Monday music musings, 24.8.15

August 24, 2015

Sigh. No, Kelsea Ballerini. Just, no:

I think that the key is respecting the roots and traditions of country music and always putting value in that, but country radio has really opened its arms to other influences. It’s been really cool to me to watch someone like Sam Hunt, whose lyrics and roots are in country but you can hear that he listens to Drake and Justin Timberlake — and that’s OK. It allows songwriters to be more honest, because it’s like, “This is who I’m listening to.”

This is, in a word, crap. Prime example: Aaron Watson listens to Sam Hunt. He straight-up admitted to Saving Country Music that he had Hunt’s album and that he thought it was good, even as in the same sentence he said it was the most un-country thing he’d ever heard. Yet if you listen to even The Underdog, even at its poppiest, you’re not going to hear anything that sounds like Sam Hunt. Why? Because Aaron Watson is a country music singer and he’s not ashamed of it. Granted, he’s not my favorite non-Nashville guy (that honor goes to Jason Boland), but even so, I’d still be very hard pressed to say that Watson didn’t love country music with every fiber of his being or that he was being even slightly dishonest with his fans by not sounding anything like Sam Hunt.

But I am not the least surprised with such self-serving claptrap coming from an early-Taylor-Swift wannabe like Kelsea Ballerini, who seems to be only trying to make a name for herself in country music because she couldn’t hack it as a pop singer right off the bat.

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I really wanted to believe Jody Rosen was trolling Grady Smith here

Mainstream country, it’s smart music. Even if it’s a big dumb song about kicking the dust up or whatever, it’s very intelligently done.

…but unfortunately, he appeared to be deadly serious. I don’t know. I guess that tripe is smartly done in that the writers figure out what the most lucrative demographic likes and then give it to them, but then when you look at it that way, that seems to imply that all the people outside mainstream music that isn’t writing about trucks, beer, and girls are the dumb ones — and surely I don’t have to spell out the obvious problem with that.

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On a more positive note, via Galleywinter on Facebook, today marks the 11-year anniversary of the release date of the Randy Rogers Band’s Rollercoaster — a seminal Texas music album if ever there was one. I actually discovered that album in 2008, strangely enough as I was looking for another piece of red dirt music (Cross Canadian Ragweed’s Garage, for the curious), and I was floored at how great it was — not that I’d have expected anything different with the writers on that album (Rogers, Cody Canada, Radney Foster, and Kent Finlay, among others). I bought it for “Tonight’s Not the Night,” but I also really liked “Somebody Take Me Home,” Finlay’s “They Call It The Hill Country,” and the RRB versions of “Again” and “This Time Around.”

I thought it was pretty funny that “This Time Around” was on that album, because the Ragweed version of that song was the reason I was looking for Garage….

Oh, Darius Rucker…

August 18, 2015

As if Darius Rucker hasn’t been a big enough disappointment, now we have this:

…there’s this whole fashion of people who want to take back country music and make it old school and country music to those people is the only kind of music that’s not allowed to evolve. […] I mean, rock ‘n’ roll, there’s nobody sounds like The Beatles. There’s nobody sounds like Bill Haley and The Comets right now. Pop music has changed drastically over the years and keeps changing. And, you know, everybody wants country music to be the same. All the country music fans only want to listen to classic country music and the umbrella’s just much bigger now.

So — mischaracterization, or foul and malicious lie? You make the call. As for me, I would lean toward the latter.

Why? Because with Rucker’s self-professed musical heroes — Radney Foster, Nanci Griffith, and the like — there’s no way you’re going to get me to believe that he doesn’t know better than to characterize “all the country music fans” like this. I could probably write a book on it, but Deryl Dodd said it best not long after Pearl Snaps came out:

“It doesn’t have to be the actual old hits of the ‘70s or ‘60s, but a music that puts a new twist on the traditional sound, like Dwight Yoakam and Alan Jackson.”

Or, in other words, music that at least maintains some link to its roots as it moves forward. I mean, really. All those Texas, Red Dirt, and Americana people that everyone sings the praises of don’t sound like Waylon or George Jones, but you can clearly tell they were at least influenced by those folks and all the folks that came after, like Keith Whitley, George Strait, Ricky Skaggs, etc. I would argue the opposite of what Darius Rucker says, though — that is, country is the only genre, it seems, where wanting the genre to have some semblance of a signature sound with certain instruments and beats is seen as holding the genre back instead of keeping it grounded in its identity. Just as another example, metal has changed a pretty good bit between, say, 1970 and now — I mean, there’s a world of difference between ParanoidPainkiller, and Symphony X’s Iconoclast, but I never heard anyone claim that the latter wasn’t a metal album, and they’d rightly have been laughed off the planet if they’d tried. And I’m pretty sure I never heard anyone claim that even Symphony X wasn’t metal, or that Accept was stuck in 1982 with their last three albums.

