Category Archives: Countrypolitan

Older Artists Releasing New Albums

While doing my album analysis essay on Willie Nelson’s most recent album, Band of Brothers, released in 2014, I noticed a phenomenon in country music of older country stars releasing albums later in life that perform extremely well on the charts. Band of Brothers was one such example: it was released in 2014, and was his 67th studio album. It was also only his third album to ever crack the Billboard Top 10, debuting at #5, and #1 on country charts, his best debut performance in 28 years. So why was this album so popular? One reason is that it contains mostly Nelson-penned songs, something his other recent albums haven’t contained, so this could appeal to his loyal fans. Another reason is young people: people who may have not heard his music before are hearing it now on these later albums, and liking it and buying it, making Nelson reach a whole new fan base.

Dolly Parton's Blue SmokeAnother example is Dolly Parton, and the release of Blue Smoke, her 42nd studio album, in 2014. This album performed amazingly for a Dolly solo album. It was her first top 10 solo album ever, had the best first week sales of all of her solo projects, and it was her highest Best Country Albums debut, debuting at #2. The album got critical review too, with critics raving that she just gets better with age. Unlike Nelson’s Band of Brothers, Blue Smoke is a traditional Dolly Parton album, with both upbeat songs and ballads, dealing with love and heartache. So why did it perform so well? Part of the reason is that lately in Parton’s albums, she has kept the whole album focused on one sound, and in this one she mixes genres, like she used to. She puts a lot of heart and soul into the album, and many critics agree that it is her best album in years, with nothing really new coming from Parton, but the songs being solid and just nice to listen to, which is probably why it performed so well on the charts and got such great reviews.

Johnny Cash's American VFinally, Johnny Cash is much different than these two. Towards the end of his life, he began releasing a series of albums called American III, IV, and V, that included covers of popular 20th century rock songs. He sang them in a very stripped down style, and though old and sick, his voice still sounds great and as deep and soulful as ever. He recorded these albums because he knew he was dying, and wanted to record some more before he was gone, giving the world a few last great albums. Indeed, American V was a posthumous release, released 3 years after his death, and it reached #1 on the Top Albums and Top Country albums. This could have been a reason for its popularity, as well as the covers of songs that people know and love. His version of Nine Inch Nails’s “Hurt” won a MTV Music Video Award for Best Cinematography, which made the album appeal to a younger generation that watches MTV. He also won a Grammy for Best Country Male Vocal Performance for another song on the album “Give My Love to Rose.” All of these factors contribute to why his album was so popular, because winning awards and charting high all add visibility to Johnny Cash, who people my age might not have known about if not for these immensely popular albums.

There is a string of older artists releasing new albums in later life, and them charting very well. We don’t really know why, but doing so has proven a very smart career move for these three that I have talked about. They all enjoyed great album sales, and a lot of increased publicity, and interest by young people who might not have listened to their music otherwise, deeming it music their parents listened to. Releasing these albums keeps them fresh and relevant to everyone, new fans and old.

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Filed under Classic Country, Country Symbols, Countrypolitan, Outlaw, Reviews, USA

Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015

In class, I mentioned that the Country Music Hall of Fame would be announcing its 2015 inductees soon. Turns out, the announcement arrived at the end of March. I thought y’all might want to learn a little more about the new members.

Most years, the Hall of Fame honors people in three categories: (1) a “veteran” artist who has been around for 45+ years, (2) a “modern” artist who has been around for 25+ years, and (3) either a songwriter, musician, or someone else involved in the music business. As usual, I am getting my information from Trigger over at Saving Country Music, who shares additional information about who has been honored in the past and how the decisions are made.

This year’s “veteran” inductee is the Browns, a family trio that had a number of crossover hits in the 1950s and early 1960s. Their best known song is probably “The Three Bells,” which was adapted from a French song (“Les Trois Cloches”) and was a #1 hit on the country and pop charts and — most surprisingly for a country song — a top 10 R&B hit as well. The group’s success coincided with the heyday of the Nashville Sound, which explains the crossover appeal and lush orchestration — and also probably the reason it has taken the group so long to be canonized. If you watch the video, you’ll understand why people criticize the Nashville Sound for not sounding authentically country.

After the group disbanded in the 1960s, the male singer, Jim Ed Brown, enjoyed some success as a solo artist. His best known song is “Pop A Top,” which Alan Jackson covered in 1999. Jim Ed has continued to perform at the Grand Ole Opry, and in January of this year he made waves for releasing his first studio album in 40 years (called In Style Again). That same month he underwent a series of treatments for cancer, and it could be a combination of the new album and frail health that led the Hall of Fame to choose to recognize the Browns with its highest honor after ignoring the group for so long.

The “modern” inductee is the Oak Ridge Boys, whose Christmas music I am familiar with but who otherwise are pretty unknown to me. Trigger points out the irony that the Oak Ridge Boys actually formed in the 1940s, which makes their induction as a “modern” act kind of suspect. Anyway, they got their start as a gospel quartet before enjoying a series of country hits — including many #1s — in the 1970s and 1980s. One of their best known hits is 1981’s “Elvira,” which hit #1 country and #5 pop.

The musician being inducted is the late Grady Martin, who played guitar on Marty Robbins’s “El Paso,” Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” and handfuls of other Rockabilly, Nashville Sound, and Classic Country recordings.

Of course, as soon as the inductees were announced, discontented fans took to social media to say who really “should” have been recognized instead of these three. Since it’s pretty hard to get into the Country Music Hall of Fame, there are a number of people who have been eligible for a while who still aren’t in, and every year there are younger stars who are newly eligible.

