Sunday Selections: January 15, 2017

Here’s 140 characters (Tweet @ someone who cares).

Well, it took a whopping 9 days into the new year for a country act to kick off a bit of a controversy. On the bright side, as of the drafting of this post, there haven’t been any country music icons who have passed away, so at least there’s that bit of good news to hold onto…

But on Monday, Travis Tritt took to his Twitter account to respond to Meryl Streep’s acceptance speech from the Golden Globe Awards, saying that artists should “drop the political rhetoric.” Twitter did not take kindly to this notion, and Tritt then spent a good deal of time engaging in revisionist history of his own behavior or being outright belligerent to people.

We’re fans of Tritt’s music– he’s figured prominently in our various 1990s “Best Of” features, and he landed at #69 on our countdown of the 100 Greatest Men of Country Music– but this was simply not a good moment or series of moments for him for a litany of reasons, and several of his fellow country artists responded articulately to his claim that art should somehow be apolitical.

Elsewhere, Sturgill Simpson took full advantage of his time on the SNL stage to announce himself to a wide audience, Margo Price and Billy Joe Shaver each considered some of the finer points of the legal system, and Chris Janson, Tift Merritt, and John Paul White gave insightful interviews. The new release calendar picked up this week, as well, with noteworthy albums by The Infamous Stringdusters and Natalie Hemby, whose name has appeared in the songwriting credits of countless hits and album tracks over the past several years.


New Releases & Reissues, 1/13/2017
The Band, The Last Waltz (40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition). (Rhino)
Band of Heathens, Duende. (BOH Records)
Ray Cardwell, Tennessee Moon. (Pinecastle)
Natalie Hemby, Puxico. (GetWrucke Productions)
The Infamous Stringdusters, Laws of Gravity. (Compass)
Jeannie Seely, Written in Song. (Cheyenne / Smith Music Group)

Charted Territory
Billboard Country National Airplay:
#1: Keith Urban, “Blue Ain’t Your Color” (2 weeks).
Most Increased Audience: Rascal Flatts, “Yours If You Want Itl” (#31).
Most Added: Rascal Flatts, “Yours If You Want It” (51); Kenny Chesney, “Bar at the End of the World” (29); Jason Aldean, “Any Ol’ Barstool” (24); Luke Bryan, “Fast” (14); Craig Campbell, “Outskirts of Heaven” (8); Billy Currington, “Do I Make You Wanna” (8).
Debuts: Rascal Flatts, “Yours If You Want It” (#31); Seth Ennis, “Woke Up in Nashville (#59); Aaron Watson, “Outta Style” (#60).
Notes: Keith Urban’s “Blue Ain’t Your Color” becomes part of the increasingly rare species of multi-week #1 hits; Carrie Underwood’s “Dirty Laundry” (#2) and Blake Shelton’s “A Guy With a Girl” (#3) are neck-and-neck in total audience impressions in their race to supplant Urban at the top of the chart next week; Little Big Town cracks the top 10 with “Better Man” (#10) after just 12 weeks, making it one of the fastest-climbing singles of their career; Maren Morris’ “80s Mercedes” and “Kill a Word” by Eric Church feat. Rihannon Giddens trade the #13 and #15 positions this week, as both singles inch very, very slowly toward the top 10; Chris Stapleton’s “Parachute” holds at #19 but posts a solid gain in audience for the week; Lauren Alaina’s “Road Less Traveled” hasn’t been able to maintain its OnTheVerge promotional momentum, as the single posts a small audience gain but slips back to #20 in its 21st chart week; High Valley’s “Make You Mine” (#23), Chris Janson’s “Holdin’ Her” (#28), and Craig Campbell’s “Outskirts of Heaven” (#30) are all somehow still on the chart and still posting small gains in audience after at least nine full months at radio; after getting a quick start, Miranda Lambert’s “We Should Be Friends” has hit a bit of a wall, as it holds at #33 for a second week; RaeLynn’s “Love Triangle” retains its bullet but drops from a #32 peak back to #35; the godawful singles by Chris Lane (#49) and Morgan Wallen (#53) both continue to climb slowly toward the top 40; three of the strongest singles on the chart, however, all tread water this week– William Michael Morgan’s “Missing” (#54), Drake White’s “Making Me Look Good Again” (#56) and Candi Carpenter’s “Burn the Bed” (#57).

