Sunday Selections: October 30, 2016

We love the guy, but Sturgill Simpson sure can be a grumpy sumbitch at times.

Simpson once again got the country music community talking with his comments from a lengthy interview. This time, he claimed that it’s his intention to be the biggest country star on the planet within 10 years’ time, without the assistance of Music Row. He said that he wants to build a massive grassroots following by drawing from all of the different genres that he loves while taking a scorched-earth approach to Nashville.

Now, were Simpson to succeed in becoming the biggest star in country music, we wouldn’t necessarily complain, and we appreciate a star who doesn’t feel compelled to play within the confines of rules that are far too restrictive and biased. But there’s also something to be said for tact; this isn’t the first time in the past year alone that Simpson has shot from the hip, but his shots seem to have quite a spread in terms of their imprecision and potential for collateral damage.

Elsewhere this week, there’s a must-read profile of the suddenly red-hot John Prine (!), interviews with Kenny Chesney, Mickey Guyton, and Bradley Walker, and terrific videos from Darius Rucker, Eric Church, and Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats.

And if you thought last week was the peak of Christmas album season, look out below. This week’s new releases include holiday albums by Kacey Musgraves, Brett Eldredge (evidently bumped back a week from 10/21), and Jennifer Nettles. There are also high-profile new albums and reissues from Kenny Chesney, Alejandro Escovedo, Alan Jackson, Kip Moore, and LeAnn Rimes. Plus collections from overlooked veterans Henson Cargill, Johnny Duncan, and Nat Stuckey.


a-very-kacey-christmasNew Releases & Reissues: 10/28/2016
Henson Cargill, The Essential Henson Cargill. (Legacy)
Kenny Chesney, Cosmic Hallelujah. (Blue Chair / Columbia Nashville)
Johnny Duncan, The Essential Johnny Duncan. (Legacy)
Brett Eldredge, Glow. (Atlantic Nashville)
Alejandro Escovedo, Burn Something Beautiful. (Fantasy)
Wayne Hancock, Slingin’ Rhythm. (Bloodshot)
Alan Jackson, Precious Memories Collection. (EMI Records Nashville)
The Loving Mary Band, Little Bit of Love. (Round Hill Music)
Kip Moore, Underground. (MCA Nashville)
Kacey Musgraves, A Very Kacey Christmas. (Mercury Nashville)
Jennifer Nettles, To Celebrate Christmas. (Big Machine)
Roy Orbison, The Ultimate Collection. (Legacy)
LeAnn Rimes, Remnants. (RCA)
She & Him, Christmas Party. (Columbia)
Snowapple, Tracks. (Zip)
Nat Stuckey, The Very Best of Nat Stuckey. (RCA / Legacy)
Cole Swindell, Down Home Sessions III EP. (Warner)
Aaron Lee Tasjan, Silver Tears. (New West)
Trent Tomlinson, That’s What’s Working Right Now. (Mucho Love Music)
Spencer Vignes, The Train Kept A’Rollin’: How the Train Song Changed the Face of Popular Music. (Paperback – Soundcheck Books)
Steve Wariner, All Over the Map. (SelecTone)

setting-the-world-on-fire-kenny-chesney-pnkCharted Territory
Billboard Country National Airplay:
#1: Kenny Chesney feat. Pink, “Setting the World on Fire”
Most Increased Audience: Kenny Chesney feat. Pink, “Setting the World on Fire”
Debuts: Little Big Town, “Better Man” (#38); Jake Owen, “He Ain’t Gonna Love You” (#47); Luke Combs, “Hurricane” (#58); Morgan Wallen, “The Way I Talk” (#59); Steve Moakler, “Suitcase” (#60).
Most Added: Little Big Town, “Better Man” (53); Kelsea Ballerini, “Yeah Boy” (29); Brad Paisley, “Today” (28); Garth Brooks, “Baby, Let’s Lay Down and Dance” (28); Blake Shelton, “A Guy With a Girl” (27).
Notes: In another competitive race to the top, the Kenny Chesney and Pink duet edges out “Move” by Luke Bryan, which holds at #2; with the exception of Tim McGraw’s “How I’ll Always Be” (#10), which isn’t even one of his strongest of recent singles, the top 10 is unusually dreadful and is, of course, all dudes except for Pink; goodbye, Tucker Beathard, may you never be heard from again; Miranda Lambert’s “Vice” inches back up to #12 with a very modest gain in audience; in just its ninth chart week, Carrie Underwood’s “Dirty Laundry” is already up to #14, which is none too shabby for an album’s fourth single, even from one of the format’s superstars; “Kill a Word” by Eric Church and Rhiannon Giddens cracks the top 20 in a minor triumph for quality material; “Make You Mine” by High Valley, a song that I have somehow managed to gloss over entirely for the past 35 weeks and have honest-to-God never heard of, is at #26 for a second week, which may or may not be a good thing; Garth Brooks’ “Baby, Let’s Lay Down and Dance” drops back (from #19 to #28) from its promo-assisted debut; a similar thing happened to Brad Paisley’s “Today” last week, with his single rebounding from #37 to #31 in its third chart week; Kelsea Ballerini scores her fourth top 40 hit, as the revolting “Yeah Boy” moves up to #35; RaeLynn’s “Love Triangle,” which is still a far better song than single-as-performed-by-RaeLynn, catches a headwind and vaults up six spots to #40; Runaway June’s “Lipstick” may crack the top 40 yet, as it moves back up and rebullets at #41; The Band Perry’s would-be comeback has officially hit another snag, as “Comeback Kid” hemorrhages audience and drops to #44; after kicking around the bottom portion of the chart for four months, Toby Keith’s “A Few More Cowboys” takes a sizable hit in audience, falling to #55; of the three not-very-good-at-all singles to debut at the bottom of this week’s chart, Morgan Wallen’s first single, “The Way I Talk” (#59), makes an especially pungent impression, as he rivals Beathard for country’s most indefensible singing voice, so I assume that means he’ll eventually land the OnTheVerge promotion.

