Sunday Selections: December 20, 2015

The theme for this week’s Sunday Selections post is, “What year do you think it is?”

One of the week’s few new releases has garish cover art that looks like something from the late 90s, while a host of writers made outdated and inexplicable references to “bro country” as a primary talking point in country music in 2015, which is simply wrong on merit. In the week’s more successful throwback efforts, Ashley Monroe, Chris Stapleton, Kacey Musgraves, and Tami Neilson all shared some old school cover tunes, and Netflix doubled-down on nostalgia with a promo video for an upcoming original series. Onward!

New Releases and Reissues, 12/18/2015

I cannot even with this shit
The Avett Brothers, Live Vol. 4 (Republic)
Cowboy Troy, Saloons On Neptune. (Heart Songs for Veterans)
Lynyrd Skynyrd, Twenty (1997), Edge of Forever (1999), Then and Now (2000). (Sanctuary)
New Grass Revival, Live In Illinois 1978 (feat. Sam Bush). Hotspur

News and Notes


Blake Shelton will not be co-hosting the Academy of Country Music Awards with Luke Bryan in the spring. Shelton will be ceding the spotlight to Dierks Bentley. We’re huge fans of Bentley’s, but his laid-back persona makes him a surprising choice for a hosting gig. (JK)

Monday kicked off “12 Days of Brenda Lee” with The Tennessean‘s Juli Thanki. In Day 1 of the series, Lee astutely observed, “You get to a certain age in this industry, and you’re not as hot as you once were. It’s meant to be that way… That’s why there are numbers under one. We can’t always be number one. I think when you have that mindset, you’re just thankful that you’re a part of something you love to do.” Check out each day of the series, and you’ll learn about her friendship with Elvis, her gift exchange with Elton John, how the police were called on her for Christmas caroling too loudly, and much more. (LMW)

Country Universe favorite Tami Neilson is giving away a free mp3 of a killer live cover of “Bang Bang.” (JK)

We were willing to take the chance on it. We didn’t know how it would play out, especially when the so-called controversy started happening. Pretty quickly the tide started turning. All the people who loved it started speaking louder than the handful of people who didn’t.
— Jimi Westbrook of Little Big Town, reflecting on the group’s decision to record “Girl Crush,” highlighted by Jewly Hight in Billboard‘s “Year In Music” issue. (JK)


The first promo video for Netflix’s upcoming Full House revival, Fuller House, uses Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me.” (TS)

“How the struggle over “commercial” vs. “real” in country music played out this year was mostly manifest in how publications and thinkpiecers all climbed on the “bro-country sucks, doesn’t it?” train in 2015.”
Andrew Winistorfer, in “The Great Bro-Country Music Debate of 2015 And Why It’s Kinda Pointless” for Noisey. The editorial / rant excoriates country music critics, exactly two of whom are cited by name and none of whom are quoted directly, for a litany of offenses against bro-country and its fans and couches Chris Stapleton’s widely-discussed and well-documented catalogue of chart-topping hits as a songwriter as a shocking revelation that music writers collectively overlooked. Apropos of nothing in particular, An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments makes a terrific Christmas gift for anyone who needs adorable woodland critters to explain straw men, appeals to authority, ad hominem attacks, and other logical fallacies. (JK)

To say that Bryan and “FLAGA” (ugh) are getting too much flack is wrong. They’re just not getting the right kind of criticism. Only a few people are calling them out for objectifying women and playing into rural tropes that don’t particularly suit them. It is easier to just say that these acts suck and country music sucks, and in that, this criticism has an excellent point.”
Amy McCarthy of the Dallas Observer, responding directly to Winistorfer’s screed in “The Fight Over Bro-Country Still Matters, But Maybe It Should Be Different.” McCarthy addresses some of the flaws in the Noisey piece, but both articles raise questions as to what country music criticism their respective authors have been reading if they think “bro-country” is still a major point of contention in 2015 or that writers like Grady Smith, Jewly Hight, Chuck Eddy, and Ann Powers haven’t written ample, substantive criticism of the reigning male POVs for major media outlets. (JK)

“But 2015 had its share of fine singles by artists who qualify as bro. Chris Young’s “I’m Comin’ Over” is a barnstormer about sexual thrall, and his vocals split the difference between desperate and dignified. On “She Don’t Love You,” Eric Paslay adds sympathetic nuance to that tired country staple — the woman who steals then breaks your heart — and emerges with a power ballad that turned out to be too understated and gentle for radio. More MOR than country, Luke Bryan’s late-year single “Strip It Down” is about hitting reset on a relationship, replacing distracting cell phones and demanding jobs with candlelit dinners and lots of getting it on. His idea of romance may be a bit threadbare, but the sentiment is strong and the song is a lush bouquet of gently looped beats and old-fashioned strings.”
— Stephen M. Deusner, in a stultifying paragraph from “If It Ain’t Bro, Don’t Fix It: The Year In Country Music” for Stereogum, a valuable resource for independent music which, historically, has next-to-never covered country music. But maybe this answers the question as to who was still talking about “bro-country” this year, even if the examples provided when doing so suggest that the term has completely lost whatever meaning Jody Rosen originally intended for it to have. The remainder of Deusner’s piece includes yet another shocking revelation about Chris Stapleton’s songwriting credits, a blink-and-you-missed-it dig at Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free, and a series of capsule reviews of some of the year’s higher-profile country and Americana releases. (JK)

