Posts Tagged ‘music’

That doesn’t sound quite right.

August 15, 2014

From a comment at Saving Country Music:

I can’t tell you how many people discount the opinions of younger listeners just because they had the misfortune of being born after everything supposedly went to hell for music. This, I’d say, is the crux of the “country music must evolve” argument from the mainstream: acting like the only “real” country music available stopped getting made 30 years ago in the mainstream is what causes people to backpedal the other way.

Do those younger people’s opinions get dismissed just because of their age? Or do they get dismissed because they think that everything before Garth and Shania is just “tired old stuff” (as one Hot New Country station in Houston put it back in the late 1990s) and thus no good? Based on what I’ve seen, I can’t help but think it’s the latter; you can look at Farce the Music’s recurring “Country Twitterfail” feature for perfect examples of this.

And why should these people be taken seriously? One of the defining features of country music is its reverence for its roots and heritage — respect for those who came before, if you want to put it like that. You listen to the likes of Florida-Georgia Line and Luke Bryan and none of that reverence is evident in their music; country’s just a label to them, not a genre with a history that commands and deserves respect.

And sure, country music has to evolve. If it didn’t it would become more or less a historical artifact of American culture, much like, say, jazz music. But how does that argument justify, for example, Jason Aldean being the mainstream star and getting the radio airplay instead of Jason Boland? Which song is the better representation of country music — “Burnin’ it Down” or “Ludlow”? I know my answer, and I bet you know my answer too.

And here we are, ten years later….

August 5, 2014

The musical protest song has a long and storied history in country music, as the traditional-pop cycles have gone on through the years, going back at least to 1975 and “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way.” They come about every few years still, even now as new duo Maddie and Tae are making a splash with their debut single “Girl In A Country Song.” While songs like “Girl…” have their place (and make no mistake, lyrically speaking, the tune is absolutely brilliant), I’ve always thought a protest song works a lot better when it decries what seem to be longer-term trends. “Murder on Music Row” was one, and the song featured below is another.

“Hank Williams Wouldn’t Make It Now In Nashville, Tennessee” was written by Aaron Wynne, steel guitar player for Texas country band Eleven Hundred Springs, and originally recorded by that band on their 2004 album Bandwagon:

“What happened to the music I loved so long ago? It seems it’s been forgotten on our country radio, where steel guitar and fiddle have become a novelty. What I’d give to make things like the way they used to be.”

The song also showed up later that year as the opening song on Jason Boland and the Stragglers’ Somewhere in the Middle; it was Boland’s version that I first heard, but both of them are great:

To hear that song, you’d never guess that it had been recorded when it was. Seems even more timely and relevant now, and that really is a damned shame.

Sometimes the jokes just write themselves.

July 28, 2014

This is one of those times:

A total of 55 arrests and 46 medical incidents, including 22 people transported to hospitals, marred a Keith Urban concert event in Mansfield, Massachusetts Saturday (7-26) night at the Xfinity Center as part of his “Raise ‘Em Up” tour….

The Mansfield Police Department said many individuals became ill at the Keith Urban concert due to excessive alcohol consumption.

Like I said elsewhere, somehow it fits, because under the influence is just about the only way one could possibly enjoy Urban’s special brand of elevator music. On the other hand, I could probably go to a Keith Urban show blasted out of my mind on 200 proof pure grain alcohol and still find myriad things wrong with it.

Of course, the Urban fans showed up in the comments to defend their hero as, among other things, “an exceptional guitar player and singer-songwriter.”

And I’m like, y’know, what the hell ever. Maybe I am biased because of the fact that what I’ve heard from Keith Urban is pretty much the musical equivalent of mystery meat casserole — it’s a little bit of everything, which translates to a whole lot of nothing, or elevator music if you like — but it strikes me that, just as the case is with Brad Paisley, whatever talent Urban allegedly possesses is blown up all out of proportion to justify his place in country music.  It seems like that’s always the direction the conversation goes:

“Keith Urban sucks.”

“Nuh-uh! He’s a great guitar player!”

You know who else is a great guitar player? Eddie Van Halen. Does that make him country?

In all seriousness, Keith Urban’s guitar skills would actually mean something if he was just playing guitar as opposed to trying to be a star in his own right. But that’s not what he’s doing, so here we are. And I’m just not seeing it. He’s an at-best competent vocalist and songwriter who doesn’t give a shit about country music beyond his ability to make money marketing his music as that, which more or less renders the whole guitar thing moot. It’s just the strangest thing. Country music has no shortage of talented instrumentalists — Jerry Reed, Steve Wariner, Ricky Skaggs, Marty Stuart, Keith Whitley, and the list goes on.

