Browsing articles tagged with " Sturgill Simpson"

Saving Country Music’s 2014 Artist of the Year

January 7, 2015 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  43 Comments


This isn’t going to be some long form praising of Sturgill Simpson’s work in 2014, or yet another rundown of his long list of successes last year. There’s already been plenty of that, arguably too much of it, and I am just as tired of writing about it as you are of reading of it. Yeah yeah, Sturgill Simpson’s great, but his name has become the independent country version of click bait. Music media outlets have sniffed out how hot product he is, and next thing you know he can’t make a bowel movement without someone writing about it, and then reaching out to him for a repost.


No wonder he deleted his Twitter account, and ponders quitting the whole business upon occasion, or putting limitations on his output. It’s great that his music has received so much attention, but it’s the job of fans, media, and even detractors to understand the style of human being their dealing with, and show a little respect for his idiosyncratic nature and privacy. That’s why through much of 2014, Saving Country Music enacted a moratorium on Sturgill Simpson coverage to only be broken for essential news. It’s gotten so out of hand, it makes me sick even having to cue up yet another blank space and peck away towards his praise, but someone has to win this stupid award, and Lord knows Sturgill deserves it.

But this isn’t going to be as much about praising Sturgill Simpson as asking for a little bit of perspective from us all. Sturgill Simpson’s job is to play music, not to save the world, or to save country, and it’s not fair of us to foist our dreams and desires on an artist who already seems a little unsure of standing in front of people and asking to command their attention. The everyman vibe from Sturgill is one of the things that makes him such a lovable character, and instills his music with an authenticity most musicians can only attempt to interpret into their persona.

scm-2014-artist-of-the-yearSome have accused Saving Country Music of unfairly lumping all the woes of country on Sturgill’s back, with an emphatic “Sturgill Simpson isn’t saving country music!” coming from a number of high profile outlets in 2014, as if since this site has been a proponent of Sturgill and its name is such, then these parallels are fair to draw when in truth this site has gone out of its way to if anything relinquish that burden from Sturgill that some well-minded but naive souls may place upon him.

Saving Country Music’s work for Sturgill Simpson has been done for the better part of a year, except for maybe trying to offer some counterbalancing and perspective. I know my place, and though Saving Country Music’s feisty little bullhorn may be fierce, Sturgill’s name is too far flung at this point to influence any eventual outcomes in a material manner. It’s time to move on to the pursuit of the next Sturgill Simpson, to unearth the Karen Jonas’s, the Tami Neilson’s, the Spencer Cornett’s and Possessed by Paul James’s. Because artists who are struggling need support, but artists that are launched support themselves, and help support others.

At the same time, Sturgill Simpson may need some perspective too, and to understand he now has responsibilities beyond himself. The reason that Sturgill Simpson has awakened something special in so many listeners in 2014 is because people want to believe in something, in an artist that is like them, that they can relate to: independent-minded, respectful of the roots of the music, but that is actually successful, and is successful on his own name, from his own sweat and talent, and that holds a hope and promise for the future. Since so few among us are graced with the opportunity to live out the fantasy of becoming a music star, the rest of us tend to live this dream out vicariously through our musical heroes. That is why we cherish them so much, and celebrate their victories as victories of our own.

But independent country fans have been at this brink before, following artists that look like they could really bust out into something big, something beyond the humble independent musicscape, only then to witness their great vessel of hope seemingly train wreck the opportunity. These artists climb nine rungs up a ten rung ladder, and then for whatever reason, maybe because they’re afraid of success, maybe because they feel too foreign to what the public perceives them as, or maybe from some silly notion that self-destruction is noble or creative, they screw it all up, many times on purpose.

I’ve seen this happen so many times with these independent successes, you begin to wonder if it’s fate. Hank Williams III in 2008, when it felt like he was on the brink of turning country music inside out, Justin Townes Earle when he decided to destroy a dressing room in Indianapolis, Ryan Adams burning bridges and purposely offending people as a self-ingratiating medium for expression, and so on and so forth. For some of these artists, sobriety of the mind in one form or another comes too late, and that magical uplifting momentum leaves them in this middling ground, stalled out, mired in sameness and detached from their appetite; a shell of their previous creative self and relegated to bad self-impersonations affording mere glimmers of their previous creative brilliance.

Sturgill Simpson may think it’s selfish to want to be famous or successful in music, or that it’s an enterprise of the ego. But at this point, it would be selfish of Sturgill to not pursue whatever successes the music may bestow him. I’m not talking about the fame, money, or awards, but where all of these things lead. This thing is now bigger than Sturgill Simpson, or anyone. Who knows the forces at play that pick one among us out of the choir to sing solo, but they’re beyond our comprehensive capacities, and are best not to second guess.

I don’t want to hear about Sturgill Simpson only making a few more albums before he quits as he told Joe Rogan, or purposefully not pursuing the full exploration of his talents because he’s afraid it may come across as egotistical. I don’t want to hear about any limitations imposed on his creative trajectory, I want to hear how all obstacles have been removed. If Sturgill Simpson’s desire is to only make five albums, then excellent, so be it. But if that leaves even one song left unheard that is buried deep in the Sturgill Simpson psyche, slowly being molded into a diamond, then we all lose, most especially Sturgill Simpson.

Talent and relevancy the likes that Sturgill finds himself amidst are too rare to be flippant with. When they bestow you with grace, it is your duty to exploit them and see them to their bitter end, because for every man whose endowed with such opportunities, there’s 10,000 who wish they were. Not pursuing those opportunities, that is selfishness and egotism.

Sturgill Simpson’s next album will be the most important of his career. He’s reached the pinnacle of independent roots music, so now the question will be if he’ll plateau, or break through. Will he purposefully offend people simply to not allow himself to be wrongfully pigeon-holed, or will he boldly mine his own original creative expression, be damned if people are offended or not? Will he understand that country music is bigger than any one artist, and there’s a responsibility to the music we all as country music lovers must behold?

Things will not always be as rosy as they are for Sturgill Simpson right now. There will be setbacks, and missteps, and second guesses, because that’s the way of things. We are in the midst of the Sturgill Simpson glory days, and the only question is how long will this era last until it eventually dissipates, as all the great eras and artists in music invariably do.

But let’s not inadvertently stimulate an early onset of this sun-setting of an era by smothering Sturgill Simpson, either with our praise, attention, expectations, perceived obligations, selfish desires as fans, or shallow perceptions of him as a Waylon impersonator or leftist ideologue. It is our job as fans to support our favorite artists, even when they don’t deliver exactly up to expectations, or leave us in the lurch to refocus on life and family. Because at one point they touched us and brought us such joy and fulfillment that it changed our lives. And for Sturgill Simpson, that moment was two thousand and fourteen.


Sturgill Simpson & Willie Nelson Ring in New Year at ACL

January 4, 2015 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  32 Comments

willie-nelson-sturgill-simpson-004“Mark my words. 2012 will be the year of Sunday Valley and Sturgill Simpson.”

This was the encapsulation of my thoughts after seeing Sturgill Simpson perform with his previous band at the Pickathon Festival in Portland in 2011, and naming the experience one of the best live performance of the year.

Then almost exactly a year later, and after Sturgill dumped the Sunday Valley name, and I saw him again at The Rattle Inn in west Austin, and once again he impressed. In the review I jeered myself for the 2012 prediction not coming true, yet doubled down on the idea that it eventually would.

“About this time last year, I was telling everybody that 2012 was going to be the year of Kentucky-born and Nashville-based singer / songwriter Sturgill Simpson. ‘Mark my words,’ I said…Now, sitting a stone’s throw from the end of 2012, it might be appropriate for me to eat those words. Or maybe even more appropriately, dig hard with the pen and overwrite that last ’2′ into a ’3.’ 2013 friends, mark my words! 2013 will be the year of Sturgill Simpson.”

Sturgill made reference to that show at The Rattle Inn when he took the stage at ACL Live in downtown Austin to a sold out audience on December 30th, sharing the bill with a man who Sturgill covered on his first solo album High Top Mountain, and whose bronze statue sits out front of the theater on a street that bears his name. That’s Willie Nelson I’m talking about for the folks not familiar with the Austin landscape. “There was like twelve people there,” Sturgill said of the Rattle Inn show to make reference to just how far he had come, and even that head count may have been a little embellished. “Here we are opening up for our heroes.”

When an artist reaches their 80′s it may be a little late to start a tradition. But they’re trying to make Willie Nelson playing ACL Live on New Year’s Eve into one, and with the interest in the event being such, boosters decided to add an extra day on the front side for more people to bask in the annual experience. Sturgill Simpson was tapped to be the opener for the occasion, though with Austin’s Amy Cook playing a short opening set, Sturgill being afforded a full hour performance, and a sense in the crowd that many were there to see Sturgill just as much as Willie, it had the feeling of a double billing.

Where the last time Sturgill made a stop in Austin he was sporting a conversion van stenching of the road, now there was a big primary blue tour bus idling across the street from The Moody Theater, driven from Nashville just for this event. The venue sits on the same sized footprint of its studio predecessor on the University of Texas campus blocks north of the current location, but features a mezzanine and upper balcony for much more capacity—something viewers may not be privy to when watching an Austin City Limits event on PBS. Still, not a seat in the house sits farther than 75 yards from the stage, making ideal sight lines from virtually any perch, despite the blacked-out nature of the theater’s interior not offering not much benefit aside from creating ideal conditions for the venue’s primary purpose of television tapings.

But the cameras were off on this night, and this allowed for a more relaxed and festive pre-New Years mood. The backstage portions of the Moody are quite cavernous, with staging areas to facilitate large stage works for theater productions, ample dressing rooms, a spacious cafeteria, and a couple of relaxed communal sitting areas. The lavatories right beside the backstage entrance smelled like they shared the same ventilation system as Willie & Co.’s congregating areas, as a contact high could be afforded if you dottled too long waiting for your chance at the paper towel dispenser.

After Amy Cook warmed up the crowd on a bitter cold night, the lights in the foyer flickered, and the gallery was packed by the time Sturgill took the stage. Tight and well-tuned from playing down-to-the-minute sets on tour with Zac Brown, Sturgill and the boys chewed through their songs like clockwork, with Simpson showing fire and animation, bounding across the large stage, stepping up on the drum riser, and punching the stops and ends of songs with his Martin acoustic’s head stock.

If Sturgill has to share the spotlight with anyone these days, it’s his guitar player Laur Joamets. “I had to go all the way to Eastern Europe to find a guitar player that plays country music,” Sturgill said to the crowd. “And I’m from Nashville.”

But there wasn’t a lot of chit chatting from Simpson, sometimes butting songs up right against each other, leaving no room for applause. This left ample space for all the important songs to be played, and some new concoctions, including a T. Rex tune incorporated into an Osborne Brothers song—the type of collaboration that has afforded Sturgill both fiery adoration and a few critics. Laur Joamets took numerous long instrumental breaks, and the crowd roared loudly when given the opportunity, including coming to their feet at the end of Sturgill’s impressive set.

Simpson’s voice sounded like it was made for the Moody Theater: rounded, bellowing, and bolstered with the weight of powerful stories behind it and an undying commitment to full effort from Sturgill the moment he takes the stage. One wouldn’t be surprised after experiencing the show if Sturgill’s voice was still echoing through that chamber, if only as ghosts of the mind, or if permanent fingerprints were left on the Moody’s walls from the performance.

After a well-apportioned intermission where the wisdom of the amount of bathroom facilities afforded to the new theater’s crowd was put to the test, Willie Nelson and his Family Band took the Austin City Limits stage like they have done so many countless times before, including for the pilot episode of what has become the longest-running live music show on television standing at some 40 years. The last few years have seen Willie’s age noticeably catching up to him, though when he decides to call on it, the flashes of high register runs or arpeggiated acoustic guitar brilliance can still be heard, though sometimes between broken phrasings and timing flubs. But to bask in Willie’s presence is what had drawn people to the performance, including some from out-of-state, and when the huge Texas flag was unfurled behind the stage and Willie struck that first chord of “Whiskey River,” the atmosphere was electric all the way through the final gospel singalong.

The only question left as Willie was singing “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” “I’ll Fly Away” and other gospel standards was if we’d see Sturgill Simpson re-emerge to take advantage of the opportunity to share the stage with one of his biggest heroes, or would his bashful nature prevail. Nelson’s offspring, including daughter Amy Nelson, and the recently-emerging granddaughter Raelyn Nelson led a group of others of the Nelson clan out on stage to sing along with Papa Willie, but it took a while to coax Sturgill to join. Finally emerging on stage, his humility showed itself, and he was too busy looking awed by the short braided man standing a healthy elbow swing away from him to focus on finding the right pitch to actually lend anything to the performance. But that was fine, and the crowd re-welcomed Sturgill with a roar as the members of Sturgill’s band slowly joined him and the others on stage.

No more predictions are in order for Sturgill Simpson now, at least not at this very moment. 2014 finally was the year of Sturgill Simpson, validated by many opinions shared across the country music press corps building a consensus around him as the year’s critical success, and the holidays were a moment to sit back and reflect on this success and not worry about what may come next. But just like Willie in 1974 when he took the Austin City Limits stage, nobody could have imagined where he’d be bound from there. And looking at Sturgill, his future seems similarly promising and limitless.




willie-nelson-sister bobby-new-years



Saving Country Music’s 2014 Album of the Year

January 2, 2015 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  108 Comments


In 2014, you had two previously-unknown women release towers of country music brilliance in Tami Nelison’s Dynamite! and Karen Jonas’s Oklahoma Lottery. You had folk blues songwriter Charlie Parr deliver a masterpiece in his instrumental triumph in Hollandale. You had the Swedish sister duo First Aid Kit feature what very well would had been considered an Album of the Year on any other year than this one with Stay Gold. You had Matt Woods deliver what still stands up as the high water mark for songwriting in 2014, With Love From Brushy Mountain. And Jim Lauderdale‘s I’m A Song is to blame for the best all around straightforward country and honky tonk album of the year.

