- If You Missed It: First Aid Kit on Fallon
- Good News: Motley Crue Country Tribute Album Delayed
- Amazon Launches Prime Music Streaming Service
- 1927 Bristol Sessions revisited by Dolly Parton, Marty Stuart, Steve Martin and more
- Web Exclusive of Kacey Musgraves on Fallon
- NPR's KCRW Releases In Studio First Aid Kit Performance
- Kelley Mickwee of The Trishas New Song, New Album Coming
- National Geographic Features Pictures from New Photo Exhibit
- 'Ghost Brothers' tour lives again, in new markets
- New Country Awards Show Replacing Old One on FOX
- Video premiere: Dex Romweber Duo's 'Roll On'
- Justin Townes Earle to Release New Album 'Single Mothers' Sept. 9th (updated)
- Bluegrass Legend Ralph Stanley: 'Im Just As Fresh As I Was 100 Years Ago'
- Miranda Lambert Hits No. 1 with "Platinum" Album
- House Panel To Hear Testimony On Media Ownership Rules Today
- Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers Bring Taste of California to Nashville
- Video Premiere for Otis Gibbs "Ghosts Of Our Fathers"
- Big Machine, Cox Media Group Sign Direct Licensing Deal
- Walls St. Journal Features Producer Dave Cobb (Sturgill, Isbell)
- Songwriter Don Devaney Passes
- Song Premiere: Dom Flemons, "San Francisco Baby"
We’ve seen these moments more and more at concerts, especially country music concerts where an artist has to stop everything down because someone in the crowd is acting completely inappropriate, but this instance may take the cake. Recent country music convert Aaron Lewis was manning the mic as part of his other gig as the frontman for the angry emo rock band Staind during the last weekends Rockfest in Kansas City, when he stopped the concert down during the song “Something To Remind You” to twist off on guys copping a feel on a 15-year-old crowd surfer. While smoking a cigarette and sporting a shirt of Johnny Cash flipping the bird, the Staind frontman said:
Alright, listen up, you fucking assholes. That fucking girl right there is, like, 15 fucking years old and you fucking pieces of shit are molesting her while she’s on the fucking crowd. Your fucking mothers should be ashamed of themselves, you pieces of shit. You should all be fucking beaten down by everyone around you for being fucking pieces of shit. If I fucking see that shit again, I swear to God, I will point you out in the crowd and have everyone around you beat your fucking ass.
Apparently Lewis got his point across, because the concert proceeded without further incident.
Aaron’s outburst is reminiscent of other artists having to stop down concerts this year, mostly for fighting. Jason Isbell had to stop down as show in Madison, Wisconsin in February for fighting. Jake Owen came to the aid of a girl who was being hit by a man in Ft. Wayne. And Tim McGraw while in Wheatland, CA had to call out concertgoers for brawling.
Arron Lewis has proven himself to be protective of women before. In January he debuted an alternate version of Tyler Farr’s creepy stalking song “Redneck Crazy” written by Zach Woods. âI just always thought the message of this song was pretty fucked up,” he said about the original song. Lewis himself has three daughters, Zoe Jane, Nyla Rae and Indie Shay.
Another day, another noteworthy release of information about the potentially historic partnership between Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Label Group, and the 2nd largest radio station owner in the United States, Cumulus Media. Their “NASH Icons” joint venture that means to re-instill “classic” country artists back to commercial prominence and create a new home for them on mainstream radio has the country music world buzzing about a potential format split, and now we’ve been served some additional insight into the NASH Icons plans via Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey.
During a recent conversation with Billboard Magazine’s Rich Appel, Dickey says Scott Borchetta is aggressively looking to sign many of the artists that fall between NASH Icons’ 25-year artist window, including but not limited to Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson. “I would look for Scott to make an announcement in the next 30 days,” Lew says.
“It’s not that 35- to 54-year-olds don’t like the hits,” says Lew Dickey. “They just miss the biggest country artists of the last two decades, who are still recording and touring but not getting enough exposure today … While in pop you have the middle ground of [adult top 40] between top 40 and classic hits, there’s really no such thing in country.”
Interestingly enough, Alan Jackson has announced a special June 6th press conference to be held at the Country Music Hall of Fame. This is the same location where Tim McGraw announced his signing with Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine label in May of 2012. It is also where George Strait announced his touring retirement in September of 2012. Garth Brooks has also been curiously mum lately, after saying in late 2013 he wants to return to country music with new music, a big tour, and do it “at a level I’ve never seen before.” Big Machine is one of the few labels flush and fleet footed enough to pull off such a feat.
Cumulus owns over 70 country radio stations, and has access to another 1,500 affiliates through its Westwood One network. According to Lew Dickey, they hope to have the NASH Icons network up-and-running by 2015, but some non-Cumulus owned stations are already adopting the new 25-year format. NASH Icons is also not limited to just a label or radio. Under the new NASH brand, they’ve acquired Country Weekly magazine, and hope to have a huge presence throughout media. “We want to be thought of as an omni-channel, multiplatform brand,” Lew Dickey says.
Redneck comedian Jeff Foxworthy wanted to start his own festival, and that was the germination of the idea that bloomed into the inaugural Red Fest held Memorial Day weekend just south and east of Austin, TX at the Circuit of the Americas speedway—the only F1 racetrack in the United States. The sprawling complex built in 2012 includes a 3.4-mile, 20-turn racetrack with multiple grandstands and buildings, including a 14,000-capacity music amphitheater and 251-foot observation tower. This became the scene for the multi-faceted festival catering to country music-minded people of mostly the mainstream perspective, but with quite a few independent and up-and-coming bands and artists thrown into the lineup for good measure.
As new huge corporate festivals come online all across the country, Jeff Foxworthy’s idea was to make Red Fest more of a culturally-immersive experience to separate himself from the competition. Along with himself, he brought on Larry The Cable Guy, and the Duck Dynasty folks to give Red Fest a comedic wrinkle. Then strewn out across nine different areas surrounding the speedway, you could find a varied array of different activities, including an archery range, go-karts and racing simulators, dodgeball and volleyball courts, horseshoes and cornhole pits, a fully-complimented carnival midway, mechanical bulls, a military village housing charity booths and boot campaigns, and that’s just getting started. Even the most dedicated patron would have needed all three days of Red Fest to see and experience it all.
As for the music, the Red Fest lineup was built on good intentions. Big names like Florida Georgia Line, Tim McGraw, Kellie Pickler, and Lynyrd Skynyrd were billed alongside lesser-known bands from the local and national landscape like Hellbound Glory, The Whiskey Sisters, and Bri Bagwell. Think of it like the model the Stagecoach Festival in California has been using for the last few years: instead of segregating independent and mainstream music, integrating it. Yet at its heart, Red Fest was still very much a mainstream, corporate festival, built to cull every last dollar from super-consumer fans who pride themselves in working hard and spending hard.
Though asking $10 for a CD these days is apparently considered too much by many, the market can bear $4.00 for a bottle of water, $7.00 for a domestic beer, and $20.00 for parking, despite the Red Fest grounds being amongst vast tracks of Texas land with absolutely no premium on space.Â Ticket prices and booking fees, not album sales, are now what keeps the music industry’s coffers flush, so the entire festival experience is an exercise in wringing the consumer out of as much money as possible. Luckily, Red Fest patrons were blessed with pretty good weather over the weekend, so copious amounts egregiously-priced libations were not absolutely necessary (though many elected to over-hydrate anyway), and despite a few minor intermittent showers causing some to scurry for cover, clouds and cooling breezes kept temperatures very reasonable compared to how hot or stormy central Texas can be at the end of May.
When Red Fest let 6,000 free tickets go to military service members, it wasn’t just a sincere token of good will, it was a sign that the fest was going undersold, and they needed to get butts through the gates. Aside from the upper lawn of the amphitheater bowl, and the entire amphitheater area when the headliners like Tim McGraw and Florida Georgia Line took the stage, the crowd all weekend felt a little thin. The grounds either needed to be more compact, or have more people to fill them. The 1/4 mile trek from the heart of the fest to the other two stages was a little bit too much for your average patron to endure. So generally speaking, they didn’t explore the extremities of the fest unless it was for one of its extra-curricular features, or a band that they really wanted to see and already knew about, like Parmalee, Colt Ford, or Texas country star Granger Smith. Meanwhile worthy acts like The Derailers and The Whiskey Sisters from Austin, or out-of-towners like Hellbound Glory and Sundy Best played to thin crowds made up mostly of people who already knew about them, rendering the idea of turning new fans on to a different sound somewhat unfulfilled.