My favorite response to this, though, came in the comments at Saving Country Music back when Rucker started spouting this line of crap:

“Dude got famous for ripping off REM and has the nerve to say this? People talk about rock being dead or needing saving all the time. How many bands have been credited as saving rock? In my lifetime at least 2 (Nirvana and The Strokes). Maybe if he wasn’t in one of the most famous one shot wonder bands and had to slum it in country because fucking NO ONE bought any other Hootie albums except for the first one (which is currently clogging up the user bins and landfills near you) he wouldn’t be so defensive about his career.”

I will still say, though, that with this new talking point, Darius Rucker shows himself to be at least as big a fraud as Ryan Adams. Why? Because Rucker, just like Ryan Adams, has in a way been lying to his fans and country music fans in general. Rucker has been saying, from the beginning of his career, that he’s a fan of that kind of music and that he wanted to do more of it, but the label wouldn’t let him do it because it ostensibly wasn’t commercial enough — which implies that he believed that country music should still sound, well, country, as it evolves. This new talking point suggests that he didn’t believe any of that, and in a way, that’s even more disappointing than his actual music.

(h/t Country California)

10,000th verse, same as the first.

August 9, 2015

Record of violent crime going back a decade and a half, and they still let that motherfucker out of jail:

The man accused in the murderous rampage that left six children and two adults dead inside a northwest Harris County home climbed through an unlocked window, restrained them and shot each one in the head, according to prosecutors….

He was last arrested in July for allegedly smashing Jackson’s head into a refrigerator multiple times…In another case, a Harris County judge in 2013 issued an emergency protective order to keep Conley away from Jackson who was later sentenced to nine months in jail.

Nine. Months. As opposed to THE REST OF HIS WORTHLESS FREAKING LIFE.

But by all means, let us all jack our jaws some more about how the inanimate object is the problem.

First Impressions: Symphony X, Underworld

July 31, 2015

So first off, for a little background: I first discovered Symphony X with 2011’s Iconoclast and 2007’s Paradise Lost and really enjoyed the heavier sounds of those albums. Last year I picked up 2002’s The Odyssey and really enjoyed it as well, though it was more on the melodic side with a lot more cleaner vocals from Russell Allen. To be honest I did like it, though not quite as much as I did the albums after it. If I remember correctly, it was guitarist Michael Romeo who said the band was going back toward the earlier sounds with the new album (which was released last Friday), and I was pretty curious as to how it’d sound. I really liked the first song that was released from it, “Nevermore,” but as you all know, one song is never really indicative of the full quality of an album…

Holy hell, did they ever hit the sweet spot between those two styles. Just as a few examples, the title track and “Kiss Of Fire” may well be the heaviest songs the band has ever recorded, with Allen roaring like a pissed-off demon on both, and the latter even has blast beats! Killer, just absolutely KILLER. And toward the other end of the spectrum, the closing track “Legend” is a thing of utter beauty, as the guys channel the relatively softer tones of songs like “When All Is Lost” and the title track of Paradise Lost, albeit at a faster tempo, about the speed of Iconoclast’s “Bastards of the Machine.” And “Charon” sounds like it would have probably fit right in on The Odyssey. (Side note: There are precious few things that bring out the inner music snob like listening to a song based on Greek mythology.) And the intricate guitars and synthesizers are present throughout, as are the ethereal choral sounds. I could probably write a freaking book on this album, but here’s what it all boils down to:

Classic modern metal, classic Symphony X, quite possibly a desert-island album.

Oh, this is delicious.

July 20, 2015

From Dwight Silverman’s TechBlog:

If you’re a man or woman intent on cheating on your spouse, you might have signed up for an account at AshleyMadison.com, a dating website designed for people looking to have an affair. As with other dating sites that charge a fee for access, your public profile doesn’t reveal precisely who you are, but the credit card and other personal information you must enter on the back end tells all.

What could possibly go wrong?

How about this: Hackers have gained access to AshleyMadison’s database and are threatening to release its members’ personal information, according to Brian Krebs at KrebsOnSecurity.

