MCA Nashville Replacing Curb Records as the Scourge of Music Row


Are you waiting for your favorite music artists signed to MCA Nashville to release an album after a prolonged hiatus? Perhaps you heard the first single months or sometimes years ago, but still no record? Well you’re not alone.

It looks like the unenviable position of being the most notorious label on Music Row is no longer a slam dunk for Curb Records, whose run ins and endless delays with projects from LeAnn Rimes, Hank Williams III, Hank Williams Jr., and most notably Tim McGraw made the label the laughing stock of the industry for many years. It got so bad at Curb they became afraid of their own shadows and had no idea what they were doing with their roster, delaying the release of records sometimes for half decade intervals for no good reason and gumming up Nashville courts with needless litigation. The only reason the offenses of Curb have stopped capturing headlines is because eventually almost everyone left the label. We’re still hoping Mo Pitney doesn’t end up getting jobbed, while Curb seems to be betting their entire future on Lee Brice because he’s the only marketable name still left under contract.

But now Curb Records has a rival for lowest label on the country music totem pole. MCA Nashville, an imprint of Universal Music Group Nashville, has so successfully trainwrecked so many once promising and once legendary country music careers, it’s a wonder their doors are still open. Just like Curb, the upcoming albums from artists seem to be stuck in endless delays or indefinite hiatuses, while terrible debut singles that have tanked on the charts, and even the projects that are being released are the result of weird circumstances and poor promotion.

Ironically, MCA Nashville’s failing strategy with artists may be the result of the label’s most successful one: Sam Hunt. Watching how the EDM / R&B star has swept over country, MCA has apparently decided that the rest of the roster should follow suit in a similar sonic direction. The result has been terrible career decisions and failed singles. Though MCA Nashville is the one responsible for deciding what singles to release and then promoting them to radio, it’s the artists who are being penalized after the lead singles crash.

Let’s run down the MCA Nashville roster to try and attempt to determine what the hell is going on.

Gary Allan – Album Delayed Indefinitely

gary-allanGary tried running with the young dogs when he released a new R&B-inspired single in March of 2015 called “Hangover Tonight.” However the single couldn’t crack the Top 40 on country radio, and came in at an embarrassing #49 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. Whose idea was “Hangover Tonight”? Was it Gary Allan’s who once called out Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood for their un-country-ness? Or was it MCA Nashville’s? Remember, this is the same label that also launched Sam Hunt. But the next question is, where is the album that “Hangover Tonight” was released from?

Gary Allan told a reporter during CMA Fan Fest in early June of 2015 “Hopefully at the end of the summer,” about when fans might expect the new album. “I turned it in like two months ago. I did my work. All they have to do is give it to you.” Another feature from March in Rolling Stone said the new album would be out “later this year [2015].” Well here it is 2016, and still no album.

Then in October, Allan alluded to AZ Central that the hold up was from the label trying to decide what direction to go with a new single. “I turned it in and they’re trying to decide which single to add next, ‘cause there are a few directions on there. The album is kind of all over the place. There’s two more to go that I wrote that are kind of this Motown vibe, kind of funky. And there’s the real traditional stuff that I’ve done. I think my favorite stuff, there’s a song on there called “Mess Me Up” that I really love and a song on there called “High as I’ve Ever Been” and a song called “Drinkin’ About You.” So I don’t know which way they’ll go.”

Apparently Gary’s label MCA Nashville doesn’t know either.

Josh Turner – Album Delayed Indefinitely

josh-turnerJosh Turner released what was supposed to be the debut single from his new album all the way back on September 15th of 2014 called “Lay Low,” which stalled in the charts at #25. A private listening party was even held for his new record on November 3rd of 2014. At that time, the idea was the new album would be released in early 2015. However here it is early 2016, and there’s still no release date or word on when the new album may be coming out.

In September of 2015, Josh Turner said, “I’ve been working on this record for about 60 years now, it seems like anyway. Nobody is more ready to get it out there than me. We’re hopefully going to have a new single out in the next month or two, and hopefully we’ll get it out sooner than later. I’ve been going back in, making some last-minute changes and making sure everything is right.”

Then in December, Turner told the Albuquerque Journal, “If it were up to me, I would have had an album out in 2013. There have been a lot of business issues that have popped up and I’m just pushing forward. The new music is there and I want to get it out to my fans ”¦ The fans have been pretty anxious. Then I have to remind them that this is a business and there are a lot of things that I can’t control.”

And still no word on Josh Turner’s release.