Nonetheless, some great music transpired at Red Fest, and not just for those that made an attempt to seek it out on the smaller stages. Kellie Pickler put on a great set, reprising many of her most popular songs, and playing some classics, including Loretta’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)” and “White Lightning” for the large audience. The two-piece Sundy Best on the Natty Light side stage performed an extended medley of 80′s and 90′s pop tunes that included Fresh Price, the song “O.P.P.”, and The Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way”. The rest of the set showcased their own songwriting, vacillating between fun-loving and sincere. Sundy Best needs to make up their mind if they want to be a party band, or a singer-songwriter showcase, but they’re hard not to like. Granger Smith proved that even the Texas country scene is capable of producing laundry list schock, despite how much of a guilty pleasure Earl Dibbles Jr. might be.
The Whiskey Sisters on the smallest Redfest Showcase stage converted from an Airstream trailer showed why they’re one of the best bands in Austin to see live, and Hellbound Glory put on a rowdy set, almost as if they were looking to define the extreme of the proceedings. Compare this with Florida Georgia Line, who when they took the main stage to close the fest out Sunday Night, felt like a force of homogenizing nature. Right before their set, rap music blared over the mains, with legions of self-proclaimed rednecks swinging their hands in urban gesticulations and singing along. Then the duo walked out to Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive”, illustrating the blurred genre lines of the whole experience. Love them or hate them, Florida Georgia Line has without question captured (or capitulated) the current mainstream sound, and it’s infectiousness is so undeniable, it is a downright scary notion to stomach for the critical minority.
The commitment by Jeff Foxworthy to make Red Fest an annual event seems unwavering, despite it being somewhat foreign to the indigenous music culture in and around Austin, TX. Many patrons likely drove in from the San Antonio and Houston areas to the fest, and you saw more Aggie maroon than UT orange per capita throughout the weekend. The branding of the event called it “A New Memorial Day Tradition,” and they already are getting ready to do pre-sales for next year. Despite the first year hiccups of having the site too spread out, and prices for things more tailored to the upper-crust F1 racing crowd as opposed to a redneck festival, it went off without a hitch. Hopefully next year Red Fest continues to book bands worthy of a wider audience, and also does a better job of getting that audience in front of them.
- – - – - – - – - – - – - – -
Red Fest Amphitheater:
The Whiskey Sisters:
As Saving Country Music has been saying all year, mergers, acquisitions, and cross-platform partnerships are going to be the big story of 2014, and will reorganize and churn country music in a manner that the genre has never seen before in its entire history. At the forefront of this historic reorganization has been America’s two biggest radio station owners: Clear Channel & Cumulus, who are betting big on country to become America’s most dominant radio format. Right beside them making big moves is arguably the most powerful label in country music at the moment: Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Records. The Big Machine Label Group has already reached landmark deals with Clear Channel for the use of its artists’ music on radio, and with other entities such as Dr. Luke. And now Big Machine has partnered with Cumulus on a venture that very well could end up creating an entirely new sub-genre or sub-format of country music.
Announced late Tuesday, NASH Icons, a takeoff on Cumulus’ already-established nationally-syndicated NASH brand, is a partnership with the Big Machine Label Group for the purpose of taking old and new music from artists “of the past 25 years” and giving its own place to live. Though no specific artists to be featured have been detailed yet, the idea seems to encompass music from performers like Big Machine’s Tim McGraw and Reba McEntire, and many others artists like Garth Brooks and Randy Travis who’ve had big careers in the past 25 years and that have massive back catalogs of country music that have been virtually abandoned by mainstream radio and many major record labels.
Though detailed specifics of exactly what NASH Icons will look like once it rolls out have not been made available, the two companies are planning a NASH Icons record label that would distribute both old and new music from NASH Icons artists. NASH Icons will also host live events such as special media programming, and potentially tours and festivals, and have streaming and syndicated radio programs specifically catering to the NASH Icons 25-year brand.
Though the term “classic” has been thrown out there to describe the country music that will be featured with the new venture, it appears to be purposely focused on music from a 25-year window, meaning that anything before 1989—when artists like Garth Brooks, Clint Black, and Brooks & Dunn really started their rise—will likely not be included.
As consumer study group Edison Research has pointed out numerous times over the past few years, mainstream country radio has been ignoring its classic country fan base, and the result has been an acceleration of country radio’s loss of listeners that has already been occurring naturally because of the emergence of new media options for consumers like Pandora, Spotify, and satellite radio. This venture signals from both Cumulus and Big Machine that they recognize there is an untapped market for older country music that has been ignored in a growing manner by mainstream country radio focusing on youth and the here-and-now.
However the move could also accelerate this trend if anything seen as “classic” is moved to an entirely different format. If 25-year-old country music is completely segregated from mainstream country, it leaves mainstream country to become a true, current-only country equivalent of Top 40, where any music over a couple of years old will be entirely stricken from the format. In other words, older country could be banished to the old folks home, out of sight and out of mind from mainstream consumers. This trend could also spread to industry award shows and other cultural institutions of country music.
At the same time, it could also finally give aging country artists and fans a format, and somewhere to go when mainstream radio will no longer pay attention to them.
Big Machine and Cumulus would not be getting into this business if they didn’t feel there was money to be made. At the same time, the two companies may see this as a way to placate much of the current criticism being levied at the country oligarchy for abandoning its roots, and abandoning the artists and fans that made country into the commercially-successful format it is today.
What the true impact of NASH Icons will be is yet to be seen, or if Clear Channel, Cumulus’ main rival, will launch their own “classic” venture with another partner, as the two media giants saddled with billions in debt and looking toward country music as their way outÂ match each other tit for tat in the current country music media arms race. The billions of debt that Cumulus carries, along with their other plans for big-minded partnerships and licensing deals that include making NASH-branded food, clothing, furniture, and even paint cast the question of how the company plans to levy the capital to pay for this all, and if country is truly on such a meteoric rise that all the entities looking to capitalize off of it will end up cannibalizing each other as they all fight for the same slices of the pie, regardless of how much that pie is incrementally growing.
Either way, this partnership is not just fodder for Page 2 of radio trade publications. This could spark a significant moment in creating a new format for the country music that has been abandoned by the mainstream, or it could stimulate mainstream country abandoning its roots even further. Or both.
We already knew bluegrass goddess Rhonda Vincent was doing her best to save country music on the stage and in the studio. You don’t have to look any further than her recent two-disc release Only Me that tackles bluegrass on the first disc, and country on the second to see that her roots are pure. In her four decades of performing, starting when she was a young child, Rhonda Vincent has always stayed true to her traditions. What we didn’t know is that she apparently also dabbles as a crime-fighting master of disguise.
When not on tour, Rhonda Vincent keeps her bus stabled at the Hemphill Brothers Coach Company in White’s Creek, TN, just north of Nashville. It’s the same facility where other touring country stars like Tim McGraw and Eddie Montgomery keep their coaches. Apparently the last few times she stored the bus at the location, she noticed a kitty of cash left in the bus’s safe was absconded with when she returned. After deducing that the money only disappeared when the bus was in dry dock, she decided to set up a trap. Rhonda could have just complained to the owners about the issue, or park her bus somewhere else. But that might not solve the problem for other stars that might be ripped off by the same thief.
So Rhonda procured a small camera embedded in an alarm clock that she could use to monitor the safe in the bus. Then she took about $6,000 of cash and dusted it with a special powder that if touched, stays on your hands as a residue for at least 30 days. Then Vincent placed the money in the safe, and brought her bus to the Hemphill Brothers facility and dropped it off for servicing.
Lo and behold, as soon as as one of Hemphill’s workers entered the bus, after checking to make sure nobody was on it, he proceeded to crack the safe, and stuff the money into his pockets. It was determined later that the thief had found the combination for the safe hidden in another part of the bus while cleaning the bus previously. Rhonda watched from a distance as the worker loaded up his pockets with the six grand.
