by Julian Spivey
Country music today is at a crossroads. If you solely listen to country music radio you’d think that the genre was dying, if not completely dead. But, there’s still an awful lot of great country music being made – it’s just not pop or rock or hip hop enough to be played on mainstream country radio. I got to thinking that there’s really nothing that I love that also irritates me as much as country music, which led to the idea of doing a segment for this website on My Love/Hate Country Relationship. Every so often I will compile I list of things within the country genre that I absolutely love and hate and give a little reason behind it. I hope you enjoy, and would love to read your feedback.
George Strait was the second performer at Sunday night’s 50th anniversary Academy of Country Music Awards after Eric Church and Keith Urban kicked off the show and when he opened his two-song performance with his 1987 hit “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” I tweeted: “George Strait doing ‘All My Ex’s Live in Texas’ like this was a country music award show or something … Might be a good show after all.” And, then Strait debuted his new song “Let It Go,” his first new release in two years and the first since he retired from touring last year. It was one of many new singles performed during the ACMs and, by far, blew every other one out of the water. “Let It Go” is a carefree, beach sounding song that will be perfect for the summer. Country music desperately needs “King George” on the radio right now. Hopefully he’ll get his share of airplay and see this song climb the charts – I have my doubts about that, though.
Brooks & Dunn
Brooks & Dunn performed together at the ACM Awards on Sunday night for the first time since they retired as a duo five years ago in 2010. The performance was in recognition of the duo receiving one of the Milestone Awards that the ACMs handed out during the telecast. B&D performed their No. 1 hit “My Maria” from 1996. “My Maria” was also the last song the duo had performed together when they did so in 2010 on the ACMs. Ronnie Dunn sounded as great as always on the vocals and it was like the two had never parted ways. Their performance was quite possibly the best of the entire ACMs. I will say that it appears Dunn has had some work done on his face, which made him look quite scary. Why can’t some of the country legends just age gracefully? You don’t see Willie Nelson or Merle Haggard finding plastic surgeons. B&D will reunite again later this year for special performances in Las Vegas at Caesars Palace with Reba McEntire.
Willie & Merle
Country legends Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard have recorded a new album together entitled Django & Jimmie, the title inspired by their heroes Django Reinhardt (Willie’s hero) and Jimmie Rodgers (Merle’s hero), to be released in early June. Willie & Merle released the first song/video from the album called “It’s All Going to Pot” on 4/20, Willie’s favorite holiday, and the song is a fantastic duet between two old friends who’ve been recording together for more than 30 years and the video an incredibly fun watch showing the two having a riotous time recording the song together and partaking in a little bit of Willie’s stash. This should be the album on top of every country music fan’s “to purchase” list.
Dwight Yoakam released his 14th studio album, Second Hand Heart, last week and it’s going to be one of the very best in his long and great career. Yoakam kicked off his album release on Monday, April 13 with an epic launch party at the Whiskey A Go Go in Hollywood where he performed tracks from the new album alongside many of his classics. Second Hand Heart features a terrific tracklist that includes the title track, which will surely be one of the best country songs released this year, about people hesitant to allow themselves to fall back in love once they’ve had their hearts broken. Other soon-to-be Yoakam classics include “Liar,” “Dreams of Clay” and his rip-roaring cover of the traditional “Man of Constant Sorrow.” Second Hand Heart is a must-buy for anybody who’s truly into great country music.
Sturgill Simpson is the best thing going in country music at the moment, but he’s still somewhat of an unknown to quite a bit of people because he’s not played on mainstream country radio – and he never will be. Simpson is a bit of a throwback to the days of Outlaw Country when Waylon Jennings, whom sometimes if you close your eyes you’ll almost imagine you’re hearing when you listen to Simpson, ruled country music. Simpson has become a cult hero for those of us sickened by mainstream country radio today and this cult status has led to some unique opportunities for him like performing at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which doesn’t typically include country artists, last week. Simpson’s Coachella finale “Listening to the Rain,” an Osborne Brothers’ cover, absolutely brings the house down and shows that Simpson might be among the best live performers currently in the country genre. This six-plus minute performance is truly an epic jam-session that shows off Simpson’s wonderful country vocals. I’ve yet to see Simpson in person, but will get my chance at Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic in Austin this summer and he’s one of the artists I’m truly dying to see.
David Letterman has less than a month remaining as host of the ‘Late Show’ on CBS with his final show airing on Wednesday, May 20. That might not seem to have anything to do with country music at all, but his departure from late night television will likely prove devastating for Americana/roots music (which is to me where the real/true country music is these days). Letterman has been a champion of Americana and real country music for years on his show as he’s a fan of the music himself and has personally asked for many artists in the genre like Jason Isbell, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Elizabeth Cook, Sturgill Simpson and most recently Chris Stapleton to appear on his show. When he leaves in a month that could essentially be it for seeing these terrific artists and this underappreciated form of music on television because it’s rarely if ever being shown on other late night television shows. Maybe there will be hope for Stephen Colbert’s ‘Late Show,’ but unless he’s a fan of the music himself it’s rather doubtful. Letterman leaving late night is truly bad news for great music lovers like myself.
