Written by Ryan Fleener, Jeff Middleton and Justin Wilson
Their Springsteen is showing too much, but I still hope it’s a hit. Like “Something Better” before it, solid blue-collar bar rock.
Old Crow Medicine Show, “Wagon Wheel”
Written by Bob Dylan and Ketch Secor
I’m confused. Are they actually releasing this oldie as a single? Wasn’t it already one? This is probably just some random promo thingy. In any case, still one of country music’s all-time great sing-alongs.
I usually don’t hate music if it’s blatantly awful. That usually makes me love it. (I have especially great affection for the universally maligned “We Built This City” thanks to the efforts of Twitter queen Megan Amram.) What grates on me is the technically listenable stuff that is still, slyly, really bland and stupid. Travie McCoy offers some decent verses here atop an aesthetically pleasant track; but it all goes to wash if you try to digest the lyrics of Bruno Mars chorus, which earned extra hate-points for always tricking me into thinking “Santeria” was coming on the radio last year.
There are certainly more fundamentally offensive songs out there, but this one elicits from me inexplicable anger. From its pounding pseudo-rock arrangement to Aldean’s spitfire delivery (of ridiculousness like “honey-dripping honey from a holler in Kentucky”), everything about the song feels so aggressive. And if you’ve ever been subjected to the rap re-mix without at least a drink in your hand, you have my deepest sympathy.
It’s the most frustratingly condescending tribute to a wife since “Honey.” At least that Bobby Goldsboro classic was released before the women’s rights movement was in full swing. Sure, at least he doesn’t kill her off in the end, but is death really a worse fate when compared to your husband living for those little moments when you show what a stupid little woman you are?
I can digest Toby Keith’s angry anthem much easier than Worley’s patronizing piece of manipulation. Even though I’m just as relieved as anyone to have Bin Laden gone, this song, like few others, still gets my blood boiling.
Few songs have come along that serve such a valid sociological purpose as “Dirt Road Anthem.”
With this single, Jason Aldean pulls back the curtain on the mysterious ways of rural southern society. How fearless of Aldean to allow outsiders this rare glimpse into the social mores and recreational activities of southern youth.
For the first time, we learn that country music legends are so revered that their name need only be mentioned to evoke a deep-rooted value system. I was shocked to discover that this subculture of American society thrives beyond the paved roads provided by federal and state governments, a stunning statement of independence from the restrictions that we have attempted to construct around such resilient communities.
With voyeuristic intimacy, Aldean allows us to walk in the shoes of small town men and women. Hopefully, “Dirt Road Anthem” will be only the beginning of songs that tell us about the country lifestyle and what it means to those who live it. I can only imagine how vindicating and empowering it will be for these folks to finally hear a song about them on the radio.
I don’t usually root for a song to be successful, but it is imperative that this one makes an impact, so other artists are encouraged to tell us, in detail, what it means to be a country person in modern society. I know that country music’s aversion to formulaic songwriting makes such a scenario unlikely, but in this case, it is absolutely necessary.
What a tragedy it would be for the story of an entire people to be lost in time, leaving future generations in the dark about what it was really like to be a son of the south in the early 21st century.
Add another track, and another new act, to my “Thank God for 2011″ list.
Confident, completely country instrumentation. A lyrical framework – “Can I get an amen?” – that I can’t believe hasn’t been used before, at least anywhere that I heard it.
And it’s not done in a Hallmark kind of way, either. Finally falling in love, finally walking away from the girl that the guy was too good for. These are the little everyday moments that make us say “Amen.”
The vocals? They get the job done. They complement the music nicely, and don’t get in the way of telling the story.
I wonder how many songs I might like by Lady Antebellum or Jason Aldean if they sounded like this. Not that those artists should change their sounds to meet my tastes, but it’s nice to hear something tailored to my preferences, especially from a new young band.
The 11th Annual Country Music Critics’ Poll has just been published by Nashville Scene. It covers the 2010 year of country music. The participants of the poll consists of country music critics who spend their time listening to and analyzing stacks of music throughout the year in order to knowledgeably write about it for the purpose of either promoting excellent music or warning against the not so good stuff. Kevin, Dan and Tara are among these prestigious critics.