But what happens next shows just what lengths Rhonda Vincent was willing to go to in order to catch this criminal. At some point during the caper, potentially sensing that he was being watched, the worker flipped the alarm clock down so the camera would no longer capture his activities. But Rhonda had a contingency for just such a situation. She was dressed up in a disguise, complete with a black-haired wig and fake cigarette, and wearing a shirt of one of her music buddies, Gene Watson, she made her way to the bus on the Hemphill lot. When she got there, the money was gone, but the camera still had the video footage saved and the traceable residue fingered the crook.
Hemphill Brothers employee Adam Parker was caught red handed, and was later convicted for the crime. Though there were no other specific reports of stolen items or money from other country artists storing their buses at the facility, according to Vincent, when she reported the whole thing to Hemphill management, they told her that theft had been a “black cloud over this place for a long time” and that Tim McGraw once had a theft problem at the facility.
Once Rhonda had retrieved the video footage and Mr. Parker was in the pokey, she took her story to WSMV in Nashville, and the rest is history.
Rhonda Vincent: Bluegrass vixen, mandolin maestro, and international woman of mystery.
EDM ,or Electronic Dance Music, has become so pervasive throughout popular music that even country—once thought to be immune from inhuman instrumentation in music—is now just as gripped with this phenomenon as any genre. From Jerrod Niemann to Tim McGraw, to the intro of just about any single you will hear on country radio, some sort of electronic dance element is almost sure to make an appearance in 2014.
On last week’s episode of CNN’s Emmy Award-winning program Parts Unknown hosted by Anthony Bourdain, the well-known chef spouted off about the state of live music and EDM’s involvement when touring Las Vegas. He talked to Penn of Penn & Teller (a well-known fan of David Allan Coe), and tried to discover what is so alluring about EDM, and where it puts live acts in the pantheon of modern music.
“These days for better or worse, live acts, live performers, are being squeezed out in favor of EDM: Electronic Dance Music,” Bourdain explains. “It’s a DJ’s world, and where they once used to say cocaine was God’s way of telling you you had too much money, now maybe EDM is…Come ye lords and princelings of douchedom. Hear my clarion call. Anointeth thyself with gel and heavenly body spray. Maketh the sign of the devil horns with thine hands. Let there be high-fiving and the hugging of many bros, for this is the kingdom and the power.”
As Bourdain points out, many of the big Vegas EDM clubs now make more money on a nightly basis than the casinos. In fairness, EDM at clubs is administered by a live DJ (though playing pre-recorded, electronic music), but the rapid growth of the genre does appear to put the future of live acts at risk. Country music now has its own superstar DJ’s like Deejay Silver who is currently touring with Brad Paisley. If you’ve been wondering what the mono-genre might sound like when it arrives, it might be heralded by a moronic bass beat, and waves of glowsticks being raised to the sky. EDM is the new generation’s rock music—pervasive and inescapable throughout society. Either get out of the way, or be run over.
To do Ronnie Dunn and his new album Peace, Love & Country Music justice, one doesn’t need to write an album review, one needs to do something in between an in-depth psychoanalysis and a diagramming treatise. There’s so much going on here, so many tentacles to the current Ronnie Dunn story, and ones that reach far beyond the music itself, that it’s hard to know where to even start, or to end for that matter.
I guess the first place to start is to try and set the context of just where Ronnie Dunn is in his career, and where he came from. Because Brooks & Dunn was so overshadowed in their day by Garth Brooks, George Strait, Alan Jackson, and the other solo artists of the 90′s, and because his name was only given half credit as a member of a duo, it may be difficult to appreciate just what a mark Ronnie has put on country music. But his impact has been nothing short of towering. Brooks & Dunn sold 30 million records. Their signature album Brand New Man sold over 6 million alone. They had 30 #1 singles. They won the CMA for Vocal Duo of the Year a remarkable 13 out of 14 years between 1992 and 2006, and won Entertainer of the Year in 1996. Their career and impact were historic, and Hall of Fame worthy.
And now, Ronnie Dunn is a defector. He is one of the leading voices of dissent against the institutions presiding over American country music. He has created a loyal and rabid following of tens of thousands of disenfranchised music fans. On a weekly, and sometimes daily basis, Ronnie Dunn is decrying Music Rows ways, specifically criticizing the exclusivity of radio, the stamping out of creativity by record labels, and the way the business treats its talent, young and old.
Think about it: This is one of Nashville’s biggest bread winners of the last 25 years, and he’s now a turncoat. The quotes from Dunn and the topics he’s broached about Music Row’s debauchery are so numerous, I couldn’t even start to delve into them and do it all justice. But long story short, this is a guy that fought Nashville’s wars for a nearly a quarter of a century, and now he’s fighting against them. “I did it for 20 years, and I learned all it was was the mainstream way of doing things was just where ideas go to die these days,” Dunn said in a recent interview. “Mainstream is the road to mediocrity. And it took me 20 years to realize that. But it got to the point to where everything we would come up with to do as maybe an idea or something we thought was fairly innovative, we would get cut off at the pass. So it’s time. It felt like time to start to try to do different things.”
And doing things different is what he’s done. Ronnie Dunn is a completely independent artist now who owns his own record label called Little Will-E Records. During the CMT Awards in Nashville last summer, Dunn set up an encampment on lower Broadway guerrilla style, and as the throngs of people poured out of the Bridgestone Arena, Ronnie played three of his new songs off the album on the roof of a nearby building as a promotional stunt. No permission, no permits. He even got in trouble with the Opry for shining a light banner on the roof of the Ryman asking “Who’s Ronnie Dunn?” Depending on your perspective, Dunn had either lost his mind, or finally found it and come to the side of believing in music over money.
All of this was great. Here was one of mainstream country’s biggest stars spouting the same type of rhetoric that one may find on Saving Country Music on a regular basis. Then there was news he was writing songs and recording with none other than Texas music guru Ray Wylie Hubbard. Everything was setting up quite nicely for the release of Ronnie Dunn’s first independent record to be a sort of musical insurrection perpetuated by one of Nashville’s own, with reverberations reaching who knows how far into the dug in foundations of Music Row.
But then one little pesky problem materialized just as it seemed like Ronnie Dunn might be the chosen one we’d all been waiting for to lead country music out of its current wasteland. Despite all of Ronnie’s talk about how unjust it was that classic country no longer had a place on country radio, and how aging talent was getting pushed aside for young pups with no respect for the genre and playing music that was more indicative of rock than country, here comes Ronnie releasing songs that sound exactly like the music he’s criticizing.
One of the first songs we heard from Peace, Love & Country Music was called “Country This”—a complete hard rock guitar-driven bro-country mega anthem with ultra-stereotypical laundry list lyrics and absolutely no story or soul. I mean this thing was terrible. And I wasn’t the only one all of a sudden taking a second look at what Ronnie Dunn was doing. “Kiss You There” was another one of Peace, Love & Country Music‘s first offerings, and despite affording a little more story, it almost seemed to be walking the edge of country rap, with little EDM moments peppered throughout the song.
However promising Ronnie’s off-the-stage rhetoric had been, to say his music wasn’t syncing up with his words is a gross understatement. Remember those songs he wrote with Ray Wylie Hubbard? Interestingly one of them showed up in the repertoire of Sammy Hagar, called “Bad On Fords and Chevrolets“. Some in Ronnie Dunn’s camp wanted to revolt, but Ronnie calmed nerves when he seemed to allude that he was using these first singles almost as Trojan horses. He told everyone he wasn’t wasn’t abandoning the revolution, but that he needed to give radio one last shot, maybe to prove that even when he put out songs that were ripe for country’s new format, they would still be ignored if you weren’t in the good graces of Music Row’s major labels. âMainstream radio does not dictate the full flavor of a multi-song CD,” Dunn assured.
So after many months of spirited discourse from Dunn through Facebook and interviews, the confounding first few tracks, we now finally get to hear the full breadth of Ronnie’s independently-released record. And what do we get? Pretty much what we got in the run up: crossed signals and conflicting messages, though a few good songs here and there.
It’s not that Ronnie Dunn is trying to take advantage of the growing anti-Nashville sentiment, similar to someone like Eric Church and other “new Outlaws” where the rhetoric seems to be nothing more than marketing and a distraction from the music. It seems much more innocent than that, like Ronnie has spent so much time residing within the system and was raised so deeply within its inner workings, that to Ronnie this record and many of its songs are groundbreaking. But when you bring a more global, a more informed ear to the project—one that has truly been versed in independent country and country protest music—it seems almost like parody.