“A beat, an uptempo rhythm — all those things are fantastic, and we went through quite an era with Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan and many others who are still in it. We’re still infected by the beat and the rhythm of music, but ultimately we’re connected to the story… We partied it up on Saturday night. Now we’re in the mood for a really cozy morning under a warm blanket.
— Storme Warren, host of “The Highway,” provides a counter-point to the previous characterizations of the year in country music in an interview and year-end recap by the ever-reliable Grady Smith, writing for Sirius XM. Smith also posted his top 10 country albums of 2015 at The Guardian. It’s a must-read list that includes familiar names and some under-the-radar acts– Leigh Nash! Sam Outlaw!– that deserve more attention than they’ve received. (JK)


Chris Stapleton predictably brought down the house with his cover of “Whipping Post” at a tribute concert to Gregg Allman in Nashville on Friday. Because of course he did. But did you know he has written hits for acts like Thomas Rhett? (JK)

We just did the first song.”
– Producer of-the-moment Dave Cobb. In a lengthy, sharp interview with NPR’s Ann Powers, this one short sentence might be the most exciting of all: It confirms that Cobb is working on an album with Morgane Stapleton. We kind of can’t wait. (JK)

Also at NPR this week, Shakey Graves, winner of the Emerging Artist of the Year honor at the Americana Honors & Awards earlier in 2015, gave a terrific Tiny Desk performance. (JK)

“I’m a writer and a musician, so I want everyone to know that I’ll be paying all the royalties due from all these free downloads. No pickers and singers and writers will be harmed in the process. I’m happy to do it. I hope I have to go into savings.”
Mac McAnally wishes his fans a Merry Christmas! Until January 4th, he is giving away his newest album, AKA Nobody, for free to anyone who goes to his website to download it. All he asks in return is for feedback so he can improve. (LMW)

While the Stapletons and Giddenses and Isbells and Monroes and Churches of the genre have been racking up mentions in critics’ year-end lists, The New York Times pop critic Jon Caramanica went to bat for a decidedly different crop of country acts. He named Jana Kramer’s “I Got the Boy” and Chris Janson’s “Buy Me a Boat” to his list of the 25 Best Songs of 2015 and, in an even more surprising the-cheese-stands-alone pick, Kelsea Ballerini’s The First Time as #5 on his list of the year’s best albums. (JK)


Ashley Monroe Xmas

Ashley Monroe performed a gorgeous cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River” as part of The AV Club‘s “Holiday Undercover” series. (JK)

Caitlin Cary, a terrific singer-songwriter best known for for her work in Whiskeytown and Tres Chicas, has been pursuing visual art, as well, as part of a six-month residency at Artspace. (JK)

Spotify unveiled its Spotlight 2016 playlist of new(er) country artists that its panel of “music experts” and its predictive algorithms suggest will break through in the upcoming year. Included are Maren Morris, Aubrie Sellers, and Russell Dickerson, alongside slightly more established acts like Lauren Alaina and LoCash. And, inexplicably, Haley Georgia’s “Ridiculous.” (JK)

Artists, fans and responsible music and technology businesses alike all know this. When my friend Taylor Swift spoke up for the value of our work and the righteous claim of all artists to be paid for what they do, she was celebrated and applauded — not just by her colleagues, but also by teenagers who care about the people who create the music that means something to them and businesses such as Apple that fundamentally want to do what’s right.
— T Bone Burnett, in “Our Culture Loves Music. Too Bad Our Economy Doesn’t Value It,” an editorial for The Washington Post. Burnett reviews the current state-of-affairs regarding the staggering lack of compensation recording artists earn for the use of their work in a digital-based era of music consumption. (JK)

Relatedly: In the past week, the Copyright Royalty Board set the statutory royalty rate for subscription services at just below the current level, but substantially more than Pandora suggested for the next five years. However, the new royalty rates for free internet radio have decreased by 32%. (LMW)

Another week, another great find from The Grand Ole Opry YouTube channel. This week, they’ve posted Kacey Musgraves performing Hank Snow’s “I’ve Been Everywhere” from their “Opry Goes Pink” show back in October. (LMW)

That’s it for this week’s round-up, but be sure to check out our Best Singles of 2015 posts, and check back in the next couple of days for our Best Albums of 2015 lists!

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