Crunching the Numbers: July 2008, Part 4

Country music is such a male-dominated industry that there is an entire class of male artists who exist just under the radar, often scoring radio hits but rarely an instant add. They may go gold or platinum, but they don’t hang around the top of the albums chart for very long. They score nominations for Top New Male Vocalist or the Horizon Award, but they don’t get Male Vocalist nods.

Today’s entry of Crunching the Numbers takes a look at how five such men are doing with their current albums.

Gary Allan, Living Hard
Release: October 23, 2007
Sales to Date: 372,600

Of all the men who fit the description in the introduction, Gary Allan is the least deserving of the B-level status. He’s a top-notch singer who writes and selects consistently interesting material, and he’s made albums with more depth and meaning than most of the A-list males in the business. His current set is on track to become his seventh gold album, though earlier sets have cleared the platinum mark. Why he hasn’t broken through to the big leagues is a mystery to me. Give the man a Male Vocalist nomination already!

Blake Shelton, Pure BS
Release: May 1, 2007
Sales to Date: 341,700

Thanks to a re-release of this album that includes his cover of “Home”, this album is back to selling in the 6-7k range every week, and should become Shelton’s fourth gold album in as many tries. He’s a solid singer, and this is one of the best divorce albums in recent memory. But the need to tack on the Michael Bublé cover highlights Shelton’s biggest hurdle, which is that he continues to be embraced for his occasional hit songs instead of as an artist.

Chris Cagle, My LIfe’s Been a Country Song
Release: February 19, 2008
Sales to Date: 115,800

After starting off his career with two gold albums, Cagle has struggled to match that level of success with his later efforts.  His current album entered at #1 an spawned a top three single, but sales have been anemic, with the album selling less than 2k weekly.   Radio has been slow to embrace his current single, “No Love Songs”, so unless something changes soon, this album’s already near the end of its run.

Phil Vassar, Prayer of a Common Man
Release: March 11, 2008
Sales to Date: 71,400

Few artists have demonstrated the law of diminishing returns better than Phil Vassar, who has gotten less mileage out of his signature sound and lyrical themes with each release.  His first album went gold, thanks to a quartet of top ten hits.   Ever since, his albums have been good for one radio hit and have failed to reach gold.   This set is his first for Universal South, but changing labels hasn’t reversed the trend.   With the album selling less than 2k a week after only three months in stores, things aren’t looking good.

Josh Gracin, We Weren’t Crazy
Release: April 1, 2008
Sales to Date: 53,700

His gold-selling debut disc arrived in 2004, and he scored three top five hits as he became the first American idol contestant embraced by country radio.    However, a four-year gap between that set and his sophomore release may have been too long, especially with the wave of other Idol contestants that have taken up residency in country music.   Obviously, Carrie Underwood isn’t going anywhere, but I’m sure the record labels of Kellie Pickler and Bucky Covington are a little nervous seeing the Gracin numbers.


  1. I do like Gary Allan and Blake Shelton. I saw both of them a couple of years back perform at the CMA Fest stadium shows and they were both definite show-stealers.
    I agree that these two need to start being allowed to break into the good ole boys club that are year after year nominated for “Male Vocalist”.

    Cagle: I’m sure his recent run-ins with the law haven’t helped get him extra attention on the airwaves. Just saying.

    Vassar: He strikes me more as a singing songwriter with a record deal.

    Gracin: Totally agree that this guy is being watched by the label of the other “AI” alum (except for Carrie’s).

  2. I’m disappointed that Josh Gracin isn’t doing well. I love all three of his singles from this album so far, and there are a few other songs on the album that I love too.

  3. I have to admit that I was pretty disappointed when Blake Shelton covered “Home.” He’s always stressed that he’s a country boy who wants to sing country songs, regardless of whether or not that’s popular these days. He also covers songs like “Walk Softly” in his concerts. Although recording that song wouldn’t have brought him the same notoriety, that would have been a much more interesting release…at least for me.

    I really like Gary Allan’s voice and style, however I haven’ t been crazy about the songs that he has released on this album – “Watching Airplanes” and “Learning How to Bend.” Are the other songs on his album better? I’m a picky CD buyer.

    The remaining artists are completely forgettable for me. With all of Phil Vassar’s cheesiness, he could be the 4th Rascal Flatt.

  4. Lynn,

    I bought Gary’s recent CD the day it was released and was very surprised by the choice to release Learning How to Bend. In my opinion We Touched the Sun, Like its a Bad Thing, Yesterday’s Rain and Trying to Matter are all better cuts. She’s So California strikes me as a tune that would do well on radio as well. It has a little Tom Petty sound to it.

