Sunday Selections: August 21, 2016

To paraphrase Beyonce: Sorry, we ain’t sorry.

When we posted last week’s Sunday Selections feature, the controversy surrounding some comments Blake Shelton had made on his verified Twitter account was just getting warmed up. As social media outrage cycles go, this one was fairly short-lived, and by mid-week it seemed like much of the internet had moved on to being mad at Ryan Lochte. So the window for Shelton to take some responsibility for having, several years prior, posted comments that were both homophobic and xenophobic was fairly short.

And, during that time, he or someone on his team issued a statement that failed to address the content of what had been written in any meaningful way. Instead, he seemed eager to hide behind the guise of “comedy”– because, as everyone knows, people who take offense to social inequalities are always humorless individuals who are actively seeking out new reasons to be offended like they’re playing a very special version of Pokemon GO from inside their safe spaces, amiright?– and brush the entire issue aside before the next season of The Voice premieres.

Which is to say that, to answer the question posed last week of how he might address this, he pretty well chose not to. Which is his prerogative, of course, but which nonetheless reinforces a host of unfortunate stereotypes about country music, its artists, its fans, and its culture. But so it goes.

Elsewhere this week, there are a slew of new releases worth checking out. New albums from Dolly Parton– who also has a couple of choice reissues, too– Lydia Loveless, Drake White, and John Paul White lead the pack, and Moe Bandy returns with his first album in 10 years. The Dixie Chicks returned to Nashville and put on an empowering show, Suzy Bogguss revisited her breakthrough album in a way that makes us feel older than we’d care to admit, and Carrie Underwood prepared to co-host the CMA Awards with Brad Paisley once again.

Onward!

Drake White - SparkNew Releases & Reissues, 8/19/2016
Lynn Anderson, The Christmas Album: Expanded Edition (1971). (Columbia Nashville)
Moe Bandy, Lucky Me. (Bandy Productions)
Carl Broemel, 4th of July. (Thirty Tigers)
Casey Donahew, All Night Party. (Almost Country)
Amos Lee, Spirit. (Republic)
Lydia Loveless, Real. (Bloodshot)
Dolly Parton, Pure & Simple. (RCA Nashville)
Dolly Parton, The Golden Streets of Glory (1971). (RCA Nashville)
Dolly Parton, My Tennessee Mountain Home (1973). (RCA Nashville)
The Stray Birds, Magic Fire. (Yep Roc)
Kiefer Sutherland, Down in a Hole. (Warner Bros Nashville)
Tall Heights, Neptune. (Sony Masterworks)
Dale Watson, Live at the Big T Roadhouse: Chickenshit Bingo Sunday. (Red House)
Drake White, Spark. (Dot)
John Paul White, Beulah. (Single Lock)
Tammy Wynette, Christmas With Tammy (1973). (Epic)

HeadOverBootsCharted Territory
Billboard Country National Airplay:
#1: Jon Pardi, “Head Over Boots”
Most Increased Audience: Kenny Chesney feat. Pink, “Setting the World on Fire”
Debuts: RaeLynn, “Love Triangle” (#57); Ronnie Dunn with Kix Brooks, “Damn Drunk” (#58); Gary Allan, “Do You Wish It Was Me” (re-entry, #60).
Most Added: The Band Perry, “Comeback Kid” (24); Ronnie Dunn with Kix Brooks, “Damn Drunk” (18); Luke Bryan, “Move” (18); Florida Georgia Line with Tim McGraw, “May We All” (18); Kenny Chesney feat. Pink, “Setting the World on Fire” (17).
Notes: Jon Pardi ascends to #1 with the traditional-leaning “Head Over Boots” after 46 weeks; Chris Lane’s execrable “Fix” begins its descent into irrelevance, falling to #6, may we never have to mention it again; Dierks Bentley’s duet with Elle King, the well-intentioned but problematic “Different for Girls,” cracks the top 10 at #9; another superstar duet isn’t so fortunate, as Brad Paisley’s and Demi Lovato’s “Without a Fight” drops from a #16 peak down to #19; after 43 weeks on the chart, Kip Moore’s “Running for You” looks to be done, dropping from its #13 peak to #15; it’s a rough week for the better-than-average quality mid-tempo singles, as Drake White’s “Livin’ the Dream” (#26), Jennifer Nettles’ “Unlove You” (#29), and Brothers Osborne’s “21 Summer” (#32) all lost their bullets; with their iHeartMedia promotion over, The Band Perry’s “Comeback Kid” drops from a #39 debut to #47, despite scoring a slew of station adds; RaeLynn scores the week’s highest debut at #57 with “Love Triangle,” a well-written song that should have been sung instead by someone whose voice and technical abilities would warrant a career as a professional singer.

