Discussion: Unplumbed Depths

dierksBlake’s recent review of Carrie Underwood’s single, “I Told You So” touched on a simmering issue for me. Underwood clearly has a stellar voice, an appreciation for country music and has acquitted herself very well in the public eye, but (yes, the big BUT) … I truly believe she has not yet tapped into her true potential. I believe it’s there. And as Blake noted, she has shown recent signs of getting there. But it would truly be a shame if she never quite reached the Mt. Everest sized peaks she is capable of attaining.

Dierks Bentley is another one of those artists for me. His rock-country voice has a cool edge and his songs are usually some of the best fare on radio.  He also has an undeniable ear for music, a flair for making entertaining videos and a clear appreciation for country music’s history.  More than most, I’m always interested to see who he is working with. On his upcoming album, his contributors include Patty Griffin, Rodney Crowell and Ronnie McCoury – all extremely talented artists outside of the mainstream. BUT … I believe he also has a lot of untapped potential. I like Bentley’s music, but I don’t LOVE it. There’s nothing compelling in his catalog that I listen to on repeat or will even be listening to years from now.  Although I believe he can be, he’s not yet a great artist or even a particularly memorable one.

As an aside, I won’t be surprised if neither artist reaches their full potential until their radio ride ends, which, selfishly, I hope happens sooner rather than later. The quality of the material from artists who no longer cater to country radio is stunning. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Which country music star do you feel has the most untapped potential?


  1. Totally Carrie Underwood. I don’t want to insult anyone who here, but I think she needs to dump her current producer(s)/A&R people, sit down and listen closely to some albums that really inspire her, and cut a record that establishes some kind of personality (I’m among those who still don’t know who she is from her music) and challenges her vocally – not by making her sing high, like Mark Bright did, but by making her sing thoughtfully. And I’d like to hear her try other things besides just country-flavored pop, because I think she could sing just about anything, if she did her homework – traditional country, rockabilly, Southern rock, even something folky. She’s got such potential that it kills me to see her winning endless accolades for producing such mostly-mediocre music.

    Great topic!

  2. No contest: Julianne Hough. I do like her debut album a whole lot, but she could be truly brilliant if she dumped David Malloy as a producer, and aquired some serious songs.

  3. I agree with a lot of the sentiments you expressed. I also agree that often artists have to get free of the pressure placed on them by mainstream popularity to really be able to take their music to a higher place.

    The artists that springs to mind for me is Joe Nichols. When I heard him cover Revelation on his second CD I thought that he could be a really special vocalist, but if his label mandates that he put stuff out that is gonna work on radio, he may never get there.

  4. I have never been able to connect with Dierks Bentley for some reason. To me, he just doesn’t have that fire that he’s singing about!

  5. I agree that artists often must free themselves of record labels to find their true potential. The hard truth is that they must make some money first so that they have the luxury of not worrying quite so much about airplay.

  6. Hmmm…I agree with Julianne Hough she has this sweet personality and aura about her.

    I also agree with the Dierks…he has some really catchy, great songs, but they’re forgettable. He’s like one of those hit singers, who you can’t remember any of his songs.

    I LOVE Kellie Pickler, but I dont’ think she’s reached her full potential either. I love both her CDs to death, but I think she can do a bit more. But she’s great :)

  7. There are a couple, including the one’s already mentioned (yes even Julianne Hough) I think that Trace Adkins, Sara Evans and Rascal Flatts would all produce better music if they focused on the quality instead of trying to be radio friendly. Trace’s new album is almost proof of the fact, along with Sara’s first album. Rascal Flatts meanwhile really need to go back to the sound of “I’m Movin’ On”, as that is one of the only songs I liked from them.

  8. i agree im a huge carriefan but i believe that she hasnt reach her potencial yet. i hope that in the third album she finds herself and she has material that lives up to her talent, i have my hopes up because apparently she is gonna have a new producer! go carrie!

  9. Just a question!! Why are all the radio stations jumping on Rascal Flatts new song? To me, there is nothing special about it and it for sure IS NOT a country song…not that I really care, but I find nothing that great about it. I will just never understand what is so wonderful about these guys. I have tried and can never listen to a whole CD of theirs. The songs all start sounding like the same song. Just really curious! I think someone on here rated it an A! Is that song really an A??

  10. I can assure you that no Rascal Flatts song has ever been rated an ‘A’ on Country Universe. I imagine “I’m Movin’ On” would have been if this blog were around then, and “Bless the Broken Road” and “What Hurts the Most” probably would have gotten ‘A-‘s or ‘B+’s. But that’s pretty much it; go check the archives and see.

  11. Sara Evans is a good one, although I agree with the artists mentioned already.

    I’ve heard her early albums are great, but the rest of her stuff is just ok. But the song “Low”? I would adore an entire album like that. That single just proves her potential.

  12. I’m going to go in a couple of different directions with mine. I really like Jason Aldean’s music, but I can’t help but feel that he would go from very good to great if he’d stop chasing that elusive country hit record. While I enjoy his first two CDs, the new song is just a joke to me.

    Also feel the same about Chris Cagle, and maybe he should embrace that thinking sooner rather than later, since it seems like radio is in the process of leaving him by the roadside. He’s a good writer, but if he’d tap into the realness of his life via his own writing, instead of relying on other more “hit-oriented” writers, I’m sure I would be blown away.

  13. For whatever reason, it seems to me that the country music industry just doesn’t seem to want to see its artists really reach their full potential. There seems to be this innate fear that the artists will alienate a certain core audience by striving for something more than simple radio airplay. Rock, particularly during the late 1960s and on into the 1970s, was built on artists striving to reach their full potential; and at one time, country music was as well. But that just doesn’t seem to be the case anymore to me.

