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Like my grandpa always said, you haven’t made it until another man has thoughtfully perused an assemblage of weapons and pondered your demise. And I know what ol’ grandpa Trigger would say if he were here today: “Who the hell is Eric Church?”
There’s been a few interesting opportunities bestowed to Saving Country Music over the years: Interviews by by The New York Times and the BBC, quotes by CNN and Fox News just to name a few, and then there was that time when I was cited in a Playboy Magazine article about Eric Church …. though it was actually in reference to Luke Bryan having a vagina. It’s a long story.
While I’ve never thought of being quoted in Men’s Journal as being a crowning achievement, the idea by writer Erik Hedegaard to read inflammatory quotes from Saving Country Music to Eric Church and then capture his reaction is a pretty clever one. Of course, Men’s Journal couldn’t have quoted the many positive things I’ve said over the years about the Sunglassed One. It would’ve been no fun to read to Eric Church how he “… deserves tremendous credit for creating an album that is this far off Music Row’s well beaten path, and goes beyond the simple back and forth between love ballads and braggadocios laundry list songs.”
So instead Men’s Journal pulled some snippets from the only “Über Rant” I’ve ever written. It’s fair game though; I wouldn’t have written it if I wasn’t willing to stand behind it, or at the least, take responsibility for it. Eric Church, or at least his marketing peeps, had crossed a line releasing a video that showed somewhat psychotic imagery in reference to Taylor Swift while the ink was still drying on numerous creepy stalking stories involving the young starlet. I don’t have any particular love for how Taylor Swift’s been at the forefront of eroding the integrity of the term “country” with her pop songs. But wrong is wrong, and it seemed like a pretty dim bulb move to release that type of imagery rife for misunderstanding about a young woman, despite whatever the intentions were behind it.
And apparently Eric Church’s peeps agreed, and pulled the video mere hours after my expletive-fueled rant demanded they do so, and then posted an explanation to head any press drama off at the pass. Now that’s an accomplishment this sweet, innocent little independent country music writer can hang his hat on.
In fact if the Eric Church teaser video that was taken down by my demand was so harmless, I encourage them to post it back up and let the people decide. Eric Church Inc. should probably thank me for pulling their bacon out of the fire before the video spurned a media frenzy, which probably should have happened anyway, and was on the very brink of happening before they pulled it. In hindsight, maybe instead of demanding they take it down, I should’ve given them more rope by saying nothing and leaving them a clear path to leave it up. But I digress.
So Erik Hedegaard of Men’s Journal reads Eric Church this quote from the Saving Country Music über rant:
Eric Church isn’t an ‘Outsider’; he’s a fucking conformist. He’s a marketeer . . . who has Svengalied a bunch of disenfranchised country fans into believing he’s offering any type of alternative to pop country, when in truth he is more of a tool of the mainstream pop-country industrial complex than anyone.
“Wow, that’s a rough one,” says Church, hearing this for the first time. He’s in a trailer parked on his property, where he’s building his dream house. Resting on a table in front of him is the Gerber knife, the pistol, and the .25-06 Remington with a sweet Leupold scope. Scratching his neck, he looks seriously irritated for a moment, like he’s about to grab one of those nearby tools of destruction and go after the messenger. Then he seems merely at a loss for words. Finally, he gets his small-town North Carolina twang working again and says, “Have we done it our own way? Yeah. How we are is popular now, but it wasn’t when we first did it, so what am I supposed to do?” He puts his hands on the table. “I mean, it’s a possibility that we’re marketing it now. But we’ve been that person the whole time.”
Grandpa would be proud …. Actually Grandpa told me no such thing. He just told me to mind my mother and slipped me $10 bills when she wasn’t looking.
We’ve known for a while that Eric Church is a reader of Saving Country Music, or at least that he’s read the site before. There was the time back in 2010 or 2011 when Church read an article on the site, misinterpreted it, and wrote the song “Country Music Jesus” (See Eric Church talk about writing “Country Music Jesus”). But he seemed genuinely shocked that even I would go that far this time. Then again, there’s a good chance he never saw that teaser video with Taylor Swift as the (seeming) target, either.
Eric Church goes on in the Men’s Journal article to paint a pretty sinister picture of himself.
I have a pretty good understanding of how I am. I’ve always been pretty laid-back and easygoing, until I’m not. When I get going, you’re never going to stop me. When it gets going, I’ll destroy everything.
Eric explains his nickname on the road is “Chief.”
It’s a real thing. I’m a different guy. I’m a different hang. Some people are intimidated by it and cut me a wide berth. I’ve noticed it.
But if I saw Church walking towards me, in Chief mode or not, I’d stop to shake his hand. After all, it’s just music, and musical opinions aside, he deserves respect just like anyone. Unless he’s doing something that could potentially result in the harm of others. Then I might stand in his way, whether that meant my detriment, or demise. And that’s just the way of things.
Thanks for the ink Men’s Journal.
Saving Country Music has been sounding the warning bell that the big story of 2014 will be the formation of two gargantuan media companies that will absolutely dominate the country music landscape and encapsulate everything from radio, television, print and online media, and social network channels. The Country Music Media Arms Race is being fought by the two biggest radio station owners in the United States: Clear Channel and Cumulus, and during this week’s Country Radio Seminar, we are starting to get some of the specific details of the plans these future massive media companies have, and to say their plans are expansive is an understatement.
Cumulus Media is #2 on the radio ownership totem pole, and to attempt to hopscotch their rival Clear Channel, they are planning massive expenditures, acquisitions, and ventures to push the recognition of their big country music brand: “NASH”. NASH and NASH-FM is the brand of Cumulus’s 70+ station syndicated Top 40 pop country network. We already knew that Cumulus had recently acquired a 50-percent interest in the 17-year-old, 500,000+ circulated Country Weekly magazine to re-brand it as NASH. Now in some recent reports, the beans are being spilled about the extent of just how far Cumulus is hoping to push the NASH brand.
Some of their plans are obvious. Since their rival Clear Channel has now partnered with CMT, Cumulus and NASH are looking for their own television partner, potentially Great American Country or GAC, or re-branding the Destination America and American Heroes cable channels owned by Discovery Communications. Also, after Clear Channel’s streaming service iHeartRadio announced a country music festival in Austin, Cumulus and the NASH brand are looking into doing a festival and/or concert series, as well as a radio-based award show with Dick Clark Productions—the same production company behind the Academy of Country Music Awards, or ACM’s.
But the Cumulus plans go even further than that. Here is a run down of some of the things Cumulus has planned for their pop country NASH brand:
In the vein of Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill chain, or Rascal Flatts’ recently-announced plans for a chain restaurant, NASH wants to open a fleet a family-friendly fern bars to help establish their brand in certain important markets and locations. You could enjoy some Taylor Swift fried cheese, or a Brantley Gilbert blooming onion.
Yes, you read that right. Apparently NASH wants to get into the home improvement game. This move isn’t unprecedented. Big corporate brands such as Martha Stewart and Ralph Lauren have dipped their stir stick into the pain business to help solidify their corporate brands in the past, but a radio network? How about a nice Tim McGraw taupe to spruce up that breakfast nook?
Again, not completely unprecedented since you have big artists like Jason Aldean enjoying a big endorsement deal from Wrangler, and Taylor Swift peddling Keds. Some artists also have their own specific clothing lines. Country music and popular culture is a very visual medium, and being able to sell consumers similar clothing to what they see their favorite artists wearing is shrewd business.
Maybe the strangest of the ideas Cumulus is looking into, the company apparently wants to leave no stone unturned, and wants to bring the NASH brand right into people’s homes so they won’t forget who to consume their country music through; a little hard to do when you’re watching NASH TV from your Carrie Underwood signature NASH microfiber couch, muching on NASH leftovers from the night before in a room painted in your favorite NASH colors.
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Cumulus and their NASH brand is out for nothing short of absolute cultural immersion, with the vehicle being the widespread and growing appeal of popular country music. Pop country is seen as very safe and marketable because of its well-liked and clean image. And if Cumulus has its way with NASH, it will become one of the most recognized brands in the United States in the coming years.
Your move, Clear Channel.
This week in Nashville is the annual CRS or Country Radio Seminar where executives and personalities in country radio gather with executives and artists in the country music industry to hobnob, network, and attend workshops and presentations about the direction and future of radio and country music. This year the backdrop of CRS most certainly will be the Country Music Media Arms Race breaking out in 2014 (see more about this below).
Bits of interesting news about the country music radio industry tend to trickle out of CRS week, like a couple of years ago when an Edison Research study concluded that country listeners wanted more classic country on the radio. Edison Research President Larry Rosin said at the time, “I believe that we as an industry have really made a mistake in our conception of our own stations. While many people don’t want to listen to classic country music, some still do, and we’ve let them float away…We run the risk that we just are more and more pleasing to fewer and fewer people until all we are is ecstatically pleasing a tiny, unsustainable number of people.”
Scott Borchetta Quizzically Compares Big Machine Music to a Ferrari, not McDonald’s.
Even before the CRS events got started in earnest Monday evening, many interesting pieces of information about radio and country music emerged in the run up to CRS. Big Machine Records’ Scott Borchetta had the most puzzling quote, choosing a strange, if not unfortunate analogy to compare his label’s music to when explaining why he chooses to delay releasing music from artists like Taylor Swift and Justin Moore on Spotify and other streaming services until months after the release date has passed. Borchetta told The Tennessean:
“I’m not McDonald’s. I’m not 1 billion served. I’m much more in favor of building a Harley-Davidson or a Ferrari and take that 1 or 2 percent of the population who love what we do and super-serve them.”
It seems like that analogy needs to be flip flopped, but big power players like Borchetta, and their ability to control the market with landmark deals with Clear Channel and others entities will certainly be one of the big topics at CRS 2014.
Why Radio Still Matters
Every time Saving Country Music broaches the subject of country radio, the alternatives such as satellite and streaming services are brought up as evidence of why radio doesn’t matter anymore. Though radio may not matter to a specific consumer, when it comes to the research, the experts, and to the culture and listeners in country music specifically, radio is still by far the most dominant format, especially for consumers to discover new music.
“Time and time again when studies are done, broadcast radio remains the No. 1 source for discovering new music,” Broken Bow Records executive Jon Loba told The Tennessean ahead of CRS. “Radio is still 80-plus percent of your music exposure. One thing I remind staff at least once a month in an artist development meeting when we are focusing on other mediums of exposure that are important — streaming, or press for TV, or whatever else — I try not to let everyone get in the weeds with that. Radio is still the primary form of exposing new music.”
Despite dramatic growth in music streaming across the board, just like with the transition from CD’s to downloads, country music is lagging behind other genres in the changeover, allowing country radio to continue to hold onto its power over consumers. As Nate Rau writing for The Tennessean explains:
“An analysis of music streaming data for 2013 shows that, despite growing noticeably, country still lags behind the other genres. Of the top 10,000 streamed songs last year, 28 percent were rock songs, 28 percent were hip-hop/R&B songs, 19 percent were pop songs and 8 percent were country songs, according to Nielsen data. But on traditional radio, country music outranks all other genres as the most popular format.”
Radio Losing Its Autonomy From Record Labels
Whereas in the past many radio stations were independently or regionally owned and their charge was to serve their communities with music, now that radio consolidation has put the majority of radio stations in the hands of a few select companies, principally Clear Channel and Cumulus, the point of radio in many instances is not to serve communities, but to serve record labels. As Broken Bow’s Jon Loba explains:
“When I got into the business, at my first CRS in 1997, I remember radio stations saying, ‘It is not our job to sell records. Our job is to keep listeners tuned in to our station. That is it. If we happen to sell records as a byproduct, that’s fantastic, but it’s not our job.’ [Now] there’s a much more symbiotic relationship, not just in words, but actually in action. CBS and Clear Channel both are taking the time to say very proactively, ‘We want to help you highlight your priorities, we want to help you sell records. We know healthy record labels are a large part of our business.’