Elsewhere on Billboard‘s radio charts:
The Lumineers score another AAA top 10 hit, as “Cleopatra” moves up to #9; Amos Lee’s “Vaporize” (#18) and Wilco’s “If I Ever Was a Child” (#19) both post solid gains at AAA, while Shovels & Rope’s “I Know” holds at #28; scoring AAA station adds this week are Father John Misty’s “Real Love Baby” (9), Drive-By Trucker’s “Surrender Under Protest” (6), and Blind Pilot’s “Packed Powder” (4); Florida Georgia Line’s “H.O.L.Y.” continues its assault on Adult Top 40 radio, moving up from #25 to #21; Tim McGraw loses a bit more ground at Adult Contemporary radio, falling from #14 to #15; Hillary Scott & The Scott Family continue their rapid climb at Christian radio, as “Thy Will” moves up to #5.

Blake Shelton Came Here to ForgetNews & Notes
“Everyone knows comedy has been a major part of my career and it’s always been out there for anyone to see. That said anyone that knows me also knows that I have no tolerance for hate of any kind or form. Can my humor at times be inappropriate and immature? Yes. Hateful? Never. That said I deeply apologize to anybody who may have been offended.”
— Blake Shelton addressed the controversy over his unearthed series of casually homophobic and overtly racist tweets by insisting that his remarks that someone who didn’t speak English must be planning an act of terrorism was just his humor, y’all. And, rather than own up to the fact that his comments were, on their own merits, hateful in addition to being inappropriate and immature, he issued a textbook non-apology to those who “may have been offended.” His legion of apologists were quick to jump to his defense– his twitter timeline immediately became one long series of statements from those insisting that he had nothing to be sorry for in the first place, because of course it did– but these seven sentences represent Shelton’s having done the bare minimum to address accusations that reflect poorly on him and on country music as a whole. (JK)

“This self-assertion does indeed mirror a broader shift in the way society, and women themselves, respond to domestic violence, most obviously in new laws, facilities and tools like the restraining order taken out against the Dixie Chicks’ Earl. The trajectory of the overall problem is hard to gauge, since more reporting may signify lower tolerance of offences rather than a higher incidence; but while it remains an epidemic, affecting around 10m people annually, its most severe manifestation—femicide—has fallen in the past 20 years. Fresh portrayals in country music and other art forms may have nudged as well as recorded evolving attitudes.”
— An essay in The Economist, “Something In His Whiskey,” considered how portrayals of domestic violence in country music have shifted over the years, and how even the subtle changes from Martina McBride’s “Independence Day” and Dixie Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl” to Miranda Lambert’s “Gunpowder & Lead” and Carrie Underwood’s “Church Bells” reflect broader trends in how this issue is perceived. (JK)

During his appearance on Bobby Bones’ radio show, Drake White performed “Making Me Look Good Again,” from his debut album, Spark. A third single from the set hasn’t been announced just yet, but this would be a fine choice. (JK)

“It feels a little bit like camping because you have your stuff, but you don’t necessarily have a shower. You’re kind of like a little family. We’re not like partying super hard. We just practice and work. If you all are on the same page about where you’re headed and what you want, you can get over the fact that maybe someone ate your peanut butter.”
— Cam considered the “upgrade” in her touring conditions since her days of hitting the road in a Chevy van. Her comments were part of a profile by Cindy Watts of The Tennessean, who tagged along with the up-and-coming star as she opens for Dierks Bentley.

