This week, we had to type the word, “songwriterly,” because some country stars are bad at talking and having opinions.
Erstwhile Staind frontman turned country artist Aaron Lewis created a bit of controversy with a foul-mouthed tirade that he used to introduce his single, “That Ain’t Country,” during a concert earlier this week. He had some choice words– and one twelve-letter word, in particular– for radio darlings like Sam Hunt and Cole Swindell. While we can’t say that we necessarily disagree with what Lewis said on principle, the execution and forum– and the subsequent walking-back of the remarks on Bobby Bones’ radio show– made it seem like an obvious publicity ploy, rather than a sincere expression of the frustrations that Lewis gave better voice to in his single.
And then there’s Jason Aldean. Coming on the heels of the release of his new album, They Don’t Know, Aldean gave an interview to The Guardian in which he doubled-down on nearly every criticism of contemporary country, made up words to justify the lack of depth in his and his peers’ songs, and waxed nostalgic about they heyday of Guns N Roses. Aldean has often come across as thin-skinned over the course of his career– his complaints about not having won various CMA and ACM awards has come across as sour grapes, at best, and entitled whining, at worst– and this particular interview portrays him, in his own words, in as unflattering a light as we can recall reading in a prominent media source in quite some time.
Not everyone was quite so grouchy this week, though.
Rhiannon Giddens was given a richly-deserved award, Drake White was profiled for his charitable efforts and tireless work ethic, and Dwight Yoakam dug deep into his Appalachian roots. William Michael Morgan made us all feel old, while Neal McCoy reflected on his early days as an opening act for Charley Pride. Rosanne Cash didn’t release her tax returns but did disclose some alarming financial stats, and a surprising source told a just-fantastic story about Dolly Parton.
This week’s new releases are led by Willie Nelson’s tribute to Ray Price, Lewis’ new album, Amanda Shires’ exceptional fourth album, and a return from the always awesome Southern Culture on the Skids.
New Releases & Reissues, 9/16/2016
Bright Eyes, The Studio Albums: 2000 – 2011. (Saddle Creek)
Johnny Cash, Johnny Cash: Country Hits. (Star Evens Digital)
The Coal Porters, No. 6. (Prima)
Dawes, We’re All Gonna Die. (HUB)
Edison, Familiar Spirit. (Rhyme & Reason)
The Handsome Family, Unseen. (Virtual Label)
Seth Lakeman, Ballads of the Broken Few. (Cooking Vinyl)
Brenda Lee, The Brenda Lee Story. (Not Now Music)
Aaron Lewis, Sinner. (Dot / Big Machine)
Claire Lynch, North by South. (Compass)
Willie Nelson, For the Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price. (Legacy)
Carrie Newcomer, The Beautiful Not Yet. (Available Light)
Bobby Rush, Porcupine Meat. (Rounder)
Amanda Shires, My Piece of Land. (BMG)
Southern Culture on the Skids, The Electric Pinecones. (Kudzu)
Chris Stalcup & The Grange, Downhearted Fools. (DirtLeg)
Billboard Country National Airplay:
#1: Kelsea Ballerini, “Peter Pan”
Most Increased Audience: Billy Currington, “It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To”
Debuts: Chase Rice, “Everybody We Know Does (re-entry, #59); Gary Allan, “Do You Wish it Was Me” (re-entry, #60)
Most Added: Carrie Underwood, “Dirty Laundry” (25); Eric Church feat. Rhiannon Giddens, “Kill A Word” (20); Keith Urban, “Blue Ain’t Your Color” (19); Florida Georgia Line feat. Tim McGraw, “May We All” (17); Chris Young feat. Vince Gill, “Sober Saturday Night” (13)
Notes: As expected, Ballerini’s song moves up to the #1 position, which means that each of her first three singles has hit #1 at country radio, a feat not accomplished by another woman since Wynonna’s first three hits as a solo artist; Ballerini holds a fairly comfortable margin in audience over Dierks Bentley’s and Elle King’s still super gross bit of gender stereotyping, “Different for Girls,” which moves up to #2; I honestly cannot recall a worse trifecta than the run of Tucker Beathard’s “Rock On” (#9), LOCASH’s “I Know Somebody” (#10), and Luke Bryan’s “Move” (#11); Blake Shelton’s also still super gross “She’s Got a
Much Better Way with Words T han I Ever Have Had or Will Have” officially breaks his streak of #1 singles, dropping out of the top 10 to #12; the middle of the chart is fairly stagnant overall this week, as Miranda Lambert (#17), Big & Rich (#18), Tim McGraw (#19), Drake White (#20), Old Dominion (#21), and Maren Morris (#22) all hold in the same positions; as her singles are wont to do, Carrie Underwood’s “Dirty Laundry” is climbing quickly, up from #47 to #34 in just its third week; “Kill A Word” by Eric Church feat. Rhiannon Giddens, moves up from #48 to #43; The Band Perry’s ironically titled “Comeback Kid” continues to bleed audience, falling back to #44; Toby Keith continues to have a rough time at radio, as “A Few More Cowboys” drops to #56 after nine weeks.
