Posts Tagged ‘music’

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.

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 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…

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…

Wrong answer, Sammy. Thanks for playing, though!

December 2, 2014

…or, If I keep rolling my eyes like this, one of these days they’re going to stick.

Sam Hunt, via Country California:

I don’t know if the phrase originally was meant to be derogatory but it’s turned into that. It’s sort of a snobby thing to say. You know, I think some people enjoy being above whatever “bro-country” is.

Good grief, talk about missing the target by a mile. It’s a good thing he never flew B-52s or he’d have been thrown out of the Air Force. — Enjoy being above bro-country? I only speak for myself here, but I don’t so much “enjoy being above” bro-country as pride myself on it. Why?

Because, as I’ve probably said before, it’s all so shallow and insincere. Fake, even. What the hell did Sam Hunt think “I’ll Sing About Mine” was really about?  Does he think Adam Hood and Brian Keane just pulled that song out of their asses? I mean, you could probably paint it as some kind of elite vs. proletariat thing if you wanted to — Hunt may or may not be alluding to that here — but when you have songwriters who grew up in those small towns calling out bro-country for the bullshit that it is, that lends a certain level of, shall we say, credibility to what they’re saying.

Oh, who am I kidding? Hunt is just in his own way disparaging all the longtime country music fans who don’t like the direction the genre has been taking the last few years. That’s what it sounds like to me, honestly. And I can see why he’d be a little cloudy on the concept of standards, considering he markets himself as a country singer when he’s nothing of the sort, but that doesn’t make him any less off-base.

Musings on politics and music, 20.11.14

November 20, 2014

Via Country California, we have this, from the New Yorker:

By now, Brooks’s big-tent idealism—cheesy and vague, to be sure, but sincerely and exuberantly expressed—feels like a relic of the early nineties, of a time when Michael Jackson sang “Black or White,” and it felt as though real progress might be just a catchy pop song away. Yet here is Brooks, in late 2014, on “People Loving People,” the first single from the new album, turning back the clock to what seems like a pre-modern age before irony, singing, “People loving people, that’s the enemy of everything that’s evil.” Country music’s liberal conscience has returned to the stage.

That sound you just heard was me rolling my eyes. You probably heard it Sunday night as I was reading that piece for the first time. I’m telling you, for all the world that story sounded like it was written by an anthropologist describing some sort of alien culture he just discovered.

And the infuriating thing about it is that wasn’t really the worst of it. What was the worst of it, you ask?

The worst of it was that there was very little in that New Yorker story about whether or not the new music itself was actually any good. The whole thing seemed to be a ham-handed attempt to paint Garth Brooks as holding the author’s preferred political beliefs. That in and of itself doesn’t have to be bad — but if the allegedly political music is so outrageously bad to the point that “People Loving People” is, then what’s the point? The lyrics were bad enough. “People loving people, that’s the enemy of everything that’s evil.” Really, Garth? Really? And as I’ve said before, I heard the song described thusly at Saving Country Music a while back:

“It sounds to me like ‘We Shall Be Free’ with a touch of ‘Right Now’ by Van Halen.”

Just reading that still makes me cringe. No doubt the more cynical politically minded country fans would get the idea that Garth was some sort of agent provocateur, putting out “liberal” music that’s so outrageously bad that it’s just going to be dismissed out of hand. I don’t think he is, but I do think it deserves to be asked why people do this sort of thing.You could say that this is the flip side of what we were seeing in 2003, with conservative activists singing the praises of Darryl Worley and Toby Keith (and trashing the Dixie Chicks left and right) without saying anything about how good the music actually was. Honestly. “Have You Forgotten” should never have been a No. 1 hit for rhyming “bin Laden” and “forgotten” alone. It’s like, “Hey, these artists think the right way, you should listen to them!”

Uh, no. I mean, I think “Snake Oil” is really out there as a political polemic, but it’s probably my second-favorite Steve Earle song behind “Hillbilly Highway.”I can sit here and say, “Steve Earle’s full of shit as far as his political beliefs go, but that’s a great fucking song, message be damned. Play the shit out of it.” Of course, there’s only so far I’d be willing to take that; if he’d been, say, advocating racial genocide in song, I’d be backing away from that. But I don’t see why so many people can’t take both the message and the music itself into account. I’ve always thought that championing music just because of the artists’ politics and the music’s message, not bothering with the music’s quality, cheapens music as an art form more than pretty much anything I can think of. And I don’t see anything changing that opinion any time soon.