“I wanted to look at each song and say, ‘How would we play this if it were a brand new song we were working up?’ ‘Yellow River Road’ got more rugged because I’ve grown as a vocalist. I like to play things a little tougher now…On some songs I stayed a little closer to the original version: on ‘Outbound Plane’ you can hear different instruments but it’s still got that jangly guitar.”
— Suzy Bogguss chatted with friend-of-the-blog Juli Thanki of The Tennessean about Aces: Redux, her re-recorded version of her breakthrough album, which was released 25 (!!) years ago. (JK)

And, because Suzy Bogguss and the title track from Aces are both awesome, here’s a video of her performing the song back in 1991. (JK)

“With apologies to Lady Antebellum, Rascal Flatts and Little Big Town, the Dixie Chicks are still country music’s last great group — one with the ability to write hits as well as reach outside the confines of the genre to pull in new fans, even with tunes as irreverent as ‘Sin Wagon’ and ‘Long Time Gone.’ The last time the Country Music Association’s coveted Entertainer of the Year honor went to a group was to the Chicks in 2000, following the success of their album Fly. Prior to that it was Alabama … in 1984.”
— Jon Freeman of Nashville Scene previewed the Dixie Chicks’ return to Nashville as part of their DCX MMXVI tour. Freeman points out the gap that the trio stepped into in the late 90s and how that gap has yet to be filled since the band was sent to the Island Of Misfit Toys by the country industry in 2003. (JK)

“Besides, Dixie Chicks’ music does the talking. This tour’s set list reminds concertgoers that ‘Not Ready To Make Nice,’ the unapologetic answer song the trio released after the Bush controversy (and an encore Wednesday), fits right in with a body of work that’s all about staying independent and fighting inequity, albeit usually on a personal scale. From the rebel road song ‘Lubbock Or Leave It’ to ‘Sin Wagon,’ a giddy tale of post-breakup liberation, to ‘Wide Open Spaces,’ about a daughter following in her mom’s adventuring footsteps, Dixie Chicks songs dwell on the moments when the courage to go in a new direction overcomes dependence and doubt.”
— The always incisive Ann Powers of NPR was in attendance for the Chicks’ return to Nashville, and she was taken by how the show’s atmosphere was built upon empowering women thanks to the band’s stage presence and the content of their songs. (JK)

Jason Isbell provided the voice of a “rock pastor” on the “New Pastor In Town” episode of Adult Swim’s long-running series, Squidbillies. (JK)

“Brad is willing to make himself the butt of the joke, which you’ve got to respect… We’re both willing to look stupid, but he assumes the role of annoying big brother. And I’m sure he would call me the annoying little sister.”
— Carrie Underwood talked about her stage banter with long-time CMA Awards co-host, Brad Paisley, in a feature for Southern Living. The second round of voting for this year’s CMAs just wrapped up, so it’s only a few more weeks before we find out of the Country Music Association once again leaves Underwood off the final ballot for the Entertainer of the Year trophy she’s deserved for the last three or four years running. (JK)

“I remember when I was younger and I had a song or a record that turned me on and you had to drive around to every store to try and find who had a copy of it! I can remember pulling up and it not being at one or it not being at two — and when you finally get your hands on it, you couldn’t get to the car fast enough. That’s the feeling we were trying to simulate.”
— Eric Church gave a killer interview with Jewly Hight earlier this year, and he’s now given another must-read talk to Madison Vain of Entertainment Weekly. Church, per usual, doesn’t pull any punches, referring to the music industry as “back assward” and naming which of his radio hits he wished hadn’t been released as singles. As ever, Church comes across as a fascinating, thoughtful artist who cares deeply about how his work is created and about how it is received. (JK)

“I don’t have a lot of other outlets and I don’t really have any other interests or activities and I’m not very expressive in conversation. I just try to make it relatable.”
— Lydia Loveless spoke about why songwriting is cathartic for her as part of an interview with Dan Hyman of Rolling Stone. Loveless touches on her “badass” persona and how some elements of her fanbase have become attached to her work in ways that, on occasion, make her uncomfortable. She also talks about how her terrific new album, Real, shifts her style away from more traditional country influences and toward a punk and even pop aesthetic. (JK)

Loveless performed “Same To You” from Real during her appearance on CBS This Morning. (JK)

That will do it for this week, gang. As always, let us know in the comments if you’ve run across something noteworthy that we’ve missed. Check out Leeann’s review of the new Aaron Lewis single, and check back this week for more new content!