The Country Music Media Arms Race is Heating Up
Similar to how all popular music is coalescing into one or two huge mega-genres or mono-genre, the media that covers and serves country music fans in radio, print, online, television, and social formats is consolidating around two big media players: Clear Channel & Cumulus—the two largest radio station owners in the United States, supported by partnering or gobbling up other important players in the country music media realm.
In December of 2013, word came down that Clear Channel had cut a deal with CMT to create nationally-focused country music programming to be distributed across the 125 country radio stations owned by the company, as well as some digital and television platforms. This move was in response to Cumulus, the 2nd-largest radio station owner in the United States behind Clear Channel, which had created its own national syndicated format earlier in 2013 under the NASH-FM brand, serving 70 separate radio markets.
Then Cumulus matched Clear Channel’s cross-media move by partnering with the long-running magazine Country Weekly to migrate the NASH-FM brand into print and online media. Announced in late January, Country Weekly in the next couple of quarters will become NASH Weekly. Cumulus has also registered nashweekly.com, and is expected to make an online presence for the NASH brand a focus. Then yesterday, even more ventures and partnerships were announced from Cumulus, including a television station, live concerts and events, even potentially restaurants and consumer products will be part of the massive NASH brand expansion.
Personalities and cross-platform promotion are what is driving the media arms race. CMT’s Cody Alan who now also appears in Clear Channel’s syndicated radio network can do an interview with a big country star, and use that interview both on television and in radio, transcribe it for print and/or online media, and promote it through both company’s social networks. However there are obvious trappings to having one or two companies control all of country music’s media.
“From the record company standpoint, it is absolutely more efficient and cost-effective with respect to reaching a larger audience in one shot,” says Broken Bow’s Jon Loba. “But it can also be somewhat scary in that there are fewer voices and opinions being heard out there.”
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What’s for certain is that in 2014, country music media will go through the biggest paradigm shift in the genre’s history, touching every facet of how consumers engage with country music, and creating two massive companies who will dominate the media landscape, partnering with the country music recording industry and blurring lines between covering music and creating music like never before.
Let me begin by saying that I don’t want to write this review. If I had my druthers I would just ignore this album, and focus on something else. But in the face of an absolute onslaught of requests, I will give my personal opinion unfettered and unabridged. I’ll also preface this business by saying that if you like or love this album, that’s all that matters, and my opinion or anyone elses should not sway you from your enjoyment of this music.
Also, before anyone says that it doesn’t matter what kind of album Eric Church released, I would write a negative review for it because of some predisposed bias, or because I do not like the guy on a personal level, go read this review, this review, this review, this review, and take into consideration that his last album Chief was my choice of the albums nominated to be the winner during the last cycle of both the CMA and ACM Awards.
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To put it bluntly, as an album, Eric Church’s The Outsiders is garbage. Does that mean there’s no good songs on it? No, there are some good songs on it, and a few good moments in otherwise not good songs. But as an album, The Outsiders is an absolute, colossal failure of process. It is a muddy mess, with no compass, direction, theme, groove, cohesiveness, or underlying thread connecting the disjointed, ill-conceived and poorly-executed song ideas simply meant to show of how different Eric Church is with no other underlying message or originality of either concept or story. Simply put, The Outsiders is a face plant of the creative process, posing to be “artistic”.
Eric Church is reported to have written a whopping 121 songs for the album before he hit the studio. And judging by the result, I believe him, and wouldn’t be surprised if he’s selling that number short. Apparently we’re supposed to be impressed that 121 songs were vetted for this album, but it speaks to songwriting by formula as opposed to inspiration, and is one of the reasons for the flat, uninspired, and unoriginal result when looking past the histrionics this album contains.
The Outsiders is an exercise of finding the biggest wall available and throwing a disparate hodgepodge of disconnected ideas and undisciplined influences against it to see what sticks. As much as we were sold from the very beginning of this album release that everything would resolve and make sense once we heard the entire project in context, the individual songs released before this album make even less sense now, and the songs as a whole resolve to a sum lesser than their individual parts.
But you won’t hear this from the vast majority of critics. They can’t shut the hell up about how brilliant this album is simply because it isn’t country rap, and it’s not “bro-country” (and UNAPPROVED savingcountrymusic.com term).
First off, I refuse to give into addition by subtraction and give undue credit to music simply because it isn’t as shitty as something else. Is The Outsiders better than Chase Rice, Cole Swindell, or whatever the flavor on the moment in pop country is? Maybe, though at least these guys have some idea of direction. But that doesn’t automatically make Eric Church and The Outsiders “good”. I wholeheartedly subscribe to the idea that music should be judged against it’s peers, but Eric Church’s peers as a reigning Album of the Year winner aren’t Tyler Farr, and Dan + Shay, they’re George Strait and Taylor Swift, and these artists have a theme, a sound, and a direction.
The high-reaching superlatives I have seen attributed to this album from noteworthy and credible sources is nothing short of disturbing, and even at times dangerous. Each to their own opinion, and we can agree to disagree, but when NPR says, “Eric Church is working on a level that few other country artists of his generation can touch,” this speaks to the continued discounting of the leadership the women of country music, and the men of Americana and independent country are displaying. I couldn’t disagree with NPR’s sentiment any more, especially seeing how The Outsiders really isn’t a country album, at all. There’s one track you could call country. Otherwise it is purely rock, and this misappropriation of the “country” term is yet another offense disqualifying this album from being something that should be considered “bold” or “epic”.
One of the biggest proselytizers for this album has been Eric Church himself. “It’s a very polarizing song,” Eric said about “The Outsiders” title track to The New York Times. “Half the people hated it, half thought it was the greatest thing they ever heard. But I think that wide range of opinions means you made something artistic, you actually made art.”
Oh, so if you start off with a Waylon phase guitar, lead into a heavy metal song, then speed bump the groove with a couple of interjected Pork Soda prog rock bass guitar solos, add a little pseudo-rapping, and people discredit it for being too busy and lacking direction, that’s how you know it’s “artistic”?
The whole point of this album seems to be to set up Eric Church as this forward-thinking force in country music. But just because you take a bunch of ill-fitting parts and slap them together—as Eric does in numerous songs, and with the overall song selection itself—doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being “artistic.” It’s like people who want to be known as “weird” might dye their hair strange colors, get strange piercings or tattoos, or wear shocking clothing. But this is all superficial. The question is, is this something that is truly groundbreaking, or has it never been done before because it’s ill-advised and doesn’t work?
I don’t even know if the music on this album matters. Eric Church has put his back into cultivating this “Outsider” persona, and the music just seems to be a vehicle to the cultural identity he wants to convey, and his fans want to identify with. The music is almost an inconvenience to Eric Church. As he’s said many times, he hates writing songs. Aside from a few songs that seem to come from the heart, The Outsiders is formulaic themes and sonic trickery. For a song to connect with an individual, it music convey a deep, human feeling. Are you telling me that Eric Church had 121 deep, original human feelings since his last release that he was able to translate into song? The human inspiration on this album was spread so thin across so much material, it was almost completely lost once these tracks were being zapped onto compact disk.
And back to the point of praising The Outsiders for not being “bro-country” or country rap, I’m not sure if those people’s review copies are missing tracks, but I am hearing both these elements, as well as EDM electronic wankery make an appearance on the album. Is it to the degree of some of Eric Church’s mainstream male counterparts? No, but the song “Cold One” is a total bro-country beer song, and “That’s Damn Rock & Roll” features multiple stanzas of rapping. You listen to a song like “Talladega,” and it’s straight up pop country. Leadership? Boldness? The songs that could be accidentally identified with having these qualities are the album’s worst tracks because they’re simply a bunch of ill-fitting parts slapped together.
There are some decent songs on The Outsiders though. But to grade the album fairly, you have to break it down to the individual songs. The songs themselves are too disjointed to critique collectively. As for the album itself, I would give it:
1 1/2 of 2 guns DOWN.
Individual Song Reviews
1. “The Outsiders”
Beyond my original review for this song, I’d like to point out how we were told some of the strangeness of the music and message of this song would all resolve and make sense when put in the context of the entire album. Of course, as always with theses promises, this wasn’t the case whatsoever. In the context of the album, this song comes across as even more ill-advised. There really was no “Outsiders” theme holding the work together.
“The Outsiders” is an attempt to write and produce a song by aggregating popular sonic elements and trying to squeeze them together instead of simply drawing a story and three chords from inspiration. The result is a Frankenstein-like monster; a colossus of corporate music that threatens to kill its makers. Though this type of machination might be acceptable, or even appreciated in some outer fringes of the metal world, in the country music format it’s downright laughable. (read full review)
Two guns down.
2. A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young
One of the recurring themes of The Outsiders is that “sounds familiar” feel. Eric seems to always shine in the stripped-down format. His pretentiousness is what keeps most from his music, and in his unguarded moments is when he draws you in. And so even though “A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young” is a song that has been done many, many times, this is one of the albums better tracks.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
3. Cold One
For the people proselytizing that The Outsiders as the anti “bro-country” epic, this song is a problem. It’s not your typical laundry list, dirt road and tailgate song, but it’s pretty close, with its premise beginning and ending with beer. Though it’s arguably the most country track on the album, there’s some pop and rock elements here, like the harsh, purposely-ugly guitar part meant to mimic the blurred mind of a beer binge, and the record skipping near the end that refers to the new school, EDM influence creeping into the country format. These things aren’t Eric Church leading, they’re Eric Church following. Yes, the sped up bridge in the middle of the song is pretty fun, but again is a borrowed, often-called upon element. The story is nothing special, though the wit of the “Cold One” double meaning is appreciated. Not bad, but not as good as some will sense at first listen.
1 1/4 of 2 guns up.
4. Roller Coaster Ride
Folks, this isn’t a pop country song, this is a pop song pure and simple. From the storyline, to the sonic elements, this song was built to be the soundtrack to a future Lexus commercial. Church’s “artistic” touch is to add an unfortunate synthesized sound bed that comes streaking in and out throughout the song. Picture yourself as Atreyu riding on the back of the Luck Dragon through the wispy clouds of Fantasia. Church fans may fall in love with this song, but hey, that’s the allure of pop music; it’s instantly catchy in lieu of delivering long-term substance. I guess Church thinks he makes up for at all at the end when his synthesized sounds turn sinister. Laughable.
Two guns down.
Ha! This song has been done a million and one times, and yet again for all the “epic” and “artistic” praise this album has received, here is another placid and predictable, straightforward pop country tune. It’s a nostalgic, reminiscent song built mostly around the power of the word “Talladega”, but there’s a decent sense of story here, and the song works, mostly because Church resists the urge to add some ill-advised guitar solo or electronic interjections like he does on other tunes. He should see if Rascal Flatts wants to cut this on their next record.
1 1/4 of 2 guns up.
6. Broke Record
Listening to the song was one of numerous times I kept picturing Sheryl Crow circa late 90′s when listening to this album. This is a catchy little rhythm-based tune that adeptly slides its fun lyrics in between the starts and stops and gets your foot tapping just fine. Aside from a very short moment heading into the bridge and a pretty good acoustic guitar solo, this is a silly little roots pop song that is harmless, but certainly nothing special; quick to grab your attention, but soon to be forgotten.
1 1/4 of 2 guns up.
7. Like A Wrecking Ball
Not bad at all. Could have done with a little less reverb on Eric’s vocal signal, but this is one of the few songs on the album that seems to come from a personal, inspired story from Eric Church himself instead of an easy-to-fall-back-on trope of modern popular music. At the same time, there’s really nothing special here. For once, some of Eric’s studio wizardry may have helped give this song a little something to make it memorable. Like virtually every song on the album, there’s nothing country about it whatsoever. But it works I guess.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
8. That’s Damn Rock & Roll
It was at this point in the album when I wondered why the hell I was even listening to this. What type of aberration of the term “country ” allowed this album, and this song to come into my life where I would be forced to give my opinion on it?