    If I could name one artist whom I think hasn’t gotten to their full potential yet, it would be Martina McBride. I know that some here might disagree with that, but I would like to cite two reasons for it. Firstly, a lot of the material she has recorded in her fifteen-plus years of recording seems to me to be too geared towards the safe and inoffensive, almost as if her songs could be featured on a Hallmark television special (though she has broken out of this rut on a number of occasions to good effect [her 2005 country classics album TIMELESS, and singles like “When God Fearing Women Get The Blues” and “Love’s The Only House”]). Secondly, I feel she has this tendency to try and hit the high notes a bit too much; and while a lot of people will cite this as a trademark of sorts, I don’t think it’s necessary for her to do it as much as she does.

    I think it would behoove Martina to perhaps re-explore the classic 1970s country-rock albums of one of her prime influences, Linda Ronstadt, for inspiration. Linda knows things about vocal power and control (when less is more), and recorded a wide variety of material and subject matter that many women, even today, would be reluctant to touch. Linda has shown the nerve of a riverboat gambler in her 42 years of recording; and if Martina showed more of that in herself, then she could really separate herself from the rest of the pack (IMHO).

  14. Carrie definitely needs to get away from Mark Bright. Or he at least needs to change his approach. Strings are not necessary to enhance or show the emotion in a song. Carrie has such a beautiful voice and she doesn’t need the excessive instrumentation. I liked the acoustic version of Just A Dream way more than the CD version. Also just because the voice can go that loud or that high doesn’t mean you should do it all the time. I didn’t like All-American girl for that reason. I think her best performance to date is her duet with Brad at the ACMs last year. A simple guitar, restrained vocals, and some harmonies. It was beautiful. Sometimes less is more.

    I have hope for her because she appears enthusiastic about trying new things on the next album. She’s mentioned branching out and working with different writers. Hopefully her artistic growth is more toward the traditional side of country. She doesn’t have to abandon country/pop, but I’ve enjoyed her traditional covers the most.

  15. I have to agree with Carrie Underwood. I love her and I love her first two albums, though I love Carnival Ride more than the pop-flavored Some Hearts. But, I still feel like she’s holding back. I think apart of that is her producer, Mark Bright. I agree with those who are saying she needs to get away from him. I feel she needs to go with someone who knows how to showcase her amazing voice without having a bunch of bells and whistles blasting in the background. I’m really hoping her next album is more “I Told You So” rather than “All American Girl” when it comes to production.

    I also agree with Julianne Hough. Again, I liked her debut album (it’s a guilty pleasure of mine), but she needs to do more than just the poorly written pop stuff she has on her debut disc. Hopefully, she’ll release another album that has more material that can be related to and actually means something.

    Another artist I think that hasn’t quite hit their potential, well at least all of his potential, is Brad Paisley. Though he is shooting out number one hits like crazy, I think artistically he hasn’t quite reached his full potentional. I think he came very close with Mud on the Tires, but recently, I think he’s taken a step backwards with his comical songs (i.e “I’m Still a Guy” and “Online”). Although he did break away from that mold with Play, I think he needs to keep that trend going and do less of the funny stuff on his next album.

    As far as Dierks Bentley goes, I actually like the music he releases. I love how he continues to push the boudaries of county with his music, but at the same time, he never goes over the boundary, he always throws a hint of country into all his stuff. I heard his new album today on Highway 16’s Shortcuts and I like it! I’m excited to get it come Tuesday.

  16. John,

    According to more than a few people in Nashville, Chris Cagle isn’t that good of a writer. That’s one reason why Scott Hendricks specifically didn’t allow him to record stuff he ‘co-wrote.’

    I think it’d be interesting to see Billy Currington do a complete traditionally-minded record.

  17. I agree I think Jason Aldean too has a lot of untapped potential, and Rascal Flatts.
    I think I would like Rascal Flatts if they stopped making “2.0s” of of their songs (i.e. Bless the Broken Roads and Here) and if they started making more country-sounding songs, if they found their niche, and if they stopped trying to be so radio friendly and catchy that it’s annoying, because that has its expense (it pains me to say “Bob That Head”: Rascal-Flattin’ all night?)

  18. I agree with Jordan and Chris about Sara Evans…she started so strong, but I feel has kind of lost her way. The bonus material on her Greatest Hits album was especially weak, and I hope that is not a sign of things to come.

    Sara has one of the purest and most authentic voices in Country music, and when she does the more traditional stuff, she shines with the best of them.

    I think an artist draws strength when they stick to their roots, and Sara’s real Country and Bluegrass roots run pure and deep.

    There was a time early in this century, when Sara was asked who her ideal duet partner would be. She replied “Patty Loveless, we’d record “In The Pines” together.” When Sara emulated Patty Loveless and other Traditionalists, she produced incredible albums like Three Chords and the Truth, and No Place That Far…Even Real FIne Place showcased Sara’s strengths as a Traditional Country and Bluegrass style singer with cuts like Coalmine, Tell Me, and Cheatin’.

    Recently Sara was asked the same question about her would be ideal duet partner…and she replied “Celine Dion” I think this is a troubling development and does not bode well for us Sara fans who would like to see her completely realize her potential as possibly one of the greatest Traditionalists ever. That is her heritage, that is her best fit as a vocalist, and it would be an utter waste of talent and potential if Sara turns her back on her roots, IMO.

    But I still hope for the best, and I am hoping her next album will be a delightful surprise. She’s been singing “In The Pines” with her sisters in concert, and I am hoping THAT is s sign of things to come!

    Great, thought-provoking topic Lynn!

  19. And Dan, I agree completely on your analysis of Carrie’s potential. I feel the accolades she has been receiving are actually incentives for her NOT to change..But I hope she can somehow summon the strength, courage and artistic integrity to venture in the direction which you are suggesting.

  20. To me, it’s Allison Moorer. She understands subtlety in singing unlike most current “big note” singers. Her first few albums were a solid start. “The Hardest Part” contains some very good breakup songs. However, her last several albums have headed in some other strange direction. Steve Earle may be good for her personal life but not necessarily her musical career.

