Anyone who reads Bob Lefsetz' “The Lefsetz Letter” knows that Lefsetz is a fairly new country music fan, but a passionate one all the same. I frequently disagree with his current assessment of country music, particularly country radio (although recently he has clued in to its frequent vapidness and monotony), but he's a fantastic voice out there championing country music.
In a recent letter, he made some interesting statements about his desired role for the future of country music (i.e. the classic rock of the future). After approvingly citing the recent Newsweek article which bemoaned the current state of country music, Lefsetz stated:
blockquote>Country used to have an edge. My buddy Pete Anderson would love to bring it back. But I’m thinking we’ve just got to move the needle a little bit, and suddenly we’ve got the rock business we used to have, the one that triumphed in the seventies.
He went on to state:
If they just took off the cowboy hats and lost the banjos they’d be closer to Lynyrd Skynyrd than Dolly Parton or George Jones. When are the country acts going to go after their rightful audience, boomers who lived through the seventies and younger people who want melody!
The future is in country, or something quite like it.
It’s not the final resting place for has-beens like Bon Jovi or wannabes like Jessica Simpson, but a phoenix ready to rise if it’s taken seriously, adds a bit of true cred, emphasizes electric guitars and is willing to have an edge.
As fans of country, new and old, how do you feel about this assessment of the future of country music?
One probably thought they knew what to expect from Jessica Simpson on her latest single, “Pray Out Loud,” simply by reading the title: The big-voiced former Christian pop singer was going to put forth her best Martina McBride imitation and sing for the rafters. It was going to be over-the-top, joyous, cheesy, uplifting and worthy of its name and oft-repeated chorus “pray out loud.” One may even, like me, have been planning on giving her permission to do so because if ever a song – and a time – was asking for it, it is this one. But, umm … no. On this single, Simpson shows … restraint. And a great deal of it. It’s completely baffling.
Simpson has never been a stellar interpreter of song, but the sheer lack of joy, enthusiasm and spirituality in her vocal is surprising. Simpson was more convincing inviting us to “come on over” than she is imploring us to “pray out loud.” Unfortunately, because the song is blessed with lyrics as original as “When you’re down / Don’t be afraid to pray out loud / Just close your eyes and let it out / Take all you fears and doubts / He’s listening right now / Don’t be afraid to pray out loud,” this severe lack of emotion is all that much more glaringly obvious.
It is likely that Simpson viewed this song as a means to connect with the same country demographic that propelled Carrie Underwood into stardom following the release of “Jesus Take the Wheel.” However, I’d be shocked if this single achieved a fraction of its predecessor’s success.
Songwriters: Jessica Simpson, Brett James, John Shanks
The nominations for this year’s Academy of Country Music Awards will be announced on Wednesday, February 11, and Country Universe will have a preview next week. As announced yesterday, the blond brigade of Julianne Hough, Leann Rimes, Jessica Simpson and Kellie Pickler will read the nominations from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
The Academy of Country Music, Dick Clark productions and Great American Country (GAC) announced today that for the first time ever, the three newcomer categories for the Academy of Country Music Awards—Top New Female Vocalist, Top New Male Vocalist and Top New Vocal Duo or Group—will be opened up to interactive fan voting through GACTV.com. The 44th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards will be broadcast LIVE from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas Sunday, April 5, 2009 at 8:00 PM live ET/delayed PT on the CBS Television Network.
Fan voting for these three categories will begin at GACTV.com on Friday, February 13, and will close on Thursday, March 5. The winner in each of the three categories will be announced March 9, and will move on to compete in a brand new Academy of Country Music Awards category, Top New Artist. Voting for the Top New Artist category will begin on March 16, and will close on April 5, with the winner being announced live during the 44th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards.
The official website is cryptic regarding the validity of voting procedures. Under the Best New Artist categories, the Board of Directors state that winners will be determined by a vote of members and/or viewer voting, so the Academy could possibly have a hand in the voting in case inconsistencies arise.
