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Love ‘em or hate ‘em, it’s hard to dispute that the CMA Awards are the most important night in country music every year. The nominations announced last week had a few interesting wrinkles, so let’s take a in-depth look at what’s coming up on November 1st and make some predictions.
Kelly Clarkson for Female Vocalist of the Year
Yeah, this is a very confusing nomination. As pop artists go, she may be one of the the good guys, but a CMA nomination? Yes she’s dabbled slightly in some crossover material like her ”Don’t You Wanna Stay” duet with Jason Aldean, but unless I missed the memo, Kelly has never put out a country album, doesn’t bill herself as a country act on tours, and doesn’t run primarily in country circles. Sure, I think we all anticipate Kelly making a country move soon, but it hasn’t happened yet.
But don’t worry, Kelly Clarkson has no chance of winning this award, and if she did, it would be a PR nightmare more than a gift (You think Carrie Underwood fans are crazy now?). It would have been good to see a name like Kellie Pickler get the attention, even though she would have little chance of winning it. There wasn’t another name they felt met the caliber of the other nominees in country, and so they reached out to pop.
“Roll Me Up And Smoke Me” with Willie Nelson & Snoop Dog for Musical Event of the Year
I both love and hate this nomination. Yes, we should be happy that Willie’s name, along with Jamey Johnson’s and Kris Kristofferson’s who also collaborated on the song are even being mentioned in connection with the CMA’s. And no, I do not see this as some watershed moment in the mono-genre just because of Snoop Dog’s involvement. “Roll Me Up…” is still solidly a country song. It just once again reinforces Willie’s identity with pot instead of all the other great things he could and should be known for (including his marijuana advocacy), and it seems like a nomination stretch to attempt to be showy by the CMA. Nonetheless it is a very fun song done by some very cool people, and there’s much worse things that could have be given this recognition.
Down Year For Taylor Swift
Her last album Speak Now is pretty long in the tooth at this point having been released almost 2 years ago, and she hasn’t had a hit single in a while. Her new album Red will have been out for less than a month when the CMA’s hit, and her new single “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” may be a little too pop for the CMA’s tastes, leaving them reluctant to vote for her. I’m sure in 2013 Swift will again be the CMA’s darling, but 2012 may take a Taylor Swift breather.
We’re Lucky There’s No Lionel
Except for a buried mention in the “Musical Event of the Year” category, Lionel Richie and his album Tuskegee didn’t make any of the major lists; a pleasant surprise. Despite lacking a major single, the album has been one the biggest blockbusters of 2012 so far. But don’t worry Richie fans, I’m sure the ACM’s who’ve whored themselve for Lionel plenty, including throwing him an unprecedented hour-long special on CBS, will reward the commercial success of Tuskegee greatly.
***UPDATE (10-31-12) Jason Aldean’s Cheating and Taylor Swift’s Chart Success
It will be interesting to see how the CMA votership reacted to the news about Jason Aldean being photographed with a woman that wasn’t his wife in an LA Bar. The news broke on September 30th, and the final round of voting for the CMA’s commenced on October 4th. Aldean, who’s up for the most awards this year, may see his support diminish because of the scandal.
Similarly, Swift has been making headlines since the last round of voting started. With Billboard changing their chart rules, she now has a firm grip on the #1 spot on the country charts with her pop anthem “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and two other songs charting in the top 20. Does this increase her chances of taking home a trophy, or will there be a Taylor Swift backlash because of the overtly-pop aspect of her new hit songs?
Entertainer of the Year
- Taylor Swift
- Brad Paisley
- Jason Aldean – Winner
- Blake Shelton
- Kenny Chesney
Slight chance Taylor Swift could walk away with this, or maybe even Blake Shelton based on his work with NBC’s The Voice, but I think it’s Aldean’s to lose. His was the monster album this last cycle that kept churning out singles.
***UPDATE – As I said, it was Aldean’s to lose, but he may have lost it with his cheating scandal back in September. Also Taylor Swift now has to be considered a serious contender from the strength of her Red album becoming the best-selling debut in a decade, and the chart success of her song “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”. Or, these two big events could cancel each other out, and Blake Shelton could find himself the beneficiary. In the end though, I still think Aldean has the greatest chance, but it all of a sudden it is a much tighter race.
Male Vocalist of the Year
- Jason Aldean
- Luke Bryan
- Eric Church – Second Choice
- Blake Shelton- Winner
- Keith Urban
This is a three horse race, with Blake Shelton inching ahead from the strength his realty TV personality gives him. This may be where Eric Church’s smack talking comes back to bite him. In a neck and neck race, folks will remember how he called out Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton, and others and will give the nod to the nominee with a cleaner nose. Aldean’s My Kinda Party has been such a commercial success, it’s hard to rule him out completely, but it’s rare an artist wins both Entertainer and the top gender category in the same year.
Female Vocalist of the Year
- Carrie Underwood – Winner
- Taylor Swift
- Kelly Clarkson
- Miranda Lambert
- Martina McBride
This might be the biggest toss up of the major awards, but I think the other contenders might split the difference and leave Carrie Underwood with the win. Again, it’s an off year for Taylor, but she can never be completely counted out. Miranda is the other solid contender. I’m not sure if her album Four The Record or the supporting tour were strong enough for the nod this year, but when you combine it with her Pistol Annies material, it’s a pretty impressive body of work.
Album of the Year
- Chief – Eric Church - Winner
- Four The Record – Miranda Lambert
- Home – Dierks Bentley
- Own The Night – Lady Antebellum
- Tailgates & Tanlines – Luke Bryan
I just don’t think the other albums have shown the remarkable strength Chief has. It’s been stalled out in the Billboard Top 5 for what seems to be eons. This will override any concerns about Eric’s extra-curricular gum flapping off-stage.
Single of the Year
- “Dirt Road Anthem” – Jason Aldean – Winner
- “God Gave Me You” - Blake Shelton
- “Home” - Dierks Bentley
- “Pontoon” - Little Big Town
- “Springsteen” - Eric Church
This is a pretty tenuous prediction because “Dirt Road Anthem” is so late in the calendar cycle. And though it angers me so that it may be the front runner to win, if you are going to give it to the most successful and influential song in country for this calendar cycle, it’s hard to dispute it. “Home” is also a little late in the cycle, and let’s not forget Jason Isbell claims it’s his. “Pontoon” and “Sprinsteen” as singles are a little early in the cycle, so give me Blake Shelton’s “God Gave Me You” as a runner up.
Vocal Group of the Year
- Eli Young Band
- Lady Antebellum
- Little Big Town
- The Band Perry
- Zac Brown Band – Winner
Where’s Rascal Flatts? They’re just as bad as these other bands. If they’re bitching, they have a legitimate beef. If I were Zac Brown, I’d be ashamed to be in this company.
Vocal Duo of the Year
- Big & Rich
- Love and Theft
- The Civil Wars
- Thompson Square
If The Civil Wars ever had a chance, it would be this year, but I’d still only make their odds 1 in 5. Sugarland hasn’t done much this year. Beyond that, it’s a total toss up.
Song of the Year
- “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” Will Hoge and Eric Paslay
- “God Gave Me You,” Dave Barnes
- “Home,” Dan Wilson, Brett Beavers, and Dierks Bentley
- “Over You,” Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton – Winner
- “Springsteen,” Eric Church, Ryan Tyndell, and Jeff Hyde
Seeing Will Hoge win a CMA would be a small, cool victory. “Over You” might edge the others from the star power involved and the sentimentality that tends to dominate this category.
New Artist of the Year
- Lee Brice
- Brantley Gilbert – Winner
- Hunter Hayes
- Thompson Square
Brantley and his bad Affliction T-shirt will probably take it, and the world will be a worse place for it.
Musical Event of the Year
- “Dixie Highway,” Alan Jackson and Zac Brown Band
- “Feel Like a Rock Star,” Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw
- “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” Willie Nelson, Snoop Dog, Kris Kristofferson, Jamey Johnson
- “Safe and Sound,” Taylor Swift and The Civil Wars – Winner
- “Stuck on You,” Lionel Richie and Darius Rucker
This may be both The Civil Wars’ and Taylor Swift’s best chance at a 2012 CMA, boosted by The Hunger Games’ commercial success.
Music Video of the Year
- “Come Over,” Kenny Chesney
- “Over You,” Miranda Lambert
- “Pontoon,” Little Big Town
- ”Red Solo Cup,” Toby Keith
- “Springsteen,” Eric Church
If “Red Solo Cup” wins, look for even more mainstream country fake-viral videos.
Musician of the Year
- Sam Bush – mandolin
- Paul Franklin – steel guitar
- Dann Huff – guitar
- Brent Mason – guitar
- Mac McAnally – guitar
Last week it was revealed that in the June issue of the upcoming W Magaine, Miranda Lambert lets loose one mother of a backhanded compliment toward Taylor Swift, saying:
Taylor Swift is a pop singer. But she really helped country music. When she hit, I was thinking, Thank God Taylor’s out there to show people we’re not cheesy. Some people still think that country music is twangy and cheesy, and they pigeonhole us. But I thought if they’re looking for Taylor’s videos or songs, they might see or hear other people they like. If her fans are watching for her, they might like me too.
There’s really many things to unravel from this Miranda statement, including that she calls out Taylor for not being country, but then praises her for showing people country is not “twangy.” Isn’t the presence of twang what makes country country? And the lack of it is what makes country pop? Isn’t Miranda herself offered up many times as an example of country twang? It hearkens back to statements Jason Aldean made before the ACM Awards, about how he didn’t want people thinking country was hayseeds sitting on hay bales.
But more important is this question of how effective Taylor Swift is as a country music apostle, going out there in the world, turning crossover fans into country converts with her music. This certainly must be one of the theories behind the move announced today by the Country Music Hall of Fame to open a “Taylor Swift Speak Now: Treasures of the World Tour” exhibit on June 6th, running through November. Taylor just made a massive $4 million donation to the Hall of Fame for a children’s education center. The two couldn’t be related, could they?
But the Hall of Fame has already had a small Swift display up for a while, across from some of the biggest memorabilia the Hall boasts at the west end of the top floor. The idea is to engage the kiddos with someone they can relate to, and then maybe, just maybe, they may give some attention to all this old people, backwoods hillbilly stuff.
Is this theory effective? I don’t know. And the question embodies the underlying dichotomy of Taylor Swift. In one respect, she’s the country music savior we’ve all been waiting for. She writes her own songs, plays her own music, produces her own albums, respects herself, is a positive role model, and gives back to the community. As a product, she’s brought tremendous revenue to a struggling industry and genre. Bless her heart, she has inspired millions. And as pop, her music holds tremendous levity. But the problem still remains: Taylor Swift is not country.
Do we really think legions of her fans are going to gateway from her music to Waylon Jennings, or even Alan Jackson, or even Justin Townes Earle? And for as many people she may convert to the pop version of country, may she scare just as many away from the traditional side? What are the ratios here? For all the good she may do enticing young fans to the genre, is she chasing away the older ones?