Between the Duran Duran tone of the electric guitar, rapping, the Annie Lennox banshee screams (which by the way, in the appropriate context would be awesome), and the general bellicose grandstanding about the format Eric Church wish he was in instead of the industry that is promoting his music, this song is ill-conceived on just about every single level. Some of the lyrics and the sentiment behind the song will get some people’s blood pumping, but this is all a derivative of pushing sonic buttons and pandering to constituencies instead of some original expression or the delivery of any true substance.
This is out generation’s “We Built This City” from Starship. Marconi plays the Mamba.
Two guns down.
9. Dark Side
Finally everything comes together. Where the rest of the album generally takes the form of ill-fitting parts, with Church matching up audio features that he wants to play with, with songs and themes that they have no business being in, here a progressive, stripped-back, and tasteful approach is the perfect texture for the story that you can tell has a truly personal meaning to Eric. This song is nothing short of excellent.
Two guns up.
10. Devil, Devil (Prelude: Princess of Darkness)
Pure marketing and pandering to Eric Church’s Outlaw/Outsider manufactured image with no redeeming value. A farce. Bullshit. An insult to the intelligence of every listener.
Two guns way down.
11. Give Me Back My Hometown
To the mainstream country ear, “Give Me Back My Hometown” must sound nothing short of foreign and refreshing. But to an ear with a more wide sense of perspective, especially when the heavy bass drum beat and hand claps kick in about 1/3′rd of the way through the song, a strong, pungent Lumineers influence reveals itself quite obviously…Once again we see a symptom of Music Row being 18 months behind the relevancy arch, and just now catching up with what was cool last year, despite feeling cutting-edge within the format….All those observations aside though, simply based off of the ear test, “Give Me Back My Hometown” is not bad. The song works. (read full review)
1 1/4 of 2 guns up.
12. The Joint
I don’t know. A stupid amalgam of sound to let you know how awesome and creative Eric Church is.
One gun up, one gun down.
We recently learned though the announcement of glam rock band Mötley Crüe’s farewell tour that the band had signed a deal to release a Mötley Crüe country music tribute album with Scott Borchetta, the big cheese at Big Machine Records—home of Taylor Swift, Florida Georgia Line and other such ilk—and affectionately known around these parts as the Country Music Anti-Christ. In the announcement, Scott Borchetta revealed that he was a “not-so-secret” fan of Mötley Crüe, saying, “Our album will highlight just how great the Mötley Crüe song catalog is.”
For folks who know some of the history of Scott Borchetta, this profession of love for The Crüe may have come as no shock. Scott Borchetta grew up in the Los Angeles area where Mötley Crüe is from, and was around the LA area playing in his own hair metal bands about the time Mötley Crüe was getting big. Borchetta’s father was in the music business too, and in the early 80′s a young Borchetta dropped out of school and moved to Nashville to be closer to his father.
While in Nashville, Borchetta helped form a band called Burning Hearts. Complete with rototoms, screaming eagle guitar solos, and spandex and leather pants, the Burning Hearts epitomized everything 80′s bad bubblegum glam metal hairspray rock. “Sherry’s Eyes” was their big “hit” that could be found on a local radio station compilation at the time, as the band slummed around Nashville playing to half-empty venues and milking Scott’s father for studio time. Of course Borchetta’s Burning Hearts never really took off and he eventually gave up his headbanging gigs for the family business.
A young Scott Borchetta clad in canary yellow pants, Colombian cocaine white blazer ala Miami Vice’s Don Johnson, and hugged by a super bitchin’ handcuff belt, can be seen below hogging all the face time for the Burning Hearts even though he’s just the bass player, in a cable access TV program.
Watching the guy who would eventually become the most powerful man in country music shill for his 80′s glam metal project, it’s not hard to see why so much of country music today is saddled with bad rock guitar solos, worst taste, phony glitz, and rock star attitude.
Mötley Crüe, eat your heart out.
Thanks to SCM commenter “MH” for the tip on this video.
So we haven’t even had time since the 56th Grammy Awards to sort out if Madonna had the authority to preside over a mass wedding, or if Pharrell’s hat was indeed copyright infringement against the Arby’s logo, and here only a few days later we’re asked to crunch a fresh batch of data dealing with the nominees for the 2014 ACM Awards on April 6th. There really should be some sort of mandate that the bad taste in your mouth and the horror of one awards show should have long subsided before you have to interface in any way with the next one, but apparently this would have been the case if The Grammys hadn’t been moved up this year because of the Winter Olympics.
Already the ACM nominees have many rolling their eyes and crying foul for various reasons. But folks, don’t ingratiate the Academy of Country Music beyond its value by acting like these awards matter to a greater degree than they actually do. Sure, the presence of the CMT Awards, and now FOX’s ACA Awards have somewhat risen the ACM’s out of the country music award show basement, but they will always be the baby brother of the CMA’s, and will be beset by ridiculous backroom label politics resulting in the anomalies to downright ridiculous notions that some of this year’s nominees represent. Nonetheless, a nomination and win will mean more attention and revenue for a respective label and artist, so it is not fair to discount the matter completely.
Tim McGraw and Miranda Lambert landed the most nominations with 7, and this is where the sideways glances begin. Miranda, though undoubtedly enjoying great success, hasn’t even release an album in over two years. Tim, undoubtedly doing everything he can aside from posing nude or releasing a sex tape to get the public’s attention after years of being saddled by Curb Records, certainly deserves some attention, but like Miranda, is likely being padded behind-the-scenes by a powerful label.
Once again George Strait is up for Entertainer of the Year, gut-checking the ACM constituency into potentially registering a sympathy vote and certainly making this category a subject of great intrigue instead of a forgone conclusion. And the laugh out loud moment is the nomination of Sheryl Crow for Female Vocalist of the Year—the same 5th slot the ACM’s have been stretching to fill for a few years now, with Kelly Clarkson, and Kacey Musgraves before she had even released an album being the other recent anomalies.
Things can change, news can break, and artists can have big months between here and now, but here are some early picks and observations.
Entertainer of the Year
Two horse race between last year’s winner Luke Bryan that had yet another very commercially-successful year, and the sympathy vote for King George. Miranda’s inclusion here is somewhat interesting, and there may be a sentiment out there that at some point Miranda deserves an Entertainer of the Year from somewhere, but it’s hard to see that happening this year. Taylor Swift has no chance, and may not even attend the awards.
- Luke Bryan – Other Potential Winner
- Blake Shelton
- George Strait - Winner
- Taylor Swift
- Miranda Lambert
Male Vocalist of the Year
This comes down to the two hosts of the ACM Awards, Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton. Interesting to see Curb Records really pushing Lee Brice in this year’s cycle, but he doesn’t have the cred yet for this distinction. Keith Urban’s influence died off years ago, and Average Joe’s cash cow Jason Aldean’s Night Train just didn’t have the kind of wide impact My Kinda Party did.
- Jason Aldean
- Lee Brice
- Luke Bryan – Winner
- Blake Shelton – Other Potential Winner
- Keith Urban
Female Vocalist of the Year
This is a hard one. Of course Sheryl Crow has no chance, and Taylor likely doesn’t either. Carrie seems like a long shot, and always seems to be underdogged by the ACM’s. Kacey Musgraves has received love from the ACM’s early and often, and if she can make a splash between here and now on the radio, she might have an outside chance. But it’s all setting up to be Miranda’s night.
- Sheryl Crow
- Miranda Lambert – Winner
- Kacey Musgraves
- Taylor Swift
- Carrie Underwood
Single Record of the Year
- Florida Georgia Line – “Cruise” – Winner
- Lee Brice – “I Drive Your Truck”
- Miranda Lambert – “Mama’s Broken Heart”
- Darius Rucker – “Wagon Wheel”
Album of the Year
Man. This is a completely wide open field, and I have no confidence picking any one of these over the others. Obviously Kacey Musgraves would be the critical favorite. Blake Shelton also has to be considered a favorite since he won the CMA in the same category. It might be a little early for Florida Georgia Line to win an award like this, but it’s hard to argue with that album’s performance. And the ACM’s seem to love Luke, so he can’t be ruled out. Tim McGraw is about the only long shot.
- “Based On A True Story…” – Blake Shelton
- “Crash My Party” – Luke Bryan
- “Here’s To The Good Times” – Florida Georgia Line
- “Same Trailer Different Park” – Kacey Musgraves
- “Two Lanes Of Freedom” – Tim McGraw
Song of the Year
We’ve seen “Mama’s Broken Heart” listed in the category for many of the year’s awards, but does it really have the kind of depth of a typical Song of the Year? “Wagon Wheel” doesn’t really either, but can’t be ruled out. Interesting to see Gary Allan get a mention here.
- “Every Storm (Runs Out Of Rain)” – Gary Allan Songwriters: Gary Allan, Hillary Lindsey, Matthew Warren
- “I Drive Your Truck” – Lee Brice Songwriters: Jessi Alexander, Connie Harrington, Jimmy Yeary – Winner
- “Mama’s Broken Heart” – Miranda Lambert Songwriters: Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, Kacey Musgraves
- “Mine Would Be You” – Blake Shelton Songwriters: Jessi Alexander, Connie Harrington, Deric Ruttan
- “Wagon Wheel” – Darius Rucker Featuring Lady Antebellum Songwriters: Bob Dylan, Ketch Secor – Other Potential Winner
Vocal Event of the Year
Were the contributions of Lady Antebellum to “Wagon Wheel” and The Pistol Annies to “Boys ‘Round Here” significant enough to consider them true vocal events? “Cruise” is the obvious commercial winner, but voters may shy away from the cross-genre collaboration.
- “Boys ‘Round Here” – Blake Shelton Featuring The Pistol Annies
- “Cruise” (Remix) – Florida Georgia Line Featuring Nelly
- “Highway Don’t Care: – Tim McGraw Featuring Taylor Swift & Keith Urban – Winner
- “Wagon Wheel” – Darius Rucker Featuring Lady Antebellum
- “We Were Us” – Keith Urban And Miranda Lambert
Vocal Duo of the Year
I write about country music for a living, and this is the very first time I have ever heard of “Dan + Shay”. Previewing their music, hopefully I never have to hear from them again. Joey + Rory would have been the better pick.
- Big & Rich
- Dan + Shay
- Florida Georgia Line – Winner
- Love and Theft
- Thompson Square
Songwriter of the Year
Shane McAnally is who deserves it. Rhett Atkins would be the commercial pick. Luke Laird also likely has an outside chance.
- Rhett Atkins – Other Potential Winner
- Rodney Clawson
- Ashley Gorley
- Luke Laird
- Shane McAnally – Winner
Vocal Group of the Year
- Eli Young Band
- Lady Antebellum
- Little Big Town
- The Band Perry
- Zac Brown Band
Video of the Year
- “Better Dig Two” – The Band Perry Producer
- “Blowin’ Smoke” – Kacey Musgraves Producer
- “Highway Don’t Care” – Tim McGraw Featuring Taylor Swift & Keith Urban
- “I Drive Your Truck” – Lee Brice Producer: Karen Martin Director: Eric Welch
- “Mama’s Broken Heart” – Miranda Lambert
- “Two Black Cadillacs” – Carrie Underwood
Glam metal band Mötley Crüe confided in the world today that they are calling it quits after three decades, and are doing so in a dramatic fashion by signing a legally-binding contract that stipulates that the band cannot tour after 2015—the time after an upcoming 75-city final tour is scheduled to wrap up.
But buried in the litany of announcements and side stories about the Mötley Crüe retirement was a little nugget of info with a country music angle. Apparently the band has signed a contract with Scott Borchetta and Big Machine Records—the home of Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts, and Tim McGraw—to produce a country-themed Mötley Crüe tribute album to be released this summer.
Scott Borchetta was at the press conference announcing the Mötley Crüe retirement, and proclaimed himself a “not-so-secret” fan of the Crüe, saying, “Our album will highlight just how great the Mötley Crüe song catalog is.”