22 Comments

  1. I think it’s probably safe to say that mainstream country music in general, not just Blake Shelton, is catering to a different kind of fan anymore. People who want to constantly listen to songs about partying in a cornfield in front of a bonfire on a tailgate with a scantily-clad nameless girl because “that’s what they know” — the “boys ’round here,” one might call them — don’t really present themselves as any kinds of deep thinkers. Songs like George Strait’s “Amarillo By Morning” or Aaron Watson’s “Bluebonnets” might as well be written in Portuguese for all those people are able to comprehend them, never mind a song like Jason Boland’s “Fat And Merry,” wherein he sings about “re-gentrify(ing) the shitty part of town.”

    I do love Suzy Bogguss, but I’d rather hear actual new music from her. I may be alone here, but I really don’t understand artists re-recording older hits, let alone entire albums. As I have put it elsewhere, I can count on one hand the re-recordings of older songs that were as good as or better than the originals, and they were all on the same album by the same artist.

    (Billy Joe Shaver’s Tramp On Your Street, for the record; the songs were “Oklahoma Wind” and “Georgia On A Fast Train.”)

    Also, while we’re on the subject of the Dixie Chicks, I found it quite encouraging to see that they sold out their show in Houston a couple of weeks ago. I can only hope that’s a signifier of the public’s appetite for better music…

  2. Re. artists re-doing their old stuff: Yes, I think that’s not an especially great move on their part. I wasn’t all that happy when Trisha Yearwood did the “recycling” thing on ten of her hits for Prize Fighter; and as harsh as it may sound to say this, I think she really blew it there.

    With respect to Blake Shelton’s tweets–besides all the harm those rants of his have done to country music, raising the old hoary stereotype about its musicians and fans being inbred rednecks and such, you just have to wonder whether he realizes how incredibly easy it is for people to take offense at his form of “comedy”, which to my mind is rather lame at best, anyway. There is an old saying, “Dying is easy; comedy is hard”, but it does seem to me that Shelton never heard of it. In any case, he just doesn’t strike me as being the sharpest knife in country music’s kitchen drawer by any stretch of the imagination.

  3. Let me start by saying I am – in no way – a Blake Shelton fanatic. I’ve never purchased one of his cds or downloaded any of his music. I’ve never seen an episode of The Voice – even when the great Stevie Nicks appeared on the show.

    That being said, I don’t understand why Shelton is raked over the coals for jokes he made years ago that are deemed ‘offensive, ignorant, politically incorrect, un-liberal, racist, homophobic, etc…’ and then in the same breath is insulted himself with remarks like ‘inbred redneck’???

    Who decided that judgmental, offensive, hurtful humor is only a one-way street. To quote the great Dolly Parton, “Look at your reflection in your house of glass, don’t open my closet if your own’s full of trash”

  4. I agree that it’d be wrong to call him an inbred redneck, but as far as I can tell, Erik was referring to a stereotype of country music/its listeners, not actually calling Sheltonan inbred redneck, but rather, saying that his tweets raised the old stereotype.

  5. Yes, I, too, understood it as people saying Shelton’s comments reinforced a stereotype, which is different than calling Shelton that stereotype.

    Reba’s comments bother me. I’d love some stats on when females ruled. Yes they had a commercial peak in the 90s and early 00s, but even then I am pretty sure male artists dominated the airwaves. Has there ever been a time period when women were the consistent majority of the, say, top 20 songs on country radio? Were they consistently sweeping the industry awards? To call something ‘cyclical’ would mean that there has been actual change at some point. Did more women have hits 20 years ago than now? Sure. But that doesn’t mean they had equality at the time.

  6. Re Jason’s comment, I found a Billboard top 75 songs from 1996 in which there were 18 songs by female artists. A media base top 100 for 1996 had 22 songs by female artists.

  7. Bob, it looks like the 80s were a little more represented by females, but still not close to being in the majority compared to songs by male singers.

    Looking at the year end list of the top 100 songs from American Country Countdown (the country version of Casey Kasem’s American Top 40), songs by female artists averaged about 25 per year. I included duets and songs by all-female groups like The Judds and The Forrester Sisters. 1986 had the highest number of songs by female artists with 32.

  8. Right. So even when females made up a larger portion of the charts than they do now, they were never even close to 50/50, let alone “ruling.”

  9. Country Universe: come for the country music reviews, leave from the social justice warrior B.S. I miss the old Country Universe that posted witty, insightful single and album reviews on a regular basis, instead of whiny roundups of all of the country music news that offended someone in a given week.