  21. @ Steve: There was a time early in this century, when Sara was asked who her ideal duet partner would be. She replied “Patty Loveless, we’d record “In The Pines” together.” When Sara emulated Patty Loveless and other Traditionalists, she produced incredible albums like Three Chords and the Truth, and No Place That Far ..

    Before I read through all the comments I was going to say that if Sara Evans has the potential to be the next Patty Loveless. In fact, if she’d arrived on the scene 10 years earlier, when real country music still got airplay, she would have probably built a career singing hardcore, traditional country. I have all of her albums, but “Three Chords And The Truth” is the only one I usually play all the way through. The rest have some great cuts but they are inconsistent (“Real Fine Place” was a step back in the right direction, though).

    It’s obvious that after the commercial failure of her first album, Joe Galante told her that she had to start singing more radio-friendly material or she wasn’t going to have a record deal. I can understand why an artist gives in to that kind of pressure; the alternative is to abort one’s career. But it’s unfortunate all the same. She could have been a huge star, but now I think she has peaked commercially, since radio seems to be cooling towards her. Perhaps one day, when she’s no longer signed to a major label, she’ll have the freedom to record some truly great music.

  22. Great question, Lynn!

    Matt, as for Scott Hendricks and Chris Cagle…well…don’t get me started today on what I think of Hendricks. I think I have a future post developing in my head that will involve him. I don’t know if Cagle is a poor writer, but I think it’s telling that the album that Hendricks told him he couldn’t contribute his own songs to has turned out to be his weakest album to date. I get the impression that Hendricks is a control freak who produces some incredibly bland music (case in point Blake Shelton’s latest album).

    Oh yeah, speaking of Blake Shelton, I just realized he’s my answer to your question, Lynn! He has a great voice and has recorded good albums, but I can’t help but feel that he’s got some untapped depth that he needs to discover before he can become a great artist. He needs to let go of his love for eighties country music for one.:)

    As for Dierks Bentley, I’m a pretty big fan of his, so I guess I’m pretty satisfied with him, over all.

  23. Everyone already mentioned those that I would like to add, but for someone new for this post, I’d like to point out to Josh Turner…a GREAT phenomenal voice he has that’s purely country and highly competitive (in a good way) among Trace Adkins, Randy Travis, and so forth. But his choice of songs tend to be mediocre to an extent. In fact, I am deeply moved by Long Black Train, Would You Go With Me, Gravity…but that’s about it. He has HUGE potential with his voice, but it’s just a matter of choices. Hopefully, he’ll grow and mature with later projects.

  24. Razor, I agree…Actually there was a pivotal conversation Sara had with Mr. Galante. who had been trying to get Sara to go into a more Pop-country direction. Sara was sticking to her traditionalist guns, and resisting, until Joe told her “look Sara, you could take any song on the Pop charts, and record it, and it would BECOME a Country song by virtue of your strong Country voice” (or words to that effect, that is a paraphrase, not an exact quote)…So that’s what began Sara’s transfromation from a strong Neotradtionalist to a Country Pop Diva. Born to Fly (for better or worse, I love the title cut though) was the immediate result.

    Yeah, it is understandable Sara did what was necessary to survive commercially in the market at the time. But I like to believe that her heart is still with the solid traditional stuff she was raised on. She basically said as much back in -05 when RFP was released, and was surprised and delighted with the success of “Suds in the Bucket” from her previous album. I read somewhere that Sara is under contract obligation to produce 7 or 8 albums for RCA (Sony/ Bmg) so I’m hoping her label ALLOWS her to follow her heart for the next few albums, but I’m not counting on it. But maybe Sara’s heart has changed, and perhaps it is now really is with the Country pop diva crossover stuff…I guess time will tell.

    Yeah, I think a lot of us were hoping that Sara would be next torchbearer for Neotraditonal Country, and inherit Patty Loveless’ mantle in that regard. Their voices are so similar in so many ways (though they have different strenghts) and both are supremely cut out to sing that more authentic style of Country and Bluegrass flavored Country.

    I think Lynn made an excellent point in her introductory comments about an artist having more freedom once their radio success has run out. And I agree Razor, I think Sara may have peaked commercially….Artistically? Let’s hope this is just the beginning…A new beginning of great things to come for this very talented lady.

  25. Well, after defending Dierks, I’m listening to his new album and can’t say that I’m impressed at all so far. Disappointing for sure.

  26. And Josh, I agree that Josh Turner has amazing potential…I always respected him for his voice, but it was only when I saw him in concert opening for Sara Evans that I was really blown away.

    He performed some material that I had never heard, songs like “Backwoods Boy” which were thoroughly Country…I think he has really shown his untapped potential with great albums cuts like this, which he wrote himself.

  27. I agree with you guys about Sara Evans, she had such better albums back in the late 90’s but I will also say that Born To Fly is her best country/pop album of the 2000’s. With Restless Sara seemed like she didn’t know which direction in country she should take and then 2005 came along and we got Real Fine Place To Start which was a great start for her to get back to what made her first three albums seem to work. I think after realizing that her Greatest Hits singles didn’t really connect with the country genre, hopefully she will sit down and make a top-notch album no matter what style of country it’s in.

    Another artist I think hasn’t reached their full potential is Lila McCann, she came on the scene when LeAnn did and she had some great songs like “I Wanna Fall In Love” and “I Will Be” but she just didn’t seem to have the right producers as they kept marketing her as the other LeAnn Rimes instead of a traditional artist.

  28. I think that Josh Turner is fabulous and I think we have only seen a small part of his potential. Carrie has grown and matured since her AI days and is a real force in country music. Juilanne Hough has a lot to learn. While I think she has some potential, she has to start to focus on making good music and improving her voice rather than constantly making her private life the main focus. Hopefully George Strait can give her some credibility but that will only happen if Julianne doesn’t get involved with any more tourmates this time around.

