Monthly Archives: March 2015

Death in a Country Song

Country music has always been known for telling a captivating story. While many people believe that all country song are about beer, girls, and trucks, artists are still writings songs that break the norm and touch people’s heart. Country music tells beautiful stories about birth, intriguing stories about life, and unfortunately the sad truths about death. After doing my album analysis of Martina McBride’s Eleven, I started thinking about how many country songs cover the tragic story of death and sickness.

Martina McBride’s “I’m Gonna Love You Through It” is about a wife and mother of three who finds out she has breast cancer. The song follows her before, during, and after her treatments. Luckily, the woman in Martina McBride’s song doesn’t die, but instead pushes through the treatment with the support from her husband. This song ends on a happy note because no one passes away, but unfortunately not every song has such a happy ending.

Alabama’s “The Christmas Shoes” played on my iPod yesterday and I couldn’t help but tear up. This emotional song is about a young boy who is trying to buy some shoes for his mother for Christmas. The listener quickly learns that the mother is very sick and not expected to live past Christmas. The boy doesn’t have enough money to pay for the shoes, so the man behind him at the cash register helps him cover the cost. This is another song where someone is very sick, but instead of making a healthy recovery, the family is doing whatever they can to make the mother more comfortable.

Carrie Underwood’s “Temporary Home” also ends with someone close to death, but instead takes a more inspirational turn when the man tries ensure everyone that he is going to a better place. This man’s temporary home was Earth and now he has stated that his is going home to heaven. I have seen Carrie Underwood perform this song in concert twice and each time I can’t help but think how comforting it must be to anyone who is about to, or already has lost a loved one.

The last song I will talk about is “If I Die Young” by The Band Perry. I had never really listen to the lyrics of this song until heard The Band Perry preform it live last summer. This is a very sad song about a person deciding how they want to be buried if they were to die young. Most young people never even consider this, but this song is about the singer not being afraid of death.

Most rap or hip-hop song are about living life to the fullest, but country songs do a beautiful job of tackling the more emotional topics that many artists don’t like to think about.


Filed under Lists, Live Music, Music Videos, Reflection, Reviews

Luke Bryan is Checkin’ Out of Spring Break

As a college student who just got back from the sandy beaches of spring break, I was stunned when I heard the news that Luke Bryan is calling an end to his domination as the spring-break-southern-state-country-music-concert-phenomena. After seven years on the spring break concert scene, Luke Bryan says it is time for him to let it go of his infamous spring break series, now that he is nearing forty years old (I don’t care what he thinks, I would see him in any concert any day no matter how old he is).

timthumb.phpI was shocked by this news because of the hype I realized he received while on my freshman year spring break trip, just two short years ago. Some friends and I had road tripped all the way down to Gulf Shores, Alabama and the entire car ride my friends played Luke Bryan’s 2013 Spring Break album Here to Party. To this day, I hear one of those songs and I can’t help but smile at the memories of lying on the beach and touching my toes in the Gulf of Mexico for the very first time. While I never got the chance to see any of his spring break concerts live, the song “Just a Sip” from that 2013 album will always bring me back to that very sunny trip to Alabama.

Luke Bryan’s reign as a country music spring break all-star started in 2009 with his album With all my Friends. From there he went on to have six more albums, and with each album came concerts in places like Gulf Shores, Alabama andluke-bryan-spring-break-ep-cover Panama City, Florida. The next six album tours were Spring Break: Hangover Edition, It’s a Shore Thing, Suntan City, Here to Party, Like We Ain’t Ever, and Checkin’ Out. His songs have been an anthem for students travelling down the beaches of America while they escape from the reality of school, homework, tests, and real life for just one week. And now, although his reign his over, those anthems will be sure to live on.

While it is always sad to think of the end of an era, it may just be a positive transition for Luke Bryan in to a new artistic light. He’s criticized with being “too bro country” for country music, but this could be a turning point in his career. He is gifted with a good voice, a pretty face, and the ability to make people want to sing along to his catchy songs. I would love to see some more out of him than just the party anthems he is most famously known for. Recently, he has dabbled in to some more somber themes that reflect on some of the hardships in his life, such as the song he sings about the loss of someone close to him “Drink a Beer.”

