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.
Reba McEntire Stands Up For Gay Rights
One of the problems with country music is that its fans aren’t always the most open in the world to certain things like gay marriage or homosexuality in general. A lot of this ignorance stems from the base’s largely conservative politics, and we’ve seen any time a country star comes out in support of gay marriage and gay rights that a lot of hatred can fly their way. This occurred a couple of years back when Carrie Underwood announced that she supported gay marriage. Now living legend Reba McEntire has done the same thing and it’s a truly important moment for country music and hopefully a great learning lesson for its fans. McEntire said: “You gotta love people for who they are. Accept them, and then go on with life.” This is a great sign for country music that some of its artists aren’t as ignorant about life as many of those who listen to them. Hopefully fans of McEntire instead of turning their backs on her, as I’m sure some have, will understand that she’s living life the way real Christians should.
Americana Awards Nominations
You wonder where all the real country music has gone these days because you can’t actually hear it on modern country radio? Well, it’s being called Americana now and it’s still kickass, if not better than ever. The Americana Awards & Honors is the very best music award show around in terms of both winners and live performances, but unfortunately it can only be seen streaming online. The nominations for the 2015 Americana Awards & Honors were announced this week and there was a three-way tie between Sturgill Simpson, Lucinda Williams and Shakey Graves for the most nominations. Those artists all received three noms. The three biggest awards of the night are Artist of the Year, Album of the Year and Song of the Year and those nominees are as follows:
Artist of the Year:
Lee Ann Womack
Album of the Year:
And the War Came by Shakey Graves
Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone by Lucinda Williams
Metamodern Sounds in Country Music by Sturgill Simpson
The Way I’m Livin’ by Lee Ann Womack
Tomorrow is My Turn by Rhiannon Giddens
Song of the Year:
“Dearly Departed” by Shakey Graves
“East Side of Town” by Lucinda Williams
“Terms of My Surrender” by John Hiatt
“Turtles All The Way Down” by Sturgill Simpson
“You’re the Best Lover That I Ever Had” by Steve Earle & The Dukes
If I had a vote I would give Sturgill Simpson all three of these awards for the absolutely spectacular year and album that he had. The 14th annual Americana Awards & Honors will be held on Sept. 16 and hopefully you will find it wherever it may be streaming this year.
Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen
The best country music today isn’t just in the Americana genre though, but the red dirt subgenre of country music, as well. This is being proven frequently by artists such as red dirt superstars Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen. Rogers and Bowen have collaborated on one of the very best country albums of the year thus far called Hold My Beer, Vol. 1. Hold My Beer, Vol. 1 contains real and traditional country music both in new songs written by Rogers and Bowen and some country covers like Merle Haggard’s “It’s Been a Great Afternoon.” The highlight of this album is the song “Standards” in which Rogers and Bowen poke fun at modern country music artists selling out for hits and recording crap. The hilarious refrain of the song is “I don’t have hits, I’ve got standards.” It’d sure be nice if the artists you heard on country radio cared more about standards than hits.
Reckless Kelly’s “American Blood”
This entry might seem incredibly odd for anybody who knows Reckless Kelly’s song “American Blood,” because the song is actually seven years old. It appears on this list because here in 2015 I’m just now hearing this absolutely badass song for the very first time. It came on the Texas/Red Dirt Radio station that I frequently listen to on Pandora and I was immediately blown away by the statement. “American Blood” from Reckless Kelly’s 2008 album Bulletproof came out during the very end of President George W. Bush’s second term in office and this anti-war song, which is almost unheard of in country music, absolutely obliterates Bush’s pointless war in Iraq with hard-biting lyrics like: “But George is a real go-getter and he’s running the show/And he should have known better but his old man told him to go/He sits at home with his feet on his desk/While the boys got theirs in the sand/A million miles away with American blood on their hands” and the terrific chorus: “Black gold for silver stars/Cold hard cash for armored cars/The brass ain’t fighting but they’re sure as hell taking a stand/And they’ll have to live with American blood on their hands.” Country music is known as the patriotic music genre and that’s great, but it fails to take both sides of the situation too often and Reckless Kelly did this brilliantly with “American Blood.” Unfortunately, few have heard it because you don’t get red dirt country on mainstream radio, not that mainstream radio would have ever played this anti-war song anyway.