Each year, invited critics submit their ballots with their favorite music and artists in the appropriate categories. The poll includes the best albums, singles, male and female artists, reissues, live acts, duos and groups, songwriters, new acts, and the over all artists of the year. While the results include the usual suspects, they are mixed with some surprises or names that aren’t commonly associated with mainstream country.
Some of my favorite results include Raul Malo tied at #8 with Gary Allan for top males and Elizabeth Cook at #2 for top females, not to mention Sunny Sweeney’s “From A Table Away” landing at the #3 spot for singles. The most amusing result, however, is Jamey Johnson and Taylor Swift in the top two spots for songwriters.
What’s most fascinating about this process is that the critics have the opportunity to include comments with their ballots. These comments serve to clarify choices and pontificate on the state of country music and its various aspects. There are some insightful comments from both Dan and Tara, along with other critics that you might recognize from our blog roll.
Here are some of the cream of the crop comments that display a satisfyingly diverse array of perspectives:
“Lost amidst the rush to proclaim Jamey Johnson as the man to reclaim country music from pop acts like Taylor Swift is the fact that Johnson and Swift are cut from the precisely same cloth. Johnson is most often championed for the supposed authenticity of his songwriting, but is it really any more believable that he’s been “takin’ dee-pression pills in the Hollywood hills” than it is that Swift regrets not calling an ex when his birthday passed? Both Johnson and Swift have developed public personae and voices as songwriters that trade in the same suspension of disbelief. Swift’s music may not scan as “country” to the extent that Johnson’s does, but that isn’t because she’s any less authentic than Johnson. They both act like they’re “Playing the Part,” and they both do so awfully well.” —Jonathan Keefe, Slant Magazine
“Thank goodness the Internet and satellite radio are around to pick up FM’s slack, because brilliant would-be singles continue popping up on independent releases that Clear Channel won’t touch. My favorite two this year were Elizabeth Cook’s “El Camino” and Chely Wright’s “Notes to the Coroner.” The former: a hilarious country-rap about a creepy, mulleted lothario. The latter: a frank diary introduction from a recently deceased woman. Both: utterly unique and unshakably catchy.” —Dan Milliken, Country Universe
“In 2010, Grandpa told us about the good old days again. The most conspicuous presence on country radio in recent years has been this kindly old gentleman, lugging his aching bones out of bed to share some worldly wisdom. After years of hard labor and heartache, he’s now embarked on a second career as life coach for his hillbilly kin on recent singles from Lee Brice, Billy Currington, Craig Morgan and Alan Jackson (the matured mentor on Zac Brown’s “As She’s Walking Away”). Of course, country radio won’t fool with women over 40 except for Reba, so you never really get to hear Grandma’s side of things.” —Blake Boldt, The 9513
“Despite their two weak singles this year, “Our Kind of Love” and “Hello World,” I remain in Lady Antebellum’s corner. What hooks me is the way they’re able to inject gritty, tangible emotion into the glossiest of production and the vaguest of lyrics. That’s what elevates “Need You Now” to an aching confession, and that’s how, on a song that compares innocence to a condiment, Hillary Scott’s vocal performance alone manages to tell an evocative story.” —Tara Seetharam, Country Universe
“So if country music is doing so well artistically, why is it that whenever I turned on the radio in 2010, I heard mostly pop or rock songs with a token steel guitar thrown into the mix? I’ve long since given up hope of Americana artists ever getting picked up by mainstream radio, and I’ve pretty much come to terms with the fact that Jamey Johnson won’t be getting many (if any) hit songs no matter how good they are. But would it kill them to play some non-hyphenated country music a little more? I know that country-pop and country-rock are the flavors of the month, but where does that leave more traditional artists? I know I’d be more willing to tolerate Jason Aldean rapping or Jennifer Nettles singing with her stupid fake Jamaican accent if “Draw Me a Map” or “Will I Always Be This Way” was next on the playlist.” —Sam Gazdziak, The 9513
“In an August interview with Spinner, Ryan Bingham rejected the notion that he makes country music. Two weeks later, Bingham was named the Americana Music Association’s “Artist of the Year,” thanks in large part to his Academy Award-winning song “The Weary Kind,” a song he wrote for a movie about a country singer. In September, when asked about the state of country music today, rising star Justin Townes Earle told The Wall Street Journal that he’s embarrassed to be from Nashville because of the “shit songwriting, shit records and shit singers who are making a million dollars.” Even mainstream country stalwart Zac Brown distanced himself from the genre, telling American Songwriter in September, “The songs that I write are Southern, but I wouldn’t necessarily call them country.” It’s a shame — and an enormous loss for the genre — that the term “country music” has come to describe something so narrow that bright young artists like these choose not to identify themselves as country. Thank God for Jamey Johnson, who wears the mantle proudly.” —Jim Malec, American Twang
I’m no purist, but there should be a lot more distance between what we call country music and this:
Kelly Clarkson’s got some powerful pipes, and she brings this track to life. Aldean acquits himself nicely. But the sheer volume of noise that invades the track with the first chorus takes us straight into Monster Ballads territory.