Meanwhile the contradictions are nothing less than striking. Peace, Love & Country Music has a straight up protest song in it called, “They Still Play Country Music in Texas”.I turn on the radio theyâre mixinâ heavy metal with twang People on TV doinâ anything for fame Iâm not one to cling to the past But some of this new stuff burns my ass Thank God and Willie some things stay the same
Yes, awesome! Let’s all pump our fists and praise Ronnie Dunn for speaking up! … except that numerous songs on this album are “mixin’ heavy metal with twang,” exclusively. I mean, that’s the whole premise some of these songs are built around.
Ronnie Dunn has all the right sentiments, all the right ideas and philosophies. But when it comes to his actual sonic output, he needs guidance, and guidance in a big way if the message is going to match up with the music. He needs to spend a weekend with Marty Stuart or Vince Gill. He needs someone to walk him through their record collection, explaining to him how we got here. He needs to see Sturgill Simpson at the Station Inn. Though I understand many from the mainstream perspective will hear this album as rebellious, forward-thinking, or even groundbreaking, the simple fact is that it isn’t. It is still a very, very mainstream album. Maybe it’s a mainstream album with good moments, but it’s still one that is cast in predictable turns of phrases and phrasing, and well-worn tones and textures; one that panders for attention, relevancy, and radio play.
As cool as it is to get a protest song like “They Still Play Country Music in Texas” from him, I wish it wasn’t on the album because the hypocrisy inherent in it drags down the rest of the project. Songs like “Country This”, “Cowgirls Rock & Roll”, and “Thou Shalt Not” are every bit dependent on their rock guitar riffs. Hell, “Cowgirls Rock & Roll” is one of the worst “country” songs I may have ever heard, no different than a single you’d hear from Brantley Gilbert or Jason Aldean, with Auto-tuned inflections on the vocal track indicative of modern Jerrod Niemann or Tim McGraw.
And look at these lyrics:Que Paso Hey Pard Yo Yo Play Back In Black Set Em Up Joe… Goth Black Ponytail Ink On Her Arm Out Here In The Way Back Doinâ Things She Shouldnât Be Doin Like That Ghost Of Hank Still Hangin On Snoop n Willie Keep Singin That Song Brown Jar Liquor Got A Shotgun Kick Got It Goin On Out Here In The Sticks
Then again, there’s some very worthy tracks on Peace, Love & Country Music. The first two songs “Grown Damn Man” and “Cadillac Bound” start off the record right. “You Should See You Now” and “Wish I Smoked Cigarettes” are excellently written, and no matter what Ronnie Dunn is singing, it’s hard to escape the fact that he still holds one of the best voices in the business, and came from a time when you couldn’t fake it, or let your fame ride off a pretty face.
Something else that seems to hinder this album is that it took so long to go to print. Ronnie Dunn seems to be in the precarious position of trying to maintain his mainstream relevancy, while at the same time come to grips with the new realities of his career. He wants to lead a revolution, but he wants to hold onto the last vestiges of the spotlight for one last moment. But you can’t have it both ways. There are songs on this album that could have been worthy of radio, whether it’s because they’re good enough and would elevate the format, or because they’re bad enough to be radio hits in country’s current climate. But neither will be given a chance because of all of Dunn’s sabre rattling off stage. Dunn’s plan came off as half baked, and in need of some guidance and perspective from people who really understand where the trends in music are headed.
I like Ronnie Dunn’s spirit, and I feel like there’s a kinship in his fight. And make no mistake, there are many, many country music fans who are listening to his every word about what is happening in country, because his words are rooted in truth. And because of this and a few pretty good songs, I can’t give it a negative review. But don’t get bogged down by the bravado surrounding this album. If you simply listen, you will find it is an album addled by stark contradictions.
One gun up for some good songs and an independent spirit.
One gun down for some very, very bad songs, and a conflicting message.
The pretty good:
The very, very bad:
On Thursday, April 3rd, Tim McGraw announced that he will be releasing his 13th studio album, and his second with Big Machine Records called Sundown Heaven Town on September 16th. After years of struggling under the repressive thumb of Curb Records, who took the stance later in Tim’s career of releasing new albums only once every five years, McGraw looks to spread his wings and release new music in consecutive years for the first time in over a decade.
However there are a couple of questions that linger around the Sundown Heaven Town announcement. The first is, why is Tim McGraw making this announcement so early? Though announcing the specific date of an album release six months ahead of time isn’t completely unprecedented, it certainly is strange, especially from a major label. Usually a label would wait until about six weeks to two months before a release to make an album announcement to try and stir up anticipation for the album in a shorter time span, buffered by the release of a new single or singles. Potentially Big Machine is looking to use the ACM Awards transpiring on Sunday, April 6th, as the springboard for their release cycle.
But that is not the biggest concern about the Sundown Heaven Town, and it’s not even close. To the apparent cluelessness of Tim McGraw’s team and his label Big Machine Records, the title of McGraw’s new album has very, very strong racist connotations that directly refer back to the segregation and lynching of black people in American history. In fact the oversight seems so obvious, and the parallels so easy to draw, I hesitated posting about this for a few days, thinking it must be some April Fools week joke, or something else was amiss.
Verifiable by taking to any search engine of your choosing, the term “Sundown Town” refers to segregation, and the lynching of black people in American history, and to noting else. As Wikipedia defines the term, “Sundown Town” means “AÂ town, city, or neighborhood in the US that was purposely all-white. The term came from signs that were allegedly posted stating that people of color had to leave the town by sundown.”
The etymology of the term “Sundown Town” refers to sayings that would be posted at the city limits of such towns, including one just outside of Hawthorne, California symbolizing the phenomenon that read, “Nigg**, Don’t Let The Sun Set On YOU In Hawthorne.” The term “Sundown Town” has also been used previously in the title of books, and the title of of movies and documentaries on the subject.
The inclusion of “Heaven” in the album title arguably doesn’t help, but hurts. Though it is pretty rare, Saving Country Music was able to find a few instances in literature where some Sundown Towns were referred to using “Heavenly” in the term such as “Heavenly Sundown Towns” or “Sundown Heavenly Towns.” Adding “Heavenly” seems to imply the Sundown Town is idyllic, divine, or purified. The little white/black segregated sun used for the “O” of the title seems especially unfortunate. Unless this is a concept album meant to call out Sundown Towns, the oversight is inexcusable.
Please don’t get me wrong, I am in no way accusing Tim McGraw or Big Machine Records of racism whatsoever. I can’t imagine any scenario where a mainstream country artist or a major American label would want to field the backlash a purposely racist album title would create in 2014. Nor can I see any benefit or motive for McGraw or Big Machine to want to underhandedly make a dig at America’s black population by the use of this term in an album title. It simply seems to be an innocent oversight of the vetting process when choosing the album’s title.
Nonetheless, the connotations seem so clear cut, I can’t imagine how or why the title of the album would not be changed. It must be changed. Or the backlash it will receive at some point in the album release process will pale in comparison to the cries of a concerned journalist.
- – - – - – - – - -
****NOTE: The comments on this article are being heavily policed. Disagreement is encouraged, but attacks or insults towards others, insensitive language, or off-topic tangents will be deleted.
It was announced Monday that the song “Medicine” by Shakira featuring Blake Shelton will be performed by the cross genre duo at the 49th Annual ACM Awards on Sunday, April 6th. Aside from whatever ills the song itself might contain, the slotting of the performance on a major country awards show once again illustrates country music trying to use stars of other genres to promote itself, instead of showcasing the virtues of country and why the genre is worthy of attention on its own.
Having a performer from outside of the genre collaborate with a country artist is certainly not unprecedented for an awards show, or a radio single, or any general cause for alarm. What makes this case somewhat exceptional though is that this is Shakira’s song, appearing on Shakira’s album, especially when you consider there is so much noise leading up to the ACM Awards about a lack of space to showcase worthy country artists, including this reasoning being one of the justifications for the ACM’s breaking their rules and nominating Justin Moore for New Artist of the Year when he’s clearly ineligible. There’s also a lack of solo female representation in the ACM’s current performance plans and on country radio. Replacing a worthy female country voice with one from the pop world seems short-sighted.