But 2014 was the year of Sturgill Simpson, and if for no other reason than to head off an insurrection amongst readers that would have resulted in the calling for my head if I’d named anything else but Metamodern Sounds in Country Music to this distinction, Sturgill deserves this honor for releasing an album with huge sonic appeal, deft songwriting, a strangeness that resonates in unique and new ways never experienced before from a country music record, and for having an impact on the genre that has rarely been felt from an independent artist, and arguably never been felt in the current era.

album-of-the-yearAs Saving Country Music said in the original review for the album, “With ‘Metamodern Sounds in Country Music’, Sturgill Simpson doesn’t just capture our ears, he captures our imaginations. However misguided the notion is, most every disenfranchised country music fan harbors the idea that at some point some true country artist is going to come along that is so good, it is going to tip the scales back in the right direction. What ‘Metamodern Sounds’ does is it gives the true country music listener hope beyond the happiness the music conveys. It resolves that ever-present conflict between sticking to the traditional sound, but progressing forward.

But as also was mentioned in the review, “I still hear much room for improvement…I’m half convinced half the things he does are just to screw with all of us. Once you realize that, then you really begin to unlock the true wisdom and enjoyment in his music.” That is why this pick was not a slam dunk. Saving Country Music may have had more negative things to mention about Metamodern Sounds than any other reviewing outlet in 2014. That’s because I’ve seen what Sturgill is fully capable of, and even though Metamodern Sounds captures much of that essence, it doesn’t capture it all. Call this critical, or call this exciting, or call it intimidating, but it is the truth as I see it.

Nonetheless, even if Metamodern Sounds doesn’t deliver Sturgill at full strength, it was still the strongest performance of 2014, and not just in the humble estimation of this particular outlet, but in a virtual consensus amongst independent country music literati. Metamodern Sounds has made a indelible mark on the timeline of country music in 2014 that will hold up for the rest of history, and is etched deeper than the marks left by many other albums that hold this distinction in their respective years, leaving only one order of business left from this burgeoning country music artist: brother where you bound?


The Biggest Stories of 2014

December 29, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  10 Comments

2014 was a year of great flux in country music. Where 2013 was dominated by public feuds and outcries by many country performers about the direction of the music, 2014 became the year things began to be done about many of the problems plaguing the genre. With Bro-Country as the battleground, the fight to return some balance to the country format began to make headway, and many of the initiatives launched in 2014, and many of the partnerships made and trends started may affect country music in profound ways in the coming years. Meanwhile 2014 was also a particularly violent year when it came to concerts and beyond, and saw the emergence and re-emergence of artists who will be very important to country music moving forward.

Following are the eleven biggest news stories of 2014. PLEASE NOTE: These are chosen and the order picked by two major factors 1) The importance of the story 2) The amount of traffic and interest in the story evidenced through analytical data on Saving Country Music, sometimes aggregated over multiple stories on the same subject if they exist.

Click on the orange, underlined fields to be taken to the specific stories.

#11 Legendary Artists Setting Records on Billboard’s Albums Charts

willie-nelson-band-of-brothersAs artists whose fandoms represent one of the last bastions of the public that actually buy albums, legendary performers like Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, and even Billy Joe Shaver set records in 2014 on Billboard’s album charts. Unfortunately new chart rules will likely put a damper on the fun for 2015, but the year that past saw older artists receiving renewed recognition.

Willie Nelson’s Band of Brothers album became his first #1 in 28 years, and his highest showing ever on Billboard’s all genre Billboard 200 chart, coming in at #6. Dolly Parton’s May release Blue Smoke gave Dolly her first Top 10 on the Billboard 200 of her entire career when she came in at #6. She also charted at #2 on the Country Albums chart. Johnny Cash’s posthumous release of his lost album Out Among The Stars also saw surprising chart success, debuting at #1 in country, and #3 on the Billboard 200. And Billy Joe Shaver charted for the first time ever, with Long In The Tooth coming in at #19 on the Country Albums chart.

#10 The Wayne Mills Autopsy Report Released

wayne-mills-2The autopsy of slain country music artist Wayne Mills was released, revealing that the star was shot in the back of the head from a far range by bar owner Chris Ferrell, who is currently awaiting trial on 2nd degree murder charges. The autopsy revealed Wayne Mills had also sustained multiple injuries as part of the incident. Wayne’s 4th and 5th ribs were broken, and he had abrasions on his forehead, temple, scalp (unassociated with the gunshot), and contusions on his chest, arms, forearms, left thigh, and right knee.

The summary of the autopsy states,

Autopsy findings are significant for an entrance gunshot wound on the posterior parietal scalp with fragment exit and injury to scalp, skull, and brain. A bullet is recovered in association with this gunshot wound. Associated injuries include scalp, subdural, and subarachnoid hemorrhage, fractures to the right frontal and parietal bones, cortical and white matter contusions of the brain, and hemorrhage throughout the wound path. Other injuries include abrasions of the left side of the forehead, left temple, posterior occipital scalp, and abdomen, left-sided rib fractures, and contusions of the lateral chest, arms, forearms, left thigh, and right knee. Evidence of therapy and tissue procurement is noted.

The cause of death is a gunshot wound of the head, and the manner of death is homicide.

Read Full Report

#9 A Drunk Toby Keith Blows Show in Indiana

toby-keith-red-solo-cupOn September 13th, Toby Keith made a tour stop at the Klipsch Music Center in Noblesville, Indiana just outside of Indianapolis on his “Shut Up & Hold On” tour, and according to many of the concert goers, Toby was too drunk to perform, put on a terrible show, and some fans demanded their money back. A cavalcade of attendees took to Twitter and Facebook to complain about Toby Keith forgetting words, and generally stumbling through his performance.

Later video emerged of Toby Keith stumbling through a rendition of “Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue.” Keith can be clearly heard heavily slurring his words and at times trailing off, until at the end of the line, “So we can sleep in peace at night when we lay down our heads,” he descends into an inaudible garble, inspiring the videographer to exclaim, “Oh God!”. Toby Keith and his publicist refused to acknowledge the incident despite it becoming a big story on local Indianapolis news channels.

#8 Male Country Stars Come Out As Gay

ty-herndonCountry star Ty Herndon—known for his handful of mid 90′s hits such as “What Mattered Most,” “I Want My Goodbye Back,” and “Living In A Moment”—came out as gay on November 20th, making him the first openly gay male country music star in the mainstream in the history of the genre. Herndon says one of the things that motivated him coming out was seeing Kacey Musgraves win the CMA Song of the Year for “Follow Your Arrow,” saying that he welled up in tears at the win. “I felt so proud of my city. I hope that trend continues; I pray it does.” Ty’s decision also motivated former child country star Billy Gilman to come out as gay in a five minute video.

However one of the most interesting narratives to come out of the coming out announcements was just how much of a non-story it was. Aside from being the lead story on Entertainment Tonight and touching off mild interest on the internet, the announcements seemed to come as a shock to very few, and didn’t stimulate the type of vitriol some expected from the traditionally conservative music format. It still take a more active and mainstream male country artists coming out while he was still commercially relevant to see if country has finally moved on from its perceived gay stigma.

It was also revealed in 2014 that Brandy Clark was gay, but she took a more subtle and respectful approach to the sensitive subject.

#7 New Hank Williams “I Saw The Light” Biopic Announced

tom-hiddleston-hank-3It was big enough news that the long-awaited biopic covering the life of Hank Williams was coming, and that the producers were setting out to make it the definitive movie work on the Hillbilly Shakespeare based off of Colin Escott’s acclaimed biography, with fully-licensed rights to use the original music for the film from Sony ATV. But then as the cast began to be revealed, and specifically that British-born actor Tom Hiddleston would be the one portraying Hank, controversy brewed about the selection of a non-Southerner, especially with Hank’s grandson, Hank Williams III, who publicly criticized the casting.

Then when a video was released of Hiddleston singing some of the Hank Williams songs he’s expected to perform live in the film at a festival with mentor Rodney Crowell, the controversy started anew. Nonetheless, the movie rolled on, shooting in Shreveport, Louisiana beginning in late October and lasting for about six weeks. With a release date roughly scheduled for late 2015, and big expectations for the film as a potential Oscar contender, I Saw The Light might be one of the biggest news stories of 2015 as well.

#6 The Rise of Sturgill Simpson

sturgill-simpson-metamodern-sounds-in-country-musicThe rise of Sturgill Simpson could be classified as meteoric, and his dramatic ascent in 2014—from being picked up by Zac Brown Band as an opener, to playing Letterman and The Tonight Show, to being put at the top on many end-of-year lists and receiving a Grammy nomination—is virtually unparalleled in the modern country music world for an independent artist. His 2014 album Metamodern Sound in Country Music has captured the imaginations of many, and given them hope about the future of the country genre. And maybe most importantly, Sturgill Simpson has made fans wonder where he might be headed in 2015 and beyond.

READ: The Big Lessons of Sturgill Simpson’s Success

#5 The Return of Garth Brooks

garth-brooksWhen the best selling artist in country music ever, and the 3rd highest-selling artist of all time comes out of retirement after 15 years away, it is going to cause some reverberations, and that’s exactly what Garth Brooks did when he officially announced a new album and a world tour at a July 10th press conference in Nashville. But Garth’s return hasn’t been all triumphant and pretty. It started off with a debacle in Dublin, when five planned shows were cut down to three by local authorities, resulting in Garth Brooks canceling all of the scheduled performances for which an entire custom-made video presentation and stage setup had been procured and shipped to Ireland on 18 semi-trailers.

Subsequently the sales of Garth’s comeback album Man Against Machine started off fairly lackluster, though being the savvy marketeer Garth Brooks is, sales have stayed strong through the Christmas buying season and are beginning to accumulate into decent numbers. Meanwhile despite Garth’s first single “People Loving People” flopping on radio, he’s selling out live shows left and right, and regularly for multiple dates in the same location as people flock to take in the live Garth experience.

Garth’s return has not been without its setbacks and shortcomings, but his presence has still been felt strongly throughout the country music world, and he promises to remain an important figure in the genre moving forward.

#4 SCM Declares Florida Georgia Line’s Anything Goes the Worst Album Ever

florida-georgia-line-anything-goesThough maybe not a big “story” in the greater country music world, it was the most-read story on Saving Country Music in history, and by a wide margin, being liked and shared on Facebook over 75,000 times, tweeted nearly 700 times, receiving almost 500 comments, and being viewed nearly 500,000 times.

Anything Goes can slay all comers when it comes to its heretofore unattainable degree of peerless suckitude. In a word, this album is bullshit. Never before has such a refined collection of strident clichés been concentrated in one insidious mass. Never before have the lyrics to an album evidenced such narrowcasted pseudo-mindless incoherent drivel. Never before have such disparate and diseased influences been married so haphazardly in a profound vacuum of taste, and never have all of these atrocities been platooned together to be proffered to the public without someone, anyone with any bit of conscience and in a position of power putting a stop to this poisoning of the listening public.

“Not to get all old man on your ass, but most of the time I don’t even understand what the hell these dudes are saying. Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard have their own language, partial to the most grammatically-challenged and stupefying vocabulary lurking in the dankest sewers of the English dialect, but not residing firmly in any specific one of them so no truly proper translation can be obtained. It’s like Pig Latin for douchewads—understood by them and them only. And only with the perfect deficiency of brain cells will their concoction of Ebonics, metrosexual douche speak, and stagnant gene pool rural jargon become anything resembling coherent to the human ear.”

Read Full Review

#3 Violence, Arrests, Medical Issues, and Death at Country Music Concerts

pittsburgh-trash-luke-bryan-5The summer of 2014 at country music’s mainstream concerts became one big rolling narrative about fights, arrests, hospitalizations, rape, stabbings, and even two deaths, all which occurred in a few short months during the height of country’s outdoor concert season. It almost felt like the media was embellishing all the violence with the way each week was punctuated with a new headline. “55 People Were Arrested, and 22 Hospitalized” in what local authorities characterized as a “mass casualty” event at a Keith Urban concert in Massachusetts on July 26th. Once again an annual event in Pittsburgh at Heinz Field resulted in huge amounts of trash, as well as many arrests and hospitalizations, even though the event the previous year had drawn large amounts of negative media coverage for similar problems.

Three people were stabbed at We Fest in Minnesota, a woman was gang raped at Michigan’s Faster Horses Festival, a drunk driver ran over a police officer at a Jason Aldean concert in Hartford, and amongst a myriad of other disturbing reports at country concerts, a man was found dead in a dumpster after Jason Aldean’s Cleveland concert, thought to be the cause of over intoxication, and another man died at a Hank Jr. concert after he was shoved and his head hit the concrete, though it was later determined it was likely by accident and not foul play.

Meanwhile the artists were not immune from injury themselves. Luke Bryan had three stage falls in 2014, Garth Brooks had two, Tim McGraw violently slapped a woman who ripped off a portion of his jeans, and Dustin Lynch got hit in the face with a full can of beer. 2014 was eventful at country concerts to say the least, making many wonder if it is the depravity in the music leading to such behavior. Without question 2015 will be one to watch to see if the country concert issues improve, or worsen.