I don’t have any answers here. Taylor could be doing tremendous amounts of good, or she could be doing irreplaceable damage to country. Or her toll could be a complete wash. I think Taylor Swift has done tremendous good for society, culture, and music in general. But I think it’s important for all of us to question the effectiveness of Taylor Swift as a country music gateway drug, and what the lingering, long-term side effects of that drug could be.
Eric Church has been stirring the pot quite a bit lately, calling out Blake Shelton & Miranda Lambert amongst others in a recent Rolling Stone article for their reality show past, before issuing an apology that was curiously devoid of an apology to Blake Shelton, the main protagonist of Church’s criticisms.
Now as Church continues to make the media rounds in support of his current tour with Brantley Gilbert, he stopped to talk to American Songwriter where the topic of being an “Outlaw” came up. Church is regularly lumped with the crop of “new Outlaws” that can include people as varying as Justin More and Gretchen Wilson, to Jamey Johnson.
Justin Moore famously proclaimed himself an “Outlaw” on his album Outlaws Like Me, to the chagrin of many. But Eric has been smart heretofore of straddling the Outlaw line, allowing others to use the term when referring to him, but stopping short of using the term on himself to be insulated from any backlash. For example, at the CMA awards in November, Brad Paisley introduced Eric as “country’s latest Outlaw” before his performance.
These award shows are so choreographed and exquisitely planned, it is ridiculous to think that Church’s management was not at least briefed on how he would be introduced. Church has certainly never refuted that term when it has been used to describe him. Until now:
American Songwriter: People have been calling you an outlaw. Is that an image you’ve tried to create for yourself?
Eric Church: Oh god. No! Not at all. I think we get thrown into that category because of our career path. For a long time, it wasn’t cool to play the kind of music we did. It wasn’t cool to talk about what we talked about. We were pariahs, and when we got fired from the Rascal Flatts tour, we were troublemakers. I think that’s where the outlaw name comes from, but I prefer to think there’s already been an outlaw movement, and I think we can leave it at that. I’m not into branding what we do, because that just sensationalizes things, when it should be about the music.
Yet as one Saving Country Music reader named Chris easily sniffed out, a quick check of Eric Church’s website finds a whole page dedicated to “Outlaw” branding, with “a brand new “Outlaw T-Shirt” now available for sale in the online store, which features Eric’s signature Skull logo. Be one of the first to own it!”
Ouch. Sucks to miss that one. And these products were added in July 2011, so there no back pedal of saying there was a breakdown in communication with his merch store.
But in classic Eric Church fashion, he keeps open the idea of plausible deniability by not directly calling himself an “Outlaw”. Or as I’ve said before Eric Church Wants It Both Ways.
Meanwhile the beautiful “Outlaw” term and how it pertains to country music continues to be besmirched where even the most loyal “Outlaw” fans want to take the term behind the barn and put it out of its misery like an old dog with cataracts and arthritis in its legs and a tumor the size of a tennis ball clogging its airway.
It’s a shame, because when it comes to country radio, there is much worse than Eric Church. But his continuing missteps and insistence on image, Outlaw or otherwise, continues to make him very hard to like.
So once again Eric Church has accomplished the open mouth, insert foot trick in an attempt to prove to all of us just how much of an “Outlaw” he is. In the latest edition of The Rolling Stone, not the last one with Obama on the cover, or the other one with Obama on the cover, but the newest one with Obama on the cover, Eric Church twists off on Blake Shelton, dropping F-bombs, and saying Blake is “not an artist” for his role on NBC’s American Idol answer “The Voice”:
It’s become American Idol gone mad. Honestly, if Blake Shelton and Cee Lo Green fucking turn around in a red chair, you get a deal? That’s crazy. I don’t know what would make an artist do that. You’re not an artist…If I was concerned about my legacy, there’s no fucking way I would ever sit there [and be a reality-show judge]. Once your career becomes something other than the music, then that’s what it is. I’ll never make that mistake. I don’t care if I fucking starve.
Then Eric Church turned his evil eye veiled behind his signature aviators on the current state of the institution of rock n’ roll.
Rock & Roll has been very emo or whatever the fuck. It’s very hipster. We played Lollapalooza and I was stunned at how pussy 90 percent of those bands were. Nobody’s loud. It’s all very fuckin’ Peter, Paul and Mary shit.
On the surface, what Eric Church said about Blake Shelton and “The Voice” is spot on. The problem is that Eric Church, whose very much a product of the same machine Blake Shelton originates from, is the one throwing the punches. Eric Church is on tour right now with the official country music douche Brantley Gilbert for crying out loud. He wants to be considered an “Outlaw”, but he takes every opportunity to be part of the big corporate country music machine by performing at award shows. If Eric Church has such a problem with Blake Shelton, why did he perform his song “Springsteen” at last month’s ACM Awards, that were hosted by, guess who… Blake Shelton.
As Blake’s wife Miranda Lambert pointed out through Twitter, she took Eric out on tour with her in 2010. “Thanks Eric Church for saying I’m not a real artist,” she tweeted. “You’re welcome for the tour in 2010.”
Erich Church wants it both ways. He wants to be considered the “new Outlaw” of country music, but he wants to still use the same pop country machine he criticizes to get success. And when exactly did calling out other performers make you an Outlaw? I sure don’t remember Willie or Waylon doing that in their Outlaw days. I remember Waylon skipping the award shows, not making self-aggrandizing videos to help drum up votes from fans. And if you can’t do anything but play music to be an artist, does that mean Outlaws Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson are disqualified because they acted in movies?
This is the same thing Eric Church has been doing for years. The difference now though is Eric Church is no longer playing a club circuit or even a theater circuit. He’s selling out arenas. He’s a bona fide top tier country music star. I am amazed that his last album Chief released last July is still #4 on the Billboard country charts, and was the greatest gainer last week, helped by his big hit “Springsteen.”
But bad habits die hard, and he’s still acting like he has to insult people to get noticed. So many people have their conspiracy theories of how Taylor Swift came to power in country, floating stories about her dad buying her career, and warehouses full of CD’s purchase to drive SoundScan numbers to get her album in the charts. But in truth her big break came when Eric was on tour with Rascal Flatts. Yeah, again, not very “Outlaw”. After repeatedly ignoring Flatts’ requests to not play as loud and to respect the time slot they had given him, since after all, they were giving Eric Church an opportunity, he got kicked off the tour, opening up a space for the up-and-coming Taylor Swift to benefit from the exposure.
Even if I may agree with some of the things Eric Church says, its hard to believe him. I don’t want him representing the dissent against corporate country music, because he’s part of corporate country music, and he fights dirty.
Lastly, this Rolling Stone article should be taken with a little suspicion. The financially-struggling outlet has a history of taking comments out of context, printing comments that were meant to be off-record, and at times publishing outright fictitious stories to help drive buzz and viral events, just like with what has happened with this story where everywhere you turn, people are talking about it. For example there was the story pitting Kris Kristofferson against Toby Keith that both sides say is completely fictitious, or the article that got Gen. Stanley McChrystal fired. Don’t be surprised if Eric in the coming days comes out and says that his comments were misconstrued in one way or another.
As I anticipated, Eric Church has released a statement through The Boot, saying his comments in The Rolling Stone were “misunderstood.”
“The comment I made to Rolling Stone was part of a larger commentary on these types of reality television shows and the perception they create, not the artists involved with the shows themselves,” Eric clarifies. “The shows make it appear that artists can shortcut their way to success. There are a lot of artists due to their own perseverance that have gone on to be successful after appearing on these shows, but the real obstacles come after the cameras stop rolling. Every artist has to follow up television appearances with dedication towards their craft, but these shows tend to gloss over that part and make it seem like you can be ordained into stardom. I have a problem with those perceived shortcuts, not just in the music industry. Many people have come to think they can just wake up and have things handed to them.
“This piece was never intended to tear down any individual, and I apologize to anybody I offended in trying to shed light on this issue.
The war vs. pop influences and progress in country music, and the purity yearned for by the traditional elements of the genre is almost as old as the genre itself. The introduction of electric instruments on The Grand Ole Opry stage, drummers in country outfits, it was all met with stiff resistance from purists in their time. Steel guitar might be one of the most identifiably “country” elements in music, but think what shock must have ran through traditionalists’ minds in the late 40′s when the appeal of this strange electrified sound was brought back from Polynesia by WWII GI’s.
This continuous country music cold war tends to go hot periodically, as it did over the last couple of weeks. The ACM Awards, a following brushup pitting Miranda Lambert and Justin Moore against Ashton Kutcher, followed by a prominent Fox News story on the matter, had the old standard battle lines being cast, and like most battles in the culture war these days, both sides being defined by extremes as opposed to a more true measure of feelings, creating a polarized environment where little understanding could be garnered.
So in an attempt to power through the rhetoric, here is a cool-headed attempt to explain some of the differences between the traditional and mainstream mindsets, a detailed look at the term “progress” and how it relates to country music, and how it all relates to radio, still the most important medium for relaying country music to listeners.
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“There needs to be more old stuff on country radio”
“Nobody wants to hear that old stuff on country radio”
Country radio is the real battleground in the country music war. Radio programming is reflected at country awards shows, and that is why they become battlegrounds as well. When the argument is made that more older music, or more traditional-sounding new music needs to be on country radio, the reaction from mainstream and pop country fans usually is that country music needs to “progress” (see below) and that the old stuff is outdated.
You can’t argue taste when it comes to music, but it is impossible to argue against statistics, and the statistics released by Edison Research at the Country Radio Seminar in Nashville this February conclusively state that country radio is on a dramatic downhill trend, and that one of the reasons is because country music’s big traditionalist demographics are being undeserved.
Conversely, traditionalists that think that pop country has no place on country radio and that they should only play Hank, Cash, Willie, and Waylon are doing just as much of a disservice. By saying the current radio formula needs to swing in the complete opposite direction and wholesale eliminate pop influences, they negatively typecast the more common pragmatic traditionalist argument that is simply looking for balance. Country music and radio has always had pop influences, even in the 50′s, and it must continue to. A complete flip of the radio format would in turn disenfranchise the mainstream audience and put radio on just as much of an unsustainable path.
That is why balance and quality is what must be strived for on country radio. As Edison Research pointed out, at this moment there is an imbalance towards the pop or mainstream. Something commonly misunderstood by mainstream fans is that just because something is “traditional” country doesn’t mean it needs to be classic or “old”. There are scores of traditional, neo-traditional, post-punk, and progressive country artists putting out relevant, commercially-viable music receiving little or no mainstream radio play. Touching on all of country’s current styles, along with paying homage to its roots with a classic song or two, with an overall emphasis of showcasing the the best and most appealing music the genre has to offer is the way radio, and in turn country music, can preserve its viability as a medium.