Elsewhere on Billboard‘s radio charts:
The AAA chart continues to move away from Americana and alt-country artists this week; The Lumineers’ “Cleopatra” holds at #7, and Norah Jones’ “Carry On” moves up to #11, but Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Wilco, Elle King, and Shovels & Rope all lost total spins again; The Avett Brothers scored a total of 10 station adds with “True Sadness,” the title track from their latest album; Florida Georgia Line’s “H.O.L.Y.” falls from #24 to #27 at Adult Top 40; the single also lost audience at Adult Contemporary radio, dropping from #19 to #23; Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind” rebullets at #16 on that chart after losing spins for a full month; Trisha Yearwood’ “Broken” managed to re-enter the Adult Contemporary “Indicator” chart, which also includes smaller market stations, at #28; Hillary Scott & The Scott Family’s “Thy Will” is officially the #1 song on Christian radio as of this week.
News & Notes
“I want to thank a few people for inspiring me to write [“That Ain’t Country”]... I’d like to thank Sam Hunt – oh, I know, he’s so pretty to look at. I’d like to thank Luke Bryan, for most of his stuff – he surprises me every once in a while. I would like to thank Dan + Shay. I’d like to thank Cole Swindell. And every other motherfucker that is just choking all the life out of country music.”
— Aaron Lewis offered his gratitude to some of country radio’s biggest hitmakers for inspiring him to write his single, “That Ain’t Country,” during his show in Loveland, Colorado. Lewis went on Bobby Bones’ syndicated morning show later in the week to clarify– which is to say, backpedal on– the harshness of his remarks. Meanwhile, in a serendipitous bit of good fortune, Lewis’ new solo album, Sinner, was released on Friday, right after this controversy hit its peak. Initial estimates have Lewis’ album pulling in a solid 32K – 37K total units in sales plus streaming. (JK)
“I never want the songs to be too songwriterly or too clever. I think you do have to make it, to some extent, black and white. The song has to say what it means and it means what it says. If you try to get too tricky with the lyrics, it gets confusing. You don’t have to listen to it five or six times to really get it. If it’s something I have to go back and listen to over and over again to figure what it says, it’s too much work for me and it’s too much work for the listener.”
— Jason Aldean, who said in an interview a few years back that he hadn’t read a book since high school, told The Guardian that he doesn’t like to be bothered with “songwriterly”– I’ll admit to having abused an adverb or two in my time, but that hurt to type– flourishes that might require any degree of thought or reflection. Among “songwriterly” artists whose works would immediately shame anything Aldean has ever done: Kris Kristofferson, Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Cindy Walker, Merle Haggard, Townes Van Zandt, Dolly Parton, Don Gibson, Jimmy Webb, Matraca Berg, Jerry Jeff Walker, Billy Joe Shaver, Guy Clark… and so on. (JK)
“It was the punk of its day! People looked at it aghast. That’s why the Coen brothers used it so deftly in O Brother, Where Art Thou? as outsider music. The band in that movie, the Soggy Bottom Boys, were this outrageous, rebellious expression of culture that the big daddy politician finally embraced to his own ends. They were the rebels.”
— Dwight Yoakam, who is pretty much the antithesis of Jason Aldean in most every conceivable way, told Rolling Stone about his desire to do justice to the legends of Bluegrass music on his new album, Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars. Yoakam talked about the inspiration for the album’s surprising cover of Prince’s “Purple Rain” and the cultural and socio-political origins of the rebellious spirit in Bluegrass music. He talks about Malcolm Gladwell’s Outsiders and uses words like “agrarian.” He is the very best and a welcome reprieve from Aldean’s anti-intellectualism. (JK)
I still hate lyric videos, but it’s rare for Drive-By Truckers to release any sort of video treatment for their material, so I’ll make an exception and post the new lyric video for their single, “Filthy and Fried.” The video features artwork from Wes Freed, who has created the distinctive cover art for each of the band’s albums until their latest, American Band. (JK)
“I don’t want it to bring attention to me… I want it to bring attention to my banjo. I exist to tell the story of that thing… A lot of that history is very negative, definitely, but the musical history is beautiful. We have to talk about the negativity, but we have to enjoy the beauty of what this country, culturally, has done.”
— Rhiannon Giddens, in addition to making mainstream country radio more than just a little bit cooler with her passionate backing vocals on Eric Church’s “Kill A Word,” was announced as this year’s recipient of the Steve Martin Prize For Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass. Giddens is the first woman and the first person of color to earn the award, and Steve Martin stated that she was the board’s unanimous choice for the recipient. Giddens also posted on her Instagram account that she’s already back at work on a new album. (JK)
“Every once in while in every industry someone comes along who you know is about to go viral. ‘Personal calculus’ is the main reason why venture capitalists back individuals first, and ideas second. The music industry is no different—ever mining for the next Blake Shelton or Beyonce the same way tech angels treasure hunt for the next game changing, Silicon Valley start-up. If you buy this line of thinking, Drake White may just be about to become country music’s next Uber. And why every entrepreneur in every industry should take a few business lessons from this northern Alabama good ole’ boy.”