  29. I’ve heard some of the tracks on Dierks independent album that he put out before signing with Capitol. While, I’m a big fan of his and have loved his Capitol albums up to this point, the tracks that I’ve heard from Don’t Leave Me In Love (the independent album) were truly fantastic. Some really cool honky-tonk, bluegrass infused music. Here’s to hoping we see more of this is the future.

  30. Joe Nichols defenitley. And I love Martina Mcbride, and I would say some of her stuff (her wild Angles cd, Independence Day) was exactly what she should record, but she needs to get back up toher potential.

  31. Oh, Josh Turner is definitely a good choice. He seems to get a little better overall with every album, so I’m holding out hope, but I don’t think he’s managed to write anything else as inspired as “Long Black Train” yet, even though he’s had some pretty good singles and album cuts anyway.

  32. These are artists I would WISH to have more potential

    Carrie Underwood- Great voice but her material does not stick with me, you can be mainstream with quality material, Trisha Yearwood managed it all through the 90s and continues to today. Her songs are catchy and the time, but I forget them as soon as the next single comes along. Her albums just seem like a bunch of could be hits jammed up together. Im not sure if she is truely capable of being a country artist…..time will tell

    Martina McBride- Amazing voice, but again dosent even use her voice right. Everything is over the top, the material, the vocals, the lyrics. Each song is a hit knees thanks jesus pray for daylight, new begginnings are coming soon type. Or child/spousal abuse. Gotta have a bit more variety. Her albums too just are a bunch of jumble thrown together. No album has ever grabbed my interest.

    Sara Evans-Go back to “Three Chords and the Truth” her potential is there. Also ditch the autotuners, it just makes fans dissappointed when they finally see you, and you sound better hittin notes in your own range. Ex-the past 3 or 4 award shows she has done

    Brad Paisley-I have no idea where to begin

    Josh Turner is great as is, and I think will just continue to improve his craft. A change in producer may be a good choice. I would like to see him and Garth Fundis pair up

  33. Glad to hear that I’m not alone in thinking the new Dierks Bentley record is a major let-down.

    I’m sure it’s heresy in some circles to say this, but I’d say that Lee Ann Womack fits the bill for the question at hand. She’s the best hard country singer who can still score any significant airplay– since, as others have noted, Sara Evans seems quite content to have moved in another direction altogether– yet she still tries to split her focus as an artist between terrific traditional-leaning cuts like “The Fool,” “I May Hate Myself in the Morning” and “Either Way” and slick pop-country like “Something Worth Leaving Behind,” “Why They Call it Falling,” and “I Found it in You” that actively plays against her gifts as a vocalist. Just because “I Hope You Dance” happens to be her most identifiable hit doesn’t mean she has to keep chasing another version of it with lesser material– especially since that’s the kind of iconic song and record that really comes along just once in a career. Because she keeps doing that, her artistic persona is conflicted in a way that it doesn’t really have to be. Her potential may not have gone completely “untapped,” but I don’t think she’s ever capitalized on that potential in full, and, despite having some terrific music to her credit, that’s a shame.

    And basically all of that applies to Evans, too.

  34. Oh yes, I also want to make it clear that you will find no RF song with an ‘A’ rating here….at least not so far. I really don’t think their talent is untapped though, but I’m just being mean now.

    I agree that Josh Turner’s potential is untapped. There are sparks of it, but I have to disagree with you, Steve, that the stuff from his latest album is a step in the right direction. I felt that most of that album was filler, including the song you mentioned. He has a fabulous voice, but I want his songs to be as good as Randy Travis’ best songs and he really isn’t meeting that standard yet.

  35. I think that Trace Adkins has an enormous ammount of potential. Trace has a great voice, and he’s shown what he’s capable of on some recordings. Yet, he keeps releasing the novelty songs to radio. His most recent album had quite a few songs that showcase his great voice and lean toward more traditional styles. Maybe in time he’ll release the good album we’ve been waiting for.

  36. To be honest with you Leeann, I’m not that familiar with Josh’s latest album, so you may be right…

    The reference I was using was the unfamiliar but awesome songs I heard from him in concert, plus the Cracker Barrel album of one of his concerts at the Ryman. Songs like “Backwoods Boy” are on this album and were performed at Sara’s concert (Josh was the second act, Sara was the headliner) at Mohegan Sun as well, and I love it!

    But I guess we do disagree about the song in question. Oh well, I still say that you have great taste Leeann! :)

    So I guess the term “album cuts” is a little misleading when used in reference to a concert album.

    Sorry for the confusion.

  37. Cory, what’s all this I hear about Sara using an “autotuner” ?

    Please explain to me what this is, because I’m not familiar with it.

    And is it something that other respected artists do NOT use?

    Sara has taken a lot of bashing for some of her TV performances, and some of the criticism is justified. For a while she seemed to get nervous on TV. But her recent performances on the Opry, as well as her performances of A Real FIne Place to Start at the CMA, her first performance after the break up of her marraige…and subsequent TV performances on the JC Penny Jam etc, (and that skating special as well) have been virtually flawless.

    But one thing I can say for sure. I have seen Sara in concert 9 times and every time she has been spot-on spectacular. The lady can sing live and soar, but I don’t know how to explain some of her less than stellar TV appearances…who knows, maybe TV cameras throw her off her game for some reason.

    Another thing I know for sure, is that even if I had talent, there is no way I could get up in front of crowds and camera’s and sing! I give a lot of credit to all who do, with whatever degree of success they achieve. ;)

  38. i see Carrie’s producer taking quite a hit, and i think deservedly so. i read somewhere that he seems to be slated to produce her next album; so hopefully Carrie will take more control. its her 3rd album; and if it continues to follow that ‘formula’, i think the album could fall flat, and maybe thats just how she likes her albums to sound. i just think its in Brights DNA to add in all the layers of instruments and have her battle his production.

    and i agree with the notion that the awards that she has received may make it difficult for her or her team to break away from Mark Bright… its like you win a superbowl with an average QB, it makes it tough for the team to cut ties with him

    i’m confident she is aware of the criticism of her first 2 albums. it seems she does read quite a bit of what is said about her on the internet, so hopefully she takes the constructive criticism well. that said, i think a lot of the criticism is a byproduct of people recognizing her talent. yea Carnival Ride was a proclamation that she is country; but from an artistic standpoint, im not sure if it was an improvement over her debut.

    i have very high expectations of Carrie. maybe we are expecting too much, too fast, perhaps. i know i’ll be disappointed if it follows the formula again. time to take risks Carrie.

