Tuesday music musings, 23.2.15

February 23, 2015

From the Tennessean via Country California, Sony Nashville CEO Gary Overton:

You can ask people in the building, and I can be quoted several times a day, “If you’re not on country radio, you don’t exist.” Again I can’t think of one star, much less superstar in country music, who wasn’t broken by country radio.

You know what that is? It’s trying to define an entity into relevancy. I don’t know how Overton would define “star” or “superstar,” but there are a lot of artists out there who are doing all right without country radio. Besides all the folks on the Texas scene, of course, there’s Sturgill Simpson, who has sold 100,000 copies of his latest album (and has been basically forced to go from clubs to theaters for his live shows because of the demand) with virtually zero airplay from country radio. Now, that might not exactly be “making it big” or “becoming a star” by Overton’s standards, but in this musical environment, album sales of 100,000 from even one of those big stars would still be pretty good. And none of that really matters in the end anyway as long as enough people buy the music and/or go to the shows that the artists don’t have to go fill out apps for the greeter positions at Walmart.

Or, the tl/dr, if you like: Indie country is totally still a thing, even if it doesn’t have as big of an audience.

In other news, I scored $150 in Amazon credit last week and went shopping yesterday. Among the albums I bought so far: the Dixie Chicks’ Home and Lee Ann Womack’s I Hope You Dance. I can hear the gasps now with the latter.

I remember being skeptical back then about that album precisely because of the horrendously overrated title track, and “Ashes By Now” didn’t exactly inspire confidence even though it wasn’t a bad song. But beyond those two songs, I Hope You Dance is a pretty typical Lee Ann Womack album (in other words, worth the money if you’re a fan of what she’s known for), with some great songs from the likes of Whitey Shafer and Dean Dillion (“Thinkin’ with My Heart Again”), Bruce Robison (“Lonely Too”), and Buddy and Julie Miller (“Does My Ring Burn Your Finger”), and a beautiful cover of the old Don Williams chestnut “Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good” closing it out.

And politics be damned, the Dixie Chicks’ Home is just as gorgeous a piece of Real Country Music as it was back in 2002. Well, it was more of a straight-ahead bluegrass album than honky-tonk, swing or what-have-you, but all those subgenres are pretty much the essence of country music. And when you look at how mainstream country music has changed in the years since it was released, and think about how it would be received if it came out now versus how it was received when it did come out (two Top 2 hits on country radio, one No. 1, and 6 million-plus copies of the album sold), it’s just downright depressing.

Tuesday music musings, 17.2.14

February 17, 2015

Via Country California, it sounds like we have another budding Keith Urban on our hands, as if the original wasn’t obnoxious enough…

Country music has always been diverse. With all the pop country happening now, people are worried it’s not country. But I go back to a time in the 1980s with Eddie Rabbitt and Conway Twitty singing songs that were very pop. At that time people were saying the same kind of thing. Now we look back and think of those guys as pure country.

Sigh. As I’ve said before, the latter simply isn’t true, at least not for any country fan with any kind of perspective or knowledge of the genre. And this “country music has always been diverse” seems to imply that it still is — which of course is another filthy freaking lie, considering it all seems to be about girls, trucks and beer, lather, rinse, repeat.

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And as if everything going on up to now in country music wasn’t bad enough, now we have this. Honestly, I must say the whole thing leaves me aghast. I have to wonder if there’s ever been a time in country music where two hot and very rapidly burning fads have been chased consecutively like this. The landscape’s different now, what with the Texas, red dirt, and general alternative country scenes more thriving and vibrant than they were the last time Nashville was chasing bullshit trends so hard. So there is at least more of an alternative to the mainstream crap, but even so it’d still be pretty nice to turn on country radio and actually hear country music.

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Speaking of Texas music, with a few exceptions this is a really good primer on the best of it. Of course, it does have its flaws — Miranda Lambert is here but Billy Joe Shaver isn’t, really? “Georgia On A Fast Train” belongs on pretty much any best-of list of Texas music worthy of the name. Hell, I’d have been happy if Jason Boland’s version of “Thunderbird Wine” had been on there as opposed to Miranda Lambert’s “Me And Charlie Talkin’,” even if that would have been the second song with that particular bum wine in the title….

Also, Kevin Fowler but no Gary P. Nunn? FAIL.