Elsewhere on the Billboard Radio Charts
Ryan Adams enjoys another good week at AAA radio, where “Do You Still Love Me?” holds at #9 for the second week and another new single, “To Be Without You” scores 11 total station adds; The Avett Brothers’ “True Sadness” (#16) and Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats’ “Wasting Time” (#24) both post small audience gains at AAA this week; Old 97s’ “Good With God” scores another 12 station adds; other acts picking up new stations include Nikki Lane’s “Jackpot” (9), Son Volt’s “Back Against the Wall” (3), Tift Merritt’s “Dusty Old Man” (1), and Todd Snider’s “Ways and Means” (1); “Setting the World on Fire” by Kenny Chesney feat. Pink has peaked at Adult Top 40, dropping from #21 to #25; LeAnn Rimes’ “Long Live Love” and Rascal Flatts’ “Yours If You Want It” both picked up a station add at Adult Contemporary radio this week; Hillary Scott & The Scott Family’s “Thy Will” continues to hold strong at Christian radio, dropping to #8 but posting a modest gain in overall spins.

News & Notes

This tweet from Travis Tritt set off a mini-cycle of Social Media Outrage on Monday. The obvious irony here is that Tritt– variously an actor, musician, and entertainer– is using his personal Twitter account, which is not restricted only to his followers and is therefore open for full public view, to engage in precisely the type of political rhetoric that he believes others should refrain from. Telling others that their profession means that they should not voice their political views is, in and of itself, a political statement.

Just as it’s childish and problematic for anyone who objected to Tritt’s statement to tell him to, “DELETE YOUR ACCOUNT,” disagreement with someone’s views– which, Tritt elaborated multiple times that he is tired of liberals “whining” about having lost the Presidential election, so his issue with Streep’s Golden Globes speech cannot be separated from his stance on the content of what she said– is not a reason why that person should be silenced.

Moreover, this is hardly a position that Tritt has the ground to hold, given that his Twitter feed is filled with his own political views. For instance, on January 14, 2016, Tritt Tweeted the following: “I love my friends on the left, but if they support HRC I seriously have to question their judgment on what is good for this country!” and “In the upcoming election, I will be voting for the ABC candidate (Anybody But Clinton)! She is a lying troll who isn’t good for America!” Or on October 17, 2015, he Tweeted: “Like most of America, I don’t trust Hillary with anything. She is dishonest and a manipulator from hell!”

Then there’s the fact that Tritt openly campaigned for George W. Bush during his 2000 Presidential campaign and performed at the 1996 Republican National Convention. There was also the ruckus Tritt got involved in regarding a concert that Tim McGraw and Billy Currington had scheduled to play in Sandy Hook. Or all of the comments he just made back in November about Beyonce’s and The Dixie Chicks’ performance at the CMA Awards.

All art is inherently political by virtue of its creation. Still, many people who look to popular culture for straightforward escapism wish that musicians and other artists would keep their work separate from politics, considering how divisive today’s political climate has become. Travis Tritt, however, has waived his right to play that card by dint of his own behavior. He’s all too eager to let fly with his political views– and, again, he absolutely has the right to do so– so he doesn’t get to tell other artists that they shouldn’t do the same.

Some of those artists responded directly to Tritt:

And leave it to Jason Isbell to speak the God’s own truth:

He used the word “extricable.” We just love Jason Isbell. (JK)

Moving on…

Sturgill Simpson was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live— joining Margo Price and Maren Morris on the list of country artists who have taken the SNL stage just in the current season– and, by all accounts, he tore shit up proper. Simpson performed “Keep It Between the Lines” and a fiery, sped-up rendition of “Call to Arms” from the Grammy-nominated A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. (JK)

If you want something really different, check out the free music from Atlanta singer/songwriter Don de Leaumont, who has recorded an EP of heavy metal songs… redone as folk tunes. The moody, acoustic versions of songs like “Ace of Spades” (Motorhead), “Round and Round” (Ratt) and “Heaven and Hell” (Black Sabbath) are available on his Bandcamp site and are pretty good, if a little jarring. (SG)