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“Country music must progress”
This is the argument commonly made by pop country fans whenever traditionalists and purists push back on pop, rap, or other influences entering the genre. However “pop” doesn’t necessarily translate into progression. It many times results in regression. You can have progress in country music while still keeping the music firmly attached to its roots. That exact formula was what “alt-country” was founded on, with artists like Uncle Tupelo, Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, and Bela Fleck. A term often used in exchange for “alt-country” is “progressive country”. Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Townes Van Zandt were also labeled as progressive country in their day.
One of the reasons progressive country came into existence is because the progressive approach was met with resistance from both the pop-oriented, commercial influences of the country music business, and traditionalists. But many alt-country artists went in the alt direction in the 80′s because they were embarrassed of the way country’s roots were being treated by the mainstream country genre. And the mainstream, by not showcasing or attempting to re-intergrate the tremendous talent gravitating to the alt-country world, found itself in one of its darkest periods in regards to both commercial success and artistic appeal.
Today there are many great country artists with progressive approaches to the music, yet they must compete with pop, and now hip-hop oriented “country” acts that many times frame country music in a submissive role to these other genres and are leading to the formation of a mono-genre.
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“Tradition is important in country music”
More than in any other genre of music, tradition and a tie to the roots of the music is a vital element that makes country music work. My favorite illustration of this is to compare it to religions, and compare country music to the Jewish faith. Anybody can be Christian or Muslim as long as they are believers in that faith, but being Jewish is just as much a culture and a bloodline as it is a belief.
Country is a roots genre that other genres are derived from, with a pure bloodline running through its past, just like the blues. Rock & roll for example has always been an amalgam of blues, rockabilly, country, and other influences. Hip-hop was founded on borrowing beats and modes from other genres. Country did draw from other influences too, but it also ties its traditions into its sonic structures and lyrical themes with the nostalgia and reflection found in its songs. The traditions and roots are fundamental elements of the style, just like the rapping of hip-hop, or the back beat of rock & roll.
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Without the tradition and roots of country in the music, it begins to fall apart as an art form. Without any pop or other outside influences in country, it begins to lose its commercial viability. The war for the heart of country music will continue on, but what must not is the imbalance favoring pop that has paralleled the most daunting and undeniable decline in the country music industry in its history.
Like the most awful of childhood memories, I’ve attempted to suppress my recollections and thoughts of this year’s ACM Awards into the deepest and darkest recesses of my psyche, but like a bad acid reflux condition, the bile keeps rising. Yesterday Fox News contacted me for some quotes on a story entitled: Some country music fans say Ashton Kutcher not offensive, popular country music is. After the ACM’s, both Miranda Lambert and Justin Moore took to Twitter to call out Ashton Kutcher for “making fun of country music” after he showed up dressed more country than anyone else on the night, and then sang a portion of a George Strait song out-of-tune.
Miranda Lambert, who received her “Female Artist of the Year” award from Ashton as presenter, tweeted, “Was Ashton Kutcher making fun of country or is it just me? Watching it back now and I’m kinda wondering?” and the very vertically-addled Justin Moore said, “Seen Ashton kutcher at the acms tonight. What a douche! I don’t care for people making a mockery of the way country artists’ dress.” Ashton responded to Miranda, ““I Am One Of The biggest country Music fans you’ve ever met,” he tweeted at Lambert. “Wasn’t making fun at all.”
As one who admittedly over-reacts to any affront on country music, I found Ashton Kutcher’s appearance innocuous at the worst on Sunday night. I can think of a dozen more offensive elements on the ACMs than Ashton, an actor on a sitcom, coming out and attempting to be entertaining in a funny manner because that is what all of us expect from him. He’s one of the leads on a show notorious for his penis jokes and banal humor.
I found the appearance by KISS in their full spandex and cod piece regalia significantly more offensive and out-of-place, and Carrie Underwood’s opening strip-tease number way more out of line with country’s character. So were appearances by Marc Anthony, Bono, and Lionel Ritchie. Couldn’t the ACMs given that face time to some country legends that deserve it more in that platform, or some up-and-coming country artists that could have benefited from that exposure? Sure, Ashton had no business being on the ACMs either, but he has a show on CBS who broadcast the ACM’s, and this is why he was there, and therein lies the problem with today’s Network TV environment.
Cross marketing is crippling live events on television–this idea that these big events draw enough traffic that you can justify ostensibly embedded commercials into their content with no recourse. Nothing is a bigger ass whip than watching a sports show when some leggy peroxide blonde hops into the broadcasting booth and is attempting to explain the plot of her new TV crime drama romantic comedy show set in a distopian world while the sports commentators attempt to interject info about what’s happening on the field.
The reason KISS was at the awards is because they’re attempting to resurrect their careers with Motley Crue on a new upcoming dual tour. Apparently CBS and washed up hair bands have carte blanch control over the content of a country awards show.
People who actually care about the roots and purity of country music keep waiting for that one Armageddon moment where country music will so cross over the line that the “pop sensibilities” and the “fake Outlaw” motif will all come crumbling down and they will be forced to return to the roots of the genre. With the continued backlash from the ACMs stretching well into this week, we very well may point back to Sunday night as Waterloo in the future. But I’m not holding my breathe, and even if it was the “big moment” and the reset button was pushed, be sure country music will figure out how to screw it up again even when there has been a resurgence back to the roots. It is a cyclical nature, and one can only pray to the ghost of Johnny Cash that the cycle is back on the upswing.
But truly, the 2012 ACM awards offered very few redeeming values, maybe Brad Paisley’s performances, maybe a few other things. But Carrie Underwood’s performance was the worst. Two years in a row now (last year it was a duet with Steven Tyler), Carrie Underwood has played the ACM’s puppet to open the show with the most pop, and most sensational display possible to attempt to draw in non-country genre viewers for the duration of the night.
In the 5 years of Saving Country Music, I have never had the need to call out Carrie Underwood, even last year I gave her a pass because in general, despite her American Idol past and how pop she may or may not be, she’s been a genuine, honest performer. But her persona is of the girl next door, the simple country girl, and when she gets up there in lingerie, flanked by the silhouettes of naked female bodies humping the air, it just looks out of place, for Carrie and country. Hey, I love the curvatures of the female body just as much as anybody, but you don’t want to see that from sweet Carrie.
Carrie defenders (and they are many and fervent) love to point out that she’s more “country” than Taylor Swift. That may be true, but at least Taylor Swift respects herself, and is true to herself, but then again, the 2012 ACMs were a low moment for Taylor too, who I’ve come around on recently. She seemed plastic, too rehearsed and conscious of the cameras on her, and Taylor didn’t even perform. Her reaction to Blake Shelton’s joke about her dating Tim Tebow caused its own drama, and possibly my biggest take from the whole night was how Taylor had slightly tarnished her image.
Taylor Swift’s name has also been brought up in defense of Lionel Ritchie whose performance on the ACMs lasted 4X longer than the tribute to the recently-passed Earl Scruggs, because as they say Taylor Swift is not country. Well of course Taylor is not country either, and at this point saying so is just being a master of the obvious. But she is real, though that didn’t really show through at the ACMs. The issue with Lionel is the absolute drubbing the American consumer is taking from the advertising of his Tuskegee album. Lionel has a whole autonomous ACM Special coming up on April 13th, and his “country” duets” album came in at the top of the charts this week, and sold more copies than any other Lionel album since 1985. And what exactly is country about Lionel?
In the end I feel embarrassed to even be talking about all this TMZ bullshit. The water cooler talk should be about the amazing performances and the inspiring moments about an event like The ACMs. Remember how we felt after Jennifer Hudson’s performance of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” in tribute to Whitney Houston on the Grammys? There is better performances and more inspiration on a episode of American Idol these days than there was on the 2012 ACM’s, and it was because country is embarrassed about being country and attempts to make up for that by being sensational instead of being explanatory in what country is, and exemplary in the way it is presented and in its performances. Instead we have award winners calling out presenters, and fans of pop performers and fake Outlaws duking it out for who is the worst. Dammit I want to to be honored to be a country music fan, not embarrassed.
Whether we like it or not, the ACM’s represent us as country fans. That is why we can’t just sit back and let them monopolize the dialogue, we must hold their feet to the fire, and broadcast our dissent, and let the rest of the world know that this is not us, this is not country music. Country music belongs to the people, and the people of country must rise up and take their genre back before it becomes a laughing stock, and not worth fighting for.
Don’t give up on country music! It may be dark times, and the light of country music may be scattered and dim, but as long as that light lives in the heart of its true fans and musicians, it will never die, and the hope remains that someday that light will be unified in to a new Golden era for country music.
Well shit, it looks like the Academy of Country Music Awards are this Sunday, so what better to get you prepared than to hold this charade up to the light and see what we’ve got. You should expect Reba McEntire’s skin to be taut, Blake Shelton’s jokes to be flat, Taylor Swift reactions to be be precocious, and let’s all pray to Jesus that the camera doesn’t find Keith Urban’s wife, the refined and elegant Nicole Kidman, whose been molding her physical appearance for years now to become a replica of Skeletor for the upcoming He-Man remake.
You can’t mention the ACM’s without framing them in the context of being the bastard son to the much more important and fair CMA’s. Folks love to smirk that all these award shows are rigged, well the ACM’s are the ones we know for sure are dominated by Music Row politics and the practice of block voting, where labels trade votes to get specific artists they want to push nominated and awarded. Last year this practice came to light when it was revealed Miranda Lambert was favored over Carrie Underwood.
Either way, you can argue it is country music’s 2nd most important night, whether you like shaking your fist at the country music industry or not, so SCM will be there to cover it. You’re invited to turn your TV on and your snark machine up and join us for the SCM Live Blog on the ACM’s Sunday night. In the meantime, let’s look at what we have in regards to candidates and awards.
Entertainer of the Year
- Jason Aldean
- Kenny Chesney
- Brad Paisley
- Blake Shelton
- Taylor Swift – Win
This is a two horse race between Taylor Swift and Jason Aldean. Man vs. woman, real vs. fake, pop vs. more pop. In the end I expect Taylor Swift to run away with the award because the Entertainer of the Year is fan voted. Legions of glitter faced little girls will outlast Aldean’s winshield cowboy fanbase that is boggled by any technology beyond their Bluetooth.
Male Vocalist of the Year
- Jason Aldean – Win
- Kenny Chesney
- Brad Paisley
- Blake Shelton
- Chris Young
This is Jason Aldean’s to lose, and it becomes more likely for him if the fans vote Taylor Swift for Entertainer of the Year. The other contender could be Blake Shelton, bolstered by the popularity of “The Voice” TV show. Chris Young is the sleeper with an outside chance. He’s been getting a lot of industry buzz lately, and being on the major Music Row label of RCA compared to Aldean’s independent Broken Bow gives him a very slight chance of tipping the scales. It’s also worth noting that Brad Paisley has won this award for the last 5 years.