But at least they had Stoney LaRue’s version of “Down in Flames.” I had heard Brandon Jenkins recorded that same song at some point and listened to it one day…and, well, as I put it then, I like pretty much everything I’ve heard from BJ, but Stoney’s version of “Down in Flames” beats his like a rented mule.

Also, Adam Hood’s “I’ll Sing About Mine” should have ranked higher than No. 44, if only for its significance as a protest song. I know I’ve said before that I like protest songs better that decry longer-term trends, but at the same time that song cut right to the heart with what’s so wrong with this bro-country crap and it did so in a way that has yet to be equaled:

When you talk about the Dairy Queen, pickup trucks and Springsteen, you make the place I love sound like a bad cartoon

If that line isn’t the best single song lyric of the last ten years at least, it’s still pretty high up there.

Random musings, 11.2.15

February 11, 2015

I’ve been seeing pretty much everywhere, people going apeshit about Kanye West being Kanye West at the Grammys the other night. Lots of funny memes and whatnot going around in the aftermath, including a tweet talking about how Mr. West told a musician who plays 14 instruments that he needs to respect the artistry of someone who needs four people to write one song. I laughed, and the point is well-taken, but then on the other hand, if the song in question (“Run the World (Girls)”) was actually any good it really wouldn’t matter how many writers it had (see, for example, most of the songs on Metallica’s first three albums).

But I’ll admit that I don’t really have a dog in the fight as neither Beyonce nor Beck are my thing, although that doesn’t make Kanye West any less of a jackass. If I was going to be rolling my eyes at the Grammys it’d be for completely different reasons, namely that Sturgill Simpson was nominated in a category that shouldn’t even exist (Americana — you know, for all the stuff that’s “too country,” as Dale Watson once put it) AND lost, to boot. And then there’s the fact that Tenacious D has now won more Grammys for a Ronnie James Dio song than Dio himself won for singing his own songs.

But to revise and extend my own remarks from the other day, the fact that there wasn’t a category for Best Country Album between 1967 and 1995 and the category for Best Metal Performance didn’t even exist before 1990 should tell you all you know about NARAS’ attitude towards those two genres. And in the end, it’s okay. Like I’ve said before, every single one of those award ceremonies, from the American Country Countdown Awards all the way up to the Grammys, is nothing more than a big circle jerk designed to sell albums. It’s not about artistic excellence and really never has been, even if they get it right every so often.

Friday political musings, 30.1.15

January 30, 2015

The San Antonio Express-News editorial board proves yet again just how fundamentally unserious they are:

The reluctance of the San Antonio City Council to get behind an active awareness campaign on sodas and other sugary drinks has always been baffling.

Baffling? Really? It’s not exactly a state secret that sugary drinks are bad for you. It seems like there’s something in the news every day about it. Launching a public awareness campaign about that would be like launching a public awareness campaign to educate people about the wetness of water.

And no, there’s no “bugaboo of personal responsibility” here. It’s just a waste of money, period, probably even more so than the streetcars or politically motivated street name changes.

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From the letters to the editor:

Oh wow, how comforting to know that Texas is still in the grip of the conservatives, or even more accurately, the tea party of Dan and Greg. They didn’t get the mandate they love to yap about, since only about a third of eligible voters bothered to vote.

You know, at this point, whatever helps people like this sleep at night. Looking back, it seems to me that pretty much everyone was excited about Wendy Davis running for governor except the people who actually determined whether or not she’d be governor. Maybe if the Democrats offered up a credible candidate for governor as opposed to just pulling a publicity stunt more people would’ve bothered to get out to vote. The Republicans didn’t sucker the Democrats into doing anything. They nominated Wendy Davis completely of their own accord.

Monday music musings, 26.1.15

January 26, 2015

I get that not everyone’s going to get Sturgill Simpson, but at the same time I’d like to hear what, if anything, Lynne Margolis thinks was groundbreaking or at least worth paying attention to in country music last year:

I’m puzzled by the Sturgill Simpson thing. That album has appeared on zillions of Top 10 lists, and he’s been lauded repeatedly as the savior of country. I don’t hear anything resoundingly new or different on it myself.