  5. I’ve always really liked the idea of Phil Vassar, but none of his recent songs have done it for me.

    It kills me to no end that Gary Allan hasn’t broken through in a big way yet; I think he’s the best male country singer of his generation. But I think the problem is that he hasn’t had that one signature hit yet. Don’t get me wrong – his catalogue has been consistently good since Smoke Rings In The Dark, even superb – but he hasn’t yet delivered a song that the entire audience goes bananas over, a single that cements who he is as an artist in people’s minds. Keith Urban had “Somebody Like You,” Josh Turner had “Your Man,” heck, Taylor Swift had “Our Song.” History is rife with examples of it, but I think it’s especially prevalent in today’s market. Allan has such good taste that he may never opt to record something that will sort of pigeonhole him like such songs can tend to; it’s hard to say. In any case, it’s one of my minor life wishes to see him win some sort of mainstream industry award; even the NARAS has ignored him thus far. And yeah. That’s it for my rant. :)

  6. Agree with everything said about Gary Allan. A tremendously potent hitmaker with a real sense of craft about his music. Would love to see a CMA nod or two next month, but won’t hold my breath.

    Disagree about Blake Shelton and “Home”, though. Yes, it is a cover of a pop song, but I don’t think Blake had any motivation other than a real connection to it. Of course, Miranda had a little something to do with that. :)

  7. The funny thing is that I never thought of Blake as being very traditional. Maybe I’m just judging him by Josh Turner standards though. I like Blake quite a bit, but I don’t really like what he admits to loving: synthesizers and eighties country music. I think he’s better than many of the more successful artists these days though.

    Gary Allan deserves to be counted among the best today, but just isn’t for some reason. If one hears a Gary Allan song on the radio, his voice is almost instantly recognizeable, even if the song is unknown. The same cannot be said about many of the mainstream music right now. I even like his stuff from the albums that are less critically acclaimed.

    At the very beginning of Phil Vassar’s career, I really thought I’d like him. He, however, is probably one of my least favorite artists nowadays. I’m not really sure what it is, but I don’t like his songs anymore and really don’t even like the songs of his that I once liked either. Weird, huh? I guess his voice isn’t as strong as it needs to be and all of his songs just sound fluffy.

  8. I love Blake Shelton’s HOME and the video! I think Miranda has done good changing him around a little! First of all cutting his hair and making him take off that goofy 10 gallon hat! He’s always had a great voice and I love his personality! Phil Vassar is just BLAH to me! As for Gary Allan….I can’t put a finger on him really, but he sings deep, depressing kind of songs, and then he’s covered in tattoos…not that it’s wrong, but they are painted up his arm and looks like a flower vine and when he speaks he sounds like….remember when Glenn Campbell had his show and he would come out in this unmanly voice and say Hi, I’m Glenn Campbell! Well, that’s how Gary Allan sounds to me when he talks, unmanly!! I know I’m crazy! Funny how goofy things make you not want to buy someone’s CD! He’s just dark and depressing to me! There is nothing about Chris Cagle I like at all! Ever since he was opening for Trace Adkins and he comes out and puts down Keith Urban and says, Trace Adkins is the real talent at Capitol and they need to figure that out! CAnnot stand to hear one artist put down another!

  9. I hadn’t heard about that quote from Cagle. Interesting. I guess the country music family can’t get along all the time. A lot of artists were pretty bitter about the emphasis that was put on Garth’s marketing and career at the time of Garth’s success. So, I guess Keith is getting some of that backlash now.

    I guess I’ve never thought of Gary as “unmanly” before.:) Not all of his songs are depressing, by the way. It just may seem that way since his wife’s suicide. I’ve got plenty of Gary songs that are far from depressing on my playlist….you just have to go back a couple of albums. Then again, I suppose I don’t mind a depressing country song. It’s the light songs that can get to me sometimes.:)

  10. Don’t feel bad, Margie, I liked Gary better pre-tattoos as well. It’s his choice and I respect that, but it makes him seem so much more “rock ‘n’ roll” and sort of less “country.” Hard to argue with an album like Tough All Over, though – the cover shot has his tats on proud display, and it’s still a ballin’ album.

  11. LeeAnn…I don’t have Gary’s CDs so mostly what I’ve heard from him is on radio and its been mostly slow, depressing things. Like I said before, his talking voice sounds nothing like his singing voice! Tough All Over doesn’t describe the way he talks! Just my opinion. As much as I love Keith Urban, I’m not all that crazy about his tattoos, but oh his talking voice is well, what can I say but, sexy! His singing voice is too! I’m a sucker for an accent! BTW, I heard Bob That Head on the radio this morning and I could not believe what I was hearing! YUK!

  12. I never noticed anything about his talking voice. When I think of unmanly talking voices, though, I think of Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake and even Mike Tyson….and maybe even my favorite, Vince Gill.

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