Taylor Swift’s Milestone
The Academy of Country Music Awards (ACMs) wanted to do something special for their 50th anniversary telecast this year and what they came up with was honoring seven artists with Milestone Awards. These seven artists were: Garth Brooks, George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Reba McEntire, Brooks & Dunn, Miranda Lambert and Taylor Swift. The ACMs had special reasoning for these “milestones” and some of them were rather stupid, for instance Chesney’s “milestone” was that he was the first ever fan voted Entertainer of the Year winner. The Milestone Award was made fun of quite a bit by a lot of people for the number of honorees, but my biggest issue with the honor was Swift being honored over legends like Merle Haggard and Alabama. As everybody knows Swift eschewed country music last year to go over to pop music – even though she’d truly been a pop singer all along – and many real country fans didn’t care. However, Swift has maybe the largest fan base in the world, which is something television networks and award show executives do care about. So, the ACMs give Swift a bogus award to enforce her to show up to receive it so they can add millions of viewers to the telecast (notice Swift was the only one of the seven Milestone honorees who declined to perform). Swift receiving a Milestone Award from the ACMs over Haggard and Alabama is an obvious joke to anybody with a brain in their head. Swift has won five career ACM Awards. Haggard won 17 in his career, including six Male Vocalist of the Year awards (more than anybody, including George Strait). Alabama won a record five Entertainer of the Year awards in the 1980s, which is something that Milestone winners Garth Brooks and Kenny Chesney never did. For Swift to get this honor over the obviously more deserving Haggard and Alabama makes the whole Milestone Award seem irrelevant.
Miranda Lambert Stands Up for Bro-Country
Bro-Country has been the scourge of country music for the last three-to-five years and continues to hang around, in my opinion, despite numerous music critics claiming that it’s dying off. As long as Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan and the like continue to be popular and make hits it’ll always be in control of mainstream country, if you ask me. While bro-country has been ruining the genre over the last few years one of the absolutely few shining stars on mainstream country radio has been Miranda Lambert. Well, the shining star of country music did a little spitting in its face recently when she stood up for bro-country saying: “I don’t know where ‘bro-country’ came from or what it really means, but a lot of those guys are my buddies and I support their music.” Lambert supporting the trash that is bro-country doesn’t surprise me for a couple of reasons: 1) her husband Blake Shelton, once a country music shining star himself before fame got to his head, has occasionally recorded a bro-country song in the last few years 2) Lambert’s music has actually regressed ever-so-slightly on her most recent album Platinum (despite it still cleaning up at award shows) and her most recent single “Little Red Wagon” (easily the worst of her career) would be a bro-country song if performed by a bro.
Ashley Monroe Loves Sam Hunt?
Just when I didn’t think country music could find something worse than Florida Georgia Line this Sam Hunt guy comes along and he doesn’t even bother trying to be country, despite the fact that’s what he’s being marketed as and he’s being played on mainstream country radio. Listen to his current hit single “Take Your Time” – that’s a pure pop song if I’ve ever heard one. Ashley Monroe is country through-and-through. She released a stellar solo album, Like a Rose, in 2013. She’s released two great albums with the Pistol Annies and she’s co-written a few of Miranda Lambert’s best songs. A few days ago she tweeted a photo on Twitter of herself, Sam Hunt, an American flag and a large can of Diet Dr. Pepper with a status that said: “Three things I like. @samhuntmusic, America, And diet dr. pepper.” How someone like Monroe could give such glowing support to Hunt is beyond me. Does Monroe not realize that artists like Hunt are the reason she’s not being played on mainstream country radio?
Thompson Square's "Trans Am"
Thompson Square haven’t exactly made me want to go out and buy their albums thus far in their career, but they have released some of the better music on mainstream country radio of the last few years since they made their debut in 2010. The two-time ACM Top Vocal Duo of the Year winners had me entertained with their 2010 No. 1 “Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not” and their 2013 single “Everything I Shouldn’t Be Thinking About,” which should’ve been a bigger hit than it was. Since 2013 they haven’t found success – which apparently made them change their strategy to keep up with the current pop-country phase. I was anticipating their new single “Trans Am” and then I heard it – it’s complete crap. Don’t get me wrong, it’s probably going to be a huge hit for them. But, it’s complete crap and they’ve proven to be so much better than this.
Luke Bryan was voted Entertainer of the Year at the ACM Awards for the second time in three years on Sunday night and it gives me the opportunity to rail against one of my favorite topics – fan votes. Fan votes makes everything irrelevant and pointless, because they turn things into a popularity contest. Entertainer of the Year is supposedly the most prestigious honor at this award show, but when you turn it into a fan vote what you’re going to get is a bunch of lobotomized, horny women voting for the hottest guy in the category and as a result Luke Bryan is going to win every time. Garth Brooks should’ve been the obvious choice for Entertainer of the Year. I realize Brooks hasn’t had a single hit off of his most recent album Man Against Machine, but that truly doesn’t matter when it comes to Entertainer of the Year. Brooks is in the middle of the biggest tour in the history of country music, selling out three-to-five-plus nights in the same city at every stop along the way. Bryan might have No. 1s, he might look good in jeans and be able to shake those hips like the glorified male stripper he is, but Entertainer of the Year he’s not. I understand wanting to get fans involved, but having them vote for awards does nothing but make the awards irrelevant.
It was announced last week that Tim McGraw was going to perform a concert in Hartford, Ct. and give all of the proceeds from that show to the Sandy Hook Promise, which tries to stop gun violence against children. Immediately ignorant people everywhere, many of whom claimed to be fans of McGraw, started acting like the singer had turned his back on them and America. They mistakenly felt that McGraw was taking part in an anti-gun benefit concert, which is something that McGraw as an avid hunter would almost certainly never do. Many of these people said they would never buy McGraw’s music or concert tickets again and some threatened to destroy albums of his that they already owned. The backlash from people even went so far as to drive the spineless Billy Currington, who was signed on to open for McGraw at the concert, from attending the show. You can read more of my opinion on this HERE.