Truth be told, I didn’t either, but I did get High Top Mountain and Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and really enjoyed both of them. Is what Sturgill Simpson doing new? Not really, that much I will stipulate, but it is certainly different than anything else that’s gotten any kind of mainstream attention. And that in itself is a win anymore, what with seemingly every new mainstream hack singing what amounts to the same song re-written for the umpteenth time. (And if this bit from Farce the Music is any indication, more of the same is on deck for 2015.) And really, it was quite good even on its own merits. It strikes me that sitting there pooh-poohing what Simpson’s doing isn’t really helpful in the context of reviewing what was good and bad about country music in 2014, if only because what he’s been doing the last couple of years is rather rebellious in relation to what everyone else has been doing.

And they wonder why critics are viewed so harshly by people!

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Oh, Amazon, you so craaaaazy!

I bought a Josh Abbott Band cd, and based on that Amazon recommended I buy the new Garth Brooks album.

I bought an old George Strait album, and based on that Amazon recommended I buy the new albums from Brad Paisley and Blake Shelton.

Yesterday I bought an Ozzy Osbourne album and a Pantera album. (No More Tears and Vulgar Display of Power, for the curious.) I patiently await the recommendations to buy albums from Coldplay and Sam Hunt….

Random guns & politics musings, 21.1.15

January 21, 2015

Is it just me, or does a statement like “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel is arguably the most important sports program on television” is akin to saying “Bryant Gumbel is the smartest paste-eater in the room”? Anything for Rolling Stone to get another slam in at gun owners, I guess…

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I know I’ve heard people talk about doing stupid crap like this, but I never thought anyone would be dumb enough to actually try it. That shithead’s lucky he didn’t leave in a box. Not so lucky for the rest of us, though. I saw the observation made that such an incident was a good example of carrying less-lethal weapons like mace or whatnot, and it’d be interesting to see how that situation would’ve turned out of that old man had been carrying it.

Oh, and the dude with the gun was an older black man. His assailant was white. I’m sure Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are champing at the bit right about now. Or, y’know, not.

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Oh, NK, you FAIL once again:

Doesn’t it seem odd that your cellphone can be set up to require a PIN or a fingerprint, but there’s no such option for a gun?

Sigh. No, Nicky, no it doesn’t. I was just sorry as can be to hear about Veronica Rutledge’s tragic death, but it was ultimately the lack of a smart method of carry, not the lack of a smart gun, that killed her. Maybe that sounds heartless, but she is (or rather, was) not the only mother of small children who carried a defensive firearm as the children were in her presence. And I’ve heard more than once that purse carry is in general a bad idea for myriad reasons. That isn’t to say that it can’t be done, but — as with everything with guns — if it’s not done right you can end up injured or dead, as Ms. Rutledge so unfortunately found out. I would say that Nicholas Kristof ought to be ashamed to be using her death to push his agenda, but he and his kind showed themselves long ago to be far beyond such.

Random musings, 12.1.15

January 12, 2015

Well, of course Wendy Davis would come out AFTER the election and say she wasn’t in support of open carry. I am not the least bit surprised, but I surely didn’t expect her to be so brutally honest about it:

There is one thing that I would do differently in that campaign, and it relates to the position that I took on open carry. I made a quick decision on that with a very short conversation with my team and it wasn’t really in keeping with what I think is the correct position on that issue.

In a way you gotta admire that, I guess, but it’s worth asking if we would ever really want a governor who would so blatantly pander to a certain demographic to get elected, especially since it arguably wouldn’t have helped her to any significant degree considering her ignominious defeat. I realize I do speak with the benefit of hindsight here, but it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to see there were so many issues with Wendy Davis running that she never could have won.

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Comment from Saving Country Music, about Garth Brooks taking a fall on stage as he brought back his elaborate stage shows from the 1990s:

Have modern American audiences become so accustomed to spectacle and gimmick that an evening of good music performed with passion isn’t enough?

I often asked myself the same question back in the 1990s when everyone was raving about the same spectacle. I always found it quite telling that George Strait was pretty much the polar opposite of Garth Brooks on stage yet got more or less the identical reaction. I don’t know how much overlap there was between Brooks’ and Strait’s fanbases back then, but I am sure there was quite a bit. I never quite understood not just letting the music speak for itself…

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I bet you never thought you’d see the day I’d agree with Eric Church on anything (Lord knows I didn’t), but he’s pretty much right on here:

I’m so focused on making an album. I don’t care that technology tells us that albums are a thing of the past. That is b.s. They are more valuable now than they’ve ever been to the future of music, to the health of music. Because going forward, there’s no way we end up having artists unless we go back to the album format, the entire body of work.