Elsewhere on Billboard‘s radio charts:
The Lumineers hold at #2 on the AAA chart with “Cleopatra,” which is stuck behind the new single from Kings of Leon; Norah Jones’ “Carry On” matches its previous peak of #9; The Avett Brothers’ lovely “True Sadness” takes a big jump from #29 to #19 in its second week on the AA chart; Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats’ “Wasting Time” debuts at #30; Valerie June– who some may remember for her striking performance of “Like Jesus Does” with Eric Church at the ACMs a couple of years back– scores 5 total station adds with “Astral Plane,” the first single from her upcoming sophomore album; “Setting the World On Fire” scores an additional 5 station adds at Adult Top 40 this week, though the duet has yet to crack the top 40 at that format; Hillary Scott & The Scott Family reclaim the #1 spot at Christian radio with “Thy Will,” giving the inspirational hit a third week at #1.

Sturgill SimpsonNews & Notes

“It’s all about me struggling to get my foot in the door and figuring out how to land. I’ve landed now. I can’t really sit there and complain anymore. Life’s pretty good.  … But you still won’t see me on the fuckin’ CMAs… If you ask me what I think about, what I stress about — it’s making the best fucking records that I possibly can… [If] I feel like I just kind of went through the motions and pumped out what I think people were expecting, to appease them and make them happy to sustain my lifestyle, [then] I’m lying to them.”
— Sturgill Simpson doubled-down on his status as a country music outsider as part of a lengthy and frequently surly interview with Adam Gold of The Nashville Scene. Simpson spoke candidly about the reaction to his Facebook post about Merle Haggard and the ACMs back on August 29th, his interactions with Haggard during the final years of his life, and his aspirations to be “the biggest country star on this planet” without the aid of Music Row. While there’s something to be admired in Simpson’s candor and his willingness to challenge what he views as a deeply broken system, there’s also something divisive about his approach. Would the country mainstream be better off if acts like Simpson, Jason Isbell, Margo Price, Tami Neilson, and Turnpike Troubadours were among the genre’s biggest stars? Of course it would. They’re all major talents whose work is directly tied to country music’s past but who consider ways that the genre can expand and truly evolve without losing its identity altogether. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to acknowledge the artists like Miranda Lambert, Eric Church, Kacey Musgraves, and plenty of others who are doing excellent, meaningful work within the mainstream already. One of the reasons country music doesn’t need to be saved– by Simpson or anyone else– is that there isn’t a shortage of artists both squarely in the mainstream and on the fringes who are all “making the best fucking records [they] possibly can,” and their best efforts are worth celebrating on their own considerable merits. (JK)

“Any time I sing with John, I feel like I’m home. He brings that feeling everywhere he goes. John’s one of those singers who’s carried around with him all the people who have inspired his life, musically and otherwise. So, when I sing with John, I feel like I’m in a community. I feel like his mom and dad are there, I feel like every record that’s ever shaped who he became, I feel like that’s all there. He keeps that present with him, and I have that myself, so when I sing with him it feels like a big reunion, in the best way. You know, more than a reunion, it feels like the truth, because that is what’s going on. You’re there with all those people, and we both have that sense that we’re continuing that tradition, and he never loses sight of that. It’s always bigger than him, and he knows that. It isn’t just John, it’s this community that’s kept us all afloat. It’s really powerful, and it matters. I feel that when I’m with him. To me, he’s a physical reminder of that.”
— The inimitable Iris DeMent considered what she has learned from her collaborations with John Prine over the years. DeMent is one of several of our favorite artists– including Miranda Lambert, Todd Snider, Kacey Musgraves, and Kathy Mattea– who were interviewed at length by Jonathan Bernstein for a profile of Prine in The Bitter Southerner. The entire profile, titled “The Big Old Goofy World of John Prine” because of course it is, is a fascinating read that captures the genuine fondness Prine inspires. (JK)