This isn’t country music. It just isn’t.
Written by Andy Gibbons, Paul Jenkins, and Jason Sellers
I’m a big Nintendo guy. They put out a console, I buy it.
I like their handhelds even more. Every time they upgrade one, I buy the new and improved version. Bigger and brighter screens, internet access, more comfortable design. All good reasons to trade in the old one and get the new.
But sometimes Nintendo just puts a handheld out in a few new colors. Some people buy a new one when they do this, but I never do. I don’t see the point in buying the same thing that’s just been made to appear a little different. It’s not actually better than what I already have.
“My Kinda Party” isn’t an improvement on “Johnny Cash”, “Hicktown”, or “She’s Country.” It’s the same basic song, dressed up to look like something new. It’s not particularly better, and not particularly worse. Just the same old baked beans in a brand new can.
If turnover has been slow in the Entertainer category, it’s been nothing less than glacial in the Male Vocalist race. Over the past ten years, only eleven men have received nominations. Four of those eleven – Dierks Bentley, Vince Gill, Darius Rucker, and Josh Turner – have been nominated only once.
Now, Toby Keith and Tim McGraw were regularly invited to the party in the first half of the last decade, with four and three nominations, respectively. But the race has essentially been dominated by the same five men: Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley, George Strait, and Keith Urban, who combine for forty nominations in just one decade.
The recent history has been pretty boring. After two consecutive wins by Alan Jackson, we’ve had three consecutive wins each by Keith Urban and reigning champ Brad Paisley.
Will there be a new winner this year, or even a new nominee? Should there be?
Let’s take a look at last year’s race:
Darius Rucker was the new face to enter the race last year. No brand new nominee has been nominated again in this category since Keith Urban earned his first nomination in 2004. He’s been in the race ever since. I’d say Rucker’s close to a lock, along with Paisley. But just like in the Entertainer race, a case could be made for a decent shake-up, especially some of this category’s veteran acts have dipped at radio and retail.
Here’s who I would nominate this year. Share your picks in the comments:
Anybody else notice that this guy’s outselling the rest of the male solo artists? All the while, he’s been completely ignored at the country awards shows for his last two projects. He’s not overdue just yet, but he’s due.
He went out of his comfort zone to release a bluegrass-flavored album that was pretty darn good.
He just missed my list for preferred Entertainer nominees, but he’s at the head of the pack in this category. With his domination at radio, not to mention a stronger studio album than his previous two, I wouldn’t be shocked for him to become the third artist in history to win four of these.
His hit-making has certainly been kicked up a notch as of late. He may be destined to toil just under the radar of this category like Trace Adkins and Gary Allan before him, but it would be nice to see him get a nod.
A decent comeback at radio and retail, coupled with him being a great singer who’s been overlooked, makes me hope he finishes out this category.
I left off previous nominees Keith Urban, George Strait, and Darius Rucker because they haven’t put out new albums during the eligibility period, so it seems like a good time to let some new folks get a chance. I left off Kenny Chesney because he’s been doing nothing but stopgap releases for the past year, none of which sold to his normal standards. I left off Tim McGraw, even though he’s made some music I really like lately, because he hasn’t been doing as well as usual at radio and retail.