#2 NASH Icon & The Impending Country Radio Format Split

nash-iconWho would have ever dreamed, even at the beginning of 2014, that we could be faced with a scenario where the radio format for country music would be splitting in two, and this action would see the return of many of the older names and songs so unceremoniously shuffled to the side in the mainstream format in recent years? Heretofore the trend has been for country music to become more young, and more current every year, shoving older artists and music aside, even when they continue to prove their commercial viability. Research from radio analysts had been telling country radio for years they were shooting themselves in the foot by abandoning more classic-sounding music, and finally in 2014, they began to listen.

Two huge entities, not traditionally considered friends of traditional country music in Cumulus Media and Big Machine Records, joined forces to launch NASH Icon—a new radio format that includes older country music alongside newer music, and a record label that is looking to add new life to the careers of forgotten artists. Meanwhile simply the idea of NASH Icon stimulated other radio stations to adopt a more “classic” country format. Garth-FM (later The Hawk) was launched, and so was Hank FM, and many other country stations oriented towards older country music, fueling speculation that the movement will eventually stimulate a split of the country format. Furthermore, the NASH Icon affiliate in Nashville is consistently beating its mainstream competitors, including Bobby Bones’ home of WSIX.

Now Cumulus is even planning to add a NASH Classics format. Though none of these stations might be the cup of tea for the most hardened of traditional country listeners, it is a step in the right direction, and breeding a renewed love in more classic-sounding country music we haven’t seen in years. The impending radio format split might very well be the biggest development in the effort to save country music in many years.

#1 The Rise and Fall of Bro-Country

bro-country-rip2014 started off with so-called “Bro-Country” as all the rage in popular country music, and ended with Bro-Country still somewhat relevant, but heavily on the wane and declining to a whimper while an anti Bro-Country tune in the form of Maddie & Tae’s “Girl In A Country Song” shattered all manner of records by becoming a #1 hit on country radio.

In late September, Saving Country Music wrote an obituary for Bro-Country, saying in part,

“On Monday, September 22nd, the subset of American country music known to many by its nickname ‘Bro-Country,’ died at its home in Nashville, TN. It was three-years-old. Bro-Country is survived by its family and close friends, including Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean, Brantley Gilbert, Cole Swindell, Chase Rice, Thomas Rhett, Dallas Davidson, and dozens of other lesser-known country music artists and songwriters. Though the specific cause of death has yet to be ruled on by the local medical examiner, preliminary findings appear to show that Bro-Country had been exhaustively over-utilized over the last few months and years until it finally passed away from overexposure. Bro-Country’s death is definitely being considered the result of ‘foul play.’”

Read Full Bro-Country Obituary



Saving Country Music Raises the Eyebrow of Ronnie Dunn

December 29, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  31 Comments

ronnie-dunnIt’s not every day you get trolled by a CMA Entertainer of the Year winner, but that’s what Saving Country Music found itself experiencing Sunday night (12-28) when Ronnie Dunn (formerly of Brooks & Dunn) took to his always colorful Facebook page to post links and commentary to recent stories on SCM about his involvement (or non involvement) with the new Cumulus Media/Big Machine Records’ joint venture called NASH Icon, and Saving Country Music’s review of his 2014 release Peace, Love & Country Music.

Beginning on December 16th, and then more in-depth on December 24th when Martina McBride was announced as NASH Icon’s second signee, Saving Country Music broached the subject of why Big Machine Records, Cumulus Media, and NASH Icon had been completely silent on any announcements of Ronnie Dunn becoming a part of the label’s roster, when Ronnie himself had first hinted, and then confirmed that he’d signed to the label (or signed some sort of deal with them) on November 27th, over a month ago now. But subsequently, even though there’s been ample opportunities for the record label to announce, or at least confirm Ronnie Dunn’s affiliation, including an announcement about Reba McEntire joining a reunited Brooks & Dunn for a series of shows in Las Vegas, there’s been nothing.

At the same time, SCM has gone out of the way to say this doesn’t mean some deal hasn’t been struck between Dunn and the label that won’t be announced in the future. As was said on December 24th, “It doesn’t mean Ronnie Dunn isn’t signed to the label confidentially, or that he won’t be signed to it in the future. But at this point, NASH Icon now officially has two artists signed to their roster, and neither one of them is named Ronnie Dunn.”

And just to point out, Saving Country Music isn’t the only outlet that has noticed nothing official about Ronnie Dunn’s signing has come down from NASH Icon. Music Row in a December 1st piece about Dunn’s Facebook announcement about the signing said, “The label has not officially announced a deal with Dunn.”

Perhaps thinking that Saving Country Music was chiding the country star, or perhaps wanting to add to the speculation, someone posted the first SCM NASH Icon story dealing with Dunn’s unconfirmed status from December 16th on Ronnie Dunn’s Facebook page, with the commentary, “Mystery / intrigue. Did Dunn really sign?” Worth noting, when Dunn posts on his Facebook page personally, he leaves his initials “RD.” No initials were left on this particular post.


Then a short time later, Ronnie himself posted a link to the “Ronnie Dunn” tag on Saving Country Music. Without getting too technical, a “tag” is a hyperlink to all the articles mentioning an artist or thing, but since the last article to tag “Ronnie Dunn” was the second, December 24th article that mentioned the curious case of Ronnie’s NASH Icon status, it did the same trick as linking to the article directly (which Dunn probably meant to do), with the commentary from Ronnie Dunn being, “Hmmmm RD.”


Ronnie Dunn replied to many of the comments left on the Facebook posts personally, but the reassurance either way if Ronnie Dunn was or was not signed to NASH Icon never came. Ronnie did leave an interesting comment where he said, ….IF it can be done, this Cumulus / Icon / Big Machine team can do it. The initiative is backed by some of the strongest players in the game. The right songs, right team (s) and ultimate fan support will determine whether it flies or not. RD.” But again, this was not a confirmation of anything.

So the next question is, is Ronnie Dunn actually signed to NASH Icon? And if he isn’t, what is Ronnie Dunn’s agenda? Is he simply trying to create media buzz? Does he desire to be signed to NASH Icon, and like we see many times in professional sports contract negotiations, he’s trying to negotiate through the media? Did the deal fall through? Are they just waiting for a later date to announce it? These questions remain unanswered, as do queries by Saving Country Music directly to Big Machine for clarification on Ronnie Dunn’s contractual status.

And then a couple of hours later, Ronnie posted a link to Saving Country Music’s review of his album Peace, Love & Country Music from April, with a fairly lengthy commentary/rebuttal to the review in which Saving Country Music awarded Ronnie “One Gun Up, One Gun Down” (meaning a 50/50, or mixed review). Dunn also has “pinned” the post to the top of his Facebook feed. Dunn’s commentary:

SAVING COUNTRY….One of my all time FAVORITE articles !!!

I agree with him about the contradiction grinding endlessly within ME and the MUSIC that I seek, so desperately to be a part of. This stuff is about more than just music.

I am beginning to believe that there may be no balance between mass accepted, mainstream music and sincere, heartfelt stuff with essence… but again, I’m conflicted because songs like Believe, Red Dirt Road, Brand New Man, Neon Moon, She’s Not The Cheatin’ Kind and My Maria, just to name a few, seemed to do it on a mainstream level.
……there’s my problem.

NEVER…have I taken the position, or assumed the posture that I am in any way the guy to lead anyone or anything, anywhere.
That’s a first class ticket with free drinks and a cigar. Freud would turn that down.

***One more quick thing….
I came up with the title, Cowgirls Rock and Roll Tattoos and Pickup Trucks as a spoof on the repetitive cliche’s found in so many songs these days.
I couldn’t get anymore words into the title.
I have to tread lightly though, in the past I’ve used those cliche’s.

You didn’t mention…… Heart Lettin’ Go ?
Thanks for giving Wish I Still Smoked Cigarettes an atta boy.

In the end….you singled out the TWO songs (Country This and Kiss You There) that were hand chosen by two of the most truly talented, top radio programmers (no names mentioned gents) in the country.

A good friend and publicist told me once, “choose EVERY song wisely, the critics especially, will gravitate to the lowest common denominator if you’re not careful. The weakest link in the chain defines it’s strength.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his best seller David and Goliath, that grit trumps almost everything in the long run.

In the end I don’t have anything left to prove, I just like doing this.
I’m determined as ever to get this chapter right.


Saving Country Music has been following Ronnie Dunn and his conquests with great interest for a while now, from his work with Texas legend Ray Wylie Hubbard, to his frequent commentary on Facebook which tends to put him on the right side of issues, and even reviewing (however belated) his chill-inducing single “Bleed Red.” Even if Ronnie Dunn isn’t always right, he’s proven himself to be weird, and that in itself deserves an elevated level of respect and interest. He’s gone so completely off the script at this point for a CMA Entertainer of the Year and a mainstream artist, that if nothing else, it’s refreshing.

But in the end the music still has to prove itself, and with Ronnie’s Peace, Love & Country Music he did prove in moments his commitment to making worthy music. He also proved that old habit’s die hard, and as he had the courage to admit above, extricating himself from the system he’s been a part of for so many years isn’t easy, or something which can be achieved overnight. Also Dunn shows wisdom in how to take criticism: as a means to see where there’s room for improvement, as opposed to taking it as either a personal insult or the result of petty grievances based on jealousy or other motivations. “I’m determined as ever to get this chapter right,” Dunn says, meaning he’s constantly trying to improve, which is all you can ask of artists, and all you can ask of yourself.

Dunn is right. Songs like “Believe,” “Red Dirt Road,” “Brand New Man,” “Neon Moon,” “She’s Not The Cheatin’ Kind” and “My Maria” are excellent examples of balancing quality with mainstream appeal. In the early 90′s when these songs were released, many country music traditionalists may have not agreed with such a statement, but this has been the recurring lesson of 2014—that when looking at the legacy of Garth Brooks and the other artists of the “Class of ’89,” when looking at old school Brooks & Dunn music, when looking at artists who fit the NASH Icon model, you can now see this music was better than critics and traditionalists were giving it credit for at the time, and is such a healthier alternative to what is being produced today. That is why NASH Icon not only exists, but is thriving, whether Ronnie Dunn is directly involved with it or not, or will be in the future.

Of course Brooks & Dunn circa 1992, or Ronnie Dunn circa 2014 is not going to get a lot of the hardline traditional elements of the country genre excited, and don’t think for a second that Saving Country Music has allowed its compass to be coaxed in the wrong direction from Ronnie Dunn’s Facebook flattery. But pragmatism has been the new name of the game in the fight to save country music in 2014 because it’s been so effective.

If Ronnie Dunn, Martina McBride, Garth Brooks, and Reba McEntire return to country radio in a measurable way, which they are with NASH Icon and the more general country music format split, then this is as solid of a victory for true country music as Sturgill Simpson selling 65,000 albums and being nominated for a Grammy. Yes, it would be nice if Sturgill stepped up as more of a leader, but as Ronnie Dunn illuminates in his above statement, it is so unnatural for these performers to assume leadership positions. In the end, the leadership must come from the music itself. Words on Facebook and sites like Saving Country Music can only go so far.

2014 was the year the tide turned, and the sullying seas of country music mediocrity left their high water stain on the face of history to hopefully be measured against diminishing levels in the coming years. Ronnie Dunn, NASH Icon, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Garth Brooks, and Sturgill Simpson all contribute in their own weird ways to this emerging trend; to a rolling back of the losses to hopefully work toward a new day in country music. But it won’t happen overnight, and there won’t always be agreement within the ranks of how it’s Dunn. But in the end the music will prevail over time. That’s why NASH Icon’s most underlying requisite for potential signees is 25 years of proven service and staying power in the genre. Time invariably crowns the eventual victors, and reveals the few with true integrity.


Saving Country Music’s Best Videos of 2014

December 19, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  32 Comments

best-videos-scm-2014From crude videos taken on somebody’s phone, to full production videos with scripts and actors and sets, to animated shorts and everything in between, you never know what’s going to capture the imagination and become the perfect compliment to a song in the visual form. No question in the age of YouTube that there’s no dearth of material to oogle at, but what breaks through the crush of visual material to be called the best in 2014?

9. The Whiskey Shivers – “Free”

The Whiskey Shivers will probably never top the madness that is their video from 2011 for “Gimmie All Your Lovin’” that has now received over half a million views (still don’t know how the hell they made that), but their new video for “Free” off their self-titled album does its best to capture the band’s fun loving nature.

Directed & Edited by Rob Wadleigh
Director of Photography – Ryan Firth

8. Don Williams – “I’ll Be Here In The Morning”

The fortuitous call was made when Don Williams went into the studio to record his Saving Country Music Album of the Year-nominated Reflections, to fit out the studio with a camera crew and release the videos intermittently afterwards. The result has been some really excellent moments captured on film, but none better than when Don Williams covered this Townes Van Zandt classic.

7. Steelism – “Marfa Lights”

Yes, very silly, quirky, and maybe even hipster-ish, the video for sideman duo Steelism’s “Marfa Lights” still shows a lot of imagination and creativity in a unique approach. A fun watch.

Directed by Stewart Copeland.

6. Florida Georgia Line – “Dirt”

Act appalled all you want, but it deserves to be here. A lot of heart went into this video.

Director: Nigel Dick

5. Sturgill Simpson – “Turtles All The Way Down”

Despite what shallow listeners will tell you, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music is not a psychadelic record, but the video for “Turtles All The Way Down” certainly is.