  39. Erik North, I agree with you about Martina. While I’m a huge fan of her music, and will buy any album of her’s, I would love to hear her to another album like Wild Angels or Emotion. Some of her newer stuff is not great. I still feel like she can produce better music.

    Also, I completely agree with Sara Evans too. I’m also a big fan of Sara, and I have to say I loved “Restless”, but “Real Fine Place” seemed like a lost album to me. While the songs were good, they didn’t fit together as an album. I was disapointed by it really. I loved “Low” and hope her new album sounds like that!

  40. As for Carrie we will just have to hope and wait and see, it wiil be months before we will know anything.

    On another note, I have never been a big fan of Taylor but I could respect her. I did have hopes that she would mature and get some vocal lesson. I thought she could have potential. Then last night whiie out to dinner with alot of people I nearly spit my food out. I had heard the Lovestory pop remix. I lost my respect immediately. SELLOUT. She should cross right over I do believe she would have more potential in pop than she would ever have in country.

  41. Jane, Restless is a fine album…Not my favorite style from Sara, but one of the best Country Pop albums I’ve ever heard. Sara really elevates the (sub)genre with with this one.

    I know what you mean about Real Fine Place being somewhat disjointed…certainly not as cohesive as Restless..

    But I like it better for the Traditonal elements it does contain, and I see it as a step back in the right direction. But that’s just my preference.

  42. Anyone everyone is always on the traditional band wagon with every topic that comes our way. Did anyone ever think that traditional country music is a thing of the past possibly, or that it is not liked by the majority of the people, hense why it gets no airplay? Myself I do enjoy it, but I notice it is a major issue on all blog sites. It just seems like the same old story over and over. Also it seems no artist is ever traditional enough, why?

  43. I would agree that Carrie Underwood has yet to really reach her potential. I find it annoying that she is continually lauded and rewarded as though she has reached her potential. I have to say that I am still surprised at the industry support for Carrie, despite her less than stellar albums. I don’t particularly love or dislike her music. It just sounds countrypolitan okay to me. Considering the number of awards she’s won, you would think that she’s managed to match her talent with excellent material. Until she actually manages to match her powerful voice with great material, I will consider her overrated. At this point, I don’t put her in the same category as Tammy or Loretta or Patsy. For now, I think of her as the new Lynn Anderson (who I actually like more than Carrie.)

  44. This is an interesting conversation.

    I’ll throw some names into the mix that haven’t been mentioned yet. I’ve always wished that Toby Keith and George Strait would go away for two years to work on an album, instead of releasing a new one every year. I’d love to hear what they’d come up with.

    Alan Jackson, in my mind, showed serious regression with his latest project. I’d like him to switch producers again and challenge himself as a singer and songwriter. Too many of the cuts on his latest album would have sounded trite if they’d been on Don’t Rock the Jukebox or Who I Am.

    As for Carrie Underwood, I have to say that I don’t have any problems with her career trajectory as of yet. She’s only made two albums and she’s still pretty young. Those two albums have included quite a few performances which I love. Sure, every once in a while we get a Trisha Yearwood or an Emmylou Harris who is a fully realized artist by the second album, but that’s pretty rare.

    Go back and listen to the second albums by Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea, or Reba McEntire, and try to find even a hint of the brilliant interpreters they would become. Then think about the women who did sound fantastic by album #2 – Sara Evans, Martina McBride, Faith Hill – and witness the downhill slide their music took soon after. I thought McBride was going to be an album artist for the ages after I heard Wild Angels, but since that third album of hers, there hasn’t been another I can listen to all the way through.

    Underwood’s domination at the awards shows hasn’t only occurred because of her talent. She’s also been the most prominent female artist at a time when there are barely any of them to speak of. Perhaps she’s just one of those artists who is going to get all of her award show love early on in her career, even if she ends up making better music later on.

    I’m curious to hear what she does next, but there are so many other artists further along in their careers who give me my deep and meaningful music fix. I don’t need to get it from Underwood.


    It does seem like criticizing Lee Ann Womack is heresy, doesn’t it? Though I actually like some of her pop-leaning performances, especially the alternate version of “Something Worth Leaving Behind.” What drives me crazy about her is when she doesn’t respect her own limitations as a vocalist, and tries to do things that she can’t pull off.

    I remember watching the 1997 CMA Awards and listening to friends of mine bash Shania Twain for having limited vocal skills when singing live, yet praising Lee Ann Womack, who could barely carry the tune while singing “The Fool.” I think Womack has made some wonderful records, but she’s never sounded good to me when singing live. Even on record, she tries to to the Reba curlicues and it sounds God-awful to my ears.

  45. Kevin very well put;

    “Go back and listen to the second albums by Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea, or Reba McEntire, and try to find even a hint of the brilliant interpreters they would become. Then think about the women who did sound fantastic by album #2 – Sara Evans, Martina McBride, Faith Hill – and witness the downhill slide their music took soon after. I thought McBride was going to be an album artist for the ages after I heard Wild Angels, but since that third album of hers, there hasn’t been another I can listen to all the way through.”

  46. Oh Kevin I also think there are quit a few artist who need a break for a while. Having a new album every year does not make you a better artist it just makes you a little richer. I also believe Kenny should go a year without an album he can still tour with old material.