Zac Brown Band’s “Dress Blues”
This one might not seem so much loved by the time I’m through. I’ll try to explain. Jason Isbell’s beautiful “Dress Blues” from his first solo album Sirens of the Ditch in 2007 is also a song critical of pointless war. Zac Brown Band has covered a version of “Dress Blues” on their recently released Jekyll + Hyde album and I’m thrilled that one of the most popular groups in modern country music will bring more attention to Isbell’s fantastic songwriting through their release. I’m also thrilled by the potential prospects of “Dress Blues” being released as a single to country radio, even though that’s not been announced yet. Brown’s version of the song is perfectly fine, even though it might make too much of a spectacle in its production than such a song needs. It’s a quiet and contemplative song about tragic death at an early age through horrible circumstances and thus might not need the elongated guitar solo they throw on it. This is where my “love” for this ends. Isbell’s “Dress Blues” is quietly critical of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with the lyric: “What did they say when they shipped you away to fight somebody’s Hollywood war?” Before I ever heard Brown’s version of the song I had a feeling he would alter that lyric, which I consider to be the most important one of the entire song, in some way. Sure enough he did. Brown somewhat neuters the meaning of “Dress Blues” by switching that line to “What did they say when they shipped you away to give all in some God awful war?” I’m thrilled that the underrated Isbell will get some more recognition like he deserves, but I also wish Brown would have had the guts to record the song as intended. How about just listening to Isbell’s far superior version instead?
Brantley Gilbert is one of the most ignorant singers currently in mainstream country music and he’s seemingly proving that daily, especially of late. Gilbert has not just done one thing to get himself on the ‘hate’ side of this editorial this week, but two. We’ll start with the fact that he’s using his entire back as a political message. Much was made of the fact that Gilbert got a pro-second amendment tattoo on the entirety of his back recently. Gilbert was hailed as some sort of goddamn American hero for doing it too. That’s the part that bothers me. Gilbert can do what he pleases with his body, even though his tattoo makes him look like the huge douche he really is. I also don’t oppose the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution, despite the fact I do believe it shouldn’t apply to any weapon you want and I do believe most people’s defense of the amendment is over the top and makes them look ignorant. Turning your back into a political statement as Gilbert has done is one of the ways a person might take their defense for the second amendment too far. Making his body a political billboard is only the second dumbest thing Gilbert did of late though. The dumbest thing he did was release a pro-bro-country song, which will likely end up as the No. 1 worst song of the year come December when I compile my annual list. His “Same Old Song,” an unapologetic anthem for the good of bro-country, will be the first single off of his extended Just As I Am Platinum Edition and includes the utterly jaw-dropping lyrics that you can find HERE. But, if you want an example of how stupid this song is just read the chorus: “Ride with us on Friday night/See if we ain’t jacked ‘em up/See if we ain’t settin’ it on fire/See if we don’t burn it up/See if we ain’t crankin’ Hank/Sippin’ on a little somethin’ strong/Hey man, you’ll see why we can’t/Quit singin’ that same old song.” There are a ton of horrible performers currently in country music, but with this piece of bullshit Gilbert has just surpassed Florida Georgia Line as Enemy of the State of Country Music No. 1.
Billboard Music Award Country Song Nominees
And the nominees for Billboard Music Awards Country Song of the Year are … utter bullshit. Those nominees are, in fact:
“Burnin’ It Down” by Jason Aldean
“Play It Again” by Luke Bryan
“Leave the Night On” by Sam Hunt
“This Is How We Roll” by Florida Georgia Line feat. Luke Bryan
“Dirt” by Florida Georgia Line
If you want to see what’s wrong with modern country music you simply have to look no further than the nominees for Best Country Song at tomorrow night’s 2015 Billboard Music Awards. These four artists nominated for this “honor” are the biggest offenders right now for the impending death of country music. They may be popular among listeners, but they’re simply a cancer causing true country music to fade into the black and painfully so. These nominees further prove that the Billboard Music Awards are a complete joke. While the CMA and ACM Awards at least continue to nominate some of the better modern country songs for their Song of the Year honors and the Grammy Awards always do the best job of nominating Song of the Year, the Billboard Music Awards have just taken a huge shit on what that category truly means.