  10. We can’t please everyone. We’ve gotten lots of good feedback about the Sunday Selections feature, but it’s okay that it’s not for everyone. Moreover, Country Universe has always promoted and has not shied away from social justice issues. In fact, it’s what inspired Kevin to start Country Universe in the first place.

  11. Does anybody know if pop or rock radio plays music by women any more than country radio does? The last time I listened to radio on a regular basis was in 1977 when I was still driving to work.

  12. I’m with Keith on this. The social issues are fine in small amounts but it gets old quick.

    I personally miss the ‘Name 5 songs that…’ or ‘Name 5 artists that…’ Those were always fun and wish they would come back. But I love anything that involves country music history.

  13. bob – 4 of the current top 10 songs at Top 40 radio are sung by women and over half of the top 20 songs feature a female vocalist (i.e. including duets).

  14. I dig the Sunday Selections feature, FWIW. I hated to see Country California shut its doors and think you guys have done a fantastic job stepping up with this feature, as Quotable Country was something I looked forward to each week for a very long time. Some of you guys’ politics I don’t agree with, but I just (mostly) ignore it and go on.

    As far as the whole Blake Shelton thing goes, I think that has nothing to do with social justice or political correctness and everything to do with him being a decent human being by not implying, among other things, that being gay is a bad thing and that people who don’t speak English are automatically terrorists. He’s entitled to his opinion, but if he’s gonna come out and say asshole things out loud, I don’t understand why calling him out for such has to be decried as “social-justice warrior BS.” Like it or not, he is a representative of country music to the general public, and he needs to comport himself as such.

  15. thanks Jason – maybe Kree Harrison should go pop. I love her album but I see that the 2 singles she released have failed to crack the country top 40.
    Re Caj’s suggestion, I used to like the now defunct Engine 145 blog’s Friday Five.

  16. One thing’s for sure, we’ve definitely had some great discussions on here in recent weeks. I’ve missed that and have thoroughly enjoyed all the comments. Let’s keep this going please.

  17. I’m always open to feedback and criticism when it’s delivered fairly and politely, so I went back through all of the Sunday Selections posts through the beginning of May. By my count, there are 5 “bullet point” entries that consist of a controversial statement that I then elaborated upon with commentary about why it was controversial or problematic. That number increases to 7 if you also want to count comments that The Band Perry have made which, if not controversial or offensive, I called out for being bratty or petulant. And it doesn’t include the articles that I posted about how both politically liberal and conservative outlets had written absurd things about Merle Haggard’s death.

    I don’t think that’s in any way excessive. When one of the biggest stars in the genre makes statements that reinforce harmful stereotypes about anyone– and, yes, as a fellow Southerner, I would absolutely call someone out for making comments about “inbred rednecks”– and then does the absolute bare minimum to acknowledge it? That’s something that is noteworthy that occurred within the genre, and I’m going to post about it.

    @ThePistolero hit it exactly on the mark. And as both he and @caj stated, I think there have been some terrific discussions on these comment threads. I appreciate the fact that our commenters, by and large, are respectful and civil to one another and to the writers here. They engage with issues from multiple angles and perspectives, and they recognize how these discussions figure into the bigger picture about country music. That’s one of the things I value most about this site and one of the (many) reasons I choose to contribute here.

    I know you can’t please everyone all the time, and, as I said, I’m always open to feedback. When it comes to these posts, that feedback has been mostly (but not 100%) positive. I know many of our readers would like to see more reviews posted; I know I’d like to have more time in the week to write them, and I think that’s true of the rest of the crew here, too.

  18. Time is always a problem for the creators of blogs such as this one. Unless the writer is retired, there are other demands upon one’s time, be it job, family, church or other activities. I think that the writers for this blog do a good job of keeping the ball rolling forward, while appealing to a number of differing tastes. I don’t expect always to agree with what I see written, nor do I expect to agree with everything; in fact, I would be terribly disappointed if I did agree with everything

  19. I do want to say that all of you good folks who run this blog do an incredible job here, especially in not being afraid to post subject matter that can be controversial at times and result in some fairly heated and pointed opinions. It’s not exactly the easiest job in the world to do, but you all do it with incredible success.

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