Mötley Crüe will not be playing any of the music on the album, and the band is not planning to “go country”. Instead the music will be handled by a list of current country stars. Confirmed artists already on board for the tribute album include Big Machine artists Florida Georgia Line, Brantley Gilbert, and Justin Moore, as well as LeAnn Rimes Eli Young Band, and reality star Cassadee Pope.
Insert your favorite anecdote about how modern country is nothing more than rehashed 80′s hair metal here.
I say it all the time. There are so many of these little organizations, so many labels, and festivals, websites, and Facebook groups, and individuals all working to somehow change the direction of country music, when none of these things are going to be the ultimate solution. Though anyone that takes up the charge for country music should be commended, and these things can help in their own way, the solution is not going to be delivered by an organization. It is going to be delivered by a song.
One song, one artist, can completely change the country music paradigm all on its own. And then another song can help take it even further, exposing the frailty and failings of bad art without the need of rhetoric, leading country music in a more substantive, sustainable direction, and one that shows deference to the roots of the music and leads by example. Then the organization and infrastructure will follow.
Kacey Musgraves’ song “Merry Go ‘Round” was one of those songs. Sure, the argument can be made that her Grammy win Sunday night for Best Album was a bigger accolade than the Best Country Song award “Merry Go ‘Round” received, if for no other reason than the Best Album presentation made it onto the televised portion of the event. But Same Trailer, Different Park would have never won without “Merry Go ‘Round”. It was the door opener, the game changer. And at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards, it changed Kacey Musgraves’ life forever.
As Kacey Musgraves’ success has grown, so has her criticism, and it is stronger now than it has ever been with her Grammy wins. There are many people who will tell you she’s just simply an alternative version of Taylor Swift—pure pop and no type of positive gain for country music whatsoever. Ignore the steel guitar and banjo in her music, or the fact that Same Trailer, Different Park has sold 300,000 copies, while Taylor Swift’s last album has sold over 4 million. At some point, it’s unfair to both artists to compare their contributions, accomplishments, and impact.
But I’ve been critical of Kacey Musgraves myself. Despite the overwhelming success of “Merry Go ‘Round”, in my original review of the song I said it had its moments of immaturity and judgmentalism, just like some of her others songs. Some of the Kacey Musgraves hatred is rooted in political displeasure at some of her lyrics, and artists who go in a political direction run that risk and can’t be surprised when they’re rued for it.
When it came to selecting the songs for Same Trailer, Different Park, some songs that were better than the ones that made it on the album were left off. After “Merry Go ‘Round,” the single selection from the album has been questionable to poor, both in presenting Kacey Musgraves’ style fairly, and for creating commercial success. Her singles are also behind much of the criticisms that Kacey is nothing more than a pop star.
Beyond song selection, there was something else under the surface troubling me about Kacey Musgraves. There was an unsureness, and unsteadiness that had allowed self-doubt to creep in and mistakes to be made: “The look” that Kacey was caught making at the CMA’s when Miranda Lambert won, the conflict with Clear Channel DJ Bobby Bones. Kacey Musgraves came across as almost aloof, beaten down by how things were going, hating the hoops she had to jump through, like the weight of the world was on her shoulders to deliver, and maybe trying to determine if her music was in the right forum.
Yet my sense of Kacey Musgraves the person was that we had yet to see what she was completely capable of. She had yet to come into full bloom. We forget she’s still a young woman, 25-years-old. Looking through her music, I saw even more potential. I saw a compass; a person defined by her pursuit.
Compared to many artists, Kacey was enjoying overwhelming success. But Kacey didn’t want to just be another name in the country music gaggle, she wanted to lead. She believed in her music, and that it could have a wide impact if it only found the right audience.
Listen to some of the things Kacey Musgraves had to say backstage at The Grammys after her wins:
I literally can’t put into words how excited I am to represent the country music genre with the music I’ve gotten to make. I made a record that was inspired by real life and everything I was going through at the time, but also all of the traditional country music elements that I’m in love with. If there’s a way that I can be a part of preserving that, but also making it my own, I feel like I’ve done my job.
Everyone, all the writers on the record, like I’m just super huge fans of. Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne, Luke Laird, they’re amazing in their own right, and I’m just so glad their work is getting to shine and I’m just a small part of what they’re going to do to change music.
I would love to be an ambassador for country music. Sometimes when someone gives me a compliment it makes me feel very awkward but one of my favorite compliments ever is when someone says, ‘You know, I don’t really like country music, but I really like yours.’ In that way, I’d love to bring country music to people who don’t know much about it.
Don’t write what you think SHOULD be on the radio, write what you like and hopefully it will end up there. Just live life and to be inspired by it.
These aren’t quotes from a artist that wants to make a big splash in the industry, they’re quotes from an artist that wants to change country music, that wants to broaden its reach, and not by instilling it with sensibilities, but by expanding the appeal for its inherent and classic beauty. Her music is still the same at it was before the Grammy Awards. But now it has been validated. Now she can move forward with confidence that her goals and her efforts are in lock step, and heading in the right direction. Kacey Musgraves and her music are leading, but most importantly, the industry is following.
Kacey Musgraves was the big winner of the 56th Annual Grammy Awards, but her success does not exist in a bubble. You put this next to George Strait’s win for Entertainer of the Year at the CMA Awards in November, and so many of the other positive signs for country music that have been transpiring recently, and you begin to understand that things are changing. Saving country music is no longer theoretical, and the downtrodden and depressed traditional country music fan has to stop identifying themselves with being the losers, and quit buying into the idea the anything successful must mean it is pop, or otherwise compromised artistically.
There were better artists, better albums, and better songs in country music in the last year than Kacey Musgraves, Same Trailer, Different Park, and “Merry Go ‘Round”. But guess what, they never had a chance. But Kacey did, and she delivered.
Unfortunately for Taylor Swift, she didn’t walk away with any hardware at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards held on Sunday night (1-26) in Los Angeles, but for the night’s top prize, the coveted Best Album award, Taylor Swift was very, very close. So close in fact when the award winner was announced, it had Taylor Swift and her entourage leaping out of their shorts.
The infamous divided screen that award shows use to put nominees on-the-spot hoping to capture some reaction magic had Taylor Swift in its crosshairs, and when the announcement was read for the Best Album winner, the ‘R’ had Taylor and Co. half way to the ceiling … until they realized that it wasn’t for her latest album Red, it was for the actual winner, Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories.
Swift is actually the most sedated of the crew, with the person sitting to her right looking like he got tazed, and the suit behind her looking like he just had a snake scurry up his pant leg. This is not Taylor Swift’s first time at the rodeo, and despite her initial confusion, the multi-Grammy winner looked gracious in defeat. The guy to the right however seemed to run through the FCC’s dictionary of censored words, as Taylor’s mom (sitting at the far right) gives him an ear full.
So close, Taylor. So close.
THE 56th ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARDS
• When: 7 PM Central, 8 PM Eastern, 5 PM Pacific on CBS.
• Where: The Stapes Center, Los Angeles, CA.
• Host: LL Cool J
THINGS TO WATCH FOR
More Traditional Country Than One Might Expect
• Though the Grammy Awards are all-encompassing, there will be quite a bit of country, including classic country on the night with Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson scheduled to perform. Just like we saw with the CMA Awards in November, there is a renewed push to at least include something for classic country’s often-overlooked fans. There will also be a tribute to the recently-passed Phil Everly. See a complete list of the country performances below.
Kacey Musgraves To Push Boundaries…again.
• Similar to the CMA Awards, Kacey Musgraves will be performing her song “Follow Your Arrow.” At the CMA’s, the line “roll up a joint” was censored by ABC. We’ll see if CBS follows suit. She is also up for Best Country Album, Best Country Song for “Merry Go ‘Round,” and the all-genre Best New Artist. With her status as a critic’s favorite, and the propensity for the Grammy Awards to traditionally be more about artistic appeal than commercial success, Kacey should at least be considered a strong nominee, at least for the country awards. The 56th Grammy Awards could be where the Kacey Musgraves experiment sticks if she walks away with the top prizes.
THE COUNTRY PERFORMANCES
• Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, and Blake Shelton will all perform a medley of songs together (which one of these things is not like the others?). The performance will begin with Willie and Kris singing the Jimmy Webb-penned song “The Highwayman.” Then all the men will sing a version of “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” and end with Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee.”
• Miranda Lambert & Billie Joe Armstrong will perform a Everly Brothers tribute. Phil Everly recently passed away, and Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day recently released a tribute album to the brother duo with Norah Jones. No word why Miranda is the duet partner and not Norah.
• Kacey Musgraves will reportedly be performing her current single “Follow Your Arrow” that had the “roll up a joint” line censored by ABC during the CMA Awards in November.
• Hunter Hayes will be performing a brand new anti-bullying single called “Invisible.”
• Taylor Swift is rumored to be performing “All Too Well.”
• Keith Urban will be performing with John Legend in a salute to the Beatles.
• Hunter Hayes, Zac Brown, and Martina McBride will be award presenters.
• See the list of the non-country performances below.
These awards have already been given out as part of The Grammy Award’s per-televised events.
• Kris Kristofferson was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
• Kris Kristofferson‘s first, self-titled album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
• Dolly Parton‘s song “Jolene” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
COUNTRY AWARD NOMINEES & PREDICTIONS
The most shocking story of this Grammy Awards season was the snub of Jason Isbell from even being nominated for the Americana Album of the Year. This is a perfect example that the Grammy community is very much on the outside looking in when it comes to country music, especially the sub-genres like Americana and bluegrass.
At the same time, The Grammy Awards have a better history of picking artists based on their artistic merit as opposed to their commercial success. Remember it was the Grammy Awards that recognized Johnny Cash’s comeback during his American Recordings years when the country music industry was still ignoring him. Similarly the Grammy Awards tend to vote more down political lines, like when they recognized The Dixie Chicks after their blackballing from country music. This all sets up well for an artist like Kacey Musgraves.
The Grammy Awards are notoriously hard to predict, but I’ll do my best.
Best Country Album
I see this as a two horse race. Though the women of country are such underdogs these days, Kacey Musgraves as the critical favorite, and Taylor Swift as the commercial favorite, have to be considered the likely winners. There’s an outside chance for Blake Shelton because of his high profile from The Voice, but he would be an upset. Aldean & McGraw have no chance. In the end I think Swift will take it, but don’t rule out Kacey.
- Jason Aldean, Night Train
- Tim McGraw, Two Lanes of Freedom
- Kacey Musgraves, Same Trailer Different Park – Other Potential Winner
- Blake Shelton, Based on a True Story…
- Taylor Swift, Red – Winner
Best Country Solo Performance
Probably a race between ‘I Drive Your Truck” that won the CMA, or Darius Rucker’s version of ‘Wagon Wheel.’ Outside chance again for Blake Shelton because he’s so well-known, and there will be pressure to give him something. Understand this award is mainly for the performance, not the song. But if ‘Mama’s Broken Heart’ wins, it would be a noteworthy win for songwriters Kacey Musgraves and Brandy Clark, and if ‘Wagon Wheel’ wins, for Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show, and Bob Dylan. Remember when Darius Rucker said he better be nominated or “Country Music’s Screwed“?
- Lee Brice, ‘I Drive Your Truck’ – Winner
- Hunter Hayes, ‘I Want Crazy’
- Miranda Lambert, ‘Mama’s Broken Heart’
- Darius Rucker, ‘Wagon Wheel’ – Other potential Winner
- Blake Shelton, ‘Mine Would Be You’
Best Country Duo/Group Performance
The Civil Wars have been Grammy darlings in the past, and may still win despite the band dissolving last year. Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton would be the sentimental vote, but they should be considered a long shot. We may see Scott Borchetta assert his power here and have ‘Highway Don’t Care’ walk away with the hardware. It is cool to see a lot of good country names in this category, including Vince Gill. This is a very hard one to pick.
