I wouldn’t normally do this, but…

May 16, 2017

Gonna make this quick & dirty.

I got a text from Sabra yesterday afternoon saying a fire had started in the kitchen. The fire was contained to there, and everyone’s OK. We were able to secure another place from our landlord, and Sabra got all our electronics out and items of sentimental value…

…but there was a lot of smoke damage and the house is uninhabitable right now. Because of the smoke damage, all of our clothes are lost, as are all of the kids’ stuffed toys and other things, as well as all our furniture — beds, everything. The lovely and gracious Erin Palette has set up a fundraiser for us. Anything you can spare would be greatly appreciated.

Sunday music musings, 14.5.17

May 14, 2017

New Chris Stapleton, huh? OK.

I mean, good for him for bringing people’s attention to another country classic with his cover of Willie Nelson’s “Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning,” and I realize what he’s doing in the context of mainstream country music is borderline revolutionary, and that he’s arguably reminded a lot of people that it used to be more than songs about tailgate parties and whatnot, but, well…as far as I can tell, From A Room, Vol. 1 is just more of what didn’t click with me with Traveller. Will it sell? I am sure it will, but as we all know seemingly no one gives a damn about album sales anymore, as evidenced by — among other things — an increasing number of albums topping the charts with virtually no airplay on country radio, most recently Willie Nelson’s latest just this week. And I am sure it will be just about as successful on radio as Traveller was. Yes, I know. Radio’s not what it once was, and big changes may be on the horizon. But while radio is an increasingly smaller medium of delivery for new music, it is still the dominant thing, and that’s presented as country music is country music to a lot of people. So between all of that, and the return of Sam Hunt with his horrible smash hit “Body Like A Back Road,” it looks like we’re not going to be making any progress when it comes to having mainstream country music sound, well, country.

Now, I could be wrong. This album may very well do for him, and for country radio, what Traveller couldn’t. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. It strikes me that Traveller, in the context of late-2010s mainstream country, was an extreme outlier; in fact, the only thing that keeps it from being the definition of a black swan event is the fact that it didn’t have much impact in that arena as far as changing the direction of mainstream country.

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Speaking of radio, I thought this was highly amusing:

“It’s Monday, so the clock resets,” WGH-FM Virginia Beach, Va., PD Mark McKay recently wrote in a sarcastic post on Facebook. “I can’t remember, whose turn is it this week [to have a No. 1 single]?

Sarcasm aside, McKay touched on a very real — and growing — frustration among country radio programmers who say labels often push records up and off the charts much faster than their listeners can get familiar with them. …

“It’s this constant push to have a new No. 1 song every week that is stalling this format out,” says KPLX Dallas assistant PD Smokey Rivers, who advises his fellow programmers to “tap the brakes and hold on to bulletproof hits longer.”

Bulletproof hits, huh? Is there such a thing in country music anymore, as far as country radio is concerned? Beyond that, how much have things really changed music-wise in the mainstream since three years ago, when we had program directors 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”? There’s a ton of good music that’s just going ignored as people buy it, as evidenced by, yet again, the growing list of albums that hit No. 1 without any representation on country radio — among them, again, Chris Stapleton’s Traveller. The music’s there, guys; you just have to take a chance. The fuck have you got to lose at this point, especially considering the dire straits you’re in anymore?

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On first listen, the new albums from Jason Eady and Rodney Crowell are really damn good. Which is such a relief, after the disappointment that was Aaron Watson’s latest. I was starting to think that this year was really going to suck on the new music front.

I almost included Deryl Dodd’s new album in the disappointment category…

…but while the jury’s still out on that one, so far it’s looking good. I wasn’t wowed on the first listen like I thought I’d be, but it is getting better with each listen. “Love Letters and Cigarettes” with Cody Jinks is absolutely spectacular, and I am also liking “Let Me Be” with William Clark Green, “A Bitter End” with Randy Rogers, “Drinkin’ ‘bout You” with Matt Hillyer, and “That’s How I Got to Memphis” with the great Radney Foster.