Charles Kelley is a blithering idiot.

November 3, 2014

Why? Well, read it for yourself:

Since the beginning of country, they were debating on Kenny Rogers being too pop and then Rascal Flatts, too, but now you listen to Rascal Flatts and they sound like traditional country.

“Rascal Flatts…(sounds) like traditional country.”

Uh…no. No they don’t. Even now, 14 years after their debut, Rascal Flatts’ music still sounds just like the glitzy feel-good pop that was dominating the genre a la Shania Twain and Faith Hill in the early 2000s. Sure, you might have heard a fiddle here and there, but that didn’t make them country any more than Eddy Shaver’s electric guitar made Tramp On Your Street a thrash metal album. I really don’t understand where people get off saying certain music sounds like traditional country music just because it’s old. That’s gotta be the most self-serving shenanigan I’ve seen from a modern mainstream “country” artist yet. (And considering Jerrod Niemann that’s really saying something.) I mean, really. It’s just so self-evidently ridiculous that I don’t have to explain it.

But why the hell not? Just for an example, Charlie Rich’s “Behind Closed Doors” came out in 1973 — more than four decades ago — but there are quite a few big songs from that year that were considerably more country-sounding, among them:

• Merle Haggard, “I Wonder If They Ever Think Of Me” and “If We Make It Through December”

• Loretta Lynn, “Rated X”

• Cal Smith, “The Lord Knows I’m Drinking”

• Johnny Rodriguez, “Ridin’ My Thumb to Mexico”

I could go on, but such would be belaboring the point. I hesitate to say that Charlie Rich was the Rascal Flatts of his day, as even with his pop leanings his music did have substance to it, but that really doesn’t change anything. (Perhaps he was the Faith- or Breathe-era Faith Hill of his day.) It’s more than a little bit disingenuous to take a certain genre of music out of its historical context for whatever reason, not least of all because music is to a large extent a reflection of its time. None of this is to say that music doesn’t evolve, and I realize that artists are going to bring the influences of the artists they listened to in their formative years to their own sound. But the question still remains of why, for example, on one hand you have Jason Boland and the Stragglers covering Don Williams and Merle Haggard in their live shows and relegated to relative obscurity, and on the other you have the likes of Eric Church boasting about playing the same stage as Metallica after he talks about how he didn’t even grow up listening to country music and not being at the very least booed right the hell out of the room.  (It’s like, well what the hell are you doing here, you freaking carpetbagger?) And it’s worth asking why so many mainstream artists feel the need to defend their musical direction by taking old musical trends completely out of context as Kelley did here — other than the phenomenon Bob McDill described 20 years ago in “Gone Country.”

(h/t Country California)

Monday music musings, 20.10.14

October 20, 2014

Kix Brooks, peddling a revisionist history of sorts:

We’ve got Luke [Bryan] and Jason [Aldean] and Zac [Brown Band] selling stadiums! Hell, Ronnie and I never did that. Now we have four or five artists legitimately that can sell stadiums damn near anywhere.

Sigh. Why is this revisionist history, you ask? Because it’s quite clear what he’s getting at, and he’s wrong. Back when Brooks and Dunn were actually a thing, in fact one of the hottest acts in country music, country music had at least two acts who could pack stadiums — Garth Brooks and George Strait. In fact, Strait was selling out stadiums, or pretty close to it, 20 years into his career — about the same length of time Brooks and Dunn were at it before they called it quits. Think about that, in the context of what Brooks is saying here and what Strait has said (or, rather, not said) about modern country music.

Of course, all of this is assuming that “numbers of acts selling out stadiums” is a valid indicator of the artistic health of any given genre. Which it isn’t.

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Apologies to David Cantwell,  but “I Hope You Dance” is still the most overrated thing Lee Ann Womack has ever recorded. I remember seeing a recent Texas Monthly Lee Ann Womack feature that summed it up quite nicely:

“If all you know about Lee Ann Womack is the schmaltzy megahit ‘I Hope You Dance,’ then you probably don’t understand her at all.”

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Somebody ought to ask Cortez Bryant if he knows how the U2 album Songs of Innocence was received as it was put on every iTunes account and if that’s something he really wants to emulate. Or, on second thought, maybe not. The faster these interlopers with no respect for the genre go down in flames, the better.

(h/t Country California)


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