Female Vocalist of the Year
- Sara Evans
- Miranda Lambert – Win
- Martina McBride
- Taylor Swift
- Carrie Underwood
Miranda Lambert deserves it. Slight chance Taylor Swift might steal it, but the way the timeline lines up, this is an off year for Taylor and the ACM’s since her last album came out over a year ago. Miranda has released two solid albums recently, a solo one and one with The Pistol Annies, and her label has already proved they will go to bat for her behind-the-scenes. Unless some unforeseen label politics get in the way, Miranda walks with the hardware.
Vocal Group of the Year
- The Band Perry – Win
- Eli Young Band
- Lady Antebellum
- Rascal Flatts
- Zac Brown Band
Let’s just call a spade a spade, and rename this category “Best Hair”. In the end, I expect Nashville’s new favorite toy in The Band Perry and the Perry brothers’ Frodo Baggins mop tops to mop the floor with Rascal Flatts’ bleached and over-moosed doos. Though Rascal Flatts’ hair is as overproduced and extra-perfect as their music, it is beginning to fall out-of-style. Give Lady Antebellum and outside chance in this beauty contest, stunted slightly by Hillary Scott’s newfound post-marriage heft.
Vocal Duo of the Year
- Love and Theft
- Montgomery Gentry
- Steel Magnolia
- Thompson Square – I Guess
Oh gosh, what a paltry collection of odds and sods this is, illustrating the ridiculousness of the modern-day country duo. The spirit of this award was to highlight country music’s legendary pairings of the past, like George & Tammy, and Willie & Waylon. Brooks & Dunn was the only thing keeping this category relevant for the last few years. Then when Music Row figured out they could create these duos to gain free exposure through award shows, the concept got out of hand. I guess give me Thompson Square for the win, with Sugarland having an outside chance from the strength of their 2011 touring. Where are The Civil Wars?
New Artist of the Year
- Brantley Gilbert – Win
- Hunter Hayes
- Scotty McCreery
The two fresh-faced boys will fall to the “Official Country Music Douche” Brantley Gilbert, unbeknownst to his fan base that will be too busy waxing their scrotums, or cooking up the latest batch of methamphetamine in their bathtubs.
Album of the Year
- Chief – Eric Church (EMI-Nashville)
- Four The Record – Miranda Lambert (RCA)
- Hemingway’s Whiskey – Kenny Chesney (BNA)
- My Kinda Party – Jason Aldean (Broken Bow Records) – Win
- Own The Night – Lady Antebellum (Capitol Records Nashville)
My Kinda Party is the sure bet, but Four The Record, Hemingway’s Whiskey, and Own The Night could all sneak up and win if their labels are really looking to push them. Eric Church’s Chief probably does not have a chance, but it is an achievement for Church to even be nominated. It is easy to think of Eric Church as just making it out of the club circuit because his climb has been slow and not marked by the big bursts that usually usher in super stardom, but bolstered by a rabid fan base, he’s selling out arenas, and is becoming a bona-fide country music franchise.
Single of the Year
- Crazy Girl – Eli Young Band (Republic Nashville)
Produced by: Mike Wrucke
- Don’t You Wanna Stay – Jason Aldean With Kelly Clarkson (Broken Bow Records)
Produced by: Michael Knox
- Red Solo Cup – Toby Keith (Show Dog-Universal Music)
Produced by: Toby Keith
- Tomorrow – Chris Young (RCA)
Produced by: James Stroud
- You And Tequila – Kenny Chesney Featuring Grace Potter (BNA)
Produced by: Buddy Cannon, Kenny Chesney
Wow, this list is a joke, and the moment where Music Row politics got in the way of putting together any real sensical list of nominees. Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup” makes a mockery of the whole category, the whole ACM process, and the awards themselves, but a little part of me hopes it wins anyway just to expose the ridiculousness of the whole thing. I guess “You And Tequila” is the most likely win, but in reality the winner will be whatever song the suits huddled around a table decide needs to be “pushed” the most.
Song of the Year
- Crazy Girl – Eli Young Band
Composers: Lee Brice, Liz Rose
- Home – Dierks Bentley
Composers: Brett Beavers, Dierks Bentley, Dan Wilson
- Just A Kiss – Lady Antebellum
Composers: Dallas Davidson, Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott
- Threaten Me With Heaven – Vince Gill
Composers: Amy Grant, Vince Gill, Dillon O’Brian, Will Owsley
- You And Tequila – Kenny Chesney Featuring Grace Potter
Composers: Matraca Berg, Deana Carter
A little bit better list than the singles, but not by much. Again, I hope the process fails the country music consumer and exposes its ridiculousness by electing Dierks Bentley’s “Home” whose authenticity as an original song has been questioned by performer (and possible future songwriter credit) Jason Isbell. Vince Gill should win, but won’t. Songs are what all of music breaks down to, and what is charged with touching your heart. The country music consumer should be embarrassed and angered by these song lists, and expect more from the ACM’s.
In this dirty business of monitoring the doings of Music Row, every once in a while you get these glimmers of hope that an album will slip through the mandibles of the money changers that actually has some class, and appeal beyond the easily-pliable masses. The Miranda Lambert’s of the world are not bad, but many times you still have to gerrymander your taste buds to consider where the music came from and what battles it probably took to get an album out that still sounds half way decent. In the end, the hype is usually just that.
Recently it appears Nashville has taken a cue from actors and pop stars and decided to “go country” itself. But just because an album is overtly “country” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. We’re all country fans, but we’re fans of good music first, and braying about how country you are and using steel and fiddle just to add a “country” taste to a song instead of employing them in tasteful instrumentation isn’t going to get you anywhere with the country fans who’ve long since strayed from the mainstream herd.
Enter Kellie Picker and her new album 100 Proof that for the last few months has been touted as her getting back to her roots and developing a hard country sound. Right out of the chute, with the first two songs “Where’s Tammy Wynette” and “Unlock That Honky Tonk” there’s no doubt this album is country, but one had to wonder if these were works of sincerity, or the female version of the overexposed “laundry list” song formula.
This whole “I’m a woman, hear me roar” bit is big right now in mainstream country, which is not necessarily a bad thing, unless it becomes overexposed. It makes a heavy appearance in the first two songs, and in the first single from the album, “Tough”. But after the album announces itself as unmistakably country, it begins to reveal itself as unmistakably good, and not just when considering it as Music Row fare from the modern era. No, this is good country music, period.
The song “Stop Cheatin’ On Me”, which initially seems burdened by the weak return of “..or I’ll start cheating on you” becomes a brilliant composition simply from it’s sonic construction; the way it builds out from the bass guitar, and modulates after the first verse. Listening to this song you can see yourself hearing it blaring from an old juke box in the corner of a bar. Same can be said for the very fun “Little House on the Highway.”
Songs like “Turn The Radio On and Dance” and “Rockaway” have this very sweet innocence to them. I’m not kidding. They harken back to the pre-Garth 80′s, when country had this simplicity to it that was sweet, when the one hit wonder model of music may have not lead to any major substance, but the songs nonetheless were just simply appealing, and seemed so easy to attach to memories.
Many of the songs on this album are not spectacular on the surface, it’s what’s going on behind-the-scenes that makes them special. Many pop country folks and “new Outlaws” are attempting to evoke Waylon Jennings these days by screaming his name alongside inane countryisms. Kellie instead understands that Waylon worked from the backbone of the music, a trick Waylon picked up on when crossing the tracks in Littlefield and Lubbock to hang out in the blues and jazz bars. The bass on this album, just like Jennings, creates a visceral bed for the music that allows it to shoot straight into your heart. This album should be listened to loud, on a good-booming system. The bigger the better.
And though I did not care for a few of the songs here, including the title track “100 Proof”, there’s some songs with undeniable soul. That’s right, “soul” from Music Row. The song “Mother’s Day” drops the Southern accent and is just Kellie singing straight from the heart, with her smooth and fiercely-feminine voice. The album concludes with “The Letter (To Daddy)” that could evoke tears from a rock.
What’s that you say? Kellie Pickler is an American Idol alum? You know what, I don’t even know that I care. And I’m not sure if Kellie Pickler herself is to blame for the beauty of this album, or if it’s the fault of producers and professional songwriters. All I know is that it’s damn good, and I don’t just mean good for the mainstream. It’s just good, period. Sure, there’s a few songs that are misses, every album has them, and the misses here you can easily label as pop country dribble. But I’d say 100 Proof will even smoke most of what’s coming out of the independent world these days.
If you are truly a fan of country music and have an open heart, you will like 100 Proof. In the Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn mold, 100 Proof revives the lost appreciation for the strong, yet sweet country woman, while staying away from the surface symbolism that erodes the substance from many of the other artists that attempt this difficult feat. This is one of the best albums to come off of Music Row in years, and may turn out to be one of the best in 2012, period–an opinion I fear we may see validated in lackluster sales and the absence of hit singles from it. The mainstream may not support in en masse, but I will.
Two guns up!
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A while back we showcased the 6 Pop Country Archetypes, now it’s time to showcase the song formulas that Music Row employs to appeal to them. The cheesy love song goes without saying, these are the other templates that professional songwriters in BMI’s and ASCAP’s cubicle farms slave away at fleshing out in various forms. Any “creativity” comes in the form of mixing an mingling these various formulas. One thing’s for sure, when you crack the cellophane on a Music Row CD, you can almost be guaranteed you will see most, if not all of the formulas used as a rule.
The Country Checklist / Laundry List Song
In a machine gun fashion, with little care for creativity, these songs spew out a string of easily-identifiable countryisms and artifacts in an idioitc attempt to prove how “country” the singer and song are. Cornbread, biscuits, fried chicken, dirt roads, ice-cold beer, pickup trucks, hay fields, over and over they beat you over the head with their backroad, barbed wire, Budweiser barbarism of authentic country culture.
Since all of these “checklist” items are inane and commonplace to real cowboys and country folk, they’re not meant to be heard by them, but by the corporate country “CMT” culture who attempt to escape their mundane suburban or urban lives by living vicariously through these idiotic anthems and shallow portrayals of country living. The Laundry List formula can work by itself, but can also be found as an element in many, if not the majority of mainstream country songs today. The Country Checklist defines today’s pop country landscape.
The Nostalgia Ballad
Remember back when? Those were the good old days. Your first car, your first kiss. She was young. You were dumb. Y’all got handsey in the back seat. Let’s go back and relive it all and remind us how our lives suck now.
Using Bob Seger’s song “Night Moves” as a template, many times these songs feed the unhealthy obsession with youth, and the idea that anything meaningful ends after high school. They’re also a vehicle to bitch about economics and the changing world, how gas used to be 99 cents and small towns are drying up. But you won’t see The Nostalgia Ballad’s listeners moving out of their suburban mansions and ditching their iPhones for the simple life; they’d rather memorialize the death of rural culture in a cheesy pop song played on a $700 car stereo.