Directed and edited by Graham Uhelski

4. First Aid Kit – “My Silver Lining”

Something that First Aid Kit has that virtually no other artist or band in the independent roots realm of a similar or bigger size can match is a library of videos that dazzle, entertain, and incite wonder like little else you can find. It’s an attention to video making as a creative medium in itself with no boundaries that gives their music an extra special love. The release of a new First Aid Kit video is grounds for an immediate stop down, and not just their tightly-woven and intricate big-production music videos with multiple scenes and settings that cast the duo in regal and awe-inducing moments, but with the sincerity and talent this sister duo from Sweden displays, even a short acoustic performance in a publishing office or a covered wayside is something that can enthrall and shuttle you off into a wormhole of escapism. After all, it was a simple video of the duo singing a Fleet Foxes cover that is given credit for launching their career.

Director: Elliott Sellers
Producer: Courtney Davies

3. Willie Watson – “Mexican Cowboy”

Sometimes the best videos are live ones that capture and moment in time and the character of the artist so perfectly, a big production could never do it justice. When former Old Crow Medicine Show member Willie Watson performs his traditional folk tunes, he becomes so immersed in character, so stern-faced an honest to the song, it is truly something to behold.

Filmed for The Bluegrass Situation at Counterpoint Records in Franklin Village, Los Angeles.

Directed and recorded by Ben Guzman

2. Ray Benson & Willie Nelson – “It Ain’t You”

The music, and both Ray Benson’s and Willie’s performances are chilling enough, but the video for “It Ain’t You” takes it a step further, fully understanding what’s at the heart of the song, and pulling out all the stops to not only do the song justice, but enhance the experience through the visual medium. The wisdom of knowing what the simple sight of Willie’s battle-worn hands can stir in the beholder, while crafting a way to capture the spirit of the long-time friendship between Ray and Willie so purely is worth watching even if the song itself doesn’t strike a particular chord with the listener. (read full review)

“It Ain’t You” was written by Waylon Jennings and Gary Nicholson.

Video directed by Aaron Brown of Onion Creek Productions.

1. The Tillers – “Willy Dear”

By choosing animation for the “Willy Dear” video, it enhances the imaginative qualities already inherent in the song, and allows the story to unfold without the anachronistic limitations of a live video. The simplicity of the animation aids in this process, while the vibrancy still present in the color and the expansiveness of the landscapes emphasizes the wonder in the story itself.

The video also helps fill in some of the gaps in the narrative that the verses didn’t have the capacity to carry. And best of all, it illustrates that “Willie Dear” is not really about Willie Thompson, his love Lizzy, or the tragedy that befell them because of mistaken circumstances. It is about old abandoned houses, and the stories they tell. (read full review)

Animation by Christof Heuer


The Big Lessons of Sturgill Simpson’s Success

December 17, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  36 Comments


The hope of fans of any independent music artist is that they will be able to achieve a sustainable career, and that their music will find wider appeal amongst the listening public. In the last couple of years, we’ve seen this hope be achieved in big ways for artists like Shovels & Rope, Jason Isbell, Shakey Graves, and now Sturgill Simpson. When an independent artist succeeds, it’s important that we pay attention to what lent to that success so hopefully more worthy artists can achieve similar results, and to ask what that success might mean for music at large to understand where the trends in music are going.

Here are a few observations about what the rousing success of Sturgill Simpson means.

People Still Want To Hear Classic Sounding Country Music

Blake Shelton once famously said, Nobody wants to listen to their grandpa’s music.” Well apparently he was wrong, and in a big way. And what has been so remarkable about the appeal of Sturgill’s music is the breadth of demographics with which it resonates. As Sturgill Simpson has said many times, he’s regularly complimented by fans who say, “I don’t like country music, but I like you.” Sturgill Simpson is appealing to traditional country fans, to Americana and alt. country fans, to Texas country fans, to indie rock fans, to mainstream fans who are not afraid to dabble in independent music, and to music fans who don’t like country music at all, or at least they didn’t until they heard Sturgill Simpson. In a world of reactionary diametric opposition, especially in music, Sturgill Simpson is a curious consensus builder because he’s classic country, but still fresh and cool. Even the people who don’t like him, they don’t actively hate him. Metamodern Sounds in Country Music was the true embodiment of the “country music must evolve” mantra we hear mainstream artists use to justify their transgressions, but in the true meaning of the phrase. Sturgill Simpson took the old, and made it new again.

Independent Artists Can Make A Huge Impact, Even in Country

Forget that Sturgill Simpson isn’t signed to a major label and isn’t receiving any mainstream radio play, he’s still selling out venues and received a nomination from the Grammy Awards, while independent radio stations and national outlets like NPR keep the Sturgill love pouring in. The next big decision for Sturgill might be whether to sign with one of the major labels who’ve come courting after counting him amongst the fastest-rising stars in country music. Unlike many artists who move to Nashville ripe with talent but unproven in the marketplace, Sturgill should be in a position where he can negotiate his own terms, and even play labels off of each other until he gets the deal he wants. As Sturgill has said in the past, staying in control of his own publishing and creative control would be an imperative no matter who he works with. A major label could help propel Sturgill into the future and may even help him focus more on the music.

But as Sturgill has proven with Metamodern Sounds, he doesn’t need a major label. Simply the strength of his music is support enough for him to build a sustainable career. And if Sturgill can, then so can other independent country artists of our time. With big acts like Zac Brown, Jake Owen, and Keith Urban actively touting Sturgill, he’s like the Chris LeDoux of the 2010′s—totally independent, but with mainstream influence.

Sometimes It’s What You Don’t Do That Is Most Important

Impatience, wanting to release music ASAP, and being eager to sign big deals is what gets many artists in trouble. Though Sturgill Simpson may seem like some sort of overnight sensation in the way he’s rocketed to the top of independent music in such a short period, years of planning and uncompromising attention to details and insistence on doing things his way are what we’re now seeing the results of in his success. It was April of 2012 when Sturgill came out as a solo artist. It then took another 14 months before we saw his first album High Top Mountain. Before and during that time Sturgill said “no” to multiple opportunities placed before him until he knew he could move forward in the way he envisioned for himself, including opportunities that arguably would have been more beneficial for him in the short term. Sturgill signs with the wrong record label, makes an album with the wrong producer or players, and he may not be enjoying the same results we see today.

And one thing that’s not given enough credit is how Sturgill was able to capture people’s attention with his first album High Top Mountain, and then follow it up less than a year later with Metamodern Sounds. That quick turnaround is how he was able to keep his momentum rolling.

Management, & The Team Around An Artist Matters

No offense to Sturgill, but there are other artists out there in the independent music world with the talent to be enjoying similar success as he is today, but they don’t have the right team of people around them to help foster that success. An artist or band can’t make it unless they have a good booking agent, and good manager, sometimes a good producer to work with, and a support team around them of friends and family and fans who help facilitate their dreams instead of weighing them down with obligations and expectations.

Just like you can trace back a lot of Jason Isbell’s recent success to his manager Traci Thomas, Sturgill’s success can be traced back to his manager Marc Dottore (also the manager of Marty Stuart, Kathy Mattea), and both Isbell and Sturgill can thank the support structure of Thirty Tigers–a quasi management/distributor/promotions company that acts similarly to a label but with the artists retaining their rights. Just like Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson benefited from the services of producer Dave Cobb. And Sturgill Simpson has said many times that it was the nudging of his wife that got him back into music when he’d all but written it off on numerous occasions. In the midst of all of this Sturgill success, he also welcomed a son into the world, and has had to juggle those obligations with all the attention and increased obligations of being a successful music artist.

Be Leery of the Underground

You look at artists like Sturgill Simpson, and even more so with acts like Shakey Graves and Shovels & Rope, and you see artists that take a very underground approach to their music. They’re just as underground, if not more underground than many underground artists. So how did these acts rocket to the top when so many artists that are so similar, or that even influence the sound of these bigger acts, are still stuck playing poorly-attended shows and struggling to eek out a sustainable living? It’s because despite all the talk of the support for the music that exists in the underground—the whole family feel and the positive vibes that everyone touts—the behind-the-scenes back biting, the lack of organization and reach, and the typecasting many underground artists receive—fair or not—for being punks with acoustic instruments, erects a hard and fast ceiling over the careers of these underground artists, while in the greater independent music industry, similar acts thrive and prosper.

Of course the talent and expression must be such that it resonates with the greater public like Sturgill Simpson and Shovels & Rope have, but after finding the initial support a band or artist might need to get off the ground, avoiding the underground is what allows an artist to grow. Though performers like Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell enjoy a lot of appeal and even support from the roots and country underground, it was because they didn’t become too intimately involved with the “scene” to where they weren’t limited in their ability to reach the top of the independent industry, or were burdened by trying to keep cliques of fans happy, that they were able to thrive. The underground still can’t point to even one success story where an artist wasn’t just “supported,” but was “launched” like Sturgill has been, while Sturgill was summarily avoided by the underground early in his career.

It Doesn’t Hurt to be Talented and Topical

In the end the reason Sturgill Simpson has done so well is because he’s just really damn good. Nothing can replace or make up for talent. There’s artists for every time—ones who capture the imaginations of fans because they’re offering exactly what the people want to hear at a given moment. Sturgill’s traditional sound mixed with a forward-thinking approach is what music needed right here, right now, and that’s the underlying reason he’s finding such favorable ears.


Country Music’s Biggest Winners & Losers in 2014

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

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

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

WINNER – Scott Borchetta

Scott Borchetta

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

WINNER – Sturgill Simpson

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

WINNER – Brandy Clark

Brandy Clark

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

WINNER – Brantley Gilbert

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

WINNER – Sam Hunt

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

LOSER – Garth Brooks

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

LOSER – Jerrod Niemann

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

LOSER – Blake Shelton

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

LOSER – The International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA)

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

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

LOSER – Brad Paisley 

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


Dismissive Roots Hipster Now Thinks Sturgill Simpson Sucks

December 8, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  74 Comments

Everywhere you look people are singing the praises of independent country music upstart Sturgill Simpson and his latest album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. The Kentucky-born singer and songwriter has become a favorite of critics and fans alike. Sturgill has recently been ensconced at the very top of many media outlet’s end-of-year ‘Best Of’ lists, walked away with a new piece of shelf art for Emerging Artist of the Year at the Americana Music Awards, and now has even been nominated for a Grammy. It’s all part of a ‘Metamodern’ rise that has seen Sturgill go from a no name to one of the most promising independent country artists to be launched in years.

But not everyone shares in the positive sentiments. As with all things, taste is subjective, and one music fan named Justin Rose from East Nashville is not on board the Sturgill Simpson bandwagon, at least not anymore.

hipster“If I want to listen to Waylon, I’ll listen to Waylon. Not some modern-day impersonator who wears Carhartt and probably drinks corporate beer that’s not Pabst,” says Justin Rose while rolling a cigarette outside of Fond Object on Nashville’s east side. “I bet he hasn’t even done all the psychedelics he sings about. Like he’s the very first to make a psychedelic country record or something. Please. I have a dozen albums better than that on vinyl. I heard that he was in the Navy. He’s probably active in his church’s volleyball league and voted for Romney.”

Despite his dismissive tone, Justin Rose says he was an early fan of Sturgill’s when the songwriter first moved to Nashville.

“Yeah, I knew that guy when he was playing to an empty Station Inn and nobody knew about him. He actually wasn’t half bad back then. I saw him at The Basement with like six people. Now you can’t even get into his shows because they’re so packed with Vanderbilt Business School post-grads with khaki pants and backwards baseball caps that smell like Axe body spray. I even bought his first solo album ‘High Top Mountain’ on vinyl. It was alright, but when I saw how everyone was jumping on board and calling him the ‘country music savior’ I donated it with a bunch of other crap to the thrift store. At one of his shows I tried to talk to him about my tattoos, but he said he had to load his gear or something. Now I heard he was out touring with fucking Zac Brown. It just proves that bullshit sells.”

Justin Rose insists that the music of Sturgill Simpson is no big deal.

“There’s probably a dozen bands here in east Nashville that are better than Sturgill, but of course you will never hear about them because the music business is all politics. And really, I’m glad nobody will hear about them. Last thing I want is a bunch of people showing up, ruining the experience. People should make music for the art of it, not to get popular and have critics kiss your ass just because it’s cool. I saw they gave Sturgill the #1 album in ‘American Songwriter’ and ‘The Nashville Scene.’ I don’t understand why people don’t get that music sounds better when less people know about it. Watching good bands play to empty bar rooms and not be able to support themselves or their families fills me with a sense of elitism and pride, like I’m better than everybody else because I know about this awesome music and others don’t, and then me an my friends can flaunt this on Facebook and Instagram under the guise of ‘supporting the music.’ I just can’t like music if I think it is popular or successful in any way. Feeling like I’m part of an exclusive scene fills me with a sense of self-importance.”

Though Mr. Rose refuses to count himself amongst Sturgill Simpson supporters, he says he’s not completely opposed to listening to Sturgill’s music in the future. “Maybe if he plays Burning Man or some of my favorite local festivals where there’s more bands than fans in attendance and nobody makes any money, then it’s not like I’d avoid his set or anything. But until then, me and my friends will park across from whatever venue he’s playing and laugh about how the people are dressed and how they don’t ‘get it’ like we do.”