Yeah, I know. It’s a crime. And the people who are responsible ought to be prosecuted.

But come on. Schadenfreude ist die schönste freude, as the old saying goes. Just like Steve McNair, those idiots on that site don’t have anyone to blame but themselves. As one of my Facebook friends put it:

So…Ashley Madison trusted another organization to uphold commitments and obligations – no matter how hard or personally inconvenient that might be. That trust was disregarded and abused behind AM’s back…

Huh.

The dancing chicken speaks!

July 10, 2015

…or, Luke Bryan channels his inner Blake Shelton/Jason Aldean, and it’s an ugly, ugly thing, indeed:

I think that people who want Merle, Willie and Waylon just need to buy Merle, Willie and Waylon. I’ve never been a “Those were the good old days” kind of guy. I’m not big on looking back on the past. I’m not an outlaw country singer. I don’t do cocaine and run around. So I’m not going to sing outlaw country. I like to hunt, fish, ride around on my farm, build a big bonfire and drink some beers—and that’s what I sing about. It’s what I know. I don’t know about laying in the gutter, strung out on drugs. I don’t really want to do that.

Honestly, what does one even begin to say to that? Yet again with the straw man that everyone who doesn’t like him just wants the old stuff and doesn’t want the music to, well…evolve. That’s not true and has been shown not to be true on numerous occasions.

About the whole “laying in the gutter, strung out on drugs” bit…I suppose one could say the old guys did know about that, and that it did affect their music to a great extent. But it still strikes me here that Luke Bryan is insinuating that the drug use was the overwhelming thing defining the Outlaw movement, and it’s just so disgustingly self-serving and disingenuous. I really couldn’t put it any better than Trigger did at Saving Country Music:

Being an Outlaw was about being yourself, insisting on having creative control of your music, and moving country music forward while still respecting the roots of the genre and all the greats that came before—all virtues Luke Bryan and many others could learn from.

And sure, maybe Luke Bryan’s being himself, but even that and the second thing…well, those are both questionable at best, considering (at least what I heard from) his first album was so radically different than what came after it. And as far as “moving the genre forward”…well, I’ve asked the question before and will ask it again: Why is it that every time these new hacks talk about how country music has to evolve, it is always, without exception, in the context of the music sounding dumber and, well, less country?

And then there’s this:

I like to hunt, fish, ride around on my farm, build a big bonfire and drink some beers—and that’s what I sing about. It’s what I know.

Now, if you’ll think about it, that line of reasoning has some pretty ugly implications of its own, namely that, among other things…

• Steve Earle was a fraud as an artist because he didn’t do “two tours of duty ina place called Vietnam.”

• George Strait wasn’t being, well, straight with his audience when he sang of being “14 and drunk by 10 AM.”

• Charlie Robison was full of crap because he isn’t doing LWOP in Huntsville for killing an old rich woman and stealing her diamond ring.

I could go on, but you get the point by now. As another commenter put it at SCM:

If all he knows is bonfires and drinkin’ beer at 40 years old, that’s not much experience to draw from. You’d think he’d have picked up some more experiences by now, especially with touring all over the world and whatnot. 

When I hear “I write what I know” I respond with “you must not be very imaginative or creative, then.” Or maybe it makes (his) head hurt to read and learn stuff. Thank God the great songwriters of yore didn’t only write what they experienced. Paul Simon may have never written “The Boxer”. Springsteen wouldn’t have written hardly anything. Melvin never fought a whale, so what’s he doing writing about such?

Good question. And if you read that whole interview, you’ll see that the interviewer didn’t even ask him about any kind of controversy regarding the bro-country sound or any of that. He just went right into that whole ugly tirade. Which makes one wonder, why is he so defensive?…

How far does this go?

July 4, 2015

I have a few questions upon reading this, in order:

If we’re going to call The Dukes of Hazzard racist solely because of the name and imagery of the iconic Dodge Charger driven by the Duke boys in the series — even though said imagery and name had little if anything to do with the show’s theme — how far do we go with this? And why to that point and not before or after?

Was the cast racist for their very participation?

Was Waylon Jennings a racist for writing and singing the show’s theme song and for narrating the show?

Were the advertisers racist for buying time during the show?

Was the audience racist for watching?

I think we deserve clear, logical answers to this. It might be pedantic of me, but if racism is going to be acknowledged, it does need to be defined, at least to an extent. Why? Because with the definition of racism continuing to be so nebulous, then people will continue to be unjustly accused of racism when they’re not the slightest bit racist, and what’s that going to do? It’s just going to make people pay even less attention to actual racism.