  47. Kevin,

    I think you make a very valid point about the first two albums of the artists you mentioned, but here is a hint in Patty’s second album of her potential as a brilliant interpreter. Her rendition of Hank William’s “I Can’t Get You Off of My Mind” is nothing short of brilliant, in my opinion. That’s on her second album “If My Heart Had Windows.”

    And from her first, the self-titled one, there is her own “Sounds of Loneliness” Again brilliant, though I don’t know if one could call it an interpretation since in this case the singer is also the songwriter. I like her latter version (Mountain Soul) of this song better with the acoustic instrumentation and all, but the vocals on both versions are outstanding. And this song written by the 14 year old Miss Ramey was considered good enough to be included with some classic Mountain songs in the companion album to the movie “Songcatcher”

    I think both these cuts were signs of great things to come for Miss Loveless.

    Not familiar with Reba’s first or Kathy’s so I couldn’t say..

    But I think you’re right with your general point, and I actually do think Sara’s first two albums are better than Patty’s first two. But their artistic trajectories have certainly been in opposite directions.

  48. I will say Rebecca Lynn Howard. She has put out a few albums, even had a big hit with “Forgive”, but has never fully put it all together on one of those albums or broken out. Maybe she’ll never be a huge hitmaker but I think she is capable of producing more quality music.

    I think some of the artists mentioned went off track in the mid to late 90s. Not that they wanted to be Shania but I think a lot of them saw her crossover success and stretched their wings in some of the wrong directions.

  49. “Go back and listen to the second albums by Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea, or Reba McEntire, and try to find even a hint of the brilliant interpreters they would become. Then think about the women who did sound fantastic by album #2 – Sara Evans, Martina McBride, Faith Hill – and witness the downhill slide their music took soon after. I thought McBride was going to be an album artist for the ages after I heard Wild Angels, but since that third album of hers, there hasn’t been another I can listen to all the way through.”

    Good point except none of those women was getting the accolades at that point in their careers, as Carrie is currently getting. I can forgive some weaknesses in an artist’s early work, especially when they don’t write their own material; a newcomer usually isn’t going to et first crack at the best songs. Carrie, however, doesn’t have that excuse. Her album was recorded after her big victory on AI and already had a built-in fanbase. It shouldn’t have been difficult at all for her to find first-rate material to record. So why didn’t she?

  50. I don’t consider Underwood’s industry awards when evaluating the quality of her music It’s not like she has control over CMA, ACM and Grammy voters. If she’s been unworthy of those accolades, the fault lies with the voters, not her. (Though I think most of her wins have been justified, given the paucity of the competition, her considerable vocal chops, and the plain fact that I like most of her hits.)

    In my view, many female artists – Trisha Yearwood, Kathy Mattea, Dolly Parton, Martina McBride – racked up their awards when their music was the least interesting. Most Yearwood followers, both fans and critics, consider her work with Tony Brown (The Songbook singles, Where Your Road Leads), her least impressive work. But all of her vocalist awards were earned for those two projects.

    Back to Carrie, her first album, like those of all Idol winners, was recorded very quickly, and before she was a proven quantity in Nashville. That being said, she did get quite a few solid songs on there, in my opinion, including the mega-hits “Before He Cheats” and “Jesus, Take the Wheel”, and the #1 hit “Wasted.”

    I think she did find some first-rate material to record for the second time around, most notably “Just a Dream” and “I Know You Won’t” – but I think you’re mistaken regarding the freedom that her success opened up for her, in terms of choosing material. She’s the biggest money-maker for her label – in any genre – and Joe Galante is notorious for making sure his artists’ albums are primarily targeted toward radio. (As evidenced upthread in the discussion about Sara Evans.)

    I think that the combination of her massive success and industry accolades create higher expectations for Underwood among others than they do for me. I think she’s a great singer who is demonstrating the artistic growth that I’d expect for a young, mainstream country artist. Given that I usually don’t really get into an artist until they’ve built up a catalog, she’ll remain someone that I enjoy listening to – I love that voice – but she has a good way to go before she’s someone who can frustrate or disappoint me with her musical output. I just don’t have set expectations for her yet.

  51. Steve,

    Autotuners are pretty much exactly as the name says its a pitch correction device which keeps your voice in tune digitally. Artists such as Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Reba McEntire have all been documented admitting to autotuners in live perfomances as a safety net. Others that are also accussed include Sara Evans especially based of her live performance and her use of them in the studio, the same article which was posted by the Boston Herald and I am still looking for mentioned artists like Martina McBride, Vince Gill and Trisha Yearwood all banning them from the studio and their concerts.

  52. I remember Yearwood saying once early on that she would never put anything on her record that she couldn’t replicate live.

    Sara Evans, on the other hand, once bragged about an album cut of hers (“Niagra”) featuring an awesome vocal performance that she’d never be able to do live. She actually said that in the track-by-track press materials!

  53. Kevin,

    I remember reading both of those. Evans did a track by track for Restless saying how great of a song but never would she be able to pull it off live?? Only pull of in the studio what you can pull of on stage. Thats my motto

    Tony Brown once said that he asked Trisha Yearwood to do a 3rd try at a song and she glared at him and said “Fine, but if I dont get it on the third try, shoot me!” (I have no doubt that the song was There Goes My Baby haha) but in live perfomances Yearwood has proven herself.

  54. “Back to Carrie, her first album, like those of all Idol winners, was recorded very quickly, and before she was a proven quantity in Nashville. ”

    I think there was a reasonable expectation that her album would sell well, based on the exposure she received on “Idol”.

    “I think you’re mistaken regarding the freedom that her success opened up for her, in terms of choosing material. She’s the biggest money-maker for her label – in any genre – and Joe Galante is notorious for making sure his artists’ albums are primarily targeted toward radio. (As evidenced upthread in the discussion about Sara Evans.)”

    Clearly she is not going to be allowed to take any undue risks. However, coming off the huge commercial success of “Some Hearts”, I think it’s safe to say that she got first crack at a lot of songs, relative to what was offered to whatever new unknown talent that might have been recently signed to a major label. I think the material on “Carnival Ride” was incredibly weak and it surprises me that better songs weren’t found for her — whether they were chosen by her or by someone else. If that is the best that Nashville had to offer, it’s little wonder that country music is in such dire straits.