Sturgill Simpson, Brandy Clark Receive 2014 Grammy Noms

December 5, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  59 Comments

On Friday morning (12-5), the Grammy Award nominations were inefficiently and unceremoniously announced via Twitter (like we need another reason to bury our faces in our phones), and once again proved that their nose for quality in country music is somewhat better than what we’re used to seeing from the country music industry itself, even if their ability to categorize music remains somewhat curious.

Why is Sturgill Simpson ‘Americana’ instead of ‘Country,’ and Brandy Clark ‘country’ instead of ‘Americana’? Just because one is independent and one is mainstream? And isn’t Nickel Creek bluegrass, which has its own Grammy category? Nonetheless, seeing names like Sturgill Simpson, Brandy Clark, and Nickel Creek receive nods gives a little more hope to the music heart that is regularly dashed by annual award exercises, so the people who spend 363 days a year pretending they’re too cool for award shows can celebrate.

***UPDATE: According to numerous concertgoers, at Sturgill Simpson’s concert on December 5th in Milwaukee, he said about the nomination, One year ago today we threw together an album in four days, today it got nominated for a fucking Grammy. Not exactly sure what Americana means but apparently it means a lot more than country. I’d rather be in a category with Rosanne Cash and Brandy Clark than fucking Kenny Chesney anyway.”

He actually is not in the same category as Brandy Clark (because she’s in the country category), but the sentiment remains the same.

See you on Feb. 8th for Saving Country Music’s LIVE blog of the Grammys.

Best Country Album Nominees

  • Dierks Bentley – Riser
  • Eric Church – The Outsiders
  • Brandy Clark – 12 Stories
  • Miranda Lambert – Platinum
  • Lee Ann Womack – The Way I’m Livin’

Eric Church’s The Outsiders is a rock album. Along with her “New Artist” nomination, it appears Brandy Clark is the new critical darling i.e. the Kacey Musgraves of 2014, despite most of her songs being written by committee to formula. Good album and artist, but let’s tap the breaks just a little. Riser and The Way I’m Livin’ are solid nods.


Best Americana Album

  • Rosanne Cash – The River & The Thread
  • John Hiatt – Term of My Surrender
  • Keb’ Mo’ – Bluesamericana
  • Nickel Creek – A Dotted Line
  • Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds of Country Music

Progressive bluegrass band Nickel Creek was put in this category because they’re more commercially-viable than most bluegrass, and Sturgill Simpson was put in this category because he’s less commercially-viable than most country. Great to see Sturgill nominated, but would have been better if he wasn’t relegated to Americana, which is how this feels because he’s an independent artist. At least they didn’t screw up like last year when they didn’t nominate Jason Isbell at all. Rosanne Cash will probably win this. Maybe Sturgill, or maybe Nickel Creek who’ve the Grammy’s have given love to before.


Best Country Song

(sorry, you don’t get a cool graphic, you get Joy Williams and her bun announcing it in all her regal fabulousness sitting like a Chinese heroin God beside a fire)

Glen Campbell’s “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” is mawkish exploitation. There I said it. Otherwise, a completely dumb list of songs. Even worse than the CMA’s or ACM’s.

  • Kenny Chesney – “American Kids” (Rodney Clawson, Luke Laird, Shane McAnally)
  • Miranda Lambert — “Automatic” (Nicolle Galyon, Natalie Hemby, Miranda Lambert)
  • Eric Church – “Give Me Back My Hometown” (Eric Church, Luke Laird)
  • Glen Campbell – “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” (Glen Campbell, Julian Raymond)
  • Tim McGraw featuring Faith Hill – “Meanwhile, Back at Mama’s” (Tom Douglas, Jaren Johnston, Jeffrey Steele)

Best Country Solo Performance

Remember, if Keith Urban walks away with this, Sam Hunt gets a Grammy as the songwriter. Carrie Underwood better damn win.

  • Eric Church – “Give Me Back My Hometown”
  • Hunter Hayes – “Invisible”
  • Miranda Lambert – “Automatic”
  • Carrie Underwood – “Something In The Water”
  • Keith Urban – “Cop Car”

Best Country Duo/Group Performance

Dreck on parade. Even The Band Perry’s cover of Glen Campbell barely raises a pulse.

  • The Band Perry – “Gentle On My Mind
  • Miranda Lambert with Carrie Underwood -  “Somethin’ Bad”
  • Little Big Town – “Day Drinking”
  • Tim McGraw with Faith Hill – “Meanwhile Back At Mama’s”
  • Keith Urban with Eric Church – “Raise ‘Em Up”

Best Bluegrass Album

  • The Earls of LeichesterThe Earls of Leichester
  • Noam PikelnyNoam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe
  • Frank Solivan & Dirty KitchenCold Spell
  • Bryan SuttonInto My Own
  • Rhonda VincentOnly Me

Best American Roots Performance

  • Gregg Allman & Taj Mahal – “Statesboro Blues”
  • Rosanne Cash – “A Feathers Not a Bird”
  • Billy Childs with Alison Krauss & Jerry Douglas – “And When I Die”
  • Keb’ Mo’ – “The Old Me Better”
  • Nickel Creek – “Destination”

Best American Roots Song

  • Rosanne Cash – “A Feathers Not a Bird”
  • Jesse Winchester – “Just So Much”
  • Woody Guthrie & Del McCoury – “The New York Trains”
  • Edie Brickell & Steve Martin – “Pretty Little One”
  • John Hiatt – “Terms of My Surrender”

 Best Folk Album

  • Mike Auldridge, Jerry Douglas, & Rob IckesThree Bells
  • Alice GerrardFollow The Music
  • Eliza GilkysonThe Nocturne Diaries
  • Old Crow Medicine ShowRemedy
  • Jesse WinchesterA Reasonable Amount of Trouble

Other notables:

Brandy Clark was nominated for “Best New Artist,” and Ryan Adams for Best Rock Song & Album, because he’s not country goddammit.




The Top 100 Americana Albums Played on Radio in 2014

December 3, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Podcasting/Radio  //  11 Comments

americana-music-awards-associationThough 2014 still has another month to go, the end of November traditionally marks the end of the radio calendar in music, allowing us to look back and see who had the greatest impact on the format throughout the year. The Americana Music Association has just unveiled their list for the most played albums in 2014, and there’s quite a few surprises, and quite a few names traditionally considered country filling out the ranks.

Rosanne Cash leads all participants with her album The River & The Thread, followed by the much-anticipated comeback album from progressive bluegrass group Nickel Creek called A Dotted Line. Up-and-comers Nikki Lane, Lake Street Dive, and Shovels & Rope also made the Top 10, while Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music came in at #10 on the list.

Along with many of the well-recognized Americana names, country greats like Willie Nelson came in at #14, Johnny Cash at #32, Billy Joe Shaver at #42, Ray Benson at #67, Marty Stuart at #79, and Dolly Parton at #92. Americana stalwart Jim Lauderdale was the only name with multiple entries, with albums coming in at both #58 and #98.

The Americana airplay numbers are aggregated from 70 terrestrial radio stations, nationally syndicated radio shows, Sirius/XM satellite radio, and internet radio stations to come up with the final tallies.

Top 100 Most-Played Albums in Americana

  1. Rosanne Cash – The River & The Thread
  2. Nickel Creek – A Dotted Line
  3. Rodney Crowell – Tarpaper Sky
  4. Hard Working Americans – Hard Working Americans
  5. Old Crow Medicine Show – Remedy
  6. Nikki Lane – All Or Nothin’
  7. Lake Street Dive – Bad Self Portraits
  8. Shovels And Rope – Swimmin’ Time
  9. John Hiatt – Terms Of My Surrender
  10. Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds In Country Music
  11. Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin – Common Ground
  12. St. Paul & The Broken Bones – Half The City
  13. Parker Millsap – Parker Millsap
  14. Willie Nelson – Band Of Brothers
  15. Paul Thorn – Too Blessed To Be Stressed
  16. Lucinda Williams – Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone
  17. Trampled By Turtles – Wild Animals
  18. Various – A Tribute To Jackson Browne – Looking Into You
  19. Keb Mo – BLUESAmericana
  20. Secret Sisters – Put Your Needle Down
  21. John Fullbright – Songs
  22. Amos Lee – Mountains Of Sorrow, Rivers Of Song
  23. Jamestown Revival – Utah
  24. Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison – Our Year
  25. Jason Eady – Daylight & Dark
  26. Infamous Stringdusters – Let It Go
  27. Chuck Mead – Free State Serenade
  28. Sarah Jarosz – Build Me Up From Bones
  29. Billie Joe & Norah Jones – Foreverly
  30. Justin Townes Earle – Single Mothers
  31. Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams
  32. Johnny Cash – Out Among The Stars
  33. First Aid Kit – Stay Gold
  34. Carlene Carter- Carter Girl
  35. Devil Makes Three – I’m A Stranger Here
  36. Red Molly – The Red Album
  37. Duhks – Beyond The Blue
  38. Mastersons – Good Luck Charm
  39. Will Hoge – Never Give In
  40. Blackie and the Rodeo Kings – South
  41. Puss N Boots – No Fools, No Fun
  42. Billy Joe Shaver – Long In The Tooth
  43. Brandy Clark – 12 Stories
  44. Drive-By Truckers – English Oceans
  45. Carolina Story – Chapter Two
  46. Lee Ann Womack – The Way I’m Livin’
  47. Will Kimbrough – Sideshow Love
  48. Irene Kelley – Pennsylvania Coal
  49. Trigger Hippy – Trigger Hippy
  50. Shakey Graves – And The War Came
  51. Carolina Story – Chapter One
  52. Hurray For The Riff Raff – Small Town Heroes
  53. Chuck Prophet – Night Surfer
  54. Girls Guns & Glory – Good Luck
  55. Howlin’ Brothers – Trouble
  56. Blue Highway – The Game
  57. Amy LaVere – Runaway’s Diary
  58. Jim Lauderdale – I’m A Song
  59. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings – Give The People What They Want
  60. Black Prairie – Fortune
  61. Ruthie Foster – Promise Of A Brand New Day
  62. Whiskey Myers – Early Morning Shakes
  63. Robert Ellis – The Lights From The Chemical Plant
  64. Suzy Bogguss – Lucky
  65. Seth Walker – Sky Still Blue
  66. Felice Brothers – Favorite Waitress
  67. Ray Benson – A Little Piece
  68. Scott Miller – Big Big World
  69. String Cheese Incident – Song In My Head
  70. Lydia Loveless – Somewhere Else
  71. Mingo Fishtrap – On Time
  72. Haden Triplets – Haden Triplets
  73. Robert Cray Band – In My Soul
  74. Mike Farris – Shine For All The People
  75. Tommy Malone – Poor Boy
  76. Zoe Muth – World Of Strangers
  77. Greg Trooper – Incident on Willow Street
  78. Charlie Robison – High Life
  79. Marty Stuart – Saturday Night/Sunday Morning
  80. Various – Inside Llewyn Davis – Inside Llewyn Davis
  81. Old 97s – Most Messed Up
  82. Chris Smither – Still On The Levee
  83. Various – A Tribute To Born in the USA – Dead Man’s Town
  84. Deep Dark Woods – Jubilee
  85. Rod Picott – Hang Your Hopes On A Crooked Nail
  86. Steve Martin And The Steep Canyon Rangers – LIVE featuring Edie Brickell
  87. Janiva Magness  – Original
  88. Otis Gibbs – Souvenirs Of A Misspent Youth
  89. Avett Brothers – Magpie And The Dandelion
  90. Candi Staton – Life Happens
  91. Blue Rodeo – In Our Nature
  92. Dolly Parton – Blue Smoke
  93. Head And The Heart – Let’s Be Still
  94. Peter Mulvey – Silver Ladder
  95. John Mellencamp – Plain Spoken
  96. Laura Cantrell – No Way There From Here
  97. Band Of Heathens – Sunday Morning Record
  98. Jim Lauderdale  – Black Roses
  99. Mary Gauthier – Trouble & Love
  100. Hannah Aldridge – Razor Wire  



2014 Saving Country Music Song of the Year Nominees

December 3, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  83 Comments

2014-song-of-the-year-scm Each year when Saving Country Music sits down to compile the best songs, it’s done so with a solemn reverence and understanding that the idea embedded in a song has the power to change a life, and change the world. There are many songs out there that are a joy to listen to, but a Song of the Year must say something that can evoke shivers, and do so in a way nobody else has done before.

Parker Milsap had an excellent song this year called “Truck Stop Gospel,” and Jim Lauderdale‘s “I Lost You” pound for pound may be the most enjoyable song released all year. Willie Watson had numerous songs like “Mexican Cowboy” and “Keep It Clean” that while not originals, had the energy and approach of ones. There were epics like Joseph Huber‘s “Wanchese & Manteo,” or great performances like The Secret Sisters‘ “The Lonely Island.” But the nine songs below stood out from the rest in Saving Country Music’s humble opinion.

Audience participation is strongly encouraged, and will influence the outcome. Leave your opinions, write-in candidates, or other observations below in the comments section. This is not simply an up and down vote though. I make the final decision, so it is your job to convince me why the album you feel deserves to win is the right pick. The winner will be chosen in about a month.

READ: 2014 Saving Country Music Album of the Year Nominees

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

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

Lydia Loveless – “Everything’s Gone” – from Somewhere Else

“Everything’s Gone” is Lydia’s crowning achievement thus far in her career, showing remarkable insight, and delivering a vocal performance that fills as much emotion as humanly possible into the vessel of a story—any more and it would fall apart under its own weight.

“Lord now I’m sick of seeing the fear in my family’s eyes. I need to find the man who put it there and set his life on fire.”