Now, let’s just hope we get a new Jason Boland and the Stragglers album this year…

Tuesday music musings, 2.5.17

May 2, 2017

Good for Sam Riggs for apologizing for that bullshit stunt at the Larry Joe Taylor Music Festival

…but even if there’s no danger to the audience, I have always thought that sort of thing was completely unnecessary, to the point that I will say this:

If you feel like destroying musical instruments should be part of your live show for any reason, really, perhaps you shouldn’t be playing music for a living. The true test of a musical entertainer is (or at least ought to be) whether they can entertain a crowd when said crowd is blindfolded. No matter if you’re Jimi Hendrix, Garth Brooks, or Sam Riggs. And you can call me an old fart, a jackass, or whatever…but if I am that now, then I was one at the ripe old age of 15 watching Garth Brooks smash those guitars on the stage at Texas Stadium on national TV. I have said it before, but I always thought it rather telling that George Strait got the same reaction to his live shows that Garth Brooks did, when all George does — all he has ever done — is “just stand there and sing,” as some people so derisively put it. And I hear people say, “if I just wanted music I’d sit at home and listen to the cd,” but there’s a reason all those live albums I mentioned in that William Clark Green review are so highly regarded by fans of OKOM. There are more where those came from. Maybe more entertainers in Texas and everywhere else should strive for that level of artistry.

(Why do I ramble on about all this? Because I don’t have Trailer’s mad meme skills.)

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I finally got William Michael Morgan’s album Vinyl. I’ll have more to say on it at some point…

…but I will say off the bat that it’s the first album from a new mainstream country star that I’ve enjoyed in many years. Not that I’ve bought that many, but then again, one of the side effects of hearing crappy music on mainstream radio is not going out and buying new mainstream music. But if we had more stuff like what’s on this album, country music would be in a lot better shape than it is.

This right here is the best of the bunch, though.

Radio musings, 29.4.17

April 29, 2017

Well then.

The shares of radio and billboard giant iHeartMedia Inc. have tumbled 27.3 percent since the company warned investors last Thursday that it may not survive over the next 10 months.

So this is what it’s come to in April 2017, for one of the biggest media companies in the United States. Why?

Well, honestly, I don’t know. All I know is my own story. I haven’t bothered with terrestrial radio in a few years now. And that’s a huge change from the way I used to be as recently as a decade ago. And even more so before that…before I got satellite radio, I used to be with certain radio stations like a lot of people are with their sports teams. But they fired the deejays, changed the format, and all that good stuff. Sure, the music sucks, but really that’s just part of it. As I’ve put it before, those deejays become a part of your life, in a way the voices of your day, like co-workers, or — dare I say it — friends. You get rid of them and you get rid of a big part of your audience’s connection to your radio station, and when you’re already behind the eight-ball of having to play the same crappy music over and over, well it makes things that much worse. Is syndicated talent good? Sure it is, but there gets to be a point that there’s too much of it. What possible way (beyond financial) does it benefit Texas listeners to have a morning show on their local radio station that’s based in North Carolina? Between that and, for example, your modern rock stations not playing any actual modern rock, and all the No. 1 albums that don’t actually get any airplay on country radio, it’s small if any wonder that we are where we are now.

More great thoughts from Trigger at Saving Country Music here.

Monday music musings, 24.4.17

April 24, 2017

There’s nothing that ruins a piece of music quite like overproduction. And there are more ways to do that than just the ever-reviled brickwalling. See also: excessive layering, overdubbing, or whatever the proper term is. I mean, layering melody and harmony guitar solos is one thing, but to layer what sounds like the same vocal track over itself on song after song gets to be a bit much, especially on an album that otherwise would have been so much better without it. And then there’s layering so many instrumental tracks down that some songs trip over themselves because they’re so busy.