- The Civil Wars, ‘From This Valley’ – Other potential Winner
- Kelly Clarkson feat. Vince Gill, ‘Don’t Rush’
- Little Big Town, ‘Your Side of the Bed’
- Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift & Keith Urban, ‘Highway Don’t Care’ – Winner
- Kenny Rogers with Dolly Parton, ‘You Can’t Make Old Friends’ – Other potential Winner
Best Country Song
Another wide open field. Lee Brice once again has to be thought of as a front runner, but this very well may be Kacey Musgraves’ moment. This win would arguably mean more to her than any other nominee. And remember, Kacey and Brandy Clark also win if Mama’s Broken Heart’ is ultimately selected. I don’t really see Taylor Swift or Blake Shelton having a chance with this one.
- Taylor Swift, ‘Begin Again’
- Lee Brice, ‘I Drive Your Truck’ – Other potential Winner
- Miranda Lambert, ‘Mama’s Broken Heart’
- Kacey Musgraves, ‘Merry Go ‘Round’ – Winner
- Blake Shelton, ‘Mine Would Be You’
All Genre Awards
- Taylor Swift’s Red is the sole country album up for Album of the Year, and it is my pick for the winner. The other strong contender would be Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories.
- Kacey Musgraves is up for Best New Artist, but it is hard to see her outlasting Macklemore + Ryan Lewis, Kendrick Lamar, or Ed Sheeran.
AMERICANA & BLUEGRASS NOMINEES
Once again the Americana genre is saddled by its very narrow perspective in nominees. And except for Sarah Jarosz, they are all older artists this year. Compare this with last year when John Fullbright, The Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons, and The Lumineers were all nominees. The Americana nominees really show how much the Mumford backlash took root, and how that was very much last year’s trend. Jason Isbell got completely screwed, and so did many other deserving artists.
Not going to make any predictions for these awards because they are all wide open fields. Anybody could win here. These awards will be given away before the televised portion of the awards, so check the Saving Country Music LIVE blog for winners.
***UPDATE – In the pre-televised Grammy presentation….
- The Grammy for Best American Roots Song went to Edie Brickell and Steve Martin for “Love Has Come For You“.
- The Grammy for Best Americana Album went to Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell for “Old Yellow Moon“.
- The Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album went to Streets of Baltimore from the Del McCoury Band.
- And the Grammy for Best Folk Album went to My Favorite Picture of You by Guy Clark.
Best Americana Album
- Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell — Old Yellow Moon
- Steve Martin & Edie Brickell — Love Has Come For You
- Buddy Miller And Jim Lauderdale — Buddy And Jim
- Mavis Staples — One True Vine
- Allen Toussaint — Songbook
Best Bluegrass Album
- The Boxcars — It’s Just A Road
- Dailey & Vincent — Brothers Of The Highway
- Della Mae — This World Oft Can Be
- James King — Three Chords And The Truth
- Del McCoury Band — The Streets Of Baltimore
Best Folk Album
- Guy Clark — My Favorite Picture Of You
- The Greencards — Sweetheart Of The Sun
- Sarah Jarosz — Build Me Up From Bones
- The Milk Carton Kids — The Ash & Clay
- Various Artists; Chris Strachwitz, producer — They All Played For Us: Arhoolie Records 50th Anniversary Celebration
Best American Roots Song
- “Build Me Up From Bones”
- Sarah Jarosz, songwriter (Sarah Jarosz)
- Steve Earle, songwriter (Steve Earle & The Dukes (& Duchesses))
- “Keep Your Dirty Lights On”
- Tim O’Brien & Darrell Scott, songwriters (Tim O’Brien And Darrell Scott)
- “Love Has Come For You”
- Edie Brickell & Steve Martin, songwriters (Steve Martin & Edie Brickell)
- “Shrimp Po-Boy, Dressed”
- Allen Toussaint, songwriter (Allen Toussaint)
OTHER GRAMMY PERFORMERS
- Beyonce and Jay Z will open the show with “Drunk In Love.”
- Gary Clark, Jr.
- Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue
- Sara Bareilles featuring Carole King
- Daft Punk featuring Nile Rodgers, Stevie Wonder and Pharrell Williams
- Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragons
- Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
- Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr
- Metallica featuring Lang Lang
- Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age, Dave Grohl and Lindsey Buckingham
- Katy Perry featuring Juicy J
- Pink featuring Nate Ruess
- Robin Thicke featuring Chicago
So here it is January 3rd, the day that we were promised that everything would be revealed of why a month ago today, Eric Church’s marketing arm decided to post a psychotic and irresponsible “teaser” video for his upcoming The Outsiders album that depicted a shadowy figure in gloves obsessively watching a video of Taylor Swift explaining on the CMA Awards how it was Eric Church’s arrogant and idiotic torpedoing of a opening spot on a Rascal Flatts tour that eventually led to Taylor getting her big break in country music.
The Eric Church video was so creepy and so ripe to be misunderstood, Saving Country Music posted an expletive-laden tirade and demanded the video be taken down. Eventually it was before a public outrage could be launched, and despite many Church fans proclaiming the video as payback to Taylor Swift for calling out Eric Church on the CMA Awards, (and that it was completely justified, because you know, Eric Church isn’t part of the “in” crowd and is an “outsider”) a subsequent video explained that Eric Church “adores Taylor,” making Church’s fans have to each their own asses, while Eric Church himself back paddled harder than the Oxford University rowing team in a 4.2 mile heat race on the River Thames.
The video that Eric Church inc. posted in place of their Taylor Swift stalker video urged us all to “stay on course” and that on January 3rd “all will be revealed to you.” And as always with these dumbass teaser videos, nothing was revealed, nothing makes sense, none of the disturbing imagery from the December 3rd video is now somehow justified just because Eric Church released a new song that has nothing to do with any of it. It’s all just a bunch of marketing that distracts from the music and leaves the gawking country music fan wanting and confused, while the fact that the whole run up to Eric’s The Outsiders album is such an obvious ripoff of Shooter Jennings and how he marketed his last album The Other Life goes horrifically under reported.
But there is a new single here that needs to be dealt with called “Give Me Back My Hometown.” The song is very, very trope-like, residing deeply within the well-worn grooves of the often called-upon American music theme of the forgotten hometown and heartland decay. Is it a laundry list song, or as some like to couch it, “bro-country?” No, no it’s not. Is it a country rap? Not even close. Is it an alternative to the trash that permeates the mainstream country music airwaves? Sure it is. But before we proclaim it is something more than just another song, let’s not allow ourselves to reduce our measure of what is good simply because Music Row has deftly extended the boundary of what is positively awful into previously uncharted territory.
At the same time it is not unfair to couch “Give Me Back My Hometown” as a respite from the rest of mainstream male country. And the reason this small town theme works so often is because it resonates in a fairly universal manner, especially amongst country music fans. But the boldness of “Give Me Back My Hometown” is in the musical approach to the song. Once again Eric Church reveals himself on the progressive edge of country sonically compared to his Bon Jovi-esque and country rapping counterparts, delivering a rhythmic, banjo-driven bed that is catchy without feeling cliche, and a melody that reveals Church’s adeptness at carrying feeling in his voice into an impressively-high register.
To the mainstream country ear, “Give Me Back My Hometown” must sound nothing short of foreign and refreshing. But to an ear with a more wide sense of perspective, especially when the heavy bass drum beat and hand claps kick in about 1/3′rd of the way through the song, a strong, pungent Lumineers influence reveals itself quite obviously. A similar observation can be made of Lady Antebellum’s recent single, the banjo and clap-driven “Compass.” Once again we see a symptom of Music Row being 18 months behind the relevancy arch, and just now catching up with what was cool last year, despite feeling cutting-edge within the format.
All those observations aside though, simply based off of the ear test, “Give Me Back My Hometown” is not bad. The song works. And though with his first two singles off The Outsiders Eric seems to be focusing more on music and less on capturing the muse behind the story he wants to convey, give him credit for being willing to trod outside of popular music’s current modes, or at least mainstream country’s.
1 1/4 of 2 guns up.
My first interfacing with the fiery, spunky singer-songwriter simply known as Tristen was at a Justin Townes Earle concert in May of 2012. I didn’t know her or her music from Adam, but there she was on stage, all 5 foot nothing in glittering green hot pants, kicking our collective asses with her songs that were so easy to befriend and so hard to forget. And like any opening artist hopes for, there I was the next day dropping coinage on her 2011 record Charlatans At The Garden Gate, and Googling the hell out of her to my little music nerdy heart’s content.
Tristen is nothing short of a creative powerhouse. She’s a Chicago native, a member of independent music’s hot east Nashville contingent, akin to an artist like Caitlin Rose for example, who happens to be friends with Caitlin and has shared bass players with her in the past. Tristen is also a perennial performer on the cool country roots program Music City Roots. If you squint really hard, and maybe listen very selectively to her music, you might be able to convince yourself that what Tristen has done in the past could be construed with the right amount of rhetoric and coercion as “country,” but really Tristen is simply a songwriter, who seems to have little regard for a genre-specific career path, if she doesn’t downright loathe the idea.
Tristen is not a hunter, she’s a gatherer, listening intently to any song or influence regardless of format or era, and eagerly mining the little nuggets of nostalgic, retro gold that allow the warmth of memories to flow freely from the inner mind of listeners to lovingly embellish a song. She then embeds this warmth into her completely original, modern-day compositions resulting in music that is both fresh and hauntingly familiar. The magic Tristen spins is really akin in spirit what a band like BR549, or some other country neo-traditionalist act might do by referring to the past in the modern-day context, but Tristen has the confidence, knowledge base, and insight to not discriminate based on traditional genre distinctions.
Her 2011 album Charlatans At The Garden Gate is like a big, rotund watermelon: it just keeps on giving, parceling out little treats, and there’s not a soft patch to be had. Songs like “Eager For Your Love” and “Doomsday” are just screaming to be scooped up by some big name and be made into mega hits, while tunes such as “Avalanche” and “Battle Of The Gods” may be a little more fey, but refer to Tristen’s competency in advanced composition. “Baby Drugs” is sinisterly crafted, speaking right at the heart of how the modern-day 20-something brooding male is just about worthless, and frustrating in the arms of driven females looking for fulfillment and only finding unmotivated, drooling pot hungry video game addicts for sexual partners. The song is also accompanied by a genius video.
But if Charlatans At The Garden Gate had a wart, it’s that it seemed to be a little bit lacking in the production department; like Tristen’s vision and creativity outpaced the budgetary restrictions and artistic resources at her dispose. That is not the case with her 2013 album that she Kickstarted and then released in October through Thirty Tigers called C A V E S. It is expansive, and more than adequately fleshed out, pulling from a very broad spectrum of both analog, digital, and human-generated sounds to make it her most complete and ambitious project yet.
At the very end of that Justin Townes Earle opening slot Tristen played back in 2012, she completely shifted gears for the final song in both style and presentation, pulling out a tune called “No One’s Gonna Know,” (whose subsequent video would also include the glittering green hot pants), accompanied by these somewhat choreographed, somewhat improvised hand gestures and such, prancing across stage, telling you beyond the song itself that this was something completely different—a gear had been shifted—and that is exactly what you get from Tristen with C A V E S.
Yes, here comes that evil, evil ‘P’ word that we all love to lambast at every turn, but what Tristen does different in C A V E S compared to other so-called “pop” albums is that the point of the album is not to be “popular” in the sense of attempting to appeal to the masses by instilling the music with ultra-catchy drek or inane lyrics. It is pop music because it is not country, and not particularly rock & roll. Is this a project, like Slim Cessna’s Auto Club’s Unentitled, or other “pop” albums that use pop elements just as much for their irony or to prove a point instead of, or just as much for their inherent catchiness? You could almost infer that from the lyrical hook of the song “No One’s Gonna Know” that goes, “The only way to climb to the top is stepping on heads, you’re better off dead.”
But really, even though it is completely fair to call C A V E S “pop”, it is just as fair to call it an electronic-infused retro rock album that refers to popular music’s past to do what Tristen has always does best: pull the warmth of recollection out of the music experience and pay it forward into the modern context. By referring to popular music’s pop legacy with certain little 80′s and early 90′s-era electronic accoutrements in C A V E S, she quite simply makes an album that is splendidly-addictive and overall fulfilling to listen to. Yet still at the heart of this album is real people playing real instruments, and singer-songwriter Tristen Gaspadarek expressing herself through words to help commiserate with the human condition.