And none of them ever had to have their place in country music justified by their instrumental talents. There’s a reason for that.

Empowerment? Or a huge step backward?

July 22, 2014

Such is the question that this brings up:

If you turn Maggie Rose’s new single, “Girl in Your Truck Song” into a drinking game — taking a swig every time she name-checks a so-called “bro country” song — you’ll likely be pretty buzzed by the end of the first chorus.

“I can be the girl in your truck song/The one that makes you sing along/Makes you wanna cruise/Drink a little moonshine down/Leave a couple tattoos on this town/Chillin’ out with a cold beer/Yeah, hangin’ with the boys round here/Gonna take a little ride/That’s my kind of night/You and me getting our shine on/I wanna be the girl in your truck song.”

Well. you probably already know my answer to this, I bet. I don’t even know where to start, but to say that the whole thing leaves me rather aghast, not least of all because of Maggie Rose’s attitude:

“I like what’s happening in country music right now. There is a place for women, if we just find our niche. Don’t fight it; embrace it…I want to be a big player in country music, and this is the kind of music people are gravitating towards.”

Because that’s just what country music needs, yet another trend-follower, amirite? And is it the kind of music people are gravitating towards? Or is Trigger right when he says that we’re at the point that the bro-country trend has peaked and we’re now at the point of working through excess inventory of bro-country to make way for the next big thing? I don’t know, but either way I am more than a bit appalled that she seems to be embracing this sort of thing, as much as its been justly derided for reducing women to little more than arm candy.

Just as disturbing, though, are perspectives like this:

Male critics, justified are (sic) not, have been taking a very obviously paternalistic approach to the subgenre. They’re protecting women who aren’t asking for protection.

What the fuck does one even say to that? We just can’t win here. If we speak up against this crap we get accused as paternalistic by one side, yet if we don’t we get accused by the other side of promoting rape culture. Frankly, I don’t see why it’s so “paternalistic” for us to want our mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters to aspire to more than what they’re portrayed as in the bro-country trash. The women may not be asking for protection, but there are still those out there who feel they’re being degraded by the bro-country movement, and with all the mentions of sugar shakers, Dixie cups, fine asses and whatnot, it’s pretty easy to understand why. I am always hesitant to talk about any kind of silent majority when it comes to any given issue, but just the same I have to wonder just how many women out there take offense to bro-country because of its portrayal of women — and how many of those women have just given up on mainstream country music because of it. Are we being paternalistic? Maybe it does depend on who’s being asked. I don’t know.

But if we’re wanting our women to be empowered, what would be the better anthem for that? “Girl in Your Truck Song,” or Kacey Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow”?


Really, though, we can go round and round all day long about being paternalistic vs. wanting our women to be portrayed as more than just truck accessories, as a couple of commenters at SCM so astutely put it, but there’s so much more wrong with the bro-country movement than that — specifically, that it not only makes women one-dimensional, but it also makes life that way. The bro-country movement seems to discount everything else that country music is about — it reduces our existence to one big party. Life’s not a party for a bunch of folks at all, let alone constantly. Like I’ve said before, there’s nothing wrong with singing about drinking around a bonfire and whatnot, but there’s more to life than that, and there ought to be more to country music than that. And not so long ago, there WAS more to country music than that. So even if some people are fine with just being arm candy for some redneck, is it still a good place for the genre to be going or to be stuck in? I certainly don’t think so.

Thursday music musings, 26.6.14

June 26, 2014

…because I hate using my best stuff at an away game, as Tamara might say…

I don’t really understand why Jerrod Niemann’s “Donkey” would reignite any kind of stereotype. After all, pretty much everyone anymore has been pushing the sonic and lyrical elements of that song as a natural evolution of country music, and radio programmers seemingly have been all too happy to go along with it. Why did “Donkey” cross the line but “Drink To That All Night” not cross the line? I mean, really. After Chase Rice and “getcha little fine ass on the step shimmy up inside,” I didn’t think there was anything “country” radio wouldn’t play, even if they did edit that particular line.

And yeah, Willie Nelson did indeed get airplay for years, as did George Strait, but it’s still disheartening to see them pushed aside for the flavor of the month — and even more so to see the likes of Jason Boland and Sturgill Simpson toil in relative obscurity while hacks like Niemann and Florida-Georgia Line get the recognition as the faces of the genre to the mainstream.