For the record, it was the new Aaron Watson album. I’m not gonna lie — I knew it’d be hard for Vaquero to measure up to The Underdog, and in some places it does, but in too many others it’s guilty of the sins I mentioned above. Just as an example, “These Old Boots Have Roots” and “Outta Style” between them take the excesses of “Rodeo Queen” (the absolute worst song from the last album) and magnify them to intolerable levels, to say nothing of the former’s clunky title and lyrics. And “Run Wild Horses” isn’t much better. I heard all these songs, and my reaction was, “this is the guy who’d rather be a fence post in Texas than the king of Tennessee, with everything that implies in relation to his music?” Maybe that’s not fair, but when you write a song about telling a Nashville record man to take his contract and blow it out his ass, that sort of thing tends to set certain expectations.

The album isn’t without its high points, and maybe it’ll grow on me much like Jason Boland’s latest, which has gotten to be a pretty regular listen. (I guess it just took me a while to come around to the genius inherent to that one.) But much like its predecessor — more so, even —Vaquero would benefited tremendously with some editing, and with 16 songs it would have been quite easy to do that. I do still think AW’s one of the good guys, though. Guess I’ll just be listening to The Underdog until the next album comes out.

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Aaaand yet again, this time via Saving Country Music, WTF Dean Dillon?

You gotta understand, I live, eat, sleep and breathe songs,” Dillon says. “Where are all the great songs that I know get written in Nashville? Every song is about the same damn thing. Daisy Dukes, trucks, beer, lake banks, time, after time, after time, after time. The bro country thing started 12 years ago, and 12 years later, they’re still singing the same things. Do they not evolve? Get older? Get married? Have kids? Get jobs and shift in society? There’s no movement in it.

OK. So before I go any further, let’s just get this out of the way. Dean Dillon’s catalog of songs speaks for itself, very loudly and very clearly. He absolutely has the skins on the wall to say whatever the hell he wants about country music and be listened to.

Now, with that said, there was this from 2013:

“I hear a lot of disgruntlement going on with what’s going on in country music in today’s world,” he said. “There’s a box. And there’s some cowboys out there kicking the sides down on it right now. And stretching the boundaries. And pushing the limits. And putting new twists and turns on it. And they go out there and they play every night to these thousands and thousands of people. And they sing their songs to their generation. And that’s what it’s all about.”

Why is it that in 2013 it was “pushing the limits” and all that nonsense, but a mere four years later, it’s “12 years later, they’re still singing the same things”? He might as well have called it evolution back then too, just like all the chucklefucks singing and writing that shit were and are doing. (Such makes Dillon’s question “do they not evolve” all the more bitterly ironic, really.) I know that there are some things whose merit is only borne out with time, but there are also some things that we ought to be able to call out as bullshit right away. I mean, good grief, could we not have said right off the bat that Florida-Georgia Line and “Cruise” (or Luke Bryan and “That’s My Kind of Night”) were going to be a disaster for the genre?

Again, good for Dean for calling these sad sacks out, but where was he back in 2013?

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And in other WTFery, there’s this, re: Robert Earl Keen’s “Shades of Gray”:

Screen Shot 2017-04-24 at 8.19.36 PM

How? How could you not know if you actually listened to that song that he alludes to the Oklahoma City bombing? I mean, the man’s a master of not beating you over the head, but come oooon! Do people just not listen to songs anymore?

(As a postscript to that, on a related note, an image of the April 20, 1995 front page of the Dallas Morning News popped up in my news feed. On said front page was a certain picture that I really was not expecting my reaction to. I am sure you know the one, as it is the most famous photograph taken of the horrors of that day. The brain plays a nasty, mean trick on you when you’re a parent — you see your own kids in pictures of certain horrors, and it’s…it’s not pretty. Perhaps I should have expected it, as little Duncan is about that age, but there is just no hell that is hot enough for the likes of Timothy McVeigh…)

Monday music musings, 17.4.17

April 17, 2017

It’s a fine and noble thing to wish for, but we’re not going to get a Randy Travis or Dwight Yoakam-inspired album or even single out of the likes of Thomas Rhett. He has made no secret of the fact that he’s a bigger fan of rock and pop than country; in fact, he’s so lacking in self-awareness that he wears it like a badge of honor. The closest Rhett would ever get to that would probably be something inspired by Bryan White, or maybe Mark Wills, i.e., nothing even in that time zone. I have said it before and will say it again: Thomas Rhett is the very personification of what Alan Jackson sings about in “Gone Country.” I saw Don Henley cited in the comments as someone who made pop and country records that were equally good, but to the extent that Cass County works as a country album (and it does so very well, IMO), that’s because of Don Henley’s love of country music. One of the songs on Cass County was a cover of the Louvin Brothers’ “When I Stop Dreaming,” and another, “The Cost of Living,” was a duet with Merle Haggard.