Ray Benson & Willie Nelson – “It Ain’t You” -  from A Little Piece

Originally written by Waylon Jennings with Gary Nicholson, “It Ain’t You” was never recorded, and was relatively unknown except to a select few for many years. When Asleep At The Wheel frontman Ray Benson was looking for material to release on his first solo album in a decade, the song was suggested to him by Sam “Lightnin’” Seifert who co-produced the effort with Lloyd Maines.

What the forces that would sway popular American music to only focus on youth fail to regard is where simply the tone of a voice and the visage of a legendary performer can evoke such a reverence and place such immeasurable weight of an entire remarkable career behind it that an immediate elevation of whatever music being performing occurs in a measure that could never be challenged by the simple exuberance of youth. “It Ain’t You” is exquisitely written, and makes one wonder how this song went unheard for so long. (read full review)

Tami Neilson – “Cry Over You” – from Dynamite!

It is said often that there’s no more standard songs being released that will withstand the test of time. Well Tami Neilson just released one, and punctuated it with a timeless vocal performance.

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

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

Leon Virgil Bowers – “Streets of Aberdeen” – from LV

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

Hurray for the Riff Raff – “The Body Electric” -from Small Town Heroes

The legacy of the murder ballad is one of the very building blocks of country, bluegrass, and folk music, and never before has an artist taken that primordial idea and conveyed so much while saying very little. It awakens the defiance in the female condition, as an array of thoughts flow through the listener.

First Aid Kit – “Waitress Song” – from Stay Gold

First Aid Kit’s Stay Gold on any other year might be the album everyone is talking about, and in certain segments of the folk and Americana world, it still is. No album can top it in 2014 when it comes to harmonies and melody building, and it’s hard to pinpoint just one song where this is evidenced the best. But even amongst the towering compositions of the album like “My Silver Lining” and “Cedar Lane,” “The Waitress Song” is the one I kept coming back to. A strange song from the usually serious and regal Söderberg sisters, it starts off playful and silly with it’s fluttering “girls just want to have fun” line, but reveals later a lot of life truths and deep perspective swirling around the idea of walking away from ones self and starting over.

“It’s a dark, twisted road we are on. And we all have to walk it alone.”

Matt Woods – “Liberty Bell” – from Brushy Mountain

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


Sam Hunt Goes On Media Charm Offensive, & Succeeds

December 2, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  45 Comments

sam-huntMove over Jamey Johnson and Kacey Musgraves. There’s a new critical darling in country music, and he’s neither country nor worthy of critical acclaim. Yes, I’m talking about the suave-haired cocaine club EDM-fueled country music marketing colossus and Svengali of the country music public named Sam Hunt.

This isn’t hard people. Toby Keith’s song “Drunk Americans” isn’t “social commentary,” Kenny Chesney’s new album The Big Revival is not “progressive,” and Sam Hunt and his music have nothing to do with country aside from the channels it’s been chosen to be peddled under because the historically pliable country music fan won’t question as a turd sandwich is shoved down their throat and called tuna.

In country music’s big pivot from the shallowness of Bro-Country, apparently they believe you don’t have to materially improve your music, you just have to say that you are, and country music media will lap it up. Unlike the dunces in Florida Georgia Line or Brantley Gilbert who I’ve yet hear form a complete sentence, when you shove a microphone in the face of Sam Hunt, actual coherent language comes out, and apparently that feat is enough to woo country music’s literati into believing he has a legitimate place not just under the country music umbrella, but perched on the crown of it. Oh, and if you don’t see the country music merit Sam Hunt, it’s because you’re a closed-minded, shallow-listening purist who needs to remove the stick from your ass and understand that country music has evolved, yo.

In a barrage of recent press, Sam Hunt apologists pontificate how country music’s answer to the rise of EDM is not just legitimately qualified to be considered “country,” but that his music is of high quality, and is healthy for the genre. Excuse me, but can someone please ship the “quality” version of Hunt’s Montevallo to the Saving Country Music headquarters, because sweeping aside all of the arguments of what is country or not, “quality” is something that never ever crossed my mind when listening to that aggressively mind-numbing exploration of musical tropes and oft called-upon clichés machine gunned out in unmerciless succession.

It seems some of the theories of how excellent Sam Hunt’s album is are based off of the involvement of songwriter Shane McAnally—a critic’s superstar at the moment because of his work with Kacey Musgraves on many of her acclaimed songs. This was an important point made in a recent Entertainment Weekly interview with Sam Hunt, and in another piece by the great Barry Mazor (who has an excellent new book out about Ralph Peer) writing for Engine 145. “Hunt’s written the ten songs with the likes of Zach Crowell, Josh Osborne and Shane McAnally—the latter pair wrote ‘Merry Go Round’ with Kacey Musgraves, and Crowell and McAnally produced the set, keeping these particular pop country sounds tightly and appropriately tied to the songs’ meanings and levels of emotionality. Sam Hunt brings to all that the assured vocal finesse that can give ‘polished’ a good name.”

Shane McAnally

Shane McAnally

But what these taste makers are overlooking is that McAnally’s list of song credits has always been a mixed bag of semi-quality, yet still formulaic offerings for the mainstream, along with unapologetic commercial tunes. As Saving Country Music pointed out in September of 2013 in an article called Dallas Davidson & Country Music’s Narrowing Songwriting Consortium, “On the surface he seems to be a writer who works with more substance compared to Luke Laird and Dallas Davidson, but he’s also given credit for co-writing Florida Georgia Line’s ‘Party People,’ and Lady Antebellum’s ultra-saccharine ‘Downtown.’”

No offense to Shane McAnally; it’s great that he’s been able to be a part of songs that at least attempt to instill some quality in the mainstream, but that shouldn’t allow him a lifelong hall pass from hearing about it when he helps to write rubbish, like Toby Keith’s “Drunk Americans” or Sam Hunt’s “Leave The Night On.” In my opinion McAnally has burned through his critical cred long ago, and at the least is on an even keel when looking critically at any future creative output, not grading him on a curve.

And besides, the songwriting is arguably where Sam Hunt and Montevallo suffer the most. While Hunt’s defenders focus on trying to explain why it is okay to call urban club music “country,” they also lean on the songwriting as the consensus builder of the album and what ultimately makes it “country.” Sam Hunt tells Entertainment Weekly, “I feel like they’re all country songs lyrically. They’re just stories about country life.” And Barry Mazor says Sam Hunt is “potent music that reflects the lives, responses and rhythms” of low-income country folks. But aside from the lyrics of “Break Up in a Small Town” which nestles down in what has to be the one of the most overused cliché tropes of modern country, I fail to see what is so country about these songs, while some of them venture so far into urban themes they could illustrate the absolute antithesis of country from a lyrical standpoint, punctuated by urban annunciations, artifacts, behavior, and jargon.

I truly question if I’m listening to the same damn album as these other writers. I hear Sam Hunt quoting Train’s “Drops of Jupiter,” and saying lines like “It’s still early out in Cali,”  “Blame it on the bikinis, party girls, and martinis,” “Tanned legs in the nights, sliding out of the sea, stilettos at the crosswalk,” and “All dolled up at the bar, with debit cards, they don’t know how pretty they are
City girls, city girls.”

Doesn’t sound very country to me.

sam-hunt-montevalloAs Saving Country Music said in the review of Montevallo, it is “an excruciatingly-typical urban dance album that does Molly-laced grinds up against every single worn out trope of the velvet-roped, indirect-lighted, $15 cocktail club scene and the music thereof. Aside from the banjo in the song “House Party,” the steel guitar in “Single for the Summer,” and the sentiment in “Break Up In A Small Town,” this ten-song LP is a product of the pop/EDM world 100%.”

Barry Mazor also says that some critics “notice only that the subject territory seems similar to that of a lot of  ‘Chart Country’ guyz lately, and the record’s tone on the more pop end of the spectrum…” He also goes on to call Sam Hunt and Montevallo, “fine country music.”

The Fader goes one step further, with writer Duncan Cooper penning a piece called Why Sam Hunt is Good for Country Music. In the article he contrasts the success of Sam Hunt with the rise of Sturgill Simpson. He also talks to Mr. Hunt, and even reads him a quote from the aforementioned SCM review of Montevallo that goes, “Nice guy and good songs or not, Sam Hunt isn’t stretching the ‘country’ term, he is a downright attacking it, and represents a fulfillment of the mono-genre that should be roundly rejected by country music or face potentially dire long-term consequences.”

Sam Hunt’s response is, “My intention was not to try to convince any skeptics that my music was country. It’s hard to understand everybody’s definition of what country music is, and mine may not fit the definition of my critics, so it’s kind of pointless for me to get involved in an argument where we just have different ideas about what country music is. In an argument like that, I think two people can be right.”

Sorry Sam, but you’re wrong, and you know it, and you know this entire project was hatched as a calculated marketing angle that has paid off in spades. Now you and others are trying to justify this pursuit because it clearly doesn’t fit within the country music panorama.

The Fader‘s Duncan Cooper does make a valiant attempt in a well-written piece to say that both traditional-sounding artists like Sturgill Simpson, and EDM artists like Sam Hunt, can be called country, and we can all join hands and sing “Kumbaya” under one big cohabited tent. However the truth is country music has become the veritable ground zero for the contentious culture war by taking musical elements and members of different segments in society and trying to scrunch them all together uncomfortably in one genre for the marketing expediency of major labels. There is absolutely nothing wrong with EDM music, or hip-hop, or rock, or pop, or even combining these styles when it is done with heart and taste. If Sam Hunt wants to make urban dance music, then hey, he should do that. But he should call it what it is and push it through the appropriate channels as opposed to being a catalyst for conflict by predicating his music on sonic misnomers that breed misunderstanding.

Music as a gateway drug only works if it accurately represents where you’re trying to lead listeners.

sam-huntWith all respect to The Fader and Duncan Cooper, he misidentifies the concerns of country traditionalists by saying, “Large corporations have seen reason to give supercountry a boost, and in doing so, have implicitly crowded out more traditional styles that might’ve been promoted instead, derailing hypothetical futures where roots-minded artists might, with equal exposure, attain equal audiences.”

This is where people who wish to defend the integrity of the term “country” and the genre it represents are commonly misunderstood. Sturgill Simpson doesn’t want to be signed to a major label or win big awards, and neither do his fans. They’re perfectly happy seeing him in packed clubs or small theaters, and fear the day they have to squint at him on a stadium stage. Sturgill doesn’t want to be associated with what is being played on the radio. There is no envy or jealousy whatsoever. Should Sturgill Simpson be recognized by the CMA Awards or be played on the radio? Of course he should, but if it is done by Sturgill Simpson compromising who he is instead of the industry truly recognizing what they’ve missed, there’s no value in it. They would rather stick to the independent world.

There is this diseased sentiment that is currently being carried by country that you should strive to be the biggest of everything, and that is how success is measured. That is why the country industry is pushing artists like Sam Hunt so strongly. But in striving to be the biggest, you detach yourself from your roots, you don’t grow sustainably, and holes begin to populate the integrity of what you’re doing, putting you on unsure footing and the path for an eventual fall from grace. See rock music.

Diversity is what makes music both beautiful and healthy, and a vibrant tapestry for consumers to explore and find fulfillment in ways that enrich their lives in a manner that speaks to them more personally based off their predisposed tendencies and cultural upbringing. And somehow when you come to the defense of this diversity, and challenge the idea that all music should sound different and be accurately classified to aid this exploratory endeavor, it is mischaracterized as closed-minded or being unwilling to evolve.

Before there was Sam Hunt and “We Can Leave The Night On,” there was Jerrod Niemann and “I Can Drink To That All Night.” Anyone heard from Jerrod Niemann lately? Anyone even keeping up on how his last two singles have been huge failures? He stretched the boundaries too far, and though he succeeded in garnering himself some short-term attention, in the end it wasn’t only unsustainable, it was ultimately detrimental to his career. And that is the same risk country music runs by betting its future on Sam Hunt, EDM, or anything else that resides out of country’s historical fold.

Oh, and let’s not forget that Sturgill Simpson has been hinting at the possibility of collaborating with electronic elements in his future projects.

Sam Hunt seems like a great guy and a smart cookie, and good for him. And if country critics or listeners find a guilty or an non-guilty pleasure in his music, who is it for me or anyone else to step in front of the enjoyment of that music? But the simple fact is he’s not country, and the CMA, radio station programmers, label executives, critics, and even fellow country stars should stand up for the integrity of the country genre, put forward and celebrate it’s virtues instead of the virtues of other genres, and be happy playing second fiddle to pop instead of trying to take over the popular music world by incorporating it.

Let’s celebrate the diversity of music, not attempt to resolve it.


2014 Saving Country Music Album of the Year Nominees

December 1, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  138 Comments

SCMLOGOLAYERS2014 has revealed itself as the “Year of the Dark Horse” when it comes to compiling the greatest albums released in the last 12-month span. Tami Neilson, Karen Jonas, Charlie Parr, Matt Woods? Who’s heard of these people outside of their respective fan bases? And meanwhile the realm of mainstream music can’t field one candidate, unless you want to count First Aid Kit who resides on a major American label, while a dark horse from last year Sturgill Simpson leads the pack. But Sturgill shouldn’t be considered a shoo-in. All the candidates listed here have a legitimate stake at the distinction, and wouldn’t be included here if they didn’t. These eight albums will be vetted and consternated over for the next 30 days or so before the final winner will be revealed.