Speaking of Florida-Georgia Line, there was this comment a little bit further down:

Florida Georgia Line’s next single is supposed to be “not bro-country.” If that’s true, it is a smart move on their part to get out of the bubble before it deflates (if that is actually what’s happening.)

Is it, though? I mean, it seems to me those guys are nothing if not all about the image. You take that away and they have absolutely nothing to offer music fans of discerning taste. Even if they put out something ostensibly of substance (as was attempted with “Stay”), Tyler Hubbard is still a barely-serviceable vocalist, and probably not much better as a songwriter. Granted, I’m just going off what he’s mouthed off about in the country music press here, but I can’t see him or his partner coming up with something anywhere near the level of “Ain’t No God in Mexico,” “Mama Tried,” or even “The Chair.”

Monday music musings, 23.6.14

June 23, 2014

Well, this is interesting:

One of the problems is writers tend to follow the trend. And that’s what’s happening right now with this so-called bro-country, party-country stuff. All the writers are jumping on that bandwagon, and I’m trying to encourage the writers, “OK I know that’s what’s going on right now, but we have to get ahead of that. We need to figure out what’s gonna set the trend, not follow the trend.” When I do get that stuff and I take it in to the record companies or play it for the producers or for an artist, the comment I get from them is, “We’ve already kind of got that. We need something different from that.” So again, trying to get the writers to understand, to come up with something different and unique and fresh is just an ongoing battle.

But wait! Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley told us that this stuff was fresh and real! I don’t know who this Sherrill Blackman person is, but he’s obviously not hip to the fact that country music is evolving and it’s not your grandfather’s music anymore! People don’t live real lives anymore! They don’t go to work every morning, home to their families every night or any of that! They don’t deal with aging, death, or any of that sad old fogey stuff! Life’s one big PARTY now, for everyone! Dude needs to get with the tiiiimes…


Oh, burn!

(Keith) Urban is an intelligent man, a genuine music fan and musician who, when you speak with him or hear him talk, doesn’t fake it. So how can he consistently sing the cavalcade of cliches which infest every corner of his lyrics and rob every single song of whatever genuine feeling it’s meant to be faking?

Good question. But when you think about it, it’s not that hard to answer. When he’s talking about country music, at least, Keith Urban might sound smart, but as you well know if you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, virtually none of his arguments hold up beyond even the most cursory of examinations. Of course, it doesn’t help him that he makes the same argument over and over about countrypolitan, the Nashville Sound, etc. in the context of country music’s supposed “evolution.” But if he was as smart as he can ostensibly manage to make people think he is, this wouldn’t be happening.

All of those weak arguments, of course, aren’t meant to do anything but counter people’s arguments that Urban himself isn’t that country, if indeed he’s country at all. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: he has absolutely no sense of musical identity. He claims to be influenced by all these different genres, and I suppose he is — but past a certain point, which Urban passed a long time ago, it all gets to sounding like, for lack of a better term, elevator music, with no personality and no soul.

Now, how he gets up there and sings that tripe night after night as if he actually believes in it, I really couldn’t tell you. I’m still trying to figure that one out. Maybe Keith Urban has no personality or soul himself.


Thomas Rhett needs to just go the fuck away. Sort of like disco did go away. And that’s really all I have to say about that. Seriously, it’s like I have this line from “Hank” (recorded by Jason Boland and the Stragglers and Eleven Hundred Springs) running through my head on a continuous loop anymore:

“Gram Parsons used to sing about the streets of Baltimore. But honest words and simple rhymes don’t sell much anymore.”

Speaking of which, I didn’t hear GP’s version of that song for years. I think Bobby Bare has the more famous recording, but I think I actually like Parsons’ version better.

(h/t Country California)

Tuesday music musings, 17.6.14

June 17, 2014

I wonder if Eric Church even realizes that he contradicts himself from one sentence to the next here:

The stigma with country is it’s not cool. That’s wrong. Country is very cool. I look at award shows, I look at how country is represented. Country is represented with an asterisk. We have to perform collaborations. We have to perform a tribute. We can’t perform by ourselves.

I mean, really? He says country is cool, but then he presents all the evidence that it isn’t perceived as such? And then he bounces back and talks about how much it sells? Okay then…

Beyond that, why should any self-respecting music fan give a damn about what’s cool and what isn’t, anyway? This whole “keeping up with the Joneses” thing is what’s gotten mainstream country music in its sorry shape in the first place!