But Thomas Rhett doesn’t have that. If you asked Rhett who the Louvin Brothers were, he’d probably say they were the guys who did “Summer in the City.”

And as far as Maren Morris goes, can the mainstream media please stop pushing her as country music’s next great female hope now? “My Church” was more or less the inverse of “I Hope You Dance” — i.e., the best, most country song on Morris’ album, with the rest of it being a bunch of pop music masquerading as country, and now there’s this mess with Thomas Rhett. If there was any justice in it, her career as a country music singer would be finished.

Speaking of IHYD, we heard that song the other night when we were out for dinner. And it reminded me of certain observations I’ve made elsewhere, specifically:

The worst thing about the song “I Hope You Dance” was not that it was too pop-sounding, nor that it was dreadfully overrated, though the latter is definitely true. No, the worst thing about that song was that it wasn’t even close to an accurate reflection of who Lee Ann Womack was and is as an artist. It wasn’t even typical of the songs on the album that shared its title. I remember people falling all over themselves praising that song, people who didn’t normally pay that much if any attention to country music in general, and I thought, “You people have no idea…”

I have said before that beyond the title track, I Hope You Dance was a pretty typical Lee Ann Womack album, and that I regretted holding off on buying it for so long, and the inverse of that is likely true to some extent. What do I mean, you ask?

Well, let’s put it like this: I would be interested to know how many pop music fans bought that album and were turned off by “The Healing Kind,” “Lonely Too,” and “Does My Ring Burn Your Finger,” i.e., what is this twangy bullshit?

Album review: William Clark Green, Live At Gruene Hall

April 12, 2017

We first discovered William Clark Green with his breakthrough album, 2013’s Rose Queen, and 2015’s Ringling Road was even better. When I heard at the beginning of 2016 that he was going to record a live album at Gruene Hall, I had high hopes and expectations.

And they were wildly exceeded. Band, singer, and audience are all in top form. As good as the studio versions of the songs are, the live versions take them to another level, particularly with the cuts from Green’s pre-Rose Queen albums. The balls-to-the-wall 11-minute “Wishing Well” jam is worth the price of admission all by itself (Green belting out the first line of the chorus on that song will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck), and “Caroline,” Gypsy,” and Tonight” also receive excellent treatment here.

Now, that’s not to say that the songs from Rose Queen and Ringling Road, which make up the bulk of the set, are in any way subpar in comparison. “Sympathy” rocks just as hard as the RR original, and “Still Think About You” is the album’s most moving moment, with Green paying poignant tribute to his mentor and co-writer Kent Finlay. And the “She Likes the Beatles” singalong is a lot of fun, even if I did get a bit worn out on it from hearing it on the radio all the time back when it was a big hit here in Texas.

But Green does say that that song changed his life. It may well have gotten him the status he needed to have to be able to record this album. If so, it was more than worth it, because Live At Gruene Hall is more than deserving of a place in the pantheon of great Texas live albums, right alongside the likes of No. 2 Live Dinner, Unleashed Live, and Viva Terlingua!. Very, VERY highly recommended.

Monday music musings, 10.4.17

April 10, 2017

31 seconds, Brad Paisley! 31 seconds of “Heaven South” was all I could take!

I am a son of the South, make no mistake about it. Born in North Mississippi, raised in East Texas, and I am quite familiar with what Paisley talks about in the song…

…and even I think it’s the most overrated thing ever. I LIKE living in the city and everything it offers, and I make no apologies for that. Living in a place where there’s little more to do than hunt, fish, and watch UFC kinda sucks, especially when one has no interest in that last thing. (And don’t even get me started on that high school football business — because you know that’s another integral part of all this — especially right as the news here in San Antonio is being dominated by the arrests of several football players from a local high school on charges of sexual assault under the guise of “hazing.”)