    “I think that the combination of her massive success and industry accolades create higher expectations for Underwood among others than they do for me.”

    When someone is successful on such a massive scale, it inevitably creates high expectations. It makes me ask what all the fuss is about. And in Carrie’s case, I haven’t been able to figure that out yet. She’s got a good voice when she’s not screaming, but I don’t think it’s any better than many other female vocalists (McEntire, McBride, Yearwood). Not only has she not brought anything new to the table, I can’t think of any other successful performer whose performances are so utterly soulless. I agree with you that she’s probably winning a lot of awards because there’s a lack of strong competition, but that’s more of a condemnation of her contemporaries than it is a validation of Carrie’s accomplishments. I just don’t see what is so special about this young lady.

  55. Thinking about it more, I think LeAnn Rimes is my pick. I would love her voice if she annunciated much more. It makes it really hard for me to even listen to her music. However, other than that I think her music has progressed a bit (I was impressed by some of her latest album), but when you hear songs like “What I Cannot Change” (my favorite of hers) it highlights what kind of music she couls be making.

  56. Cory thanks for the info…very interesting.

    I always thought an autotuner was just like an opening note on a guitar or something to help the singer start out on key. Now, I’ve learned that it is a digital correction device.

    Still, it seems a given singer needs to have SOME vocal talent, or all the autotuning and digital fixes in the world wouldn’t make them sound good. If singers like Sara have naturally rich soulful tones, and are mostly on pitch, I guess I dont really have a problem with the use of high tech corrections to bring a wayward note or two back on key.

    Still, there’s something to be said for imperfections, and added authenticity. So I think I respect those who refuse to use them even more than those who do..

    But some questions arise…If Sara uses the device so frequently, then why have more than a few of her TV performances SOUNDED off key or off pitch? And I still dont understand why Sara gets singled out more than others for apparently using the device.

    And if autotuners can be used live, than why would Sara be hesitant to perform “Niagra” live? Could it also be the case that a singer can relax more in the studio, and do several retakes to get it right, as opposed to a live performance where the singer gets one shot only, has the pressure of pleasing the live audience, and works without a net, so to speak. That in itself could make an artist hesitant to sing a difficult song live. I guess either explanation could apply, or maybe a combination of both. And when I saw Trisha in concert, she was also hesitant about trying certain songs live because of their difficulty, but with a “here goes” attitude, she gave it her best shot and really pulled it off!

    Cory, I don’t think I can agree with your motto…Yeah, the natural sound is better because it is more authentic…But I am grateful for wonderful performances (recordings) like Sara’s Niagra, whether or not she can replicate it on stage with all the pressures that go with it.

    Sounds like MANY artists would have far fewer recorded gems if that principle was followed.

    And Kevin, I see Sara’s statement more of a humble admission than a brag.

    And I’d also add the title cut of Patty’s “If My Heart Had WIndows” as another hint of great potential and of wonderful things to come.

  57. I just want to get back to the promising beginnings that demonstrated great potential aspect of this thread, for the purpose of sharing this great Vince GIll quote; (or paraphrase):

    “Sara Evans’ first album is so good it’s scary, while mine was merely scary.”

    Vince is a good judge of talent and potential AND he has a great sense of self-depricating humor!

  58. Steve from Boston says : “I just want to get back to the promising beginnings that demonstrated great potential aspect of this thread, for the purpose of sharing this great Vince GIll quote; (or paraphrase):

    “Sara Evans’ first album is so good it’s scary, while mine was merely scary.”

    Vince is a good judge of talent and potential AND he has a great sense of self-depricating humor!”

    If Vince is such a good judge of talent why is it that we don’t listen to him when he said this about Carrie when asked about her induction to the Opry “I think she is the best thing to happen to country music in a long time, and I will always root for her”.

  59. OK, I’m sorry, I went back and investigated and it was not Country Universe that gave Rascal Flatt’s new song an A…it was Country Music Central…cowboybleau…I think! Can I say that here?

  60. Phew, thanks for clearing that one up, Gail.:)

    Steve, I saw VP’s response a mile away, as soon as I read your comment.:)

  61. Leeann not sure how to take that, but I just believe every new artist should be given time to succeed, grow, make mistakes, and learn from them. Yeah sure all her material is not the greatest, but just give her the chance maybe she will get there. Most artist two albums in aren’t that great, so like Kevin said: “she’ll remain someone that I enjoy listening to – I love that voice – but she has a good way to go before she’s someone who can frustrate or disappoint me with her musical output. I just don’t have set expectations for her yet.”

    That is my approach with most new artist as well.

  62. VP,
    I just meant that I knew what the obvious response would be to Steve saying that Vince was a good judge of talent and potential, since I knew that Vince has also complimented Carrie and has sung on her record.

  63. Nobody’s perfect VP, not even VInce…;) And there may be a regional bias there, given VInce and Carrie are from the same state. He’s also championed Katrina Elam, alas to no avail.

    I sure wasn’t looking to re-ignite our old debate about Carrie, (I’ve really been trying to be good.) And I hope you have read my many more recent comments where I have praised Carrie’s voice and talent time and time again.

    My only issues with Miss Underwood are what I consider the premature and excessive level of acclaim that she has received, and the strong pop flavor of her material. That’s my take on it, and no matter how many others agree, it doesn’t make it fact, that’s just our opinion.

    Yeah, I still think her induction to the Opry was pre-mature, but there are a lot of other early inductees that I have the same issue with. Dierks Bentley and Craig Morgan to name a few, their inductions have me scratching my head as well. (Sorry Dierks and Craig fans)..