— Peter Lane Taylor, writing for Forbes magazine, wrote a lengthy profile of Country Universe favorite Drake White, tagging along for White’s whirlwind “Giving the Dream” charity tour and comparing the up-and-coming star to both Uber and tennis GOAT Roger Federer. It’s an excellent profile from an unexpected source– this is the second time ever that I’ve linked to Forbes for one of these posts– but it manages to make the ingratiating, affable White seem even more likable than he already did. (JK)
Willie Nelson was joined by The Time Jumpers for his new music video for, “I’ll Be There (If You Ever Want Me).” (JK)
“I flew to Nashville and interviewed Dolly Parton. I’m going to have chills right now telling you about it! It was so thrilling, so exhilarating. She is such a phenomenal human being, we had such a great time, and I will always have a smile on my face whenever I think about that experience… The producers insisted that I asked her one question in particular, so I did, and it was the following: I said I’ve heard that—this is a great segue. Maybe I brought this up subliminally because you brought up camping—I said to her, ‘I’ve heard a rumor that when you and your husband go camping you do it without your hair and makeup,’ and she said to me, ‘That is absolutely ridiculous.’ She said, ‘I go to bed in full hair and makeup.’ And I said, ‘You do?”’ And she said, “’What if there’s a fire? I don’t want disappoint the firemen!'”
— Tim Gunn of Project Runway fame, participated in The A.V. Club‘s entertaining “11 Questions” interview series this week, and he recounted the time that he interviewed the one-and-only Dolly Parton for a short-lived ABC daytime talk show. Gunn describes the interview as, “one of the most thrilling things that ever happened to [him] through work.” The full interview is worth a read, too, though he doesn’t cross paths with Parton again. (JK)
“Of course. I think that was what made you an artist back in that time, was your singing ability. Look what made Keith Whitley. Look what made George Jones, Haggard. … Singing is what brought you in. There was none of this AutoTune and s*** like that. They actually had to sing.”
— William Michael Morgan, whose single “I Met a Girl” is at #7 on the country radio charts for the second straight week, spoke to the always-insightful Jewly Hight about his influences and how his brand of “traditional” country music has begun to make some inroads into the mainstream again. Morgan’s emphasis on vocal skill is refreshing in an era when the likes of Brantley Gilbert, Tucker Beathard, and Chris Lane can all score major airplay. Also, if you want to feel old, he talks about listening to Mark Chesnutt and Tracy Lawrence as a very young kid because he’s only 23. (JK)
“On ‘Mineral Wells,’ if you were to (isolate) the ukulele and turn it up, you could hear her kicking against it.”
— Amanda Shires had a collaborator– her daughter, Mercy Rose Isbell, in utero at the time– during the recording of her fantastic new album, My Piece of Land. Shires spoke with friend-of-the-blog Juli Thanki of The Tennessean about writing and recording her fourth album while 8 months pregnant with her (and husband, Jason Isbell’s) first child. (JK)
Sturgill Simpson was among the performers at this year’s Farm Aid benefit concert, and he gave a spirited performance of his single “Brace for Impact (Live a Little).” Fellow Kentuckian Jessica Bray has videos of Simpson’s complete set posted at her blog. (JK)
“Country needs to have a format [lane] that is able to blend the newer music with the older music… Everybody’s not a fan of every bro country song that comes down the pike. Even though the new country has been so hot and wonderful for the format over the last few years, at some point the 35-plus crowd might want to hear a Garth Brooks song.”
— Keith “Clark” Stover spoke to Phyllis Stark of Billboard about his plans to develop a new niche brand as he transitions from his role of a radio programmer to a station owner. As ever, it’s interesting to hear directly from the people behind-the-curtain in the country radio industry, and Stover seems to be most interested in building a format along the lines of the syndicated “Hank FM” and Nash ICON formats. (JK)
“This qtr’s songwriting royalty statement: for 45,000 streams of my song ‘Seven Year Ache’ on one Big Tech service: $3.13.
— Rosanne Cash posted the income she earned over a three-month period from one of the largest music streaming services to her Twitter account. That works out to 0.00696 cents– that’s about seven thousandths of a penny– per play. (JK)
“He let me open shows for him for about five or six years, and let me hone my craft. He let me learn on his stage, and gave me that platform. I think that’s the main reason I’ve turned into the entertainer that I hope that I am. I’ll always be grateful to him and Rozene for everything they did for me.”
— Neal McCoy reflected on the role Charley Pride played in the early years of his career as part of a wide-ranging interview with Chuck Dauphin for Sounds Like Nashville. McCoy talked about his relationship with his loyal fanbase and his goals for his latest album, You Don’t Know Me, which is an album of covers of classic country songs. (JK)
The wildly popular a capella group Pentatonix were joined by Dolly Parton for a rendition of “Jolene.” (JK)
That will do it for this week! As always, let us know in the comments if there’s something we missed. And we’ve taken a long time, but our Taking the Long Way retro reviews should be going up this week, too.