Making matters worse, Shakira isn’t just releasing this song in her home genre of pop. It has entered the Country Airplay charts this week at #57. “Medicine” is Shakira’s “gone country” moment. All that said, “Medicine” as a song is not all that bad … for a pop song. In fact if you compared it with many of the top songs in country right now like Jerrod Niemann’s “I Can Drink To That All Night,” Brantley Gilbert’s “Bottom’s Up”, or Tim McGraw’s “Lookin’ For That Girl”, it is downright refreshing. Whether it’s a symptom of just how far down the pop/EDM/rap road country has traveled or any true merit “Medicine” actually contains, I’m finding it hard to get worked up about this song either way.
Pop country stars use it as rationale all the time to smooth over their commercial outreach into the pop world: they say that country has always had its pop leanings and sensibilities with artists like Patsy Cline and Eddy Arnold. And you know what, they’re right. What has changed now is that country has backslid so much, a pop song can sound like a dalliance with substance and roots compared to your average country radio offering, or even sound more country than your average country song. That is what you get with “Medicine”, along with the common phenomenon of when non country artists do country songs, they tend to gussy it up in things like fiddle and steel guitar to insulate it from easy criticism.
Lo and behold, a subtle, but present steel guitar starts off “Medicine”. ClichĂŠ, but classic lyricism about heartbreak create the structure of the song that does a serviceable job showcasing the vocal abilities of both Shakira and Shelton, which is really what this song is all about. I definitely could do without Blake’s “Po po po poppin’ the pills” part, but these are the little catchy elements that appeal to nubile pop ears, so they’re understandable in this context. Shakira has an interesting, unique cadence that draws the ear in, and the song is effective in widening the exposure of her talents. “Medicine” is a song about being unable to drown the misery of a broken heart, which despite being done many times in country and other genres, will always have a relevant and rather universal appeal.
With top male country music in such a downward spiral, while at the same time systematically dominating the top of the format, we may have to get used to the new reality that pop music may in fact hold more depth and more artistic merit than most mainstream country. This has been the case made by many Taylor Swift apologists for years, and can also be seen in the rise of pop artists like Adele and Lorde.
Is “Medicine” a good song? God no. Is it country? Not really, but there’s some country elements there. If it had remained in the pop format where it belongs, then there would be no reason to cry foul. But it didn’t. Nonetheless, there’s much bigger fish to fry than Shakira releasing a silly, one-off pop country song.
- – - – - – - – - – - – - – -
1 Gun Up for decent lyricism, strong vocal performances, and unoffensive music for a pop song.
1 Gun Down for at its core being a wistful and quickly forgettable pop song calling itself country.
Don’t call it a comeback! LL Cool J’s been here for … well …. he’s never really been here in country music whatsoever, except for that ill-advised pairing with Brad Paisley in “Accidental Racist” that captured the American zeitgeist for about 48 hours—catching hell from Saturday Night Live and Stephen Colbert in parodies—before being summarily forgotten and heavily suppressed in the public consciousness like the jarring memory of a childhood tragedy. But he’s back now! … to host this year’s ACM special slated to pander to country music demographics to promoteÂ CBS’s Fall lineup …. I mean salute America’s military.
LL Cool J, along with CBS’s NCIS: Los Angeles co-star Chris O’Donnell, are scheduled to host the April 7thÂ “ACM Presents: An All-Star Salute to the Troops” that will be taped the day after the ACM Awards, and be aired on May 20th. Luke Bryan, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, George Strait, Merle Haggard, Carrie Underwood and Lady Antebellum are all scheduled to perform.
The rapper turned actor has also been the host of the Grammy Awards in previous years, and has done a fine job in his emcee duties. But the question is, was there not a country music personality that would be better suited for this special? With all the talk swirling around the ACM Awards and their desire to showcase as much talent as possible for the labels backing their enterprise, why not show off the comedy stylings of some country star that could use a lift out of the shadows, or at least that would be better suited for the event? Is Bubba in Birmingham really going to become an NCIS: Los Angeles lifer just because he saw LL Cool J introduce Tim McGraw before he performs some schlocky tribute? Do rap shows reach out to country stars to showcase them at their award shows or televised specials? Why does country music always feel the need to apologize for itself by rubbing elbows with stars of other genres to say, “Hey, we can be cool too!” instead of presenting what is cool about country itself?
It’s great that the Academy of Country Music has decided to shy away from shamelessly promoting Lionel Richie albums like they did some years back, and actually pay tribute to something that deserves it. (By the way, what rock has Lionel been hiding under recently? Yeah, that was a two-hour television investment poorly spent.) But is the point to promote country and support the troops, or try to hand out political payoffs to media partners?
For going on 40 years, Austin City Limits has been the one safe haven for substantive music performances on television, using the prestige of their program to lift up many artists worthy of a wider audience, but artists that are unfortunately not graced by the attention of mainstream radio. Originally established to be a visual companion to Jan Reed’s groundbreaking book Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock that set out to chronicle the formation and continued legacy of Austin’s music scene, and as a program that resides on public television, commercial concerns are an afterthought to Austin City Limits behind doing their duty to the local music community and shining a spotlight on undiscovered and deserving talent.
It is in this spirit that Austin City Limits has slated a scrappy young country music artist to appear during their latest season. Though you may have never heard of him, all that might change after he makes his Austin City Limits debut. His name is Eric Church, and despite only winning the Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music awards for Album of the Year once, and having only sold roughly 3.5 million albums, the native North Carolinian has a promising future ahead of him, especially with ACL’s help.
“Since ‘Austin City Limits’ is a PBS program and their funding partially comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and from donations from viewers like you, they don’t have to worry as much about ratings and sponsors, and can reach down to give exposure to a deserving artist like Church,” says Eric Church representative Elizabeth Frankenfurter. “Though they have brought on big corporate sponsors over the last few years like Budweiser and Lexus, it’s clear with their selection of Church for the new season that corporate sponsorship concerns do not go into the selection of performing artists. If ‘Austin City Limits’ started selecting bigger names to showcase on their program, artists like Eric Church would be locked out of the opportunity to be presented to thousands of appreciative and attentive music fans that otherwise may not know about him.”
Eric Church joins other acts like Dave Matthews Band, Cheap Trick, Pearl Jam, Tim McGraw, and Radiohead that were thrusted into the public spotlight because of their Austin City Limits opportunity. “It’s such an honor for me to play on the same stage that Texas legends such as Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and Wayne “The Train” Hancock have played,” a press release quoted Eric Church as saying, but a check of the Austin City Limits archive shows that despite their important status to Austin music, neither Ray Wylie Hubbard nor Wayne Hancock have been awarded their own Austin City Limits show like Eric Church.
Eric’s latest album release is called The Outsiders—a testament to his underdog status in the industry. Hopefully his Austin City Limits appearance puts this “outsider” on the inside track to success in country music.
**Warning: Heavy Language**
Why are Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line standing in front of a big explosion? Because they’re fucking awesome, that’s why. And you probably don’t get that because you’re all old and shit and your pubes are probably gray and you think that country music should be Hank Williams played over and over again which is boring. Get over it. Country music has changed man, and there’s now redundant wallet chains, deep V-neck shirts with weird crap written on them, popped collars modeled with douchebag poses, and super awesome explosions for no reason. And we love it ’cause this is how we roll, yo!
- – - – - – -
Like one of those stationary rides in the front of Wal-Mart for toddlers, “This Is How We Roll” makes a lot of noise, has a bunch of flashing lights, bumps up and down a little bit, but in the end, goes absolutely fucking nowhere. The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers soundtrack has more sincerity, depth, and nutritional value than this explosion of diarrhea in country music’s bikini cut man briefs.
My first question about this song is why exactly is Luke Bryan on it aside from marketing? Exactly what value does he bring to this collaboration? The very first thing out of his sewer hole is, “We’re proud to be young,” which is ironic because the 37-year-old is wearing testosterone patches to help boost his “performance” so he can keep up with the kids two decades his junior on his most recent and increasingly age-inappropriate Spring Break album. Luke Bryan has descended into that creepy late 30′s uncle character sent with a group of 16-year-old girls to “chaperone” and spends the whole time working up the courage to ask his niece’s best friend to roleplay Miley Cyrus while the rest of the group heads down to the beach.
An environment of sexual perversion and sheer stupidity permeates “This Is How We Roll” and its respective video from stem to stern, including a scene near the start of the video with a dollop of hussies having consensual sex with a Kenworth. I sure hope these chicks have their Tetanus records in order. And then of course we have Tweedledee and Tweedledum from Florida Georgia Line riding on top of the semi like Teen Wolf, with the same display of doltishness and disconnect with self-awareness many mid 80′s movies like Teen Wolf were horrifically beset with.