Tears From Heaven
In a radio-friendly 2 1/2 to 3 minutes, they shoehorn in the hokiest of over-sentimental sob stories that the Music Row songwriting monkeys can conjure, that usually culminate in the tragic death of some dear loved one. But that’s okay, because we’re gonna be strong. Together. Because that’s the way that little Timmy who got his head lopped off by a combine, or grandpa who slipped in the shower would have wanted it. Instead of helping you process the pain of personal loss by breeding the understanding that death is a natural process, these songs prey on making you relive your grief over and over and over again. Cancer is a big player in these songs as well. And as you begin to sob and the rain begins to pour down, the pop country crooner illuminates how that’s not rain. No. It’s the tears of your loved one falling down from heaven.
The Booty Anthem
With positively no redeeming artistic value or ties to country music’s roots, this is Music Row’s overt homage to idiotically-simplistic droning dance music, and is the soundtrack to the formation of the mono-genre. Sure, maybe there’s an overdubbed banjo in there, somewhere, way in the back, but they’ll edit that out when they use it in the Axe body spray commercial. Booty Anthems turn our daughters into whores and our sons into rapists; apparently a fair tradeoff for Music Row to keep country commercially viable…at the expense of anybody with any taste or class.
Lake Party / Weekend Warrior / Summer Song
A mix of The Nostalgia Ballad and The Laundry List formulas, this is the weekend warrior’s magnum opus. It’s okay if for 50 years and five days a week we’re slaves to our jobs, as long as we get 48 hours to develop crotch rot and drive our ski boats drunk. The beach, and vacations in Mexico and South America are big players in this formula too. These songs perpetuate the unhealthy perspective that as long as we get two days a week to act stupid, it’s okay to live unfulfilled lives and be a slave to consumerism and the corporate work week.
The Flag Waving Anthem
All of America’s service men and women deserve our highest salute, respect, and gratitude, but instead of doing it with sincerity, many times these songs take the salute too far in the sappy direction to commercialize the sentiment. Since less that 1% of the US population actually serves, these songs are a play at political demographics that instead of solidifying support behind service members, while creating a polarizing environment domestically, and sometimes painting an unhealthy picture that America wants to bomb every country full of brown skins back to the Stone Age. For many pop country stars, their Flag Waving Anthem is a rite of passage, or a requirement for their track list demanded by Music Row executives. No Toby, putting a boot in your ass is not the American way, making you think the boot is cool and then selling you the boot is the American way.
The Jilted Female In Rage Song: Highlighted by a pop country starlet in knee-high boots starting shit on fire and perpetrating other felonies to get back at a bad lover or his new bride. Miranda Lambert started it, Carrie Underwood and many others have followed.
The Cornpone Joke Song: Run into the ground by Brad Paisley, done one worse by Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup.”
Here in 2012, we live in a wickedly polarized environment, especially with the United States being in an election cycle. There seems to be very little that is gray. Either someone is saving the world, or you’re stenciling a Hitler mustache on them and posting it to Facebook. A musical parallel to this was illustrated when Jason Isbell blamed Dierks Bentley for ripping off his song “In A Razor Town”. The fervor quickly became political on Isbell’s side, with the former Drive By Trucker lumping Dierks in with all of country music’s pop-oriented fare, even going as far as saying he hopes that people that come to the defense of Dierks “don’t vote” through his Twitter feed.
Certainly a little perspective seems to be called for. Though I happen to agree that Isbell has a great case for “In A Razor Town” being ripped off by Dierks’ “Home”, the assailant is likely not Dierks, but the other songwriter Dan Wilson. Furthermore, lumping Dierks with the Justin Moore’s and Rascal Flatts’ of the world and calling him a “douche” makes Isbell come across as bitter, and more importantly, uninformed. Trust me, I’ve called many a pop country star a “douche” over the years, but I have also gone out of my way to say it is important to draw distinctions when talking about pop country stars.
And that’s what leads us to Dierks Beltley’s Up On The Ridge from the summer of 2010, an album I’ve been asked to review many times, because despite the “where” and the “who” it came from, shows remarkable heart, progressiveness, and independence.
When I’ve given positive reviews to some mainstream country albums, many times I’ve had to gerrymander the system to factor in that they were made under the very obtrusive and controlling Music Row environment in Nashville. The elements of safety and formula go without saying for these types of albums. But Up On The Ridge doesn’t have that feel. If anything, it feels like it originated from the alt-country or Americana world, with a lot of progressiveness, and a “clean” aspect more indicative of play for the NPR demographic than mainstream radio.
The idea is that this is a “bluegrass” album, but Flatt & Scruggs fans shouldn’t get their hopes up too much. Though there is some straight up bluegrass here like the song “Rovin’ Gambler”, most of the music is more of a progressive take on bluegrass, incorporating drums for example. Nonetheless, it is fervently true to it’s concept, and to a fresh approach. There’s virtually no electric instruments on the album. That in itself is supremely bold for modern-day Music Row fare.
This album started off as a side project that grew into something more, and with the tremendous amount of collaboration in it, that can be seen. The Punch Brothers and Chris Thile appear numerous times. Del McCoury, Rob McCoury, Ronnie McCoury, Kris Kristofferson, Alison Krauss, Sam Bush, Miranda Lambert and Jamey Johnson are some of the other names that might get you excited just by seeing the list of contributors. This album is very much a collaborative effort. Though Bentley is not given sole songwriting credit on any song, he’s given some credit on all of the album’s standout tracks, including “Up On The Ridge”, “Rovin’ Gambler”, “Draw Me A Map”, “You’re Dead To Me”, and “Down In The Mine”.
Instead of taking a myopic view on one bluegrass approach, Up On The Ridge takes a world view and attempts to hit on most aspects; more a bluegrass primer, meant for the unfamiliarized masses than the devotees of the sub-genre, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Because of this approach, I sense there might be some cherry picking of it’s tracks contingent on listener’s tastes, but this also means this album has a lot of spice and keeps the ear attentive, and makes you appreciate the different styles even if they’re not normally your flavor. Dierks bluegrass take of U2′s “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” with Del and The Punch Brothers is something I’d probably not be up for normally, but the way the song illustrates the parallels between bluegrass and classical composition is brilliant.
“Down In The Mine” has the essence of an Old Crow Medicine Show song, with it’s overt message and language. “Draw Me A Map” feels like the Alison Krauss-style of bluegrass: mainstream sensibilities without compromising a tie to the roots. Only two songs on this album felt like they didn’t work: a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)” that wasn’t necessarily awful as much as it was out of place, and the Miranda and Jamey collaboration “Bad Angel”. If there is a play for commercial appeal on this album, this song is it.
Is this a great bluegrass album? Of course not. But a great bluegrass album would also not be a vehicle to introduce a generation of people to Del McCoury, Kris Kristofferson, and bluegrass music in general. Is it the album that Dierks set out to make without commercial consideration or label meddling? I kind of think it is, and it’s moderate sales seem to reflect that.
Being a hardcore Dierks fan of any stripe might be a little maddening. If you’re a fan of pop country, you might see a project like this and wrinkle your nose at it, while if you love this album, the potentially-Isbell ripped-off song “Home” may make you feel betrayed or embarrassed. I don’t know if to characterize it as a balance or a war, but Dierks’ career has been a tale of commercial appeal and artistic concerns all intertwined. The greater lesson is that it is rarely fair to pigeon hole an artist or their music against a polarized ideal. It would not be fair to Jason Isbell, and it is not fair to Dierks. Up On The Ridge proves that.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
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So here we go. Once again I sit down to review an album originating on Music Row, which means some will have an immediate negative reactionary response about why their little Saving Country Music is selling out for a pop country star, while others will come to sing the praises of how Miranda Lambert is the one to save country music. With her new album Four The Record, Miranda proves that the truth, as it usually does, lies somewhere in the middle.
Though sonically Miranda may be one of the most “real” things on mainstream country radio, there is still a good amount of pop to her sound, and unlike a Jamey Johnson, or even a Taylor Swift, she does not write most of her own music, or produce her own albums. Having said that, Lambert has illustrated that she has somehow carved out at least a small amount of creative freedom in the stifling Music Row environment by being allowed to release her Pistol Annies side project, which for most Music Row artists would have been a non-starter. So independent of Four The Record being on an industry label, I have to assume this is the album Miranda Lambert wanted to make.
My first reaction to Four The Record was the same reaction I have to almost all mainstream country albums: What is the point? Why are we putting out new music if all we’re doing is rehashing the same themes and ignoring the album concept? Isn’t there enough music out there already? Four The Record is not a bad album, but it’s really not an album at all, it is just a collection of songs that have little congruency and don’t assert a theme or message. I mean, I guess it does a competent job continuing the Miranda Lambert persona of being a “badass”, but then some songs are meant to show Miranda as fragile and vulnerable. And Miranda’s “music” persona of a crazy girl that lights shit on fire is not in concert with the real-life Miranda who has a perfect celebrity marriage with Blake Shelton.
When people show concern for the death of the album concept at the hands of digital downloaders who cherry pick albums, they seem to think extra packaging and bonus tracks are the antidote. How about going back and listening to all of those classic albums that withstood the test of time? They all said something. Even the title of Four The Record is just a punch line that falls flat. So, without any real way to describe the album on a whole, you must resort to listening to the songs individually, which is a symptom of an album being less than the sum of its parts.
Four The Record has some good songs, a few really good songs, and some ho-hum songs. I wouldn’t say there’s any “bad” songs, but there are some that you just wonder, “what’s the point?” like her duet with Blake Shelton, “Better in the Long Run.” It’s not like it forces your hands over your ears, but I can’t see someone listening to this song with a pensive glance out in to space, and a tear forming in the corner of their eye. You might as well of had 3:34 of dead air.
Two songs from two great female songwriters fall mostly flat as well. Gillian Welch’s “Look At Miss Ohio” feels uninspired throughout, and Brandi Carlisle’s “Same Old You” is only salvaged slightly at the end by Miranda’s beautiful yodels.
The one song I’m outright opposed to is the lead single “Baggage Claim.” An easily transparent use of the Beyonce “Get Your Shit And Go” formula, this song proves that parody between super genres does not only materialize in the form of rap. The urban inflections in Miranda’s voice, especially the “…in yo’ name…” line illustrates this song’s want for relevancy, while the bass-driven rhythm seems to almost admit that much of country is too tired for youth appeal, and the parallel between airline baggage and a bad relationship never really sticks.
The songs improve greatly from there. The opening track “All Kinds of Kinds” is one of the standouts on the album, and though this song has been written and re-written many times, it would be unfair to not point out the song’s engaging nature and catchiness. This song, and “Over You” co-written by Blake Shelton, both feature a very 80′s feel, the former from a delayed chorus line that 18 months ago would’ve been as outmoded as parachute pants, but somehow now works, and the latter from a tinkly Sheena Easton-like, almost yacht rock guitar line. “Over You” is a really impressive song, maybe one of the best on the album, building great emphasis and feeling with a rising action in its structure, but it’s solidly pop; no country here whatsoever, which is not necessarily a negativism by itself, but something you don’t expect from someone many are touting as country’s female savior.