“My lawyer was badass, man. I had a great lawyer. He’s bad, man. I’ll tell you what. You know that rich feller that cut somebody’s head off and then drove around New York with the head on the seat? My lawyer went and jumped in the car with him with that head right in the middle and talked him into coming in, and then he represented him and got him off…  If it wasn’t for him, I guess I’d be in jail. But everyone tried to railroad me. I was innocent, and I would’ve followed that all the way to the end of my life. When I’m in the right, you can’t whoop me. But if I’m in the wrong, I’ll try to talk my way out of it, and if I can’t I’ll fight, just not as hard as I could. I ain’t lost one yet.”
— The legendary Billy Joe Shaver can still spin a better tale at 73 than most anyone a third of his age. He spoke with Jonny Fritz for American Songwriter about giving a $100 bill to Waylon Jennings, how he had to win over Chet Atkins, and the various venues he and his band have and have not been kicked out of over the years. It’s a must-read. (JK)

Margo Price is just the best. During the 2016 Americana Music Festival, she checked out the Epiphone Masterbuilt Century Acoustic Archtop Collection for guitar manufacturer Epiphone, performing the just flat-out amazing, “It Ain’t Drunk Driving If You’re Riding A Horse.” (JK)

“My aspirations are not what they used to be… I used to be very career-driven. … But that’s not what drives me anymore [and] there’s no regret whatsoever.”
— John Paul White reflected candidly about his career goals in an interview with Roman Gokhman for Riff magazine. When The Civil Wars broke up, White was the one who issued a statement that it was due to “irreconcilable differences of ambition,” and his comments throughout the interview reflect that it was his far more modest aims that were at-odds with the duo’s rapid ascent. White also talks about the recording of his excellent album, Beulah, which was released last August. (JK)

Americana/roots band Donna the Buffalo will be taking to the road in a brand new bus, having put more than a million miles on their old purple bus. The band was able to raise the necessary $85,000 in three weeks through a GoFundMe campaign. They are taking to the road on a winter tour in January and February, playing up and down the Eastern seaboard. (SG)

Old 97s are gaining some notable airplay at AAA radio– 20 years late is better than never, right?– for the feisty “Good With God,” a collaboration with the great Brandi Carlile. In as much as I still hate the idea of lyric videos, any promo for Old 97s is a good thing. (JK)

“As an artist, you feel like you get the first one out of the way, now the pressure is off a little bit. Most people think the pressure is on the second record, but it’s like ‘Oh, my God. What do you have to live up to?’ Dude, it’s just music, it’s not that hard to figure out.
— Chris Janson downplayed expectations for his sophomore album when he chatted with Jim Casey for Nash Country Daily. Janson claims that he’s been writing new material daily in preparation for his second album, while his terrific single “Holdin’ Her” continues to bounce around the 25 – 30 range on the airplay charts. (JK)

“That metaphor turned out to be a idea about how to navigate life. If you pull the seams too tight, they’ll break. If you aren’t careful with them, they’ll knot. Maybe the best way to navigate life is to try and be gentle with this thread and be joyful and light-hearted about how we are connected to everything.”
— Tift Merritt, one of our favorite singer-songwriters, considered the unique metaphor that she used for the title of her forthcoming album, Stitch of the World. Merritt spoke with Will Hodge of Noisetrade about the recording of the album, which includes collaborations with Sam Beam of Iron & Wine. (JK)

During the holiday break, we missed the chance to share the latest video from Jennifer Nettles. “Hey Heartbreak” still hasn’t cracked the top 60 at country radio– because of course it hasn’t– but it’s yet another earworm from Nettles, who sounds as great as ever. (JK)

That will do it for this week, gang! Be sure to check out our Best of 1991 countdowns, which have posted in full, and check back for new content this week!



  1. Since Travis Tweet has focussed his HRC attacks on her supposed dishonesty, has he ever commented on America’s biggest liar by far? Or does he only attack women?

    Fact Checker (Washington Post)
    The biggest Pinocchios of 2016
    By Glenn Kessler December 16 at 3:14 AM

    It’s time for our annual roundup of the biggest Pinocchios of the year.
    Just before the presidential election, we highlighted the most outlandish statements of the campaign. This list is limited to claims we checked in 2016. We also decided to keep the focus on whoppers that the candidates said about themselves or about policy issues, not political attacks.
    In the past, we have tried to assemble a relatively equal number of claims by Democrats and Republicans but find that this is impossible this year. Donald Trump earned five of the “biggest Pinocchio” ratings; the previous record was three (President Obama in 2013 and Trump in 2015).
    There has never been a serial exaggerator in recent American politics like the president-elect. He not only consistently makes false claims but also repeats them, even though they have been proven wrong. He always insists he is right, no matter how little evidence he has for his claim or how easily his statement is debunked.
    During the campaign, Trump earned 59 Four-Pinocchio ratings, compared with seven for Hillary Clinton. Since winning the presidency, Trump has earned four more Four-Pinocchio ratings, and his staff has earned one, as well. Unfortunately, we see little indication that this pattern will change during his presidency.