As stoppy and starty as “No One’s Gonna Know” is in places, it is damn hard to resist. The multiple harmony lines and other such layering of “Easy Out” really draws you in hard and holds you. And “Gold Star” might be the best song Tristen is responsible for so far in her career (see below), hiding a lot of in-depth creativity and composition behind what may seem to be a fairly simple pop song on the surface. Beyond these first three songs, this country critic found the rest of C A V E S somewhat elusive, aside from “Monster” getting my toe tapping, but that is probably the way the natural order of things should be, and not necessarily a knock on the project.
And as a country critic, I can’t help but point out that having had to dutifully listen to Taylor Swift’s recent records, you hear many somewhat similar retro electronic references back to the 80′s and 90′s in Swift’s material as you do in Tristen’s, including in Swift’s recent Soundtrack single “Sweeter Than Fiction,” and in songs like “Starlight” or “Enchanted.” What does this mean? I think it means that an artist like Tristen could be considered on the cutting edge, and starkly relevant despite the retro flavoring.
Is C A V E S country? God no; not even close. So why is Saving Country Music covering it? Because Tristen still feels like a part of the overall independent country/ East Nashville family, and an artist like her is even more prone to slip through the musical cracks unfairly because of her non-genre specific style. If steadfast country fans want to give Tristen a try, I would strongly suggest they start with Charlatans At The Garden Gate, and then give C A V E S a sniff if you like what you hear.
And I can’t help but wonder if the non-roots direction of C A V E S is on purpose. If Tristen, surrounded by the stultifying mainstream country environment in Nashville isn’t flexing her little arms with this album to say, “Don’t box me in!” and what we’ll hear from Tristen next time will be in some completely different direction to keep her fans on her toes, then I’ll eat my hat. But in whatever direction Tristen goes, I’d almost guarantee it will be steeped in the past of music and refer heavily to memory-churning elements, and that it will also be inescapably good.
Charlatans At The Garden Gate – 4 1/2 of 5 Stars
C A V E S – 3 1/2 of 5 Stars (with the first 3 songs strongly recommended)
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The Season of Discontent in country music continues with yet another big name country music personality lending his voice to decrying the wayward trajectory of the genre. But this time it’s not a performing artist, it is Scott Borchetta, the label owner of Big Machine Records, affectionately known at Saving Country Music as the Country Music Anti-Christ, and arguably the most powerful man in the country music business.
Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine label is the home of Taylor Swift, Rascall Flatts, Tim McGraw, Brantley Gilbert, and most importantly in 2013, Florida Georgia Line, whose song “Cruise” shattered all manner of records in 2013, including becoming the longest-running #1 song in the history of country music. However as Saving Country Music contributor Deb Bose pointed out in August, the record is virtually meaningless because of how it was achieved, and because it was bolstered by a remix with rapper Nelly. NPR’s Neda Ulaby also pointed this out recently in a piece entitled, “How A Hip-Hop Remix Helped Make ‘Cruise’ The Year’s Biggest Country Hit” (listen below).
In the piece, Scott Borchetta is asked to comment on what some are calling the “bro-country” phenomenon, and Scott Borchetta, just like many of his artist contemporaries, states that he believes country music has gone too far with all the references to alcohol and tailgates, and needs to get back to music with more substance.
“Everybody in Nashville must be drinking 24-7. We’re a bunch of drunks down here,” Borchetta jokes to NPR, but then turns serious. “There’s too much, to be honest with you. We can’t keep talking about Fireball and Coors Light and having the tailgate down, etc.”
But what Borchetta says next is the most intriguing portion of his comments. “So we’ll task our writers and artists to dig a little deeper.”
This is something that would be easy for anyone else to say, but few like Borchetta actually have the power to task writers and artists to do anything. Sure, Borchetta may just be paying lip service to what he believes the NPR crowd wants to hear. In October Saving Country Music pointed out that Borchetta was personally responsible for Justin Moore’s sophomoric song “I’d Want It To Be Yours,” and this isn’t the first time that someone has called out country music’s wayward trajectory in 2013 while also being personally responsible for it. But here at the end of 2013, everywhere you look there is criticism being levied at country music’s beer and tailgate songs, and a smart and savvy businessman like Borchetta must see that the trend is not sustainable, begging the question if the tide has turned for country truck songs.
Borchetta is actually not the first label executive to speak out about country’s recent flight from substance. Though he’s known mostly as a performer, Toby Keith is the owner of the Show Dog Universal label and helped start Big Machine with Scott Borchetta before the two labels split. Keith had some critical comments about both hip-hop in country and beer/tailgate songs himself in October, saying,
You hear the hip-hop thing start kicking in, and you start going, ‘Is that what we gotta do now to have a hit?’ I don’t know how to do that. Is that what I need every one of my songs to sound like now?…You start playing [deep songs] to a twenty-something audience, and it’s like, ‘Naw, man, there ain’t no mud on that tire. That ain’t about a Budweiser can. That ain’t about a chicken dancing out by the river. That ain’t about smoking a joint by the haystack. That’s about somebody dying and shit.’”
When it comes to the business of saving country music, many villains get presented by fans as the face of the erosion of country’s roots, values, and quality; usually huge country music stars like Garth Brooks or Taylor Swift. But behind-the-scenes there are other events, and other individuals that have just as much, if not more of a fundamental impact on country music than any single artist or band.
One of these such events was the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that was signed into law by then President Clinton, which for the first time allowed cross media ownership, meaning multiple media businesses like newspapers, and television and radio stations could be owned by a single person or corporation in the same market. The law was meant to deregulate the media business and spurn more competition, despite the concerns raised that the move would see the rise of big media giants and the lessening of local programming.
Within radio, these easing of the rules had a massive impact on radio station ownership. In 1996 when the Telecommunications Act first passed, Clear Channel, the largest radio station owner in the country, had a roster of 173 radio stations. In 2003 the FCC eased the ownership regulations for local radio stations even further, and by 2004, Clear Channel owned over 1,200 stations. In fact Clear Channel grew so quickly, the company incurred massive debt, and ended up going through a restructuring between 2006 to 2008 that included selling some of its stations, to where now Clear Channel owns around 850 stations total.
Since its restructuring as a private company, Clear Channel’s goal has been centralizing and nationalizing programming. The idea is instead of paying one DJ at each country station in the US for example, you can pay one DJ who can then be syndicated to all the country stations owned by the same company. Though Clear Channel’s station ownership has stayed steady, and even slowly increased in the last few years, they’ve been able to slash employees as they slowly implement a nationalized DJ roster. In January of 2009, Clear Channel laid off roughly 1,500 employees, and by May of 2009, that number had grown to 2,440 positions eliminated. Then in October of 2011, even more local positions were slashed, but the exact numbers have never been disclosed.
Then earlier this month, Clear Channel announced a partnership with CMT to create national country music programming to be distributed across 125 country radio stations, as well as some digital and television platforms. The move is meant to match a similar national syndicated format created by the second-biggest radio provider in the United States, Cumulus Media, who launched the NASH-FM national country network on 70 separate radio stations earlier this year. The deal means more programming will be created on a national level, and distributed to local stations. Though Clear Channel says the new deal will be good for local radio stations because it will give them access to national-caliber talent and programming through their syndicated network that local stations would otherwise not have access to, the move continues the trend for radio to lose its local and regional flavor in favor of programming catering to a national audience.
At the forefront of Clear Channel’s country radio ideas is a DJ named Bobby Bones. Originally from Arkansas, Bobby started with Clear Channel as a local DJ in Austin, TX for the Top 40 pop station 96.7 KISS FM, with his Bobby Bones Show eventually being syndicated to a few other regional markets. Though Bobby had big offers to move to the West Coast, he stayed in Austin and became a local favorite, winning “Best Radio Personality” by the Austin Music Awards from 2004-2008.
Earlier this year, Clear Channel finally convinced Bobby to move to Nashville, and to make the switch from Top 40 radio to country. Bobby replaced the legendary country DJ Gerry House at WSIX in Nashville who retired in 2010, though some hypothesize that Gerry, like many other DJ’s on Clear Channel stations, was forced out. Gerry was also a songwriter, and country journalist Chet Flippo once said about Gerry that he was the “only reason I still listen to any mainstream country radio.”
Moving from pop to country, and replacing Gerry House, Bobby Bones symbolizes the changing of the guard on country radio to say the least. Bobby Bones doesn’t look country, doesn’t sound country, says he doesn’t own a cowboy hat or a belt buckle, but he reaches more country listeners than any other country music DJ.
The Bobby Bones Show started on the WSIX flagship station being syndicated to 15 other stations across the country, and in less than a year is already up to a total of 50 stations. With Clear Channel’s new syndicated country radio network coming, these numbers could dramatically increase, and Bobby Bones could cross over into television—something he has already started to do, doing spots at big awards shows, and once guest hosting on Live with Regis & Kelly in 2011. Along with his weekday show, Bobby Bones also does at weekend syndicated show, Country Top 30 with Bobby Bones. He also does a syndicated Fox Sports Radio weekend show with tennis player and friend Andy Roddick.
Bobby Bones is not your normal DJ. He doesn’t have your stereotypical DJ voice, and his quirky, yet honest personality is what endears him both to listeners, and to country artists who seem more than willing to lend their name to his show and stop by for interviews. Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw, Kellie Pickler, Luke Bryan, Lady Antebellum, and many more have appeared live on The Bobby Bones Show, and it is now the highest rated radio show in Nashville.
As a recent CBS feature points out, Bobby comes from very humble beginnings in Arkansas, from a very stereotypical “country” upbringing where his dad left him and his mom was a drug addict, being raised by his grandmother for part of the time. Bobby doesn’t drink or use drugs, and has a very hip, Austin-esque personality while still coming across as genuine to his listeners. Many old-school country fans and older radio listeners hate him. But with his current position at WSIX and Clear Channel’s big nationally-focused plan for country radio, Bobby Bones isn’t just poised to become the Gerry House of the next generation, he’s poised to become the biggest DJ in the history of country music.
Last month Justin Timberlake got the country music universe titillated when he said he may take a stab at country music in the future. “[I] grew up outside of Memphis, Tennessee. Listened to country music, R&B music, classic rock, you know, everything,” said Timberlake “I still got my eyes set on a Best Country Album. There is time for that.”
Well now Timberlake is doubling down, and delving even deeper into the country music conversation, and what he’s saying is hinting that his move would be a more “adult” approach to country, even more akin to the classic modes of country he grew up with, wanting to use his position in music to help guide country in a direction of more substance.
Justin Timberlake stars in the movie Inside Llewyn Davis opening today, and talked with The Tennessean about his potential, or very likely country music move.
“The next move for me is to sink some teeth in here [Nashville]. I’ve done it before. I got a taste of it,” says Timberlake, referring to the song “The Only Promise That Remains” that Timberlake wrote and produced for Reba McEntire last year. “…it reminded me of the songs that my grandfather used to make me listen to when I was a kid — in a great way. It hit me, ‘Oh I wrote this song because of my childhood.’ It ended up being this thing that country radio wouldn’t play.”
Timberlake’s comments then took an even more interesting turn, when he began to speak about Taylor Swift and how to navigate going from a “bubblegum” star to an artist entering adulthood. “There might be another calling for me out there. And it might be being a part of music in this way as a communicator and a teacher and a guide…I was in a group that was bigger than bubble gum. It’s almost like, with anything, when you do settle into adulthood is when when people respect you in a different way. But there’s no question in my mind that that’s where [Taylor Swift's] going, if she so chooses. For me I am sort of the oracle of the idea, and I’m also the communicator of it.”
Nashville seems synonymous with country music to Timberlake, and he would not want his work in the genre to be from the outside looking in.