“Fastest Girl In Town” and “Mama’s Broken Heart” show that Miranda has not completely buried that bad girl persona that made her first few albums so engaging. Both “Easy Living” and “Oklahoma Sky” are elevated from average to pretty good by smart production. “Oklahoma Sky” is something you could find on Emmylou Harris’s legendary Wrecking Ball album, with its wispy openness and emphasis on soul and expression.
The best song on the album, and it’s not even close, and this song is so good, I dare say it may be the best song I have heard on a major Nashville label release in years is “Fine Tune”. It is common of Music Row releases these days to have a quirky, silly, “change of pace” song that isn’t necessarily meant to work, but meant to lighten the mood and add some spice, though most of the time they just come across as curious and forgettable. I dare say this song turned out so good, even though it is completely unconventional and does not fit Miranda’s style at all, they put it in the choice #2 slot in the track list, a spot usually reserved for what you think is the truly best track on the album.
Singing through a telephone mic with a neo-traditionalist, loungy style, Miranda murders this song like nobody else could. Miranda has an excellent voice, though this album and the songs chosen don’t really emphasize that in most place. Her voice’s best asset is its cuteness. This is what made “The House That Built Me” such a hit. The only song on this album that brings that out is “Fine Tune.” Two guns way up on that song.
In the end, I’m not sure how to rate this album. If I rate it amongst all country music, it is probably average. If I rate it against its peers on Music Row, it may be one of the better albums in years. What I do know is I wouldn’t blame some for cherry picking “Fine Tune,” “All Kinds of Kinds”, and maybe a few other songs and moving on. Here at her fourth album, I feel if Miranda was going to save country music, it probably would have happened by now. At the same time, without question she’s on of the good guys, and an artist independent fans shouldn’t just dismiss out of pocket.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
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My overall grade of the 2011 CMA Awards would be “not terrible.” It goes without saying that not much that is “country” went down on the show, and if you take into consideration the wide spectrum of country talent, the artists that truly deserved to win the awards didn’t. But we could have had much worse results. Jason Aldean could have swept the awards, and ushered in a new era in country music where a country rap song was the reigning Song of the Year.
Instead what we got was a mish mash of winners that didn’t really offer any new definition or shift in mainstream country, and rather illustrate a continuance of the pop-orientented performers dominating the scene, likely resulting in the continuance of declining sales for country, and leaving it open to continued infection from other genres.
The Saving Country Music predictions went 7 for 9 (ish) on the night, with one of the first surprises coming early in the show, when the sister and brothers trio of The Band Parry stole the Song of the Year award with their easily forgettable “If I Die Young.” The award should have gone to Taylor Swift’s “Mean”, or to Colt Ford and Brantley Gilbert for the country rap made famous by Jason Aldean, “Dirt Road Anthem”. As offensive as some might find “Dirt Road”, it’s hard to argue there was a more popular, or a more influential song this year than it.
As you will always get with live awards shows like this, there are times when the facade of popular music is pulled back, and you get a chance to see what a charade popular music can be. Twice this happened last night, with Martina McBride clearly using a teleprompter, and Scotty McCreery lip syncing.
The opening performance featured the finest in cross marketing, which is the norm now for these awards shows, as a cabal of country pop stars peddled the soundtrack for the new movie “Footloose”. As much as Eric Church apologists want to preach how he’s never called himself an “Outlaw”, he was introduced last night by Brad Paisley as “Country music’s latest Outlaw.” And in one of the night’s most unusual offerings, in a situation that could have only come about with big payola changing hands, Lionel Ritchie got what is an eternity in award show time to feature duets with country stars on an album that won’t even be out for another 5 months.
I’m sure many will assume I’m only saying this because they think Taylor Swift is my new favorite toy, but she delivered the most tolerable performance of the show. On a night that featured a carnival of only the greatest excesses in over-production, including legions dancers barely clad in glitter, explosions, symphonies, and synchronized light and visual shows, Taylor did what many of the performers don’t have the skill set or the balls to do: unplug, sit down with their guitar and a Shure SM-58 microphone, and flat pick an original song.
And in a moment that illustrated remarkable contrast and lack of class, the next performance was the worst of the night, as Luke Bryan, the man most poised to knock Brantley Gilbert off the perch for being the official country music douche, led a troupe of whores dressed in volleyball shorts in an unadulterated sex romp that included dry humping chairs, dry humping the floor, and wizzing all over 100 years of country music tradition.
Country legends were scarce last night as you can imagine, but Glen Campbell did get a decent tribute. Hank Williams Jr. got some face time in a self-deprecating moment at the beginning of the show, showing some good nature about his Monday Night Football debacle. And Little Jimmy Dickens, dressed as Justin Bieber, got scant attention from a crowd whose majority had no idea who he was.
As easily anticipated, country pop’s first couple Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton took home the male and female Vocalist of the Year trophies, Sugarland won Duo of the Year, Lady Antebellum won Group of the Year, and The Band Perry were the New Artist of the Year. When Jason Aldean finally won an award, it was a big one: Album of the Year, but the possibility of a Jason Aldean sweep had been avoided.
Now all that was left was Entertainer of the Year. If Aldean could reel that in, it would still solidify him as the most dominant force in country music in 2011. And sitting there with surprisingly no awards was Taylor Swift, who looked visibly angry when Miranda Lambert took Female Vocalist of the Year. If Taylor walked away with no awards, it might be as big of a coup as Aldean winning all of them.
In the end, Taylor won for Entertainer of the Year, which for me, was some weird version of a mild victory. I went into last night’s presentation ready to come here the next day and declare that the formation of the mono-genre was complete, and any last glimmer of taking back mainstream country music had been quashed. That still might be the case, but even though Taylor Swift has very little if anything that could be considered country in her, Taylor’s victory at least means that at least a little authenticity is still alive in the “country” genre. Or at least for another year.
Back in late July, when Jason Aldean’s country rap mega-hit “Dirt Road Anthem” rose to #1 on the country Billboard charts, I predicted that this would make Aldean a legitimate candidate for Song, Album, and Entertainer of the Year at the 2011 CMA Awards, saying:
Not only is “Dirt Road Anthem” now a #1 single, it has been in the top 5 for two months. This is not a flash in the pan, and Aldean’s album “My Kinda Party” is already the best-selling country album of 2011 so far. Jason Aldean is undeniably a country music superstar, and he, his album, and this song, are serious candidates for top honors at this year’s CMA Awards.
Well lo and behold, when the nominations came out, Jason was up for all the major awards, though officially Song of the Year would go to “Dirt Road Anthem” writers Colt Ford and Brantley Gilbert. Sitting here a few days before the 2011 CMA Awards show, I look a little less clairvoyant, and a little more like a master of the obvious, with My Kinda Party and “Dirt Road Anthem” being such commercial blockbusters as the best-selling album and song so far for 2011.
The only question left is, will Jason Aldean and “Dirt Road Anthem” win? Certainly having the best-selling album and song makes these clear front runners in those two categories, and combined they give Aldean a good case for being the the most important male vocalist and entertainer this year. But sheer numbers don’t always make you a shoe-in for the awards.
Taylor Swift’s song “Mean”, with it’s anti-bullying message seems to be garnering a lot of sympathy for Song of the Year, and with her own commercial blockbuster album Speak Now, she has a legitimate shot at the Album & Entertainer awards herself. Remember, this time last year, the big talk about Taylor Swift was how she was “overexposed,” and she was noticeably absent from any of the CMA fanfare after sweeping the awards in 2009. Hypothetically, the payoff for her patience in 2010 is a big night in 2011. Taylor and Jason Aldean are the two artists poised to sweep the awards, setting up a very interesting Aldean vs. Swift storyline throughout the night.
At this point I’m not sure if it matters if Jason Aldean wins or not; the effects of his presence in the CMA nominations have already been felt. His nominations already likely pushed Jamey Johnson out of the CMA picture. And as I pointed out when the nominations came out, Jason Aldean used to be on the outside looking in to the music industry and the awards shows, saying in 2010, “The average fan doesn’t understand how all that stuff works and the industry probably doesn’t want them to.” Now Aldean is the industry, as a bona fide top-tier country music franchise, and so are Colt Ford and Brantley Gilbert, and so is country rap.
Just like how Taylor Swift’s big 2009 sweep of the awards caused a dramatic pop-oriented shift in the genre, with established bands like Sugarland going in a more pop direction, and bands like Lady Antebellum breaking through, an Aldean sweep could cause a shift to Aldean’s calling cards of checklist songs and country rap. And a win for the song “Dirt Road Anthem” would all but make the formation of the mono-genre complete.
Saving Country Music’s Official 2011 CMA Predictions:
Entertainer of the Year: Jason Aldean (1a Taylor Swift)
Album of the Year: Jason Aldean’s My Kinda Party
Male Vocalist of the Year: Blake Shelton (1a Jason Aldean)
Female Vocalist of the Year: Miranda Lambert
Song of the Year: Taylor Swift’s “Mean”
Music Video of the Year: Taylor Swift’s “Mean”
New Artist of the Year: The Band Perry
Vocal Group of the Year: Lady Antebellum
Vocal Duo of the Year: Sugarland (should be The Civil Wars)
Single & Musical Event of the Year: None of the Above
Musician of the Year: Sam Bush deserves it.
I’ve always had a distant but sincere appreciation for Miranda Lambert, despite her obvious dalliances with the devil that is the big Music Row machine. The grit displayed in her albums Kerosene and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, that unlike a Gretchen Wilson album, still held an element of class, and her unwillingness to hide her east Texas accent, scored some pretty big cool points with me. Then in 2009 came the more tame, but still not bad Revolution, and then the sham, celeb marriage to uber tool Blake Shelton. It seems like a crime that triple-breasted fart knocker has a legal right to handle up on those fun bags, but I digress.
The fact that this album with Angeleena Presley and Ashley Monroe even exists seems like a miracle in this day where superstar franchises like Miranda are micro-managed, and every bit of “product” is controlled to make sure the optimum amount of dollars can be drawn from a name. Side projects, or just generally allowing artists to do what they want, is traditionally not allowed in any shape or form. However Hell on Heels slipped through the cracks for whatever reason, and for mainstream fare, it is not bad at all.
You first have to appreciate this album is slanted toward the delicate frauline of the populous. I may be endowed by my creator with the finest in male plumbing, but I can still get in touch with my feminine side and appreciate the perspective of this album. Also understand this album is meant to be fun. The girls have fake handles for the gig, “Hippie Annie, Holler Annie, & Lone Star Annie”. Just like the current trend on primetime drama of having the hero be a heroine in knee high boots with heaving breasts, that takes down sleeper cells after the kiddos are asleep, the same trend of a troika of crass, slutty, pill-popping girls is popular in music these day (see Those Darlin’s and many others). The Pistol Annies, with their thick accents and bravado-driven songs, fall right into that mold.