  2. I don’t have a problem with celebrities using their Constitutional right to voice their opinions on political issues. Everyone has that right.

    However, I hope they do not try to use their wealth, power, and influence to attempt to block anything GOOD that a President tries to do simply because their candidate did not win and they’re pitching a conniption fit over it.

    I like Toby Keith’s response – “I don’t apologize for performing for our country or military,” Keith said in a statement. “I performed at events for previous presidents Bush and Obama and over 200 shows in Iraq and Afghanistan for the USO.”

    Regardless of who you support, once the decision is made, you should support the President unless he (or she) is doing corrupt things. But you need to wait until that actually happens (if it even does) before you start ripping them to shreds in public.

    I also liked Lee Greenwood’s response – “I’m honored to be part of history again and sing for President-elect Donald Trump. This is a time to overcome challenges in our country and band together.”


  3. Donald Trump did enough during his campaign and the transition to guarantee my full-throated opposition to his bigotry, corruption, and collusion with hostile foreign governments.

    I’ll continue to stand with the Clinton voters, who outnumbered Trump voters by nearly three million, and with real leaders like Rep. John Lewis, who is the latest American hero to be degraded by our repulsive president-elect, and I’ll ignore the hypocrisy of Trump supporters who expect us to fall in line behind the man who spent the last eight years calling our outgoing president’s presidency – indeed, his very citizenship – illegitimate.

  4. Count me as someone who finds Tritt’s comments about Clinton to be misogynistic and hypocritical. Such are the times we live in when facts seem to be irrelevant and education elitist. Trump’s campaign rhetoric appealed to the lowest (yes, deplorable) elements of society and whatever good ideas he may have had were completely irrelevant when he started denigrating segment after segment of our diverse population. I’ve never seen ungracious or sensitive “winners” and I suspect it had to do with Trump receiving almost 3 million fewer votes than Clinton.

  5. Moving away from politics (though I totally agree with Kevin), and on to the Jennifer Nettles track, I was kind of surprised/dismayed that her Playing with Fire album didn’t land on you guys’ year-end list. It was easily my most played album of 2016, and since I know that there are plenty of fellow Nettles fans here I thought that the album stood the greatest chance of getting some recognition on this site. Oh, well…

    Also, I know it was only briefly touched on in the list of album releases, but Natalie Hemby’s record caught me by surprise. There’s a song on there called “Cairo, IL” that is absolutely gorgeous.

  6. I have to say that one of the things I’ve always valued about Country Universe is the tone of the discussion in the comment threads– even when folks have differing views, the conversations (almost) always stay civil and respectful. That’s certainly not the case on the majority of internet comment threads, even among country music sites.

    @ SRM,
    I liked the Nettles album a lot, and it would have made my ballot if I had run it out a bit further. I was lukewarm on her first solo album, but I thought Playing With Fire was a big step up, quality-wise. But what do I know? I’m the guy who went to bat for “Sugar” on our best singles list in 2015!

    And I agree that “Cairo, IL” is a stunner!

  7. @Jonathan
    I was SO GLAD when you went to bat for “Sugar” two years ago! CU is the only place I’ve seen to give that song the credit it deserves. It really is a “deceptively meaty” song (especially given the whole SaladGate thing that was going on at the time).

  8. Great to have Tift Merritt back with us, after the important business of becoming a mother. I look forward to her album Stitch Of The World being released at the end of this month.

    As for Travis Tritt’s bellyaching about stars “getting political” (which I think is hypocritical bellyaching on Tritt’s part), I refer him to something Paul Newman said about his own activism, especially his and other Hollywood heavyweights participating in the 1963 March on Washington with Martin Luther King:

    Because I am a motion picture personality, I am not prepared to ignore what happens around me. Is it necessary or desirable to abdicate your responsibility as a citizen just because it might be safer for business? I cannot conveniently forget my responsibilities.

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