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats performed their current single, “Wasting Time,” on the stage of A Prairie Home Companion last week. New host and for-real genius Chris Thile and the show’s house band, including Sarah Jarosz, also unveiled a cool new song, “Dates,” during the broadcast. (JK)

“Look, I’m not knocking anybody. But I can’t necessarily sing things that people are singing today because, honestly, I said it before them and I don’t want to repeat them or myself.”
— Kenny Chesney gave himself a pat on the back for not including a single reference to trucks on either of his two most recent albums as part of an interview with Bob Doerschuk of USA Today. Chesney’s latest album, Cosmic Hallelujah, is out now, so listeners can decide if Chesney was successful in his attempts to record material with greater depth. (JK)

NPR shared the full audio of Wynonna’s recent performance with her new backing band, The Big Noise, at Mountain Stage in Charleston, WV. It’s no surprise that the powerhouse singer is in fine voice throughout the show. (JK)

Darius Rucker is a sharp-dressed man in the music video for his latest single, “If I Told You.” The single has been climbing slowly to this point; after 14 weeks at radio, it moves up from #44 to #42 this week. (JK)

“[Dolly Parton] is everything right with the world, in my personal opinion.”
— The effortlessly charming Mickey Guyton spoke the truth when she sat down with Lisa Konicki for this week’s “The Writer’s Room” podcast at Nash Country Daily. Guyton chatted about her current single (“Heartbreak Song,” which honestly isn’t up to her talent), being recognized as someone who overcomes barriers for women of color in country music, and meeting Dolly Parton. (JK)

Eric Church released an official live video of his song “Holdin’ My Own” from his recent performance at Red Rocks Amphitheater. (JK)

“These teenage fans might be the ones that support your favorite band in 10 years, because Taylor taught them how to really connect with a song. Just don’t be surprised if they’re still singing along to “Fifteen,” too…that formative song bond is a hard one to break. Mary Chapin Carpenter taught me how to let a song crawl into my insides and make its home when I was 15 years old…and I’m glad she opened that space so all these new songs including Taylor’s get to come in, too.”
— Jana Pochop wrote about the importance of formative music experiences and how they transform the way a person responds to music over the course of their lifetime in a review of a recent Taylor Swift concert. She focuses on Swift’s hit “Fifteen” and draws a parallel to how she responded to Mary Chapin Carpenter’s music at that age. (JK)

“When we were thinking about songs for the record, I asked Rory if he had plans to do anything with their recording of it. If he did, I didn’t want to touch it. He immediately said that he loved the idea of me recording it. Then, he asked me how I would feel about turning it into a duet… When we went into the studio to cut, we got to that song, and we had to record it in the same vein that it was recorded when she sang it. We played her version so the musicians could get it in their head. We were sitting there listening to it, and it was so hard. Once we put the voices together, it’s still hard to explain. You’re proud of it, but it’s still tough. Rory gave me a gift with that, and it’s something that I’m going to have forever.”
— Bradley Walker told Billboard‘s Chuck Dauphin about the cover of “In the Time That You Gave Me,” a duet with the late Joey Martin Feek, that is the highlight of his new album, Call Me Old Fashioned. Walker, a long-time friend of Joey+Rory who sang at Joey’s memorial service, scored a surprise top 10 debut (at #9) on the Top Country Albums chart. (JK)

A hat-tip to friend-of-the-blog Ken Morton, Jr., for finding this killer video of Margo Price performing a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Wallflower.” (JK)

Be sure to check back for plenty of new content this week as we ramp up our coverage of the 50th annual CMA Awards!


  1. “‘Make You Mine’ by High Valley, a song that I have somehow managed to gloss over entirely for the past 35 weeks and have honest-to-God never heard of, is at #26 for a second week, which may or may not be a good thing”

    Since you brought it up, I’m going to get this off my chest: “Make You Mine” is my favorite mainstream country single of the year. I know that’s not saying much given how bad this year has been for mainstream country releases, but I really like this song. I thought for sure it wouldn’t chart here in the states after being a big hit in High Valley’s native Canada, but I’m just so happy to see it get halfway up the chart. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen it get so much flack for its by-the-numbers lyrics and how it uses the Mumford and Sons format three years too late, but I reject all of those criticisms. What it lacks in lyrical depth it makes up for in earnestness and energy. There isn’t a more propulsive song on the radio right now, and that hook is just as monstrous as you please. And for those saying that it’s a Mumford and Son’s rip off, I can only say that Mumford and Sons NEVER had this much fun with their music. Ever.

    So, if that sounds interesting, Jonathan, I highly recommend “Make You Mine.” You might just be surprised by this one…

  2. Regarding High Valley, my teen-age son heard their current single this afternoon while in the car with me. His music tastes are interesting and often first-rate. He expressed admiration for their music; I must say that, after listening to three of their recordings, I am mightily impressed. I believe they are accompanying Martina McBride at some of her current tour performances. I am glad they came up in this post.

  3. Y’all are making me feel out of the loop! I will absolutely check out that single; I liked pre-Babel Mumford & Sons well enough, so this may end up being something I like, too.

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