And you know this is just one more reason that I have to point and laugh at anyone who tries to portray Eric Church as some kind of modern-day Outlaw or general badass, right? Do you think Jason Boland gives a flying shit about what’s cool and what isn’t? Do you think George Strait does? Do you think Waylon did?

You bet your ass those are rhetorical questions. And you know the answer to them as well as I do.


Next up, straw man alert from Jerrod Niemann!

People think if we go and mix other types of stuff it’s ruining it or it’s going to end something, but it all goes in phases, it all changes. I really had to evolve a lot in my mind as a music fan to understand certain things, and if you sit there and try to [sound] like Johnny Cash, and Waylon and Willie, you’re not going to go anywhere, because that’s what made them so great. They can’t be replicated.

Ahem. Yet again, no one’s raising hell about modern mainstream “country” singers not sounding like the artists of old. Nobody tried to replicate Waylon or Willie. Or George or Merle, for that matter. They took the influences of those singers and incorporated it into their own sounds. What we’re raising hell about is the fact that we’re not seeing that anymore, that these people seem to be taking their cues not from the likes of George Strait and Alan Jackson, but from people like Pitbull and Nelly — in other words, yet again, that what we’re seeing is not the evolution of country music, but the gutting of it and its replacement with something completely alien to the spirit of the genre. Hell, Eric Church has straight up told people that he didn’t grow up listening to country music — and he’s allegedly one of the better guys on the scene now! (I say “allegedly” because I’ve seen people allege it, but I’m just not hearing it.)

And way to imply that music fans who reject this crap are not “evolved,” jackass! Way to convert people to your position there!


And when I say that “what we’re seeing is not the evolution of country music, but the gutting of it and its replacement with something completely alien to the spirit of the genre,” this right here is exactly, dead-nuts-on, what I am talking about:

With the bro-country stuff, it’s more of a hip-hop tempo. They are kinda like rock songs. You throw your 808 [drum machine] underneath it, and some loops and stuff, add the hip-hop EDM influence to it. You replace that live bass with a synth bass. Next thing you know, it just sounds more exciting than a quote unquote band.

…the hell is this? I mean, if dance music is your thing then more power to you, but…no. Just, no. The only way this even works is if by “more exciting,” Mr. Bertoldo means, “more manufactured and soulless,” but we all know that’s not what he means. What he’s saying is that all of this electronic deejay bullshit is better than a guy backed up by a real band and that it’s better that the folks backed up by the real bands get phased out in favor of this. If you’re wondering why fans of Real Country Music get so defensive anymore when people talk about incorporating other influences into the genre, well, here’s your answer.

(h/t Country California)

Yet more Nashville provincialism.

June 9, 2014

This time, it’s from Peter Cooper of the Nashville Tennessean!

If you’re listening to anything you don’t enjoy, listen to something else. We have greater quality, quantity and variety of country music available to us today in Nashville than anyone has ever had, anyplace, anywhere.

Yeah, and? What about the rest of the country? I guess we’re all just shit out of luck, eh, Pete? I swear, the only place you’ll find more provincial media figures is in Washington D.C. or New York City.

Sabra’s been over all this before, but it deserves to be pointed out again: just because there are people playing good live music and things like satellite radio and Internet streaming doesn’t mean much, since terrestrial radio is pretty much it for a good portion of the population for myriad reasons. Furthermore, with all the radio consolidation and tightening of radio playlists, the choices readily available to your average music listener on said radio are getting smaller and smaller. And even with all these other choices, the fact of the matter is that once upon a time we could find great music on the radio all over the country instead of having to have the means to travel to Nashvegas shithole bars to find it. What the hell happened to those days? And does Peter Cooper even care that they’re gone?

And just because there’s great music being made in these little shithole Nashville bars doesn’t mean that country music is in good shape. Hell, I’ve said it myself recently:  I know down here we have folks like Jason Boland and the Stragglers, the Turnpike Troubadours, and Reckless Kelly, but the cold hard fact of the matter is that those artists aren’t the face of the genre to the mainstream. People like Chase Rice, Florida-Georgia Line, and Blake Shelton are.