Last night’s (May 15) ACM Superstar Duets special wasn’t a complete waste of two hours and I must admit that some of the pairings were actually pretty cool (Miranda Lambert/Patty Loveless and Clint Black/Joe Nichols), but it simply wasn’t worth the absolute damnation that was having to see the legendary Dwight Yoakam have to perform his hit “Fast As You” with uber-douche Sam Hunt and seeing Alan Jackson, one of the truly perfect country voices, have to perform “Chattahoochee” with country punk Cole Swindell jumping all around the stage. Whoever decided it was the right plan to match Yoakam and Hunt together should really be stripped of their position and the announcer claiming Hunt to be a rebel was really a puke inducing moment from the special – almost as bad as him also calling Luke Bryan a “legend” before his performance of “Stranger In My House” with Ronnie Milsap.
Tyler Farr’s newest single “Damn Good Friends,” written by Brent Anderson, Chris DuBois and Neil Medley, actually has lyrics about drunk driving in its first verse and when people were critical of those incredibly dangerous and potentially lethal lyrics he responded in print by calling those people pansies. Classy move, Tyler Farr. The first verse of “Damn Good Friends” contains these lyrics that are obviously a reference to drunk driving, despite the fact Farr says they are not: “You’re drivin’ back home down 246/You almost hit a deer and you end up in a ditch/You can’t pull forward and you can’t back out/You’re sittin’ there thinkin’ whatcha gonna do now/You’d be a little nervous if a cop showed up/’Cause you drank a little maybe just a little too much/Waitin’ on a tow truck takes too long/It’s two in the mornin’ … who you gonna call?” Farr was asked about these lyrics in Rolling Stone magazine and took offense saying, “Shit, I mean we all were in high school, we all drove. I drove with a pony keg in the bed in my truck with a damn hose through the sliding [window].” Today is so censored, and you wonder why kids turned out pansies. Because everybody’s a winner. He got sixth place? Tell him to run faster. You have to learn from your mistakes — nowadays you’re not allowed to make mistakes to learn from.” So, if you don’t like a song that seems to be perfectly fine with the illegal and deadly act of drunk driving ladies in gentleman you are a pansy. But, it’s better than being an ignorant dipshit like Tyler Farr.
Zac Brown Band’s “Beautiful Drug”
“I love Luke Bryan and he’s had some great songs, but this new song is the worst song I’ve ever heard. I know Luke, he’s a friend. ‘My Kind Of Night’ is one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard. I see it being commercially successful, in what is called country music these days, but I also feel like that the people deserve something better than that. Country fans and country listeners deserve to have something better than that, a song that really has something to say, something that makes you feel something. Good music makes you feel something. When songs make me wanna throw up, it makes me ashamed to even be in the same genre as those songs.” That was Zac Brown on Luke Bryan’s 2013 hit “That’s My Kind of Night” during a radio interview in September of 2013. It seemed that Brown was advocating for the death of crappy country music and sticking up for traditionalism. Well, less than two years later he’s released a song on his new album Jekyll + Hyde that honestly rivals “That’s My Kind of Night” in the utter shit department. “Beautiful Drug” sounds absolutely nothing like a country song and it’s not the only one on his album. “Heavy is the Head” a collaboration with Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell was released to rock radio, but a song being unapologetically rock isn’t nearly as bad as the tripe that is “Beautiful Drug,” a song that uses electronic music to get across the disgustingly sappy and horrid lyrics about a woman’s drug-like effect on a man. With “Beautiful Drug” Zac Brown has lost any right he ever had to criticize other “country music” and it’s a big sign that he’s sold out to mainstream country. Brown says he wanted songs to make you feel something, well “Beautiful Drug” makes me feel enraged.