(Speaking of actual racism, how about George Takei’s comments on Clarence Thomas? Clown in blackface? Well, all righty then. And Takei later doubled down on his bigotry by claiming that “blackface (was) a lesser-known theatrical term”? Really? Freaking everybody and their dog knows what “blackface” refers to! It’s like, “Hey, George, why didn’t you just call Justice Thomas the Supreme Court’s ‘house slave’ and be done with it? We all knew what that’s you were getting at!” But I digress…)

Now, if we want to talk about the soft racism of Hollywood making a show that was mostly white that was set in a region that had a sizable black population, then by all means let us do that. But if we’re going to do that, we need to talk about not just The Dukes of Hazzard, but everything that’s come out of Hollywood since that time. Otherwise this entire flap is exactly what so many people claim it is — yet another opportunity to dump on Southerners and Southern culture.

Random Tuesday musings, 24.6.15

June 24, 2015

The adage of “never read the comments” is proven once again in spades here. I swear, some people…

“My name is Ozymandias, Taco Cabana Hater of All Taco Cabana Haters! Look upon my hate, ye non-hipsters, and despair!”

It sucks that TC’s raising prices on all their egg dishes, but I still don’t get the hate. Is there better Tex-Mex? I suppose so, but for what it is and even on its own merits Taco Cabana is damn good.

You see the same hate toward Whataburger in the comments, and I don’t get that either. People act like all fast-food joints are equally bad, and they’re not.

(Speaking of which, if you like Whataburger and haven’t tried the avocado bacon burger yet, you are missing out. It’s gotten to be my favorite non-breakfast Whataburger thing.)

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I really get tired of this line of “reasoning” for country not sounding like, well, country:

I suppose if the current country artists only ever listened to Waylon and George and Tammy and Loretta, then their music would sound similar, but like me, they grew up listening to everything so it’s all influenced their music.

I don’t see that as a valid excuse. You longtime readers know I listen to a lot of heavy metal anymore, Judas Priest, Ozzy, Maiden, that sort of thing, right along with the classic and Texas country. But if I was going to call myself a country singer I would leave the metal on the bus and bring the country music on the record.

Yes, that sort of thing can be done. Consider this, from Aaron Watson:

If you look at the chart right now, you see me, and then you see a guy like Sam Hunt. Now a lot of people would assume that a traditionalist like me would not like Sam Hunt. But I’m going to surprise you. I have his record, it has some really cool moments, there’s some really good songwriting in that record. It’s also the most un-country record I’ve ever heard—I’ll be honest about that.

So Aaron Watson has Sam Hunt’s album and likes it, but he sounds nothing like Sam Hunt. And then there was the Dixie Chicks’ response via Natalie Maines when they were asked to remix “Landslide” for pop radio:

“We listen to those other stations, and we’re fans of that other music…but we’re trying to bring country back to country.”

I don’t see why that’s not how it should be done….

Thursday music musings, 11.6.15

June 11, 2015

What do you want to bet Brad Paisley doesn’t even know what he said here?

And during a recording session, in country music, that [having a bar in the studio] doesn’t detract from anything. That just helps the experience, I think. It’s not like we’re doing intense, complicated jazz. You don’t need to be completely 100 percent present. It’s just country music, folks.

Just country music. You don’t need to be…present. It was pretty subtle, but that Brad Paisley quote suggests to me that he’s more or less just phoning it in anymore. Of course, it was more obvious actually listening to the music, but I was pretty shocked to see him come right out and admit as much. It may be true that you “don’t need to be completely 100 percent present,” but if you’re not, then why the hell aren’t you doing something else that you can be bothered to be wholly present for?

Granted, maybe he wasn’t completely wrong. I am given to believe that George Jones recorded at least a few of biggest hits blasted out of his gourd, and surely he wasn’t the only one. But of course, there are myriad differences between the likes of George Jones and a hack like Brad Paisley, not the least of which was that George Jones — to the best of my knowledge, at least — was never dumb enough to actually come out and admit that he was intentionally running on autopilot.

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I really don’t understand what Billy Currington has against sad songs. Hell, anyone with any knowledge of country music knows that’s part of the genre’s entire foundation. It’s just such a load of unmitigated bullshit. I remember Aaron Watson told Saving Country Music not long ago, “I want my music to be a positive influence on people, that helps people get through some tough times.”