A few of the harder-edged songs I just can’t get into, including the first single and title track “Hell on Heels” along with “Bad Example” and “Takin’ Pills”, but I’m willing to give them a slight pass on being the tracks that help establish the persona of the Pistol Annies. Then there’s a couple of songs, “Family Feud” and “Hunter’s Wife”, which just like many mainstream country songs these days, are simply vehicles for throwing out countrisms that targeted demographics can easily identify with as opposed to offering any real substance.
But if you shove those songs to one side of the table, what you’re left with is some very excellent, soulful, well-sung, well-written and produced songs that really touched a nerve with me, even though they’re from the juxtaposed female position. The Angaleena-led “Lemon Drop” about a young girl struggling to get on her feet is a solid track. “Boys From the South” is the catchiest song of the bunch, with the steel guitar right out in front, and a simple approach that employs some countryisms without exploiting them, though I admit, this song has been written many times. Neither of these songs are spectacular, but just like Miranda’s “White Liar” and “House That Built Me”, you don’t feel insulted by hear them coming out of your radio’s speakers.
The real gems are the heartbreaking “Beige”, the exquisite “Housewife’s Prayer”, and “Trailer for Rent”. All three really dig deep down to convey the heart-wrenching struggles of the female condition, with a soul that can only come from a song inspired by real life. The haunting “Housewife’s Prayer” channels Emmylou Wrecking Ball-era arrangement, and combines it with the universal theme of desperation. “Beige” paints a gray picture with broken dreams and an all-too-familiar story of forced wedlock, and for my money, is the marquee song on the album.
One issue I found in “Trailer for Rent” and a few other songs is that the Southern accents at times feel a little put on. Back in the 90′s and early oughts, a thick Southern accent would preclude your single from radio play, but in this era of country checklists and excessively-mined stereotypes, ratcheting up the twang is not only accepted, it is encouraged. When it is authentic, a Southern accent is beautiful on a gorgeous Southern girl, but on a few occasions my radar was sounding for over-accented singing, though again, this might be part of the Pistol Annie gimmick.
This album is not bad. My guess is, what is bad about it is what will be presented to the masses while the best songs are left at home forgotten like the ugly girl on dance night, that is, if Big Brother doesn’t bury it in total from business concerns. But it is good to see Music Row allow Miranda to have a little fun, while helping to promote a few budding and beautiful songwriters in the process, which after all, is another country music tradition corporate country has allowed to whiter on the vine.
The Pistol Annies are tits in my book.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
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I thought we had moved on from the “new Outlaw” era, to pop country stars trying to be the next Taylor Swift. Well apparently not. Now Miranda Lambert’s hubby Blake Shelton wants in on the fun, releasing a song called “Kiss My Country Ass”, an unapologetic, unveiled attempt at the Music Row “Laundry List” songwriting formula (written by Rhett Atkins apparently), that takes it to another level by rehashing David Allan Coe’s “If That Ain’t Country” and introducing “Outlaw” Blake to the spoon-fed masses.
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Gretchen Wilson’s Body Odor has more country boy in it than you do Blake Shelton. I do hope David Allan Coe hunts you down and drives a motorcycle square up your ass. At least the other “New Outlaws” like Eric Church and Josh Thompson have a shred of country cred. All you got is a drummer that looks like he belongs dancing at Chippendales, and a $400 Affliction shirt with sparkly fairy wings on the back.
Marlboro cigarettes and Wrangler jeans? Is this a country song or a fucking commercial? So I have to smoke Marlboro Reds to be country? What does brand loyalty have to do with being country? If you want a cigarette Blake, I got a butt you can suck on.
I hear you mention a “Rebel Flag” but I don’t see one. Is that because the makers of this video identify the stars and bars with hate and not heritage? And then I love this: “Well there’s a whole lot of high class people out there that’s a lookin’ down on me.” Oh fucking please Blake, you have more money than 95% of Americans. You’re trying to manufacture some sense of oppression so you can feel the pride of being identified with a lower social class than you actually are; a selfish, pathetic conceit that is insulting to people that really are kept down in life because of prejudice.
And it gets even better. “Don’t wear no fancy clothes, no ties or three piece suits.” What do you think I’m stupid? I’m watching your video right here, the video for this very song, and your guitar player is wearing a fancy dress vest from a three piece suit, and your drummer is wearing a flaming lipstick-red necktie, looking like he should be a cage dancer for Oingo Boingo.
As for these idiots in the crowd shots of the video, sorry folks, but you can’t claim any country cred from living in a KB Home or Toll Brothers tract house. I actually tried to get in this video, but they told me I didn’t qualify unless my megachurch was big enough to have its own Starbucks. These clueless sheep in this video are seriously pissing me off more than Blake Shelton. Look at these assholes rubbing their backsides together like a bunch of blue-assed baboons. I’ve seen more rhythm in a random orbital sander. And if you’re going to disgrace yourself and country music, stay the hell off the steps of the Ryman, for serious. There’s nothing wrong with being a suburban sissy puppy, until you lie to yourself that you’re not, and engage in this type of subversive escapism-style culture worship.
And as for Blake saying, “If you’re not down with my “Outlaw” crowd…” I love how these “new Outlaws” go all the way up to the line, but don’t have the balls to cross it. Are you saying you’re an Outlaw Blake Shelton, are you? Or not? Actually I used to care about people calling themselves “Outlaws” while completely misunderstanding the term, but now I understand that anyone listening to this song thinks the country music started with Garth Brooks, so the point is moot.
Look Blake Shelton, up to this point I had no excuse to bring your name up. So why cross that line now? Why sell your dignity, alienate your purist fans and rocket up the Saving Country Music shit list? The American rural culture is not for sale so the suburbs can stay satiated, subdued, and consuming. Well actually, yes, yes it is. You song and video is a perfect example of this.
Two guns down!
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(This rant was written by The Triggerman, who lives his mom’s basement, has no friends, and wants to invite terrorists to American and teach your children about homo sex. He also thinks that all guns should be illegal. His name is ironic, like a hipster’s curly-end mustache. He wrote this rant exclusively because he is jealous of Blake Shelton.)
I feel the need to iterate to you some observations for last night’s 2011 Grammy Awards, if only to get them off my chest. This is not entirely going to be a bitch fest. Every year they air the Grammy’s, and every year people are left scratching their heads and feeling hopelessness for music, and so it was to be expected that this year would be no different. If you want to see someone bitch about how so and so got screwed for such and such award, or how weird Lady Gaga is or specific commentary on how pronounced her camel toe is, there’s plenty of that out there in other places. What I’m more interested in is that as we stand on the brink of the music Apocalypse, and very specifically a country music Apocalypse, what information we can glean from the 2011 Grammy’s.
I just feel the need to say how embarrassed I am to be the benevolent dictator of a website that has the words “country music” in the name today. It wasn’t that Martina McBride and Miranda Lambert’s performances were bad. They were just fine, but just like at the Kennedy Center Honors presentation for Merle Haggard, whenever country music has an opportunity to showcase itself to the rest of the world, it is such a disappointment, and an embarrassment, as the country music establishment is more bent on pushing business agendas than the best talent.
It used to be that country music was virtually ignored by the Grammy’s. These were probably better times. Country music had it’s own awards, and the Grammy’s would maybe throw a country act in there for flavor, but it wasn’t really until the advent of “young country” in the late 80′s–Randy Travis and eventually Garth Brooks–that the Grammy’s started taking country seriously. Now, it probably accounts for 1/3 of the show, once again iterating the viability of the theory that music is becoming two super-genres: rap and country, with “pop” straddling the two.
Another piece of super-genre evidence was the anemic outlook for Rock. Jeff Beck, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Ozzy Ossbourne, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, Iron Maiden, Korn, Lamb of God, Megadeth, Slayer. This was the crop of nominees for rock awards for the night.
Most of these names are 20-year-old acts or older, and acts getting no radio play with little relevancy in the grand scheme of things. We’re reaching back to 80′s bands and the grunge era to fill out rock nominees? To say rock is dead is an understatement, and I can’t help but see blood on the hands of country music for helping be a part of this, as many country acts should really be filling these slots as they rip off AC/DC, The Black Crowes, other classic rock riffs, and do their best Bob Seger impersonations as true country music gets forced underground. Maybe this is a sign of what happens to genres when they cannot develop new talent.
And speaking of bad Bob Seger impersonations, where was Kid Rock? It seems like I can’t turn on my boob tube without seeing his mug. He’s on all the country award shows. Hell, he hosted the CMT’s, and here finally is an appropriate venue for him and he’s nowhere to be found.
Same can be said for Taylor Swift. She has the #1 album in the world right now, but she’s not even in the crowd so we can get occasional camera shots of her curiously set-apart eyes and a sparkly dress? The reason? Because what was the talk about at this time last year? Her bombing her performance with Stevie Nicks. She is country’s biggest and brightest star, and we have to treat her like the crazy aunt and hide her in the basement because she can’t sing. Or is this is all marketing because Swift management doesn’t want her getting overexposed, laying her low so she can sweep the awards shows next year.
The problem with presenting country music on a national stage is that there’s little to no talent on the mainstream level. Lady Antebellum, who wronged so many other much more deserving artists from other genres with their wins, is nothing more than a one hit wonder cast in the Taylor Swift mold. They are beneath Taylor Swift, like so many other mainstream country acts at this point. If I was Lady Antebellum, I would be embarrassed by the attention being given, because I would know in my heart it is completely undeserved. It’s one song. One song, and a one very isolated catchy vocal riff in that one song. You take that away, and all they have is a big bag of nothing.
If I was impressed by anything, it was the strength coming from the other super-genre. You can’t make a living in rap, or soul, or R&B without having some talent. I’m not talking about the Ushers and Justin Bieber’s; that’s pop. I’m talking about Eminem and Rihanna, and the new talent they pushed like Esperanza Spalding who won for best new artist. This isn’t my music, certainly not my style or speed, but quality shines through. If the music business is going to be pulled out of its tailspin, it is going to be from that side of the tracks. Country right now is the genre towing American music down.
Overall I was impressed by the sheer quality of everything last night. Maybe this was a product of lowered expectations, or maybe a symptom of watching so many country award shows lately. Comparatively to the CMA’s, the CMT’s, the ACM’s, there seemed to be more attention paid to quality, presentation, and the past at this years Grammy’s. Hell, Charlie Louvin got some face time last night.
One of my favorite performances of the night was The Avett Brothers mashup with Mumford and Sons, and eventually Bob Dylan. This stuff is probably on the very edge of what you might could classify as “country” or “roots,” and though I do think the performances were good, The Avett Brothers are finally getting some attention by getting away from their rootsy lineup and adding drums and electric bass, while Mumford seemed to take The Avett’s place by staying all acoustic and playing a kick drum: the same way The Avett’s cut their teeth. It’s like if roots music wants to be highlighted on a national level, it has to be a reduction. The announcer at one point couldn’t even pronounce The Avett’s name right, once again emphasizing that in the current music landscape, you can be a huge success story, play the Grammy’s, and nobody even knows who you are.