David Nail – Album Delayed Indefinitely

david-nailIt’s not just established country artists with strong careers and tough standards to uphold whose album releases seem to be delayed with MCA. At one point David Nail was one of the most promising prospects in country music. As one of the few artists who could bridge the gap between critical praise and commercial success, a consensus was building behind the the Missouri native as a representative of where to take mainstream country in the future.

And then like so many of his MCA Nashville compadres, he released a single that stalled outside of the 30’s on the charts, and his entire career appears to be in limbo. “Night’s On Fire” was released on July 20th, 2015, and the only way you would know it was David Nail and not Sam Hunt is if someone expressly told you. Just like Gary Allan’s “Hangover Tonight,” “Night’s On Fire” was a total play to piggy-back off the Sam Hunt trend, and it totally failed at radio.

“Nights On Fire” was supposed to be the first single off an already-named album from David Nail called Fighter, but so far there’s no release date some six months past when the first single hit the streets. Now the career of one of country’s most promising up-and-coming stars appears to be in limbo.

Kip Moore – ‘Wild Ones’ Finally Released After Stalled Singles / Many Delays / Shelved Album

kip-moore-wild-onesIf you want to know what’s happening to the new albums from Gary Allan, David Nail, and Josh Turner, the MCA Nashville-singed Kip Moore told us in as many words at the end of 2014. MCA decided to completely shelve an album that was already finished by Kip after the first two singles—“Young Love” and “Dirt Road”—failed to show any serious promise. Remember, these are singles that MCA Nashville chose and was tasked to promote to radio themselves, but it was Kip who paid the price for their failure.

In late 2014, Kip told the Macomb Daily,

“Sometimes life hands you a card that you might not have wanted, and you’ve got to learn how to play that card. I have a lot of fans who are mad about it taking this long. But we still need that big single to get up the charts in order for (the record company) to release the album. So when ‘Dirt Road’ stalled out, we had to regroup. We had to regroup and come up with something else. There was a lot of disagreeing in certain things, and I can be very bullheaded, too. But in the end we all agreed on what’s the best way to move forward.”

Both “Young Love” and “Dirt Road” stalled outside the Top 20 on country radio. “Dirt Road” couldn’t make it past #44.

Eventually, Kip’s album Wild Ones was released on August 21st, 2015, but only after years of delay. Meanwhile, an entirely different album that Kip worked on and completed sits on a shelf at MCA, and his new single from the new album “I’m To Blame” didn’t fare much better, though it did come in at #20 on the airplay charts.

George Strait – Strange Release for ‘Cold Beer Conversation’

george-strait-cold-beer-conversationGeorge appears to be one of the lucky ones, but maybe that’s because he’s spent an entire career building up so much street cred and momentum, MCA Nashville doesn’t dare mess with the King. But that doesn’t mean Strait has been spared from the label’s very strange album release practices. Remember how the news dropped about George’s latest record, Cold Beer Conversation? He came out at a press conference to announce some shows in Las Vegas, and then almost as an aside was like, “Oh, by the way, we’re dropping a new album on Friday.” George made the announcement on Tuesday, September 22nd, for a record that was released three days later on the 25th, and as an exclusive to Wal-Mart. The single “Let It Go” was also rushed to radio where it died quickly, and the single “Cold Beer Conversation” didn’t fare any better.

The semi-surprise George Strait album didn’t hit #1 upon it’s debut like most every George Strait album does, though it did eek out a #1 the 2nd week with a meager 30,000 albums sold on a dead week for releases. But the lack of a promotional cycle ahead of the release clearly hurt Cold Beer Conversation, at least in the short term.

Vince Gill – Five Years Between Original Album Releases

Just like with George Strait, Vince Gill appears to be shown a little more respect from MCA Nashville due to his status as a legend, or perhaps because there much less of a likelihood he’ll agree to go trend chasing after Sam Hunt. However, there was a six year hiatus between the release of his last original album, 2011’s Guitar Slinger, and his upcoming album Down To My Last Bad Habit scheduled to be released on February 12th. Gill also released the tribute album Bakersfield with Paul Franklin in 2013. There was no indication of a problem with MCA Nashville, but it is very Curb Records-esque to let such a long time lapse between new releases.

Clare Dunn

The only female of the MCA Nashville roster, Clare signed with the label in November of 2014 to begin work on her debut album. In August of 2015, MCA released a debut single called “Move On,” and it stalled at #45 on the charts. MCA Nashville also released a self-titled EP (instead of a full-length) on September 18th, 2015—a regular play for up-and-coming female artists these days. It remains to be seen what happens with Clare’s career, but give MCA Nashville’s track record with promoting singles and moving careers forward, it’s not looking good.

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