And are the “words” to this “song” for serious? It sounds like the babbling of a toddler with its tongue cut out, or Buckwheat trying to order Thai food while fighting through the lingering paralysis of a massive stroke.
Yeah holla at yo boy if you need a ride
If you roll with me yeah you know we rollin’ high
Up on them 37 Nittos, windows tinted hard to see though
How fresh my baby is in the shotgun seat oh
Them kisses are for me though, automatic like a free throw
This life I live it might not be for you but it’s for me though
And is anybody else bothered by watching people hanging out in the back of a moving semi? Does it seem like fun to anyone to be locked in a cargo hold with no window to the outside world, especially with a bunch of douchebags running motorcycles inside and other dumb shit? How many smuggled immigrants have been sweated to their death or suffocated in similar scenarios? I’d hate to see them take their rolling party through the same border checkpoint in Sierra Blanca, TX that busted Willie and Snoop while singing about “you know we rollin’ high” and watch the jack boots down there sodomize the whole lot of them with government issued toilet plungers in a tireless search for contraband.
And poor Brian Kelley, the Doogie Houser looking dude from Florida Georgia Line. Once again he’s more buried in the mix than Hoffa, offering no real contribution to the band aside from helping with the head count to qualify them for the CMA and ACM’s “Duo of the Year” awards. But that doesn’t stop him from showcasing how bad he is at lip syncing while sporting a doltish grin and no-soul-having wannabee hip-hop gesticulations. Let’s face it, Florida Georgia Line is Tyler Hubbard. Brian Kelley is just in charge of holding Hubbard’s penis pump.
Then finally to make up for the lack of any true machismo or talent emanating fromÂ Florida Georgia Bryan whatsoever, they send the troika out to a motorcycle track to stand there and look awesome while explosions go off and people who actually have skill do tricks for the camera that the pairing can try and take credit for by proxy.
The worst “country” song ever? I don’t think so, partly because this is just par for the course from Florida Georgia Line, while other sellouts like Jason Aldean and Tim McGraw hypothetically know better. Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley are such tenderfoots, they think classic country is Shania Twain. Still I think this song is positively shitty enough to be a colossal super hit. I predict huge things for this song, and anyone with half a brain or a full compliment of testicles to be pursued by its permeation of American culture for months to come.
Two guns way down!
Former Hootie & The Blowfish frontman turned country artist Darius Rucker was on sports personality Dan Patrick’s radio show Tuesday (3-4), and had some interesting things to say about who the new torch bearers are for country music’s Outlaw legacy. Outlaw artists like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, David Allan Coe, and Johnny Paycheck shook up the country music world in the mid 70′s by re-instituting a harder country sound and taking back control of their music, and now according to Darius Rucker and Dan Patrick, the new Willie and Waylon is Luke Bryan and Eric Church.
The Darius Rucker interview starts out with Dan Patrick giving some playful ribs to Rucker about his lack of country music bad boy credentials. “I mentioned at the end of last hour that, you know, Luke Bryan’s the new bad boy, and Eric Church is the new bad boy in country,” said Patrick. “Darius Rucker can’t be a bad boy ’cause he was the lead singer of Hootie & The Blowfish. Right? No matter what …. How can you be a bad boy? You know you can’t be Tim [McGraw], you can’t be Hank Williams. You know, you were Hootie & The Blowfish.”
“That’s funny but true,” Rucker responds, laughing. “You’re absolutely right. I’m always going to be country lite, there’s nothing I can do about that … Brad [Paisley]‘s not a bad boy. Rascal Flatts, they’re not bad boys. Not everyone can be a bad boy. You know, that’s cool.”
Then Dan Patrick asks, “But there’s so much money in country now that can you be a bad boy and be crazy like Waylon and Willie used to be?”
“Yeah man, we’ve still got those guys,” Rucker says. “You know, Jamey Johnson, he’s a bad boy that’s for sure, and he’s doing well. You know, like you said Luke and Eric, Eric’s probably the closest we got to Waylon & Willie I think.”
This was not the first time Darius Rucker has made interesting statements on the Dan Patrick Show. In November of 2013, Darius said on the show that he thought he deserved a Grammy nomination for his cover of the Old Crow Medicine Show / Bob Dylan song “Wagon Wheel” or quote “country music’s screwed.” Dan Patrick and Darius Rucker are good friends, going back to the time when Darius was winning Grammy Awards with Hootie & The Blowfish.
You can see the entire interview below.
In 2011, when Jason Aldean’s country rap song “Dirt Road Anthem” became the best selling song in all of country music, the genre’s impending dalliance with rap was ordained. Though the sub genre had been brewing under the surface for many years, and quite successfully for some acts, it had now hit it big, and it was only a matter of time before you would see country music’s top performers experiment with the genre bending style.
When “Dirt Road Anthem” hit, artists like Cowboy Troy and “Dirt Road Anthem” co-writer Colt Ford had already made successful careers out of country rap for years, despite not being able to rise to the level of mainstream radio acceptance. There were many other acts doing very well at the club level with country rap, like The Moonshine Bandits, Bubba Sparxxx, and The Lacs. Country rap even had much of its own infrastructure, and despite the suspicion it was eyed with from the mainstream, most country rap acts were able to post videos and get views in the millions, Wal-Mart was stocking hick hop on their shelves, while labels like Average Joes, started by Colt Ford, offered material support to some of the bigger country rap acts.
When Music Row decided rap was its future and a potential vehicle to drive the genre out of the malaise it suffered with the rest of music in the decade of the oughts, there were a number of ways the influence could be integrated into the genre. Major labels could sign or otherwise champion already-established country rap acts like Colt Ford and The Moonshine Bandits. Or they could try to impose the new style with already-established mainstream stars who had proven they were palatable with the American public. The latter is the path country rap eventually took. Despite the success of “Dirt Road Anthem,” the song had fought an uphill battle on radio itself. Programmers were suspicious of country rap, and artists like Tim McGraw and Blake Shelton who would later release their own country rap songs, were a known quantity and already under contract compared to unproven talent like Bubba Sparxxx or The Lacs.
But 2012 came, and it was mostly quiet on the country rap front from a mainstream standpoint. As Saving Country Music pointed out in the story Mono-Genre Watch: 2012 End-Of-Year Sales,
2012 did not see either a dominant country-rap single, album, or artist. Rap is still asserting itself as an influence in country, but may not be finding the commercial strength it needs to stick. 2012 mono-genre songs like Tim McGrawâs âTruck Yeahâ underperformed to expectations, never cracking Billboardâs Top 10 on the country chart.
But Music Row is notoriously 18 months behind the relevancy cycle. “Dirt Road Anthem” had taken the industry by surprise, and it took over a year for country’s major labels to retool to the new country rap reality. Then by 2013, country rap came out in full force, with virtually all of mainstream country’s big male stars releasing rap/country songs. Reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year Blake Shelton released “Boys ‘Round Here” to a #2 chart showing and double platinum sales. ACM Entertainer of the Year Luke Bryan released country rap “That’s My Kind of Night” that spent a whopping twelve weeks at #1, and was the song to finally depose another country rap-inspired single “Cruise” by upstart Florida Georgia Line that became the longest-running #1 song in the history of country music.
But 2014 has been a different story already. Whereas 2013 seemed to be dominated by country rap singles, 2014 has so far been the story of EDM, or Electronic Dance Music. Though EDM and hip hop can sometimes be mistaken for each other, especially to the country consumer’s ear and because the two disciplines have numerous similarities (use of electronic beats, sampling, and rapping instead of singing in some instances), there are also many clear differences between the two disciplines.
When Jerrod Niemann released his single “Drink To That All Night” in the second half of 2013, country music’s EDM cherry had been popped, and it seemed to be a harbinger for things to come in the country format. Interestingly the single underperformed in most of 2013, but has been creeping up the charts in early 2014, reaching its highest chart ranking in the last week of February. Though the argument can be made that Jerrod Niemann is still rapping instead of singing, “Drink To That All Night” is full of EDM earmarks: the heavily Auto-tuned electronic-sounding vocals, the digitized beats, and most-importantly the emphasis on perfectitude in the music as opposed to the fallibility of a live, traditional band lineup playing real instruments, reinforced in the video of the song that heavily refers to the EDM/dance club culture instead of the country honky tonk.
