The death of Merle Haggard, a legend among legends, casts a pall over this week.
Kevin has posted remembrances of Haggard, who quite rightly ranked at #1 on our countdown of The 100 Greatest Men of Country Music back in 2014. Everything Kevin wrote about Haggard then stands just as true today: He remains the greatest of the great, and this is an irreparable loss for the genre.
Despite the temptation to “go dark” for a week in recognition of Haggard’s passing, there are still some other stories to cover. It was a huge week for Margo Price, who scored a historic debut with her album and who made a great impression on the SNL stage. American Idol came to a close, and some radio insiders gave some insights into the stagnation at the format. Tami Neilson, Brandy Clark, Craig Campbell, and Kacey Musgraves shared new live performance videos, and one of the supporting players from Brooklyn Nine-Nine provided an apt description of Dolly Parton’s career.
New Releases & Reissues, 4/08/2016
Hayes Carll, Lovers and Leavers. (Thirty Tigers)
Great American Canyon Band, Only You Remain. (Six Degrees)
The Lumineers, Cleopatra. (Dualtone)
Ray Price, Another Bridge to Burn (1966). (Columbia / Legacy)
Maggie Rose, The Variety Show Volume I. (Play It Again)
Ernest Tubb, The Complete US Hits 1941 – 62. (Acrobat)
News and Notes
Tami Neilson is just the very best. This week, she posted a video of a jaw-dropping and note-perfect cover of Patsy Cline’s “She’s Got You” with some exceptional pedal steel work by Greg Leisz. Neilson’s single “So Far Away” was also featured in the most recent episode of ABC’s hit series, Nashville. (JK)
It was a big week for the inimitable Margo Price. Garden & Gun magazine shared a terrific “Back Porch Sessions” video from SXSW, and she performed her single “Hurtin’ (On The Bottle)” and “Since You Put Me Down” on Saturday Night Live. Price’s debut album, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, also debuted at #10 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart, the highest-ever debut for a woman who has never charted on Billboard‘s corresponding country airplay chart. (JK)
“His particular Alabama dialect, as far as I’m aware, doesn’t exist anymore… He had something of the period with the way he spoke. There was a particular cadence and particular musicality there that doesn’t exist anymore, so I had to study it and study the music and the way he spoke. It was great. It was a fascinating thing to study sound and how the way people speak changes over time.”
— Tom Hiddleston spoke to The AV Club about his intensive study of Hank Williams’ unique drawl and dialect as preparation for his role in I Saw The Light. (JK)
“For Dolly Parton, it would just be, like, ‘Thank you for existing.’ How do you even like—’Thank you for being amazing and incredible and saving millions of lives through your incredible work magic?’ I was just trying to be normal.”
— Stephanie Beatriz, best known as Rosa on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, in another interview with The AV Club, talked about running into Dolly Parton at a taping for the Today show and not knowing what to say. We think “your incredible work magic” sums Dolly up nicely, for the record. (JK)
“Throughout the concert, the three musical acts performing namedropped the NRA a total of 20 times. During their 45-minute set, LoCash alone mentioned the organization on 13 occasions, or roughly once every three minutes… With I Love This Life, LoCash were also the only group that managed to sneak in a lyric about the NRA into one of their songs. After (Preston) Brust sang his line about the NRA, the group then handed out NRA Country T-shirts to the crowd and mentioned the organization a half-dozen more times before closing their set. “God bless the NRA,” they shouted, before disappearing offstage.”
— Jonathan Bernstein, in a fascinating piece for The Guardian: “Welcome to NRA Country.” Bernstein spoke with several music industry insiders regarding the NRA Country “lifestyle brand” and its attempts to provide additional marketing for the NRA among country music fans and for country music artists among NRA members. (JK)
Brandy Clark gave an acoustic performance of her latest single, “Girl Next Door,” which as of this week is sitting just outside the top 40 at country radio. (JK)
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again-you are completely wrong about country radio. I work at the largest/most popular mid-market country station in the nation. There is no payola. Nobody in country radio is that stupid. And you said that there will always be great Americana, etc…musicians. You may be right, but nobody will EVER hear of them. Why? Because the way country music has been going for about 3 years (the way this website hates) is the only reason country is the most popular genre of music in America. Country music shouldn’t have to stick to its roots in order to progress.”
— Adam McGurk, of San Jose’s KRTY, commented on the weekly country radio round-up by our pals at Country Perspective. Because it had been far too long since someone involved at country radio said something infuriating that indicated an exceptionally limited perspective on the genre and what it can do. (JK)
“If the girls solo don’t get the attention or airplay, maybe the girl groups will. And while I appreciate that effort, I think this glut of so many at once will make it extra challenging to set any of them apart …One or two will really have to stand out with an exceptional song or angle beyond just being a girl group.”