Luke-Bryan-CountryMusicIsLove-e1423094611227Although it is a bit bittersweet that Luke Bryan is ending his era as the Spring Break tyrant, I think that there are good things that lay ahead for him. I’m a Luke Bryan fan ‘til the end, and will remain loyal to him through whatever bro-country controversy that he may bring upon himself. But it is my hope that he now takes this newfound maturity at the age of almost 4 decades to reach out to more listeners with his music and show how talented he truly is.


Filed under Bro Country, Country Pop, Dancing, Live Music

The New Zac Brown Band

A few weeks ago Saturday Night Live had Zac Brown Band as their musical guest. I hadn’t heard much from them lately, but I’ve been a fan ever since their album debut The Foundation. Their 2010 album You Get What You Give was another one of my favorites, and it sounded largely similar to the first one. I found out through their performance on SNL that they have a new album coming out called Jekyll + Hyde, scheduled for release in April. Since it had been a couple years since I’d seen ZBB perform I was expecting to see the signature Zac Brown beanie and to hear a couple bluegrass-influenced songs similar to “Chicken Fried” and “Whatever It Is”. Boy was I to be surprised.

The first performance was actually more like Zac Brown Band of old, as the band played the first single from the album, “Homegrown”, a country song about being proud of where you’re from or something along those lines. But even though the song sounded like a typical ZBB song, the appearance of Brown was different, simply because he ditched his beanie for a top hat. In addition, it seems as though Brown is trying to convey a “cleaner” look, with well-groomed facial hair rather than his scraggly beard.

Old Zac Brown

New Zac Brown

So it was obvious to me that Brown is trying to change his image, to what though I wasn’t sure. Then the band was introduced for their second song, and instead of a feel-good song like “Knee Deep” or “Toes”, the band played the second single from the new album called “Heavy is the Head”. The song is absolutely nothing like the Zac Brown Band we’re all used to, and my mind was blown. The song even features guitarist Chris Cornell from the rock band Soundgarden.

If you’re like me after watching this video, you’re thinking “Is that really Zac Brown Band?” I mean, that distorted bass line is nothing like we’ve ever heard from ZBB. This is a full-fledged heavy metal song. What’s even wilder is Brown’s “mad-hatter” top hat, complete with the feather.


I’m not sure what Brown’s intentions are with this “personal rebrand”, but it seems like he’s ready to distance himself from the previous image of the band. It’s worth noting that most of their songs on the upcoming album will be more along the lines of what we’re used to, including the single “Dress Blues”, which is softer and more like a country song. Still, I don’t think they released “Heavy Is the Head” for no reason. To me, ZBB is trying to send a statement that they’re more than a country band, they can be rock stars too.

Another interesting fact about this song is that it’s the first Zac Brown Band song released to rock radio, rather than country. It’s also the band’s first entry on the Billboard Rock charts, debuting at number 37.

Even though I was shocked to discover the new sound/image of Zac Brown Band, I quickly learned that they have been a versatile band for a while. I found videos on YouTube dating back as far as 2009 featuring the band covering artists including Pink Floyd, Snoop Dogg, Rage Against the Machine, and Metallica, and they strangest part was that all of these covers were good. I never knew how talented the band really was, and although I prefer their original sound I would love to see them in concert.


Filed under Country Pop, Movies and TV

Country Finds Its Beach

After spending the past week on a beautiful Bahamian beach listening to nothing but the waves on the shore and country music, it dawned on me that there may just be a new subgenre of country that, though small, is growing. Usually country contains themes of back roads and conservative ideals, but beach country has definitely changed that, evoking themes of sand, surf, and piña coladas.

This trend seemed to grow out of greats like Jimmy Buffett and his Margaritaville to Kenny Chesney and is now dominated by Luke Bryan and, to an extent, Zach Brown Band. Of course there are many others who have made music that sounds more beach-y than country, from Brad Paisley to Garth Brooks, everyone is hoping on the sandy bandwagon.

Luke Bryan in particular took advantage of this niche market by creating multiple spring break sets and performing in popular spring break locale Panama Beach. For the past seven years, Bryan has released a Spring Break EP to accompany his shows. Although the music isn’t his highest quality, it definitely is meant for the beach and the young adults that flock to it. This spring break marks his final shows and at 38 that’s probably an appropriate move as he’s two decades older than the average college freshman.