Many of the lead singles from country music’s big 2014 album releases from male artists lean heavily towards EDM influences, most notably Tim McGraw’s “Lookin’ For That Girl” with it’s heavily-digitized vocal track and electronic beat bed. Rascal Flatt’s “Rewind” incorporates many EDM elements. And Brantley Gilbert, one of the other co-writers of “Dirt Road Anthem,” his latest single “Bottoms Up” sounds much less like a country rap, and more like a country/EDM effort with more melody to the vocals, and the signature electronic drum bed and digitization of instrumentation.
First, don’t count country rap out. There are certainly more country rap singles from big, mainstream country artists in the pipeline that we’re likely to hear in 2014, if they ever go away completely in the more global trend of the formation of a mono-genre. And in the independent realm, acts like The Lacs and Moonshine Bandits are likely to remain sustainable commodities.
But despite a few lucrative singles, country rap was very hit and miss in the mainstream. The aforementioned “Truck Yeah” by Tim McGraw seemed like an unfortunate career move. Jason Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem” followup called “1994″ was a general flop in comparison, stalling in the charts despite a heavy push behind the song. Brad Paisley’s much-ridiculed “Accidental Racist” with LL Cool J wasn’t even released as a single. In the end, mainstream country stars just didn’t make good rappers. Country music is for crooners and twang, and even though these elements are generally lacking in present-day country music anyway, this was the foundation of these singer’s discipline, and rapping never stopped feeling foreign to them, their audience, and most importantly, radio programmers.
EDM on the other hand is a “no experience required” format when it comes to singing. The purposefully heavy Auto-tuned environment allows the performer to simply hit close approximations of the melody the song is built around, and then the studio hands take over from there.
However just like with rap, country music is horrifically late when it comes to the EDM game. The argument that was made during the integration of rap into country is that country music had to evolve. What the people making that argument failed to realize is that rap was already a 30-year-old art form when it made its appearance in country’s mainstream. Similarly, many of the EDM elements we’re seeing in country—especially Auto-tuned lyrics—are already considered outmoded in most other mainstream music.
Similarly, the relevancy arch has moved on in many ways from the heavy electronic sound. An EDM act in Daft Punk dominated the Grammy Awards held in January, and they did so with a live sound. Instead of starting with electronic beats and synthesized hooks, Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories featured live, human instrumentation and vocals with minimal electronic treatment. This was the formula that won them 5 Grammy Awards, including Best Album and Best Record. In the end it is not the EDM elements in country music that make it bad, just like rapping in a country song isn’t something that can be completely ruled out as a valid form of expression if it is done in a fresh, artistic way. It is the poor implementation—the awkwardness of the integration of the two influences, and the submissive pose country takes towards EDM and rap—that makes it so polarizing.
Whether it was country rap in 2013, or EDM influences in 2014, it speaks to a systemic problem with country music that the format deems itself inadequate and feels the need integrate influences from other genres to stay relevant, following instead of leading, and making excuses of why it can still be cool instead of educating the public on country music’s inherent virtues.
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.
- – - – - – - – -
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.
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 StoryâŚ” â Blake Shelton
- “Crash My Party” â Luke Bryan
- “Here’s To The Good Times” â Florida Georgia Line
- “Same Trailer Different Park” â Kacey Musgraves
- “Two Lanes Of Freedom” â 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)” â Gary Allan Songwriters: Gary Allan, Hillary Lindsey, Matthew Warren
- “I Drive Your Truck” â Lee Brice Â Â Songwriters: Jessi Alexander, Connie Harrington, Jimmy Yeary – Winner
- “Mamaâs Broken Heart” â Miranda Lambert Songwriters: Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, Kacey Musgraves
- “Mine Would Be You” â Blake Shelton Songwriters: Jessi Alexander, Connie Harrington, Deric Ruttan
- “Wagon Wheel” â 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” â Blake Shelton Featuring The Pistol Annies
- “Cruise” (Remix) â Florida Georgia Line Featuring Nelly
- “Highway Don’t Care: â Tim McGraw Featuring Taylor Swift & Keith Urban – Winner
- “Wagon Wheel” â Darius Rucker Featuring Lady Antebellum
- “We Were Us” â 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 Akins – 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” â The Band Perry Producer
- “Blowin’ Smoke” â Kacey Musgraves Producer
- “Highway Don’t Care” â Tim McGraw Featuring Taylor Swift & Keith Urban
- “I Drive Your Truck” â Lee Brice Producer: Karen Martin Director: Eric Welch
- “Mama’s Broken Heart” â Miranda Lambert
- “Two Black Cadillacs” â Carrie Underwood
Glam metal band MĂśtley CrĂźe 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 MĂśtley CrĂźe 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 MĂśtley CrĂźe tribute album to be released this summer.
Scott Borchetta was at the press conference announcing the MĂśtley CrĂźe retirement, and proclaimed himself a “not-so-secret” fan of the CrĂźe, saying, “Our album will highlight just how great the MĂśtley CrĂźe song catalog is.”
MĂśtley CrĂźe 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.
THE 56th ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARDS
â˘ When: 7 PM Central, 8 PM Eastern, 5 PM Pacific on CBS.
â˘ Where: The Stapes Center, Los Angeles, CA.
â˘ Host: LL Cool J
THINGS TO WATCH FOR
More Traditional Country Than One Might Expect
â˘ 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.
â˘ 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
â˘ 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.”
â˘ 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.
â˘ 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.
â˘ Hunter Hayes will be performing a brand new anti-bullying single called “Invisible.”
â˘ Taylor Swift is rumored to be performing “All Too Well.”
â˘ Keith Urban will be performing with John Legend in a salute to the Beatles.
â˘ Hunter Hayes, Zac Brown, and Martina McBride will be award presenters.
â˘ 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.
â˘ Kris Kristofferson was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
â˘ Kris Kristofferson‘s first, self-titled album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
â˘ 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 StoryâŚ
- 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, âI Drive Your Truckâ – WinnerÂ
- Hunter Hayes, âI Want Crazyâ
- Miranda Lambert, âMamaâs Broken Heartâ
- Darius Rucker, âWagon Wheelâ – Other potential Winner
- Blake Shelton, âMine Would Be Youâ
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, âFrom This Valleyâ – Other potential Winner
- Kelly Clarkson feat. Vince Gill, âDonât Rushâ
- Little Big Town, âYour Side of the Bedâ
- Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift & Keith Urban, âHighway Donât Careâ – Winner
- Kenny Rogers with Dolly Parton, âYou Canât Make Old Friendsâ – 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, âBegin Againâ
- Lee Brice, âI Drive Your Truckâ – Other potential WinnerÂ
- Miranda Lambert, âMamaâs Broken Heartâ
- Kacey Musgraves, âMerry Go âRoundâ – WinnerÂ
- Blake Shelton, âMine Would Be Youâ
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 â Old Yellow Moon
- Steve Martin & Edie Brickell â Love Has Come For You
- Buddy Miller And Jim Lauderdale â Buddy And Jim
- Mavis Staples â One True Vine
- Allen Toussaint â Songbook
Best Bluegrass Album
- The Boxcars â It’s Just A Road
- Dailey & Vincent â Brothers Of The Highway
- Della Mae â This World Oft Can Be
- James King â Three Chords And The Truth
- Del McCoury Band â The Streets Of Baltimore
Best Folk Album
- Guy Clark â My Favorite Picture Of You
- The Greencards â Sweetheart Of The Sun
- Sarah Jarosz â Build Me Up From Bones
- The Milk Carton Kids â The Ash & Clay
- Various Artists; Chris Strachwitz, producer â 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
Forget about the intended use of Antares flagship software product known as “Auto-Tune” for a second, and how it can make the rising falsetto of prickly-haired Rascal Flatt’s frontman Gary LeVox sound as pure as the wind-driven snow. Almost since the inception of the pitch-correction software, Auto-Tune has been utilized as a vocal effect as well, and one that has become an indelible part of popular music.
The Cher song “Believe” from 1998 was one of the first popular songs that took the Auto-Tune effect and turned it up to the highest degree to where the tone of Cher’s voice sounded computerized, with the notes having clearly-recognizable steps in between them instead of the more rounded, natural tone of the human voice. And Auto-Tune as a popular vocal effect was off to the races. Next thing you know you have artists like rapper T-Pain using Auto-Tune as a primary focus of their sound.