I guess I say all of that to say this: At this point I really don’t think there’s a new, original way of expressing the sentiments Paisley has expressed in that song. Songs about the rural South have just been done to death. I think the last good song that fits anywhere in that vein would be Alan Jackson’s “Small Town Southern Man,” but that was just as much a tribute to AJ’s dad as it was his way of life, and as far as I can tell we don’t really have any singer-songwriters in mainstream country on his level anymore, so stuff like “Heaven South” is what we’re going to keep getting. More’s the pity.

And what also really get me is comments like this one:

Never blame the artist for what the fans love and buy!

Why not? I remember when I was getting in on the ground floor of the Texas music movement back around the turn of the century, it trafficked in a lot of the same bro-country tropes we deride now, albeit with a Texas flavor (floating the Guadalupe, drinking Shiner Bock or Lone Star instead of Fireball, etc.) As Brad Beheler at Galleywinter so eloquently put it:

There are current acts in Texas and Oklahoma that are flamed for doing music similar to what Pat Green and Cory Morrow were making fifteen years ago.  But, if songs like “Drink One More Round” or “Southbound 35″ were to be released today wouldn’t those types of songs be lumped in with the Donahew white trash lowest common denominator Texas stuff?  I recall many old school Robert Earl Keen and Jerry Jeff fans denouncing PG and CM as copycat kids in it to make a buck playing to frat guys with backwards hats and neon-tinged morals.

But even though many of the artists got away from that, the scene here is still going pretty strong, to the point that you get acts like William Clark Green and the Turnpike Troubadours filling the same venues now that Roger Creager and Cory Morrow did back then. I might not blame the artist for the fans buying the artist’s music, but I will certainly blame the artist for not challenging himself and his fans with meatier material — especially when said artist was challenging his fans with meatier material once upon a time. It’s like as the Texas scene was evolving, Brad Paisley and Nashville in general were devolving, albeit not along the same timeline.

Speaking of all that, the irony is bitter indeed in this meme from Farce the Music:

W

What’s that, you ask?

Well, the Academy of Country Music was formed in response to the Country Music Association not giving West Coast artists like Merle Haggard and Buck Owens enough recognition. It was an…alternative, if you will.

Now, instead of, say, Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen, or Jason Boland and Billy Joe Shaver, or William Clark Green and Jack Ingram, if you watched the ACM awards the other night, you got…whatever the hell this is. (I am given to believe it’s Florida-Georgia Line and the Backstreet Boys.)

“…it’s such a pleasure to play music for people who give a shit.”

I am confident that absolutely no one who gives a shit was on that stage or in that audience.

It’s not so much that radio country has gone to hell. Pretty much nothing I listen to anymore is played on terrestrial radio outside of the AM spectrum. But I remember when it wasn’t so difficult if not impossible to find good music on the radio, old and new. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss that, not to mention folks like George and Alan representing this genre with so much class in the mainstream.

Monday music musings, 3.4.17

April 3, 2017

Messing around in the archives of Lone Star Music, I came up on this Jason Boland interview from some time ago. Key snippet:

What were you listening to back then?

Well, you know, growing up, you just listen to whatever your dad listened to — Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings, and some folk music, and then just whatever was on the radio. And as far as more modern country, the things that really interested me … I liked Clint Black’s early stuff, a lot of that was great. Those were some of the country albums from my generation that really blew me away. And then of course I listened to rock, too: Pantera, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden.

Wait, what? The guy who did songs like “Pearl Snaps” and “Hank” listened to the likes of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden? Huh. Now, I know those hard country songs are not all Boland does — see, among others, “Green Screen,” “It’s Alright to be an Asshole,” ” and “Thunderbird Wine,” and those not-so-country influences come through rather loudly. But even towards the end of that latter number, they throw in a wailing fiddle solo that’d make Bob Wills proud.