I think the expansion creates an interests from a wider fan base, one that might have traditionally listened to soulful and smooth Colbie Callait or Jason Mraz and wants to hear more sunny tunes. It definitely appeals to younger audiences and allows them an easy segue into more traditional country, particularly when such big names and well-known artists delve into the beachy trend.

However, I think the island tunes are become a lot more than a trend. Many have begun to incorporate more Caribbean sounds like the steel pan and mimic some defining characteristics of Calypso music with rhythmic and harmonic vocals.

Here are some of what I think are the most defining songs of the beach country movement:

Margaritaville – Jimmy Buffett

This is probably the most iconic and well-known beach country song. First recorded in 1977, it eventually reached number 8 on the USA music charts and number 1 on the Easy Listening charts. It evokes images of the beach, margaritas, and women. What makes it country is mostly the guitar and the alcohol and women references.

Two Pina Coladas- Garth Brooks

Garth Brooks is largely celebrated as one of the best country artists of all time. When he released this song in 1998, it hit number 1 on the US and Canadian country charts. It, too, evokes the slower, harmonic vocals with some call-and-response tactics while using themes of alcohol, lovesickness and the beach.

No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem – Kenny Chesney

Kenny Chesney is nearly unparalleled in his ability to capture the laid-back living that comes at the seaside. In this instant classic, there’s a clear mix of country and Calypso with steel guitars, acoustic guitars, drums, and tambourine. The island escapism so often seen in many of these songs is clearly evident here as he sings, “no boss, no clocks, no dress code.”

Suntan City – Luke Bryan

Like said, Luke Bryan’s spring break EPs aren’t his greatest works. While this song sounds different from the previous three, I think it still stands as beach country or a blend of bro-country and beach. It was released on Luke Bryan’s first spring break EP, “Spring Break… Here to Party.” It talks about a lot of similar themes as bro-country like women, beer, and kicking back with friends (in this case on the beach).


Filed under Country Subgenres, Live Music, Music Videos, Progressive Country

Country Fascinated By Being “Homegrown”

One of the first words that come to mind when I hear “spring break” is road trip. Everyone leaves Austin and road trips somewhere, whether it be to Panama City, Gulf Shores, or just going back home. After making my way through the numerous midterms thrown my way, I made the choice of my spring break road trip to be driving the hour and a half trip home. As I drove home, switching between country radio stations the whole way, I realized that two songs in particular were played more than others. Not only were these two songs played a lot, but they also shared a very specific word in common: homegrown. I am talking about the songs “Homegrown Honey,” by Darius Rucker, and “Homegrown,” by Zac Brown Band.

Darius Rucker Homegrown HoneyDarius Rucker’s “Homegrown Honey” was released in August 2014 as the first single from his upcoming fifth studio album. The album, Southern Style, will be released on March 31, 2015. Rucker wrote the song with Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum and Nathan Chapman. It is about a country fish out of water that is turning heads. On the other hand, Zac Brown Band’s “Homegrown” was released on January 12, 2015. It is the first single from the band’s fourth studio album, Jekyll + Hyde, set for release later in 2015. They sing about a man satisfied with the life he has rather than what it could be.

Zac Brown Band SNLAfter noticing that these two were only released five months apart and how their titles very closely resembled each other, I began to notice that they both depict being “homegrown” as a positive trait for one to possess. They both talk about someone’s roots, in particularly southern roots, as a wonderful characteristic. While Rucker describes being “homegrown” as wearing boots and downing whiskey, Zac Brown Band describes a more simplistic “homegrown” as having a piece of land in the countryside. Both use southern stereotypes found throughout any country song today.

However, Darius Rucker and Zac Brown Band are not the first and only ones to write about being homegrown, or having southern roots. Other recordings from the country music genre include songs such as Jason Aldean’s “She’s Country,” and Miranda Lambert’s song, written for a series of Ram Truck ads, “Roots and Wings.” Both really hook onto the word “roots.” Aldean and Lambert describe the stereotypical southern symbols just as Rucker and Zac Brown Band. Aldean uses symbols such as cowboy boots and down home roots, while Lambert uses guitar strings and calluses to represent her father’s roots and mother’s wings.

Why is country music so fascinated with being “homegrown” or having “down home roots”? Do they sing these songs for their typical listeners, who are from more rural backgrounds? Or is it just a topic they know will sell?

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Filed under Bro Country, Country Rock, Country Symbols, Music Videos, New Country, Song Analysis, Southern Rock