    And as far as the “traditional bandwagon” that you mentioned and questioned, the way I see it is this:

    Tradtional elements give Country music it’s identity, and makes it distinctive. Excessive pop influence waters it down and puts it in peril of losing it’s soul. And Country Music has probably the richest and proudest musical heritage of any non-classical genre, Imo. Blues and Jazz and Folk are probably in the same league (I consider Bluegrass a type of Country music). But is there a Ryman for pop music? A geographical Mecca for that amorphous genre? To me, most pop, and much Country-pop should be filed under “miscellaneous”. I’d be hard pressed to even define the genre, except to say it has a characteristic blandness.

    Without Traditonal elements, today’s “country-lite” is really nothing more than pop music with a Southern drawl. Many bloggers are on a “Tradition bandwagon'”it’s true, but unfortunately the marketplace is not. Many of us are tired of seeing supremely talented and Timeless artists like Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea, Carlene Carter,and Roseanne Cash (to name a few) take a back seat to any of the current flavors of the month that are dominating the charts and radio and TV airtime.

    These Country music blogs,( especially our gracious host Country Universe) give many of us on the “bandwagon” a unique forum to celebrate and support the Timeless over the trendy.

  64. I’ve been reading Robert K. Oarmann’s Behind The Opry Curtain book (thanks Music Tomes!) and I’m struck by how many people, in the past, had become Opry members not too far in their careers. I actually think they typically wait longer to invite people nowadays than they did back in the day.

  65. I think that’s probably true, Leeann…Patty was inducted by Porter two years into her career as well, but that choice has been vindicated time and time again by Patty’s amazing career and her fidelity to Tradition. Time will tell with the others..

    And I think I can anticipate another objection to my statements in addition to the one you raised.;)

    Yeah, I know my hero Patty Loveless likes Carrie as one of today’s bright young artists, but I would probably agree too if I also heard Carrie’s Opry performance of “Stand By Your Man”…which is the specific example of Carrie’s potential that Patty usually cites..

    I loved Carrie’s Opry performance and interpretation of “How Great Thou Art” and I think this is a similar example of what she is capable of…that is why it is all the more daunting that she is wasting her talent on inferior material, in my opinion.

  66. The Opry suffered from a mini-generation who didn’t hold the Opry in such high regard or didn’t find it necessary to include as a key aspect of their careers (Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, George Strait, Shania Twain, among others). It makes sense that they would embrace any high-level act who expressed interest, even if the induction comes early in their careers (Loveless, Underwood, Bentley, Turner, etc.) In an attempt to stay relevant, the Opry needs its share of stars.

    Erik North hit the nail on the head with Martina McBride, who would also be my choice. As clear-headed as she is about all details of her career, from her schedule, to her touring exploits, to her overall image, I’m just a little flabbergasted by some of the material she’s issued. Wild Angels was a terrific album, but she’s been very spotty since. Imagine if she recorded a few cuts by Ronstadt, Matraca Berg and other writers in that groove.

    Lee Ann Womack isn’t always great live, although it’s hard to compare her 1997 CMA performance with Shania’s, given that it was Womack’s first major TV performance. I’ve seen her sing great, I’ve seen her sing so-so, but that’s with most country artists.

  67. You know I to enjoy the traditional music, I have most of the great women of country on my iPod, some men too. But the thing is I have come to realize somewhere around 1998 that country music was changing and that the “timeless” ladies and music would I think forever be taking a back seat to the new format of country.

    While the fans of classics will stay in tune with their old time favs, cuntry radio I don’t think will be buying it. I was very pleasantly surprised to hear “Last Call” getting quit a bit of air play around here, where Kenny is played at least twice every hour. I loved that song from the first time I heard a snip and downloaded it right away, but for sure thought radio will not give this a shot at all, so sometimes they do surprise us with some traditional stuff but very rarely.

    So although I have my own old time favs I have come to adapt to the new format of what is country now a days, and learned a different sort of appreciation separate from traditional. That is just my take on it.

    Now that I mentioned Kenny, he is one that I do believe does have more potential. I’m sure some would be curious about this statement. I am tired of the drinking, partying, island music that has been the last four years of Kenny, with a few somewhat gems thrown in.
    He has shown with “More Than A Memory”, “Don’t Blink”, and “You Saved Me” that he can do it I think he just chooses to please the people to fill those stadiums. EOTY is supposed to be an all around award not just album and concert sales, and that is how it has been awarded to him, with alot more deserving left wondering.

  68. With Martina, I suppose her fairly conservative Midwestern upbringing makes her very cognizant of projecting the image of an all-American woman, or perhaps even a Soccer Mom (for lack of better terminology) and this is kind of reflected in a lot of the material she has covered. It just poses some problems in terms of artistic integrity, since image can often swamp the art. You may be making a lot of money, and you still may not feel like you’re creating anything long-lasting. And while I’m not really a fan of Martina’s, at the same time I don’t want that to be her fate. I think she can avoid it by simply listening closely once again to the records that inspired her, and apply that experience to her own. She can expand her own horizons without damaging that image she has, in my opinion.

    With Trisha Yearwood, who has always been one of my favorites when it comes to female country singers of the last three decades, I think she has more yet to offer her audiences. Not that she hasn’t offered a lot already (what with her closing in on that vaunted 20-year mark of recording), but I feel there is more yet to be discovered with her. She talks about wanting to duet with Linda Ronstadt, which would pretty much be not only a feather in her career cap, but the culmination of a life-long dream. I hope it happens, because there aren’t too many singers who ever get to sing with someone who inspired them to the extent that Linda inspired Trisha.

    In the case of Kenny Chesney, I think the best path to reaching his full potential is perhaps in not trying to put on a Jimmy Buffett act, because there really is only room in the world for one Parrothead. I do remember hearing his hit from a few years back, “I’d Have Done A Lot Of Things Different”, and thinking that such material is the kind of thing that true male country artists of the past always seemed to hunger for. If he can find something along those lines and balance it with the fun-in-the-sun material he’s known for, he probably could do even better than he’s doing now

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