I know I keep coming back to that, but I think it’s probably at the root of my gripes with mainstream country. “We didn’t grow up listening to just country music!” Well, if a traditional country standard-bearer like Jason Boland can come of age listening to fucking Judas Priest and Pantera, then Luke Bryan and Florida-Georgia Line don’t have any excuse — unless, of course, they’re just lying to us all about having listened to any country music growing up. Which is a distinct possibility.

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Confession time:

You know that I scoff at certain people’s nostalgia for ’90s country as some sort of golden age, and I know he’s a laughingstock to a lot of people now, but I can’t deny that Doug Supernaw’s debut album, Red and Rio Grande, was one of the most underrated albums of that time period. It did spawn a No. 1 hit with “I Don’t Call Him Daddy,” but there was a lot more to it than that, including covers of Keith Whitley (“I Would Have Loved You All Night Long”) and Dan Seals (“Five Generations of Rock County Wilsons”). And I have no idea how I only now came to recognize the meta brilliance of the honky-tonk shuffle “You’re Gonna Bring Back Cheatin’ Songs” — a cheating song that talks about the cheater’s actions boosting their popularity, whaaat?

But there’s a reason I got this album on both cassette and cd — and now mp3 — and it’s this song right here:

Random musings, 23.3.17

March 23, 2017

This is why progressives fail:

Senator Ted Cruz Has Forever Tainted The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Because God forbid somebody who doesn’t share your political beliefs like the same things you do but not for the same reasons you do, amirite? I mean, Bernie Sanders has gone on record as liking Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, and God knows Sanders and I agree on precious few things politically, if we agree on anything at all. But does that taint them for me? No, no it does not. In a way, in fact, it makes Sanders kinda cool, more of a “regular Joe,” if you will. I know he’s not — let’s face it, by the time you get to the lofty position of United States Senator, you’re anything but a regular Joe — but some of the people who do make it that far are, shall we say, more relatable and down-to-earth than others, or at least have tastes that make them seem so.

But some people just can’t have that, it seems. No, if they find out that one of their political nemeses likes the same things they do, they can’t like it anymore because it makes them JUST LIKE the people they don’t agree with. I suppose you could call it the reverse of what we see so often with musicians and entertainers. Whatever you want to call it, it’s pretty fucking pathetic. And I would feel sorry for them…but no. Just, no. They deserve every bit of the existential angst that comes their way and then some, to say nothing of the political defeats that come their way just because they can’t shut the hell up. It sounds like a bleak, joyless existence indeed, and it couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch.

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On the Live At Gruene Hall album, as he goes into the band intro in the middle of “Wishing Well,” William Clark Green addresses the audience, saying, “It’s such a pleasure to play music for people who give a shit.”

Well, as a fan, I will certainly say the same for the artists down here that play OKOM — that is, that it’s such a pleasure to still have artists to listen to who give a shit. I first got into the Texas scene back in late 1999 and early 2000 with Pat Green, Cory Morrow, the Robison brothers, etc. That was without a doubt the beginning of my disillusionment with mainstream country music, but I can’t deny that there was a fair bit of, well, music that I thought was good even that late in the game — music from people who, well, gave a shit. Now we just have a constant stream of brainless auto-tuned party songs and pseudo-deep crap like “Dirt” and “You Should Be Here” that wouldn’t even have made a B-side once upon a time. (And even that is giving those songs more credit than they deserve, because some of the greatest songs in the history of popular music were B-sides.) I mean, really. I saw the reaction to Cole Swindell’s “You Should Be Here” on a Reddit thread not long after it came out, and people were talking about how amaaaaazing it was…

…and all I could think was, “Obviously none of these people have heard George Strait’s “Everything I See.'”

“…it’s such a pleasure to play music for people who give a shit.”

What does that say about mainstream country fans? Well, nothing that hasn’t already been said, really, in this space or anywhere else. As long as they get another shitty party-on-a-tailgate song that validates their vapid existence, they, well, just don’t give a shit, about the music itself or anything else.