And with that, he still sings songs like “Bluebonnets.” Because he knows there are more of us who like to hear those kinds of songs than Billy Currington and his simplistic-minded ilk like to think. I guess it’s Currington’s voice to waste on songs like “Pretty Good at Drinkin’ Beer,” but it’d be nice if he’d lend it to, shall we say, more challenging material.

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Lots of consternation about Keith Urban’s new single, with the title “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16.” And granted, it’s bad — even worse than the title might imply, in fact. It’s quite possibly the most cliche-packed song ever written — even more so than Aaron Watson’s “Hey Y’all.” But unlike the Watson song, this one was apparently written with the writers being entirely serious, with not a bit of satire intended.

But I could have told you years ago that this was where Keith Urban was going to end up. He has never once shown any fidelity to country music beyond the extent he could make money characterizing his flavorless mush of music as such. And he has constantly defended the direction in which country music is going by using the same tired arguments about evolution that everyone else is using. Sure, he can play guitar, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

“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.”

And you have to wonder if any of the people involved here had any idea how Mellencamp hated the John Cougar moniker. After all, he did get rid of it at his earliest opportunity….

Monday music musings, 1.6.15

June 1, 2015

Via Country California, Brad Paisley says something stupid. Again.

It’d be fun to see Steven Tyler have success in this town. You know, how much fun would that be to hand him a CMA award for something?

What does one even say to that? Maybe it would be fun, but, y’know, only if he recorded actual country music. And based on what I’ve heard so far, I’m not hearing it. The only thing I’ve heard is just more of the weaksauce that so much of mainstream country has turned into. Not that I would have expected something on the level of, say, Jason Boland and the Stragglers or the Turnpike Troubadours, but it’s like Tyler’s not even trying. Sure, it wasn’t as bad as what Bret Michaels served up, but like I’ve said elsewhere, if that’s gonna be the bar for quality we might as well just nuke the Grand Ole Opry and be done with it. I’ve said before that every time Paisley opens his mouth I lose a little bit of respect for him, but at this point I really don’t have any left to lose, between all the dumb things like this that he’s said and the shit fit he threw right after his latest album came out. One of the commenters at Country California described Paisley as “the ultimate company man who will blindly support whatever the system pumps out,” and from that Taste of Country interview shows such a description to be painfully accurate.

Also, it makes me sad that no one mentions Dan Seals in these lists of people from other genres going country. He ended up having a more legitimate country music career and leaving a better mark on the genre than, say, Bon Jovi or Julio Iglesias….

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Oh, good grief, not this line of crap again…

Grunge, Nu Metal, and Post-Grunge may be acquired tastes, but they were so necessary when one considers how shitty 80s rock was, when showing off was more important than writing great riffs and hooks.

No offense, but I’ve always had a very big problem with this opinion, best summarized by this comment I saw at Engine 145 a few years ago that I blogged about here:

…A ton of great music was released in the years ’87-’91-ish, but all anybody remembers are the cheesy video like “Cherry Pie” or “Seventeen.”

What great music? Well, off the top of my head…

  • Guns ‘n’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction (1987)
  • The Cult, Electric (1987)
  • Metallica, …And Justice For All (1988)
  • Queensrÿche, Operation: Mindcrime (1988)
  • The Cult, Sonic Temple (1989)
  • Pantera, Cowboys from Hell (1990)
  • Judas Priest, Painkiller (1990)
  • Queensrÿche, Empire (1990)
  • Megadeth, Rust in Peace (1990)
  • Metallica, Metallica (1991)
  • Guns’n’Roses, Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II (1991)
  • Ozzy Osbourne, No More Tears (1991)

And all that (with the exception of the Metallica self-titled album) is just from my iTunes library. I’m sure there are at least that many more. And, of course, we haven’t even gotten into all the great stuff that came out from, say, 1983 to 1987 from the likes of most of the above plus, say, Dio and Iron Maiden. Every era has its share of crap, but the fact that all the good music from this era has seemingly been forgotten (or at the least glossed over) by everyone but hard rock/metal aficionados is a real shame. Maybe grunge did need to happen, but it certainly would have been nice if it hadn’t made people discount the good stuff that came out during the 1980s. I really don’t know what was worse about the grunge movement, all of the above or the fact that mainstream rock as a mass-appeal genre and radio format never really progressed beyond it.

On second thought, I suppose in the big scheme of things the latter such isn’t really a big deal anymore, as — just like with country music — there’s still good stuff to be found, just not on the radio. It’d be nice if you could still hear it on the radio, though…


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