Interesting to note, all of these candidates were albums released in the first half of 2014, and many in the first 1/3rd of the year.

PLEASE NOTE: Saving Country Music also posts a more-encompassing “Essential Albums List” annually, so just because you don’t see one of your favorite albums on this list doesn’t mean it won’t be up for distinction. Leading the essential albums, and sitting right on the bubble as Album of the Year candidates were Jason Eady‘s excellent honky tonk album Daylight & Dark, Kelsey Waldon‘s brilliant The Gold Mine, John Fullbright‘s Songs, Zoe Muth‘s World of Strangers, Doug SeegersGoing Down The River, and Joseph Huber‘s The Hanging Road.

Audience participation is strongly encouraged, and will influence the outcome. Leave your opinions, write-in candidates, or other observations below in the comments section. This is not simply an up and down vote though. I make the final decision, so it is your job to convince me why the album you feel deserves to win is the right pick.

Tami Neilson

tami-nelson-dynamiteYou’ve never heard of her, and many country and roots taste makers will leave this Canadian-born, and New Zealand-based singer and songwriter off their end-of-year lists from sheer ignorance of her existence. But they may be excluding not just one of the greatest albums and talents of 2014, but of the last half decade. Along with Sturgill Simpson, Tami has to be considered a top contender.

“Alright, before we get too deep into this matter, just understand that you’re going to want to be purchasing this album. It’s my job to sit here and gab at you for a while about it and explain why, and I’m flattered that you would entertain this notion and read the proceeding words. But you pretty much just need to get this album and thank me later.

What I’m trying to impart to you here is this might be the best record released in 2014 by any artist whose last name doesn’t rhyme with Pimpson. Who’s even heard of Tami Neilson? I sure as hell hadn’t. But apparently she won the New Zealand Music Award for “Best Country Album” in 2009, 2010, and 2011. Who knew? Sorry, but by happenstance I let my dues to the New Zealand Music Association lapse in 2008 and they ceased sending me newsletters. But here we are in 2014, and I almost feel like I owe an apology to the sainted Saving Country Music reader for not cluing you in on Tami Neilson prior to this moment.” (read full review)

Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

sturgill-simpson-metamodern-sounds-in-country-music“Yeah yeah, dispense with the pageantry and just give give the damn distinction to Sturgill already,” is what many will say, but the album environment in 2014 is too rich to be so flippant with this decision. A front runner? Of course, and we’ve already seen the eager beavers of end-of-year list building engrave Sturgill’s name at the very top before we even sat down to Thanksgiving dinner. But an album not only has to be measured against its peers, but by the abilities of the artist themselves. As strange as it may sound, I still believe Sturgill is holding back, and so his place at the very top of 2014 is not secured in the annals of Saving Country Music just yet. We still have a month to weigh its merits against stiff competition.

“With ‘Metamodern Sounds in Country Music’, Sturgill Simpson doesn’t just capture our ears, he captures our imaginations. However misguided the notion is, most every disenfranchised country music fan harbors the idea that at some point some true country artist is going to come along that is so good, it is going to tip the scales back in the right direction. What ‘Metamodern Sounds’ does is it gives the true country music listener hope beyond the happiness the music conveys. It resolves that ever-present conflict between sticking to the traditional sound, but progressing forward.

It’s not time yet to be making comparisons to ‘Red Headed Stranger’, or even to ‘Phases & Stages’. But Sturgill Simpson, and Sturgill Simpson alone, defines the pinnacle, and what is relevant in the here and now of independent country music.  And he’s done it from the sheer strength of this album.” (read full review)

Karen Jonas – Oklahoma Lottery

karen-jonas-oklahoma-lottery-2The ultimate dark horse in a year of dark horses, Karen Jonas positively stuns and screams for wider attention.

“Karen Jonas, whether she knew it or not, heeded the advice of the great Ray Wylie Hubbard to all songwriters: don’t just listen to ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’, read ‘The Grapes of Wrath’. How do we know this? It’s not just from the wisdom interwoven in the lyrics, it’s from the amount of pain Ms. Jonas is able to capture in her performance. This isn’t just an inflected interpretation, but the very evocation through herself of the troubled ghosts of the story —not just wrapping herself in their clothes, but walking a mile in their shoes, and then conveying the pain she knows they felt from the aching of her own blisters.

Similar to how the settlers of Oklahoma toiled at the yoke without a thought of rest, Karen Jonas, after putting her pair of young children to bed every night, tip toes to the other side of the house, takes the guitar in hand, and digs, hoping to unearth the riches of song. And lucky for her and the rest of us, the ground that she tilled ended up to be quite fertile, and the result a verdant display of artistic release.

If music was a lottery, then Karen Jonas hit big. But this is no fortune to be chocked up to sheer luck. The toil, the heart that Karen Jonas put into this music and this record is eminently palpable. And it is not just the result of talent, but talent honed and refined through cutting self-criticism, study, discipline, and work.” (read full review)

Don Williams – Reflections

don-williams-reflections1This is not a sympathy inclusion, or simply a representation of classic country to add to this list. Don Williams has put out a towering album with great feeling and a thematic vision that deserves the highest of praise and the attention younger, newer artists are receiving for their career-defining releases.

“‘Reflections’ is much more than just the easy listening country it may appear to be on the surface. It’s an album with a message, and leads by example. Instead of whining about the state of country music, it does something about it.

The laid back, gentle-of-mind ease drips from this album like the sweetness of sun-drenched dew. Sometimes it’s simply implied, and other times it’s directly spoken, like in the appreciative and well-written ‘Working Man’s Son’ or the song that ties the entire theme of ‘Reflections’ together, ‘Back To The Simple Things’. Enough can’t be said either about the Townes cover ‘I’ll Be Here In The Morning’. Like when Willie and Merle took ‘Pancho & Lefty’ to another level, Don Williams’ touch on this song immortalized it, and in a different time it would have been a super hit.

“‘Reflections is the album we needed right here, right now. Not just from the perspective of saving country music, but the perspective of saving ourselves from the overwhelming onslaught of ensnaring technologies that rob the preciousness from life.” (read full review)

First Aid Kit – Stay Gold

first-aid-kit-stay-goldDestined to be unfortunately overlooked by country fans because of its folksy exterior, Stay Gold is nonetheless a powerhouse performance that only gets better with more spins, and evidences both songwriting and singing brilliance that is ripe for appeal on a grand scale if simply given the opportunity to thrive in the wider American marketplace. It is simply a joyful, uplifting experience to behold, and leaves nothing behind when measured against its fellow 2014 competitors.

“‘Stay Gold’ captures First Aid Kit fearlessly unburdening their fears, confiding in the listener very personal matters of self-doubt and worry that are exacerbated by a world of constant change, endless travel, and the inherent travails of navigating life as a young woman amongst prying eyes and directionless paths. The honesty in the songwriting, and the sentiment that bleeds over demarcation lines of gender or situation to find sympathetic ears with most who have the patience and disposition to listen make Stay Gold a songwriting feat before any discussion is broached about the music itself.

“And when talking about the music, Johanna and Klara Söderberg put on a melody-crafting clinic, endowing ‘Stay Gold’ with one rich, fulfilling composition after another full of soaring, frothy vocal exhibitions that run circles around the modern age’s garden variety mainstream singers. One of the reasons First Aid Kit can concoct such astounding melodies and match them so well with story is because their range and adeptness allows them a vocal pasture much wider that most have access to.” (read full review)

Charlie Parr – Hollandale

charlie-parr-hollandaleIt may be a little to fey for many ears, but Hollandale is the one album of 2014 you can legitimately call a masterpiece.

“‘Hollandale’ is like nothing you’ve heard, from Charlie Parr or anyone else, at least not like anything you’ve heard for a very, very long time, and with this amount of body and clarity behind the recording itself. Whatever you were expecting from this album, you are probably wrong, and in its stead you get an in-depth exploration into what it means to be alive, to be human, to feel pain and to yearn and reflect, without a single word being spoken on the entire work.

“‘Hollandale’ is a victorious moment for Charlie Parr, and shouldn’t just make it into your home’s music collection, but is one of those works you could hear being secured in the Smithsonian’s archives of important American instrumental music works. Charlie Parr has set the bar of creativity and originality that all folk, blues, and country musicians will be measured against throughout 2014 and beyond, and did what every musician would love to do 12 releases into their musical journey: make an impact larger than themselves.” (read full review)

Jim Lauderdale  – I’m A Song

jim-lauderdale-im-a-song“I’m afraid this album may get overlooked simply because many people think of Jim Lauderdale as a known quantity, and because he’s so prolific, it’s hard to choose where to start with him, or to keep up with all of his releases. But I’m A Song should be considered right there with the other top albums of 2014.

“Twenty damn songs, and not a slouch in the bunch, and very country. Though Lauderdale has been known to shift back and forth between bluegrass, country rock, and more subdued, acoustic singer/songwriter-type stuff, this here folks is a downright honky tonk album, not cut, quartered, or diminished with any other additives. How in the hell does Lauderdale do this? Being prolific is one thing, but he’s like a songwriting quasar, shifting styles and still spitting out material faster than you can listen to it, and each song barreling you over with the quality and taste exhibited in every point of the music making process.

“‘I’m A Song’ is exactly what Jim Lauderdale needed to do: Take a deep breath, and release an album that could have a greater impact on the world outside the sphere that already knows about him; something that had quality and appeal from cover to cover, and in a unified and accessible direction.” (read full review)

Matt Woods- With Love From Brushy Mountain

matt-woods-with-love-from-brushy-mountainMatt Woods is the last man standing when it comes to earnest songwriters who can barrel you over with emotional haymakers aiming straight for the gut. This is the superlative songwriting performance set to music in 2014.

“‘Brushy Mountain’ is as complete of a country album as you will find, with excellent songwriting throughout, a great sound that is country at heart, but with sprouts of rock & roll that endow the project with spice and originality, and there’s something for every mood here. In other words, it lived up to the expectations of ‘Deadman’s Blues’, and even adds a few more exceptional song offerings that downright rival that song’s indelible impact.

“Matt Woods is no fluke, no one trick pony. Not even close. He’s a force of songwriting nature who can match his stories with inspired performances.” (read full review)


The Mavericks to Release New Album “Mono”

November 21, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  12 Comments

the-mavericks-monoSaving Country Music’s 2013 Album of the Year was not Jason Isbell’s breathtaking Southeastern, or Sturgill Simpson’s breakout High Top Mountain, but the comeback record from the Latin-inspired Raul Malo and The Mavericks called In Time. The reason was because in Saving Country Music’s esteemed judgement, no other record in 2013 afforded a much musical enjoyment as The Mavericks’ first studio effort in a decade.

Now The Mavericks have announced that they’ve been in the studio again and will release the followup to In Time called Mono on February 17th, 2015. The band made the announcement while performing at the Grand Ole Opry on November 18th. Like their previous album, it will be released by the Valory Music Group, a division of Big Machine Records. Yes, the same label of Taylor Swift, Florida Georgia Line, and Brantley Gilbert. “You know, they did right by us,” Raul Malo tells Rolling Stone. “Heck, they let us make a record at this stage. I know people probably have a hard time imagining this, but it’s not the easiest thing to get these days, to be able to make records and have a record contract.”

However The Mavericks will be moving forward down a man. Robert Reynolds is taking some time off to attend to his ailing wife Angie Crabtree Reynolds who is battling Cancer. That leaves the core of The Mavericks as singer/songwriter/guitarist Raul Malo, lead guitarist Eddie Perez (guitar player for Dwight Yoakam & others), drummer Paul Deakin, and Jerry Dale McFadden on keys. The band will also be embarking on a world tour around Mono‘s release (SEE DATES).


Review – First Aid Kit Covers Simon & Garfunkel’s “America”

November 20, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  8 Comments


In one respect, it’s an even tougher year than normal to make it as a critical darling in the independent country/Americana sphere with so much attention and kudos being sucked up and deservedly so by Sturgill Simpson. It’s like Jordan’s stellar career overshadowed the fact that Charles Barkley was one of the greatest to ever play the game. Here First Aid Kit is putting out the best album of their career in Stay Gold, one of the best albums of 2014, and also enjoying a meteoric and worthy rise, selling out theaters on their current US tour with Samantha Crain, and wooing critics and crowds left and right. Their 2014 success story is one not to overlook, and their music is something not to go unheard.

Something that First Aid Kit has that virtually no other artist or band in the independent roots realm of a similar or bigger size can match is a library of videos that dazzle, entertain, and incite wonder like little else you can find. It’s an attention to video making as a creative medium in itself with no boundaries that gives their music an extra special love. The release of a new First Aid Kit video is grounds for an immediate stop down, and not just their tightly-woven and intricate big-production music videos with multiple scenes and settings that cast the duo in regal and awe-inducing moments, but with the sincerity and talent this sister duo from Sweden displays, even a short acoustic performance in a publishing office or a covered wayside is something that can enthrall and shuttle you off into a wormhole of escapism. After all, it was a simple video of the duo singing a Fleet Foxes cover that is given credit for launching their career.

As an offering for Record Store Day’s upcoming Black Friday releases, Johanna and Klara Söderberg have covered Simon & Garfunkel’s iconic tune “America,” written by Paul Simon. A master work of the American songbook, the song peerlessly encapsulates the forlorn beauty of youthful restlessness and underlying abject fear that are an indelible part of the American experience. Deciding to cover a song such as this takes guts beyond mention, like tackling “Unchained Melody” or some other such tall order that holds such a mystique behind it, the ramifications are costly if one can’t handle the composition’s heavy demands.