“A good song is a good song is a good song. There’s still so much that can happen in Nashville, and I look to the future and I want to be a part of it. And I’m not just blowing smoke. I don’t say that about Los Angeles. I don’t think I would move to Nashville. I know I would move to Nashville. It’s a matter of time. And it’s what this place could offer me, to be that outlet for all these different styles.”
2013 was a year defined by massive stories in country music. From historic deaths like the passing of country music writer Chet Flippo, artist and producer Tompall Glaser, producer and songwriter “Cowboy” Jack Clement, Willie Nelson guitarist Jody Payne and others, to the feuds that erupted as country music continues to be in the midst of a culture war, 2013 was tumultuous to say the least.
Please note that these top 10 stories are not based off of what Saving Country Music sees as the most important, but the amount of traffic and interest each story received, sometimes accrued over multiple stories on the same subject. So it’s you who chose what the top stories were.
“You know, I would say no. I would say they’re pop artists making a living in the country genre. I also feel like we lost our genre. I don’t feel like I make music for a genre anymore, and I did, you know, 15 years ago. But I think since the Clear Channel’s and the Cumulus’s and the big companies bought up all the chains, now it’s about a demographic. You know, so they’ve kind of sliced everything up, feeding it to the public in demographics.”
Gary Allan later back peddled from his statements pretty hard after it caused a blowup.
Though there had been a few rumblings from other artists ahead of Tom Petty’s statements, it was his interview with Rolling Stone that got the 2013 Season of Discontent rolling in earnest.
“Well, yeah I mean, I hate to generalize on a whole genre of music, but it does seem to be missing that magic element that it used to have. I’m sure there are people playing country that are doing it well, but they’re just not getting the attention that the shittier stuff gets. But that’s the way it always is, isn’t it?
“But I hope that kind of swings around back to where it should be. But I don’t really see a George Jones or a Buck Owens or any anything that fresh coming up. I’m sure there must be somebody doing it, but most of that music reminds me of rock in the middle Eighties where it became incredibly generic and relied on videos.”
Luke Bryan’s pop country buddy Jason Aldean came to the rescue when Zac Brown called Luke Bryan’s song “That’s My Kind Of Night” the “worst song ever” (see below). The reaction also stimulated an explosive rant against Jason Aldean from Saving Country Music.
“I hear some other artist are bashing my boy @lukebryan new song, sayin its the worst song they have ever heard…….. To those people runnin their mouths, trust me when i tell u that nobody gives a shit what u think. Its a big ol hit so apparently the fans love it which is what matters. Keep doin ur thing LB!!!”
From all the usual pop frivolity, to the very unlikely win for Entertainer of the Year by George Strait, the 47th Annual CMA Awards became one of the biggest story lines in 2013, including the Saving Country Music LIVE Blog of the event, and our recap the next day:
“Was it a parting gift for Strait after announcing his final tour? Of course it was. But it doesn’t mean it wasn’t deserved, and it doesn’t mean it isn’t sweet, both for George, and for traditional country fans, even the ones who may not mark themselves as big George Strait supporters. Strait’s win marks the first time in a decade a true country artist has won the trophy.”
Willie’s long-time drummer and manager Paul English, his brother, and another crew member of Willie Nelson’s family band sustained minor injuries, but luckily the accident was not as bad as the picture appeared when it first surfaced. As the elder statesman of country music, the safety and health of Willie Nelson is always a concern for country fans.
“One of Willie Nelson’s band buses—not Willie’s famed Honeysuckle Rose—was involved in a bad accident late last night (11-22) in Texas on Interstate 30 in icy, Winter conditions. The accident occurred at roughly 3:30 AM Central time near Sulphur Springs. Multiple injuries have been reported, with multiple band members and/or crew injured, including Willie Nelson’s long-time drummer Paul English who reportedly broke his ankle.”
“I love Luke Bryan and he’s had some great songs, but this new song is the worst song I’ve ever heard. I know Luke, he’s a friend. ‘My Kind Of Night’ is one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard. I see it being commercially successful, in what is called country music these days, but I also feel like that the people deserve something better than that. Country fans and country listeners deserve to have something better than that, a song that really has something to say, something that makes you feel something. Good music makes you feel something. When songs make me wanna throw up, it makes me ashamed to even be in the same genre as those songs.”
When a country music legend is debilitated when he’s still in his mid 50′s, especially one with the voice and talent of Randy Travis, it is nothing short of a travesty. Continuing the pain and intrigue in the story has been the lack of information on just exactly how well Randy is doing, though his father says the situation looks bleak. Thoughts and prayers continue for Randy Travis, and maybe one of the big stories of 2014 will be his recovery and return.
“Country Music singer Randy Travis is in critical condition in a Texas hospital, according to his publicist, and has now suffered a stroke. Travis was admitted the the hospital on Sunday July 7th for complications with viral cardiomyopathy that he acquired recently.
Cardiomyopathy is a weakening of the heart muscle or another problem with the heart muscle. It often occurs when the heart cannot pump as well as it should, or with other heart function problems. Most patients with cardiomyopathy eventually suffer from heart failure. Though the term can apply to most diseases affecting the heart, it is usually only reserved for the most severe myocardial disease leading to heart failure.”
In a year of notable country deaths, this is one of the biggest in the history of the genre as arguably the best singer to ever grace country music passes away. From the the news of his death, to the the unveiling of the monument in Nashville, to the historic tribute show that transpired in place of what was supposed to be his last show, the passing of George Jones was one of the biggest stories in 2013, as it should be.
“George Jones, aka, The Possum, has died at age 81. While in the midst of his 60-date farewell tour, Jones was hospitalized for running a slight fever and for having irregular blood pressure, canceling shows in both Atlanta, and Salem, VA. His next show was to be tomorrow, April 27th, in Huntsville, AL. George had been suffering from breathing problems for the last few years. A family member told TMZ, ‘He has been on oxygen for a long while now and his lungs finally just couldn’t do it anymore and they collapsed and he passed away. He couldn’t breathe anymore on his own.’ The official cause of death has been named ‘Hypoxic Respiratory Failure.’”
Arguably one of the stories we’ll reflect back on as putting Saving Country music on the map, Blake Shelton in a documentary on GAC had some unkind things to say about country music’s classic and traditional country fans, causing Ray Price to respond, Willie Nelson to rename his tour the “Old Farts and Jackasses” tour, and making the term “Old Farts and Jackasses” a term of endearment amongst true country fans heretofore.
“If I am ‘Male Vocalist of the Year’ that must mean that I’m one of those people now that gets to decide if it moves forward and if it moves on. Country music has to evolve in order to survive. Nobody wants to listen to their grandpa’s music. And I don’t care how many of these old farts around Nashville going, ‘My God, that ain’t country!’ Well that’s because you don’t buy records anymore, jackass. The kids do, and they don’t want to buy the music you were buying.”
Despite all the massive news stories of 2013, this is the one that caused the most intrigue and outrage. From the news of Wayne’s death, to the controversial airing of a Spike TV reality show featuring the bar where Wayne was shot, to the two week wait until the arrest of the shooter Chris Ferrell, to the memorial, it was the biggest story of 2013, that with a potential trial or plea deal looming in the future, may also end up being one of the biggest stories of 2014 as well.
“Outlaw country music singer-songwriter and performer Wayne Mills of the Wayne Mills Band has been pronounced dead at Vanderbilt University Medical Center after being shot in the head at 5 AM this morning outside of the Pit and Barrel bar at 515 2nd Ave in Nashville. “God be with us all in this tragedy……” was posted on Wayne’s Facebook page.
“44 year-year-old Jerald Wayne Mills was at the Pit and Barrel early this morning when apparently an altercation erupted with the owner, Chris Michael Ferrell, after Wayne was smoking in a non-smoking area. Everyone else in the bar went outside, and later witnesses heard gunshots fired and called police. Ferrell told police he acted in self-defense.The bar owner has a valid handgun carry permit. Chris Ferrell and Wayne Mills were reportedly good friends, and they were hanging out at the bar after attending the George Jones Tribute earlier in the evening.”
***UPDATE*** (12-4-13 1:35 AM CST): After posting this rant at roughly 9 PM on 12/3, the Eric Church video was made “private” on YouTube at roughly 11:45 PM on 12/3. If the video was pulled and stays pulled, Saving Country Music commends Eric Church and/or his management/marketing team for making the right decision about this video. ***UPDATE***
***UPDATE*** (12-4-13 4:50 PM CST): The Eric Church camp has posted another video saying in part “Eric adores Taylor, for who she is and what she’s done.”
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In the latest installment in a series of cryptic teaser videos Eric Church has released ahead of his new album The Outsiders, Church culls footage from the recent CMA Awards, and specifically Taylor Swift’s speech accepting the Pinnacle Award in a creepy, if not downright disturbing video full of obtuse connotations and veiled threats. During her speech, Taylor Swift referenced her big break in country music that came in 2006 when Eric Church was booted off a tour with Rascal Flatts because he was playing too loud, and too long, after being repeatedly warned by concert promoters to follow the rules he signed on to when he was selected for the tour. Church was replaced by Taylor Swift.
Apparently this is either still a sore spot for Church, or simply a marketing angle for his on again/off again country music “Outlaw” image. But either way, it is the theme for the 70-second video called “One Will Rise, One Will Fall” released today.
I’ll tell you folks, and I know people are going to say that I am way over-reacting or being way too sensitive, but I think this video is despicable, sickening, and downright dangerous. I think it should be pulled from YouTube by the Eric Church camp, an apology should be issued, and if I had the arrogance to believe that I had any such power or authority to do so, I would outright demand that this video be pulled from public consumption.
I don’t give a shit what Eric Church, or anybody else thinks about Taylor Swift’s music. This isn’t about music at all. Take music out of the picture, and Taylor Swift is a 23-year-old girl who has hundreds, if not thousands of people in this celebrity-obsessed and morally-corrupt world who would wish to do all manner of harm and evil things to her; people who happen to live the same shadowy, disturbed lives that come eerily similar to the scene Eric Church portrays in this stupid ass teaser.
If you think I’m taking this too seriously, try telling that to the fans and family of Selena, Dimebag Darrell, and John Lennon. As s a society we have an imperative to protect individuals from these types of threats and images: Bulletin boards and cluttered desks with psychopathic, stalker-style tools and artifacts, and post-it notes with dark, belligerent plans peppered with threatening verbiage. Look at the title of the video, “One Will Rise, One Will Fall.” What exactly are you’re getting at here Eric Church? Because I don’t have to stretch my imagination very far to reach all manner of disturbing conclusions. Of course Eric’s threats won’t go any farther than releasing a stupid ass video, I’m no fool, but who’s to say one of his sycophantic toadies won’t? Besides, it’s the thought that counts. And what is this all for, to promote Eric Church’s shitty rock record?
Eric Church isn’t an “Outsider,” he’s a fucking conformist. He’s a marketeer with a marketing degree who has svengalied a bunch of disenfranchised country fans into believing he’s offering any type of alternative to pop country when in truth he is more of a tool of the mainstream pop country industrial complex than anyone. At least Taylor is who she is—a glittery pop star who doesn’t try to veil her marketing to the masses as anything else. “Outsiders” don’t win Album of the Year from both the CMA and ACM Awards. “Outsiders” don’t get invited to play primetime, industry events. “Outsiders” don’t score #1 songs on mainstream pop country radio. And “Outsiders” don’t piss off Rascal Flatts for playing too long, they don’t play in front of Rascal Flatts, period.
Oh poor, downtrodden Eric Church, his last album only sold 1 1/2 million copies. Now it’s time to hatch a plan to take down the superstar of the genre for revenge. What the fuck is wrong with this guy? The country music industry should kick him to the curb and spit on his album. Let Metallica drag his overplaying ass around US. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of Eric Church’s bullshit drama and acting like the world owes him. Talent or not, country music doesn’t need this asshole any longer.
Pull the video Eric.
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Leave you comment about how I’m overreacting below. And find the stupid video yourself.