Why is this? Why does it have to be this way? Yeah, radio sucks and I don’t listen to it anymore except on very rare occasions (and never the new “country” stations), but why should we have ever let it get to the point that so many people wanted to turn it off in the first place? Let alone let it get to the point that we have radio programmers saying things like “If we do not have a solid library of gold from this era, we will pay the price in a few years”? It just seems to me that “turn off the radio” seems to be a terribly shortsighted approach.

(h/t Country California)

The man’s a great writer…

June 8, 2014

…but oddly enough, my favorite cut on my favorite album from his band is a cover song.

I don’t remember right offhand when I first discovered Jason Boland and the Stragglers. I keep thinking it was on one of my trips to North Texas, listening to 95.9 the Ranch. Not sure if it’s this way now, but back then it also covered a fair slice of Texas east of Dallas on 106.9 and 107.1 — including Sulphur Springs, where I had a lot of relatives living at the time.

Anyway, I haven’t talked about him too much in this space, but for my money Boland arguably has the best voice in Texas music. We’ve gotten ourselves a pretty big chunk of his catalog (save for Truckstop Diaries and The Bourbon Legend, which are regrettably both out of print), and so far, my favorite of the bunch is 2004’s Somewhere in the Middle. I had heard a couple of the songs from this album before, including “When I’m Stoned” and “If You Want To Hear A Love Song.” Boland wrote both of those songs, and wrote or co-wrote six of the album’s other 11 songs, and they’re all great — but, as I said, strangely enough, my favorite on this collection is one of those covers.

“Thunderbird Wine” was written by the great Billy Joe Shaver, of course, and it originally appeared on his 1981 album I’m Just An Old Chunk of Coal and has been re-recorded at least once that I know of, on 1999’s Electric Shaver. The man himself makes an appearance on this recording of it as well.

As far as real, authentic music goes, it just doesn’t get much better than that.

Yeah, you can keep that.

June 4, 2014

So there’s been talk here and there of there being another format split for country music, with Cumulus and Big Machine Records reportedly coming up with a “NASH Icons” brand for radio that showcases artists from the last 25 years. All this is amidst the ever-escalating complaints about country music and country radio alienating the older listeners to the point that, in the words of Edison Research president Larry Rosen, “We run the risk that we just are more and more pleasing to fewer and fewer people until all we are is ecstatically pleasing a tiny, unsustainable number of people.”

It makes for interesting speculation, for sure…but you know what this means, right? Go back to the bit about “the last 25 years.” 25 years ago it was 1989. So this would seem to imply that nothing before 1989 is going to be played.

And quite frankly, I for one have a huge problem with this. I know there are a lot of people who seem to be nostalgic for the 1990s-2000s era of country music, but I grew up in the 1990s. I remember the genre’s explosion in popularity. And I also remember how that old music was thrown off the radio to make room for that new music. And from what I remember, it was a decidedly mixed bag. Do we really want to throw Merle Haggard and George Jones off the radio to make room for Mark Wills and Bryan White?

Yeah, I know. “That’s not fair! They were outliers!” Maybe so, but even so, if you’ll remember, the complaints about country music getting more pop started ramping up again — wait for it! — in the mid-1990s, with the rise of people like Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, and the like gaining prominence. “Murder On Music Row” as a musical event came about a full 11 years after this period started!

What am I getting at? Well, other than questioning the possibility of the true classics of the genre getting booted off radio, here it is.

The problem isn’t just that not enough older country music is getting played. The problem is also that the “country music” that is getting played anymore has virtually no connection whatsoever to the country music of the past, and I would bet you that is alienating people at least as much as the fact that older music isn’t getting played as much anymore. That whole “ecstatically pleasing a tiny, unsustainable number of people” bit applies to this as well. What country music is doing right now is playing to the shallow, fickle pop fans who will be on to the next big thing when it comes along as opposed to the people loyal to the genre for however long they’ve been there. And this whole “playing music from the last 25 years” seems to me to be a really short-sighted approach to the issue. I can understand why they wouldn’t be playing that older music; frankly, even as much as a lot of it sucked, playing, for example, Alan Jackson’s “Gone Country” right before Florida-Georgia Line or Jason Aldean would be more than a bit jarring. But that’s just the way it is, and if the “country” “singers” of today actually did respect country music as a genre and made music reflecting that, it would fit in a lot better. It’s the same phenomenon that we saw back in the ’90s, albeit taken to a further extreme.

I understand it, sure. But make no mistake, I still think it’s a crappy situation and this isn’t going to fix it. We don’t just need more old music on the radio. We need better new music too.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 107 other followers