— Sue Wilson, Programming Director for WQMX in Akron, OH, remarked on the influx of new all-women bands that are all simultaneously attempting to make inroads at country radio, in an article by Phyllis Stark for Billboard. Based upon some of the clips provided by the article, Wilson’s point is well-taken, and few of the acts mentioned seem particularly distinctive or interesting. Moreover, by pushing so many all-women acts at once, it reduces gender to a “trend,” rather than addressing country radio’s ongoing issues with inherent sexism head-on. The more things change… (JK)
Craig Campbell announced a new series called “Woman Cover Wednesdays” on his YouTube channel. For his first video, he turned in a solid– if abbreviated– cover of Maren Morris’ “My Church.” We’re not sold on the title of the series, but we like the intent behind it and look forward to what Campbell tackles in the upcoming weeks. (JK)
“I just did a country-music festival called C2C in the U.K. it was very emotional, because we had a two-song acoustic set in the middle of the arena. It was sold out, so it was 20,000 people. You only have two songs to win them over. But I got up there and sang my two songs and ended on ‘My Church.’ By the time we get to the breakdown chorus, every corner of that place was singing along.”
— Maren Morris reflected on the one-year anniversary of having written “My Church,” which she performed at the C2C festival to a warm reception. Alas, country radio hasn’t received the single quite as well– it has spent the past couple of weeks floundering just outside the top 10, because of course it has. (JK)
“(American Idol) excelled at creating a personal link between artists and viewers, compelling the latter to take action by calling in and voting. The most successful contestants appealed to a wide swath of the American public—Carrie Underwood’s sheer humility may very well have cinched her the title—but that didn’t stop smaller factions of fans from giving contestants like Elliot Yamin respectable careers.”
— Our very own Tara Seetharam, who published a fantastic article, “American Idol and the Evolution of Criticism,” in The Atlantic to coincide with the finale of the long-running series. Sure, it isn’t really “country” news per se, but we’re all super proud of Tara and want all of our readers to check out her article! (JK)
Also on the subject of American Idol, former finalist and chart-topping artist Josh Gracin issued a statement via Facebook as to why he didn’t appear as part of the show’s country-music medley alongside Kellie Pickler, Scotty McCreery, and Kree Harrison. (JK)
It isn’t clear if there will be another proper single from Kacey Musgraves’ Pageant Material, but, this week, she performed “High Time” on The Late Show with James Corden. (JK)
“It’s starting to feel like Cheers in here. I’m like Norm at the bar.”
— Chris Stapleton, perhaps a bit uneasy with going where everybody knows his name, in a profile for Garden & Gun magazine on his breakout success over the past five months. (JK)
Meanwhile, the nominees for the 2016 American Country Countdown Awards were announced this week. As far as we can tell, these exist so that there is a Stapleton-free country awards show that can give Sam Hunt a trophy after he was completely shut out at the CMAs, Grammys, and ACMs. (JK)
That’s a wrap for this week. Check out the tributes we’ve posted to Merle Haggard earlier in the week, along with Kevin’s reviews of the latest singles by Carrie Underwood, Blake Shelton, and Kenny Chesney.
Good to see Margo Price score on Saturday Night Live, as well as any success Brandy Clark has coming her way for “The Girl Next Door”, and Maren Morris too. There are, after all, really good womenfolk out there in country music. Now if only country radio will stop giving them “bro jobs”….
Also, here’s to Merle for an incredibly long, rich, and rewarding career, telling it like it is.
To add to the “Sunday Selections”–I should note that Martina McBride is going to be at the Lifetime Grammy Achievement ceremony to be held at L.A.’s Dolby Theater on April 23rd. The recipients this year for Lifetime Grammys include the legendary R&B group Earth, Wind, and Fire; jazz master Herbie Hancock; rap group Run DMC; and country-rock icon (among other things) Linda Ronstadt. Not surprisingly, Martina will be doing part of the tribute to Linda, along with Latin songstress Lila Downs and J.D. Souther, who of course wrote many songs that Linda did during the course of her career. The show is being taped by PBS, who will air the special later this year.
Regarding the Jonathan Bernstein article in The Guardian, I agree with “the more than 70% of card-carrying NRA households who support universal background checks”. The Not Responsible for Anything leadership puts profits before the welfare of their own members and the rest of us. Nothing will change as long as they own the gop.