The Academy’s voting criteria was called into question last year when the Entertainer of the Year award was a fan-voted affair, and today’s announcement continues the questionable practice of allowing the general public to voice their opinions for one of the industry’s highest honors. This year, the rules do explicitly state that Entertainer of the Year will be awarded based on both membership vote and fan participation.
Critics’ fave Jamey Johnson also suffers from the academy’s shortsighted criteria. Due to an absolutely archaic rule, Jamey Johnson’s That Lonesome Song (current sales: 270k at 26 weeks) is ineligible for the Album of the Year category.
The Album must have attained minimum sales of 300,000 units and/or maintained an average of 20,000 unit sales per week since release as reflected by SoundScan during the qualification period. Any album commercially released prior to the preceding calendar year, but achieving its highest charted position in any accepted country music industry publication chart and greatest commercial success during the calendar year, is eligible unless it has appeared on a final ACM ballot in this category.
Conceivably, Johnson can be nominated for Album of the Year next year. By that time, That Lonesome Song will have sold over 300,000 copies and could sneak above its current chart peak in 2009 (it debuted at No.6 in August and now rests at No. 7 on the weekly chart). Understood? With record sales dwindling due to the economy and the current technological shift within the music industry, the criteria must be changed. Unless the rule is amended, only ten albums are eligible (the latest releases from Kenny Chesney,Alan Jackson, Toby Keith, Lady Antebellum, James Otto, Darius Rucker, Sugarland, George Strait, Taylor Swift and Zac Brown Band). This is a small pool from which to determine the genre’s best album of the year. The current slate of criteria for the ACM only serves to dilute a meaningful country music milestone and forgo artistic value in favor of commercial prowess and internet savvy.
Fun fact: In its final week of eligibility for last year’s ACM Awards, Miranda Lambert’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend sold 7,894 copies for a total of 304,999 since its May 1, 2007 debut. Lambert’s sophomore set went on to best platinum-selling albums from Kenny Chesney, Rodney Atkins, Taylor Swift and Brad Paisley to claim the ACM award for Album of the Year.As of February 7, 2009, the album has sold 679,391 copies and remains the second-oldest album on the Country Albums chart (Taylor Swift’s Taylor Swift).
In this era of rampant piracy and economic recession, things aren’t looking good for the music industry. We don’t post too often about the business side of the music business here, as we tend to keep the focus on the music. But the reality is that these numbers matter. If Little Big Town’s second Equity album had performed as well as the first, the label might still be in business.
It’s not all doom and gloom, as many artists go on to make their best music once they leave major labels. But this Christmas, you can guarantee that some artists and record executives will be bracing for the New Year, while others are embracing it.
Here’s a look at some totals for albums released in 2008, ranked by total sales (rounded to the nearest thousand):
Taylor Swift, Fearless – 1,519,000
Sugarland, Love on the Inside – 1,179,000
George Strait, Troubadour – 693,000
Alan Jackson, Good Time – 628,000
Toby Keith, 35 Biggest Hits – 530,000
Kenny Chesney, Lucky Old Sun – 479,000
Faith Hill, Joy to the World – 341,000
Lady Antebellum, Lady Antebellum – 337,000
James Otto, Sunset Man – 332,000
Rascal Flatts, Greatest Hits Volume 1 – 330,000
Darius Rucker, Learn to Live – 284,000
Julianne Hough, Julianne Hough – 260,000
Toby Keith, That Don’t Make Me a Bad Guy – 224,000
Jewel, Perfectly Clear – 203,000
Dierks Bentley, Greatest Hits: Every Mile a Memory - 195,000
Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song – 183,000
Heidi Newfield, What Am I Waiting For – 162,000
Jessica Simpson, Do You Know – 153,000
Brad Paisley, Play – 137,000
Kellie Pickler, Kellie Pickler – 129,000
Montgomery Gentry, Back When I Knew it All – 127,000
Tim McGraw, Greatest Hits Vol. 3 – 127,000
Emmylou Harris, All I Intended to Be – 119,000
Zac Brown Band, Foundation – 118,000
Randy Travis, Around the Bend – 89,000
Ashton Shepherd, Sounds So Good - 84,000
Jimmy Wayne, Do You Believe Me Now – 81,000
Trace Adkins, X – 72,000
Billy Currington, Little Bit of Everything – 65,000
At only twenty-three years old, Adam Gregory has been performing for ten years in his native Canada. After arriving in Nashville in 2007, he signed a recording contract with Midas Records, who then reformed last year under indie powerhouse Big Machine Records. Earlier this year, Gregory reached the Top 40 with his first single, “Crazy Days,” and last month he released his second single, “What It Takes.” His yet-untitled debut album in the United States is slated for release in Spring 2009. Gregory called Country Universe earlier this week to provide a glimpse into the life and career of the Nashville newcomer.