Some eligible performers who haven’t yet been invited to join include the Maddox Brothers and Rose, Ralph Stanley, Hank Williams, Jr., Charlie Daniels, June Carter Cash, Lynn Anderson, Tanya Tucker, David Allen Coe, Johnny Paycheck, Ricky Skaggs, Rosanne Cash, Dwight Yoakum, Randy Travis, Alan Jackson, Brooks and Dunn, Tim McGraw, Toby Keith, and Kenny Chesney.

What do you think about the new inductees? Are you familiar with any of them? Who do you hope makes it in, in the next couple of years? I would love to know!

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Filed under Awards, Classic Country, Countrypolitan, Nashville Sound, News

“Country Chameleon”

Tim McGraw’s recent performance at The Oscars on Sunday night reminded me of an article I read recently for my Country Sub-Genre project. A country blog titled The Boot did a feature article last week called “Country Chameleon: The Ever-Changing Music of Tim McGraw.”

The article provides arguments from both critics and supporters of McGraw’s changing style. Critics believe that Tim McGraw’s newer songs are too automated and are not happy with the electronic sounds of his music. For example one of the critics stated, “LEAVE THE AUTOMATED STUFF TO POP AND HIPHOP!!! I can’t be the only one that missed acoustic guitars and unautotuned voice.” It is noted that Tim McGraw, at age 46, has gotten to the point when artists start to wash out; McGraw, however, is actively keeping his music, sound, and image current to fit with the time. “[Tim McGraw] has always been among the first big-name artists to embrace new changes. That keeps his music sounding fresh and new – even if it risks alienating some of his more traditional-minded listeners,” states the author.

For these reasons I think Tim McGraw was the perfect person to perform the tribute to Glen Campbell. McGraw was able reach two different audiences thanks to his smart business tactics: those who like Glen Campbell and McGraw’s older style of music, and his current fans who appreciate his modern sound.

Although critics of Tim McGraw tend to be harsh, one has to appreciate the barriers he’s broken down to get to where he is now.  McGraw has managed to stay a threat and country music power figure even with his growing age.  This is especially difficult considering he has done all of this as a member of the country-pop sub-genre.  Older fans criticize McGraw’s changing sound and believe he has abandoned his roots, but as an artist if he’s happy with his work and is successful at what he does then who are we to say that Tim McGraw isn’t being true to himself?  I’ve grown up listening to Tim McGraw and as a fan I think we should be commending him for keeping up with the fast-paced and always-changing modern music business, rather than tearing him down.

What do you think?  How was Tim’s performance on Sunday night?  Is Tim selling himself out for modern fame and fortune?  Leave your thoughts in the comments below!


Filed under Awards, Country Pop, Countrypolitan, Live Music

I’m Not Gonna Miss You

Gowns, tuxedos, the red carpet, and little golden men. Put them all together and what do you get? The 87th annual Academy Awards. This is the biggest night in Hollywood. You might be wondering “Yeah okay the Oscars are about movies…how does country music come into play?” Well, my friend, I have two words: Glen Campbell.

Campbell’s song “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” was nominated for Best Original Song. The song, written by Campbell as well as Julian Raymond, was featured at the end of his documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me. They took home a Grammy for the song just a few weeks ago.

147391In 2011, the country-pop icon announced he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He is now 78 and suffering through the late stages of the disease. The song was written as a love letter to his family. It details how he won’t understand the pain they feel when his memory is lost to the disease. Raymond commented on the situation saying that Campbell unfortunately could not comprehend what the Oscar nomination meant because of this condition.

Due to his health circumstances, Campbell was unable to travel to the Academy Awards to perform his song. His family personally asked fellow country music artist Tim McGraw to perform the song in his place. McGraw and wife Faith Hill attended the awards last night, as well as Campbell’s wife and daughter.

B-fVwW5CAAA0avDSeated on a stool set on center stage, McGraw gave a performance that definitely tugged at some heartstrings. With nothing to distract from solely listening to the lyrics, Campbell’s song was absorbed by those who heard it. Anyone who has or knows someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia can feel the heartbreak of the song. It is the person(s) the song is directed towards rather than the person singing the lyrics who is the one suffering emotional pain.

His song did not take home the Oscar, but I know his family took home something from the performance. It was a very heartfelt tribute to a great artist. I listened to Campbell himself perform the song and it is hauntingly beautiful. McGraw executed the performance with grace.

The music video for his song shows clips of Campbell through the years. With and without the disease, his love for his family shows through. “You’re the last person I will love/You’re the last face I will recall/And best of all, I’m not gonna miss you.”


Filed under Awards, Countrypolitan, Live Music, Song Analysis

Announcing Country Music’s Newest Subgenre: “Metro-Politan” Country

Over at Saving Country Music, Trigger has written a new post condemning the trend in adding dance beats to country music. Citing the success of Sam Hunt’s Montevallo, which is currently holding the #1 position on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, he claims that a new subgenre of country music is sprouting its “unfortunate tentacles.” He calls this emerging subgenre “Metro-Politan Country” and predicts that it will become more prevalent in the next couple of years before dying the way that Bro Country seems to be dying now.

Since we’ve been talking so much about country’s subgenres and the troubles with analyzing them while they’re popular, I thought y’all might enjoy taking a look at this new article. Also, I’ll be happy to give you class credit if you decide to leave Trigger a comment. You might respond directly to his post or to any of the other comments that have already been written. Just leave me a comment here letting me know that you’ve done this.

If you’re interested in Sam Hunt, you should check out a review of the Montevallo album that one of my students wrote last semester.

Lastly, I thought I would point out that Hunt’s not the first person to integrate dance beats into country music. The technique extends at least as far back as the Countrypolitan moment of the 70s/80s, including Dolly Parton’s take on “House of the Rising Sun” (1980) and “Potential New Boyfriend” (1983).

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Filed under Bro Country, Countrypolitan, Dancing, Song Analysis