But country music stayed mostly on the sidelines of the Auto-Tune phenomenon….besides of course behind-the-scenes as that unspoken magic little helper to make up for artists that were big on looks but light on talent. Country music has always been seen as the major American genre that is the most wary of the infusion of technology into the format. Electric instruments were once banned from the Grand Ole Opry stage, and even up to a few years ago, synthesized music or other technological sounds were still frowned upon in country, including Auto-Tune as a vocal effect.
But lo and behold, as yet another symptom that popular country music is fresh out of ideas and would rather become subservient to the influences of other genres instead of engaging in a true search for talent among its own ranks, Auto-Tune here in 2014 has reared its ugly head as an accepted element of popular country music songs.
Of course like all new things in country, the injection of Auto-Tune use was subtle and slow. Music Row seems to think that if they try to be sly about it, nobody will notice, and little parts of popular songs started to feature the vocal enhancement here and there in 2013, and some before that. But here in 2014, the Auto-Tune training wheels are off, and you’re not surprised to hear it in just about any new single from a popular country music artist.
One of the most gross offenses is in the recent single from Jerrod Niemann called “Drink To That All Night.” Though the song hasn’t been a huge commercial or chart-topping success so far, when it came out you could tell it would be a game changer in the way it went in an EDM/Auto-Tuned direction unlike any other song from an established country artist before, pushing the boundaries of what would be acceptable in country. And then last week we heard a new Tim McGraw single called “That Girl” which feels like the big coming out party for Auto-Tune in country music, featuring the vocal effect unfettered and full blast throughout the entire song.
But the alarming thing about the impending country music Auto-Tune phenomenon is not necessarily the use of the technology itself, but how it is yet another symptom of the underlying disease gripping country music of being so demonstrably behind the curve. Country music is constantly feeling like it has to apologize for itself, and to prove to the rest of the world that it can be cool and hip too. With this mentality, country never leads, it follows, waiving its little hand at the side of the popular music stage saying, “Hey, we’re here also! And we can use Auto-Tune too! We’re not just hayseeds!”
The problem is, the use of Auto-Tune in 2014 as a vocal effect actually proves just how lame and behind-the-times country music is. Auto-tune isn’t making country music hip, it’s proving it’s unhip and completely behind-the-curve.
Over the last few years, the trend of country rap emerged in the country genre, with artists and labels insisting that country music must evolve to stay relevant. But what these artists and labels failed to understand that there was nothing current and relevant about rap any more than any other genre. Rap is a 30-year-old art form whose origins go back even farther than that.
With Auto-tune, it’s a similar paradox. Using Auto-Tune was cutting edge when Cher did it in 1998. In the mid-2000′s, Auto-Tune enjoyed the height of its popularity. But today? Today, though the use of Auto-Tune can still be heard in some pop and hip hop songs from artists like Future, it is generally old hat, outmoded, even lampooned and admonished, and T-Pain is the laughing stock in many sectors of the hip hop community. T-Pain is seen as a one-trick gimmick, and it’s expressly because of his Auto-Tune use.
In June of 2009—a good 4 1/2 years ago— hip hop artist Jay Z released a song called “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune).” He was inspired to write the song because he felt the use of Auto-Tune had become a crutch for many artists, and a gimmick. The tipping point was when he saw it used in a Wendy’s commercial….again, nearly half a decade ago. Jay-Z said the point ofÂ “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)” was to “draw a line in the sand.”
The song went on to be called the best song in 2009 by MTV. Did the use of Auto-Tune die by Jay Z’s decree? No, of course it didn’t. But its use was arguably already in decline when the song was released and it has continued to be in decline….until country music found it in the forgotten dust heap of relevancy, brushed it off, and started implementing it en masse as an element of its misguided “evolution.”
Country music doesn’t need to adopt Auto-Tuned vocals to be relevant, it needs to find its own new wrinkle, its own game-changing element that makes other genres look at it and want to incorporate it into their formats. By using Auto-Tune, country music is not leading or evolving. It’s not even following. It’s proving once again how it’s falling behind.
What kind of fresh hell has Tim McGraw unearthed here? Apparently the once high-flying country star has been inadvertently inoculating himself with inebriating bronzer agents from his incessant chemical tan treatments that have now seeped into his blood stream. And combined with an undiagnosed eating disorder that has rendered McGraw’s figure to that of a 55-year-old Venice beach female body builder succumbing to a lifetime of melanoma, Tim has robbed precious nutrients from his gray matter, stupefying him into such an absolute scientifically-infallible vacuum and void of self-awareness that physicists want to employ it to see if it is the ultimate key to tabletop fusion. “Lookin’ For That Girl” isn’t a cry for relevancy, it is a barbaric yawp, a banshee scream, a cacophonous ode to the onset of monoculture and wholesale mediocrity.
The lyrics of “Lookin’ For That Girl” read like a “How To” manual to date rape, which is similar to how this song maliciously violates your earholes with such unwanted and violently barbed penetrations that you find yourself overwhelmed with such desperate loathing for your situation you pray for nothing less than the sweet release of death itself.That girl, she’s a party all nighter A little Funky Cold Medina, little strawberry winer That girl, She’s a love gunslinger Neon Jager-bomb country okie singer Â That girl she’s a sugar sweet drive by Hold my dreams in her blue jeans, oh my Yellow hammer south Georgia Mississippi chick Trick cherry wine, Louisiana lipstick
Though this song is supposed to be urban and hip, it comes across as the cries of an introverted internet masturbator who never matured past a middle school mentality. Funky Cold Medina? “Hold my dream in her blue jeans, oh my!” are you fucking kidding me? This song makes me hate sex, and is simply a smattering of ultra-stereotypical urbanisms chased by countryisms trying to apologize for itself and accomplish the widest possible splash zone of victimhood with its catchy pap like when a hippo turns his hind quarters towards the herd and scats the hell out of anything and everything aided by a helicoptering tail.
The icing on this urine-drenched urinal cake topped with cigarette butts, spent gum, and used inside-out prophylactics oozing their venereal slurry out on the diarrhea-infested floor is the fact that through the entire drum machine-driven song Tim McGraw is singing through an Auto-tune filter turned to 11. T-Pain, eat your top hat-wearing heart out. I’ve been saying for years now that Tim McGraw is more machine than man, but not even I could have predicted this unmitigated rejection and headlong flight from anything analog or authentic. Hell, why do we even need a human to sing this fucking song? We should just have one of those iRobot floor cleaners sing it. At least that way it would be on hand to swab up the hurl this monstrosity will invariably evoke from enlightened music listener’s disgruntled guts. And like an iRobot incidentally, “Lookin’ For That Girl” will also freak the everliving shit out of your dog.
What made Tim McGraw one of the greatest country music performers for a generation wasn’t his singing necessarily, though he’s a gifted and inspired vocalist without question. It wasn’t his songwriting. And it wasn’t his unique or creative approach to performance. It’s that Tim McGraw could somehow out of the massive crush of song material every artist must sift through, select the very best compositions that would invariably become the soundtrack to so many people’s poignant, life-changing moments. “Don’t Take The Girl,” “Live Like You Were Dying”—these songs inspired millions, and spoke straight to the heart of people looking for meaning and solace in the desperate throes of human emotional frailty. And now we get “Truck Yeah,” and “Lookin’ For That Girl” that makes a two-time Country Music Association Male Vocalist of the Year sound like Stephen Hawking reciting middle school sex ramblings.
The worst country song ever? I’d add the addendum that since there’s really nothing here that is even remotely close to “country”, ingratiating it by calling it the worst “country” song might be inadvertent flattery. And also, we are so early in 2014, this may be an unfortunate signifier of where we’re headed and could be toppled at any moment. But except for these qualifying points, sure, let’s sleep on the idea for a little bit, but I won’t put my dukes up against anyone who would assert that Tim McGraw’s “Lookin’ For That Girl” is the worst song in the history of country music.
You’re 46-years-fucking-old Tim McGraw.
Two guns way down!
- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -
- Trigger on Song Review – “The Trailer Song” By Kacey Musgraves
- Trigger on Song Review – “The Trailer Song” By Kacey Musgraves
- Rob on New Hank Williams “I Saw The Light” Biopic Coming
- Richard on Song Review – “The Trailer Song” By Kacey Musgraves
- Okey on Song Review – “The Trailer Song” By Kacey Musgraves