Paul Simon at the Polar Music Awards

Paul Simon at the Polar Music Awards

It’s not just happenstance that the sisters decided to go with the song as the anchor of their 10″ Record Store Day release. In 2012 while performing at the Polar Music Prize, their “America” rendition backed by a full symphony sent the crowd reeling, and won them a standing ovation from Paul Simon himself who happened to be in attendance as the guest of honor (watch). Once again the sister duo had captured a singular moment on video.

The studio version of “America” finds First Aid Kit taking minimal creative license with the song, and instead focusing on trying to conjure up the original awe-inducing moments in an new rendition. The close harmonies that make the sisters the closest thing we have to the lineage of The Carter Family fit smartly within the song, and the duty of the final high-register harmonies is not shirked for a more manageable feat, but reached for and achieved so that the shivers the song can afford spring from the epidermis in full bloom. Only the original can best this version.

First Aid Kit elects to go with a more folksy and understated video presentation for the cover song, intermixing vintage footage with shots of their American tours, and snippets of the sisters performing the song at various stops, making for a cozy experience. “America” shows First Aid Kit’s prowess as singers and tasteful interpreters, and must be considered one of the marquee offerings for Record Store Day’s Black Friday event.

Two guns up.


Billboard’s New Album Chart Rules Will Affect Your Favorite Artists

November 19, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  26 Comments

billboardOn December 4th, Billboard will roll out new changes to their Billboard 200 album chart, and the effect will be big on some of your favorite music artists, including legends like Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton, and up-and-comers like Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell. The changes will be the first major overhaul to the album chart since 1991, and will send pop stars and artists whose fans favor streaming to much higher positions and allow them to stay there for longer, while artists whose fans prefer to buy physical, cohesive albums or downloads will be diminished.

As first explained by Saving Country Music in September, the new chart rules (dubbed initially as a ‘Consumption Chart’) take into consideration the streaming of songs when rating the overall impact of an album. 1,500 songs streams on services such as Spotify, Google Play, Beats, Rhapsody, the new YouTube Music Key, or any other streamers will count as the equivalent of one album sale, even if those streams are all for only one song. The chart change is meant to take into account the new reality of how music is consumed, and give a boost to artists whose albums get buried on Billboard album charts because of poor sales of cohesive albums.

A big differences between what was initially reported about the upcoming changes and what were highlighted in a New York Times feature on the charts posted late Wednesday (11-19) is that there won’t be an autonomous ‘Consumption Chart,’ but changes directly to the Billboard 200.

It is also left ambiguous at the moment if there will still be dedicated album charts that do not take into account streaming. Original reports had album charts remaining, but likely losing relevancy with the implementation of the new chart system. There’s also no news at the moment if the changes will also be implemented for Billboard’s genre specific album charts.

Recently we have seen older country artists such as Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and Billy Joe Shaver set career chart records with their album releases because these artist’s older fan bases are one of the few demographics left that actually buy albums. But since these artist’s streaming footprint is significantly less, these new chart rules would see them fare significantly worse compared to the current system.

Same could be said for many independent artists like Old Crow Medicine Show, Sturgill Simpson or Jason Isbell, whose fan bases are more likely to buy physical albums to help support the artist. These artists have seen significant boosts from chart performances recently, and this will be diminished under the new system. Artists who rely heavily on vinyl sales like Jack White will also see diminishing returns from the new charting system.

Since these charts are used to gauge the importance and impact an artist has in the marketplace, a diminishing of these artists on the charts could affect their overall sales, or their acknowledgement by the industry. The new system will create even a greater discrepancy between the have’s and have not’s of music, and see more attention paid to the biggest artists, the biggest songs, and the biggest albums.

On the flip side, many artists who’ve arguably been treated poorly because their music depends mostly on streaming will benefit from the new system, and some change was probably warranted to account for consumers’ changing behavior. Also the chart will account for listening behaviors beyond the initial sale. Since streaming behavior happens for much longer after an album is released, it could give a more accurate portrayal of the importance of an album beyond the release date. But of course, there’s no way to gauge how many times a consumer who purchases a physical or downloaded copy listens after the purchase date, putting artists whose fans bases buy physical at a disadvantage, beyond getting a much bigger credit in the charts for the physical sale initially.

Some examples given of who would benefit under mock ups of the new chart system show artists such as EDM duo Disclosure and their album Settle going from #213 on the album chart based purely off of sales, all the way up to #64 based off of album equivalent streams and plays. That is a 149-spot difference just from the new reporting method. Another example is Katy Perry’s album Prism, which moved from #61 to #16 in early projections. But according to David Bakula of Nielson Soundscan—the company partnering with Billboard on the new chart formula—Taylor Swift’s new album 1989 would still be safe at #1 even though she has chosen to exit the streaming business on Spotify.

When Billboard implemented sweeping changes to their song chart configurations in October of 2012, it was predicted at the time by many that these changes would fundamentally modify the industry in historic ways, ushering in an era where popular American music would rapidly succumb to the monogenre, and distinctions of separate genres would slowly become irrelevant. Artists who did not occupy the “crossover” realm would see diminished significance, and popular music would all begin to sound the same.

Subsequently that is exactly what we have seen, and the fingerprints of Billboard 2012′s rules changes can be found all over malevolent trends in country music and beyond, including the rise of “Bro-Country,” the institution of rap and EDM elements in country in a widespread manner, and the continued struggles of the genre to support and develop female artists. The new rules have also affected Billboard’s rap charts and other genres, and have been aided by the addition of YouTube data in 2013.

Once the new charts are published on December 4th we’ll know more. But once again it is the little guy, the legend, and the up-and-comer that gets squeezed as the industry retools to face the new reality of music streaming.


Finally, New Music From Jamey Johnson, But …. {Sleigh Bells}

November 18, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  18 Comments


(This article has been updated)

When you navigate to, it darn near takes the home page 15 seconds to load because the above banner proclaiming new music on the way is so damn big. Jamey’s fans aren’t complaining though. They’ve been waiting so long for new, original music from the songwriter, they’ll take any sign as a good one. After a protracted legal battle, it’s about time the creative reigns on one of country music’s most successful modern day traditionalists were loosened.

jamey-johnson-the-christmas-songA Christmas album though? That may not be exactly what many Jamey Johnson fans were hoping to find under their country music Christmas tree. But others will find a treat in the new release nonetheless, and this does not mean a new album of non Holiday-oriented music still isn’t on the way.

Jamey Johnson’s The Christmas Song, a 5-song “genre-defying” Christmas album will arrive on store shelves December 9th. It includes Jamey’s take on four Christmas standards, collaborations with The Secret Sisters and Lily Meola, and an original Johnson-penned Christmas tune—the first original Jamey Johnson song released in over 4 years. The Christmas Song is being released through Jamey Johnson’s own record label Big Gassed Records.

jj xmas photo-1The album is described as, “four timeless holiday standards and a much-anticipated new Christmas song. The genre-defying collection could be describe as Trains, Trailers and Tikis, because it features traditional and jazz-inspired Christmas sounds reminiscent of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, an uplifting Hawaiian holiday feel and powerful country songs. Johnson is joined by The Secret Sisters on ‘Mele Kalikimaka (Hawaiian Christmas Song)’, while singer Lily Meola shares the microphone on ‘Baby, It s Cold Outside.’ In addition, Johnson offers his interpretation of ‘The Christmas Song’ and Willie Nelson’s ‘Pretty Paper.’ The award-winning songwriter was inspired to write a new song, ‘South Alabam Christmas,’ which ends with a lullaby to soothe anxious children to sleep on Christmas Eve.”

February of 2013 is when Johnson first let on that a contract dispute was the reason for his lack of creative output, telling Rolling Stone, “Financially speaking, they treat me worse than they ever did the Dixie Chicks. I feel pretty used by the music industry, in that my contracts are written in such a way that I don’t get paid I wish I could tell you that I am writing. I’m not. I wish I could tell you I’m gonna go home next week and record another album. It’s not likely to happen.” It then came out that Jamey’s issue was not with his label, Mercury Records, but with his publisher. The Christmas Song may tide thirsty fans over until a new full-length is ready to release.

Pre-Order Jamey Johnson’s The Christmas Song


  • Baby It’s Cold Outside
  • Mele Kalikimaka
  • South Alabam Christmas
  • Pretty Paper
  • The Christmas Song

San Francisco Giants Crank Sturgill Simpson After World Series Victory

October 30, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  35 Comments

sturgill-simpson-san-francisco-giantsOn Wednesday night, baseball fans were treated to a World Series Game 7 pitting the Kansas City Royals against the visiting San Francisco Giants. San Francisco starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner came out of the bullpen and pitched the final innings just three days after pitching a complete game to help secure the Giants their third World Series victory in five years in what many are calling a historic pitching performance. Bumgarner was later named the World Series MVP.

After the game, the party raged and the champagne poured inside the San Francisco clubhouse as the team celebrated the victory, and according to multiple witnesses, surging country music artist Sturgill Simpson found his way onto the victory soundtrack.

Though hip-hop was playing when the players were giving each other the boisterous champagne shower as the cameras were rolling, according to Brian Murphy and Paul McCaffrey of the Murph and Mac sports talk morning show on San Francisco’s KNBR 680 AM, Sturgill Simpson was the preferred choice of one San Francisco pitcher. The radio hosts were in Kansas City covering the World Series and the locker room celebration, and told the story this morning (10-30) on their radio show of how pitcher Jake Peavy hijacked the stereo and started playing Sturgill. Murph and Mac said it was new music to them, but that it made them fast fans.

A relative unknown just a few years ago, Sturgill Simpson’s recent release Metamodern Sounds in Country Music has become both a critical and commercial success, defying the odds for an independent artist who receives virtually no mainstream radio play. Relying mostly on word of mouth, his music which offers a counterbalance to the current trends of mainstream country music has won fans over across the country, and kept his music in the Billboard and iTunes charts well after his latest album’s May 13th release. Sturgill was named the Americana Music Association’s Emerging Artist of the Year in September.

On Tuesday, Sturgill played The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. He also recently sat down with Joe Rogan for an extended interview, which also stimulated an upsurge in Sturgill interest.

READ: The Metamodern Rise of Sturgill Simpson (A Timeline)


American Aquarium Recalls Florida Georgia Line Opening For Them

October 29, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Down with Pop Country  //  54 Comments


Raleigh, North Carolina-based country rock band American Aquarium, and specifically their frontman, singer, and principal songwriter BJ Barham have been known to twist off about the state of country music upon occasion, both online and on stage. Such was the case on Tuesday (10-28) when the band reminisced about the time one of today’s biggest pop country acts actually opened for them during their 8-year run of playing some 300 club shows a year.

“Three years ago, to the day, Florida Georgia Line opened up for us in Jacksonville, FL with their same brand of bro country that is all over the radio today,” the band posted on their Facebook page. “They now have millions of fans, tons of money and all the cut off bedazzled denim vests anyone could ask for. At least we still have our self respect. Here’s to the working bands out there that never settle. Good on ya.”

Though you would think that most of the fans of American Aquarium would carry similar sentiments about Bro-Country as they do, apparently multiple people took exception, which stimulated American Aquarium to double down on their ideas of what is country and what isn’t, and the right way to make it to the top.

To the people bitching about the previous post…

1) I am surprised you are into what we do if you are taking up for this garbage on the radio, but to each his/her own.
2)You are right, I AM jealous of their success. Every band wants to be big. Every band wants to make a living. Every band wants to live the dream. But I want my fame to come from earning people’s respect, not it being handed to me. I want to bust my ass every single day and know that I earned it. I want to play music with my best friends, not some band that my label put together for me. I want to write my own songs. I want to sing my own songs. I want to know that 6 guys stood in a room with microphones and performed every single note you hear, together…as a band. A real band. But jealousy is not the only emotion. I’m also…

-Sad that this is what “country” music has been reduced to. One of the greatest American art forms has been reduced to garbage. No attention to detail. No honesty. No soul.
-Angry that when I tell people that I play country music and this is the first thing that comes to their mind. Angry that America has accepted this. Angry that these “songwriters” do it for the dollar, instead of the integrity.
-Afraid that its only going to get worse. If fans of country music keep letting the powers that be lower your standards, IT WILL become more and more laughable. As long as they know that you will buy it, they will keep dumbing you down. Scares the shit out of me.

But its not all negativity. I’m also…

-Happy that folks like Jason Isbell, John Moreland, Josh Ritter, Patterson Hood, Ben Nichols, Cory Branan, Sturgill Simpson, Evan Felker, Justin Townes Earle, Joe Pug, and many, many more folks are keeping a real, sacred tradition alive. Writing, playing and singing good songs that matter. That will stand the test of time. That will not go in and out of style, but will always fit, because I truly believe that is what honest music does. It transcends time, trends and everything else.

…and last but not least, I am excited that I get to be a part of the solution, and not the problem.

American Aquarium boasts a wide array of influences, and similarly have pulled from various sectors of the music world to form their loyal fan base, including country, Americana, and Southern rock. They’re also considered honorary members of the Texas country music scene. Jason Isbell produced their last record, the critically-acclaimed Burn.Flicker.Die.

And apparently Florida Georgia Line is not the only Bro-Country outfit that opened for the band and went on to big fame. Former Survivor contestant, “Cruise” co-writer, and rising Bro-Country star Chase Rice also once kept the stage warm for them as can be heard in the following clip of BJ Barham from an American Aquarium show.

Here’s another story from Jacksonville, FL:

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