I liken it to when you sit down to read a book. You don’t read one chapter. You read the whole book. It’s about every chapter. That’s how you understand what the book’s about, that’s how you become a fan of the book.
Same thing with music. You can’t hear one song, you can’t get a 99-second sound bite, and understand the artist, or be a fan of the artist, other than for just for that moment. That frenetic way of what we’ve turned music into, with digital technology, I’m so against that.

While I do agree that iTunes and the like are convenient as hell, I do think there’s been something lost as we’ve shifted towards singles as opposed to full-length albums. I’ve probably made the observation before, but inevitably in discussions of favorite artists, such will go to “Favorite Album Cuts” or something like that. And there’s something to be said for an artist who can deliver 10 or 12 quality songs at one whack as opposed to one or two songs every so often. Of course, on the other hand, I think the talking point about artists loading their albums with filler material around the singles is a legitimate one as well. But I think we would be better-served to demand better albums from artists as opposed to downloading a single. Come to think of it, the artists would be better off, too…

Monday tech musings, 29.12.14

December 29, 2014

Shorter HuffPo: “Apple isn’t catering to our target market of idiots, the bastards!”

In all seriousness, 16 GB is only not enough storage for those who don’t know how to manage it. Unfortunately, though, those people are legion. They think they can put it all in the nebulous “cloud, that cloud storage is free and infinite, and/or that cloud and phone storage are interchangeable. And, of course, they don’t have computers to store their pictures on, and of course every single picture and video is absolutely essential.

And even if there was any merit to the complaints in this story, that doesn’t change the fact that it all could be averted if people did their research. I’ve noted before that one of the two biggest reasons that I got the MacBook Pro instead of the MacBook Air was that the Pro had a bigger hard drive. You know how I found that out? Research, that’s how.

Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, I don’t know. But this whole thing to me just seems to highlight the advantages of local storage, not to mention the advantages of being at least somewhat tech-savvy. When I bought my most recent smartphone, the amount of storage on the device wasn’t even a consideration for me because I already had more local storage (on my Mac) than I’d probably ever need. Seriously, is it really that hard?

The things people know…

December 17, 2014

…that just are not so:

poll after poll shows the vast majority of citizens want sane, sensible gun control rules in place and enforced.

Really? That’s not what the news has been this week. In fact, it has been quite different:

For the first time since they first started asking the question, back in 1993, the Pew survey team found that more Americans think it’s important to “protect the right of Americans to own guns” than to “control gun ownership.” At its peak in the late 90s the split was nearly 70/30 in favor of gun control, where the most recent survey has 52 percent of those surveyed prioritizing gun rights.

Now, that’s not an overwhelming majority either way, but it was more than enough to make our friend Mike Lupica throw a(nother) shit fit in his New York Daily News column. That would probably be close enough for wet work, as the old saying goes, considering Lupica would be demanding door-to-door confiscation of all civilian-owned weaponry if he had the stones to do so.

So the question remains. Where is this “overwhelming majority” of people for stronger gun laws? And why don’t these people speak up?

Not-so-random hits, 16.12.13

December 16, 2014

Yes, I am still here! Been working 45-50 hours a week for the last couple of weeks, with just iPad and smartphone access, but I hope to be back to a more frequent blogging schedule soon. In the meantime…

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Man alive, the butthurt from the Cody Johnson fanboys here is something to behold. From what I’d heard of him I didn’t think he was that bad, just overrated. But if that review is to be believed…damn.

Don’t quite understand the hate for Josh Abbott and Casey Donahew, though. I know the concept of the “gateway drug” has been made a mockery of in recent years with the promotion of Taylor Swift and the like as such, but I think folks like Abbott do make a good gateway drug of sorts to Texas music, especially with songs like “I’ll Sing About Mine.”

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Speaking of the latter song, I picked up Adam Hood’s The Shape of Things a few weeks back, as his version of that song is my favorite. The whole thing is great, though. “Flame and Gasoline” has always been a favorite, and “Hard Times in the Land of Plenty,” “New Deep Ellum Blues,” and “Once They’re Gone” are some real gems, too. Need to get his new album soon…


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