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Remember back in the 80′s and 90′s when the big stereotype about country music was that it was all about losing your job, your spouse leaving you, your truck breaking down, and your dog dying? Well now there’s a new set of negative stereotypes being engraved in the face of country music. With so many mainstream male artists drinking from the same well of lyrical themes and using the same select few songwriters, songs about beer and trucks are becoming our generation’s vilified country caricature.
For a few years now, distinguishing country music listeners have been sounding the alarm about laundry list/checklist songs and how their repetitiveness and permeation of the format could lead to burnout. But unwavering, their numbers have increased and their chart performance has improved as the demographics of country music shift away from its traditional audience. But like most trends and fads, especially ones that swap sustainability for the sugar rush of here-and-now success, country’s tailgate, truck, and beer songs could be reaching a critical mass point.
Much of country music’s recent criticism from artists has centered around the beer and truck thread.
Kacey Musgraves when asked what trend needed to die out, she said, “Anyone singing about trucks, in any form, in any song, anywhere. Literally just stop – nobody cares! It’s not fun to listen to.”
Zac Brown said, “If I hear one more tailgate in the moonlight, daisy duke song, I’m gonna throw up.”
And Jake Owen said, “We need more songs than just songs about tailgates and fuckin’ cups and Bacardi.”
Yes, artists like Zac Brown and Jake Owen might be hypocrites for criticizing songs that are similar to ones they’ve released themselves, but at the same time their words may even hold more weight than some traditionalist who may just come across as bitter. Hatred for truck songs has permeated the highest ranks of country stars, and as the quote from ABC’s Nashville at the top of this page illustrates, it is also becoming institutionalized in culture. Multiple stories have ran in major publications about what is being labeled by some as the “bro country” phenomenon, allowing the knowledge (and disgust) for the truck song trend to reach outside the confines of countrydom to casual music listeners.
Then you take a look at the charts where a few months ago beer & trucks songs were dominating the top spots, and we’re beginning to see some churning and turnaround. Two truck songs, Florida-Georgia Line’s “Cruise” and Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind of Night” positively dominated the #1 spots on Billboard’s Country Hot 100 for the majority of 2013, but right now sitting at the top is the Keith Urban / Miranda Lambert duet “We Were Us,” making for the first time a woman has seen the top of the charts in months, with a song that bucks the trend of starting out with a hip-hop beat, and instead builds out from an acoustic rhythm. Taylor Swift also cracks the Top 5 with “Red,” and even even the Florida Georgia Line #4 entry “Stay” is a much more subdued track that focuses more on story compared to their laundry list anthems “Cruise” and “Shine On.”
Even more importantly is what country music has coming up for 2014. Where 2013 was heavy with releases from truck song titans like Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, and Blake Shelton, the two biggest releases slated for country in 2014 are Taylor Swift, and a much anticipated new album from Eric Church. When Church released his latest single “The Outsiders,” he couldn’t have struck a more discordant tune to the truck song trend. Say what you will about Eric Church or “The Outsiders” specifically, but the song was a gorilla-like chest-pounding announcement from Church to not expect him to pander to the truck song formula. Though “The Outsiders” has pulled back in popularity from its bellicose debut, Eric Church’s new album may just be the monster to chase away the country truck trend.
Time will tell if we are beginning to see the erosion or burnout of country truck songs, and if so if it will usher in a new trend of more story-based music or something even more awful. But with the weight of public opinion swelling against them, it’s hard to see this trend lasting much longer.
Tonight in New York City at the Lexington Avenue Armory, Taylor Swift will be the musical headliner for the Victoria’s Secret annual fashion show, set to air on CBS December 10th. No, it’s not likely Swift will be strutting around in any lingerie herself, though she has been known to sample their wares in the past, and previous performer Rihanna did get somewhat risque in her performance last year. But the decision still seems quite curious from Swift who has worked diligently to maintain her squeaky clean, girl next door image throughout her career.
As Yahoo Music points out while calling the Victoria’s Secret fashion show out of Taylor Swift’s “general zone”:
Love or hate her, nobody can deny Swift’s built an image around being a PG-rated role model…A lingerie show doesn’t really seem to jibe with the Swift we know, even the one who gets caught allegedly spending the night at Harry Styles’s hotel. It just seems too risqué for this particular American Sweetheart, whose skimpiest costume of late was a retro polka-dot two-piece worn on vacation with the Kennedys…definitely not the kind of thing you see on the VS runway.
Then Yahoo points out what really seems to be at the heart of Taylor Swift’s Victoria’s Secret performance, saying, “Her appearance at the show, whether fans approve or not, seems to be yet another carefully considered move in her career and personal evolution.”
And this is what really seems to strike at the heart of the matter. It’s not necessarily how much skin will be on display at the show that is so alarming as much as the appearance seems like such a calculated assessment of Swift’s public perception and an attempt to recalculate it towards where they want it to be, instead of where it is. The “girl next door” archetype is not just one of not being flashy or provocative, but also one of being unassuming, honest, and uncaring of popularity or public perception.
The stereotype of pop music is that it wants to appeal to adolescents and teenagers, because they are the drivers of popularity and commercial success for pop music stars. Old people don’t buy albums, as Blake Shelton once famously said. But everywhere you look in the pop world, from Miley Cyrus and her recent VMA Awards antics, to Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Katy Perry, to now Taylor Swift, you see artists wanting to break away from their adolescent audience, and being willing to deal with a public backlash to do so. Is this because they want to grow as artists, or because in the end the adolescent/teenage demographic, however lucrative initially, also enacts a ceiling on an artist’s commercial success because it fulfills such a narrow niche of the market?
The next question is, what artists are replacing Miley Cyrus as she struts around with a foam finger, Justin Bieber as he gets busted from smoking pot, or Swift as she performs for Victoria’s Secret? Is there a new generation of pop stars that are appropriate for adolescents, or are adolescents following their favorite artists into the adult world prematurely? You have to give Taylor Swift credit for subtly at least. Where Miley Cyrus is swinging around naked on a wrecking ball, at least Taylor Swift, like Victoria’s Secret, leaves something to the imagination.
Taylor Swift struck such a nerve with the American public and filled a very underutilized niche in the pop music world by simply being herself. This approach was so refreshing, however calculated it was at the time, and adolescents, teenagers, and their thankful parents flocked to the Taylor Swift camp in droves, seeing her as just a well-meaning girl writing songs in her bedroom with her guitar.
Every woman should have a right, especially when they’re about to turn 24 like Taylor Swift, to explore their sexuality and image without fear of backlash or judgement from an uptight world. But there’s little justification or excuse for not being yourself. And whether it’s enlisting super producers from the pop realm to manufacture her mega hits, or playing the Victoria’s Secret fashion show to reshape her public perception, the continued evolution of Taylor Swift from that girl in her bedroom with a guitar to a mega entertainment franchise where every public move is calculated, is unfortunate.
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**UPDATE (11-16-13): Apparently Saving Country Music and Yahoo Music weren’t the only ones who thought Taylor Swift was like a fish out of water performing at the Victoria’s Secret fashion show. Australian supermodel Jessica Hart let it be known during the show’s afterparty in New York that Taylor Swift “just didn’t fit.” Swift wore a sparkly silver dress and another outfit made out of the British Flag during two performances during the show.
WWD reports that at Tao Downtown in Manhattan, Jessica Hart said, “I think, you know what, God bless her heart. I think she’s great, but I don’t know, to me, she didn’t fit. I don’t know if I should say that.”
Later it was reported that Victoria’s Secret chief marketing officer Edward Razek said Jessica Hart was “wildly misrepresented,” but didn’t offer any clarifications on what she meant, or what she said.
Yes, it was still 2013, and it was still a modern country music awards show, and so traditional and independent-minded country music fans still had plenty to look sideways at if they were brave enough to watch. But that doesn’t mean that the 47th Annual Country Music Association Awards wasn’t a retrenching of the roots and substance in the genre’s most important institution, and a sign of hope for country fans who’ve simply been asking for years for balance to be reinstated into the mainstream country format.
Luke Bryan, who was the big winner at the ACM Awards in April, was completely shut out. So was Jason Aldean. Florida Georgia Line wasn’t, but this was understandable because of the historic success of their song “Cruise,” but they were bested by Kacey Musgraves in the New Artist of the Year category. And in the end, George Strait, King George, bested everyone by taking home the most coveted trophy in country music, the CMA for Entertainer of the Year.
Was it a parting gift for Strait after announcing his final tour? Of course it was. But it doesn’t mean it wasn’t deserved, and it doesn’t mean it isn’t sweet, both for George, and for traditional country fans, even the ones who may not mark themselves as big George Strait supporters. Strait’s win marks the first time in a decade a true country artist has won the trophy. Alan Jackson, George Strait’s duet partner for “He Stopped Loving Her Today” during a stirring George Jones tribute, was arguably the last traditional-leaning artist to win the award in 2003.
Which leads us to the performances of the 47th Annual CMA Awards. Along with the somewhat abridged, but heartfelt George Jones tribute, there was a tribute to Kenny Rogers, who was presented with this year’s Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award—an award that was founded last year. Lo and behold, a steel guitar made an appearance early in the presentation during Kacey Musgraves’ set, despite the disappointment of the lyric “roll up a joint” in her song “Follow Your Arrow” being censored out. Taylor Swift of all people, offered a stripped down acoustic set that featured Vince Gill, bluegrass maestro Sam Bush, Alison Krauss, and not just as backing musicians. Both Gill and Krauss took turns on verses, no doubt stimulating not a few younger fans to take to Google to figure out who these artists were, facilitating that important initial spark of discovery.
Even Luke Bryan, whose performance of “Country Girl (Shake It For Me) on the 2011 CMA Awards seemed like the pinnacle of indecency for a country awards show at the time, offered a somewhat stripped down, heartfelt performance that featured songwriter Chris Stapleton. In fact, there wasn’t really any performances that seemed gratuitously over-the-top. Apparently there was a moratorium on choreographed backup dancers for the 2013 CMA’s, and about the only pyrotechnics aside from Eric Church’s over-the-top performance of “The Outsiders” were some sparks streaming from beneath the wheels of a simulated boxcar during Jason Aldean’s song “Night Train.” Even the cross-genre moment was when the well-beloved Dave Grohl joined the Zac Brown Band on drums—a stark contrast from the rappers and Kid Rock’s of the world that have somehow become regular fixtures of country award shows recently.
What does this all mean? For one, it means there is a reason to be positive. Whether it is because of the collective crying out about the disenfranchising of country music’s traditional and independent fans through events like Blake Shelton labeling them “Old Farts and Jackasses,” or whether it is the tangible demographic data that shows that country fans as a whole want more traditional country in the country format, someone, somewhere is listening, and some of the change fans have been clamoring for in recent years is finally being enacted.
All that has been asked for is balance—a place at the table for alternatives to pop country—and though the ratio may still be somewhat out-of-whack, some balance was reinstated during the 2013 CMA Awards. If there was another winner during the event beyond the award winners, it might be CMA producer Robert Deaton. Deaton told the Tennessean on Nov. 1st, ““I think the biggest thing I want to strive for is balance. I’m talking about balance of who we are as a music and a genre because we are a lot of different things, you want to be current but you also want to pay tribute to the shoulders that we stand on.” And Robert Deaton backed up those words in the presentation. As much as the censoring of Kacey Musgraves may be a black eye of the 2013 CMA’s, it was done to make sure families and traditional viewers were not offended.
Furthermore, the proof that balance works is in the ratings pudding. The ratings for the CMA Awards was up by 21 percent over last year’s telecast in viewers and 24 percent in the key demographic. The growth was particularly big among young males, with ABC touting a nine-year high among men 18-34.
In September, Saving Country Music published 12 Reasons To Be Positive About Country Music in 2013, and the 47th CMA Awards was yet another one to add to the list. However slowly, however incrementally, and however offset by the continuing lows of some of country music’s mainstream males, things are changing. It had been years since true country fans felt a reason to stand up and cheer and had a reason to feel represented at the CMA Awards. But the 47th installment offered a few of them, and one very big one.
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