Who is Adam Gregory as an artist? And which artists have inspired this direction?
I consider myself as just a guy who sticks to his roots and follows his own path and tries to find meaning in every song. I’ve co-written a lot of songs on the album, so I hope to put my own imprint and give it that extra attention because it’s coming from me and who I am. We think it’s a refreshing sound. We have something new to offer. It’s not a country twang. It’s more of a modern-day sounding music. But I grew up listening to Vince Gill. He’s such a great singer, and so humble. And of course, Garth Brooks and George Strait. He (Strait) has maintained a personal life and family and still had a great career. That’s what I aspire to do.
Jessica Simpson’s second country single is a good deal better than her first. It’s still conversational in style, but instead of trying to convince a guy to come on over, she’s trying to convince a friend to turn away an abusive boyfriend.
The steel guitar still sounds like window dressing, but her performance is closer to sincere than it is to cloying this time around. When singing the chorus, she sounds quite a bit like co-writer Rachel Proctor, who had the memorable hit “Me and Emily” that explored similar themes. The ending tag, “Take it from me, I’ve stood there in your shoes”, is gratuitous, but overall, it’s a decent single.
Jessica Simpson is all country. At least by her own account. She has fully embraced the sound of Nashville pop-country, along with all the elements of its image. The conversations flavored with “Y’all” and “Bless your heart” and all those sweet, southern sayings. The wardrobes of jeans, t-shirt and a perfectly worn pair of cowboy boots. And the songs feature just enough steel and country sass to fit well with all that has become mainstream country music. Is the image a true reflection of Simpson as a person? Likely. Are the songs there? Unfortunately not, for the most part, on Do You Know.
The first single, “Come On Over,” became a Top 20 success on country radio; however lyrical content is not its strong suit. In fact, it fully discloses the major problem that courses through the entire album. Do You Know sounds good, thanks to Brett James and John Shanks, who aim to please fans with a mix of innocuous country licks amidst the melodic tricks of pop music. However, the stories in the songs are rarely there, and even when the material matches the rest of mainstream country music today, the production choices are, at best, questionable.
For example, “You’re My Sunday” speaks to a lazy-day love with the silence and sensitivity found in the best of relationships, and then Simpson starts to hollering in the chorus and the peaceful, easy feeling dies a painful death. Plus, the music tends to drown out the message. And on “Might As Well Be Making Love,” Simpson tries to strangle every note on a song that otherwise is a tender ode to reconnecting with her man.
Even when the music matches the mood, the results are fair to middling. “Pray Out Loud” is a song about faith and fearlessness in the face of struggle, but the mid-tempo number hardly shows a pulse. Same goes for “When I Loved You Like That,” a fairly non-descript track that tries to cover too much terrain without having a central theme. On an album supposedly full of important ideas, they are often absent altogether.
The most notable (and honestly, the most focused) track is the title cut, a song written specifically for Simpson by country legend Dolly Parton, who lends her distinctive vocals to the title track, “Do You Know.” Although her harmonies seem a little out of place in such a contemporary setting, it’s the best one on the album. The lyric is unique and unyielding in its power, and Simpson is (finally) in fine voice.
Simpson is a capable singer, but her wailing ends up failing her on a number of tracks that could use a gentler touch. Does she belong in country music? Her country music “roots” and her comfort level within the genre suggest that one day she could, given great country songs and better artistic advice. But those qualities aren’t featured here. At least by my own account.