec. 5 | Kansas City, Mo. | Sprint Center

Dec. 6 | Sioux Falls, S.D. | Denny Sanford Premier Center***

Dec. 11 | Atlanta, Ga. | The Arena at Gwinnett Center***

Dec. 12 | Lexington, Ky. | Rupp Arena***

Dec. 13 | Birmingham, Ala. | BJCC Arena***

All dates with special guest Dwight Yoakam

*denotes Brothers Osborne

**denotes Brandy Clark

***denotes Halestorm

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