As we continue to ponder what country radio might look like after the impending implosion of iHeartMedia and corporate radio as we know it, some very interesting developments emerged on the country radio charts this week.
William Michael Morgan
Country music is not just a commodity or even a form artistic expression. It is an integral part of people’s lives and has been the foundation for their cultural identities for generations. It’s what binds them to their homes and ancestry, and is interwoven into the very fabric of who they are as people.
Andrew Dorff was the kind of mainstream country music songwriter Nashville needed more of—someone who wrote the sleeper hits of surprising depth and humanity compared to most radio singles, and the solid album cuts from mainstream artists you may otherwise write off.
If 90% of mainstream country music is garbage, then it stands to reason that 10% of it is at least decent, if not good or great. That calculus hasn’t really changed much recently, even as mainstream country has improved. What has changed is that 10% is actually finding traction on radio, at awards shows, and is making fierce inroads into the 90%’s monopoly.
Though Stapleton may fall short of the touring numbers of names like Luke Bryan, or may not have the airplay of Florida Georgia Line, the incredible performance of his debut album ‘Traveller’ has put him in unprecedented territory, while still putting up a decent showing in touring and track sales too.
What’s going “outta style” is Bro-Country and songs that chase trends, while traditional country has once again proved to be the timeless influence in country music that always comes back to the forefront. This should bode well for an artist like Aaron Watson if he sticks to what he does best.
When Saving Country Music started in 2009, the biggest artist in country music was Taylor Swift. Now, it’s arguably Chris Stapleton. Independent artists are finding support like never before, allowing them to be able to completely sidestep the pitfalls of the mainstream industry and still have sustainable, and in many cases, very successful careers.
One of the reasons we feel so surprised at Americana’s success and so many have been so slow to recognize it is because it has been a slow and steady process. Because of Americana’s model of sustainability, the revolution has been plodding, yet purposeful. And now it’s success is palpable, and measurable by industry-standard metrics.
In January of 2016, Saving Country Music published an article explaining how 2016 Could Be 1975 All Over Again in country music—how an upsurge in more traditional and substantive talent and music could really take hold in country, from the independent realm to the mainstream. And that is exactly what we’ve seen as 2016 has progressed.
With absolutely no hyperbole intended, William Michael Morgan earning a #1 on country radio for his debut single “I Met A Girl” is a historic moment in country music. It’s a point in time when an undeniably traditional country song from an undeniably traditional country artist has topped the chart after a long vacancy for a traditionalist at the top spot.
This is it folks. Without qualifiers, caveats, or commercial dalliances outside of his tightly-knit traditional-leaning comfort zone, William Michael Morgan has released a country record that is quality cover to cover, true country at every turn, and most importantly, one that might actually pique the interest of the masses as its lead single eyes a top spot in the charts.
Hell I thought that George Strait had retired. Maybe a new day is dawning in country, because listening to William Michael Morgan’s “Missing” immediately gets you swaying, singing along, and settling into a good mood whether you can go missing yourself, or you’re stuck at work or in traffic and wish you could.
“I can’t believe it’s already about this time for me,” William Michael Morgan said. “Right now we’re sitting at about 11 songs that’s gonna be on the album. That could change, but it’s all country, true to the EP of course, and I just can’t wait to share this with you guys. We’ve been working so hard to try and find and write to get these songs out to the public.”
Finally we get some forward movement on one of the most anticipated mainstream traditional albums in a good while. Curb Records-signed singer and songwriter Mo Pitney will release his debut album ‘Behind This Guitar’ featuring 10 of 12 co-written songs by Pitney himself, and contributions from folks we though the rest of Nashville had forgotten.
Once again the success of California Sunrise demonstrates that traditional country fans are more likely to vote with their dollars and support their favorite artists compared to many mainstream performers. Jon Pardi has also been helped with the continued success of the album’s first single “Head Over Boots.”
A big issue with the Grand Ole Opry in recent years has been trying to get standing members to meet their performance obligations. Though the Opry loves to add high-profile names from country’s current radio stars, these performers tend to sign on to receive the distinction of being Opry members, but don’t actually want to play the appointed number of slots for membership.
"Cousin" Kenny Vaughan, Brandy Clark, Carrie Underwood, Chris Janson, Chris Scruggs, Chris Stapleton, Daryle Singletary, Elizabeth Cook, EmiSunshine, Gene Watson, Grand Ole Opry, Holly Williams, Jamey Johnson, Jim Lauderdale, Kacey Musgraves, Kellie Pickler, Mark Chesnutt, Miranda Lambert, Mo Pitney, Radney Foster, Rhonda Vincent, Rodney Crowell, Rosanne Cash, Sam Bush, William Michael Morgan
If traditional-sounding country is ever going to return to the mainstream, it’s going to take young artists signed to major labels with the courage to adhere to their values and not compromise their sound in the face of the pressures and obligations that mainstream outlets put on them. Others may open the doors, but it will be up to artists like William Michael Morgan to step through.
Three of the most promising male artists in the mainstream are William Michael Morgan, Jon Pardi, and Mo Pitney. If there’s a traditional country insurgency looming in the wings, it might be carried on their backs. But with so many albums getting delayed, the big question was if any of them would see a proper album release, or be stuck in limbo like so many other artists. Luckily, there’s been some movement.
Quietly, stealthily, some of country music’s major labels are starting to retool with very young, and very country performing talent. Whether they’re hedging their bets, or hoping for a hard country resurgence, Mo Pitney is not just an anomaly anymore, he is one of a number of traditional-leaning performers being groomed for what may be the next big movement in country after the current R&B disco craze invariably crashes.