Also the tendency to lump performances into trios I find alarming. Yes, it does create cool pairings and allows more artists to be showcased, but it does so by diminishing the potency one artist, song, or solo performance can have, and just lends to the dwindling attention span of the American consumer. And the transplanted shill crowd of rabid fans right in front of the stage at virtually every nationally-televised music performance is getting old. We all know these people are pronged into acting excited, if not outright paid.
The most alarming incident of the night was the Indie rock performance and “Album of the Year” win for Arcade Fire. As I have stated before, Indie rock is the biggest threat to independent/underground roots music as they move to incorporate roots infrastructure more and more. This win can only embolden this trend. Why is Indie rock getting so much attention? Because Indie rock is safe money. Listen to me, and listen good. Poke and laugh at the hipsters and their funny clothes all you want, but they are coming, in droves, to take away what we have.
Jimmy Carter (no, not the peanut-farming ex-prez) on 96.9 “The Kat” from North Carolina in his “Wednesday Dirt Alert” segment called the recently-released Academy of Country Music awards nominations “super-political” and asserts that he was specifically told that Carrie Underwood got snubbed for nominations from her label so that fellow label-mate Miranda Lambert would get some much needed press. Both Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood are distributed by Sony.
Miranda Lambert. Is she the most popular act in country music? I don’t think so. I think she has gotten the most publicity because the machine is behind her. Is she more popular than Carrie Underwood, who didn’t get a nomination at all? It’s crazy political. . . You have to just say, “OK, these awards are what they are. They’re bragging rights, they’re an infomercial for the record label.” And like I was told off the record yesterday…that Miranda Lambert got all those nominations because the record label had to decide. Are they going with Carrie Underwood this year, or Miranda Lambert? Both are on the same label. They figured it would help Miranda more than it would help the career of Carrie Underwood.
Jimmy Carter also took the flamethrower to Curb Records when he said:
Tim McGraw. His record label is crappy. That is why he has never gotten the attention critically that he has deserved over the years.
Curb has its own history country award shows. Mike Curb battled with the CMA Awards in 1999 when it was discovered that big distribution companies that work with multiple labels were monopolizing the performances at the CMA’s. Mike Curb resigned from the performance committee that year because they refused to let Curb’s LeAnn Rimes perform. This was also the same year that George Jones was asked to sing an abbreviated version of his song “Choices”, and Alan Jackson protested by launching into “Choices” half way through his performance.
Jimmy Carter also turned their crosshairs on the Randy Rogers Band:
DJ: How does Randy Rogers band get up for group, and Rascal Flatts doesn’t?
Jimmy Carter: …I’ve met them, they’re very nice. I met them at Willie Nelson’s picnic this year. But they’re basically a Texas group. That does real well in Texas like Pat Green has done over the years. But bigger than Rascal Flatts? I don’t think so.
Jimmy Carter’s argument is that Miranda Lambert is not as popular as Carrie Underwood, and so thus, does not deserve these nominations. But should popularity be the only, or the majority measuring stick for who gets nominated? How about creativity, originality, or quality? It is probably fair to say that most country critics would label Miranda Lambert a “top shelf” artist in regards to quality and authenticity when looking at mainstream acts. Miranda is generally seen as more country than Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift for example. So is it a bad thing if “the machine” as Jimmy Carter puts it, is behind Miranda?
It is if the people who have a vote don’t represent their true feelings, but work from a tabulation formula in conjunction with other voters so that desired artists from certain labels are given preferential representation. And according to Jimmy Carter, this is exactly what happens when it comes to doling out nominations for the ACM Awards.
I followed you for a while as a cool songwriter from my home state of Texas, but your flirtations with selling out to the corporate music machine have now gone way past heavy petting with pop country, to dirty sex with the man who would kill country music if it meant keeping him flush in chicken and biscuits.
When Taylor Swift won the CMA for Entertainer of the Year in 2009, we thought it could get no worse. We also thought that when Sugarland put a reggae break in a song, or when Jason Aldean covered a Colt Ford rap, or when Trace Adkins took a stupid urbanism and turned it into the premise for a whole song, or when Arron Lewis took the same Staind song that’s been rehashed a dozen times and called it country. But still they spiral continues downward. The formulas get even more stale, the lyrics get even more condescending, until Taylor Swift looks like the median of quality, or maybe even the high water mark that all the other refuse on mainstream country radio falls in line behind.
The latest new low is this “duet” by Colt Ford with the aforementioned Kevin Fowler called “Hip Hop in a Honky Tonk.” You can probably guess the premise. 2011 might be the year that the two 2 super-genres of hip hop and country merge into a mono-genre as I’ve predicted, as the lost and creatively bankrupt music industry continues to contract, offering no contrast, no creativity, and no choice. What could be a finer example than this:
I haven’t talked much about Colt Ford up until now. My policy before was to stay out of his way and let him fall on his own sword as an obvious sideshow and flashbulb craze. But unfortunately, Kevin Fowler and Jason Aldean, in a shameful attempt to make their own stars burn brighter, have added a level of legitimacy to his name. What really got me was this line from the song:
Now what do you think old Hank would say, It would kill him if he was still alive today
I’d bet money that he’s rolling over in his grave, ’cause Hank sure as hell didn’t do it that way.
In the context of the song, Colt is acknowledging that Hank Williams, who is the one man most responsible for making country a relevant music genre, would be appalled by the mixing of country and hip-hop, and ended it with a play on Waylon Jennings’ song “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way,” an anti-Nashville song about how the country music industry has lost its way. In other words, Colt is transgressing the traditions of country with this song, then acknowledging that he is transgressing them, so he can’t plead ignorance. Then he mocks these traditions, and then mocks anybody who would defend them from people like himself.
I know some will say, “Hey, this is all a big joke.” Well pardon me if I don’t laugh as my culture is being trashed for commercial gain.
And why does country always have to be the submissive genre when country and hip-hop collide? Why can’t it be honky tonk music in a hip hop bar? I’ll tell you why, because hip hoppers have more self respect than this, and would bust a cap in any project before it could make it to mastering.
I don’t understand what is going on here. Why is this lowly little blog the only place where sheer mortification for this garbage lives? This is our culture ladies and gentlemen, and it has been stolen from us. It has been ripped right out of our hands, and used, exploited, trashed, and now thrown back in our faces as they mock us for caring about it.
Where’s the outrage? Where are the voices of dissent? Where is Hank Williams Jr., Jamey Johnson, Miranda Lambert, or George Strait? Why are they afraid to come out and state the obvious, that this is an abomination? Where is the Charlie Rich of 1974 that took a lighter out and burned the envelope naming John Denver as the CMA Entertainer of the Year? Are they just unaware, or are they too afraid to put their own asses on the line for fear this is where all music is going and they don’t want to be the ones at the party without a chair when the REAL music stops?
We need someone standing up to this that has a bigger megaphone than me. We need assholes crashing Colt Ford shows and heckling his ass between songs. We need Hank Williams reinstated to The Grand Ole Opry. We need to draw a line in the sand or next week the song I roast will be yet another step worse. This is OUR music, the people’s music. And if this trend continues, all that will be left is our memories and a few mp3′s and some dusty old records.
We must fight.
Please indulge me for a minute here because I need to blow off some steam. Yes I’m glad that The Kennedy Center honored Merle Haggard and I guess you should be grateful for what you are given and not look a gift horse in the mouth. But in my opinion, the Kennedy Center’s presentation to Merle was horrifically mild and uninspired.
I had to sit through presentations for theater nerds and dance freaks I’d never heard of to get to Merle’s, but after watching their presentations, I thought these dudes had hung the moon. The presentations were perfectly orchestrated, convincing, inspiring, touching to the human spirit and uplifting, even to someone with no idea who these people were. And almost every presentation built up to ‘that’ moment where a great human’s work was done justice by an outcry of gratitude. These are the Kennedy Center Honors; and the tributes have to be perfect, and they were!
And then we get to Merle.
The only thing perfect about his presentation was Miranda Lambert’s cleavage. His presentation felt abridged, unimaginative, and flat. Who in the hell was in charge of this, Vince Gill? And why now all of a sudden is Vince the default MC whenever country music needs a spokesman, because his optometrist has the perfect glasses frame for every occasion? Willie was the one bright spot. He looked healthy and was magnetic, but then here comes Kid Rock and his big bag of nothing, looking like a wet cigarette and throwing a dirty, greasy feeling over the whole thing. I swear I saw Sidney Poitier whisper to Angela Lansbury, “Oh shit, look what the cat dragged in.” Steven Tyler refused to use the microphone after Kid until it had been through an Autoclave, and then doubled up the scarves on the mic stand after dousing them in Lysol.
And did Jamey Johnson get high on Honeysuckle Rose before his performance, or is he working on adding the most elongated awkward pauses into his lyrical phrasing as humanly possible? Everybody but Willie looked completely lost and unrehearsed. And why of all people did John Lithgow have an iso camera shot on him all night? Sure, 3rd Rock From The Sun is good for a few laughs, but he got more face time than Barack Obama. Seriously, if you TiVo’ed this and made a drinking game around every time they show him, you’d be arrested for running around your neighborhood naked and humping a fire hydrant.
I know I’m probably coming across as an ungrateful little bitch, but this is Merle Haggard dammit! Bring your A game! And it’s The Kennedy Center Honors; an excellent outreach opportunity for country music, and we looked like a bunch of monkeys trying to screw a football out there. Merle Haggard is an American treasure and deserves better.
Screw it, I’m writing my own presentation speech to Merle.
Two guns up for Merle Haggard and his Kennedy Center Honors! Two guns down for the presentation!
Tonight the Poet of the Common Man, Merle Haggard will be honored with a Kennedy Center Honors award for his contributions to American music. Well, actually he received the award on December 5th, but the ceremony itself from Washington DC will air tonight on CBS (as they say, check local listings for times).
He will be honored by musical performances from Kris Kristofferson, Vince Gill, Miranda Lambert, Brad Paisley, Jamey Johnson, Sheryl Crow, Kid Rock, wait Kid Rock? (which one of these things is not like the others?) and his long-time friend and fellow Kennedy Center Honoree, Willie Nelson.
In a recent interview with bakersfield.com, Merle came to the defense of Willie and his recent arrest for marijuana possession.
…there are some people in this world that have no idea what the real deal is. … I think it’s silly to put someone in jail for (marijuana possession). I think it’s a threat to the pharmaceutical industry that you can go to the garden to grow something that might keep you from having to use Lipitor. I would hope they would get off his back. Someone said he might have to do some time. The ones that are against (marijuana use) feel like he’s really breaking the law. People that love him, love him and the ones that don’t like him, hate him. Same goes for me.
Merle also talked about the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony, in which the performers and songs are kept a tight secret from the honorees and crowd until they actually happen.
All the people in country music that matter were there: Willie (Nelson), Vince Gill, Brad Paisley, Miranda Lambert. . . It’s funny; the ones (songs) they picked were the ones I thought were the best, too. History might not show that. The orchestra played “Okie from Muskogee” but no one sang it.
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